Tropical virus goes from Zero to 1.24 mIllion cases in the Americas – in 1 year!

In slightly more than a year, the Americas have seen more than 1.24 million cases of chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne disease that causes high fever and debilitating joint pain.

The tropical virus was rare in North, Central, and South America until December 2013, when investigation of suspected dengue virus in the Caribbean island of St. Martin turned up 26 cases of chikungunya, without any sign they had been imported from elsewhere.

As of the end of February 2015, that handful of cases had exploded to 1,247,400 suspected and confirmed cases, affecting almost every country in the hemisphere, according to the Pan-American Health Organization.

Until the end of 2013, chikungunya in the Americas was almost entirely imported from countries in Africa or Asia where the tropical virus was endemic.

In the U.S., most cases are still imported — a cumulative total of some 2,542 since 2013, according to the PAHO, with an additional 11 cases, all in Florida, blamed on local transmission. But most of that transmission now comes from the epidemics raging elsewhere in the region.

The U.S. numbers might be an underestimate…until this year, the virus was not a nationally notifiable disease, so some cases might have been missed.

The virus — the name is pronounced chik-un-GUHN-ya — is carried by mosquitoes, mainly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which are widespread in the U.S.

The CDC notes that both species primarily bite in the daytime and urges that travelers take precautions against mosquito bites, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, if weather permits, and using insect repellents.

There is no specific treatment for the virus and no vaccine, but its dramatic spread has re-focused the attention of vaccine researchers…

By summertime, some enterprising news-as-entertainment-network will pick up on the fear-factor potential of another disease originating in Africa and take a shot at American Ebola panic to get traffic up on their crappy channel. There have been a few false starts; but, the Philistines haven’t succeeded. Yet.

Meanwhile, support for vaccine studies proceeds at a deliberate pace. Something else for both New Age and Old Testament Luddites to use to up their anti-science game.

The CDC will have – and does have – reasonable safety suggestions. Not unlike the usual sensible practices everywhere insect-borne disease may flourish.

Restaurant honors birthday rule — 101-year-old gets 101% refund!


Looks pretty good for 101

A restaurant’s policy to give customers a percentage off their bill on their birthday actually became a 7-cent refund for man who turned 101.

Joseph Nelson, who celebrated a birthday breakfast at the Belmont Hall and Restaurant in Manchester on Monday, told WMUR-TV he never thought he’d live this long.

The restaurant’s policy is that customers get a percentage taken off the bill on their birthday based on their age. At 101 years old, the restaurant owed Nelson money.

Nelson ate scrambled eggs and ham, topped off with a piece of chocolate cake.

You can’t buy publicity like this – this cheap.

Olympus never had FDA test endoscope linked to superbug exposure

Three years ago, Japanese electronics giant Olympus Corp. was in crisis amid a massive accounting scandal and plunging sales of its signature cameras…Executives vowed to save the 93-year-old firm, whose American headquarters is in Center Valley, by turning aggressively to health care and selling more medical scopes to doctors and hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide.

The bet paid off: Medical sales soared 25 percent last year, and Olympus boasts a commanding 70 percent share of the global market for gastrointestinal endoscopes.

But now the industry leader finds itself at the center of superbug outbreaks at U.S. hospitals, including UCLA, where two patients have died and nearly 180 more people may have been exposed to deadly bacteria on contaminated Olympus scopes.

Medical experts, health officials, lawmakers and patients’ families are pinning much of the blame for the recent UCLA outbreak and others across the country on the company and one of its TJF-Q180V duodenoscope.

On Wednesday, Olympus found itself facing a fresh allegation. CNN reported that, according to an official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the company never obtained permission to sell the device.

Olympus started selling its TJF-Q180V duodenoscope in 2010, but the FDA didn’t notice until late 2013 or early 2014 that the company had never asked for clearance to put it on the market…

“Why didn’t we notice it? I don’t know,” said Karen Riley, a deputy director…for the FDA’s Office of External Affairs..

When you stand back up after collapsing over this carnival of death – RTFA for chronology, early reports [apparently ignored] and anecdotal tales from patients exposed to this crap design.

