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A Wee Bit Early

Sure, I expected all-nighters, just not this early in the quarter.

I must become more efficient during the week-ends, I guess.

Amazon MP3

I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted to the effect, but I was turned off to the iTunes music store as soon as they upgraded their DRM, breaking the tool I was using that allowed me to continue using my music player of preference, foobar2000.

In conversations since then, I have always maintained that I would become a music consumer once again as soon as I found a store that would sell me the music I wanted without the stupid (breakable) strings attached that came with other services. For example, it would have been easy enough to burn my iTunes music to a CD, and then rip it using EAC and encode it with LAME, but that required work that I didn’t have to do if I just typed a name into eMule and downloaded the song in a few minutes.

I am happy to announce that I have recently discovered the store that I was looking for, and to find it I didn’t have to go very far. Local retail powerhouse Amazon.com has introduced high-quality DRM-free MP3s at a reasonable price at the Amazon MP3 Store. I am once again a music consumer. See, music industry, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Com0Com — Null Modem Emulator

The right tool makes any job easy. Thats why I like posting about when I find the perfect tool for a job. In this case, I was testing out a serial translator program I wrote yesterday for a former coworker. The program I wrote takes in one stream of bytes from one com port and outputs another, translated stream of bytes to another com port.

To avoid using three computers and two cables for testing, I needed to connect two virtual com ports to each other on one computer. Com0Com to the rescue!

It installed quickly and painlessly, was intuitive and easy to use, and did exactly what I needed. I input characters using a terminal emulator to one virtual com port, and they magically came out of the virtually connected com port, then went through my program, and out a real com port to my laptop, which saw the translated stream just as expected.

An Idea to Control Medical Expenses

Everyone talks about medical expenses spiraling out of control. While the notion is not entirely true for a variety of reasons, it is certainly true that medical expenses — even with insurance — can be very high. Let me first hedge by saying that I am not an expert on this subject. On the other hand, the experts certainly haven’t done us any good in a long time. So let me offer my idea on how to control medical expenses.

About a week after I tore my ACL, I went to the UW Roosevelt Medical Center for an MRI of my knee. At the time, I asked how much it would cost. “That will depend on your insurance,” came the quick, prepared answer. Yes, I pressed, but what about a ballpark? Again, “It depends on your insurance” with a little edge this time. Not wanting a confrontation, I accepted that and went on with it. The MRI itself was almost pleasant — listening to Pearl Jam and laying supine, I almost drifted off to sleep. I soon forgot about it.

Then came the surgery. It seemed so necessary at the time that I didn’t even think about asking the question of how much it would cost. Besides, I had insurance, so I was covered, right? Well, then the bills started showing up.

As it turns out, the MRI and Radiologist’s opinion cost about $1800 — most of it paid for by insurance, but not all by any means. Then there were the other bills. UW Medicine. UW Sports Medicine. UW Medical Center. Hospital Bill. Physical Therapy Bill. Bills for each of the two braces I now possess. A separate bill for the Cryo Cuff (which I thought I paid for at the time with a $95 bill to my credit card, but after much finagling, apparently not). The list goes on and on. I’m not quite sure at this point how much I have paid out (Quicken is my next activity), but it is certainly well above $1000 at this point — most of which I had absolutely no idea was coming.

Had it been fully disclosed what each part of the process would cost before making the decision to go forward, I may have still chosen to go through the process. But maybe not. And this, in my opinion, is why medical expenses are so high — people have no idea what they are getting in to when they go in for a procedure, and the people who might know either don’t know (because it really does depend on the insurance) or don’t care enough to help everyone figure it out.

Take, for example, a convenience store. What if no prices were marked on anything, but everything you put into your basket seems necessary to your health. Then when you check out, no amount is shown. The cashier simply tells you that the store and each supplier will send you a bill later on. Sounds pretty good until the bills start arriving and you find out that you’ve paid $30 for a book on exercise and $300 for a thermos. If this is how most stores worked, then everyone would be paying huge amounts of money for even trivial things. Without the foreknowledge of cost, rational economic decisions cannot be made.

So, my idea is simply this: state all medical expenses up front. Before the patient signs anything saying that he or she will pay, the form should say how much. There are enough paper pushers in every medical establishment to make this happen before the exam or procedure instead of happening only after the procedure as is now done. This way, people know what they are getting into before it is too late, and people can make better decisions about their own medical care.

But it gets better than a go or no-go decision. When prices are stated up front, the customer (like me) can then shop around. If I don’t like the $1800 MRI offered at the Roosevelt Clinic, then I can go down the street to Seattle Sports Medicine and see if they offer it for $1700. Or maybe $600. Who knows? By enabling customers to shop around, up-front pricing introduces market forces to the medical services world in a way that they have not had to deal with in a long time. The competition will force prices down, just like it does between QFC and Safeway. The consumer of medical services will be better off.

While this approach won’t work to lower the costs of products protected by government-granted monopolies (ie, patents on drugs), it will, I believe, reduce the cost of many medical procedures. I would not be surprised by a drastic reduction of up to one half of the current cost. Furthermore, it will let blokes like me know what they are getting into before they get there.

A Must-Read

As much as the media falls into the trap of over-hyping baseless fears and reporting stupid news, I believe investigative journalism must be one of the centerpieces of a robust free society. And recently, the Seattle Times has been producing some excellent investigative journalism.

A recent Seattle Times article details how many UW football players — especially Jerramy Stevens — got free passes from King County prosecutors, school officials, and coaches despite numerous run-ins with the law in non-trivial cases ranging from assault to rape to DWI.

I found myself feeling sick after learning about how damning evidence was ignored and every punishment was put off with flimsy excuses. This is the world we live in.

Thunderbirds 4 – Silvertips 3

Last night I went to my first Seattle Thunderbirds game at the Key Arena. It was not quite my first hockey game ever — I went to a Carleton College women’s hockey game many years ago — but it was definitely the most intense and fun sporting event I have been to in a while.

After the opening faceoff, the first thing I noticed was how fast everyone was going. The players are really incredible on their skates. Where I normally would have thought about how cool that would be, this time I mostly thought about how much it would hurt for me to try that right now. Kinda lame, I know.

Anyway, the game started out poorly — The Everett Silvertips scored two goals, both on power plays, the the Thunderbirds seemed to have trouble controlling the puck for long periods of time. The second period went much better, with the Thunderbirds battling back to score a shorthanded goal, then a powerplay goal, then a third goal. In the waning seconds of the second, however, Everett ended up scoring a third goal to tie the game at three going into the final period.

During the first intermission, I ended up buying a few huck-a-pucks. During the second intermission, a car with a sunroof came out and thousands of $1.33 pucks flew at the car. Getting the puck into the car meant entering a drawing for $10,000. My first puck careened off the back left of the car; my second puck was short, and the third one maintained good aim but sailed too far. Oh well!

The third period saw the Thunderbirds lock down the game. They scored one more and held the Silvertips to a shutout, taking the game 4-3. The last 90 seconds of the third saw the Silvertips pull their goalie to get an additional offensive presence. Although all the action took place on Seattle’s side, the defense held fast for just long enough, and the Thunderbirds secured the victory.

The occasion for all of this was Scott’s 23rd birthday; afterwards we made our way to the Old Spaghetti Factory and enjoyed some food and conversation. A good time was had by all.

Dishwasher Pictures!

Me leaning over the beast

Bobby takes a turn

Liquid Plumbr meets Dishwasher

Warning the Roommates