Archive for April 2007

New Prostate Cancer Test Show Promise

A little over a year ago I lost a long-time friend and mentor to prostate cancer. He was a relatively young, healthy 60 years old. He was diagnosed in August of last year. He died in January. By the time he died the cancer had spread to his lungs and his brain. His loss will be felt for a long, long time.

The statistics on prostate cancer are discouraging – it’s the most common malignancy among American men. The treatments are barbaric, and our ability to diagnose early or with any specificity is poor, at best. But there is good news on the horizon.

As reported at MedicineNet, a new protein, called prostate cancer antigen-2 (EPCA-2), looks like it’s going to provide a far more accurate marker for cancer cells than the common PSA test:

“We’ve been able to show that blood levels of it are low in normal individuals and high in prostate cancer, and that it distinguishes between cancers that are confined to the prostate and those that have spread outside the gland,” explained study lead researcher Dr. Robert H. Getzenberg, professor of urology and director of research at Johns Hopkins University’s James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, in Baltimore.His team published its findings in the May issue of Urology.

[…]

Spotting especially life-threatening prostate tumors is “the holy grail” of diagnosis, he said. Current PSA testing cannot distinguish between cancers that will grow so slowly that they pose no danger to life and those that require quick action. The hope is that the ECPA-2 test will identify men whose slow-growing cancers make them candidates for “watchful waiting” rather than immediate surgery or other treatment.

Speaking of curing cancer, if you want to donate to one of the world’s most efficient charities (by efficient I mean in excess of $.90 of every dollar goes directly to research) Seth has his Pan-Mass Challenge page up. All proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Private CIAs

John Robb, independent military analyst, futurist, and author of “Brave New War,” on Friday posted this interesting tidbit on Friday regarding the move by GlobalCos into the intelligence and security space:

JOURNAL: Private CIAs

By John Robb

A strong sign that the nation-state is in decay is the frequency we see announcements of companies that are replicating some of the most sensitive government services. The most recent mover is Walmart, which is in the process of putting together its own intelligence arm (it’s being built by a former CIA/FBI officer Kenneth Senser). For those unable to afford their own global intelligence unit, Blackwater’s Cofer Black is building one called Total Intelligence Solutions.

If you want to get up to speed quickly, the background for this is available in BNW.

This makes sense, of course. As these companies plan long-term deployments across the globe they can little afford not to know the risks involved. And the intelligence fiasco of Iraq WMDs showed how unreliable government intelligence can be. This looks, to me, like another area where oligopoly control of a market makes sense. I wonder how the potential for shared intelligence organizations, and perhaps shared risk, will alter the oligopoly landscape?

I Stye

A couple of weeks ago I was on a flight from STL to ATL and my left eye was really bothering me – felt like I had something in my eye the whole trip, but I couldn’t find it. When we landed I went to the restroom and managed to see that I had what I can only describe as an in-grown eyelash. It was sort of curled back in on itself and part of it was caught under the eyelid causing irritation.

styeSo I managed to get ahold of it and pull it out. Actually, it pretty much fell out when I touched it. And all was right with the world. Until yesterday. My eye got sore yesterday morning. By afternoon I had developed a whopping stye in exactly the same place as that in-grown eyelash. Boy, does that hurt. According to AllAboutVision the best treatment is mostly doing nothing – maybe use a little ointment or eyedrops to increase comfort. I have antibiotic opthalmic ointments and homeopathic eyedrops. Guess that’s all I can do for it at the moment.

It’s a beautiful day for a motorcycle ride, but I’m not sure I want to ride with only one good eye…

Read The Bills

There are 160 pages of Congressional bills listed at WashingtonWatch.com. 160 pages, at ~20 bills per page.

Keeping up with legislation, cyberstyle

WashingtonWatch is a site that summarizes legislation pending before Congress, and allows user comments on each piece of legislation.  The site is nice and clean, and the explanations proposed laws are clear and understandable.

The home page lists all the legislation currently pending, but grouped by tabs for categories such as: Most Popular, Newest, Greatest Cost, and Greatest Savings.  If you click on a proposed law it will take you to a page where you can leave a comment about the legislation.  Also, users can edit the section that describes why the legislation should or shouldn’t be passed.  Sort of like Wikidpedia, except probably with more controversy as the site becomes more popular.

What’s wrong with this picture? This is a great site, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we don’t need 635 largely self-serving, ego-centric, half-witted politicians voting on 3,000+ ways to pick our pockets and screw up our lives. Because you know – you just know – they haven’t actually read any of them.

The only bill any of these clowns should be voting for right now is this one – Read The Bills Act. Of course, the Law of Unintended Consequences says even this bill will make things worse. Hat tip to Ernie.

Where’s the Chocolate?

