Sunday, January 04, 2009

Movie reviews

Over the holiday I've had the opportunity to see a few movies and I thought I would give anyone that cares (hopefully no one) my opinion of the three I saw; Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Valkyrie.

Slumdog Millionaire is about a kid from the slums of India that somehow, without the slightest hint of a personality or on-screen presence, makes it through the tryouts for the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and makes it onto the show. He proceeds to do quite well, and the show host grows suspicious and calls in the police who proceed to question him over night, before he returns to answer the final question. It seems that his life has been full of little events that have enabled him to answer these questions, and given him the suspicion and gumption to answer the questions that he doesn't know the exact answer to. All in all, it's an OK attempt at the classic man-tries-to-do-everything-to-get-woman-to-love-him story. I would give it 2 out of 4.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a guy that appears to have been the unfortunate recipient of the time warp caused by a clock maker that, because of the loss of his son in WWI, makes a clock to run backwards for a train station. He's born old, with all the infirmities that come with it, and slowly grows larger and younger, then smaller and younger as he ages. He eventually dies as an infant, but I was rooting for him to become an embryo. This is a total chick flick, and while I normally don't mind a good chick flick, this movie was especially boring. Like someone once said, "Not all movies can have explosions and car chases, which is why there's nudity and espionage." Unfortunately, this movie has none of that and suffers for it. I never connected with the character, so when he dies I felt nothing. The women to my sides, however, were weeping. Chick flick. I give it 1 out of 4.

Valkyrie, on the other hand, has both explosions and espionage, and is right up my alley in terms of the kind of movies that I like to watch. It's about the 15th and final attempt on Hitler's life, by some of his highest ranking soldiers. They drop a bomb off at his planning session, but due to an unfortunate change of circumstances, it doesn't kill him. During the chaos that ensues, they attempt an otherwise bloodless coupe by invoking "Valkyrie", a set of plans to be used to secure Berlin and Germany in the case of an attempt on Hitler. They use Valkyrie as a way of getting the SS out of power and themselves into power, with the idea of negotiating a peace that won't destroy Germany with the Allies once they have succeeded. Unfortunately, Hitler doesn't die, and they are all caught and executed. The part that got me choked up at the end was knowing that the only monument to German soldiers in WWII is to these soldiers, the "traitors". I definitely liked it and would give it 2.5-3 out of 4.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Health care costs

In response to Ian's comments, and as a sort of "part 2" to yesterday's post, I have to agree that we're getting more and better health care today than we did 20 years ago (or probably even 10 years ago).

But that's only part of the problem with the expense of health care. The other is that it doesn't follow the laws of supply and demand, at least not in any sort of reasonable way.

How much would you pay to be healthy or out of pain? The answer for most people is "as much as it takes". It's worse than racing. There is basically no upper limit that people won't spend, and so there is no incentive to have reasonable prices, or to limit care.

A heart transplant might make sense for a 20 year old, or probably makes even more sense for a 40 year old owner of a small business, but does it make sense for a 1 year old, or a 60 year old? I know I'm callus, but kids are easy to come by (I know specific kids have priceless value to their parents, but to society, they appear to be disposable if the back alleys of any major city are used as reference), and old people are of very little use to society and present a very real drain of resources.

In times past, you had a dozen kids because more likely than not, at least half of them were going to die (and you needed your own labor pool), and old people really didn't stick around much past their useful (to society) working years. The Eskimos are said to have put their old onto ice flows when they were too big of a burden to the clan.

I'm not saying that I want to go back to those times, because I don't. What I'm trying to say is that a capitalistic society is going to have a hard time with health care. It's either priced to the point where many can't afford it, or it doesn't offer all that it can, given a price-is-no-object mentality. We seem to have gone for the price-is-no-object way of doing things, so many people can't afford it.

