Life is a Mystery

29 July 2009 . Comments Off on Logo


I love logo, it is such an easy yet powerful language. I was disappointed today to see that N’s teacher was crossing out all the Logo-related assignments in his math homework. What a waste! I wondered how hard it would be to install Logo at a school these days. As I suspected, not hard at all!

There are a number of Logo interpreters written in Java, but my favorite to date is a Logo interpreter written in JavaScript. This should run in just about any modern browser. Joshua Bell, the author of this Logo, also links to Curly Logo written in JavaScript. That one may be more appropriate for kids since it takes the trouble to appear more fun to use. Plenty of Logo without any install. Now I just wish it were being used in N’s school.



28 July 2009 . Comments Off on The health freedom lie

The health freedom lie

This CNNMoney article has been making the email rounds and just hit my desk, passed along by my father-in-law who says “as in all things, be careful what you pray for”. It warns that we will lose five “freedoms” with health care reform. Oh yeah?

Who are you kidding?

1. Freedom to choose your own plan?

Who has that now? It is our employers who choose our plans. Hell, many of us with pre-existing conditions can’t choose _any_ plan. Tell me which plan will accept Alex when he is an adult. That’s right: only government-sponsored plans. This “freedom” is an illusion.

2. Freedom to be rewarded for healthy living, or pay your real costs?

This so-called “freedom” is the antithesis of “insurance.” Of course you don’t pay your real costs or get rewarded for healthy living. Insurance is a group of us (all US citizens, lets say) banding together to say we will help one another. Everyone deserves health care, that is the basic assumption at work. If we all pay into a pool, then we can cover the costs for reasonable health care for everyone. Notice that almost no one pays “real costs”. Some pay more than they “needed” to (they were healthy and presumably don’t wish otherwise), others paid less than their care required (they got sick, so they are not feeling very lucky about this). The whole point of insurance is that we all pay into a pool in a predictable way to help each other with unpredictable expenses. Unfortunately, our for-profit insurance companies have forgotten this.

3. Freedom to choose high-deductible coverage?

Well, we know who benefits from this “freedom”: the very wealthy. Who else would “choose” a high deductible plan? Health savings accounts are a sham, designed to remove the healthy from the insurance pool. The point is, do we care about the health of our fellow citizens and believe that a healthier society will benefit us all or do we believe that each of us is out for him or her self? We need to design a system _everyone_ can afford, not one just for the rich and healthy.

4. Freedom to keep your existing plan?

See #1. There is no such freedom now. Try changing employers and keeping your plan. Try staying at one employer for more than five years and keeping your plan. Our plans change every year and we have virtually no control over those changes. Doctors go in and out of “network”. Drug coverage changes. Deductibles rise. Copays rise. Where is the “freedom” here? Again, it is an illusion.

5. Freedom to choose your doctors?

See #1 and #4. Who are you kidding. You choose doctors that participate in your plan and the list of doctors participating in a particular plan shift from year to year. In fact, lately insurance companies and provider networks have taken to playing chicken, threatening to divorce and letting consumer outrage shake one side or the other down for a “lower cost”. This is nuts and it requires a huge expenditure of energy and resources to administer. Every once in a while (or if you are rich enough to pay “out of network” fees) you are lucky enough to get the doctor you really want, but for how long?

This article is a pile of steaming dung. It is the same dung-platter that insurance companies have been serving us for decades. Where is the real cost in our healthcare system? It is in the for-profit insurance industry that forces employers and providers alike to handle massive administrative complexity and renegotiate “choices” every single year. This is an industry that has forgotten that the reason we give them our money is so that they can spend it keeping our neighbors healthy, not so that they can take bigger and bigger profits off the top for “shareholders.”

A single-payer health care system would actually give you all five of these freedoms, freedoms you do not enjoy today. How?

#1: Single payer would give everyone a baseline of decent health care. It would leave for-profit insurers around to offer a variety of “cadillac” care for those who could afford it. Plenty of choice, just a baseline of decency to go with it.

