Over 1,300 Blog Posts and Counting

Phew, looks like the blog is fixed. Thanks Jason! Links were not working for a while.  Please enjoy some examples of the more than 1,300 blog posts I've penned since 2006:

Jeremy Dean's Back to the Futurama: A moving art project rolls from Hummers to horse carts.

How Was Your Presidents' Day? My first post on the new Monetate real-time marketing blog.

Now Blogging Back to the Futurama: From 1939 to 2009 and back

My good friend Jeremy Dean is now blogging his wild and crazy Back to the Futurama art project.

I have written about this project elsewhere (Jeremy Dean’s Back to the Futurama: A moving art project rolls from Hummers to horse carts). Now, as the car industry is putting on its annual show in Detroit, Jeremy would like to show the world another side of automotive reality. As a documentary filmmaker, Jeremy has spent a lot of time uncovering images of the past. When he encountered rare footage of Hoovercarts--horse drawn cars that people created during the Great Depression--he couldn't shake the image and its potent symbolism.

These things were called Hoovercarts as a play on Hoovercrats, people in America who had supported the election of Herbert Hoover, the President who presided over much of the Great Depression. Folks in Canada also made horse-drawn automobiles but called them Bennett Buggies after the Canadian PM of the time.

Why Back to the Futurama? The world of today is clearly very different from the world of the 1930s, but pulling a car with a horse is still a potent reminder that we have been pursuing and promoting a materialistic life-style that the world may not be able to sustain. Fossil-fuel dependence, global warming, and "the-end-of-oil," all stand in stark contrast to our seemingly endless infatuation with lavish vehicles that are more about status than transportation, an infatuation which Detroit has funded, over the decades, to the tune of many billions of dollars. Consider the 1939 New York World's Fair. For this event General Motors created a lavish 36,000 square foot facility which the company described as:
"a thought-provoking exhibit of the developments ahead of us, the greater and better world of tomorrow that we in America are building today, a vivid tribute to the American scheme of living."

The name of that exhibit, which was full of cars and models of multi-lane highways? The Futurama. (You can see clips from the original newsreel here.) Detroit spent many decades selling the world on a bright future full of luxury vehicles, with no apparent thought as to the environmental, economic, and political side-effects. So Jeremy has dubbed this project Back to the Futurama. You can see more of his models here.

And you can help Jeremy create an actual 21st Century Hoovercart, a full-size vehicle which Jeremy plans to drive through New York in March, 2010. That's right, a working horse-drawn cart based on a Hummer or Escalade. So heads up if you own one of these vehicles--Jeremy is accepting donations, and he doesn't mind if the motor is blown. Comment below to make contact or use the contact page on Jeremy's web site.

Where Does The Time Go? Is all this time-saving technology to blame?

Griffin PowerMateMy good intentions to research the CFS/ME/XMRV/CDC thing have fallen prey to all kinds of technology. There's the technology I work on marketing at my day job, which requires a part of every day. Then there's the technology that distracts me, like Kindle for the iPhone, whereon I am reading the last book in the Axis of Time trilogy (in which the technology of 2012 collides with 1942). And then there are the "time-saving" gizmos that can be pretty darned time-consuming, like computers.

An embarrassing number of months ago I offered to repair my daughter's Dell notebook. That did not work out so well. So I got her a replacement, an IBM Thinkpad, a lease-return purchased without an operating system. I installed a copy of Windows XP I had purchased on eBay. That did not work out so well. The darned thing was "all used" up, which is the technical term for exceeding the number of installs for an individual Windows OS license.

Then I remembered the many copies of Windows XP that I had purchased while working as a Microsoft vendor. On Saturday, I finally managed to excavate one of those from the barn (my personal homage to the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a place beloved of nobody but my cats, who love to leap from pile to pile of crated "stuff" and feast upon any mice that try to make their home among our stored belongings).