The politicians are trying to get more people to be able to afford it, and they think that's done with insurance, but is it really? Is socialized medicine the way to go? Maybe. Is mandatory insurance the way to go? Probably not because it doesn't address the root cause of the problem, and from my (limited) point of view, it seems to be part of the problem. It causes people to stop caring about how much something costs (never a good thing if you're trying to keep costs down) and just like in socialized countries, it seems to be causing them to have to line up for months to get service.

The delay in getting service in Massachusetts seems to be partly related to people with new insurance having long lists of saved up complaints, something that probably doesn't happen any more in socialized medicine countries, but mainly it stems from the fact that there aren't enough general practice doctors. The lack of general practice doctors seems to stem from the fact that specialized medicine pays much better. General practice doctors are only paid for 15 minute visits with patients, so they try to hustle patients in and out as fast as possible, again, probably not what people want or are expecting. Jiffy Lube spends longer working on my car.

How can we convince doctors to become primary care physicians instead of specialists? Maybe we pay them more, maybe we pay the specialists less, maybe we fill all the specialist positions so that new doctors can't find any work as specialists and have to go into general practice? I don't know, and I don't pretend to know. Knowing enough to ask the question is sometimes the best that one can be expected to know.

It's a tough problem, all I'm trying to say is that maybe we're trying to treat the symptom and not the cause; that we should put some effort into figuring out the real reason why everyone needs insurance. Insurance may be the answer, but it doesn't really seem like we've determined that it is. It seems like we're just guessing at the answer. If there's one thing I've learned from situations like these, it's that the unintended consequences will hit you hard if you don't know the root cause and don't think things through.

I'm glad the Massachusetts is having a such a hard time, because it tells us that they probably didn't do it right. If we're going to inflict this kind of plan on the other 299 million residents of the U.S.A., we might want to know what doesn't work so that we can do something different. Or at least know what we're in for.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mandatory insurance

Yesterday I heard an NPR article about how Massachusetts is coping with mandatory health insurance and the problems it's causing, primarily the lack of primary physicians.

This got me thinking, due in no small part to a book I've been reading lately, "More Sex is Safer Sex", which examines interesting topics from the point of view of an economist (supply and demand and putting the real cost on to the those that get the benefits).

It would seem to me that the problem isn't that health care is so expensive that no one can afford it and that people are going bankrupt trying to pay their medical bills and/or outrageous health insurance costs, but instead the problem is that there aren't enough doctors.

Some part of this equation is classic supply and demand, and Massachusetts' predicament shows it clearly, that there just aren't enough doctors. People with their new insurance are trying to use it, only to find that it takes them months (averaging about 4 months) to get to a primary care physician, and until that's done, they can't move forward in the health care system, so they continue to use emergency services and deal with the mess that creates.

If there were more doctors, presumably, they would be competing amongst themselves for quality and price, and driving down costs. If that was the case, then there might not be the need for insurance or complicated insurance forms that cost doctors money and all in all take 30% of every dollar spent on health care.

For every complicated problem there is a simple answer that is wrong, and this may very well be one of those answers, but I can't help but wonder if we're putting our attention in the wrong place. After all, how much use is insurance if you can't actually use it? I'd rather spend my money somewhere else.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Miata runs!

It's been close to three years since I've even turned on the Miata, and last weekend I decided that was long enough.

A brief hunt for a new battery from BatteriesPlus was required. The first store I went to had one, but one of the vent tubes was broken. The next closest store was going to be closing right about when I would get there, but a quick call to them got them to agree to stay open a few extra minutes (and verified that they actually had a battery). While I was there, I picked up a replacement for the V-Strom as well (yep, I'm not driving for fun much anymore).

About a week later I actually get the time (while Sara is working late) to install the battery in the Miata (V-Strom is still waiting for a nice day) and, it runs! It took a lot of cranking, but the 3 year old gas actually burns! I let the Miata idle while I filled its four flat tires (though none of them appeared to be flat thanks to very stiff sidewalls) and I was surprised that the exhaust was clear, no smoke or anything.

