Blue Light Special

Apparently, blue LEDs can help drowsy drivers stay awake. As readers here might be aware, I’ve been thinking a lot about the effect of blue lights on driver safety lately; it’s nice to see that steady blue lights inside the car might mitigate the ill effects of flashing blue lights outside.

Silver Linings

After the federal bail-out of Bear Stearns, it will be that much easier to point out the hypocrisy of those who claim our “free” market is the envy of other nations. Similarly, if the Supreme Court decides to overturn decades of jurisprudence and scholarship to rule that the second amendment represents an individual (as opposed to civic) right, then we shouldn’t have to listen to right-wingers complaining about activist judges. Small consolation in either case, but at least it’s something.

Generic Drugs

I’ve long wondered what professionals think about the equivalence of generic drugs to name-brand versions, especially when it comes to issues such as release rates and interactions with other ingredients besides the primary one. Thus, I’ve been following some of the action over on ScienceBlogs with great interest. Corpus Callosum went first.

The FDA considers “bioequivalence” a good surrogate for “therapeutic equivalence” — the equal ability of two drug formulations to ease symptoms or cure disease. Physicians and pharmacologists say that for some copycat drugs, showing bioequivalence to the original is not proof enough that the “same medicine” will yield “the same results.”…

The authors point out that the testing done to ensure bioequivalence tends to be very limited: only a small population of persons are studied, and that population tends to be composed of young, healthy persons. Plus, a drug is considered to be satisfactorily bioequivalent if the absorption of the drug is within 80 to 125% of the original.

Then Terra Sigillata followed up with a more detailed account of how generic versions of one drug seemed distinctly non-equivalent.

Drugs like antidepressants must be kept at a minimum threshold blood concentration over a long period of time and Wellbutrin has been formulated to release its active ingredient over an extended time frame. The generic version released much more of its drug earlier – how this relates to effectiveness is not yet clear since the ConsumerLab study was not a clinical efficacy trial.

Great stuff. Anybody who takes medication should go read both articles.

Dungeon Crawling

Here’s the best article I’ve seen yet related to the lamented passing of D&D co-inventor Gary Gygax.

Those few doughty characters and doughy players who survived the experience did so by the application of techniques like driving livestock ahead of them into the tomb to set off the traps, which strikes me as a bit less than heroic. I’m not an expert on fantasy literature, but I don’t remember a scene in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf prods 50 head of cattle into the Mines of Moria to serve as Balrog bait.

July 28
I’m very excited! The cataloging of the entryway has been completed, and a graduate student, Bill, will be entering the dungeon itself for the first time today! He requested a goat to herd into the dungeon ahead of him, but I pointed out that goats are valuable.

Conversations With Amy

Ugh, I hate traveling (this is from Boulder CO), especially alone. I’ll spare everyone the long story, in favor of a couple of exchanges with Amy.

Amy: …something something Daddy Daddy
me: I’m Daddy Daddy? Are you Amy Amy?
Amy: Yes. I am, I am.

The next one requires a bit of explanation. One of the better known landmarks around Boston is a sign on the way to airport that says, “If you lived here, you’d be home now.” We went by it today, which led to the following exchange.

me (mostly to Cindy): If you lived here…
Amy: …then you would go away.

Physics Envy

John M├ędaille makes a very interesting point about economists wanting to be physicists.

by trying to look like astronomers, they look more and more like astrologers. Recall that astrologers take precise measurements, use precise numbers, and draw bewilderingly complex charts, just as economists do. But they cannot be real scientists, because their starting premise, that the stars control all our actions, is not rooted in any higher science; it is a free-standing assumption, neither provable nor falsifiable. In the same way, economists make assumptions about human action not rooted in psychology, assumptions about human society not rooted in sociology, and assumptions about justice not rooted in any rational philosophy or theology.

I’ve often felt like economics was pretty much ruled by post hoc non-reasoning: X happened, then Y happened, and you’ll always be able to find some economists who say it’s because X caused Y. Even in other fields such as sociology where it’s difficult to do actual experiments, there are at least serious attempts to distinguish causation from coincidence. Economists seem to avoid such tests, and I think can make a better case for a causal relationship to their political usefulness than most economists can make for the connections they’d have us believe in. I’m sure most economists are sincere about their theories, and I know they’re subject to their own kind of rigor in their analyses, but M├ędaille is correct that the same could be said of astrologers. The science/non-science distinction cannot be based on those criteria, but must also take into account whether the axioms that define a field can stand up to scientific scrutiny. I’m not sure economics can pass that test. Too much of economics consists of non-falsifiable conclusions based on unexamined premises.

Playmobil Security Check Point

When I first saw this, I was horrified. (Yes, it’s real; click on the image to see the product page.)

Playmobil Security Check Point

Then it occured to me that, like it or not (and I don’t), these things are a fact of our lives. If you were planning to travel with a small child, and were worried about them being traumatized by the ham-handed and ultimately pointless shoving-around that all travelers are put through, maybe this would be a way to prepare them for it. It’s still a bit unrealistic, though. I don’t see that many smiles at real checkpoints. I generally see businesspeople feigning boredom and everyone else – especially the ones in uniform – scowling. Does the toy passenger have removable shoes and a bin to put them in? Where’s the bin for those oh-so-dangerous water bottles, or the guy selling confiscated items on eBay? Do the “privacy” screen and rubber gloves come in an expansion set? On third thought, maybe a child prepared for travel with this set will be even more traumatized when the sad reality fails to meet expectations.

