Friday, February 29, 2008

The Future of Medicine and "The Bottom Line"

If you're my age, you remember the promise that DNA held back in the 1970's. How "one day", we'll be able to identify what diseases you'll get, and heal you before you're even sick!

That was before the dark times. Before the advent of the HMO. How much proof do you need to decide that our system is horribly broken? Check out this article about people refusing DNA tests for conditions they're likely to have.

"Insurers say they do not ask prospective customers about genetic test results, or require testing. “It’s an anecdotal fear,” said Mohit M. Ghose, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, whose members provide benefits for 200 million Americans. “Our industry is not interested in any way, shape or form in discriminating based on a genetic marker.”"

Puhleeeeeze. This from the people that are being sued in pretty much every State in the union for despicable acts in the name of the bottom line. The only reason they AREN'T testing is that currently they need blood to do the tests. If they could figure out how to test us without our knowledge, you can bet your ass they would.

Nationalized health care isn't the answer, but we need to move fast to protect ourselves from this kind of genetic discrimination. The basis is already in the law - which prohibits discrimination based on some specific genetic traits like race, gender and (yet to be proven, but it will be) sexual orientation. It's time to start demanding that our politicians expand that protection, before a lack of it starts costing human lives.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Subprime Primer

This is a pretty funny slide show about the sub-prime mortgage debacle. Not that there's anything funny about any debacles.

The sad part is that as over simplified as it is, it's also fairly accurate...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chantix - Update

So today is day 18 smoke-free for me. I've had a few interesting experiences, the most interesting annoying of which is what I call "the blahs". This actually started before I quit completely - I had a week where I was smoking 2-3 a day before I just said the heck with it.

It's not that I'm unmotivated - I'm going to work, working out, doing my walk, my place gets cleaned, my laundry gets done, I've gotten my application information in to start school in the fall, my financial aid info it filled out and in - if anything, I'm more motivated about getting my life together than I have been for a while.

Socially, I'm "blah". Getting together with friends seems to take too much energy. I'm not myself - my sense of humor is off, my timing is different, and everything I say or do seems/feels forced to me. It's the "to me" that's important there - no one else seems to notice a difference.

I have 7 weeks of Chantix left, so for now I'm going to stick with it. This is the best I've ever done when it comes to stopping smoking. I can't discount that. If 3 months of feeling "a little off" and being a bit isolated is the price, then the price doesn't seem all that high when taken in the context of an extra few years of life, ya know?

So for now, I guess I'll stick to work, exercise, TV, video games and routine.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dumb Money

Kevin over at No Debt Plan has a feature called "dumb money". I recently found myself having a similar conversation with...errr.....myself about going out over the last few weekends. I'm not ethical enough to NOT steal the "dumb money" tag, but I am ethical enough to acknowledge where I stole it from. Look for "dumb money" posts here in the future.

The SUN (and global warming)

Ars Technica had an interesting article today, talking a bit about the sun's effect on Global Warming. There are starting to be studies done specifically to that rule out the possibility of solar activity having an effect on global warming.

My honest opinion is that we don't really know if we're seeing global warming, nor do we know why it's happening, if it is. There's just WAY too much money and power tied up in the concept of Global Warming to believe we're getting any real information about it. On one hand, Gore is trumpeting an alarm. On the other hand, he's doing next to nothing about it in his own life, despite having ample funds to drastically lower his personal impact on the environment. On top of that, he's making a ton of cash selling "carbon offsets". When I take those 2 facts into account, I have a hard time believing him. I don't believe what most sales and marketing people say about their products, either, so take that into account too.

There are lots of good reasons to do "the right thing" where the environment is concerned, I just don't think that a panic inspired by "The Brothers and Sisters of The Church of Global Warming" is one of them.

And yes, I'm the guy that, at every bookstore he goes in, moves all the copies of "An Inconvenient Truth" to the "Religion and Spirituality" section. I'll post the pictures sometime ;)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Apple: It just works, well sometimes.

This article is talking about the new iPods, and the fact that they aren't compatible with any Apple OS older than Tiger.

In particular, I love this quote: "Now, I've seen the criticism that some of those True Believers have directed at those of us disillusioned ones, left behind by the shiny new OS's. We should have read the system requirements on the box.. I admit it. I didn't."

It really sums up everything I've always hated about Apple. Apple is the company that had this huge ad campaign that basically said "Apple: it just works!". Well, apparently not. And it's not like this is some 3rd party solution we're talking about here, it's an Apple product.

"Apple: it just works. Well, sometimes. Only if there's Mac support, and only if it's an Apple product that we decide should work with what you have. "

Me, I'll stick with the PC - at least if something doesn't work with my PC, there will be 25 other choices that do the same thing I need to have done.

HD-DVD is dead! Long Live HD-DVD!

Well damn.

I suppose it was inevitable. Sony has lost so many format wars (VHS, MP3, Minidisc, memory stick, etc. etc.) they were bound to decide to just buy a victory eventually.

