Measuring What Matters.

I recently read "This Place on Earth: Measuring What Matters" which was prompted by the work of (and officially authored by) Northwest Environment Watch. It is a short book and talks about a small number of really important indicators of the health of the American northwest (including both US and Canadian states/provinces in the region).

It is a simple book with a very low emotional temperature, and quite willing to embrace the conundrums and contradictions in trying to measure the health of the overall environment both for humans, for the regional ecology and for the planet as a whole (eg relating to carbon output).

As a reward for those of you who read this far, a humorous note to end. I sent my friend Phil Warburg, President of the Conservation Law Foundation, a note about this book using the same subject-line I used for this blog post: Measuring What Matters. He told me that he almost ignored the message, thinking it was an unwanted ad for Viagra or Cialis!


We saw Spamalot this time last week during its second run in Boston.

Facebook status at start of show: "Richard always looks on the bright side of life."

Facebook status during intermission: "Richard farts in your general direction."

Facebook status at end of show: "Richard was, did you guess, at Spamalot."

We first saw Spamalot last year. In the intermission, Dorit said that she was sure they would make fun of the Jews in the second half, having made fun of the Christians in the first. I said that they wouldn't ... that Monty Python, being British, had much less interest in Jews than Americans. How wrong I was!

Great show - go see it if you are only even a teeny bit into Monty Python. You are sure to enjoy it.

The Economist confuses an already confusing subject

The Economist (again) piqued my interest, this time with an article called "The Rise of the Hypervisor" (p74 of Jan 19th edition).

However, as is sometimes the case, I was struck by how long the article was, for so little effect. First, although I understand this stuff fairly well, I thought the article did a poor job explaining really what this is all about. Second, although they make two interesting points, they could have done so in a quarter of the space. Here is my four sentence precis:
A hypervisor is specialized software to make one computer act like several, or make several computers act like one. This is an important stepping stone to creating pools of computer resources that can be treated like a utility, available to be used as needed and shared (or shut down for power savings when not needed). Just as Microsoft benefited when IBM ceded the PC operating system to Microsoft in the 1980's, Microsoft may have already made the same mistake in hypervisor software by ceding the ground (although not as explicitly) to VMWare. Now Microsoft is thinking of giving away its own hypervisor for free, and that may lead, again, to more anti-trust lawsuits.

If you are interested in the world of Hypervisors, VMWare, Viridian, Xensource and the like, start here on Wikipedia.


Gregg prompts me, appropriately, to share my experience of spinning, having teased you with my intentions earlier.

I did go to the spinning studio in Newtonville (Spynergy) ... it is great, and the people are lovely. However I just did not enjoy the experience. First I was on an upright bike (I love my Strada), and find those awfully painful saddles as bad as their reputation. Second my legs are fairly strong, so I needed to set the tension up a little so that I wouldn't bounce around on the bike. However with that amount of tension, and the spinning cadence (speed) the instructor suggested, I found myself out of breath very fast, and indeed a little light headed. After that I slowed down considerably, but of course was not really in synch with the class at all.

Now I go back to the question of whether I should just get a good recumbent exercise bike at home. If I would not really "keep up" with an instructor in a spinning class, perhaps having the option to exercise at home is better - more likely to hop on the bike more often. Anyway, that's where it stands right now. The Spynergy people emailed me after my first, not great, experience offering another free class to encourage me to stick with it, and I may yet pluck up the courage to try again.

Meanwhile I have been back on my trusty old Nordic Track for a few sessions, just to keep up some form of exercise, but this is a problem yet to be definitively solved. Watch this space for more news as it unfolds.

Romney, yuck.

I am not one often moved to comment directly on politics. It is a messy world out there, and someone has to lead it, and I don't want to... so good luck to whoever does. However, you know I am not a fan of the current President, and now you are going to hear that I am not a fan of Mitt Romney and his effort to become our next President.

I heard Romney on the radio the other day, and found the same quote from his stump speech today: "we’re going to see jobs continue to leave this country unless we have a President who understands how the economy works and is willing to fight for every single job." (From Time-CNN web page).

This quote highlights all that is horrible about Mitt Romney. He is absolutely an opportunist and nothing else, and this quote is another flip-flop, just like his flip-flopping on all the other issues since his (miserable, mostly-absent) performance as Governer of Massachusetts.

Mitt Romney has been a successful entrepreneur, businessman and private equity manager. He understands the notion of comparative advantage in any economy, and the value created in new ventures and in reorganizing old ventures.

Let me parse out the statement: "unless we have a President who understands how the economy works." In this he asserts that he does understand, and because of his background I actually believe him. He must, therefore, understand that having people do unprofitable work, producing inferior goods with high fixed costs, when there are other better things they could do, is bad for the economy. Therefore, the last thing a person "who understands the economy" should do is "fight for every single job".

When his own money was on the line he was the guy out front restructuring companies (yes, laying people off) in ways that strengthened the firm, making the rest of the jobs more secure and ensuring the ongoing presence of an employer in the community. Let him fight for an economy that welcomes and encourages every NEW job, NEW opportunity, NEW industry... but fighting for the old ones is like King Canute ordering the tide to turn back.

