Friday, November 03, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - November 3 Edition

Global Health, Fraud

"There are a several reasons why fraud and waste are rife in the global health sector. Donors tend to send money to ministries of health and other organizations in large tranches, mostly because making smaller grants involves higher transfer fees and bigger administrative burdens. This creates surpluses and easy targets for graft. What’s more, supply chains in low- and middle-income countries are often weak and opaque, sometimes involving dozens of changes in custodianship before goods reach their destinations. Medicines and equipment can easily go missing or expire–as 1.3 million doses of pentavalent vaccine (a kind of vaccine that protects against five diseases) did in Pakistan in 2015. The cost of identifying the breakdowns in supply chains often outstrips the value of the goods that are lost.

 Many international organizations are trying to deal with these problems. Since July 2011, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and several others have blacklisted 368 individuals and firms involved in corruption. But such scrutiny takes money and time. The World Bank employs 417 people to monitor compliance with its financial and procurement standards, and in a single investigation in the case of Mali in 2010, the Global Fund reviewed some 59,000 documents. Worse, auditors can only identify fraud that has already occurred. They cannot track and stop problems as they develop. The result is that donors catch only a fraction of transgressions, months or years after they have happened. And when donors respond by suspending aid, patients suffer.

This is where blockchain comes in. Commonly referred to as a distributed-ledger technology, blockchain creates secure digital records of transactions that can be accessed by approved users across a wide network. Every transaction validated by the network adds a new “block” to the “chain,” creating an indelible record that can be accessed in real time. A number of multinational corporations—from Walmart and IBM to the mining giant BHP Billiton—are already using the technology to manage supply chains, following goods as they move around the world."

Fall Travel, Italy

"For many travelers — both those who have had the chance to visit in person and those who dream of it — a trip to Italy is often envisioned in the summer, when they can stroll the piazzas eating gelato or take a dip in Lake Como.

But Italy, much like gelato, is something to be enjoyed year-round, and one of the best times to go is November.

Sandwiched between the peak seasons of summer and the winter holidays, November is a time when museum lines are shorter, restaurants are less crowded, and even airfare dips. But those aren't the only reasons to book your trip now.

Aid groups could similarly use the technology to oversee medical supplies as they travel from factory to patient. As a shipment of vaccines approaches its destination, for instance, each of its handlers—from the crew unloading the shipment at the airport to the courier bringing it by motorcycle to a village clinic—could use a smartphone to tag it with a permanent, real-time record of where it has been, when it was there, and who has dealt with it. All these details would become part of the shipment’s digital identity, creating a record of its custody and making it impossible for goods to be stolen or replaced with counterfeits without the network being notified."

Immunotherapy, Cancer, HIV

"Immunotherapies, and checkpoint inhibitors in particular, were the first type of therapy that could truly transform cancer patients into long-term survivors. While other therapies, including chemotherapy, prolonged survival a couple of months, a certain percentage of patients treated with checkpoint inhibitors, in the order of 10-20%, live on for years.

Now, the next step is: how would you increase the number of patients that benefit from it? And the answer was quite clear. Everybody is trying to combine immunotherapy treatments to enhance the effect, and it works. Currently, there are hundreds of combination trials ongoing worldwide.

Then, if you look at the complexity of the immune system, there are so many targets that you can trigger. Many are still there to be explored. And the whole medical community is learning so much about how to treat cancer, how to tackle it. With every year, we are coming closer and closer to making many cancer indications manageable diseases. The number of patients that survive cancer today is much, much bigger than compared to the past."

Artificial Intelligence

"It wasn't so long ago that artificial intelligence was reserved to the realm of science fiction according to the public. Skip ahead to 1997 and IBM's Deep Blue brought real artificial intelligence into the public eye when it bested Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov in 2 matches(though losing the series 4-2). Fast-forward to last year and AI has beat the masters in virtually every game you can think of, including Go(which is both older and more difficult than Chess). From mastering games to contemplating the meaning of life, AI has made major strides in recent years.

A fully developed, self-teaching AI unit is no longer a dream, it has transitioned into an inevitability with the only real question being "who will get their first?" There have been so many artificial intelligence breakthroughs in recent years, it can be difficult to imagine what's next.

So, in the hopes of shedding some light on that subject, here's a list of 5 AI trends to watch in 2018."

Feel Good Story, Animal Rescue

"Zeus the dog was on a sailboat whose motor supposedly failed. The USS Ashland came to the rescue."

