Nasty Flu Shot

Nasty Flu Shot

I took my daughter for a flu shot last evening.

We went through the typical drawn-out paperwork and long wait to get something so routine.

When the medical practitioner finally arrived with the flu shot, there was a little baggy with all the acoutrements including alcohol wipe, band-aid, cotton, etc.

As the lady starts taking out the items to get ready for giving the shot, she drops the cotton on the floor.

She picks it up quickly, and pretending we didn’t see, she quickly throws it back on the medical tray.

Now I am watching…

She open the band-aid and places it at the ready on the side.

Then she get the syringe AND the cotton that had just fallen on the floor, ready in hand.

As she is about to give the shot, I say, “You’re not going to use the cotton on my daughter that just fell on the floor, are you?”

Her eyes look askance and she throws the cotton back down on the tray, and says, “Oh, of course not.”

I spoke with my daughter afterwards about this as it was hard to understand how a medical practitioner could on one hand, be administering a helpful medicine to a patient, and at the same time, was about to use a dirty cotton on the wound afterwards.

What happened to people actually caring about people and taking pride in the jobs they do, rather than just being in it for the paycheck only?

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Sun Dazed)

Dirty Little People

Dirty Little People

Popular Science had some scary germy statistics about how few people wash their hands well when coming out of the bathroom.

Take a guess?

Only 5%!

And that’s based on almost 4,000 people they observed–but how many would’ve washed correctly if they thought no one was watching?

The dirty stats (while under observation):

– 23% didn’t use soap.

– 15% of men and 7% of women didn’t even use water.

– Average washed for just 6 seconds! (CDC says you need at least 20 seconds with soap and water to kill germs)

From what I’ve seen, unless their is a touchless water faucet and automatic towel dispenser, not too many people wash their hands–they don’t want to get them dirty by touching the same bathroom devices that the other people just touched.

Another no-no for people is touching the bathroom door handle–more germs!

What do some people do–they use (wads of) toilet seat protectors to pull the door open–then guess what’s missing for the next guy or gal?

Most public bathrooms are disgusting–if everyone could just have their own, they would keep it clean out of self-interest and maybe wash their hands a little more too.

Next time we have a recession and need to invest in “shovel ready” infrastructure projects to keep America working–how about we build some (read lots!) clean bathrooms and throw in the automatic wash features, pretty please. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Big Data, Correlation Or Causation?

Big Data, Correlation Or Causation?

Gordon Crovitz wrote about Big Data in the Wall Street Journal (25 March 2013) this week.

He cites from a book called “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think,” an interesting notion that in processing the massive amounts of data we are capturing today, society will “shed some of its obsession for causality in exchange for simple correlation.”

The idea is that in the effort to speed decision processing and making, we will to some extent, or to a great extent, not have the time and resources for the scientific method to actually determine why something is happening, but instead will settle for knowing what is happening–through the massive data pouring in.

While seeing the trends in the data is a big step ahead of just being overwhelmed and possibly drowning in data and not knowing what to make of it, it is still important that we validate what we think we are seeing but scientifically testing it and determining if there is a real reason for what is going on.

Correlating loads of data can make for interesting conclusions like when Google Flu predicts outbreaks (before the CDC) by reaming through millions of searches for things like cough medicine, but correlations can be spurious when for example, a new cough medicine comes out and people are just looking up information about it–hence, no real outbreak of the flu. (Maybe not the best example, but you get the point).

Also, just knowing that something is happening like an epidemic, global warming, flight delays or whatever, is helpful in situational awareness, but without knowing why it’s happening (i.e. the root cause) how can we really address the issues to fix it?

It is good to know if data is pointing us to a new reality, then at least we can take some action(s) to prevent ourselves from getting sick or having to wait endlessly in the airport, but if we want to cure the disease or fix the airlines then we have to go deeper, find out the cause, and attack it–to make it right.

Correlation is good for a quick reaction, but correlation is necessary for long-term prevention and improvement.

Computing resources can be used not just to sift through petabytes of data points (e.g. to come up with neighborhood crime statistics), but to actually help test various causal factors (e.g. socio-economic conditions, community investment, law enforcement efforts, etc.) by processing the results of true scientific testing with proper controls, analysis, and drawn conclusions.