That worked out well. The license number unlocked the XP install. But then I was buried under a digital landslide of accumulated OS updates, application updates, driver updates, and mandatory reboots. However, by late Sunday afternoon, the Thinkpad was as stable as a rock and as up-to-date as an iPhone app.

airmouseSpeaking of which, there were some positive side effects and salutary sideshows to this techno-marathon. First, I found my Griffin PowerMate, the spacey looking thing pictured, via iPhone, at the top of the page. This is a great gizmo that I have plugged into my Mac Mini to control the volume (and do other cool stuff when editing documents and video). That inspired me to add even more controls to the Mini.

First I tried the Apple app for the iPhone called Remote. This is supposed to provide remote control from an iPhone to a Mac. It may do that for some people, but not for me, not in any meaningful way (and like so many Apple-derived software it suffers from that really aggravating techno-snob, minimalist-style documentation).

So then I tried the Air Mouse app. Much better. That's what you're looking at on the left, a screen on the iPhone that allows you to mouse around your Mac and even type on it, at considerable distance. Great for doing your big screen web surfing from across the room.

I'm still learning all of the things Air Mouse can do, but it should be good for controlling iTunes when I get the multi-room speaker feed installed. Of course, that's got to wait for another tech weekend. Other techno-bits I worked on while updating the Thinkpad include installing Woopra to monitor a couple of web sites in real-time (it's pretty cool to watch someone land on your blog from New Zealand and then start flipping pages).

I also upgraded Paintshop Pro on my Sony Vaio to the latest version. I also did a bunch of writing in OpenOffice.org Writer, which I now prefer over Word by a considerable margin (not that I was ever a fan of Word--indeed, I was quite happy writing with Ami Pro until Microsoft killed it off).

And I started laying the groundwork to move this blog to my own [virtual] server. I noticed the blog was down for a while this morning [for which, my apologies] and I think the move will be good for reliability as well as saving me some money. Whether it will save me any time is hard to say. I'm going to try and turn things off for the rest of the day.

XMRV, ME, CFS, CDC: Thanks for the input

I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented on the previous post about XMRV, CFS/ME and hemochromatosis. I have learned a lot from you all and am still reading through the references and blog links you provided. I hope to post my thoughts this weekend.

Stephen
(D2EXAZ7XW96R)

XMRV Hits #55 in the Top 100 for 2009: But what the heck is it?

XMRV! Is it a band? Is it a car? Is it a hot new computer game or a cool new radio station for fans of recreational vehicles? No, XMRV is a virus, a retrovirus that is at the heart of one of the top scientific discoveries of 2009, recently listed as number 55 on the Discover Magazine Top 100 scientific stories of 2009.

xmrvAnd for millions of people around the world who now suffer, or are about to suffer, from a range of debilitating illnesses, what we have learned about XMRV in 2009 could prove to be the most important discovery of the decade.

So what is XMRV? It's short for Xenotropic Murine leukemia-Related Virus, and it could be a very bad thing. Just read the ominous title of the 2006 research paper that first brought XMRV to light: "Identification of a novel Gammaretrovirus in prostate tumors of patients homozygous for R462Q RNASEL variant" (Urisman A, Molinaro RJ, Fischer N, et al. March 2006, PLoS Pathog). Even the pictures are scary. The one on the left was labeled "XMRV proteins are expressed in cancer cells, as seen in this section from a human prostate cancer. Cells showing brown, granular staining are malignant prostate cells that express viral proteins."

(When I first started to read about XMRV some lines from Sympathy for the Devil, the Rolling Stones classic, came to mind: "Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name; but what's puzzling you is the nature of my game.")

The nature of the XMRV game is exactly what scientists have been trying to figure out since 2006, and in 2009 they established a strong connection between XMRV and two serious diseases: prostate cancer and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or CFS (a.k.a. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or ME).

CFS is a debilitating condition that makes daily life miserable for some 17 million people worldwide. Sadly, the physical misery of CFS is compounded by lingering prejudices that lead otherwise sensible people to dismiss all CFS sufferers as malingerers, attention seekers, mentally disturbed or just plain lazy (often reflected in sentiments like these: "Hey, we all get tired, just suck it up!").

We will return to CFS in a moment, after considering these latest XMRV findings. Here's what Discover Magazine says of the connection between CFS and XMRV:
XMRV is one of only three known human retroviruses, infectious agents that slip into our genome and become a permanent part of our DNA. Cancer biologist Robert Silverman of the Cleveland Clinic isolated XMRV three years ago in men suffering from prostate cancer. The men had an immune defect that allowed the virus to proliferate, much like a defect documented in patients with chronic fatigue. Seizing upon that clue, cell biologist Judy Mikovits of the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, tested 101 chronic fatigue patients. In October she reported that 67 percent of them had the virus, as opposed to only 3.7 percent of healthy people. Tests on another 200 patients revealed that more than 95 percent of people with chronic fatigue carry antibody to the virus. (Read more from the original report...)

So why is Cobb's Blog interested in XMRV? You may remember that the blog got very medical about 15 months ago. That's when my wife found out she suffers from hereditary hemochromatosis (that's haemochromatosis for listeners in the British Isles, a.k.a. Celtic Curse, iron overload, and bronze diabetes).

Whatever you call it, this is a nasty condition that causes iron to build up in soft tissue where it eventually does serious and potentially fatal damage to important bits of your body like the liver, heart, kidneys, and so on. But nasty as this condition is, Thanksgiving 2008 found us giving thanks to the doctor who figured out the hemochromatosis diagnosis.

Why? Because hemochromatosis is easily treatable (for a certain value of "easy"). Once you convince the doctors to bleed you a few times a month the iron concentrations come down and you can keep them at bay with regular bloodletting. What we didn't realize is that before it was treated the hemochromatosis had done some serious damage to my wife's endocrine system.

As a result, she spent all of 2009 in a fairly constant state of pain, fatigue, sleep deprivation, and hyper-sweat. (That last term is not a medical one, but we have yet to find a term to describe this phenomenon--it is to hot flashes as hurricanes are to a misty morning; or put it this way, one of these sweat events can turn a t-shirt into a very damp rag in about 10 seconds, and that can happen several times in an hour.)

2009 was also the year of the supplements: cortisol tables to offset adrenal insufficiency, thyroid tables for thyroid deficiency, and HGH for--you guessed it--human growth hormone deficiency. Yet as the year wore on and the blood lettings continued and iron levels decreased, the levels of these other substances started returning to normal or even excess. Last month the doctors said to taper off all supplements. But at no point during all of this has my wife felt any better. She spent most of the year laid out on the sofa in the living room, unable to handle stairs, unable to manage even basic household chores.

Then, just before Thanksgiving 2009, the doctor settled on a diagnosis: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. If you've ever been handed this diagnosis you know it's a classic case of good news / bad news. The good news: there's finally an explanation for why, 9.5 days out of 10, you feel like death warmed over. The bad news: there's no cure; treatment is expensive and does not alleviate all the symptoms; many people see no difference between CFS and laziness, so moral support may be hard to find.

Of course, once we heard this diagnosis we started our research. That meant hours of web surfing and the creation of a bunch of new Google alerts (that's when you tell Google to send you an email if there is any news about a particular subject). And that's how we learned about XMRV and the link to CFS. Although CFS was not on our radar when the XMRV connection was first reported back in October, Google noticed the year-end coverage in Discover Magazine and alerted us (thanks Google!).

So where does that leave us? Many people suffering from CFS/ME are hoping their condition is now validated as caused by an outside agent and they can get beyond the "all in your head" syndrome. Obviously, there is fresh hope for new, more effective treatments for CFS/ME. There could also be improvements in the treatment of related conditions like MS, and fibromyalgia, not to mention prostate cancer, which kills 25,000 men a year in America alone. (See this link for more on XMRV and prostate cancer.)

Realistically, there are still way more questions about XMRV than answers. The widespread existence of a previously unknown retrovirus has a whole bunch of worrying implications for the entire population (there are very few retroviruses but the best known is HIV). Scientists are rushing to answer questions like: Is XMRV contagious? How is it transmitted? Is it present in the nation's blood supply? Does it cause CFS and prostate cancer or do those conditions allow it to be contracted?

I will post some more links on these topics when I get organized. I just wanted to put this stuff out there while I had some extra time this New Year's weekend. And to thank those scientists who have been working on expanding our knowledge of this beast named XMRV. Their work in 2009 gives us hope that 2010 will be a better year.