American bankers/retailers cheap out on improving security


Adding a PIN is so difficult, eh?

New technology about to be deployed by credit card companies will require U.S. consumers to carry a new kind of card and retailers across the nation to upgrade payment terminals. But despite a price tag of $8.65 billion, the shift will address only a narrow range of security issues.

Credit card companies have set an October deadline for the switch to chip-enabled cards, which come with embedded computer chips that make them far more difficult to clone. Counterfeit cards, however, account for only about 37 percent of credit card fraud, and the new technology will be nearly as vulnerable to other kinds of hacking and cyber attacks as current swipe-card systems, security experts say.

Moreover, U.S. banks and card companies will not issue personal identification numbers (PINs) with the new credit cards, an additional security measure that would render stolen or lost cards virtually useless when making in-person purchases at a retail outlet. Instead, they will stick with the present system of requiring signatures…

Chip technology has been widely used in Europe for nearly two decades, but banks there typically require PINs. Even so, the technology leaves data unprotected at three key points, security experts say: When it enters a payment terminal, when it is transmitted through a processor, and when it is stored in a retailer’s information systems. It also does not protect online transactions.

American corporations inside the retail purchasing loop are perfectly willing to expand that to four key points.

Retailers and security experts say it would make more sense for the United States to jump instead to a more secure system, such as point-to-point encryption. This technology is superior to chip-and-PIN, which first was deployed about 20 years ago, because it scrambles data to make it unreadable from the moment a transaction starts.

But the newer technology would cost as much as twice what the chip card transition will cost…

Moreover, some security experts say that mobile payment services such as Apple Pay, a service from Apple that stores data on the cloud, have the potential in coming years to secure payments without the need to swipe or tap a card at all…

Rick Dakin, who is advising a group of banks on payment security, said no industry standard exists for the newer point-to-point encryption systems, and banks and card companies are hesitant to make large-scale investments before the standards are set.

Apparently, 20 years isn’t sufficient time to adopt standards in the United States.

Banks and card companies said a chip card alone can make stolen data less useful for hackers and the technology has worked in reducing counterfeit card fraud in Europe and elsewhere.

Security experts said the shift cannot prevent massive consumer data breaches of the sort that recently hit Target and Home Depot. But the technology will make it more difficult to use stolen data.

The installation of 15 million payment terminals that can read chip cards in the U.S. will cost approximately $6.75 billion. Banks are expected to spend some $1.4 billion to issue new cards and another $.5 billion to upgrade their Automated Teller Machines according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

Beancounters live and die on hindsight – and this is another case of crap decisions being worthless.

What would this conversion have cost in 1995 dollar$? How many billion$ have been lost to fraud, counterfeit credit cards and identity theft? All it took in the first place was a willingness to make security a priority.

Medicare drug costs continue to shrink under ObamaCare

ObamaCare has led to substantial savings in prescription drug costs and a strong increase in the use of preventive services…

“Our parents and grandparents on Medicare saved more than $15 billion on prescription drugs since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said.

Those savings amount to nearly $1,600 per person enrolled in Medicare — an increase from about $1,400 in average savings last year…

Under ObamaCare, recipients in the “doughnut hole” receive a rebate or discount from the government to help them save on prescription drug costs until the gap can ultimately be closed.

Burwell also highlighted the growing use of preventive healthcare coverage under ObamaCare — another top issue for the administration. Many provider groups only signed onto healthcare reform with the promise that preventive care would be a central tenet.

Nearly 40 million people have used at least one of Medicare’s free preventive services in the last year alone, the secretary said. Nearly 5 million enrollees received the annual wellness exam…

Doctors groups, such as the American Medical Association, have been key administration partners in the implementation of ObamaCare. But the two sides have not entirely agreed on the creation and rollout of ObamaCare, Burwell acknowledged Tuesday.

She specifically pointed to the unpopular rules on electronic health records, which doctors have lamented as costly and bureaucratic. She also pointed to the president’s support of for a permanent Sustainable Growth Rate formula, which decides the reimbursement rate for Medicare doctors.

