20090904

More on Health

… as opposed to “moron health.”

I have not really sat down to outline my thoughts on how to make health care affordable. The current debate in congress is primarily about Health Insurance – not Health care. As I have stated previously, we do not need another, bigger government program that gives a special interest direct access to the government coffers. We need legislation that actually addresses the cost of health care. The bills before congress basically set up an expanded Medicare/Medicaid system. It expands the number of participants without doing much, if anything, to address the long-term costs of health care. It is a new liability for taxpayers without any hope of cost containment. What we need is legislation that controls the costs and cost growth of health care services. Making health care affordable is the best way to making health care universal. Since being healthy and living a long life are priceless – they do not respond well to market forces. This is especially true when the system seeks to limit availability of services by artificial means – controlled scarcity.

To that end I suggest that we need to expand the capacity of the existing system by doing some/all of the following:
Electronic records that follow the patient,
Use computer diagnosis – with RN verified symptoms,
Increase the capacity of the medical education system,
Limited liability against lawsuits,
International market for prescriptions,
Zero advertising for pharma,
Greater role for RNs & NPs,
Exclude MDs from owning Med Labs,
All hospitals should be non-profit,
Pay for college and require a 4-year post grad service in the industry – just like what is done for ROTC,
Require specialist MDs to serve 25% as general physicians – forever, and
Treat health care like any other regulated utility by regulating a service fee schedule nationwide.

We need to reinstate compassion for the profit-motivation when it comes to health care.

20090828

Snow Leopard: First Impressions

I bought the 5-license upgrade to Snow Leopard and it arrived today. I installed it on two systems (one more to go). The install goes pretty quickly and mine took just over 45 minutes each. On one system I did not install Rosetta. When I tried to start an Office 2004 app, which requires Rosetta, the system told me it needed Rosetta and asked if it should go and find a copy to install. I said OK and it was done in about 4 minutes. On the second system, my main home system which has all of my email, I use Mail. After the install, I was informed that I needed to convert my old Mail account to work with the new Mail app. Again, I said OK, but this time things didn’t go perfectly. Mail fumbled the hand-off of my account settings, specifically the settings for the outgoing SMTP authentication. I had to edit the settings so Mail would use a username and password. Not hard to fix if you know where to find the controls, but I do not understand why Apple missed such a fundamental setting. Other than that, Snow Leopard saved at least 7.5GB of disk space. Unfortunately, only Parallels version 4 works with Snow Leopard. iStat menus also does not work. Those are the only two things I have found that do not work with Snow Leopard.

20090816

Lunar Mosaic

Young Moon (click for larger size)

Young Moon (click for larger size)

I took these images on June 25, 2009 and promptly forgot to include it here. This is a 19-panel mosaic of the Moon with modest Libration (+4). Seeing was not as good as it was predicted to be. I wanted to shoot this at f/10 with a green filter, but had to use a yellow filter and shortened exposure. I’m still experimenting with gamma corrections. More often than not, I end up applying curves in Photoshop instead of simply tweaking the gamma. The Moon is actually a pretty tough subject with its high dynamic range.

Equipment:
Celestron C-11 telescope @ f/10
#8 Yellow filter
DMK31 Web Cam
Stacked best 300 of 1300 in AviStack.
Wavelets and RLD

20090802

Universal Health Care

I’m sorry, but I can’t support Universal Health Care (as currently envisioned). It creates an open ended liability for the taxpayers with no control over future costs/liabilities. I’ve already seen enough of the social abuse of entitlements to know that universal coverage without a REAL DECREASE in the cost of health care is a huge mistake (future cost). We need to decrease the cost of health care by decoupling the market motives behind health care. Being healthy and living forever have infinite value. People will do/pay anything to be healthy and live long (the value is infinite!). The health system needs to be a regulated utility. It needs to become detached from the legal and insurance systems which feed off of it. If we could achieve a true reduction in medical costs, universality would be assured. The best way to provide coverage/availability for all is to make it affordable. Congress is headed down the wrong path and a brief reprieve from the legislative process might result in clarity of thought.