This would be funny if it weren’t true. From Oligopoly Watch:

Chocolate or Mockolate?
Big world’s biggest confectionery companies, including Nestle and Hersheys, are doing what oligopolies do beat, influencing government regulation in their favor. At stake is the very definition of chocolate. According to a Bloomberg article (“Hershey Battles Chocolate Connoisseurs Over Selling `Mockolate'”. April 24):

The Chocolate Manufacturers Association, whose members include Hershey, Nestle SA and Archer Daniels Midland Co., has a petition before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to redefine what constitutes chocolate. They want to make it without the required ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, using instead artificial sweeteners, milk substitutes and vegetable fats such as hydrogenated and trans fats.

The reason for the requested change is the great expense of cocoa butter, a required ingredient. Big Candy would like to substitute cheaper stuff, included the dread trans-fats. […]

Something Seriously New In Printing – Bone Grafts

Recent article in the Daily Mail reports on new use of an inkjet-style printer being used to fashion accurate, biodegradable bone grafts for cosmetic surgery and other uses. Fascinating…

The artificial bones created from an inkjet

By ELEANOR MAYNE
14th April 2007

Scientists are creating artificial bones using a modified version of an inkjet printer.

The technology creates perfect replicas of bones that have been damaged and these can then be inserted in the body to help it to heal. The process will revolutionise bone graft surgery, which currently relies on either bits of bone taken from other parts of the body or ceramic-like substitutes.

[…]

Found via FUTUREdition from The Arlington Institute.

The “Chrysler Unit”

Business pundit Steve Hannaford needed a new term to describe the value of today’s billion-dollar-plus mergers and acquisitions. The disaster that is DaimlerChrysler has given Steve just what he needed:

How Many Chryslers?

Truly the Daimler-Benz purchase of US-automaker Chrysler in 1998 was a stupefying disaster. Through the alchemy of its business acumen, Daimler management transmuted the value of Chrysler from an estimated $40 billion to a value of, to judge from the current bidding, around $5 billion, give or take a few hundred million.

[…]
But some good can come out of the merger. Based on what seems to be the approximate price of the company, we will describe big mergers and acquisitions henceforth in terms of Chrysler unit, that is to say, in $5 billion increments. For example:

The Opra-fication of America Continues

WSJ [subscription required]. Sue Shellenberger, in her April 26 Work and Family column titled Read This and Weep: Crying At Work Gains Acceptance, writes:

Crying at work has long been seen as verboten. But there’s evidence that a growing number of workers, especially those in their 20s and 30s, see it differently. Some think it’s old-fashioned to hide your emotions. Others are quick to cry over negative feedback. And many find themselves at odds with managers who grew up with a more repressive definition of professional conduct.

crying_manCast my caveman vote for keeping it verboten. Thanks to Opra, Jerry Springer, The View, and loads of other cultural schlock we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that wearing our emotions in public somehow makes things better. It doesn’t. In fact, it makes things worse. Carried to its logical conclusion this whole absurd idea is at the heart of much of the social violence and conflict we have. Yes, I know. I’m a caveman. But you tell me, what’s the difference between the crying, sniveling whiner and the disrespected hoodlum who’s about to blow your head off because you happened to look the wrong way? Not much. Both have lost all context for emotional outbursts.

On the one hand, you have some bosses who probably aren’t very good managers and lack people skills (I have worked for some of those.) On the other hand, you have employees who are lousy workers (I’ve been saddled with a few of those.) Many years ago I was a plant manager for a large prepress company. I had a successful track record, had good relations with most of my employees, and had a very productive plant. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone thought I was a great guy, but they were all very happy when the plant went from losing $1 million a year to turning a $500k profit and they got substantial bonuses. And no one was worked to death, no one was abused, no one was treated unfairly. We just identified problems, agreed on solutions, and put them into action. Everyone was involved, and everyone shared the load.

Because of this I was asked to move across the country to take over a plant that was in trouble. I walked into the new plant expecting things to be rather mucked up, but I figured there would be some good people there who could get the job done with the right tools and expectations. What I found was entirely different. I found a plant full of people who wanted to do everything just as they’d always done, even though the plant was on the verge of closing. The slightest suggestion of change was seen as some sort of personal insult:

Gen-Yers — who, it is often noted, are accustomed to lavish praise from their parents — are often ill-schooled in taking criticism and burst into tears at negative feedback, Dr. Twenge says. Kathy Lyle, 55, owner of a Chagrin Falls, Ohio, accounting firm, was dismayed when an employee in her early 30s cried in response to a request to install software on a computer. “When I asked her why, she said, ‘You scare me,'” Ms. Lyle says. Startled, Ms. Lyle told her to pull herself together.

