ePub nerds: Test-fly a Kindle book for us?


Folks who are experts on ePub and .mobi format…  would you mind test-flying an eBook version of Real World Divorce? The web version is derived in semi-real-time from Google Docs (with multiple simultaneous co-authors a convenient collaboration environment was important). It turns out that Google Docs turns out some crazily complex HTML. We strip out some of that for the web version and try to strip more of it with a Perl script for the ePub.

So far it seems to be readable with Calibre and Kindle for PC.

Here are links to the current versions of the files:

Any feedback/corrections/etc. welcomed.

Honda Odyssey 2018 supposedly quieter


The revamped Honda Odyssey (2018) has been announced: Automobile. Here’s the part that caught my eye:

Honda claims the new minivan will also be quietest in class, with triple door seals, acoustic glass, and generous noise attenuation. This makes for easy conversation between first, second, and third rows, says Andrea Martin, principal engineer and lead for noise, vibration, and harshness for the Odyssey.

I would have preferred to see Ms. Martin quoted with a dBA number. Successive generations of minivans are touted as “quiet” and “library-like” but don’t seem to be any quieter inside than my 1998 Toyota Sienna was. Maybe this time the improvement will be real?

Another fun part of the article:

Cabin Watch is fed through a new, 8-inch high-resolution (720P) audio screen, which also features customizable app titles and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

A connected rear entertainment system offers streaming video on a ceiling-mounted, 10.2-inch WSVGA Rear Entertainment System…

WSVGA is 1024×576 pixels. 720P is 1280×720 pixels (as featured on this $60 unlocked mobile phone and also used as a resolution for some baby monitors). Where is Honda finding these absurdly low-res screens? Is there some kind of vintage LCD factory run by Korean hipsters who spend half the day brewing craft beer?

Separately, would it be wise to lease any car acquired in 2017? If electric cars or self-driving cars are perfected the value of a used conventional car will plummet, right? This possibility doesn’t seem to be priced into lease residual values.


If the dark days don’t have you in a suicidal mood…


… then reading The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq should push you over the edge.

In a previous posting I excerpted passages about the protagonist going to a hippie campground. What do they do there?

To his right a fat, sallow, gray-haired woman with thick glasses breathed noisily. She reeked of wine and it was only ten-thirty. … “You feel like that . . .” said the yogi, “you feel like that because you haven’t mastered your negative energy. I can feel deep, powerful desires within you. We can help you—here and now. Let’s all stand and focus the energies of the group.” Everyone stood, joined hands and formed a circle. Reluctantly, Bruno took the hands of the old bag on his right and a revolting little bearded man who looked like Cavanna. Her whole being focused but calm, the yogi uttered a long “Om” and they were off, everyone droning “Om” as if they’d been doing it all their lives. Bruno was gamely trying to join in the resounding harmony when he suddenly felt himself pitch to the right. Hypnotized, the fat hag was toppling like a stone. He let go of her hand but was unable to break his fall and found himself on his knees in front of the old bitch, now flat on her back and writhing on the mat.

He had a brief glimpse of [the “liberating the voice” workshop] as he walked up to the massage workshop: there were about ten of them, very excited, jumping around to the directions of the Tantric woman and screeching like startled turkeys.

He fails to impress a woman or the Brazilian Tourism Council:

Are you from Brittany?” he asked. “Yes—from Saint-Brieuc!” she replied happily. “But I really like Brazilian dance,” she added, obviously trying to absolve herself for her disinterest in African dance. Much more of this and Bruno would really get irritated. He was starting to get pissed off about the world’s stupid obsession with Brazil. What was so great about Brazil? As far as he knew, Brazil was a shithole full of morons obsessed with soccer and Formula One. It was the ne plus ultra of violence, corruption and misery. If ever a country were loathsome, that country, specifically, was Brazil. Sophie,” announced Bruno, “I could go on vacation to Brazil tomorrow. I’d look around a favela. The minibus would be armor-plated; so in the morning, safe, unafraid, I’d go sightseeing, check out eight-year-old murderers who dream of growing up to be gangsters; thirteen-year-old prostitutes dying of AIDS. I’d spend the afternoon at the beach surrounded by filthy-rich drug barons and pimps. I’m sure that in such a passionate, not to mention liberal, society I could shake off the malaise of Western civilization. You’re right, Sophie: I’ll go straight to a travel agent as soon as I get home.”

