The more astute readers here will note that the “currently reading” slot over there at the right finally changed to a new book today. For the past month, I was stuck on Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity, but the timespan was no fault of Eggers, but rather, of working weird shifts in the hospital and spending a lot of time with my family (not to mention being a good holiday elf). Despite this, my pile of books-to-read has grown; it’s time to buckle down.

Last-minute ski trips are the best ski trips.

I don’t get something. If Raelians claim that the human race exists on Earth as a result of extraterrestrials cloning themselves and placing us here, then how can they claim today that they have created the first cloned human? Doesn’t that first group of people — created in the laboratory 25,000 years ago by aliens — represent the first cloned humans? Honestly, this seems a bit contradictory. (And wouldn’t you figure that having enough money to embark on a human cloning experiment would also mean you’d have enough money to keep your website up and running?)

Merry Christmas! With the snow here in the Northeast, it’s really feeling like a blustery winter wonderland; I hope that everyone is happy, safe, well-fed, and sharing today with the people they love.

There’s an interesting article on CNN’s website about the debate within NASA as to how to respond (if at all) to those who claim that the moon landings were faked. It hits on all the major issues — the difficulty faced in trying to combat conspiracy theorists, the frustration faced by those who actually participated in the space race, and the importance of making sure that history has defenders who are as ardent as those who wish to either deny or conceal it. One such defender is James Oberg, author of a book that was originally supposed to be NASA’s own rebuttal but was pulled in deference to the agency’s preference to just ignore the lunatic fringe. Personally, I’m happy that people like Oberg exist; trying to reason with extremists is, by definition, an incredibly difficult undertaking, and it’s too easy to give up and hope that someone else picks up the ball and runs with it.

As my departure from New York City gets closer (yeah, yeah, June isn’t that far away!), I’ve started to find more and more things about the big city that I either already love and will miss, or need to find time to do in order to love and miss. Last night, while coming back from a holiday party with Shannon and another couple, we all caught glimpse of the Roosevelt Island Tram, all lit up for the holidays and calmly gliding across the East River. Seeing it, I decided that a round-trip ride on the gondola has to be elevated to the top of the need-to-do list; lucky for me, Shannon agrees, as did our friends, and it’s in the on-deck circle for the new year.

In a rare move, the New England Journal of Medicine released six fascinating articles about smallpox today from an issue that isn’t to be printed for more than a month. Most interestingly, there’s an article modeling the best vaccination model (health care workers first, but the public only if there’s a valid threat of an outbreak or biowarfare), an unsurprising study demonstrating a need for better public education about smallpox, and a great retrospective by Thomas Mack looking at the time he spent studying the spread of the disease in Pakistan. Print the articles and put ‘em into a folder alongside those from the Journal’s April 2002 series, and you’ve got yourself a pretty comprehensive review of smallpox.

Free e-commerce site design lesson number 112: don’t randomly empty your customers’ shopping carts.

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced the same problem at two different big, well-established online stores. In the course of browsing, I added a few items to my shopping cart, and then when I checked out, I was asked to create a login to the site. On both sites, when I was done creating the login, my shopping cart was empty; the act of starting a new account and logging me in caused the sites to lose track of what I was buying. Having to go back and hunt down all the items that were dumped (and choose the right styles and options) was annoying enough that I’ll definitely think twice before shopping on the sites again.

(That being said, for certain things, shopping online is a hell of a lot nicer than enduring stores in Manhattan between Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

I’m stoked to see that Gawker has launched, filling the niche of online Manhattan newsmagazines for the people who take Manhattan local news (read: gossip, debauchery, and potential subway strike commiseration) seriously. (Note that I’m willing to forgive Elizabeth her Upper West Side hating today, since I assume that rehashing tired New York stereotypes is a first-day-in-public sorta thing.) Combining the literacy of The Morning News with the practicality of Time Out New York, I look forward to watching Gawker flourish (not to mention having a reliable source of Manhattan info when I move up to Boston next year!).

Out of all the press that Trent Lott has generated over the past week, there’s a condemnation in the letters to the editor section of the Philadelphia Enquirer today that stands out, insofar as it was written by Theodore A. McKee, a sitting judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It’s a pretty ardent piece, recalling much of the legacy of Strom Thurmond and the effort that went into overcoming the hatred. Granted, Lott has done quite a bit over the past week to attempt to place his Strom Thurmond comments in some sort of context; I find myself in the (rare) position of agreeing with Mike Wasylik in thinking that Lott may be more of an idiot than a racist. Unfortunately for him, though, that idiocy demonstrated a remarkably thick amnesia about Thurmond’s past, and it very well may get him canned.

There’s been a little bit of news today about the newly-approved vaccine that combines protection against diptheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B, and polio. Much of the news revolves around the promise of less shots for kids in the first six months of life (in one report, “up to six fewer injections”), but by my calculations, Pediarix (the new vaccine) will generally lead to only two less shots in the first six months. Right now, infants get four shots at each of their first two visits — DTaP (diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis), Comvax (hepatitis B and H. influenzae), Prevnar (pneumococcus), and IPV (polio). At six months, kids get three more shots — another DTaP, another Prevnar, and another IPV, totalling out at 11 vaccines in the first six months. Under the new scheme, the little ones will get three shots at each of the first three visits — Pediarix, Prevnar, and IPV — adding up to nine total vaccines. Add to that number the fact that Pediarix causes a statistically-significant increase in fever after vaccination, and I’m not sure that the new preparation is worth it.

Congrats to Larry Lessig, Matt Haughey, Aaron Swartz, and all the many other folks at Creative Commons for their launch today! I see the Commons as a very ambitious undertaking, aiming both to make intellectual property rights more accessible to the people who produce content and to encourage those producers to allow greater reuse of their content. I’m anxious to see how people start using the licenses, and how developers integrate the licensing schemes into content production software (like Movable Type).

I’ve always been intrigued with distributed computing — harnessing the power of many computers in order to complete a single task, like cracking encrypted information, or discovering how proteins are folded, or even searching for extraterrestrial life. That’s why I’m floored with Gateway’s announcement that the company intends to create a huge distributed computing network comprised of all of the in-store floor model computers. What a cool idea! (A little more detail is available from arstechnica.) Gateway already has the computers sitting there, doing precious little (and even then, for less than half the day), and the incremental cost to installing a small piece of client software is negligible.

Of course, the next logical step will be offering a slight computer discount to customers who are willing to allow the distributed networking software to continue running after the machine is purchased. Juno tried something similar with the Juno Virtual Supercomputer Network — offering free Internet access in return for running number-crunching software — but the effort was short-lived, mostly because the company failed to notify customers that it was adding the feature to their software. Offering the option to customers up-front may be a better way to get acceptance, and potentially worth more than Gateway’s failed attempt at being an ISP.

AnandTech has a review of the new Tablet PC (or, more specifically, the FIC SlateVision) that made me want to run out and get one. It’s easy to rationalize how my next laptop should logically be a tablet, or how much I could use one on my fellowship next year… but, then again, it doesn’t take much to get me to start rationalizing new gadget purchases. The tablet I’ve really had my eye on is the PaceBook, with a cool on-screen touchtype keyboard (but with no wireless, strangely). I just wonder if the processor — the Transmeta Crusoe — can hold up. Has anyone spotted the perfect Tablet PC?

Somehow, I missed that Dahlia Lithwick’s dispatch from the Supreme Court arguments in Virginia v. Black hit the net yesterday. In the course of a single article, Lithwick dubs the case A Charlie Brown Redneck Christmas, compares Clarence Thomas’ rare speaking role to Darth Vader’s proclamation of paternity to Luke Skywalker, and acknowledges the tendency of interracial couples in New York City to make out in public while bound together by Saran Wrap. (OK, so she may be sensationalizing a bit with that last one…) In any event, it’s classic Dahlia, and similar to what she suspects about the other Justices, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s absence seems to have caused her to loosen up a bit more than usual.

The Public Internet Project — a cool research database comprised of all the wireless network access points that are accessible from the streets of New York City — got a lot of ink today, in both the virtual and rubs-off-on-your-hands-real sense. It’s a snapshot-in-time glimpse at how fast wireless has permeated the computing world of the Big Apple, and a sobering look at how few of the wireless nodes actually have any security in place. (Granted, some of them aren’t intended to be restricted, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say far more were merely set up without any thought given to security.) Obviously, Manhattan’s sheer population density contributes to the impressive nature of the map; I wonder what maps of wireless nodes in other cities would look like, or what the Manhattan map would look like if wireless nodes on upper stories of buildings were included in it.

