Monday, December 29, 2008

Text messages still overpriced

Congress, having fixed the economy and the environment and ended all war, is investigating text message prices. To be fair, they cost about 20 times more than they should, given the cost to cell phone providers of sending a text message. I think media companies are bastards who gouge us to get insane profits, while failing to invest adequate funds in journalism.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No home newspaper delivery Mon-Wed in Detroit

I guess I should have seen this coming, with the Christian Science Monitor dropping its print edition entirely.

The Detroit Free Press is suspending home delivery of its paper 3 days a week.

The downfall of journalism is tragic, and I hope society figures out a way to fill the void that dying newspapers leave. I'll keep my newspaper subscription for as long as it exists to subscribe to, but at some point I guess it'll just stop coming. I guess I'll have to start finding new places to get my local news.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unethical pharma

Why am I not in the least surprised that pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to write favorable journal articles?

I'm in an uncharitable mood towards for-profit medicine anyway, but if doctors are going to be shills for corporations, I wish they'd admit it. If they're going to delude themselves that the huge piles of money they get doesn't affect their objectivity, then they shouldn't have anything to hide, should they?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coffee grounds as biofuel?

Certainly, the amount of coffee grounds I compost makes me think the idea of turning coffee grounds into biodiesel is a good idea.

If Starbucks alone could process all their coffee grounds into fuel for cars, that would be good for the climate and good for geopolitics. And hopefully, good for Starbucks' bottom line.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Time Travel

Well, we may not be able to time travel in space, but we can on the web.

That video is pretty cool. It's an academic software experiment. I look forward to finding out what the interface gurus end up doing with it. At some point, time travel on the web is going to be awesome.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Checklists save lives

Just like in an airplane cockpit, a simple checklist can save the lives of hospital patients.

Particularly combined with electronic medical records, this is a great idea whose time has come. There are issues to be worked out, to make sure medical records are confidential and that appropriate checklists are used on the right patients. But medicine has become too complicated to try to do from memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Using Google to send secret messages

Google recently revealed something called SearchWiki, which lets you comment on various search results in Google for others to see. Among other problems with this scenario, one blogger realized you could use this technology to send a secret message. You could comment on several different search terms with different parts of your message, and it would only come together if someone searched for the right words.

Sadly, this is so widely remarked upon that the initial experiment no longer works. And I just made it worse.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gamer identity

As a theater person, I'm really interested in this paper about the lack of a fourth wall in video games.

In theater and movies and TV, our suspension of disbelief - our willingness to be sucked into the imaginary world the actors and designers create - is usually heavily dependent on the fourth wall, the actors pretending they can't see us, and we're invisible voyeurs silently observing their lives. Characters who know they're in stories lead to very messed up, brilliant stories of madness.

But in a video game, you're controlling a character in the story. Usually the LEAD character in the story. You basically are the lead character. So the fourth wall is meaningless. Your identity as an observer is mixed in with your ability to interact with the story and cause different outcomes.

Really interesting article. Especially given the recent series of World of Warcraft ads that focus on the game as a place where you can be something else, something you're not.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Alzheimer's cause figured out?

I know a single study does not ensure that a scientific "discovery" is solid, but it's pretty exciting that they may have figured out what causes Alzheimer's.

It looks like it's a strain of herpes, coupled with genetic predisposition. That means that all those stupid herpes medications we see advertised on TV, or something like it, could help prevent Alzheimer's. This could be a major step towards a cure.

Good job, science!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stupid Corporations

I guess Google is a corporation, too. But the greedy bastards at places like Comcast paid a guy to make up crap about Google.

If they're making up garbage this desperate, is network neutrality actually a solid guarantee? I don't think so. I think we've got to keep watchful. Desperate corporations tend to start doing desperate things, like suing 9-year old girls.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Damn you, Blue Cross!

So, in trying to get my fiance health insurance through my work, I have come to learn about and loathe HIPPA. Well, I don't necessarily loathe it. But I'm pissed off that we're getting screwed and we didn't have any warning.

It turns out that "health" insurance companies can deny you treatment for "pre-existing conditions" if you go without insurance for 63 days. (90 days in Washington State.) So, because my sweetie was without insurance for 66 days this summer, we're going to have to pay hefty premiums to the insurance company for 6 months while they get to deny treatment for anything she has.

I guess if she gets anything new, or gets hit by a bus, she'll probably get covered. But I don't trust the company to not be total bastards and claim that the bus was just part of a pre-existing condition and drive us to bankruptcy. And I'm pissed off that we're going to pay them thousands of dollars to do jack shit. Jerks.

I guess it's possible that before HIPPA you could get screwed like this if you went without insurance for a single day. But why the hell wasn't I informed of this? Why didn't my employer folder full of information about the terms and conditions of signing up for "health" insurance include a 3 page, tiny-font disclaimer about this bullshit?

Update: So I found the disclaimer in the fine print of the signup form for Blue Cross. Which is too late. People need to know about this when they lose insurance, not when they're signing up for new insurance.

And as it turns out, it won't be a problem after all because my sweetie was insured in Washington state, where the window to get new coverage is longer. Which begs the question: why isn't it longer in Oregon?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Damn you, ABC.

It's so very frustrating that ABC has canceled Pushing Daisies. It is one of the best shows on TV, but between the writer's strike and the Country Music Awards, no one watched it.

There's talk of wrapping up unfinished storylines with a comic book or a movie, a la Serenity. But it's a damn shame that brilliant works of art are shut down instead of being allowed to flourish and weave their stories out into full bloom.

Monday, December 8, 2008

God's Bailout

The photo in this story disgusts me. Cars on the altar of a church as people pray for auto companies to be saved.

I understand that a great many people depend on the car companies to make a living, to feed and clothe and house their families. But to explicitly involve religion in economics in this way, to laud a commercial product, not to mention using a pulpit to advocate Congress take particular action, is troubling.

I suppose there's nothing wrong per se with calling for particular political policies from the pulpit. Calls to end war, protect the environment, care for the poor - these are all political demands made in a religious context.

But to save a particular company? To hold up a product, a car, as a troubled thing in need of God's intervention? Particularly when American car companies have been shortsighted for so very long, chasing quarterly profits so assiduously that they failed to prepare for the future, failing to produce efficient or reliable vehicles. I'm hesitant to support a federal bailout of car companies. But I'm definitely opposed to praying for it.

I pray for the people affected, who lost or are about to lose their jobs. I pray for the hungry, the desperate, who are insecure financially and gastronomically. But I do not pray for a corporation. After 8 years of corporate welfare, I thirst for a little accountability for executives with 7 figure salaries and private jets and company cars.

Friday, December 5, 2008

No more batteries

This is awesome. We've had piezoelectrics for a while. They work as microphones and speakers in cell phones, and as motion sensors in the Wii and iPhone.

But now scientists have engineered a piezo sensor that not only can pick up sounds, but it can make a lot of electricity as well. Enough to power your phone.

This could change all sorts of things. Devices powered not by plugging in, but by ambient noise, or the motion of being carried around. Just because of being engineered to a particular size.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Bad Idea

This is a bad idea. I get that people with disabilities and mobility problems have rights, and those rights need to be protected.

But if someone has limited arm strength or hand dextrousness, giving them a gun seems unwise. I think it's even more likely than usual that the gun would be wrested away from them and even used against them. And if your arm is weak and unsteady, how do you expect to be able to aim?

It strikes me as a problem that should never have been solved.