The characters say a lot of the same stuff as the academic author of Sapiens, but a decade earlier and more succinctly:

On 14 December 1967 the government passed the Neuwirth Act on contraception at its first reading. Although not yet paid for by social security, the pill would now be freely available in pharmacies. It was this which offered a whole section of society access to the sexual revolution, which until then had been reserved for professionals, artists and senior management—and some small businessmen. It is interesting to note that the “sexual revolution” was sometimes portrayed as a communal utopia, whereas in fact it was simply another stage in the historical rise of individualism. As the lovely word “household” suggests, the couple and the family would be the last bastion of primitive communism in liberal society. The sexual revolution was to destroy these intermediary communities, the last to separate the individual from the market. The destruction continues to this day.

Children existed solely to inherit a man’s trade, his moral code and his property. This was taken for granted among the aristocracy, but merchants, craftsmen and peasants also bought into the idea, so it became the norm at every level of society. That’s all gone now: I work for someone else, I rent my apartment from someone else, there’s nothing for my son to inherit. I have no craft to teach him, I haven’t a clue what he might do when he’s older. By the time he grows up, the rules I lived by will have no value—he will live in another universe. If a man accepts the fact that everything must change, then he accepts that life is reduced to nothing more than the sum of his own experience; past and future generations mean nothing to him. That’s how we live now. For a man to bring a child into the world now is meaningless.

That last paragraph represented a best-case scenario for Houellebecq’s character. What about his actual situation?

After divorce—once the family unit has broken down—a man’s relationship with his children is nonsensical. Kids are a trap that has closed, they are the enemy—you have to pay for them all your life—and they outlive you.”

Could we bring Houellebecq over here to help the LGBTQ community deal with the impending threat of King Donald I’s coronation?

Bruno thought, people are wrong to talk about homosexuals. He had never—or very rarely—met a homosexual; on the other hand, he knew a great many pederasts. Some pederasts—thankfully, very few—prefer little boys; they wind up in prison for a long stretch and no one ever talks about them again. Most pederasts, however, are attracted to youths between fifteen and twenty-five. Anyone older than that is, to them, simply an old, dried-up asshole. Watch two old queens together, Bruno liked to say, watch them closely: they may be fond of each other, they may even be affectionate, but do they really want each other? No. As soon as some tight fifteen-to-twenty-five-year-old ass walks past, they will tear each other apart like panthers; each will rip the other to pieces just for that tight little ass—so Bruno thought. In this, as in many things, homosexuals had led the way for society as a whole, Bruno figured. Take him, for example—he was forty-two years old. Did he want women his own age? Absolutely not. On the other hand, for young pussy wrapped in a miniskirt he was prepared to go to the ends of the earth. Well, to Bangkok at least. Which was, after all, a thirteen-hour flight.

ACT UP activists thought it was important to run ads which others thought pornographic, depicting homosexual practices in close-up. Their lives seemed busier and more fulfilled, full of exciting incident. They had multiple partners, fucked each other in back rooms; sometimes the condom split or slipped off and they died of AIDS. Even then their deaths seemed radical, dignified. Television gave lessons in dignity, especially TF1. As a teenager, Michel believed that suffering conferred dignity on a person. Now he had to admit he had been wrong. What conferred dignity on people was television.

Is there any hope for our planet and species? Maybe…

Thirty years later he could not come to any other conclusion: women were indisputably better than men. They were gentler, more affectionate, loving and compassionate; they were less prone to violence, selfishness, cruelty or self-centeredness. Moreover, they were more rational, intelligent and hardworking. What on earth were men for, Michel wondered as he watched sunlight play across the curtains. In earlier times, when bears were more common, perhaps masculinity served a particular and irreplaceable function, but for centuries now men clearly served no useful purpose. For the most part they assuaged their boredom playing tennis, which was a lesser evil; but from time to time they felt the need to change history—which basically meant inciting revolutions or wars. Aside from the senseless suffering they caused, revolutions and wars destroyed the best of the past, forcing societies to rebuild from scratch. Without regular and continuous progress, human evolution took random, irregular and violent turns for which men—with their predilection for risk and danger, their repulsive egotism, their irresponsibility and their violent tendencies—were directly to blame. A world of women would be immeasurably superior, tracing a slower but unwavering progression, with no U-turns and no chaotic insecurity, toward a general happiness.

More: read The Elementary Particles

Medical School 2020, Year 1, Week 14


From our anonymous insider..

“I thought I was in a nightmare,” one classmate wailed the day after election day. Every classmate seems to have voted, but none openly support Donald Trump. Type-A Anita held a class election party at her apartment with “I’m with Her” plastered on every wall. One classmate commented about the ease of registering to vote in a new state.  He used an out-of-state ID as proof of identity but never had to show any proof of residence: “I just typed my address into the online voter portal. They never requested a utility bill, or anything. The bouncer at Friday’s bar looked at my ID more closely than the election volunteer.” Jane and I left before the results were in, but the mood of our hostess gradually darkened.

