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Month September 2011

Smart cities get their own operating system

Katia Moskvitch:

Smart cities with devices chatting to each other may dot the planet in the near future
Cities could soon be looking after their citizens all by themselves thanks to an operating system designed for the metropolis.

The Urban OS works just like a PC operating system but keeps buildings, traffic and services running smoothly.

The software takes in data from sensors dotted around the city to keep an eye on what is happening.

As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines

Gary Fields & John Emshwiller:

For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.”

This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.

As a result, what once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time. When the police came to Wade Martin’s home in Sitka, Alaska, in 2003, he says he had no idea why. Under an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, coastal Native Alaskans such as Mr. Martin are allowed to trap and hunt species that others can’t. That included the 10 sea otters he had recently sold for $50 apiece.

Why the highest-paid doctors are the most vulnerable to automation

Farhad Majoo:

The Pap smear is the most effective cancer-screening test ever developed. When it was introduced in the United States in the 1940s, about 26,000 women died every of year of cervical cancer. Today, the exam—now known as the Pap test, since the modern method of preparation no longer requires smearing cells on a slide—is performed about 55 million times a year in this country, and about 120 million times annually worldwide. The effect of widespread, routine testing has been dramatic: Fewer than 5,000 American women now die each year of cervical cancer. If you account for population growth since the 1940s, the Pap test has reduced cervical cancer mortality by more than 90 percent.

The Pap test isn’t just good for women. It’s also a good business for doctors and diagnostic laboratories—maybe as much as a $500 million industry in the United States. The techs and doctors who look at Pap slides are the TSA agents of the medical world: They spend their days examining dozens of slides in search of tiny, subtle, and rare visual cues of disease. The process begins with a doctor collecting a sample of cells from a woman’s cervix. The cells are preserved in liquid, mixed with laboratory reagents, separated from blood and other biological material by centrifuge, and then deposited onto a slide. The cervical cells are examined first by cytotechnologists—specialists trained to analyze certain types of medical slides. If abnormalities are found, the Pap slides are then screened by pathologists, medical doctors who diagnose disease. Because the vast majority of Pap tests are performed on healthy women, about 90 percent of the slides seen by a typical lab are completely normal. The entire process costs about $25 to $100 per test, depending on the lab’s efficiency.

The advent of the global brain

Chrystia Freeland:

Get ready for the global brain. That was the grand finale of a presentation on the next generation of the Internet I heard last week from Yuri Milner. G-8 leaders had a preview of Milner’s predictions a few months earlier, when he was among the technology savants invited to brief the world’s most powerful politicians in Deauville, France.



Milner is the technology guru most of us have never heard of. He was an early outside investor in Facebook, sinking $200 million in the company in 2009 for a 1.96 percent stake, a decision that was widely derided as crazy at the time. He was also early to spot the potential of Zynga, the gaming company, and of Groupon, the daily deals site.

His investing savvy propelled Milner this year onto the Forbes Rich List, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. One reason his is not yet a household name is that he does his tech spotting from Moscow, not a city most of us look to for innovative economic ideas.



Milner was speaking in the Ukranian city of Yalta, at the annual mini-Davos hosted by the Ukrainian pipes baron and art collector Victor Pinchuk (disclosure — I moderated at the event). What was striking about Milner’s remarks was how sharply his tone differed from that of the other participants.

Next Stop Beaujolais: A Metro Map of French Wines

Frank Jacobs:

Wine maps are appreciated mainly by the select few who are both cartophiles and oenophiles. Those who are either or neither face a formidable obstacle to cartographic enjoyment, inherent in viticulture: wine regions are a mess to map.

In wine-making, the hyperlocal is paramount. Soil type and microclimate, production and processing methods, taste and reputation – not least the type of grapes involved – all help explain the widely differing oenological appreciations of relatively small, often adjacent plots of land.

This is why traditional wine cartography resembles a map of rampant feudalism, with a confusing jumble of tiny dominions ineffectually jostling for the attention of the map reader.

Rite Aid rolls out in-store virtual doctor visits

Lucas Mearian:

One of the nation’s leading drug store chains, Rite Aid, has begun rolling out online physician chat rooms in its stores, allowing customers to participate in virtual face-to-face consultations prior to purchases.

Rite Aid today said it worked with healthcare provider OptumHealth to introduce its NowClinic Online Care services, which are currently available at pharmacies in the Detroit area.

The NowClinic offers Rite Aid customers real-time access to medical information and resources from doctors and OptumHealth nurses. Rite Aid said it is the first to provide a virtual clinic in a retail pharmacy setting.

Currently, conversations with nurses are free and a 10-minute consultation with a doctor is $45.

Patenting the Ponzi: the extraordinary growth of Ponzi schemes

Tim Harford:

“Two world poker champions and other leaders of one of the largest internet card gaming sites turned the company into a massive Ponzi scheme, wrongly taking out more than $440m from player accounts, US officials alleged on Tuesday.”

Office of Charles Ponzi & Sons:



“Mr Ponzi, have you seen what the US Justice Department is saying about this poker website?”



(Sighs) “Don’t tell me, Massimo: they say it’s a Ponzi scheme?”



“You’ve got it in one, Mr Ponzi.”

Was Julian Assange Right About Facebook?

Micah Sifry:

OK, that headline is probably over the top, but after reading Dave Winer and Nik Cubrilovic’s warnings this past weekend about Facebook’s new “frictionless sharing” system, I was left wondering if Julian Assange of WikiLeaks wasn’t on to something when he said that “Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented.”



Assange was talking about how Facebook collects information that people actively share about their relationships with each other (thus making such data prey to US intelligence prying), whereas Winer is raising the alarm about Facebook’s new policy of proactively sharing information about what websites people are visiting, without them even affirmatively entering any kind of data onto their Facebook page. Winer offers this hypothetical scenario:

Geocities Archive Data Turned Into a Stunning Digital City [VIDEO]

The Deleted City from deletedcity on Vimeo.

via Stan Schroeder.

The Ten Commandments of the American Religion

James Altucher:

If I stand in the center of Times Square New York City and said something like “Moses didn’t part the Red Sea” or “Jesus never existed” everyone would just keep walking around me, ignoring what I said, etc. Whatever, they would be thinking, I have things to do, very important things that have to get done. And this guy is clearly crazy so not worth my time.

But if I stood there and said, “going to college is the worst sin you can force your kids to commit”, or “you should never vote again” or “World War II was not a holy war” or “never own a home again”, I would probably be lynched on the spot.

The American Religion is a fickle and false religion. Used to replace the ideologies we (a country of immigrants) escaped from with tenets that don’t withstand the test of time. With random high priests lurking all over the Internet, ready to pounce. Below are some of the tenets of the American Religion. If you think there are more, list them in the comments.