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - November 1 Edition

Affordable Care Act, Open Enrollment

ACA Open Enrollment: If You Buy Coverage in the Individual Market 

“If you buy your health plan on your own (rather than getting coverage through an employer), you may purchase a 2018 plan either through your state’s health insurance marketplace or off-exchange. If you are low-income, you may be eligible for Medicaid coverage. If you don’t have health coverage in 2018, you may be subject to a tax penalty.


All plans in the individual market must be comprehensive, covering doctor visits, hospitalization, prescription drugs and maternity care without restrictions for physical or mental illnesses or conditions that existed before coverage began. Preventive services like immunizations, screenings and birth control, are covered with no additional out-of-pocket cost. Insurers cannot charge you more based on your medical history or because you are a woman. Insurers can only vary premiums based on your age, the number of the people in your family covered by the policy, and whether you use tobacco.

Plans both in and out of state marketplaces come in four levels – bronze, silver, gold and platinum.  The metal levels signify differences in the amount of deductibles and other-out-of-of pocket costs they require for covered benefits. In general, bronze plans tend to have the highest deductibles and lowest premiums, while gold plans generally have lower deductibles but charge higher monthly premiums. All plans are required to have an annual out-of-pocket limit on your cost sharing for covered services in-network. That limit can be no higher than $7,350 per person in 2018 ($14,700 in a family policy.) If you are under 30, you may be able to get a “catastrophic” insurance plan that charges the highest possible deductible ($7,350), with monthly premiums that are even lower than under bronze plans.”

Childhood Obesity, Education

“As childhood obesity soars among low-income communities with limited access to fresh produce, some educators in Colorado are combating the problem by joining the farm-to-preschool movement. Now these preschoolers are learning their ABCs while picking veggies from the school garden and preparing healthy meals. Special correspondent Cat Wise reports.

Social Media, Regulation, Monopolies

“Three of the most recognized companies in the world—Google, Facebook, and Twitter—served as target practice Tuesday as executives submitted to two hours of questioning from a Senate subcommittee on terrorism about how exactly Kremlin-backed operatives used their platforms to hurt Hillary Clinton’s prospects of winning the presidency, spread disinformation, and stoke social unrest to American voters before and after the 2016 election

But that was only the beginning. On Wednesday, general counsel from all three companies have two more hearings to sit through with the House and Senate intelligence committees.

At Tuesday’s hearing, senators came armed with display boards pasted with printouts of
Russian-backed content that appeared engineered to rile the far edges of America’s deeply polarized electorate. And while many of the senators who submitted questions aren’t as fluent in social media as a YouTube star or a Twitter-addled journalist, the power of social media to influence, deceive, and manipulate voters wasn’t lost on anyone. Nor was the fact that these massive internet platforms have, in a sense, grown out of control.

…Facebook admitted that it is unable to know whom it’s doing business with, which is exactly how Russian-backed actors posing as faux activist groups and nonprofits were able to buy ads and create inauthentic pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Russian agents were even able to organize over 60 real-life events from coast to coast across the United States before and after the election, at least 22 of which drew American attendees according to a Monday report in the Wall Street Journal.”

Leadership, Gratitude

“A few years ago, I made my first gratitude list, naming those who bring out the best in me. They include:

  • My dad, who showed me how to live and lead.
  • My mom, who made me feel loved every day of my life and taught me to pass on that love to others.
  • My wife, Margaret, who fills my life with joy.
  • Elmer Towns, Theologian, who sparked my dream of building a great church.
  • John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach, who encouraged me to make every day my masterpiece.
  • My workplace team, who inspire me to keep reaching, turn visions into reality, and rein me in when I am out of control.
I wrote for 30 minutes straight that day, filling line after line. I could have written for three hours and still not included everyone who has touched my life. That’s why I add to it periodically—sometimes in writing but more often in simple reflection. It’s my way of acknowledging the gifts people offer me daily, from those who inspire my wildest dreams to the server who takes a minute to deliver a kind word with my cup of coffee.

This reflection time allows me to see that gratitude is the antidote to the three deadly diseases that can ruin a leader: pride, isolation and selfishness. When your name graces a company, it’s easy to develop an inflated sense of self-importance. How quickly we forget the many hands that contribute to our success. Such arrogance drives us away from people. The resulting isolation blinds us to the needs of others. From such a cauldron, selfishness percolates and ultimately spills over into every decision we make.

Gratitude counteracts those tendencies. When we thank people, we’re reminded of our dependence on them and inspired to serve their needs instead of insisting they meet ours.”


"When your cat gets stuck, who you gonna call?

In the US state of Washington, there are some incredibly tall trees that can reach up to 30 metres high. So when cats climb into them, they often find they can't get down again.

Shaun Sears and Tom Otto are professional tree climbers and they realised there was a cat problem. So they decided to do something about it - and so Canopy Cat Rescue was born."

