Saturday, 19 December 2009

Organ Donation Law Proposal in Wales

Given Wales' limited autonomy, the ability to make decisions such as this are only good for the country; it also means that Wales' policies and (secondary) laws are different from the rest of the UK and provide a differentiation which is to the advantage of the people of Wales. This particular piece of proposed primary legislation is particularly important and really should be the default - in the meantime go here (UK NHS):

This from the BBC:

Wales seeks organ opt-out powers
Wales could become the first part of the UK introduce an opt-out system of organ donation under plans by the assembly government. It would mean that Welsh residents would be presumed to be organ donors unless they have joined an opt out register or immediate relatives object.
Long may it continue, however future primary law making powers are still to be crippled by Westminster...

As an aside, many countries in Europe use the presumed consent idea - Finland does not (link to English translation of Finnish law) though it has been proposed to be changed in the next year.

PC World...

Its well known that the staff in major PC retailers aren't the most qualified when it comes to computers (its a favourite pasttime of computer science students to bait these guys for fun on a Saturday afternoon), so I'm not sure whether this story from the immimical NewsBiscuit is truth or irony...

Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to part-time PC World assistant

Posted: Dec 19th, 2009 by roybland

Mr Ward, who works at his local PC World at weekends, said he was ‘gob smacked’ on receiving the letter informing him of his success. ‘It was awesome,’ he told journalists. ‘I knew I’d done something pretty cool, but I didn’t think I had a chance of a Nobel Prize. But, looking back, I suppose it was pretty groundbreaking for a PC World guy to give out correct technical information.’

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Swine Flu...

Interesting article from the New England Journal of Medicine regarding Swine Flu (link via the ever thought provoking Schneier on Security blog) about Swine Influenza. A short quote from the article reads:
This is the story line for most headline-grabbing illnesses — HIV, Ebola virus, SARS, typhoid. These diseases capture our imagination and ignite our fears in ways that more prosaic illnesses do not. These dramatic stakes lend themselves quite naturally to thriller books and movies; Dustin Hoffman hasn't starred in any blockbusters about emphysema or dysentery.
Published at November 25, 2009 (10.1056/NEJMp0911047)
The Emotional Epidemiology of H1N1 Influenza Vaccination
Danielle Ofri, M.D., Ph.D.

Now while no-one is doubting the seriousness of a new type of flu strain - they happen evey year, many times - the hysteria generated about Swine Flu has dwarfed other issues in the media. The rush for the vaccine here in Finland has been interesting to watch. One can sympathise with the officials to a point but when only hysterical, scare mongering information is being released - I guess balanced reporting doesn't make headines - then one must be more skeptical than usual, though if I recall corrected this NPR episode had a very good report on the issue.

One thing that amazed me was the queues at health centres in Helsinki and the capital region of Finland for the vaccine. At the time only risk groups were being vaccinated (babies, small children, those with respiratory illnesses) and this resulted in long queues both inside and outside (the weather at the time was -5C I remember in one news report) health centres. Now, think for a moment, if you have a highly contagious, respiratory illness then the worst thing you can do is to gather large crowds of people together for long periods of time (some who might already be incubating the illness too)....?   As the vaccine takes two weeks to become active within the body then there's a very good chance that you've accidentally created the conditions to spread the virus much more. Anyway, swine flu has dropped from the Finnish media almost totally with the occasional report on the still-yet-to-come-but-really-it-is-and-please-be-as-scared-as-possible second wave; which we've been told has already hit many countries, but not Finland...

