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2016 November 25

Heart risk

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:11
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My 90-year-old father recently needed several stents installed, because his coronary arteries were 85–95% blocked. This came as a bit of a shock to the family, as we had thought his heart was in good shape (aside from needing a pacemaker). So I’ve been thinking a bit about my own risk of coronary vascular disease (CVD), especially since I have hereditary high cholesterol (from my Mom’s side of the family).

Like any modern academic, I turned to the web for more information. There are many calculators on the web for computing one’s risk of CVD, almost all claiming to be based on the Framingham study of heart health. Unfortunately, they disagree enormously (by  a factor of 2) on what my risk is.

I used the following statistics for all site: age 62, male, cholesterol 161 mg/dL=4.16mmol/L, HDL 43 mg/dL=1.11mmol/L, triglycerides 90 mg/dL=1.016 mmol/L, BP134/83mmHg, height 5’11” (180cm), weight 163 lbs(74 kg), race white, no treatment for blood pressure, non-smoker, and no diabetes, though these numbers are not all from the same day, and I’m doubtful of the blood-pressure reading, as it was done with a cheap home cuff that I don’t believe handles my low heart rate well.  (When I’ve had oscillometric and auditory measurements made at nearly the same time, the oscillometric ones have been substantially higher.)

I got the following risks of CVD in the next 10 years:

Site Risk  9.7%  10%  10% (using lipids), 17.9% (using BMI)  10.1% (heart attack or stroke)  10.1%  10.1%  10.1% 10.1%  11.4%  15.4% (Framingham), 11.6% (Qrisk2), 10.3% (ACC/AHA ASCVD)  12% (CHD), 5% (MI), 3% (CHD death), 3% (stroke), 18% (**CVD),  4% (**CVD death), 14% (JBS CVS Risk)  13%  15.0%  18.4%

I’ll have to ask my doctor whether it is worth getting a high-sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hsCRP) test for inflammation to use one of the risk calculators that takes inflammation into account.

The risks are about normal for my age, but I’d like to reduce them if I can.  I’m already on statins (and have been for 25 years) and 81mg aspirin (self-prescribed), I already get about 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, and I’ve been controlling my weight (though I’ve put on 4 lbs in the past year that I’d like to get rid of).  I’m not sure how much more I can reduce the risk.

2016 November 15

Not getting a new MacBook Pro

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:40
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My old MacBook Pro (late 2009 model) has been failing for the past few months (the SD card reader no longer works, the battery only lasts about 2–3 hours, the case is now failing in a way that exposes the electronics, …), and so I was planning to get a new MacBook Pro when the 2016 models came out.

But having seen the descriptions of them online and the prices, I’m not very enthusiastic about the new laptops.  One problem is the USB-C-only approach.  This video sums up my attitude:

(My wife says that the real story of the video is a restaurant worker who lost all the paella pans to the tide after leaving them on the beach.)

Other problems for the new MacBook Pro include the small sizes for the RAM and SSD drives  (my current laptop has 735GB of files on it and 8GB of RAM, so a new one would not be more capacity). Maybe I’ll wait a year to see if they can get a decent price/performance ratio on them.I’m also not excited about the low-travel keyboard, and the large trackpad might make it difficult for me to type, as I often rest the heels of my hands on the case, just a little outside the old, smaller track pad.  So the machine description did not make me want to rush out and spend a couple of grand on a machine that I may be unhappy with.

But my laptop is unlikely to survive another quarter, much less another year, so I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma, as I need a functioning laptop for giving lectures—particularly for demoing PteroDAQ and gnuplot.

I had recently bought the household a refurbished MacBook Air for travel (11″ early 2014), as my laptop is a bit too heavy for convenient travel, and my wife prefers a small laptop to an iPad (which we don’t have). Today, my wife suggested that I use the tiny MacBook Air for lecturing, and get another iMac as a desktop machine (we already have a mid-2011 iMac). The MacBook Air is sufficient for lecturing and travel—it has a couple of USB-A ports, so I can use flash drives or run PteroDAQ or the BitScope USB oscilloscope for lectures, and it has a mini-display port, so I can use my existing VGA dongle to connect to the classroom projector (which is VGA, not HDMI, according to the website of classroom media capabilities—I’d better double-check IRL).

If I decide to use the MacBook Air for lecturing, I can set it up over Winter break with all the software I’ll need and not worry about replacing my MacBook Pro for a few more months.

And then I probably will get an iMac. I can get much more machine for the money buying an iMac rather than a MacBook Pro, but I’ll have to think about exactly which iMac to get. Currently I’m leaning towards a 27″ retina display  model with an i7 processor, but I’ll have to look at prices and specs a bit more.  I’ll want a machine that will not cost more than about $500/year, amortized over its usable life, and preferably a little less.  There is a tradeoff between getting a high-performance machine that will be usable for a year or two longer, or a refurbished machine that has somewhat lower performance but can reasonably be replaced sooner.