I have the HD-DVD add on drive for my Xbox360. I like it a lot. I also have an "upconverting" DVD player that shows my regular DVDs in HD. I like that a lot better. I bought it for $49.95 on sale at Best Buy. That said, I CAN tell a very, very slight difference between watching an HD-DVD disc and an upconverted DVD. Only on certain scenes, at certain times, if I'm looking very closely. Certainly not enough of a difference to justify the additional cost of HD-DVD players and discs. And if it's not worth the extra cash for HD-DVD, it's certainly not worth the even higher cost of Bluray.

Eventually, I'll get a PS3 so I can do the Bluray thing, and play the few PS3 exclusive titles I'm interested in. My guess is that for a good, long time the REAL winner of the "format war" will be the regular old DVD we've all come to know and love - played in upconverting players.

Perkins. Dirty Dishes, Great Customer Service.

So Saturday I was going to meet a friend for lunch, then go catch a movie (Maybe, Definitely was the movie. I enjoyed it, although according to the WOACAs in front of me, making a few, quiet comments to the person next to me is "talking through the whole movie" lol). I like breakfast food. Don't get to have it very often, since I tend to drink breakfast. So I look forward to these weekend brunches when I get to eat eggs, bacon, toast, etc. etc.

We arrive at Perkins, order waters, coffee for me, a diet coke for my friend, and I unwrap my silverware. The knife has a big splotch of dried egg on it. So does the spoon. Also the fork. Gross.

The coffee gets here. There's a dark, dirty ring on the inside of the mug. There's caked on grime on my water glass, with bits floating in the water. The outside of the coffee pot has some sort of dark, oily looking substance around the top where filth has built up over time.

I explain to the waitress that I don't feel comfortable getting food here, because it's going to come out on plates that are likely just as dirty, but with the food covering the dirt, how will we know? We get up to leave, and I stop and talk to the manager. I got the assistant manager. She seems completely unconcerned. Says "Oh, the dishwashed probably forgot to clean out the trap, that's all! Hope you'll come back and try us again!". Well, yes. The dishwasher probably did forget. Then the waitstaff ignored the dirty silverware when they were rolling it up in the napkins. Ignored the dirty glasses, didn't mention the dirty coffee cups, ignored the dirty glasses. The management (her) also apparently didn't pay any attention, or she'd have noticed that all the dishes in her restaurant were dirty. This wasn't one person, it was the entire staff.

Not being happy with the manager's "oh well!" attitude, I e-mailed Perkins when I got home. I explained what happened, and pointed out that I saw no reason to go back and give them another chance. It's my money, and for my money, I don't see a good reason to go to a place that I may well have to walk out of again.

Sunday afternoon, I get a call from the store manager. He agrees that all of the items at the table being dirty is excessive, and says he'll address the issue. He asks if I'd be willing to come back in if it was on him. Well, sure - that seems fair. He promises that corporate will be mailing me 2 free meal coupons, and takes down my address.

My experience at Perkin's wasn't good, but my experience with customer service was fantastic.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chantix - works or not?

Chantix is the new "stop smoking" drug from Pfizer - and it'd been getting a lot of press. This article describes how it made an otherwise normal individual into a raving psychotic , and this article talks a bit about another person's experience, along with incidental information about how her family members did with it. If you check the comments associated with the first article, you find people on both sides of the argument. The only part of that I find surprising is that the people who it didn't work for seem to think it shouldn't be on the market at all.

Excuse me? I've been on Chantix for a month now, and while I do have some of the common side effects (gas, nausea, vivid dreams) I also, for the first time in 20 years, quit smoking. Is it for everyone? Obviously not. Personal responsibility should be used - several of the stories involve people that were taking Chantix and also taking other drugs for recreational purposes. Now, I don't claim to be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I would think that if I'm taking a drug designed to make a change in the chemistry of my brain, I will want to avoid taking any other drugs (booze included) that alters my brain chemistry.

Another common quote I see is "I didn't do any research while I was on Chantix...". Again, who's fault is that? Did you read the drug information sheet? Did you understand it? If you didn't understand it (like I had no idea what "suicidal ideation" was - so I looked it up.) did you make an effort to find out what it is? Reading through these articles and comments, I am grateful for the comments that point these things out, or I'd feel as if perhaps I was the only one that bothered to monitor myself when I start a new medication. It's my job, after all, to look after myself.

This is not the first time I've taken Chantix. I took it once before, but didn't manage to stop smoking. I cut down dramatically, but I never had the alone time I needed to actually *quit*. Chantix did a great job of crushing the physical craving for nicotine, and a great job of taking all the pleasure out of smoking. Once the drug kicked in, smoking was a smelly, foul tasting experience that did nothing for me. The habit of it, however, was compelling enough that I continued to do it even though it was an unpleasant experience.

I'm sure everyone deals with the actually "quitting" differently. For me, it meant picking a weekend I could sequester myself in my apartment, alone, where I could pace, laugh, bitch, scream, and be as grumpy as I wanted without impacting anyone else. There was a secondary reason for this as well - side effects. Specifically, Chantix has the side effect of causing (not much) gas. The problem really came in when I quit smoking and substituted sugar free mints. That first weekend, I must have gone through 4 or 5 packs of mints a day.

