Sunday, October 30, 2005

Boutique doctors

In the Seattle Area, Dr. Daniel Frank sends a mass-mailing to us on Mercer Island advertising his "personal physician on retainer" system, where he charges $99/month (in addition to whatever insurance you have) to be your personal doctor. No waiting, plus instant attention to every ache and pain -- it sounds pretty appealing to me, and I'd probably sign up if I were a little older and thought I'd need more doctor services.

Now the New York Times weighs in with an article about
Lavish Care by 'Boutique Doctors' - [subs required]. After discussing some of the benefits, they add the obligatory reminder that this raises ethical concerns for how it's not fair to the people who don't pay.

Huh? The Super-Rich have always had this kind of medical care, and they always will. Same goes for people with a doctor in their family, or who for whatever reason are blessed by circumstance to be tied into the medical community. What's wrong with expanding this kind of service to everyone? The fee is within the paying ability of almost every American who values it enough to forgo other necessities. For people with chronic medical conditions or who for other reasons find themselves visiting a doctor regularly, I bet this is actually cheaper than the alternative because you get personal attention before an otherwise bothersome condition becomes serious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Environmental Heresies

This is an old one, and I'm not sure how I missed it. Stewart Brand is the California thinker behind the Whole Earth Catalog and a bunch of other hippie-tech ideas dating back from the 70s. In May 2005 Technology Review, he makes several strong claims about how the environmental movement will reverse its position on the following issues over the next 10 years: population growth, urbanization, genetic engineering, and nuclear power.

I'll add another one: Republicans, not Democrats, will be seen as having the innovative solutions to environmental problems. Today's Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and others are so anti-Republican that they are turning off mainstream people who are otherwise sympathetic to what's happening to the earth. Smart environmental organizations are already working to show their appeal to progressives on the right as well as the center-left.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Napoleon Dynamite (Movie Review)

This is probably a good movie to watch with your high school friends. It’s clean but not particularly funny humor focused on an awkward teenage boy named Napoleon who lives in a small town with relatives who are even more dull than he is. If you no longer harbor a grudge against your parents for forcing a clueless family on you, you probably will find this movie boring.
I watched it because there was a reference to it in a company meeting a few weeks ago, when it was the subject of a funny skit with Bill Gates finding himself back in college rooming with Napoleon. Unfortunately, the skit was funnier to me than the movie itself.

My Son the Fanatic

I watched this movie because I wanted to understand more about the circumstances for how an immigrant family can turn radical. A Pakistani taxi driver loves England, the country he adopted with his family decades ago. He is honest and hard-working, longs for a better life for his only son, who was born here and is now an adult contemplating marriage to the daughter of the local (white) police captain. Life is good. But although the father rather enjoys the freedom and diversity of life in a secular society, the son suddenly begins to reject it, turning to Islam for meaning in his life. Events unfold that ultimately pit the father’s secular life, including a prostitute he has befriended, against the son’s radical view of the world.

Unfortunately the movie focuses on the driver and his secular life, not on the on the religious fanaticism of the son, so I don’t recommend this movie if you want a view on why terrorism can become appealing to a native-born and otherwise well-integrated Muslim.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Apple Computer on a roll

Apple has a new software packaged called Aperture that finally goes seriously after the photo processing market. It's designed for professional photographers, letting you edit photos like you can't imagine.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Unshaming of America

Reason: Echo Chamber in the Superdome: A Louisiana National Guardsman explains how he dealt with false rumors being piped into Ground Zero of Hurricane Katrina

Lots of things we heard about New Orleans after Katrina just aren't true:

  • Rescue helicopters were never fired on

  • There were hundreds of National Guardsmen in the Superdome the entire time, equipped with radio communications and responding to all security issues.

New Orleanians have been kind of cheated, because now everybody thinks that they just turned to animals, and that there was complete lawlessness and utter abandon, when that wasn't the case. Because if there was, we would have completely lost control of the Dome. And we never did. People just kind of hung on, through the heat and through everything, until they got on a bus and left.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


End-User License Agreements (EULA) are so common these days that few people, if any, take them seriously. When you want some software, you download it, then you quickly click through all the "I Agree" buttons until you have the software running. But aren't you worried that there might be a strange clause in there? You could do a quick search for "firstborn child", or you could use EULAlyzer. This free Java applet claims to analyze a EULA for common clauses, flagging those that you might want to read twice.

BillG talks about economics and inheritance

Fortune.comhas an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Some key quotes:
GATES: It's too bad that economics isn't taught or a hobby for lots of people, because you do run into those who seem to say, 'There's only a certain number of jobs.' That's not the case. Let's say tomorrow we could decide that everyone in India is as rich as we are. Would the world be a better place? Certainly. Would the U.S. thrive more because of the great products and work that would be done over there? Absolutely. The world getting richer is a great thing. It has been a great thing. It will continue to be.