On post-election Wednesday, our class president sent a GroupMe message to the class: “If anyone would like to talk about last night’s election, please reach out to myself or the VP.” I stopped to join a conversation among three students in the hall.  A proudly gay student said, “I always believed most people thought like me. I feel so alone. I don’t feel safe. I never realized how many racists there are in America.” I asked him what he thought about Peter Thiel’s speech at the RNC? He had never heard of Peter Thiel. A rural West Virginian said that her entire family supports Trump, but she cannot. She described half of American voters as “brainwashed over guns,” but said she still loves her family.

At our monthly journal club, where an instructor leads a six-person discussion of an academic paper, a student asked to be excused to make a phone call. The female biophysicist replied, “Well, apparently, anything goes now. Why not? Go ahead.”  I chuckled, but Anita began to cry and excused herself.

Anatomy lab was not as exciting as last week: a short dissection, mostly identifying different structures that had not yet been removed from the thoracic cavity. We observed the descending aorta as it passes through the diaphragm into the abdominal cavity. One cadaver had an enlarged aorta, many had plaque build-ups. We observed the venous drainage system including the azygos and hemiazygos veins that drain the thoracic wall.  We compared this system among cadavers and noticed the immense amount of normal variation. Some cadavers have the hemiazygos system drain the entire left thorax into the azygos vein, a tributary to superior vena cava. Another variant had divided drainage basins with some going to the azygos system and some draining into the left subclavian vein. One cadaver had a visibly enlarged azygous vein. The trauma surgeon immediately started looking for deep venous thrombosis (DVT). If a large vein in the leg is occluded, the azygos vein acts as collateral circulation, partially bypassing the blockage. We could not find any blockage.

We also observed the paravertebral ganglia column, a fascinating bunch of neurons that run on either side of the vertebrae.  These sympathetic nerves have their cell body, e.g., nucleus, in the spinal cord but their axon exits the vertebrae and runs parallel alongside the vertebral column. It was small and easily mistaken for connective tissue. An instructor complimented our group for identifying this nerve!

Lectures featured a pediatric cardiologist. The whole class quickly fell in love with her three decades of stories about saving babies with congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects, such as atrial septal defects (ASD), ventricular septal defects (VSD) and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), are not uncommon. She explained these in the context of embryological heart development. Fetal circulation is quite different than after a child’s first breath. The fetus uses hemoglobin with a higher oxygen affinity to steal oxygen bound to the mother’s hemoglobin.

Most fetal blood bypasses the pulmonary circulation of the lung through the ductus arteriosus, a shunt between the pulmonary artery and aorta. The ductus arteriosus typically closes within a few hours to days after a baby’s first breath. However, if the ductus arteriosus fails to close, the PDA could lead to severe hypoxia, heart development problems and death. Cardiothoracic surgeons can now close this using a catheter guidewire system instead of open heart surgery. Frequently the PDA patient has other heart defects that require more invasive surgery. Babies with an ASD, VSD, or PDA can live completely normal lives once this is fixed. She concluded by showing the class pictures of her “extended family”.

The patient case followed the story of a baby with an exceedingly rare genetic disorder. Based on an ultrasound, physicians determined that “Kate” would never be able to talk, and would suffer from severe neurological impairment. Only fifty percent of babies with this disorder do not make it to birth, and a mere five percent make it to one year of age. Physicians advised her parents to terminate the pregnancy. The parents refused, “She deserved a fighting chance. Her fight was between herself and Him (pointing up to the sky).”

An early C-section saved Kate and the mother. Kate was then whisked off to the infant operating room to begin work on her full range of birth defects. These would include several life-threatening heart defects, respiratory distress and terrible GI troubles. She was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) which functions as the baby’s lungs and heart. The father broke down when he recounted his memory of this machine. Each ECMO machine has a lever attached. In the event the power goes out at the hospital, he would have to crank the lever to continue pumping oxygenated blood into Kate.

Now seven years old, Kate is fed using a G-tube and is unable to speak words. However, she can smile, laugh, and walk with assistance. Kate enjoys playing with her two younger, but already bigger, siblings. Medicaid pays for a daily caretaker to assist the parents. One classmate asked, “What are your hopes for Kate.” The parents responded, “Kate has surpassed everything we hoped for. We were told she wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. She did. We were told she wouldn’t survive past the age of one. Every additional day is a blessing.”

Statistics for the week… Study: 15 hours. Sleep: 7 hours/night, still staying at Jane’s; Fun: 1 outings. Example fun: Dinner party with Jane’s family.