2016 November 13

BioTreks—a specialized research journal for high-school students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:09
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Five and half years ago, I published a blog post, Journals for high school researchers, which listed the tiny number of venues I knew of that were open to high-school researchers.

At iGem this year, I heard about a new peer-reviewed journal for high-school students: BioTreks.  Currently the journal is planning on one issue a year, and solely on the subject of synthetic biology, which seems a bit narrow to me:

In 2016, BioTreks will begin publishing open access, peer-reviewed articles related to the implementation and outcome of high school student-driven synthetic biology research. We’re currently accepting original articles that present perspectives, methodologies, and outcomes related to the study and practice of synthetic biology in high schools. Students, educators, and biologists from around the world are invited to contribute content that promotes and describes synthetic biology education and research at the high school level. Authors who are interested in contributing original research articles, methods papers, literature reviews, editorial perspectives to the journal are encouraged to contact us for more information. We look forward to hearing more about your experiences in synthetic biology and discussing ways in which you can share your insights in our journal. Please contact us to learn more about publishing in the journal.

I chatted with one of the originators of the idea for a while at the iGEM Jamboree, and they may be open to expanding the journal to be “synthetic biology and bioengineering”, which is a considerably wider scope, and which may open up opportunities for a lot more high school students.

I don’t know whether this would require them to rewrite their description of their goals:

Ars Biotechnica is a 501(c)3 public charity whose mission is to support science education by introducing high school students to the emerging field of synthetic biology. We do so by awarding grants for schools to use in obtaining laboratory supplies, coordinating local and regional symposia on synthetic biology, and administering a peer-reviewed journal. Our organization has been providing financial and technical support to iGEM-bound synthetic biology teams since 2013 and supporting high school focused synthetic biology symposia since late last year. We’re now excited to announce the launch of BioTreks, a peer-reviewed journal just for high school synthetic biology.

The organization has a very small budget and relies mainly on volunteers:

BioTreks is maintained by a volunteer staff of dedicated biologists, students, and educators. If you have a background in biology, education, peer-reviewed publication, or graphics design and would like to help us develop and maintain the journal, then we would like to hear from you. Volunteers can work remotely and on their own time to coach students on writing scientific papers, serve as section editors, copy editors, and peer-reviewers, and contribute to the journal’s overall presentation and design. Please contact us to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the journal.

They don’t charge anything to students for publication—they aren’t a vanity press that makes money off of selling overpriced printing to suckers students.

If anyone knows of other journals interested in high-school submissions (not vanity presses), let me know, and I’ll blog about them!

2016 November 12

Big patch mending

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:44
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Today’s post is a followup on my two most recent posts: Becoming a Maker: resources for a hobbyist engineer in which I talked a bit about becoming a maker and Overvaluing innovation in which I talked a little about the importance of maintenance. What I’m showing today is an example of the Maker repair ethos—fixing things rather than throwing them away (even when the labor cost of the repair is higher than replacement cost).

I had a flannel duvet cover that we’ve not been using, because it had gotten some bad holes in it:

The largest hole here is big enough to get a foot stuck in. The holes are probably the result of a combination of lots of washing of the flannel and sharp toenails.

The largest hole here is big enough to get a foot stuck in. The holes are probably the result of a combination of lots of washing of the flannel and sharp toenails.

The first thing to do was to sew the holes shut, so that they don’t get any bigger.

Because the holes are near the bottom of the duvet, a long way from any edge to the material, I sewed them shut by hand. The results did not have to be pretty, as I was going to cover them.

Because the holes are near the bottom of the duvet, a long way from any edge to the material, I sewed them shut by hand. The results did not have to be pretty, as I was going to cover them.

The next step was to make a patch.

I cut the patch out of the back of an old flannel shirt that had a worn-out collar. The material of the shirt was still good—only the collar had failed. (Collar failure is a common problem with flannel shirts—I wish they wouldn't put plastic collar stiffeners in flannel shirts.)

I cut the patch out of the back of an old flannel shirt that had a worn-out collar. The material of the shirt was still good—only the collar had failed. (Collar failure is a common problem with flannel shirts—I wish they wouldn’t put plastic collar stiffeners in flannel shirts.)

I hemmed one edge of the patch to the duvet cover with a backstitch, using a large cutting mat as a “darning egg” to keep the fabric smooth and flat.

I used a slightly lighter thread for the sewing than for the material, because it was the closest match we had, and because erring on the side of being too light generally is less visible.

After hemming one edge, I used whip stitch or blanket stitch to hold down the other three sides of the patch.

Whip stitch is the simplest way to attach two pieces of fabric when you only have access to one side.

Whip stitch is the simplest way to attach two pieces of fabric when you only have access to one side.

The blanket stitch is a somewhat decorative treatment for a patch edge, but I worry that it may snag too easily.