#2: Your reward for healthy living would be your health. If you are motivated to be healthy (and most people really are), then you can build a relationship with whichever provider you wish.

#3: See #1, you can supplement your single-payer plan with whatever bells and whistles you like, as long as you can afford them. Not much different from today.

#4: Without a dependency on employers to select from a menu of complex plans, health care becomes simpler. You always keep your existing plan, it is _the_ plan. No choices each October. No worry if you have to change jobs or (worse yet) lose your job. You always keep your plan.

#5: You really can choose your doctor in a single-payer system. The are all “in network” and they all benefit from the streamlined administration that comes from dealing with only one major insurer. Yes, some insurance industry “gatekeepers” would be traded for government bureaucracy “gatekeepers”, but at least you have a chance, every now and then, of electing the government.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the current Obama plan will grant us these freedoms any more than the current system. It falls far short of streamlining the system in ways that would lower costs and make a doctor’s life easier. But just because it is not perfect does not mean that the current system is worth saving. The current US health care system is a sham of smoke and mirrors, made so complex that it tires out most anyone taking a good look at it. It is a system designed to profit a few and avoid paying for the care that many need. It deserves to be overhauled, and even the Obama plan will make it better if not ideal.


28 July 2009 . Comments Off on Apple killing the iPhone

Apple killing the iPhone

Well, they don’t think they are, but they are. As I’ve complained before, Apple just cannot effectively police iPhone apps. And yet they keep trying. I think their actions this week will be the beginning of the end for Apple policing iPhone apps, either that, or the beginning of the end for the iPhone itself.

Last week Google released Blackberry and Android apps for Google Voice. It felt bad enough that the iPhone was not on the list, but Google at least hinted an iPhone app was coming. This week we learn that Apple has rejected the GV app for the iPhone. Not only that, Apple has rescinded the acceptances of other GV enabling apps in the iPhone app store and kicked at least three apps out of the store.

Apple has to get out of the way of developers. Smaller developers have been complaining for many months about the arbitrary ways that Apple enforces its app store rules. Now major developers like Google are being caught in the net. This is music to the ears of competitors like RIM, Palm, and even Google. Apple must let the app store go free or it will kill its own platform, sending users off to jailbreak their phones. Even political activists are starting to take notice: free my phone!

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28 July 2009 . Comments Off on Scanning Documents with iPhone at Ponoko

Scanning Documents with iPhone at Ponoko

I ran across a story about a cool iPhone apparatus that makes scanning documents with the iPhone simple. This is a neat idea, the iPhone can make a serviceable scanner in a library or at home, a great alternative to copying costs.

But even better was the service the creator of this apparatus had used to build and sell it. Called Ponoko, it is a website that lets you build almost anything you can imagine. You design it, you price it. Ponoko makes it, ships it, your customer assembles it.

I love sites like Jakprints where I can print almost anything and CafePress where I can design and sell t-shirts and other swag. Now I can come up with a crazy idea for a physical object and have that instantiated in the world. Cool.

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17 July 2009 . Comments Off on Missing Books

Missing Books

David Pogue shares word of a deeply ironic action on the part of Amazon. They’ve quietly deleted copies of purchased books from Kindles across the world, crediting the owners for their purchase. The books were deleted because the publisher decided they didn’t really want those titles sold as ebooks. The books: 1984 and Animal Farm.

This is the trouble with the cloud, you don’t actually have anything, you are just accessing objects that others hold on your behalf. The Kindle is basically a cache for your most recent reading, the rest of which lives at Amazon awaiting your call. Deleting these books is just a simple clearing of the cache, nothing significant from a technical point of view. But it feels significant, doesn’t it? It feels invasive. It feels arbitrary. It will help Kindle owners realize how little control they have.

Episodes disappear overnight at Hulu. Videos come and go at YouTube. We are living in a sand mandala. Enjoy it while you can, it won’t be the same tomorrow.


