Tackling the Healthcare Issue

Monday, 25 October 2010 19:10 by The Lunatic

Newsflash: The cost of healthcare in America has been out of control for many years and we really need to do something about it!

Ok, so this isn’t news. And we already have the all-new healthcare reform legislation which fixes all our problems, right?

Unfortunately, this new law – officially called the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (PPACA) but more affectionately referred to as “Obamacare” – has some problems, and now a few people are lobbying to ditch this plan so they can come up with something different.

Part of the problem with baking up a new healthcare plan is that there are so many fingers in the pie, all with vested interests – you have the healthcare insurance companies, malpractice insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospital owners, nurses unions, lobbyists, medical licensing boards, government agencies (FDA, HHS, CDC, VA, CMS, etc), the politicians (who love to shoot down whatever their opponents propose, no matter what it is) ... and let’s not forget the doctors and the patients themselves.  It really is fundamentally IMPOSSIBLE to implement any reform that won’t upset someone in the chain. It’s a political nightmare, and everyone knows it – but something has to be done. More...

Books, books, books, books, and more books

Monday, 4 October 2010 18:49 by The Lunatic

Our container with all our belongings arrived two weeks ago, and we're almost finished unpacking. It’s nice to finally be getting settled in to our house.  Last night, we got started on the last big part of the process that needs to be tackled: The Books.

I've never really considered myself to be an avid reader, to me it's just a part of life.  It's like saying you're an avid breather.  Yes, I like breathing and I manage to do it on a regular basis, even with everything else going on in my life. That's how I've always felt about reading books.

But as I'm unpacking my library, I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the boxes and by trying to decide where to put all the books. And this is after doing a massive weeding out of my collection when we left Bellevue five years ago – I probably got rid of more than two thirds of my books at that time, only keeping the ones I really like or have specific sentimental value, or ones I might want to read again or refer to in the future.

I just did quick count of the books I unpacked last night, and I've read about 300 of them. So how many books have read in total?  Let's assume I've read two books a month since I was 10.  That would be 37 (years) times 12 (months in a year) times two (books per month), equals 888 books. I'm not really sure if this estimate is high or low. And if it’s about right, More...

The Crazy Price of Video Cables

Thursday, 16 September 2010 04:02 by The Lunatic

In years past, when you purchased a VCR or a DVD player, it would come with a video cable so that you could go home, connect your new player to your TV, and immediately start watching.  It was usually a cheap combination audio/video cable – not very sturdy, but it would get the job done.

If you purchase a new Blu-Ray player today, however, you will find that not a single cable is to be found in the box. A high tech Blu-Ray player should really should at least come with an HDMI cable (High Definition Multi-media Interface, the preferred method of connecting any HD video source to a digital television).

 A decent quality cable costs less than fifty cents to make. Are the manufacturers just getting cheap?  Trying to cut corners?

Nope.  They’ve stopped including cables because More...

Categories:   Economics | Miscellaneous | Science
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All You Can Eat for $10.99! But should you?

Thursday, 26 August 2010 20:46 by The Lunatic

I’ve been back in the USA for two weeks now, and I’m still adjusting to a few things.

For the past year, my family has lived in Switzerland – and the whole time we complained bitterly about the high cost of food there.  Buying groceries to eat at home is expensive enough – but going out to a restaurant?  It’s completely outrageous.

The hot lunch program at our kid’s elementary school is a great example of food prices in Switzerland.  The “normal” school lunch was $10 – or you could get a “small lunch” without side dish or dessert for $7.50 (but it did come with a drink).  The third option was a plain hot dog in a bun for $5.50 (no drink included).

To put this in perspective: if we bought More...

Categories:   Social Issues
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The Well Travelled Joint

Sunday, 15 August 2010 14:14 by The Lunatic

I’ve never tried pot.

It’s not that I have any moral objections to Marijuana , and I really don’t care whether it’s legal or illegal – it’s not a big issue to me. 