The Whole Book: http://tinyurl.com/MedicalSchool2020

Mercedes dashboard and navigation interface


A friend recently shelled out $105,000 for a Mercedes GLS 550. We took it on a proving run through the rugged terrain for which it was designed (i.e., to the Natick Mall).

There are some dedicated buttons on the dashboard, e.g., for climate control and audio volume. Then there is what looks like an Android tablet stuck on top of the dash. This is where most of the car’s functions, including navigation, are controlled. If you’ve ever used a smartphone you’ll be completely confused by this tablet because it isn’t a touchscreen. A trackpad/trackball-like controller is down by the driver’s right hand.

The navigation database in this brand-new car didn’t know about the Total Wine, which opened more than a year ago. We used Google Maps on our phones to get the address. It took my friend three tries to get the address into the Mercedes via the voice interface.

One inherently confusing thing about the system is that most things, but not everything, are controlled from the big screen. Everything having to do with climate control is on dedicated buttons. Only some stuff related to audio, however, is on dedicated buttons.

Given the importance of navigation to the typical driver, an actual Android tablet or iPad stuck on the top portion of the dashboard would have been much more useful. Maybe Mercedes would want to tweak the software a little to enable control of the seat massage feature, etc. And maybe they’d have to redo the mechanical adapter every two or three years to adapt to new Android/iOS tablets. But it would be cheaper and better for everyone, I think.

Elite Americans desperate to shield their kids from going to an American school


“In Break With Precedent, Obama Envoys Are Denied Extensions Past Inauguration Day” (nytimes) is kind of funny. The reason that politically-appointed ambassadors want to keep their jobs during the reign of the Trumpenfuhrer is that they don’t want their kids subjected to the world’s most lavishly funded schools:

In the past, administrations of both parties have often granted extensions on a case-by-case basis to allow a handful of ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.

The directive has nonetheless upended the personal lives of many ambassadors, who are scrambling to secure living arrangements and acquire visas allowing them to remain in their countries so their children can remain in school, the diplomats said.

One family might be okay with returning, as long as the kids can attend a private school:

In the Czech Republic, they said, Ambassador Andrew H. Schapiro is seeking housing in Prague as well as lobbying his children’s Chicago-based school to break with policy and accept them back midyear.

(I’m going to assume that a public school in the Chicago area has to accept kids no matter when they show up.)

All of this raises another question… we now have nationwide “Common Core” standards for public schools, right? Yet from talking with K-12 students it seems that different school districts, even ones within the same state, teach things in different orders. Why isn’t there a nationwide standard syllabus so that a student who moves from one Common Core school to a different one is not out of sync by more than a week or two (the two schools might have different calendars)? If there is some advantage to a specific order of material, why can’t the school that has developed that export it to everyone else?


Medical School 2020, Year 1, Week 13


From our anonymous insider..

We finished respiratory physiology with a lecture on arterial blood gases. Breathing allows the infusion of oxygen into the bloodstream and the removal of carbon dioxide produced by cellular metabolism. The respiratory rate is normally regulated by the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood, not by the amount of oxygen. CO2 is tightly regulated because carbon dioxide determines the pH of the blood. Remember that soda contains carbonic acid. When the can is cracked, carbonic acid is converted into CO2 and water, i.e., fizzy water. The reverse process, of CO2 in the blood turning into carbonic acid, results in acidic blood. The body tries to maintain a slightly basic blood pH of 7.4.

My favorite trauma surgeon used some of her patient experiences as case studies to describe the different permutations of arterial blood gas states. In one example, a drunk 18-year old falls three-stories. He is found unconscious, not breathing, with O2 saturation (sat) levels severely depressed at 60%, and CO2 levels severely elevated. The patient is suffering from respiratory acidosis. As the patient is transported to the hospital in an ambulance, his O2 sat rises to 80%, but CO2 has dropped below normal. The high-school-age EMT raised the patient’s oxygen saturation levels with the breathing bag, but was squeezing it too quickly, causing increased expiration of CO2 and respiratory alkalosis.

The patient case was “John,” a 40-year old male suffering from life-threatening asthma since the age of four. Growing up, his condition was successfully managed by the family pediatrician. John’s father was a teacher and John emphasized how this doctor had tailored the treatment and medications to his family’s modest budget, e.g., by finding low-cost alternative medications and free samples. In college, the asthma spiraled out of control. “I saw a PCP [primary care provider] at college once. The guy immediately insulted my pediatrician saying the way I was managing my asthma was terrible.” The PCP scoffed when John said the treatments were working well for him. John never went back and lost touch with the medical system. As his uncontrolled asthma began to worsen (John now admits the college PCP might have been right), he used home remedies. When he was having an asthma attack at night, he would brew a large pot of coffee and sit outside on the porch in the middle of the freezing night drinking cups of coffee with his plump pug (caffeine would relax his bronchioles).  “I probably should have gone to the ED many times,” John said, “but I would push the limits. Also, I knew how much it would cost me so I gulped that coffee.”