UPDATE: It appears that the publisher of these ebooks had no rights to the titles. Amazon was right to take them off the store, but I still question taking them off Kindles in the field.

12 July 2009 . Comments Off on Green Day in Minneapolis

Green Day in Minneapolis

Nathaniel really loves Green Day and he and Mary cooked up a plan for me to take him to the show here even though Mary is out of town. I’ve been to folk concerts galore, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rock concert, much less an arena rock concert before. I went armed with earplugs!

I actually really like Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. I was already a fan of American Idiot, but the integrated lyric and sound of this new album works even better for me. I’m a fan of The Wall, and the new Green Day has enough of a hint of that kind of story telling to work for me. So I my biggest disappointment of the night was that Green Day does not seem as enamored of that story telling as I am. The concert hopped across the 21st Century Breakdown hits, but didn’t take the time to play out the whole cycle. Still, technically the show was fantastic and there were a few elements that I really loved.

Sonically I’m happier listening to music in the car or with headphones, where I can control the volume and hear the subtleties. This experience (earplugs firmly in place) was a bit like listening to the music underwater. But to experience the music blasting right through my body, the lights in tight sync with the sound, the excitement of the crowd, the joy of singing along full throated… that was all something I don’t get in the car or beneath my headphones. It was a blast.

The band was tight, the staging (especially the lighting) nicely integrated, the backdrop screens really well executed. The whole thing added up to a full sensory experience that made time slip away. There were pyrotechnics throughout that more or less worked, though those sometimes felt superfluous to me, more gimmick than gritty. But when Billie Joe jumps and the stage explodes as his feet hit the ground, you can’t help but be impressed. There was never only one thing happening, the sound or lights or screens or pyro were always working together. I could only sense one or two missed cues during the whole show, it was an impressive piece of theater.

My favorite parts of the show were when Billie Joe invited fans out of the pit to join him on stage. A twelve year old played a parishioner to Billie Joe’s missionary during East Jesus Nowhere. Three fans came up on stage to take on the lead Longview lyrics. But the real highlight of the night for me was when Billie Joe invited a fan up to play Jesus of Suburbia. He quizzed the crowd, “who can really f***ing play this? What key is it in?” When he picked a girl onto stage he didn’t lighten the load: “You better be able to f***ing play this!” He handed her his guitar, sat her on a stage monitor, and set off on the song. Every once in a while he’d crouch near her and check her fingering or share the mic with her for a lyric, but wow! She really nailed the song! She hit those chords with power and the band backed her up. I couldn’t help but imagine with awe the thoughts going through her mind as she sat at the center of this arena playing this song she must have practiced a thousand times in front of a thousand fans and (more importantly) with the band. I’m amazed she didn’t melt into a puddle in front of us, instead she blossomed, stronger and stronger, only handing the guitar back for the final chords as Billie Joe wrapped up the song. “You were f***ing amazing!” he said as he hugged her and sent her off in a stage dive.

The politics also worked for me. Billie Joe would point out that songs were “not anti-American, but anti-war!” He introduced East Jesus Nowhere with a cry of “gimme your tired, your hungry, your poor, and we’ll see how godless a nation we’ve become!” Know Your Enemy was introduced with a local angle: “We recorded this song on the first day of the Republican Convention, that was here, right? … We got those m*****f*****s out of office!”. The crowd, an amazingly diverse group of people from 7 to 57 right around our corner of the balcony, ate it up. We were among friends. Nathaniel today remembered the feeling by saying, “you know, the vibe at the concert was so great… you could just feel the happiness.” Indeed.

So even though it was not what I was looking for from Green Day, it was an absolutely wonderful way to spend an evening with my son. I’m glad he and Mary conspired to get me to go, and I thank Green Day and all the fans, including our neighbors with whom we carpooled to the concert, for a bringing the energy to the evening. It was great! All that’s left is buying some swag from Cinderblock because I was too cheap to get it at the concert.


Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /