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Saturday, September 05 2015 @ 07:20 AM CDT

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What is Open Source Pharma (and why should you care)?

Monday Witness

I’m writing this over the north Atlantic as I return from most of a week of very compelling meetings at a castle in Germany. Nominally, the subject of the discussion was something generally referred to as “open source pharma” (OSP). But more particularly, the meeting was about working towards saving the millions of lives a year that are lost either to so called “neglected diseases,” or because those stricken cannot possibly afford the price of the drugs that could provide a cure. Even though the actual cost of manufacturing the drugs they so desperately need may be only pennies a pill.

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Election Day: What would Darwin Think?

Monday Witness

Last Monday I reposted an entry with a Darwinian theme from the beginnining of the last U.S. presidential campaign. Here's one from the end.

Praises be, it's over — over and done with — finis — no longer plaguing us and finished. I refer, of course, to that quadrennial paroxysm of democratic hysteria we prosaically call a "Presidential Election." Thank God.

Along the way, we heard enough lies, damn lies and Super PAC ads to last us for the rest of our lives, and then some. And early in the process, it seemed like we were living in the middle of the next installment of Men in Black, except that none of the primary candidates went back to their home planets after they were defeated.

At the heart of all this nonsense, though, there is a central reality that never ceases to amaze me: how is it that so many Americans can disagree so fundamentally with each other about so much, each convinced that he or she is possessed of the equivalent of divinely revealed truth while those on The Other Side are possessed by the Devil, or worse?

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Standards of Political Civility and Darwin's Finches

Monday Witness

I wrote this piece five years ago. Sadly, it's still timely today. Only the names have been changed to update the idiots

Courtesy Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.Heaven help us all (all us Americans, anyway) — it's election time again. That means we're once more descending into a morass of partisan invective, not to mention lies, damn lies, and (of course) statistics. Except that this campaign year it seems that everyone is behaving even worse than last time, when everyone acted even worse than the time before, when, well, do you sense a trend here?

One hallmark of this year's political "discourse" (to abuse a term) has been the number of astonishingly angry and ill-informed accusations made by some candidates against their opponents (and others). Nothing unusual about that, sad to say. But what is different is the degree of acceptance, and even approval, exhibited by many voters that in earlier years might have rejected these candidates as well as their statements.

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The Unicode 8.0: A Song of Praise for Unsung Heroes

Monday Witness

Unicode marks the most significant advance in writing systems since the Phoenicians
          James J. O'Donnell, Provost, Georgetown University

What is 11 1/8" x 8 3/4" x 2 1/4" and weighs 7.89 pounds? Among other things, the hardbound copy of the Unicode Standard 4.0, the Oxford English Dictionary of computerized language characters, numbers and symbols, contemporary and archaic, mainstream and obscure. The home of Khmer Lunar codes, Ogham alphabets and Cyrillic supplements. An alphanumeric expression of the means of human communication.
          Me, October 26, 2003, Savoring the Unicode

Two weeks ago, I got a call from a reporter who had stumbled on two pieces I wrote in praise of new releases of the Unicode, the first in 2003 (on the occasion of the release of Unicode 4.0, referred to above), and the second in 2006, two releases later. The reason for the call was the release of Unicode version 8.0 by its stewards, the Unicode Consortium.

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Where I Was Then; Where we Are Today

Monday Witness

It seems easier to accept that it has been a half century since JFK was murdered than that most people now alive were then yet to be born. The enormity and impact of that event were so unprecedented that one feels everyone should somehow be able to remember where they were when those terrible shots were fired.

Like everyone who was old enough to grasp the fact of the young president’s assassination, I remember where I was when the news began to spread.  Just turned 10, I was sitting in my second floor classroom at the Hay School, a one class per grade elementary school in Easton, Pennsylvania. There was a knock at the door, whispering, and then more quiet voices as the teachers congregated, shocked and no doubt fearful, in the hallway.

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Groklaw, Domestic Surveillance and the True Measure of Risk

Monday Witness

U.S. Constitution, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia CommonsThis week, Pamela Jones announced that Groklaw would shut down – this time for good. The loss of this pillar of legal journalism provides an appropriate occasion for reexamining whether our commitment to the liberties upon which America was founded still holds true. And also to consider whether pragmatism in policy development has surrendered to illogical political expediency.

PJ’s final post (titled Forced Exposure) explains her decision, and is well worth your while to read. In brief, she has concluded that since she and her sources can no longer rely on the privacy of their communications, Groklaw can no longer function.  And so a site that has been repeatedly recognized for the contributions that it has made comes to an end after a decade of service.

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Appreciating Steve Jobs

Monday Witness

It's impossible for anyone who has witnessed the personal computer and personal technology age from its beginning to separate Steve Jobs from that incredible odyssey.  From the start, he envisioned, created, and defined new platforms and categories of media experience. 

Sometimes he was not the first to invent, as with the mouse, the MP3 Player, the smartphone and the slate computer.  But when he turned his exceptional perceptions, sense of style and insistence on perfection to each of these tools, he exposed the limited vision of those who had first introduced these tools by reenvisioning, recreating, and redefining what those tools could be. 

Each time, his vision almost instantly prevailed. 

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Six Lives and Counting

Monday Witness

Depending on your point of view, the daily news delivers up a glass either half empty or half full. In the short term, the negative impression can be particularly powerful, with disasters both natural and man-made arising with distressing regularity. But the glass can also be viewed as half full, and that can lead to a false sense of security.

The viewpoint to which I refer would lead us to believe that most, if not all, man-made disasters in the making will fall to new technological innovations, allowing us to continue in our consumptive and polluting ways without concern for tomorrow. As with the cat with nine lives, the disasters predicted by the prognosticators of doom, from Thomas Malthus in the 18th century to Paul Ehrlich in the 20th, have always failed to materialize.

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Sarah Palin and Wikipediology

Monday Witness

Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?

Courtesy of Therealbs2002, CCA-SA3.0Some time back, I wrote a blog entry called "The Wikipedia and the Death of Archaeology."  The thesis of the piece was this: archaeologists study periods as recent as a hundred years ago, because even with newspapers, magazines and photographs, a substantial percentage of everyday reality still slips through the historical cracks.  If that sounds bogus, consider the fact that several times in your life (at least if you're an American), you've read an account of someone sealing or opening up a "time capsule" intended to preserve everyday objects for about the same time frame. 

The humbling lesson is that much of our life is made up of trivial things - office supplies, flower pots, talk shows, you name it - that don't become the stuff of newspapers or novels.  It follows that if you lose the trivia, then you lose much of the texture and context that makes everyday life real and understandable, if not always exactly inspiring.  That's why archaeologists (or at least archaeologist lacking travel budgets) are wont to dig up such recent garbage - to recapture our trivia, in order to backfill our knowledge of who we were after the conscious memory has been lost.  But, as I pointed out in my earlier entry, understanding the realities of the past by counting peach pits in privies at best allows you to make guesses about a single home owner, and not about society writ large.

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In Celebration of the Life of John H. Updegrove, M.D.

Monday Witness

Father’s realize certain things as they get older: unless you are a fireman or a high school teacher, your grandparents may never really understand what you do for a living. Few children ever appreciate the degree of skill you bring to your trade or profession, and needless to say, your average spouse is likely to wonder whether anyone that speaks kindly of her husband is really talking about the same person that sometimes forgets to take out the garbage. 

That was never a problem in my family, or at least perhaps less so than is often the case. One of my earliest memories is being asked one question over and over again: “whether I was going to be a doctor, just like my father and grandfather.” If the person asking the question was old enough, they might add, “and your great-grandfather, too.  He delivered me, you know.”