For those of you that don't know, sugar free mints and gums are usually sweetened with something called "sorbitol". In small quantities, it lends a sweet taste to gums, mints, candies, etc. In larger quantities, it's a laxative. In larger quantities, it's an emergency laxative. Gas, the runs, etc etc. Being alone in my apartment meant that I didn't have to explain why I had enough gas to get me from here to Vegas and back.

So there you have it - my experience so far. The down side is that it's only the first part of the battle that's over. Apparently the statistics look like this:

44% of people manage to quite smoking with Chantix. Of the ones that do quit, only 23% are still not smoking at the end of the first year.

That may not sound very encouraging, until you realize:

17% of people that use the patch quit smoking. Of the ones that do quit, only 7% are still not smoking at the end of the first year.


If you make it to the end of that first year, your odds are really, really good.

Now, if someone would just start making mints with Splenda, I'd be all set...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Personal Responsibility = Escape Poverty

This is an older article over at Whatever, but it's something I couldn't have written without going off on a rant. Which is my issue, and something I should work on. That's a post for a different blog.

He boils it down to these 5 points:

  1. Get an education.
  2. Take responsibility.
  3. Get help.
  4. Learn patience.
  5. Filter out the stupid and ignorant.
He's right - do those 5 things, and you will escape poverty. I'm flummoxed as to why he stopped there. These 5 things are not only a recipe for escaping poverty, they're a recipe for attaining happiness.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Television Returns...sort of.

TV Guide has an article up outlining what we're likely to get out of the rest of the TV season this year. The shows I care most about (well, the ones that aren't being canceled) are listed here. There's a longer list available in the article.

Battlestar Galactica
Returns April 4 with first half of 20-episode final season. Production on second half could start as early as March. Airdate for those TBD.

Four pre-strike episodes left. Unclear whether additional episodes will be produced for this season.

Boston Legal
Expected to shoot 6 to 8 new episodes to air in April/May.

Burn Notice
Production on Season 2 expected to get under way in late April. New episodes could start airing as early as July.

The Closer
Expected to kick off its fourth season this summer.

Desperate Housewives
Expected to shoot 4 to 7 new episodes to air in April/May.

Grey's Anatomy
Expected to shoot 4 to 7 new episodes to air in April/May

Expected to shoot 4 to 6 new episodes to air in April/May.

Seven episodes remain. No additional episodes expected for this season.

Six pre-strike episodes remain. Five additional episodes could air this season.

Could produce a handful of new episodes to air in April/May.

Season 5 concludes Feb. 19. Production on the show's eight-episode sixth season expected to start up this summer. Airdate TBD.

Expected to shoot 5 to 9 new episodes to air in March/April/May.

Private Practice
Slim chance it could return with 4 or 5 new episodes this season. Either way, it'll be back in the fall.

Three pre-strike episodes remain. Expected to shoot 5 or 6 additional episodes to air in April/May.

The Shield
Final season already shot. Airdate TBD.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Four pre-strike episodes remain. Future beyond that TBD.

Reciepts Required...

The Consumerist has an interesting article this morning on Barnes & Nobel changing their return policy. Now, I'm all for businesses changing the return policy to stop rewarding shoplifters and scammers, my problem with it is that even though they end up saving a ton of money in the process, prices don't go down. The end result? More hoops for innocent shoppers to jump through, but no benefit to them. The store gets to save money, the stock holders may see a bigger dividend, the store posts a higher profit margin, but the little guys still get screwed. Think the employees get a raise? I doubt it.

Maybe it's time for "Retail Unions". Credit Unions provide banking services, but since they're non-profit, the focus is more on the members (also known as "customers") rather than the profit margin. What would the result be if a store adopted that philosophy?

Could you imagine the screening process? You'd want to eliminate anyone that might shoplift, scam, or damage anything. Check arrest records? Credit Reports? References? Suddenly, just telling people you're running an errand could become an exercise in snobbery. Oh, and what about kids? Allow them or not? Require parents to sign a waiver accepting financial responsibility for any extra cost their kids cause? How much does it cost to have an employee clean up that smashed display, or mop up the broken apple juice bottle because the little darlings were running wild?

Still, I think that might be somewhere I wouldn't mind shopping. It's extremely rare that I ever need a store to go "above and beyond" for me, yet there's no question that I pay a little extra for everything I buy as a result of the people that do end up making stores go "above and beyond" on a regular basis - unruly kids, "Women of a Certain Age", scammers, etc. etc.

Perhaps its' time to start letting those types of customers pay their own premium.

Heterogeneous Geekdom

OK, so I'm a bit blog happy this week. I've been kicking around the idea of starting a blog *about* something. The problem is, of course, about *what*? My bookmarks range from Consumer Rights issues to frugal living to Sci-Fi, from gaming to tech-o-centricities, webcomics and political commentary. On any given day, I may come across any number of different things I find interesting. Which always brings me back to "so what to write about?"

All of it. That's right. I'm just going to use this space as my own, personal dumping ground. If *I* find it interesting, then I'm sure you (well, by "you" I mean my readers. When I get some.) will too.