Gates was influenced by a Fortune article that argues why inheritance money is bad: "Should You Leave It All to the Children?" [Sept. 29, 1986]

BUFFETT:It's interesting that the same people who talk about the terrible cycle of dependency that welfare brings will then hand their kids when they emerge from the womb a lifetime supply of food stamps. But some poor woman who's had two pregnancies by the time she's 17, they say, Oh, this is terrible to give her anything.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Camp Orkila

I’m back from a weekend at Orkila, a YMCA campground on Orcas Island that hosted over 300 father-son pairs from Mercer Island. If you do the math, that’s something like 25% of all the K-3rd Grade kids on the Island—which sounds like an incredible turnout to me. Apparently it’s quite the tradition, operating continuously for at least fifty years.

Pronounced "Or-kai-la", it's a beautiful site overlooking the ocean in the San Juan Islands. You only get there by ferry, an hour-long trip from Anacortes, two stops after Lopez Island. Anacortes itself is almost two hours' drive from Seattle, so it really is quite remote.

We were part of the “Y-Guides” program of the YMCA, which organizes groups of 5-10 boys and their fathers. Most people refer to the groups as “tribes”, though apparently they are trying to get away from the Native American references and use the neutral term “circle” instead. Unfortunately none of the members of our circle were able to make this weekend, so Nathan and I were unattached—the wrong way to participate in the program. Everything revolves around the circles, so although everyone was gracious and tried to get us integrated into their activities as much as possible, we weren’t able to take advantage of the real benefits from circles, like carpooling up to the site or sharing the burden of the first night’s cookout.

It’s a good tradition, one that feels like the kind of thing we did when I was a boy in rural Wisconsin, but one I can’t imagine happening in Silicon Valley, for example. Californians are too transient, so there aren’t enough people who live in the same place long enough to participate in (much less start) traditions like this.

The event happens twice a year, once with fathers and sons, and again with fathers and daughters. Several of the fathers I met had been here half a dozen times already. We'll see if I integrate well enough into Mercer Island life that I someday match that record.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Free Internet at hotels

Today's WSJ has a list of the status of Internet access at major hotels. Ironically, Internet is more likely to be free at the low-end "cheap" brands, like Best Western, than at the high-end "luxury" places like Hilton or Marriott.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Obnoxious comments on Freakonomics blog

steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, is having a problem on his blog with people who post annoying comments.

Here's what I said to him:

Yes of course you should ban anonymous comments. Registration is free and easy, and it ensures the legitimacy of anyone motivated enough to respond.

You might check into the "trackback" feature available on many blog sites. People's comments appear on their own sites, not yours, but anyone can still read and respond by doing a simple search for comments to your original post. That way you can still get the feedback you want from the world at large while ignoring the obnoxious posters

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Uninterruptible Power Supply

After years of living vicariously, I finally bought myself this APC Back-UPS RS 1500 for my home PC system. The 1500 has enough extra juice to power my entire system, with 21" CRT for an hour or two, which sounds like overkill until I remember that my computer will become more central to our home life in the future as I upgrade our A/V system to use Media Center, and switch to VOIP for phone service, etc.

Since Katrina, my wife has been on a home disaster preparedness rampage, setting up our emergency supplies container, buying extra flashlights/radios/water/etc, so it has me thinking about a Real Disaster: my computer dying. So I paid about $200, which sounds like a lot of money until I realize how much more it would cost to replace a new system that got fried in a thunderstorm. Actually, I'm less worried about thunderstorms than I am about a sudden power blackout that could hose my computer right in the middle of writing an important email or blog entry :-)

Waste in Iraq

Gideon wonders why more attention isn't paid to the waste and corruption in Iraqi defense ministry procurement. I wonder what the point of such a story would be:

  1. Help the fledgling Iraqi democracy become more efficient. Our troops fighting the War on Terror need to know we are doing everything possible to increase the legitimacy of the Iraqi government.

  2. Expose the War for the sham that it is. Wake up a few more people to the madness of it all, so we can just get out.

  3. Impeach Bush. His incompetence in Iraq is equalled only by his incompetence on domestic issues.

The Left is in long-term decline because it no longer appeals to "normal" Americans. It would be hard (impossible?) to find a journalist in the Mainstream Media who could write honestly from the perspective of #1, so most Americans will just glaze over the story, essentially ignoring it as yet another trumped-up variation on #2 or #3--ideas which a slim (but solid) majority of people find revolting.