As for the spread of the disease, the wikiedpia article on the 2009 H1N1 outbreak has an interesting quote backed up by data from the CDC:
With respect to the current swine flu pandemic, influenza surveillance information is available but almost no studies have attempted to estimate the total number of deaths attributable to swine flu. Two studies have been performed by the CDC, however; the most recent estimates that there were 9,820 deaths (range 7,070-13,930) attributable to swine flu from April to November the 14th.[16] During the same period, 1642 deaths were officially confirmed as caused by swine flu.
For comparison here's a link about the 1918 outbreak and from the 2009 pandemic wikipedia article a comparison of the various major outbreaks against "seasonal" flu (with all the linked left in for reference):

Pandemic Year Influenza virus type People infected (approximate) Estimated deaths worldwide Case fatality rate
Spanish flu 1918–1919 A/H1N1[154] 33% (500 million)[155] 20–100 million[156][157][158] >2.5%[159]
Asian flu 1956–1958 A/H2N2[154]  ? 2 million[158] <0.1%[159]
Hong Kong flu 1968–1969 A/H3N2[154]  ? 1 million[158] <0.1%[159]
Seasonal flu Every year mainly A/H3N2, A/H1N1, and B 5–15% (340 million – 1 billion)[160] 250,000–500,000 per year[147] <0.1%[161]
Swine flu 2009 Pandemic H1N1/09 > 622,482 (lab-confirmed)[162] 11,033 (lab-confirmed; ECDC)[2]
≥8,768 (lab-confirmed; WHO)[163]

Finally, the definition for Pandemic with some extremely interesting figures between various diseases and background information on exactly what Influenza is and what the family of influenza viruses (Orthmyxoviridae) are.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Apollo 12 Footsteps

From Bad Astronomy ...

LRO spots Apollo 12 footsteps 

1900, Electricity and "socialism"....

Interesting article comparing access to electricty in 1900 with access to the internet in 2009 - particuarly relevant to the USA where it seems that any provision of any service by "the government" is seem as some form of "socialism" (or nazism - depends on the day) .... note the quotes! Anyway:

by Glenn Fleishman, 12/11/2009, 11:18 AM
just a small quote:
It’s instructional to look back 100 years, not long after the first electrical generation plants were built to bring power to towns and cities, to assess the situation we find ourselves in with broadband availability today.
At the turn of the century, electricity was largely used for electrical lighting to replace gas lighting. Gas required distribution of a flammable substance all over a city, and wasn’t practical outside of dense, urban areas. Electrical power also needed to be distributed, but the generation source—coal or water—could be in one place

Sunday, 13 December 2009

AirFrance 447 and a new low in news reporting...

The loss of Air France 447 between Rio and Paris somewhere over the south Atlantic has produced much speculation. Last months mayday call by another Air France aircraft (flight number AF445) in roughly the same place due to turbulence has however produced this:

Firstly, a MayDay call is part of the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for Air France (and others) during exceptionally heavy turbulence which can often be found over that particular part of the Atlantic in an area called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ).  A discussion about the above can be found on the Pprune forums by professional pilots which will shed a lot more light on what happened to AF 445.

One possible "new" Bermuda Triangle theory "could" be based upon the methane clathrate idea where large amounts of methane are released from the sea-bed due to earthquake or other seismic phenomenon. Such a release of gas would cause bubbles to reduce the density of the water and at least, theoretically, sink a ship. Such a methane release could burn or explode and reach to 30,000ft or more thus affecting aircraft. However this has never happened, never been recorded (an explosion reaching to 30,000 might just have been detected) and there appear to be no methan clathrate deposits in the area.

While the loss of AF447 is not known, the development of a "new" Bermuda Triangle is one of the more far fetched theories - a minor application of Occam's Razor is required here perhaps? The most likely theory for severe turbulence in this particular area is the already known, recorded and oft experienced effect of the ITCZ.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Quick Guide to the Large Hadron Collider

Just had to post this for future reference and a good, easy to read description of the LHC:

File sharing and copyright...

Geist: Record industry faces liability over `infringement'

This is interesting (if not just a little ironic) the MPAA, RIAA and various other copyright agencies would have you believe, piracy of music and films is "destroying" the music industry - and not the banal, manufactured [sic.] music that is being produced and sold for extremely high prices in the shops.