John’s asthma said that his asthma improved after he “moved and started a new job,” enabling him to see the pulmonologist sitting next to him. It turned out that the “new job” was a cardiology fellowship and the pulmonologist was his attending. She joked that her fellow/patient was non-compliant and John admitted that it was difficult to find time to take care of himself. He sees patients as part of the fellowship, has two toddlers at home, and moonlights at the VA to support his family (a fellow earns about $60,000 per year). John noted some additional financial pressure from a recent regulation requiring eliminating Ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons from the inhalers’ ejection mechanism. Although the drug itself was the same, this slight tweak to the mechanism allowed pharmaceutical companies to re-patent medications that formerly had generic competition. Prices soared from single digits to hundreds of dollars per inhaler. John said his insurance now covers most of it, but many patients have to pay out-of-pocket due to high deductibles. John noted that for some patients the inhalers can cost more than their mortgage payment, leading to abandonment of the optimal medications. John emphasized the need to listen to patients: “If they say something is working, don’t brush it aside like the college PCP.”

Anatomy lab was incredible, by far the most fascinating day thus far in medical school. After an early morning excursion with Jane to pick up pastries at our favorite breakfast place, we entered the cadaver lab where a fresh pig’s heart from the local butcher awaited each student. The human hearts we removed last week were preserved for a later date once we can appreciate pathological conditions. We were quite timid at first. The surgeons and cardiologists went over and gave us a little instruction about where to make the first scalpel stroke, then said “just enjoy exploring wherever your heart desires.” As soon as we opened the hearts, which we’re told are almost identical to a human’s, we saw an unfamiliar environment. Tendinous fibers, also known as heart strings, criss-crossed in the ventricular chambers connecting the atrioventricular valves to papillary muscles on the heart chamber wall. We rubbed the translucent leaflets of the heart valves in between our fingers. I saw and felt the beautiful tree-like muscular protrusions of the ventricular wall that help guide the flow to their destination, shattering my vision of the interior heart as a smooth surface.

Afterwards my favorite trauma surgeon gave a lecture on the aging heart. She described how the current generation of physicians were all trained on a younger population. Now, when physicians apply this standard of “normal” to older patients, many normal aging processes are diagnosed as pathological. For example, during aging the whole long axis of the heart begins to shorten. This is often misconstrued and overdiagnosed as a pathological state. She cautioned, “Get used to this. You are going to be dealing with an older population.”

Last week’s ear infection patient and I now share something: fleas. I have decamped to Jane’s house until the fumigators can come. The physician with whom I saw the toddler calmly said, “It happens sometimes. Downside of seeing kids.”

Statistics for the week… Study: 12 hours. Sleep: 7 hours/night, fleas kept me up one night; Fun: no downtown outings. Example fun: movie night with Jane bedtime 9:00 pm.

The Whole Book: http://tinyurl.com/MedicalSchool2020

Author or lawyer?


Taking bets from readers…


Who has tried out the new Herman Miller Aeron Chair?



Herman Miller says that they’ve improved the design of their Aeron chair so that it now looks exactly the same but works better (presumably there is at least a higher price that works better for Herman Miller shareholders?).

Has anyone tried the “Aeron Remastered” for an extended period of time? (e.g., a whole day of typing)

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

What did the people in the book Hidden Figures do?


The movie Hidden Figures is out in theaters. We’re planning on going to the theater as soon as our presence is not required in the house every single evening, i.e., in 2033. I looked at the book on which the movie is based last night. This title is Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. I.e., it contains the word “mathematicians.”

I majored in math in college due to a mistaken belief that I was intelligent. So I was eager to see some equations. Yet the book is solid prose. The only numbers are page numbers, basically. Certainly there are no equations. Instead of the festival of LaTeX that I expected, the book could have been authored via text message.

So… what did the NASA employees chronicled in this book actually do?

[Note that I was myself a NASA employee in 1978(!), developing a database management system for Pioneer Venus Orbiter data to support physicists writing analysis code. The PDP-11/70 that I used has disappeared because hardware engineers have made so many advances since the mid-1970s. The computer language that we used, however, which was developed by John Backus in 1957, is alive and well today. What does the survival of Fortran tell us about progress in computer software and computer science?]


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