Elephant-Painting Elephant

I wouldn’t believe it if they didn’t have video.

Just Missed, Again

This is as much for my own reference as anything else, but readers who have their own blogs might appreciate some perspective. Let’s establish a ten-point scale for blog influence, where one is a blog that only the blogger’s immediate family and friends read or care about (zero is left as an exercise for the reader), five is something of significant interest within a narrow community (e.g. devotees of a particular hobby or users of a particular site/product) and ten is something that challenges or overlaps with the professional pundit class of newspaper-editorial writers and such. I’d say this blog is a four, or maybe even a three. Judging by what I can see in logs and comments, all three aspects – political, technical, personal – of my writing here attract a non-trivial but still modest audience. In that context, then, some stats from February…

  • Unique visitors: 9900
  • Total visits: 23176
  • Pages (i.e. things actually requested by users): 50903
  • Hits (i.e. including images and other stuff that gets pulled in automatically): 217088
  • The “just missed” part is that I almost got 10K unique visitors. I think visits are the best measure, though, since they measure not just number of readers but also interest level for those readers – sort of, in the sense that disinterested readers probably won’t generate many visits each. I don’t have the numbers from my last host handy, but I can see that in November of 2005 my record for visits was still around 18K. I do pay a little bit of attention to visits/day, though, and my general vague impression is that the site had been in quite a lull for quite a while with that figure around 500-600. For it to be around 800 is actually pretty good. I’m sure some of that was driven by the FairTaxBots and won’t continue, but then again maybe I’ll find something else interesting to write about.

Dangerous Devices

What three electronic devices are most harmful to automotive safety? Here’s my list.

  • Celphones
  • iPods (and similar)
  • Radar guns

The reasons for the first two should be obvious, but aren’t radar guns supposed to enhance safety? Sadly, not so much. In fact, radar guns and the police mindset they represent have an overall negative effect on our safety. Probably the third-most-twiddled automotive electronic device is the radar detector, purchased only out of concern about losing the “reverse lottery” that is speed-law enforcement, with effects similar to those from twiddling celphones and iPods. How safe is that? How safe is it when police officers come shooting out of their little hidey-holes to apprehend another statistic? If speeding is so bad, why are the police themselves the worst offenders? As I understand it, the law says that if the lights aren’t on then the police are bound by the same laws as the rest of us, yet it’s easy to find a police car going 80 in the left lane and riding the bumper of anyone who doesn’t get out of their way immediately. How safe is it to freak out other drivers like that? “Police seek aggressive drivers,” say the signs . . . so they can be issued uniforms and guns, apparently. Speaking of aggressive drivers, if speeding is so bad then why do the police preferentially go after the person at the back of a column of traffic who is least aggressive and speeding the least? Most damning of all, if the purpose of a speed trap is to enhance safety by getting drivers to reduce speed, why can you get arrested for warning other drivers of its existence? The police can put up an “intensive enforcement zone” sign for the same purpose, at taxpayer expense, and it’s supposedly a good thing. If somebody else were to put up a “speed trap ahead” sign, on their own property, for free, it would have exactly the same effect on drivers but the person who put it up would be in a spot of trouble. The claim that radar guns, which only exist to enable this police misbehavior, enhance safety is not only untrue but so completely and clearly untrue that repeating it is offensive.

Every day, I see drivers doing worse things than speeding – tailgating, making dangerous lane changes, barging into the flow of traffic at entrance ramps. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever seen the police trying to do anything about any traffic law besides speeding – compared to the hundreds of speed traps I’ve seen – and I’ve never actually seen them issuing a ticket. The officer who gave me a ticket just over a week ago could have gone down the road half a mile from that empty stretch of road to a busy intersection where such real violations occur constantly, and had a positive effect on safety by issuing tickets as fast as he could write. This opportunity cost is the worst problem with obsessive focus on speeding. If every police officer currently sitting in a speed trap would instead go out and do something else, we’d all be safer. If all the money spent on radar equipment were instead spent on improving signs or road markings – many around here are all but invisible at night or in the rain – we’d all be safer. What police departments are doing now is worse than loafing and wasting taxpayer money.

Just to be clear, I don’t blame the officers themselves; they’re under orders. It must be really depressing for a highly trained and idealistic individual to get orders to shame their profession and increase citizen distrust. It’s the people who issue those orders, the supervisors and chiefs eager to pad numbers and justify budgets, who deserve all of the blame. If every one of those sociopathic desk jockeys were convicted of creating a public nuisance and made to work off their sentences with some real community service, we’d be safer again.

Apologies in advance to anyone in eastern Massachusetts who drives the same kind of car that I do. Despite all the talk about serving the public good, it’s a sure bet that police supervisors and chiefs will be telling their subordinates to keep a special eye out for blue Subarus this month. Oink.