This mirrors my experience — perfectly reasonable, rational requests treated as terrifying challenges. Being deemed a tyrant for merely asking another to do something they haven’t done before. What sort of logic is that? A big problem is we have failed to teach our children how to be good losers, how to accept criticism, how to take a bad performance or mistake and make it a learning experience. For that matter, we’ve failed to teach them anything at all about accepting challenges. The vast majority expect to be praised for little more than turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. As Jeffrey Zaslow write in his April 20 WSJ column The Most Praised Generation Goes To Work:

You, You, You — you really are special, you are! You’ve got everything going for you. You’re attractive, witty, brilliant. “Gifted” is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking — by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one “student of the month” and these days name 40.[…]

[…] Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands’ End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation.

And so we have two sides of the same coin — a generation that cries at the slightest negative word or challenge, or shoots you for a sideways glance. Is that really what we want?

It’s not what I want. Sure, there are times when emotion is appropriate, but getting things out in the open is far from a universal cure-all. If your emotions aren’t based in some fact, if you can’t prove your point in some real way, if you don’t actually have a grievance other than something just isn’t fair, then exactly what are you crying about?

Life is not fair, never has been. I’ve tried to teach my children that the dirtiest four-letter word is F-A-I-R. It would be great if life was fair, but it’s not. Some people win, some lose. Some live a long time, some die young. Some get all the good stuff, some slog away in poverty. All we’ve done with this insistence on fairness and self-esteem and gratuitous flattery is teach our children to base their lives on shallow emotion. We haven’t taught them to achieve, to accept challenges head-on, to do the things that generations before have done to be successful.

It’s no wonder we have such social turmoil. It’s what happens when you stop accepting life on its own terms and working to change yourself, instead spending your days in a fantasy-land of fairness and hoping everyone else changes to suit you.

Signing Up for the DEA

Today I registered for the DEA. I bought some cold medicine. Thanks to the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 I got to show ID and register for the DEA to purchase one $5 package of Tylenol Cold & Sinus.

NPR proclaims this law a fabulous success. In an article titled “Mexican ‘Ice’ Replaces Home-Cooked Meth in U.S.” NPR says:

The nation’s war on drugs has at least one successful battle: State and federal laws limiting access to cold medicines containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have dramatically curtailed small “mom and pop” meth labs.

Of course, the article notes that the home-cooked product has just been replaced with a newer, more powerful form of the drug from Mexico.

Congratulations to our politicians. We have once again assaulted the liberties of average, law-abiding citizens while simultaneously making both over-the-counter cold medicines and the drug problem worse. It seems almost inarguable to me that the more power we grant to bureaucrats the less safe and productive our lives become. The last law passed by Congress that actually improved things was in 1964. 43 years is a long, long time to go without a single useful act by our government. You’d think we would eventually figure out that less is more.

How To Find A Real Estate Agent

This doesn’t really fit here, but I’m starting to think about selling my house. Not right away, but perhaps as early as next spring, or the spring after. Today I came across an article on “7 Questions to Ask Before Signing A Listing Agreement” by Bob Bruss. Bruss has a number of real estate reports available on his web site.

The first rule is interview at least agents before you pick one. Find the three by talking to friends, neighbors, and business associates. The seven questions are:

  1. How much can you get for my home? An agent should provide comparables and you should keep a copy of them to compare between agents.
  2. What are the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your 5 most recent sellers? How many days on the market did it take you to sell? You should call all the references and ask if there were any issues with the agent.
  3. How long have you been selling homes in this area? Do you sell full time? What are your certifications and designations? Where do you live? This is just good background. You may find a great agent who is part-time, but you need to know in order to compare.
  4. What is your minimum listing term? Go for 90 days. If they insist on longer get an unconditional cancel clause for after 90 days. If they say “the average listing in your area is 123 days…” tell them you’re not paying thousands of dollars in commission for an “average” agent.
  5. What is your marketing plan for my home? All agents should have a good plan kit that includes MLS, weekday tour for agents, weekend open house 1x-2x per month, newspaper ads 1x per week, website listings, brochures (ask to see samples)
  6. How many listings do you have now? What are their addresses? Do you have an office assistant? related questions:
    • what day(s) of the week do you take off?
    • who covers for you when you are gone?
    • how promptly do you return phone calls and e-mails?
    • will I be dealing with you or an assistant?
    • are you planning any vacations during the next three months?
  7. What sales commission do you charge for a listing like mine? You pretty much have to pay to play. FSBOs are a lot of work and no matter what you have to pay the buyer’s agent.

I really hate moving. I’ve been in this house for 12 years, but it’s time to start planning the exit strategy. My home is in a subdivision and, while it’s nice, it’s not one that is going to stay nice forever. By the time I leave it will be nearly 15 years old and many of the houses will be starting to show their age. Life is not like the old days, where your folks lived in the same house for decades. I’ll be moving on. Maybe it will be a good time to get rid of much of my accumulated junk.