The brake fluid appears to have vanished into thin air, but without any puddles, I can't be certain where it actually went. Does that stuff actually evaporate? I'm guessing not. I topped up the reservoir without checking pad thickness (it might just be all in the brake calipers and waiting to overflow when I replace the pads). Oh well, a turkey baster works well for pulling it back out again.

I think I heard a misfire or two in the few minutes it took the compressor to fill up so that I could pump up the tires, but I can't be certain. I was able to back it out of the garage, and though I have only comprehensive insurance and can't locate my '09 registration (I have it, but I think it's in the house somewhere), I decided I would give it a quick trip around the block to see how it runs.

It got me around the block, which is always a nice way to start. But it appears that there's a (big) miss at about 5k RPM, almost like fuel cutoff. I have no idea what the Link (replacement computer) is programmed for, so it could just be a configuration issue. Before the Miata went into cold storage I was working on tuning it for the newly installed wide-band O2 sensor, so this is probably just old gas and incorrect target lambda points (or maybe the boost control is messed up).

Unfortunately, the Link's keypad display was all messed up, which meant that I couldn't do any adjustments at the time. A trip to Radio Shack was necessary to pick up a soldering iron to re-do the cable connections going to the keypad before I would be able to use it again. I did that resoldering last night and verified that the keypad still works, so I have hopes for being able to get some adjustments made this weekend, and if it's nice, maybe even get in a little driving.

Then maybe I can convert the Miata to be my daily driver. But, that's a separate conversation.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Carpet tomorrow!

It might be premature for a "yay!" but I'm going to give one now anyway. The carpet people called to say that their installers will be calling me tomorrow to tell me at what time tomorrow they will be over to do the carpet install.

It doesn't take very long to get bored with chipboard floors.

Let's hope they come tomorrow because we're going to take apart our bedroom and tear up the carpet tonight.

Change of scenery

Today I start my work day in a new location, my front "den". I think it's supposed to be the den, at least that's what Sara and I call it. It's the room right off of the front entry which I suppose is where you usually put dens.

I'm working here because we've signed up for (and put a deposit on) new carpets which hopefully will be installed later this week. This weekend Sara and I started pulling up the carpet and pad in the upstairs rooms (all of the upstairs, and the stairs, are getting new carpet). We have just the master bedroom and the stairs left to do, which we'll do tonight or tomorrow.

In order to do my office carpet, we had to relocate my desk somewhere, and the den was available (the living room, not so much, since that's where the craft room supplies went). So, now instead of staring out the window and across the street like I usually do, I'm staring into the corner and happy that there isn't too much glare from having the monitor pointed at the windows.

Right now I'm also very glad that I got my Mac Pro with the Airport option, even though I have gigabit Ethernet in most rooms in the house, because I didn't put it in the den. After pulling up all that carpet, I didn't want to have to deal with drilling holes in walls and running cable too.

Hopefully the carpet will be in on Thursday or Friday (or maybe Saturday), because I leave for LA next Monday and return on Friday. After that I start a new job and I won't be working from home anymore (making it hard to be at home for the install).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Terrible toilets

This story, like all good ones, starts in the past. This one only starts a few months in the past, so I'm not sure how good of a story it can be, but I'll try to make it interesting...

I'm a light sleeper, nearly anything wakes me up, so a number of times over the last couple of months I've woken up to the sound of the toilet stopping, mainly because the plumbing sucks and the pipes hammer quite loudly when it shuts off.

I thought it was the master bathroom's toilet, but was never able to catch it in the act. Then, last week, I heard the guest bathroom toilet running and knew I had my culprit. I checked the seal of the flapper with the body and that seemed OK. I turned off the water and came back an hour later to see the toilet bowl empty. How much water have I been wasting?!?

I go to Menards (a local Home Depot like store) and get a new flapper and body since a flapper is $4 and a new flapper and body is $2. I figure if it's just the flapper, I've got spare parts for later, or if it is as I expect, the seal of the body to the tank, I can replace that too.