… but I’m not holding my breath.

20090731

Cash for Clunkers

I’m not sure how congress managed to conceive of and pass legislation that actually makes sense, but the “Cash for Clunkers” program is the one stimulus that seems to work. After bailing out the auto industry and amid high unemployment, the idea of paying consumers much more than their auto trade-ins are worth if they buy a new (hopefully American – whatever that really means) car is simply brilliant. The $3500-$4500 cost to the taxpayer leverages its stimulating effect on the economy by getting the consumer to spend a lot more of their money at a time when an increase in consumer participation in the recovery is needed. The fact that the program went through the (hopefully first) billion dollars in only 5 or 6 days indicated the degree of pent up demand for big ticket items like automobiles. The additional impact the program has on boosting the overall fuel efficiency of the cars on the roads is a further win for the economy since it reduces the demand for foreign oil and lessens the trade deficit.

How can it be that congress managed to pass this into effect? I’m stunned. Perhaps there is hope for us after all.

20090712

Sudoku

I’ve been doing sudoku for a couple of years now and I have developed a simple notation that keeps track of what numbers can go where in the 3×3 blocks. I do not track all combinations, only 6 basic “shapes” and their various permutations (rotations and reflections). I have found these simple shapes are all that is needed to work almost any puzzle. The more complex patterns you may think are important eventually simplify to one of my basic shapes as your solution for the puzzle progresses. The notation is very simple, easy to learn, and easy to manage (alter/edit as the solution progresses). A key property of any notation is that it needs to be easy to interpret and unambiguous in its meaning. I’ve seen a lot of people working puzzles by filling each block with all of the possible numbers that can go in each square. That is hideously busy, difficult to read, and impossible to manage. It can be an effective technique near the end of solving some of the most difficult puzzles though, so I won’t completely deny its value because I have resorted to using it exactly twice.

Adjacent

Adjacent

First a bit on how to read my figures. The black numbers are the numbers that the puzzle either started with or we have added in trying to solve the puzzle. The blue numbers are the ones that limit where in a 3×3 block that same number can be placed. The possible locations are denoted by numbers in gray. Finally, my notation is indicated in red. When working a puzzle I use a very fine mechanical pencil. I prefer 0.3mm lead, but that can be hard to find. A good clean soft eraser is also a must. With that out of the way, here are the six basic shapes I use to work sudoku puzzles.

The first I call Adjacent. When a number’s location is limited to only two cells that are adjacent, either in the same row or column, I place that number in the center of the line shared by the two cells. In this example I’m considering the possible locations of the number 2 in the Left Middle 3×3 block. The bottom two rows are blocked and the top row already has one value filled. The only two possible locations are next to each other. So, I place a small 2 on the line between those cells.

Line

Line

The next shape I call Line. It is an extension of the Adjacent shape in that it is comprised of three cells in the same row or column instead of just two as found in Adjacent. If the pattern falls in a column, I place the number centered vertically and near the left edge of the center cell. If it is a row, I’ll place the value centered at the bottom of the center cell. It is important to apply the notation consistently since the primary meaning is derived from the location of the values. It will be hard at first to remember where everything is supposed to go. It will also be difficult to read what the notation is telling you. As with anything, practice makes a big difference and I hope you’ll find this can be learned quickly.

Ends

Ends

The third pattern which contains cells within a single row or column I call Ends. It is exactly what is sounds like. The possible locations are at opposite ends of a row or column. Since the pattern spans the full length of a row or column, I’ve chosen to place the value in the center block. If the pattern is found in a column, place the value centered on the right side of the center cell (yes, in the cell where the number cannot actually go). If it is in a row, place the value centered at the top of the center cell. You should note that this is exactly opposite from where you’d place the value if the pattern was the Line and this demonstrates the importance of applying the notation consistently.