(With all of the clickthrough traffic that the PIP has generated today, though, am I really the only person so far who’s noticed that all of the graphic banners actually say “Public Intetnet Project”? Update: fixed now. Cool.)

Oh, this is great. Alan Ralsky granted the Detroit Free Press an interview, during which he bragged about his ability to send over a billion unsolicited email messages a day and gave the columnist a tour of the $740,000 home/computer center that he built with the money he’s earned sending out other peoples’ spam. Slashdot users discovered the address of the new home and posted it online; this led to the mysterious appearance of tons of unsolicited real mail in his mailbox. Needless to say, Ralsky isn’t amused, but after having deleted over 1500 junk messages from my spam filter inbox, I’m plenty happy to see that he’s being forced to lie in the bed he made.

Bookmarks for next week’s threatened New York City transit strike: NYC strike information center, NYC MTA home, NY1’s transit page, Daily News’ Gridlock Sam.

Am I the only one that sees the irony in VeriSign, the company which may well have the absolute worst record in customer data verification, announcing a service to help other companies verify the identities of their customers? Honestly, is there any plan for them to use the system to verify the information about VeriSign’s own customers?

Another good find in the science section of today’s New York Times: an examination of vipers, from their behaviors to their unique physiology. Most interesting to me was the fact that certain vipers can go over a year without defecating, using retained feces as metabolically-inert ballast that anchors the tail ends of their bodies to the ground as they strike out with their fangs.

Nature is damn cool.

Great, just what the already-troubled American educational system needs: a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrating that Internet filters in schools and libraries also manage to prevent access to healthcare information. The New York Times has an article about the study, including a hope that administrators learn from the results and ratchet down the settings of the filters. The article also mentions the forthcoming Supreme Court arguments about the government mandate to use filters; it doesn’t make clear, however, that the only issue in front of the Court is the use of Internet filters in public libraries, and that use in schools has already passed legal muster.

It looks like McSweeney’s is starting off a series on wintertime in a pediatric ER, written by JB Orenstein. (Orenstein is a Virginia ER doc who’s provided quite a few inside glimpses into the world of medicine.) Of course, I’m currently working the overnight shift in our ER, so I don’t know that I exactly need more information on what the cold weather does to kids, but it’s pretty entertaining.

I think it’s damn funny that, in Leander Kahney’s wrap-up article about his five-part series on Mac loyalty, he exhibits (and denies!) the exact same traits that he spent five articles detailing. Macs as psychosexual tools? Yes for others, no for him, but he does want “to touch them, feel them, caress them.” Owners are more obsessed with Apple as a brand than Macs as products? Yes for others, no for him, but he does acknowledge that “every time Apple comes out with something new, I want it. My god, I want it bad.” It’s either a great way to assuage the authors of the reams of flame mail he got, or a funny way of demonstrating that his series was based in the reality of his own life.

first snowfall 2002

After a weak-as-hell attempt last week, we were hit but good today with a snowstorm. I love the first real New York blanket of fluffy white; there’s something about it that the rest of the winter’s storms aren’t able to touch.

Honestly, I hadn’t the slightest clue that today was the third birthday of this site until Danielle posted a happy comment earlier. I can’t believe that I’ve been at this for three years; I guess I did start throwing my nonsensical thoughts at unsuspecting readers right about when my medical school workload lightened and residency interviews started. I have to say that I’ve learned a lot through this site, from new programming languages and better content management skills to more effective writing techniques and even standards design. I’ve made some good friends, met a particularly amazing lady, learned about more than a few great products, and become a member of a community that I admire.

It’s been a fun ride.

I have no idea what I’d do with it, but I think it’d be damn cool to have an Axis Device Server Platform. It’s a box with a 100 MHz processor, an ethernet port, two serial ports, 4 Mb of flash and 8 Mb of RAM; Axis even provides a Linux distribution that runs on the box without a sweat. It’s the same hardware/software combo that runs the Axis network cameras (like the QuesoCam) and print servers, but in a form that can be integrated into your own embedded device. Wonder what I could do with it?

Wondering what’s with all the links to on Blogdex? At first, I thought that someone was spamming the service; alas, the truth is a lot less dramatic. Deforest away, Cameron!

