Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Starting Over

I finally got a phone call from the bike shop telling me my bike is ready. I've ridden once in the last 18 days; I wonder how many months of progress that will cost me. But at last I can stop going stir-crazy. Without my morning ride, I can't focus, have zero energy, and spend most of the day pacing around the apartment. It will be nice to get back at it.

And I'm still neck-deep in tax code. September is almost over which means I'm still behind (maybe even a little behinder) schedule. I did build in some slack, but that's now more or less gone. I'm hoping to schedule a test date during the second week of October. Assuming that goes as planned, I should be able to get my application into the IRS before December. It will be tight, but I think I'm still OK.

I'm still working through the cruise photos on my breaks from all things IRS. That little project should be done in the next day or so. We didn't take many photos because we hardly got off the ship, but we did have an awesome sunset our last night thanks to some droppings from Tropical Storm Maria.

I haven't really talked much about Greece and the whole European/Euro mess. The problem is in some ways quite simple. Greece has been on a borrowing binge that makes every other western country look like rank amateurs, largely because the citizens of Greece like to have lots of stuff, but aren't much interested in working for it, combined with tax evasion being the favorite national past time. There is no possible way Greece can ever pay all, or even most, of the money back even if the government completely shut down and all tax revenues went to debt relief. Greece must default. This is familiar territory; countries have defaulted before. The entire South American continent defaulted in the 1970's and the world didn't end. It wasn't pleasant for people living in those countries for a long time, and anyone foolish enough to loan mountains of cash to countries run by men with a passion for funny hats and military uniforms, insisting they be addressed as "General" when the closest they'd ever been to a battle was watching The Sands of Iwo Jima, saw their investments wiped out. But the world went on much as it had been going on. The difficulty with Greece is that so much of their worthless debt is held by banks in other European countries (something that wasn't supposed to happen under the Euro-zone treaties) that if Greek debt is written down even 50% (90-100% being more likely), the entire banking system would seize up. Today, the financial world celebrated the news that the fund that is supposed to prevent that is being increased from a paltry €440 billion to €3 trillion. Not to be the kid who points out that the emperor has no clothes, but just where exactly is this €2.5 trillion going to come from? Germany is tapped out, most of the rest of Europe is running deficits, England is already killing itself with austerity measures, we certainly don't have it, Japan is busted, Russia is East Timor with nukes. China maybe? Warren Buffet? Or will Europe simply wave a magic wand and "leverage" €2.5 trillion into existence? I'm betting it will be that last one, and that it will accomplish even less than our version of wand-waving has over the last three years.

One idea for lowering the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has been to use crystals called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to absorb CO2 and lock it away. The problem has been that until now, MOFs were created using a lot of toxic chemicals and petroleum, making them expensive to create in bulk and a more-immediate environmental problem than the CO2 itself. College campuses are notoriously short on petroleum, so some students at Northwestern University used materials readily available in any dorm room, sugar, salt and alcohol, to create MOFs. The reaction takes place at room temperature and is easily reversible should our over-due ice age show up unexpectedly. The next step is for the global warming jihad to block further development because it doesn't promise to do sufficient damage to the US economy.

The internet is buzzing angrily like a hornets' nest that's been whacked with a stick because Facebook has made some tweaks to its interface:

It’s not hard to irritate people on a social media site, of course. The two easiest ways to do it are:

1. Change something.
2. Don’t change anything.

...Facebook, ever the traditionalist, prefers the time-tested approach of making constant changes that range from the inexplicably superficial to the confoundingly substantial. By keeping users in a constant state of agitation, and simultaneously providing them with a place to express that agitation, Facebook maintains its huge base of extremely unsatisfied users.

At least it gives people something more interesting to post about than what their last bowel movement looked like.

Everyone is pretty much aware that our medical system is broken. We spend more money per capita and have less to show for it than any other industrial nation. While there are a lot of ideas for how to fix it, I doubt any of them involve upping the number of ICD codes from the current 18,000 to 140,000 under the new ICD-10. As one would expect with such a change, its affect will largely be to increase costs while not providing any new useful information. Note I said "useful":

...a code for recording that a patient's injury occurred in a chicken coop.

...codes for injuries in opera houses, art galleries, squash court and nine locations in and around a mobile home, from the bathroom to the bedroom.

...R46.1 is "bizarre personal appearance".... R46.0 is "very low level of personal hygiene".

...W22.02XA, "walked into lamppost, initial encounter"

...W22.02XD, "walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter"

...Code V91.07XA, which involves a "burn due to water-skis on fire"

...72 codes about injuries tied to birds.

...There are separate codes for "bitten by turtle" and "struck by turtle."

And the literal money quote:

Some companies hope to grab business from the shift.

Imagine that. Anyone want to bet that the businesses in a position to grab the most were up to their necks in the creation of the ICD-10?

From the "Holy crap!" department, we have live video reconstructed from brain activity:

UC Berkeley scientists have developed a system to capture visual activity in human brains and reconstruct it as digital video clips. Eventually, this process will allow you to record and reconstruct your own dreams on a computer screen.

The entire process is fairly crude at this point, but the mere fact that it can be done is very cool.

We used to do the Netflix thing back when we lived at Arcosanti, but we stopped after getting tired of a certain individual stealing our movies from our mail slot. We've thought about restarting it several times over the last few years, but just never got around to pulling the trigger. Then the price went up. Then they lost their contract with Starz. Now they've split the company into two separate entities; Netflix for streaming content and Qwikster for the DVD-by-mail business. From the user's perspective, this is a disaster. Now instead of one account, one website, one catalog, etc. there are two of everything. Last I checked, there have been a million cancellations since this was announced and the price of Netflix stock has been cut in half. But there are good business reasons to do this. It's pretty obvious that streaming is the future of movies, and physical DVD's are going to the same place as CD's and paper books are going. Spinning off the DVD-by-mail business to sink or swim on its own is probably a smart business move. Also having people specifically subscribe to the streaming content gives Netflix a more solid figure to use when negotiating with the studios. However, smart business moves that are sprung on your customers with no explanation and look on the surface to be a ten-story middle finger directed at your entire customer base usually turn out to be bad for business. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out over the next several months. Meanwhile, we will continue to wait for a while longer and see how it plays out.

The TSA has always been a joke from day one, but now it seems like a test just to see how ridiculous they can be and still continue to exist. Now the TSA is at war with big hair and people who take too long to take a dump. It's tempting to just write this off as more of the typical government stupidity we all have to live with every day until you take a moment to consider what scrambling an F-16 escort means:

Let's just stop for a second, helpful passengers, and remember that the F-16s are not there to help you. They are there to shoot down the plane if necessary. What else could they do? So the TSA is out there scrambling armed fighters to intercept passenger jets out of "an abundance of caution," just because somebody reportedly spent too long on the john. Does that make you feel safer?

I know I certainly feel safer knowing the level of intelligence necessary to sic an armed F-16 on one of our own passenger airplanes. Ye flippin' gods.

Well, back to the tax code.

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