Block

Block

The next pattern is the Block. It is formed by a 2×2 sub-square in the larger 3×3 sudoku cells. The notation places the value on the intersection of the lines where the four cells of the block share a common corner. Each of the 4 cells does not have to be empty for the notation to be valid. If one of the cells already had a value filled in, you would still use this notation to indicate that the value could go in any of the remaining three cells. There is also one way to have two of the cells already filled in and still use this notation. If the two empty cells touch only at the common corner, like two white squares on a checker board, then this notation applies. The other pattern of two squares is actually the Adjacent shape.

Corners

Corners

The Corners pattern is somewhat similar to the Block. For this pattern, the locations are found in the 4 corners of the 3×3 sudoku cell. As was the case with the Block pattern, one or two of these cells can be filled with a value already and the notation is still valid. The two empty cell form has the two possible cells in different rows and columns (kitty corner, catty corner, cady corner, … whatever you call it). The notation goes in the outer most corner of one of the corner cells. I prefer to place the notation in the corner of a cell that is on the outside edge of the whole 9×9 puzzle grid. If that is not possible (e.g., the center 3×3 grid) then I go with the upper left if it is empty. Which cell you select is not too critical for this pattern.

The L

The L

The last pattern is a three cell pattern that has many permutations. It is called the L. It is a combination of the Adjacent and Ends patterns where one of the cells is common to both. This means that the long axis of the two patterns forms a right angle, hence the name L. The notation places the value in the cell at the corner of the pattern. The value is placed in the outermost corner of that cell which is also between the two touching cells (of the Adjacent pattern). Just look at the image.

As you use the notation, you will eventually need to place multiple numbers in the same pattern (e.g., both 2 and 8 need to be in the same Adjacent). Simply place the numbers close to each other, either side-by-side or one over the other, you’ll quickly learn which way works best in each situation. Being able to write small is a big help. The real power of the notation is that it allows you to see at a glance that some of the cells are not available. If two numbers are assigned to the same Adjacent (or Edge) pattern (e.g., 2 and 8 as in the previous example), then the cells of that pattern cannot be used to make any other pattern for another number. Four values assigned to the same Block means those four cells are out of play for any other numbers/patterns. You may not yet know where each number goes in these full patterns, but you do know that they do end up in there somewhere. The beauty of the notation is that there are no conflicts in position so the placement and interpretation of the notes is unambiguous.

So that is my notation. Try it out and let me know how it works for you. I’m always interested in hearing about more tips and tricks too.

I received a book of Sudoku puzzles for giftmas 2007. The title is “X-treme SUDOKU” by the editors at Nikoli Publishing. The book offers 160 difficult puzzles and 160 more very difficult puzzles – 320 in all. I found the book to be a fabulous waste of time when I had no choice other than to waste time (e.g., waiting in the doctor’s office). I just finished the book and feel like I have accomplished something. There were two puzzles that stood out as being deviously difficult – at least for me. (Hint: try solving the puzzle in my first figure!)

20090711

Alternate Launch Abort System

MLAS Video (click to view)

MLAS Video (click to view)

I know this was just a test to demonstrate a proof of concept for an alternate launch abort system for Constellation, but it does seem to be quite complex and rather impractical given all of the excess mass of the system. Nevertheless, it worked amazingly well and will hopefully contribute to the overall safety of NASA’s new vehicle. It was tinkered together in a very short time. Some folks have great jobs!

20090624

Store CheckOut Lanes

This post was motivated by a recent experience at a local grocery store, although the experience can be had at just about any large store. Every store I have been to has either numbered or lettered checkout lanes. Some stores also have a set of lanes dedicated to self-checkout. If you visit a store frequently, you probably already know which checkout clerks to avoid, but wouldn’t it be great if problem customers could be avoided also? In order achieve this I propose that stores replace the simple number/letter labels on their checkout lanes with descriptive labels. Here is my list …

“Ultra Express Lane” for the Self-Important Terminal Type-A Personalities: This lane is for people who are obviously more important than you or I and who do not deserve to wait in line with common folk. This lane exists but is never open. Its sole purpose is to attract these customers to the store in the hope that the lane might be open. If it were open, it would only allow one customer at a time – no line allowed. The light at the register indicating whether the lane is open or not would be turned on until one of THEM approached the register. The light would then be turned out until the transaction was completed and the customer has left.