Absolutely everyone, George Bush most of all, wishes we didn't have to be in Iraq. What we really need are constructive, realistic proposals for what we should do now.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Curb Your Enthusiasm

If Larry David had never been co-creator of Seinfeld, this sitcom would be considered the work of a pretty good, though not great, amateur. The improvised acting is frustratingly slow if you're used to professional TV but not bad if it were somebody's video blog.

We watched the first couple of episodes from Season 1 on DVD last night, including a funny one about their visit to a dinner party only to be kicked out by the hostess after Larry knocks over a lamp. The comedy seems vaguely Seinfeld-esque, with everyone at slightly increased levels of insanity the further removed they are from Larry. There are several interesting characters, but the show doesn't quite get the level of development you see in Kramer or Elaine -- everyone's too busy improvising, often ending in a too-amateurish feel.

I'm a very picky TV viewer, so don't look to me for recommendations. I'm glad I saw the show, but it doesn't meet my standard for something I'd record and watch again. Maybe if they hired a crew of professional writers and actors and had it expensively produced and marketed, but I'd rather spend the time catching up on all the excellent old Frasier or Seinfeld reruns I still haven't seen.

If you're thinking of Salmon Days in Issaquah...

Issaquah Salmon Days Festival is not as fun as it looks

We went there yesterday. It was very crowded, in spite of the threat of rain, so lots of people must like it. The kids exhibits are fine, especially the one sponsored by AXA where our kids got to make their own toy propeller thingy.

You should definitely try to park in a pay-lot, one of the ones closer to downtown. The bus from the offsite lots (we parked near CostCo) take forever to get you there, and cost $1/person--which ends up being the same price as one of the closer lots anyway.

We thought the Kiwanis salmon BBQ was a rip-off: $11/adult for not-a-whole-lot-of-food. And $8/child (over 5). I'm not sure why they bother serving cole slaw, especially to kids. Does anybody ever eat it?

What if we hadn't invaded Iraq?

Victor Davis Hanson finally answers the questions I've been asking for a while. It's very easy to pick on the U.S. involvement in Iraq [insert all your favorite reasons why the place is a mess], and by the way what happened to all the WMD we were supposed to find there? "Bush lied, people died". "Why didn't we give the inspectors a chance?"

But what if we hadn't invaded? Saddam & crew would still be out there...doing what? The sanctions would almost certainly have ended by now. Of course the U.S. government would have continued to refuse opening diplomatic and trade relations, but what about France and others? The oil-for-food program enriched Saddam, but at least it placed some superficial constraints on his cronies' ability to spend the money. What if there had been no constraints? What if Iraq were just like North Korea today, only wealthy and strategically located?

Sean Crotty: Article catches fire

Sean Crotty: Article catches fire
Ebay is an open API that lets you, say, get an up-to-date list of the most popular search terms and add that to your application. That becomes powerful when you combine it with other web services, like Google Maps or Virtual Earth.

Sean points to this web service that shows all the used cars for sale near you.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Downfall (movie review)

What happens when an all-powerful man must “think the unthinkable, bear the unbearable” as Hirohito famously told the Japanese at the end of World War II? Adolph Hilter’s entire image was built on invincibility, strength, complete lack of tolerance for weakness; what happened when he faced defeat?

Downfall is a movie based on the recollections of Hitler’s personal secretary, a young woman who was at his side during the war and right to the end in his Berlin bunker. She remembers him as an inscrutable, a man who could be privately very gentle, forgiving, and kind, but in public reverts to "The F├╝hrer", an unchallengeable, unsympathetic, unforgiving tyrant intolerant of failure. When his generals lose and must face their inevitable self-destruction, he calls them traitors, humiliating them in front of the survivors, yet when she through nervousness makes a typing mistake he calmly and gently encourages her to start over.

The others in his coterie face the inevitable in different ways. Many of the adjutants spend their final days in drunken stupor, laughing and telling jokes among themselves (“Berlin has been turned into warehouses. Everyone is running around saying ‘where’s my house?”). Frau Goebbels, loyal wife of the Nazi propagandist, gently kills her children in their sleep because “I can’t let them grow up in a world without National Socialism”. Eva Braun has a happy, joyful disposition throughout, insisting on good food and drink, forcing reluctant soldiers to dance with her even as the bombs fall.

Fifty years later we automatically think failure when we remember Hitler, but for the people who surrounded him in those final days—people who had grown up assuming they were part of something that would last a thousand years—there was some terrible soul-searching and a real lesson in humility. I can't help thinking that some of the same lessons must have been faced by Saddam's loyalists in their final days too.