Click here to watch the video.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 31 Edition

Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Enrollment

“Open enrollment for people who buy their own health insurance starts Wednesday and ends Dec. 15 this year. That’s 45 days, six weeks shorter than last year — and only one of the big changes consumers need to consider. The Trump administration has cut back on marketing and funding for navigators to help people through the process.

Here are five important factors to keep in mind if you plan to sign up for 2018 coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  1. The health law has NOT been repealed.
  2. The requirement for most people to have insurance — and most employers to offer it — is also still in effect.
  3. Like your mama said, you better shop around. 
  4. Cost will be a factor.
  5. Buyers should also beware.” 

Click on the article title for the details of each factor enumerated above.

Elections, Technology

“A bipartisan pair of U.S. senators plans to introduce legislation on Tuesday seeking to boost the cyber defenses of state election systems, after warnings from senior U.S. officials that future elections may be vulnerable to foreign interference.

The Securing America’s Voting Equipment, or SAVE, Act is the latest attempt by lawmakers to respond to what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a multi-pronged cyber operation, including hacking and online propaganda by Russia during the 2016 presidential election aimed at helping President Donald Trump. Moscow has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The bill will be introduced by Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich and Republican Senator Susan Collins, a Heinrich spokeswoman said. It does not currently have other co-sponsors.

“Until we set up stronger protections of our election systems and take the necessary steps to prevent future foreign influence campaigns, our nation’s democratic institutions will remain vulnerable,” Heinrich said in a statement.”

Technology, Medical Care

"Toyota is introducing a new robotic leg brace called the Welwalk WW-1000 that can help patients with partial paralysis affecting one side of their body walk again. The robotic exoframe is worn on the affected leg, with a large motor component at the knee joint that provides just enough assistance to the patient, letting them recover their own walking ability therapeutically over time.

The robotic wearable is paired with a custom treadmill and a harness that is anchored above the patient, with medical staff able to watch and control the whole apparatus from a convenient touchscreen input device. The Associated Press reports that the Welwalk system will be made available to medical institutions in Japan later this year, with a rental model that charges a one-time fee of around $9,000 and then $3,200 after that on a monthly basis. Those costs are not overly burdensome by medial equipment standards, and the system could drastically reduce recovery time for patients overcoming partial paralysis resulting from conditions include strokes."

Opioid Addiction, Treatment

“These professionals are at ground zero for Vermont’s relatively new addiction treatment program, which is unique in its comprehensiveness. Their holistic approach to Tyler’s case is emblematic of Vermont’s strategy as a whole: a focus on the science and research, with a desire to get everyone — even patients who can prove to be very difficult — in treatment to save their lives.

It’s a time-consuming effort, but one that providers in the state enthusiastically participate in to push back against the deadliest overdose crisis in US history. This is, after all, a crisis that led to more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2016. Opioid overdoses alone could kill as many as 650,000 — or more people than live in Vermont today — across the US in the next decade.

Tyler’s story shows big challenges remain, but Vermont’s effort appears to be working. According to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the drug overdose death rate for New England was about 24.6 per 100,000 people in 2015 (the latest year of state-by-state data available), which was the highest for any region in the country. Yet Vermont was not only below the regional average at 15.8, but below even the national average of 16.3 — a fact that some people on the ground attribute in part to the state’s unique system, known as the hub and spoke.”

Success, Well-Being

“Research by psychologist Tim Kasser "has shown that the pursuit of materialistic values like money, possessions, and social status--the fruits of career successes--leads to lower well-being and more distress in individuals. It is also damaging to relationships," reports Esfahani Smith, who explains that the research shows that these damaged social bonds dent well-being. The article weaves in moving personal stories, literary references, and discussion of the debate around Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In to explore the issue in depth. It's well worth a read in full.

But Esfahani Smith isn't the only thinker who apparently feels this is an appropriate cultural moment to push the career oriented to think carefully about the tradeoffs they may be making. This week the blog Dumb Little Man advises those looking to be happier to not chase status.

"Your brain is wired not only to figure out where you sit in the professional and social pecking order against others, but to reinforce your position in that pecking order," says writer Steve Errey, who continues: "When you get wrapped up in establishing or maintaining status, the moment your place in the hierarchy drops you're going to feel pretty horrible... Don't get into the status game--there are no winners."

Elsewhere, legendary Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has warned that chasing short-term success often leads to soured relationships and regrets long term, while polarizing blogger Penelope Trunk frames the same debate in her characteristic absolutist terms, warning that you can have an interesting life or a happy one, but not both.