“I Do Not Begin to Write a Check Until I See the Total” Lane: At least this is the abbreviated title which has a subtitle “and then balance my checkbook before I hand the check to the clerk”. These folks often add to the misery of those behind them because they do not get their personal identification out of the bottom of their purse/wallet until asked to do so. For whatever reason, they will not fill out anything on the check beforehand – the store name, date, or signature. I can spot these types pretty accurately, I’ve developed a stereotype that generates some false positives, but never traps me behind a false negative. The mere existence of the personalities gives rise to the following lane.

“I Frequently Jump to Between Checkouts Hoping the New One Will Move Faster” Lane: These folks are never happy, but are not as full of themselves as those in the Ultra Express lane. They will jump from lane to lane on a whim. They also tend not to actually enter the physical lane between the magazines, candy, and junk-toy displays that leads to the register in the hopes that a new register might open that they could pounce on. They also tend not to put their items on the conveyor belt until they begin checking out.

Lane for the “Technically Challenged”: These folks always seem to have trouble making payment. They never use cash and pay with credit or debit cards which never seem to work. They know all of the tricks, rubbing the stripe on the back with their finger or piece of clothing, wrapping the card in a plastic shopping bag, changing the speed of the swipe, etc. If they make it past the swipe stage, they probably need to find a piece of paper in their purse/wallet that has their pin number on it which they either can’t quickly find or invariably mis-key the first try at the keypad.

The “I Always Question the Price of at Least One Item” Lane: There is just something about these folks that cause scanners to misread the bar-code or the store product price databases to become corrupt. If those failures don’t occur, they seem to bring along out of date store ads or expired coupons – just in case. These folks usually cause the entire lane of customers behind them to become, at least temporarily, one of the other types of customer.

The “People on Cell Phones” Lane: They start out in line talking, for all to hear, about things that should be kept private. At the register, the clerk must guide them through every step of making payment via hand signals or semaphore flags. It is as though they have never bought anything before – the part of their brain still functioning in our reality probably hasn’t the capacity to remember how transactions work.

“I’m Actually Making Multiple Separate Purchases” Lane: I get burned by this one too often. At first it looks like they are going to by 10 items, but you soon find out that will be achieved through at least 3 separate transactions: one for themselves, one for mom, and one for some other relative or neighbor. They¬† do mean well, but they need their own lane.

The “I Can’t Count” Express Lane: These lanes always have an item limit of 10, 20, or sometimes 30. Some folks simply can’t count, have inventive ways to group several items into one abstract (I was going to say logical but …) item, or they are really Type-A’s who’ve found the Ultra Express lane closed again. Quite simply, these folks should be spanked – HARD.

I’ve probably missed a few, but this should be a good start.

20090619

SSD for MSI Wind

Just a quick note on replacing the 7200RPM HD in my Wind with an OCZ SSD. Again the backup/restore using Acronis True Image Home 2009 went quickly and flawlessly. Formatting the 120GB SSD with NTFS took 140 seconds. Boot time of the Wind using a fast Scorpion drive took exactly 30 seconds, 10 of which were spent while the BIOS did its thing. Booting with the OCZ Vertex SSD took 23 seconds. When I first booted with the SSD, I thought something horrible had gone wrong. The fan came on and then the entire system went completely silent. Nary a peep nor hum. Only when the login screen appeared moments later did I realize that this total silence was now normal. Very nice.

20090524

iTunes, AirTunes, & iPod Touch

I have an 80GB music library accessible/shared through my iMac. I’d like to use an iPod Touch to control the library and stream it via AirTunes to my stereo system out by the pool. As ‘with it’ as as Apple seems to be, why is this not a default capability of the iPod Touch?

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