One reason why Columbia University deserves cheers: starting tomorrow, all NetBIOS traffic coming into or leaving the university’s network will be blocked, preventing denizens of evil from accessing poorly-configured student computers on the network (and preventing Windows Messenger spam).

One reason why Columbia University deserves jeers: in the recommendations for email programs, Netscape 6 is unsupported because it’s “unstable and buggy,” yet Netscape 4.7 is both highly supported and recommended. While I’m not saying that Netscape 6 is a dreamboat, I can’t remember when I used a more unstable and buggy app than Netscape 4.7.

(All this was found while hunting for instructions about setting Entourage up to use secure mail transport.)

For those of you so persuaded, Leslie Harpold’s 2002 online advent calendar is up and running. Not quite as fun as flipping open the little doors, but to compensate, a whole lot more each day than those little compartments could ever hope to hold.

Maureen Dowd has a spectacular op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times on Bush’s choice of Henry Kissinger to head the official government investigation into the events of September 11th, 2001. She’s as irreverant as you’d expect her to be, and assuredly pulls no punches in addressing Kissinger’s legacy. The piece is worth a read, if only for the line, “Now Mr. Bush can let the commission proceed, secure in the knowledge that Mr. Kissinger has never shed light on a single dark corner, or failed to flatter a boss, in his entire celebrated career.”

The weblogs found over at The Nation also provide a few observations on Kissinger’s appointment. David Corn devotes a little column space to details about the former Secretary of State’s record as a potential war criminal; John Nichols concludes his own shorter look at the appointment with the idea that there’s a slim chance Kissinger will look at this opportunity as a way to redeem himself, but that “no one who cared to find out what really led up to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would gamble an investigation so important as this on so remote a prospect.” Good stuff.

Six weeks ago, the mother of a five month-old baby girl noticed that her daughter was breathing rapidly. She had never been to the pediatrician before — somehow, the mother had managed to avoid all of the regular infant visits — but she knew that there was something wrong with her daughter’s health, and felt that a doctor’s visit was in order. The pediatrician took one listen to the baby girl’s heart and also knew that there was something wrong; after being shipped to the local hospital for an echocardiogram, the heart specialists confirmed that the baby’s rapid breathing was a consequence of a congenital heart condition that had slowly caused fluid to back up in her lungs, and they arranged for her to be transported to our hospital for emergent surgery. On the morning of the surgery, the infant was found to have a severe viral infection of her lungs, one which had a significant impact on the chances of her surviving the operation. Her surgery was postponed, and she returned to the intensive care unit to await the time when her lungs would be ready.

During the time that she was waiting, a tube of the infant’s routine bloodwork was dropped in the laboratory, splashing in a lab tech’s eyes. This event triggered a routine hospital response; whenever an employee is directly exposed to blood, steps are taken to help determine the need for treating with medications to help prevent the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases. Among other things, routine consent was obtained from the parents to run HIV antibody tests on the infant’s blood, and most everyone (except the lab tech) promptly forgot that the precautionary tests had even been sent. Thus, nobody was prepared for the phone call that we received three days later: the tests were positive.

Immunologically, five month-olds live in two worlds — their own immune systems are up and running, but they also still have their mothers’ antibodies floating around, helping to fight against infection. Because of this, further tests had to be run to determine if we were seeing the signs of a maternal infection or a pediatric one. In addition to a few confirmatory tests on the infant, blood was sent on both parents, hunting for the source of the antibodies that we were seeing on the positive tests. All of the further testing on the infant has, thus far, come back negative; both of her parents, however, have proven to be HIV-positive. In the flash of a single broken test tube, a family learned that both parents are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and that their daughter is still not out from under its shadow. Upon further questioning, we learned a piece of information which completed the depressing epidemiologic tree: the father was infected by HIV while in prison, the mother was infected by the father, and the baby was exposed while in utero. Three lives have been placed in jeopardy by a single deadly virus.

Today, both parents have a good chance of living to see their daughter grow up, thanks to advances in HIV and AIDS therapy which have extended the life spans of those infected by decades, if not longer. The emotional toll that the virus takes on children and their families is not as easily addressed, though. Fortunately, organizations like the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation focus on enhancing the lives of children and families with AIDS, and better medical information up front helps people more clearly understand how to avoid contracting HIV. Only through this two-pronged approach — better medical research and wider social acceptance — will we tame this modern beast.

link and think / world AIDS day 2002