Trunk may present things in black and white, but when the question is fashioning a good life for yourself rather than attracting the maximum number of clicks to your post, the real takeaway is probably not an either/or choice but a question of shades of grey.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ideas, Actions, and Inspiration for a Better Tomorrow - October 30 Edition

Public Spaces, Terrorism

"“In the US, a debate has raged about whether these kinds of measures—many of which went into effect after 9/11—detract from the very purpose of public spaces: to be free, comfortable, and open for all.With each tragic mass shooting that takes place in US cities, that debate rekindles. There’s also the question of equity. Certain types of people may be disproportionately scrutinized as a result of their race, religion, or income. They may pay unfairly for something someone else did in the past, Vonier said, speaking of low-income populations, in particular. “That’s something we must be cognizant of and sensitive to.”

Of course, less intrusive tweaks can go a long way. One example is the sunken wall around the Washington Monument in Washington, DC. Recently, the European Commission released a new action plan, which allows cities to share effective but subtle solutions and fund them. “I think we can find the middle ground between closing down everything and security for citizens,”said Séverine Wernert, who is a part of the European Commission’s Security Union.”"


"In Helsinki, like many cities, there isn’t enough housing to keep up with demand. Some people blame a lack of land to build new housing, but one design firm argues that there is enough land–if you know where to look. The firm’s new building is designed to fit in a single parking spot.

“The city is not designed because of humans–it’s designed because of cars,” says architect Marco Casagrande, principal at the Helsinki-based Casagrande Laboratory, which designed the new tiny house. “All the streets in cityscapes are based on car dimensions. This I found a little bit strange. We have all this talk about the density of cars getting less and less in cities, and at the same time, we are talking about people moving into cities . . . but we don’t have space to build. Nobody has been questioning car parking spaces. They are everywhere. So this talk about no land to build in cities is nonsense: It’s everywhere, but it’s just for cars.”

A prototype of the design, called Tikku (Finnish for “stick”), built for Helsinki Design Week, has a footprint slightly larger than 8 feet by 16 feet. But with three stories, it has enough room to make it a comfortable place to live or work."

Travel, TSA

"New TSA security measures announced in July are being rolled out in airports around the country, most recently at large hubs including Baltimore–Washington International Airport and Orlando International Airport.

Passengers now need to take out all large electronics and put them through security in a separate bin from their carry-on bags, a process that has long been in place for laptops.

The TSA said it was responding to a threat that terrorists could be targeting airports by attempting to disguise bombs inside large electronics."

Social Media, Fake Accounts, Russia

How Russian Propaganda Spreads On Social Media

"Earlier this year, a Facebook group page called Blacktivist caught the eye of M'tep Blount.

As a supporter of Black Lives Matter, Blount figured Blacktivist would be a similar group. The Facebook page came with a message: "You have a friend who is a part of this group," and it had a huge following — over 400,000 as of late August.

Blount found that Blacktivist's page shared information about police brutality. Videos often showed police beating African-Americans in small towns. "It was like, 'Wow! This is happening in this community too. I really hope they do something about it but they probably aren't going to,' " she says.

As it turns out, the Blacktivist page was not like Black Lives Matter, at all. It appears to have been linked to Russia, and Facebook has since taken it down. The group was carefully crafted to attract people like Blount whose behavior on Facebook showed they mistrusted police and were concerned about civil rights.

It was just one of the many calculated ways in which social media platforms have been used lately to covertly sow divisions within society. Later this week, Facebook, Google and Twitter will face members of Congress to answer questions in three public hearings about their role in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The hearings are also expected to shed light on how Russian propaganda has spread in the U.S. through these major social media platforms."

U.S. Census

Listen or read:

The 2020 Census is at risk. Here are the major consequences.

"Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years is used to draw voting districts and determine how much funding to give to states, counties and cities, but underfunded and without a director, the agency is now on the verge of collapsing. Hari Sreenivasan is joined by former Census director Kenneth Prewitt to discuss what a crippled census in 2020 could mean for our democracy.

Kenneth Prewitt:

They’re trying to do the 2020 census at roughly half of the price of the 2010 census, whereas the 2010 was double the price of the 2000. That was the one I was engaged in.

So, yes, enormous advances have been made in using technology to reduce the cost. But if you are not even funded at that level with these new technologies, well, you’re simply ill-prepared to do the census in 2020.

The bad news is, it’s not being funded, and we currently don’t have a leader. We don’t have a director in the Census Bureau, so we’re not ready in that more important sense.

And then another issue, we’re trying new technologies this year for the first time ever in a census. And you have to test them, or you should test them. There’s no money to test them. Just it’s like you had a fighter fly a plane that puts a new technology in it that’s never been before, rolls off the assembly line, and they say, oh, go directly into action."