As a geek and a fiscal conservative, I’m happy to see the electronic health records have proved to be a boon in catching fraud. Individual doctors, group practices, hospitals and clinics are beginning to learn that appropriate data mining brings sleazy practices to light easier than anything before Obamacare.

There’s more to criticize and more to come. I’d still like to have a classic single payer mode and access to national-negotiated prices for meds – just like that provided for our military. At the passage of the ACA, there were enough Republican conservatives and Blue Dog Democrats around to block that savings. Big Pharma got their money’s worth out of Congress that time.

Shot on iPhone 6 – Around the world

People take incredible photos and videos on iPhone 6 every day. And here are some of our favorites. Explore the gallery, learn a few tips, and see what’s possible with the world’s most popular camera.

Star Valley Ranch, Cole R
Click to enlarge

I’ve been a photographer since single-digit years. Apple put this collection up to illustrate what folks have been doing with the camera in their iPhones in recent days and months.

I’m suitably impressed. I don’t own a smartphone; but, even the few snaps I’ve taken with my iPad came out of the ether as viewable and editable into something useful. The point is, however, you can get to being a decent photographer as long as the hardware is designed around a good lens – and helpful software comes with it.

Click here to get to the beginning of the gallery.

First ever photograph of light as particle and a wave

Light as particle and wave
Click to enlargeEnergy-space photography of light confined on a nanowire

Light behaves both as a particle and as a wave. Since the days of Einstein, scientists have been trying to directly observe both of these aspects of light at the same time. Now, scientists at EPFL have succeeded in capturing the first-ever snapshot of this dual behavior.

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle or a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times. Taking a radically different experimental approach, EPFL scientists have now been able to take the first ever snapshot of light behaving both as a wave and as a particle. The breakthrough work is published in Nature Communications.

When UV light hits a metal surface, it causes an emission of electrons. Albert Einstein explained this “photoelectric” effect by proposing that light — thought to only be a wave — is also a stream of particles. Even though a variety of experiments have successfully observed both the particle- and wave-like behaviors of light, they have never been able to observe both at the same time.

RTFA for details of the experiment. Even if I understand quantum-nothing – though SmartAlix explains it to me at least once every year – I really love the photograph. :)

Apple offers great security with Apple Pay — banks aren’t doing as well

too big, too stupid

Apple Pay has proven to be a venue of convenience for criminals focusing on identity fraud, a new report suggests, with many fraudsters taking advantage of lax customer verification controls put in place by Apple’s partner banks to make brick-and-mortar purchases using stolen credit cards via the growing mobile payment service.

Apple Pay itself has not been exploited, according to The Guardian, with issues instead arising at the issuing banks. The problem centers around the processes those banks use to verify customers’ identity when adding a card to Apple Pay.

When adding a card, banks can reportedly choose to accept it immediately — using a so-called “green path” — or require additional verification, via a “yellow path.” Apple provides the banks with contextual information, such as the name of the device Apple Pay is being configured on, the device’s current location, and data about the length of iTunes transaction history, during setup to help identify cases where more stringent checks are required.

The yellow path processes have apparently been found lacking in some cases, with unnamed partner banks asking only for relatively easily-obtainable information, such as the last four digits of the customer’s social security number. Once approved, criminals can then use Apple Pay to purchase products at retail, later selling them for cash — with Apple retail stores apparently a particularly attractive target…

As part of their Apple Pay agreements, issuing banks agreed to accept liability for fraud through the platform. Thus far, that amount is thought to have risen into the millions of U.S. dollars, and banks are working on fixes.

You might think that banks – especially the big banks first on board with Apple Pay – might have something as basic as authentication of their own customers down pat. You’d be wrong.

Obviously, Apple figured banks might drop the ball. That’s why issuing banks have to accept the liability for fraud.

Meanwhile, Apple Pay works so well that crooks love it. Guaranteed to be another whine from the NSA and FBI next time they hand out press releases begging Congress to make Apple weaken security.