The reason I have never smoked Marijuana is the same reason why I don’t smoke cigarettes: I just can’t understand why anyone would willingly inhale the soot and tar and ash of burning carcinogens into their lungs.  Blech.  You might as well suck on the exhaust pipe of your local city bus for all the good it’s going to do for you!

Back around 1985 or so, I was staying at a friends house for a few days and he asked if I wanted to smoke a joint with him.  I politely declined, but he was persistent.  More...

Past The White Cliffs Of Dover And Off To America

Thursday, 5 August 2010 15:23 by The Lunatic

I’m writing this blog posting whilst sitting in my stateroom aboard Cunard’s flagship ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2 – enroute from Southampton England to New York City (coincidentally, it’s the exact same route that the Titanic was taking ... hmmm.)

We are moving from Switzerland back to the US.  This is our third year in a row (and fifth time in six years) that we are moving to a different country. And yet again, we will have to live out of suitcases for a month or so while we wait for the container with all our household belongings to arrive at our new home.

Exactly a year ago, we moved from Washington DC to Switzerland. It was supposed to be an easy trip More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous
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The Future of Communications

Tuesday, 27 July 2010 06:43 by The Lunatic

 

I just got back from a one-week excursion to Washington DC. I had two objectives for this trip: buy a car, and find a house to live in (since we are moving back to the USA next month.)

Buying a car and selecting a house to lease in one week is difficult enough – but it’s even more problematic when the rest of your family are on another continent. I needed to keep in contact with my wife and kids three or four times a day as I scouted out different neighborhoods and looked at houses.  To make matters worse, I didn’t have my cell phone with me since my basic calling plan (discussed below) doesn’t have international roaming.

So it was Skype to the rescue!  Calling home to Switzerland on Skype is only 2.1 cents a minute, and if the internet connection is good, the voice quality is indistinguishable from a regular phone call.

The problem, however, is More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous | Science
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How big is a Googol?

Friday, 4 June 2010 19:00 by The Lunatic

 

My eleven year old son has been fascinated with large numbers lately.  He’s asking all the typical thought provoking questions that eleven year olds tend to ask, like “how many stars are there in the universe?” and “how long would it take to walk to Alpha Centauri?”

And of course, the number Googol is always a great benchmark, as in “Are there more than a Googol water molecules in the ocean?”

So, how big is a Googol? I came up with the following example to explain to him More...

Categories:   Science
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The Penn & Teller Incident

Sunday, 2 May 2010 15:33 by The Lunatic

I just recently found out that almost all of Penn & Teller’s “audience participation” card tricks involve the three of clubs. It’s some kind of an inside joke that's been going on for years.

It's funny, because I remember that specific card. They had a show in Seattle - on December 18, 2002 - which was SUPPOSED to involve the three of clubs. Unfortunately, the trick was foiled by a certain Half Baked Lunatic dressed in a tuxedo :-)

It was our anniversary, and my wife surprised me with a night out on the town. We started with a nice dinner, accompanied by an expensive bottle of wine. After dinner, she directed me to More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous
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Energy, Efficiency, and the long road to SBSP

Saturday, 3 April 2010 14:29 by The Lunatic

Here’s an old high school physics puzzle, let’s see if you can get the right answer:

You have perfectly insulated room (i.e., no heat can escape).  Inside the room is a refrigerator, plugged in and running – but the refrigerator door is left wide open.

As the refrigerator runs, does the room:
A – get colder
B – get warmer
C – stay the same temperature

Think about it for a minute ... (and yes, I first heard this from my high school science teacher back in the late 70’s)

The answer is ... (drum roll please!) ... More...

Categories:   Economics | Science
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The all natural, all organic, totally healthy blog post

Monday, 29 March 2010 14:04 by The Lunatic

I consider my family to be a fairly “healthy” eaters.  We consume a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat very little fast food (only a few times a year). My kids are never allowed to drink soda, except when they are at a party or some function where there are no alternatives.  We eat a lot of fish and pasta.  And although I love beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, we limit our portion sizes and try to stick to lower fat recipes.