We're all guilty, even singing "Happy Birthday" makes you guilty of copyright infringement and subject to prosecution in many countries (UK, USA etc). Download an mp3 of the same song 3 times and go to jail, lose internet connection etc etc.

Now the tables have been turned on one of these organisations - the Canadian Recording Industry Association (Canada's RIAA) - who have been accused of infringing copyright in exactly the same way as they've been accusing everyone else. Applying the same "mathematics" they've used for fining people over copyright infringement of individual songs they're being sued for 60,000,000,000 (sixty billion) dollars (presumably Canadian dollars)

Here's a quote from the story:
Chet Baker was a leading jazz musician in the 1950s, playing trumpet and providing vocals. Baker died in 1988, yet he is about to add a new claim to fame as the lead plaintiff in possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history. His estate, which still owns the copyright in more than 50 of his works, is part of a massive class-action lawsuit that has been underway for the past year.
The infringer has effectively already admitted owing at least $50 million and the full claim could exceed $60 billion. If the dollars don't shock, the target of the lawsuit undoubtedly will: The defendants in the case are Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada, and Universal Music Canada, the four primary members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.

which can be found in full here.

Citation for the above (see the link at the top also):  By Michael Geist Internet Law Columnist at The Star  (Toronto Edition)

Approximately at the time of writing:

60,000,000,000 CAD = 56,900,000,000 USD = 38,400,000,000 EUR = 34,800,000,000 GBP = 2100 metric tonnes of Gold.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Photography and vampires...

Apart from the issue of sailing on an umbrella, this photograph is genius - as the caption states clearly, "no detail is overlooked"...

...more at Photoshop Disasters...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Welsh Devolution

It all seems so simple: Wales (similarly to what Scotland has) will get primary law making powers if the country votes yes in a referendum to be held sometime in the future.

Betsan's Blog on the BBC website contains daily udates on the Welsh political scene and of course much discussion on devolution.

While there's is much debate from the usual suspects (generally from people who are rabidly against devolution but have no idea why) about the Welsh Assembly and whether Wales should take responsibility for its own affairs instead of it being dictated by someone in Westminster (what was it, over 1000 quangos under previous administrations and none of them accountable to the Welsh electorate?), there is absolutely no discussion about why Westminster put all these restrictions on Welsh self-determination.

For example, the current discussion about what would happen after a referendum and in what areas Wales would take full responsibility reveals that the piecemeal approach by Westminster shows a bizarre degree of arrogance to Wales - but not Scotland nor Northern Ireland? Ironically it is England that actually suffers from a lack of transparency and democracy in this case.

So some questions:

  • Why didn't Wales get primary law and tax varying powers?
  • Why can't Wales get primary law and tax varying powers?

One answer is "history" and that the current system is "working" . Let's tackle the latter point first in terms of "working" ... should we go back to the situation where the decisions directly affecting the Welsh electorate are not made in Wales but by a group of politicians sitting in London, the vast majority of which do not have any interest in Wales at all?  This is effectively the West Lothian Question by applied to Wales. Secondly where in history do you wish to base your defintion of the "correct" time ... pre 1066?, 1535-1542? 1979? 1997? Why not use the Laws of of Hywel Dda?

But also as answers to the two above questions, the amount of tax payers money (in the UK as a whole) now being spent on managing a bizzarely, complicated LCO process for allowing Wales to even manage things such as the Welsh language is obscene (a link to this particular LCO is here). This of course produces another question as to why Wales didn't get responsibility for the laws relating to a language spoken inside her borders in the first place?  Why the utter arbitaryness of the whole process in the first place?

To answer the question of whether Wales needs these powers is quite simple, the smaller and more focussed government is the more relevant it is for the people. If Wales shouldn't have more devolution then why should Scotland or Northern Ireland, or even England? But this brings up another bogey term - federalism - which is banded around the UK press and uttered with the same contempt as the EU - but seems to work in Germany, Spain, Switzerland etc...not too dissimilar countries from the UK?