Biowarfare: A Fight At The Molecular Level

Roman_soldiers_guards

There is a fascinating article in The Atlantic (November 2012) on an emerging bioweapons storm that is brewing that could be used in a decapitation strike to harm anyone, even the President of the United States. 

Advances in genetic engineering, biotechnology, and synthetic biology (Synbio) has been seen from decoding human DNA to the development of “magic bullets”, personalized viral therapies that can target and destroy cancer cells.

However, just as most things can be used for good or evil–so too, can this biotechnology be used to target and destroy cancerous cells or perversely to attack healthy ones.

Bioweapons could be targeted to various parts of the body or brain to cause blindness, memory loss, or death itself. More subtly, it can be used to “fabricate evidence” of affairs, crimes, “cast doubt” as to birthplace or heritage, or as supposed markers for genetic diseases, and even mental disability. 

Moreover, while bioweapons of mass destruction can destroy virtually entire civilizations, personalized bioweapons can be engineered based on the manipulation of a specific person’s DNA to attack that person–then just like a sniper, it becomes one shot, one (targeted) kill. 

Personalized bioweapons can be silent and deadly, difficult to detect, hard to pin on a source, and may even be confused with death by natural causes. 

And the cost is coming down…cell-culturing gear “can be had on eBay for as little as $10,000” or “cobbled together for less than $1,000.”

Even non-weaponized use of this technology, can be extremely dangerous. For example, Synbio, can be used to “cut and paste” genetic code from one species to another, can be mixed from multiple species, and new creatures can be created altogether–all this potentially leading to frightening scenarios of “undesired cross-breeding with other organisms, uncontrolled proliferation, crowding out existing species, and threats to biodiversity.” 

Already, “forty nations now host synbio research” and “The Beijing Genomics Institute…is the largest genomic research organization in the world.”

The article speaks to various approaches to counter the personalized bioweapons threat including scientific task forces, bio-detectors, “Clean DNA” (as biological backup system), conducting biological war games, and open/crowdsourcing for solutions. 

It seems clear that the answers of how to defend against these emerging threats are not as good as the questions raised by them–and we will need to be vigilant and fast-track R&D in these areas, as we are still vulnerable. 

Further, I see some similarities between bioweapons, cyberweapons, and even legions of attack drones/droids, as all areas that are non-conventional and developing quickly and quite lethally. 

Unfortunately, we can’t just put on a coat of armor and be safe from attacks at the molecular level, or from malicious code seeking to cripple our national critical infrastructure, or from robots that can stream across a battlespace attacking without fear, pain, or tiring. 

There is no simple paradigm for killing anymore and we better let our imaginations run wild, so we can figure out new ways to protect everyone–from the President and on down to us all.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Zombie Homeland Security Training 101

Unbelievable. The Halo Counter-terrorism Summit (Oct 29-Nov. 2, 2012) is hosting a mock Zombie Invasion as part of its emergency response training for about a 1,000 special ops, military, police, medical, firefighter, and other homeland security professionals. 

The Zombie Apocalypse training exercise is occurring mid-summit on October 31, Halloween–so it is quite timely for other ghoulish activities that day. 

There are two sessions–#1 at 4:30 PM and #2 at 7:00 PM.

Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have posted the CDC’s Zombie Preparedness guidance–saying that “if you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.”

I guess this is very good news with Hurricane Sandy or “Frakenstorm” bearing down on the East Coast this evening.  Zombies, you ain’t got nothing on Frakenstorm! 

In Yahoo News, Brad Barker, the President of Halo Corp., explained why Zombies are good for training, especially in asymmetric warfare: “No one knows what zombies will do in our scenario, but quite frankly no one knows what a terrorist will do.”

Barker also jested that “No doubt when a zombie apocalypse occurs, it’s going to be a federal incident, so we’re making it happen.”

Frankly, I love to see this type of creativity brought to national and homeland security and believe that this makes it less likely that we’ll be perpetually fighting yesterday’s war, instead of tomorrow’s. 

The key is that we think out of the box in terms of what will the adversary do next–from cyberwar to weapons of mass destruction, we can’t afford to be blindsighted. 

So do I think that aliens or zombies are coming for us some day–let’s just say, never say never. 😉

Biosecurity–Where Every Moment Counts

Bioterror

A biological attack on the United States is a most frightening prospect and one that could present an existential threat to us.