Now he is running for President he is Mr Populist, and he is insulting us all every time he uses that phrase. Yuck.

I would like to tell Mr Romney to go home, but I doubt he will feel much at home here in Massachusetts now. Let the old-time populist parts of Michigan have him (I bet he is not welcome in Utah, either ... I am sure they can smell the hypocrisy a mile away).

Healthcare 2.0 vs Healthcare 0.2

"Where do all the dollars go?" asks the Economist on page 53 of its January 12th edition. "America lags behind its peers in preventing avoidable deaths" is the sub-headline, and the short article goes on to note that "despite being the top spender per head on health, the US lags painfully, and increasingly, behind other wealthy countries in the overall performance of its medial system." This is based on a study of preventable deaths in the population in 19 propserous nations, in which the US came last, and in which the US is falling even further behind.

This damning indictment is shameful, and shows how far the US healthcare system has to go. While we worry about Healthcare 2.0 (a la Web 2.0), what we should really be concerned about is the fact that our system looks like a version 0.2.

In contrast, you know I am a fan of Paul Levy and his blog. Paul is CEO of a partnership of two hospitals, BIDMC (large, Harvard-affiliated academic medical center) and BID Needham (community hospital in the Boston suburbs). Paul's recent posting on the big goals they have set for themselves continues the tradition of leadership that he and the hospitals have been taking on things that matter, and on transparency of efforts and outcomes. This is the real Healthcare 2.0, despite my infatuation with PHRs and the like. May the the BID Hospitals reach their goals speedily, and congratulations to their entire team.

Death Star Canteen

For Star Wars fans, with thanks to Michael Lewin for the pointer, and as long as you don't mind the f***-bomb from Eddie Izard, check out this hilarious video contemplating the canteen on the Death Star.

Facebook vs everything

I subscribed to my Facebook minifeed using the RSS option. This means my Facebook friends' updates come to me (I don't have to check my Facebook page). However, I do visit Facebook once or twice a day and update my own status, and I sometimes use my cell phone to do this as well.

I have noticed I am blogging just a little less at the moment. Is this because my publicity itch is being partially scratched by publishing my Facebook status? Perhaps not ... perhaps it is because I still haven't found my exercise rhythm in the winter, and this is, after all, a blog about Venture Cycling.

I previously posted on Facebook vs LinkedIn. Rumor may or may not have it that Facebook may buy Plaxo, which is kind of mind-bending. However, Jeff Pulver also just posted that he is moving slowly away from regular email and towards Facebook messages.

All in all, Facebook has the potential to be the big black hole of the internet - sucking everything in its neighborhood into its giant gravity field... or perhaps it will feel like Hotel California: "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".

Bill Gates last day at work

Bill Gates announced a while ago that July 1, 2008 will be his last day working at Microsoft. At this years CES show just held in Las Vegas, his keynote included this great video.

Laid back bikes

Laid back bikes ... as they call recumbents in England. Check out the video. Thanks to Sean Roche of Newton Streets and Sidewalks blog for the reference.

Mike Burrows shows his bikes off from recumbent rider on Vimeo.

Schadenfreude Pie

With thanks to my riding buddy Guy Sapirstein, who found this... check out a wonderful post on How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie. Not only does it look delicious, but it also raises all sorts of amazing philosophical questions. Of course, Schadenfreude can backfire on you, and too much of this pie could likely wreak havoc on your digestion, your arteries, and very possibly, your karma.

The Anatomy of Hope

Happy new year. I have been off the blog since December, first in Phoenix on a (fab) family reunion vacation trip, and since then catching up.

During my vacation I got to read The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman. This is a great book, and well worth the read. You know by now my interest in health care, and Dr Groopman is a great leader and writer in the field. He works at BIDMC (of which blogger Paul Levy is CEO) and practices in Oncology and Virology. This book explores how hope plays a role in fighting disease and finding healing. It explores the link between hope and the underlying causes of the placebo effect (including quoting from the work of the wonderful Dr Ted Kaptchuk).

Many think that the placebo effect is the "null effect" (or random noise) in the face of a "null treatment" like a sugar pill. The truth is much more complicated, and as is discussed in this book, includes the brain's own ability to trigger the production of healing and palliative (pain relieving) chemicals and hormones in the face of certain non-medical stimuli (including sugar pills or "sham" operations). The placebo effect produces real bodily changes (and palliation or healing) even though the medicinal intervention is only the appearance of using a procedure, drug or device. The attention and care from the health care professionals that comes with this appearance seems able to trigger these benefits in some or many (but not all) patients. Such reactions seem to be triggered by the hope that comes with a medicinal intervention, and Dr Groopman tries hard to find and explain how this works.

I surely hope never to have to face the need to find such hope as Groopman finds in cancer and HIV/AIDS patients he describes, although I know more than a few people who have had to do so. But, it is comforting to understand the role that hope can play.

I wonder, with the massive changes humans seem to be causing the planet, if hope can play a vital role in persuading humankind to make the appropriate changes to our collective behavior. Certainly it is a better response than the despair that lurks behind every story about the acidification of the ocean or the rapid melting of land-based ice caps.

Even if this book is just about the role of hope in healing, and the relationship between doctor, patient and hope, it is a worthwhile read, and an enjoyable one.