However, I have mixed opinions about the “organic” food movement. I admit it’s important to openly discuss better/safer/healthier/environmentally friendly ways of feeding our growing population, and there are many organic products and processes I agree with wholeheartedly – but many of the organic guidelines are based on emotion rather than facts and real data.

The use of synthetic fertilizers, for example, is one of the hottest topics. I liken the use of fertilizers to More...

Categories:   Science | Social Issues
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The Bigger Chill

Sunday, 31 January 2010 02:10 by The Lunatic

The star studded 1983 movie "The Big Chill” was about a weekend reunion of a bunch of old college friends – now in their early 30’s – who all get together for the funeral of Alex, one of their classmates who committed suicide.

The movie is poignant, intelligent, very funny, and somewhat disturbing all the same time. It’s about rekindling old friendships, coping with the shock of their friend Alex’s death, and wondering what happened to the social idealism that they all shared when they attended the University of Michigan in the late 60’s. They were all anti-establishment, idealistic, smart, enthusiastic, with a vocal desire to change the world and make it a better place.

Alex, now deceased, was a charismatic science major. Everyone thought he was the most intelligent one of the bunch – and their mutual friendship really survived through the years because of him. He was the glue that kept them all together, but he was never able to get his own life straightened out.

Now, in 1983, they realize they are becoming the conservative “establishment” that they protested against in college.  More...

My (exceedingly minor) contribution to Avatar’s 3D effects

Tuesday, 26 January 2010 19:54 by The Lunatic

 

I met with James Cameron a few times when I worked in the Windows Media Division at Microsoft.  Mr. Cameron had just finished the 3D IMAX documentary “Ghosts of the Abyss” and was looking at different technologies to use in an upcoming “big budget 3D production”. This was back in 2003 or so.

In the first meeting, we just provided a broad overview of the technologies that Microsoft was working on, and had a general discussion on what he was looking for.  I must say, I was exceedingly impressed with Jim’s technical knowledge. Most “Writer/Director” types I’ve interacted with are great on the creative side but fairly light on the technical side. I pointed out that the digital camera that they used for the “Ghosts of the Abyss” had a subsampled horizontal resolution, and he jumped right in and told me how they solved that problem ... by tapping into the actual image sensor itself, bypassing the rest of the storage capabilities of the camera, they were able to capture the higher resolution image which the sensor was capable of, and store it directly to hard drives. More...

Categories:   Miscellaneous | Science
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Little Seizures (my lame attempt at comedy)

Sunday, 24 January 2010 13:43 by The Lunatic

I’m tired of dinner at home, so I think we’ll go out to Little Seizures tonight. My kids always have a Petite Mal Seizure. It’s a really good deal and it comes with a small shake.

You get a large shake with the Gran Mal Seizure, but sometimes it’s just too much for me – and one time I ended up biting my tongue. It was closed the last time we went, and the kids had a fit.

We really love that place – there’s just no stopping us when we’re having our Little Seizures!

Categories:   Miscellaneous
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I Want My (Digital) Rights To Be Properly Managed

Thursday, 14 January 2010 21:00 by The Lunatic

I bought my wife the new Kindle, from Amazon, for her birthday last week.  I really love the whole idea of eBooks – the Kindle is quite portable (about the size of a regular book) with a gorgeous high resolution surface that is really easy to read. Plus, you can do cool things like set multiple bookmarks, change font size, store hundreds of books at one time, and download new books wirelessly from almost anywhere in the world. It even has “text to speech” built in so it can read to you! Wow. It really is very, very, very cool technology.

But there’s one thing that still bugs me ... we read a lot, my wife and I both go through a few books a month. So it’s quite likely we could spend a few hundred dollars (or more) on a library of Kindle books over the next couple of years. But what guarantee do we have that we will still be able to read them in ten years?  What happens if our Kindle device breaks, and there is no replacement?  Or what if the best device on the market in ten years happens to be a product from another company, which isn’t compatible with our library of Kindle eBooks?

This isn’t just an issue with the Amazon Kindle, it’s an endemic More...