The blanket stitch is a somewhat decorative treatment for a patch edge, but I worry that it may snag too easily.

The patch was big, so it took me a while to do all the hand-sewing. I think that this is the biggest patch I’ve ever hand sewn.

Here is the final patch, with a tape measure to give an idea of the scale.

Here is the final patch, with a tape measure to give an idea of the scale.

I believe that this patch should give us another year or so of use out of this flannel duvet cover. If it fails again, I don’t plan to patch it again, as the fabric at that point will be so worn out that it won’t be worth the effort of salvaging.

2016 November 11

Overvaluing innovation

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:43
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Mark Guzdial, in We overvalue innovation and entrepreneurship: Shifting the focus to Maintenance over Fads, points out

We increasingly teach computer science to prepare students to be innovators and create new things (e.g., join startups), when the reality is that most computer science graduates are going to spend the majority of their time maintaining existing systems. (See the papers by Beth Simon and Andy Begel tracking new hires at Microsoft.)  Few who do enter the startup world will create successful software and successful companies, so it’s unlikely that those students who aim to create startups will have a lifelong career in startups. In terms of impact and importance, keeping large, legacy systems running is a much greater social contribution than creating yet another app or game, when so few of those startup efforts are successful.

His post was triggered by a Freakonomics podcast In Praise of Maintenance, which includes Lee Vinsel (of Stevens Institute of Technology) saying

VINSEL: The value of engineering is much, much more than just innovation and new things.  Focusing on taking care of the world rather than just creating the new nifty thing that’s going to solve all of our problems.  If you look at what engineers do, out in the world, like 70–80 percent of them spend most of their time just keeping things going. And so, this comes down to engineering education too, when we’re forcing entrepreneurship and innovation as the message, is that we’re just kind of skewing reality for young people and we’re not giving them a real picture and we’re also not valuing the work that they’re probably going to do in their life. That just seems to me to be kind of a bad idea.

It also includes Martin Casado, a general partner with the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, saying

CASADO: Large public companies in mature markets tend to invest primarily on maintenance. And often they don’t have the additional capital you need to do large innovation. So for example between say 2011 and 2015 growth companies, companies that are in fast-growing areas, spent two times more than legacy companies on research and development. So as companies mature , the majority of their investment and their spend is kind of maintaining existing technologies and so forth. And this is largely because of the pressure from the public markets.

The idea is that well-established companies don’t innovate—they maintain.  When they need innovation, they buy a startup company that looks promising.  Venture capitalists invest in highly speculative innovations, while the stock market invests in stable companies that mainly do maintenance rather than innovation.

Steven Dubner, the podcast author, says

Not often, but once in awhile, I take the time to marvel at the fact that so many people do so much work behind the scenes to keep the world humming. Whether it’s the internet, the roads, the electricity grid, you name it. Of course it’s easy to point out the failures—they’re visible, whereas the bulk of maintenance is practically invisible. But, in praise of maintenance, let me just say this: it’s necessary work; it’s hard work; and for people like me, who are always in a hurry to make the next new thing, it can be really unappealing work.

Although the podcast was talking mainly about infrastructure maintenance (both civil engineering and cyber infrastructure), I like Mark Guzdial’s approach of looking at engineering education, which has started stressing entrepreneurship.

Two decades ago, entrepreneurship was a minor add-on to engineering education.  A few engineers were expected to form startups, but they were mostly on their own—it was a path only for highly motivated individuals, not seen as a dominant form of employment. Now every engineering school seems to push entrepreneurship at its students, as if working for someone else is some sort of failure.

For faculty, this push is often a “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” admonition:

The fraction of start-up owners among recent graduates is 6.4% for all universities and colleges and 5.2% for top-rated schools. These fractions are several times higher than the fraction of start-up owners among faculty, which is 1.3% for all schools and 1.6% for top-rated schools. Indeed, start-ups by recent graduates outnumber start-ups by faculty by a factor of 24.3 among all colleges and universities and by a factor of 11.7 when looking only at “top-rated schools”. []
Now 6.4% of graduates owning start-ups is a pretty large number of students, so there is reason to make entrepreneurship instruction widely available, but apparently 94.6% of students are not going to be owners of start-ups, so there needs to be more emphasis on the sort of maintenance work that is the bread-and-butter of any industry.
(Before someone calls me on it, I’m aware that my 94.6% figure is bogus—the 6.4% figure was based on current owners of start-ups, not eventual owners of start-ups.  I suspect that the number of eventual entrepreneurs may be double or even triple the reported figure, which still leaves over 80% of the students never owning start-ups.)
So the traditional engineering education, which prepared students about equally for new design and for maintenance of existing systems, is still much needed.  How should we be shaping our curricula to meet both sets of needs? How do we get the message to students that innovation is only a small part of the real job, particularly when the media is putting so much emphasis on “innovation” and “disruption”?
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