Of course it's not just the flapper. I take the tank off (which is conveniently already drained), and begin to try to get the flapper body out, but it's stuck, and the rubber seal that seals the tank to the bowl is making it nearly impossible to get a wrench on the giant nut. At some point in the process of wrestling with the tank it falls, and unnoticed by me at the time, cracks. Eventually I use a screwdriver and hammer to pound the nut around and get it off. It looks like it was on so tight that it crushed and destroyed the rubber seal, which is why it was leaking. I wonder if it's been leaking for years.

It's not until I get the new unit on that I realize that the tank is cracked. I'm not going to risk putting it on, so it's off to Menards to see if I can get a replacement tank. But, none of the toilets at Menards use a three bolt mounting system, so I drive over to Home Depot and find that the Kohler toilets use the same three bolt pattern that the Sterling toilet I have uses. A new tank is $57. I figure if it doesn't fit the bowl I have, I'll come back and buy the matching Kohler bowl later.

This morning I mount the tank to the bowl and get everything nice and tight. The old hard supply line needs to bent just ever to slightly to match up with the new tank and things are looking good. A few adjustments and everything's flushing just like it should.

Then I notice the puddle below the shutoff valve. It's leaking at the valve, not at the tank. The hard line has a compression fitting on it, so I try to tighten it down a bit more, but the green corrosion on it tells me that the thing hasn't been sealing well for years, and at this point, it probably never will. I'll buy a new flexible line tonight and that should conclude my toilet troubles for this week. I hope.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Brushing cat's teeth

Last week I had President's Day off, and the vet was open, so I took Lucy, my cat, to the vet to have her right eye checked out. It used to produce a yellowish weep, like the sleep you get in your eyes, but lately it looks to be irritated and producing a black dried and crusty weep. It didn't seem to be bothering her, but after a couple of months I decided it should be looked at anyway.

The short car ride over to the vet's was quite traumatic. For Lucy because she doesn't like to be in a car, and for me because her constant meowing meant a constant stream of bad, bad cat breath that had me wishing for a gas mask (or that the car was warmed up enough so that I could roll down a window).

I told the vet about the eye and the incredible bad breath. The eye was brushed aside as not an issue if it didn't appear to be causing her pain, but the breath issue was traced to a rather bad case of gingivitis and receding gums.

Lucy is scheduled to go in for some sedation dentistry next week, and I got a mini toothbrush that fits over a finger and some cat approved toothpaste to attack the problem in the mean time. I'm hoping that if I brush her teeth every night for the two weeks before the dentist that I can improve things to the point where they won't have to remove any of her teeth.

Apparently cats have a hard pallet that allows them to eat dry cat food even if they have no teeth, and Lucy appears to only be at risk of losing one molar, but all told, I'd like to try to help her keep all of her teeth.

So, every night Sara holds Lucy while I open her mouth and attempt to brush Lucy's teeth. It's not easy. First, Lucy doesn't enjoy the operation and tries to lick the toothbrush (I don't know why I even bother to put the toothpaste on it since she pretty much licks it off the second I get the brush near her mouth), then there is the fact that cat's teeth are small. With all the wriggling, the tongue action, and having my other hand in the way trying to hold open her mouth and spread apart her cheeks, I barely hit any teeth, getting mostly gums and the inside of her cheeks. I know when I've hit the sensitive gums because that's when Lucy starts to squirm and howl, and the toothbrush comes back bloody. Poor thing.

Afterwards, a handful of tarter treats, as they've come to be known, seems to make everything OK. She's back sitting in our laps within minutes of the ordeal so that gives me a little comfort.

Her breath has improved a fair amount, so I'm holding out hope that her teeth can be saved, but I'm thinking that Lucy would trade a few lost teeth for a few less teeth cleaning episodes in a heartbeat.