Lost-in-the-woods phone

Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing writes about the new Nokia 105, a $15 phone that features a flashlight and an FM radio and a battery that lasts a month on standby.  Engadget writes that they're designed to target the low-end of the cellphone market, to be sold in less industrialized countries:

While the Windows Phone brand is still the company's primary point of focus, it doesn't mean Nokia isn't still cranking out millions of basic phones for emerging markets around the globe. With that in mind, the Finnish phone giant has outed two such handsets at its event at Mobile World Congress. Sure, they aren't much to look at, but Nokia feels it's still an important element of its strategy to dominate the lower-end market segment.

As Rob points out, they're also a great choice for keeping around in case of a blackout or natural disaster or zombie apocalypse.  But the place I'm most eager to see this phone is in a horror movie -- I want to see a writer figure out how to give her protaganists useful, reliable phones that retain at least some functionality outside the range of cell phone towers, and keep the movie scary.

A letter on the value of space travel

I've been scrolling through the recent updates on Letters of Note, and I came across this one, from 1970.  It's written by Ernst Stuhlinger, who was at the time the Associate Director for Science at NASA, and responds to a question, from a nun in Zambia.  She asked why we spend billions on space travel when there are children starving on Earth. In his response, he explores through a number of anecdotes the incredible ways in which seemingly useless scientific pursuits can have incredible positive effects for the world.  He talks about the interconnectedness of different areas of human life, the things science has done to help people in the past, and the ways that the space program had already helped people in tangible ways around the world.

But my favorite part is this:

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

(emphasis mine)

I love that bit.  I love thinking of science as not just a means to various ends, but as the end unto itself, driving countries to compete against each other in a civil, mutually beneficial way, creating a necessity that can breed creation without requiring that we kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

Also:  knowing it was written in the 70's, by a NASA scientist in the space race, it was fun to read it in that black-and-white TV announcer tone of voice that's in all the historical videos about American history.

Keeping people healthy

My position on healthcare can be boiled down to a simple policy question, and method of answering it.  Should it be possible to die of starvation in America?  The answer:  if it's possible for the answer to be 'no,' it's not okay for the answer to be 'yes.'  Everything beyond that builds upon that foundation -- harm we can avoid, we should avoid. Rebecca Onie has a great TED talk about her program, Health Leads, that seeks to deal with that basic level of care.  She encourages her audience to seek to recontextualize the hospital waiting room, as a place not to wait in when you're sick, but a place to get and to stay healthy.

I love the way she talks about healthcare in this talk, especially at the end -- 

I believe that at the end of the day when we measure our healthcare, it will not be by the diseases cured, but by the diseases prevented. It will not be by the excellence of our technologies or the sophistication of our specialists, but by how rarely we needed them. And most of all, I believe that when we measure healthcare, it will be, not by what the system was, but by what we chose it to be.

[emphasis mine]

I hear a lot of talk about how we need more doctors.  How we need people to funnel into the profession, how important it is that we keep them here, in America.  I like the argument that we should need less -- that we ought to be trying to minimize the number of doctors necessary, replacing them with much less demanding jobs that basically entail offering people help to stay healthy.

This talk is a great example of one of the ways in which our common sense view of healthcare is best served by simply reversing it.

Health risks of being poor include people knowing you're poor

(via EurekAlert) A press release by the Association for Psychological Science outlines the results of a study demonstrating that the experience of class discrimination -- that is, just being treated like you're poor, beyond the implicit health consequences of not having the same health resources as wealthier people -- has measurably negative effects on health.

From the press release:

"Experiences of discrimination are often subtle rather than blatant, and the exact reason for unfair treatment is often not clear to the victim," says [lead author Dr. Thomas] Fuller-Rowell. For these reasons, rather than asking the study participants if they had experienced discrimination specifically based on their class background, the study measured general perceptions of discrimination. For example, they were asked: "How often do people treat you differently because of your background?"

Then researchers took overnight urine samples, and other tests to assess stress on the body, including measures of blood pressure and stress-related hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. Together, these factors can measure a person's "allostatic load," a term that describes the negative health changes caused by a frequent exposure to stress.

[... T]he poorer the teens, the more they experienced discrimination, the worse their health measures were. Fuller-Rowell's model suggests that about 13 percent of the negative health effects of poverty on health can be attributed to perceived discrimination. [Emphasis mine]

The thing that bothers me most about this is the connection to conservative rhetoric about poverty.  The "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" argument, which suggests poor people are just being lazy, isn't just wrong, it's causing measurable physical suffering.