Monday, January 24, 2005

Notes on A Fire Upon the Deep 

If you haven't read it, then you probably don't know that A Fire Upon the Deep is as good as your favorite science fiction books or better. It's the type of science fiction book so good that no matter how hard you search, and how patient you are, you only find one of its caliber every few years.

The less I say about it, the better it will be for you, and that extends even to the first line of the prologue. The story is epic and hard to describe. It's so epic that despite how exciting it is, and how unbelievable the visuals would be, and how exciting the last third of the book is, it could never be made into a movie. Best to leave this one quietly in the book, sitting there unnoticed and undisturbed.

Notes on In Good Company 

There will be no notes on In Good Company, because I just composed the post, and Blogger ate the post entirely when I tried to publish it, for the third or fourth time. Hitting back did not preserve the text, so we are just screwed. (Can Blogger please cook up some Javascript to automatically copy your post to your clipboard when you hit "Publish"? Thanks.)

To give you a few of the highlights:

Claire and I were walking around NYU just hours before we saw the movie, which takes place partially on the campus. We didn't know this ahead of time, of course, so it was kind of amusing to see the characters standing and talking right across the street from where we'd just been that same day.

The movie, as Claire says, is very retro. It is bewildered by the modern work environment, with people switching jobs willy nilly, and people getting fired for underperforming instead of the previous comfortable welfare system that a company used to be. "Cross-promoting our magazine with other companies in the conglomerate that owns us?! The perversion!" it says. The magazine the characters work for has no internet presence at all, as far as we can tell, and seems to see it as "the competition" which its crazy customers are momentarily confused about and embracing. The whole movie, from its characters' male-female relations to its bewilderment at this modern world of cellphones and corporate mergers, is very old-fashioned.

Topher Grace and his character are just about the only interesting things in this movie.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

What I'm Reading 

Competition of Rules
This article argues against doing something about tort reform at the Federal level, and I absolutely agree.

Hayek for the 21st Century
Great interview with one of Friedrich Hayek's biographers.


Malpractice vs. "Malresult"
Keeping this entry entirely devoted to Reason articles, they just published another article dealing with the tort reform issue. I'll have to think for a while about what exactly I think about this, but I like his recognition of the difference between malpractice due to doctor negligence and bad outcomes that are out of any doctor's control.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Notes on The Aviator 

For me, you'd have to work really, really hard to mess up a movie about Howard Hughes, and Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio are not up to the task. Hughes is such a fascinating character, for his accomplishments as well as his personality, and the movie doesn't even get through the second half of his life. Granted, there's very little known about that period, and I'm not sure how they could have made the movie that long (it's already 3+ hours), but I encourage you to at least read the Wikipedia entry on Howard Hughes to get some of the information about his bizarre later years.

So, again, hard to go wrong, I really liked it. But there were some problems. Others have pointed out that the fact that Howard Hughes was comfortable flying experimental planes of his own design, but unable to touch a doorknob presents certain problems for a filmmaker (as accurate as that may be). Scorcese's solution to this seems to have been to show his mother teaching him to spell "quarantine" at the beginning and leaving it at that. It didn't work that well. The movie also ran a bit long, and certain segments could have been cut out entirely as they didn't really add enough to justify their added runtime.

Cate Blanchett is excellent as Katharine Hepburn. I never thought I could see Leonardo DiCaprio pulling off Howard Hughes, but by the end of the movie, I wasn't thinking about it much. I'm not saying he was as good as Blanchett, but he was surprisingly good. The cinematography wasn't particularly notable, though, which seemed a bit unusual for a Scorcese film. A lot of the scenes involving planes were computer graphics, and he really didn't seem to know how to put together a CG shot very well, either. Still, there is a memorable (and very disturbing) sequence involving a plane crash.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Some Thoughts on Healthcare in 2005 

So, I went to see my doctor yesterday, and some things struck me. This is my first doctor apart from my previous life-long doctor back home, or going to student health. Some things surprised me.

For example, there was a constant stream of vendors or salesmen or something, men with large bags emblazoned with some drug-sounding name. They'd come in, say hi to the receptionist, and help themselves to go right on back. I don't know what they did back there, I just thought it was interesting. It seemed like every simple object you could think of was covered in a drug-sounding logo. Here, wipe your nose with these Zanaflex tissues. Fill out this form with your choice of pen: Imitrex, Zyprexa, or Cerumenex. Find useful women's health information in this pamphlet, presented by Ortho TricyclenLo.

The thing that most disturbed me was what I saw behind the receptionist. It was a row of gigantic shelves, stuffed with folders, little letters hanging out. The entire office was entirely paper-based! My god, this is 2005. How many of these receptionists are really needed if we were using a computer-based database? How much more office space would there be? How many medical mistakes might be prevented because someone didn't misread someone else's handwriting? Could we see more patients in a given doctor's day? When I had to go upstairs to get a blood test, the doctor filled out this 1950's-era carbon copy sheet and gave it to me to take up to them, and they had to separately confirm my insurance information upstairs. With computers and networking, looking me up in a database would have been instantaneous. How much are we wasting here, across this entire system?

There were some computers around, but they were all DOS-era dinosaurs running in text-mode. I knew that the health industry is notorious for being slow to adopt IT, but this was a shocking sight to me. Except for the cell phones, the entire experience would have looked much the same as in the 80s. I have no idea what they were being used for, but it could only have been a fraction of what is possible. The shame of it is, despite the lousy decor and all that, I thought this was a decent doctor, and the nurses were all attentive and professional.

I think the problem is that doctors traditionally run their own companies, making them into managers as well. I suspect most doctors don't have much interest in the management problems of their organizations, and would rather spend the time seeing patients. That would certainly explain why they seem to do such a lousy job on the management side.

Hey, every problem is an opportunity. Why doesn't some young entrepreneur go out and figure out how to take these management problems off the doctors' hands? Perhaps they can take advantage of the idea that most of the suites in a given medicine-oriented building are taken up with doctors or dentists, and can rent space for a small, shared IT division in one of the suites that runs around and keeps all their systems upgraded and running smoothly. Or they could rent some space in a building that has many other doctors nearby, if the area is more urban. Doctors could pay a monthly IT services fee to get that whole hassle taken care of; doctors can then concentrate on what they'd rather be doing, specialists would keep their IT operations running smoothly, and they would probably wind up lowering costs or increasing their quality of care (hopefully both).

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, is now out and Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has read it now. He points to some of the same problems I mentioned before (comparing modern societies to agricultural societies as if it is an apples-to-apples comparison), and finds the book problematic. He also points to some other reviews of the book at the bottom of his post.

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