Just the very mention of bio-warfare agents such as anthrax, ebola, smallpox, bubonic plague, and others are enough to provoke sheer terror in most people.

BioWatch is a program managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor for a biological attack.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek (21 June 2012) bio-surveillance is currently conducted in 30 metropolitan areas around the country using 600 air filters to detect pathogens, where samples are collected daily and taken to labs for analysis in what amounts to a 36 hour turnaround to determine if there is a hazard.

A new technology made by Positive ID or Northrop Grumman collects samples four times a day and analyzes it on the spot for bateria, viruses, and toxins, and sends the results to officials by secure network in as little as two hours.

The shorter time to detection will give more time to save lives by getting drugs and vaccines to the field sooner and prevent the spread from person to person.

DHS wants to deploy 2,500 of these new sensors and the bio-attack alert system at a cost of approximately $5.7 billion, if Congress approves.

If this bio-sensing system proves out functionally, then the price tag seems well worth it.

Bioweapons like cyber-attacks can cause widespread panic as well as disruption to our everyday way of life, however a bio-attack has the added feature of making people symptomatic and infecting them with deadly and painful illnesses.

Cyber attacks can infiltrate and take out our critical infrastructure, but biological attacks can directly destroy our physical bodies and the population itself.

A bio-attack and a cyber-attack together could devastate us by attacking us while at the same time inhibiting our ability to deliver medication and quarantine those that are ill and so on.

In addition to grossly improving on our cyber defensive (and offensive) capabilities, we must do everything we can to enhance our biosecurity–this mean upgrading our preparedness for bio-terrorism and bio-warfare using the latest technologies available to sniff out and identify a bio attack and alert us so we can respond timely, while we still can.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to U.S. Department of Defense)

>Speed versus Accuracy and Enterprise Architecture

>What’s more important speed or accuracy when it comes to developing and implementing a enterprise architecture?’

On one hand, if your target architecture and transition plans are inaccurate, then you are leading your organization down the wrong business and IT path. One the other hand, if your architecture is not timely, then you are serving up outdated plans and strategy to the organization to no avail.

The Wall Street Journal, 12 November 2008, has an interesting article on an innovative Google “Flu-Bug Tracker” that I think sheds some light on this issue.

Google has a free web service at www.google.org/flutrends that “uses computers to crunch millions of Internet searches people make for keywords that might be related to the flu—for instance ‘cough’ or ‘fever’. It displays the results on a map of the U.S. and shows a chart of changes in flu activity around the country.”

The Google Flu Trend data is meaningful because of strong correlation found between those searching flu related keywords and those actually coming down with the flu as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) one to two weeks later.

“In any given year, between 5% and 20% of Americans catch the flu.”

By getting advance warning of flu trends out to CDC and the public, Google may help provide an early warning for outbreaks. “For epidemiologists, this is an exciting development, because early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected. If a new strain of influenza virus emerges under certain conditions, a pandemic could emerge and cause millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in 1918).” (http://www.google.org/about/flutrends/how.html)

So speed of information is crucial here to early warning—helping people and saving lives. However, the Google Flu Trend information, based on tracking keyword searches, is not as accurate as capturing actual cases of the flu confirmed by laboratory testing.

So like with enterprise architecture, you have a trade-off between speed and accuracy.

With the Flu Trends data, “what they lose in accuracy, the site may make up in speed…reducing that time is crucial for combating influenza, which can manifest itself one to three days after a person comes into contact with the virus.”

Ms. Finelli of the CDC stated: “If you get data that’s not very timely one or two weeks old, it’s possible that the outbreak has already peaked.”

So is there a lesson here for enterprise architects?

Speed and agility is crucial in the making valuable decisions for the organizations in the marketplace, as it is in helping people in their healthcare. Trying to get all or completely accurate information to do an enterprise architecture or strategic plan is like trying to get 100% confirmed cases of the flu—if you wait until you have complete and perfect information, it will be too late to respond effectively.

It’s sort of like the adage “analysis paralysis”—if you keep analyzing and mulling over the data never making a decision, you are essentially paralyzed into non-action.

So it is crucial to get good-enough data that allows you to extrapolate and make decisions that are timely and effective. Of course, you can always course correct as you get more and better information and you get a clearer picture. But don’t wait till everyone in the enterprise has a confirmed case of the proverbial flu to start taking reasonable action.