130 years of facial hair trends, in one chart

An interesting article comes with the research – done in 1976.

Which I find especially interesting because I’ve had a beard fulltime since 1979. Had the occasional beard before then – but, that was the start of this critter been here on my face ever since.

School administrators wouldn’t let me have a photo in my high school graduation yearbook unless I cut my sideburns. I guess I’ve always had a tendency to hair – though that finally is diminishing with age. Get my annual haircut, this week, in fact.

Oh, 1979. I was on a peak-bagging walk through the High Peaks region of New York State – in November. I was damned if I was going to shave using water from creeks a half-degree above solid. And any backpacker, mountain walker, worth their salt knows you don’t waste fuel on silly things like heating water for shaving.

Once I returned to what passed for civilization it dawned on me I not only liked the look of a full beard – I could sleep an extra five minutes before getting up to go to work if I didn’t shave.

Close enough for folk music.

Nixon set the policy: OK for Israel to have nuclear weapons but not Iran


Nice to see continuity in American foreign policy, eh?

Iranian officials sometimes respond to accusations that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability by replying that, not only do they not want a bomb, they’d actually like to see a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. Yes, this is surely in part a deflection, meant to shift attention away from concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities by not-so-subtly nodding to the one country in the region that does have nuclear weapons: Israel.

But could Iran have a point? Is there something hypocritical about the world tolerating Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which the country does not officially acknowledge but has been publicly known for decades, and yet punishing Iran with severe economic sanctions just for its suspected steps toward a weapons program? Even Saudi Arabia, which sees Iran as its implacable enemy and made its accommodations with Israel long ago, often joins Tehran’s calls for a “nuclear-free region.” And anyone not closely versed in Middle East issues might naturally wonder why the United States would accept Israeli warheads but not an Iranian program…

The single greatest factor explaining how Israel got the world to accept its nuclear program may be timing. The first nuclear weapon was detonated in 1945, by the United States. In 1970, most of the world agreed to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids any new countries from developing nuclear weapons. In that 25-year window, every major world power developed a nuclear weapon: the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China. They were joined by exactly one other country: Israel.

The Israeli nuclear program was driven in many ways by the obsessive fear that gripped the nation’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in which the new country fought off Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Ben-Gurion concluded that Israel could survive only if it had a massive military deterrent — nuclear weapons…

But Israel of the 1950s was a poor country. And it was not, as it is today, a close political and military ally of the United States. Israel had to find a way to keep up with the much wealthier and more advanced world powers dominating the nuclear race. How it went about doing this goes a long way to explaining both why the United States initially opposed Israel’s nuclear program and how the world came around to accepting Israeli warheads…

…First, in 1968, Israel secretly developed a nuclear weapon. Second, and perhaps more important, was a White House meeting in September 1969 between President Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. What happened during that meeting is secret. But the Nixon’s administration’s meticulous records show that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said to Nixon, in a later conversation about the Meir meeting, “during your private discussions with Golda Meir you emphasized that our primary concern was that Israel make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program.”

That meeting between Nixon and Meir set what has been Israel’s unofficial policy ever since: one in which the country does nothing to publicly acknowledge or demonstrate its nuclear weapons program, and in exchange the United States would accept it. The Nixon administration had concluded that, while it didn’t like the Israeli weapons program, it also wasn’t prepared to stop it…

“Essentially the bargain has been that Israel keeps its nuclear deterrent deep in the basement and Washington keeps its critique locked in the closet,” Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained.

What do Americans do about a bankrupt policy put in place by one of the most corrupt presidents in American history? Not a damned thing.

Point out we are the world’s only military superpower, known for arrogance and hypocrisy – I think the average American would try to deflect the criticism by coming up with rationales to excuse our hypocrisy, redefine it as expediency, something done to “protect” our nation.

It ain’t a new ploy. Everyone from dictators to democrats employs the strategy. The only thing that counts is that ordinary citizens accept every lie and don’t seek to change anything.

The only difference in political parties, who sits in the White House, is the quality of the lies. Either flavor still accepts the Nixonian policy.