Friday, July 31, 2009

They're catching up, somewhat.

Now, some of you may remember that about all I watched by way of television before the Move was Top Gear. Since the Move, I've not seen a single episode, and I don't miss it. What I have been missing, though, is Time Team. Time Team has been around for a long time in the UK.

The British readers will undoubtedly be familiar with Time Team. For those readers who aren't, however, here's a summary: Tony Robinson (minor celebrity, best known as Baldrick in Blackadder) and a team of archaeologists (all rather distinctive) arrive at a place. They then have three days to find out as much as they can about it. This starts on day one with geophysics surveys, then there are usually one or two trenches by early afternoon, and the digging continues throughout. Meanwhile, some historical re-enactment ("experimental archaeology") goes on, Baldrick goes around asking silly questions, archivists are looking at historical records, one of the team is looking at the land surface and figuring out how it affected things, and the team's artist is drawing all sorts of things. Time Team often uses Victor Ambrus, whose style I rather like. At the end of day three, there's a wrap-up.

This summer, PBS finally caught up with Channel 4 and began producing an American version of Time Team. The differences are to a large extent cosmetic; their "Mick" lacks the stripey knitwear, but is otherwise articulate and interesting, their geophys team is headed by a woman, their "Mick the Dig" is a heavily tattooed woman, and their illustrator doubles up as Baldrick, but they haven't seemed to have a proper Phil until now, with the fourth episode. They now have one of those leathery types who could be a well-used 35 or could be a well-preserved 65, with a distinctly biker-ish moustache, and a willingness to do all the fun re-enactments. Now, things are looking good.

Apart, that is, from the first season only being five episodes. I do hope PBS can continue with this series, because it's informative and entertaining. My major niggle is that it uses a Coldplay song for the opening credits - I'd far prefer the excellent theme by Paul Greedus!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


So, my local gaming store has Gamescience dice in stock. Their pitch is precision.

Which is why, when you buy a set, you get free use of a marker to fill in the numbers, and free use of a file to remove the burr from the injection moulding.

Also, their d6s are interesting. Not only are they left-handed, they're spindown. The 3 and 4 are adjacent. This really upset Michael - he has a serious thing about a dn's opposing faces summing to n+1.

However, the d4s are numbered correctly (base numbering) and clipped to avoid horribly sharp corners, the d10s have had to be clipped so they can't be used as shuriken, and they are very nice looking dice.

But they're not precise.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm so going to wind up GMing an encounter with a gazebo.

The LA and I thought that the big slab of cement outside the back door needed to be shaded. So we got a cheap gazebo.

This turned out not to be all that good. We couldn't secure it, and so the wind moved it. This caused parts to break. Today, I finally took it down and packed it into its box.

This involved a LOT of swearing, and quite a few nipped fingers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why we don't want a safety net.

Healthcare reform is all the rage here in the US. However, people keep talking about it in the wrong terms. There's talk of building a "safety net". We actually already have a safety net - they're called emergency rooms. However, a safety net is like the airbag in your car - it's there for when things go very wrong, and ideally, you want to never, ever use it. I will be extremely happy if I never find out what an airbag deployment feels like.

So no, we don't want a safety net. What we want is something like a balance pole or a set of anti-lock brakes. We want something that will keep us from having to use the "gone-to-hell" option. Here's my suggestion:

Part 1: all healthcare funding providers (insurance, public option, whatever) must offer a physical exam at no cost, a minimum of once a year. No cost means no cost; no deductible, no copay, no "after repayment"; NO cost. The moment this becomes a cost, people will decide not to do it. We're trying to get people to look after themselves better; the less it costs, the more likely they are to do it. So, zero-cost physicals every year. Please note that this is only a "must offer" - there should be no compulsion for anyone to go if they prefer not to.

Part 2: no healthcare provider may deny coverage of anything coming up in the free physical. Let's not provide a "free gift" and then use it to punish people. If something shows up in the annual exam, then it shows up early, while it's still cheap to manage, and it can be prevented from turning into a huge problem that lands the person in a hospital. Yes, this will result in more paying for medication to manage conditions - but that's still a better deal than paying a huge sum for hospital treatment of something that could have been managed if only it had been detected earlier.

Part 3: let's incentivise. Healthcare providers may reduce premiums (if any are payable) for anyone taking advantage of the regular checkups. Let's face it, by taking some responsibility for keeping themselves healthy, they're reducing costs overall. Let's reward them. We need to recognise that healthcare provision is about making sure people who need healthcare get healthcare - it's not supposed to be about maximising shareholder return. I wish the markets would recognise this and value good healthcare outcomes highly - if the best way to maximise shareholder return is to do the right thing for the guy who needs a doctor, then everyone's interests align. As things stand, that's not the case, and so greed pulls the providers in the direction of denying healthcare.

And for those concerned about "bureaucrats deciding what I can be treated for" - would you please explain how that isn't happening right now - except with the bureaucrats being given large bonuses for finding ways to deny you healthcare, with absolutely no accountability, and with no standards for minimal acceptable care? I can't guarantee that government bureaucrats will be any better, but I will state that there is no prospect for there not being a minimum standard if the government takes over. That in itself will be an improvement.

I don't have a perfect plan. Nobody does. However, we need to start fixing what we can, and doing it now. If NASA had waited until they had a perfect plan, we would never have gotten men to the Moon. Let's shoot for the Moon on healthcare.

Friday, July 10, 2009

People are STILL arguing about the plane and the treadmill?


Here is what happens, folks. Assumptions made in the following:
- The treadmill is automatically controlled to operate against the plane's speed, and is perfect in said control.
- Friction can be ignored.

Case #1: plane's speed defined by body and wings of plane with respect to undisturbed surrounding air.

The plane is started up, and as it increases power, it moves forward as the treadmill rolls backward. The plane takes off when it reaches flying speed; as it takes off, the wheels are spinning at the equivalent of double takeoff speed.

Case #2: plane's speed defined by body and wings of plane with respect to ground.

The plane is started up, and as it increases power, it moves forward as the treadmill rolls backward. The plane takes off when it reaches flying speed; as it takes off, the wheels are spinning at the equivalent of double takeoff speed.

Case #3: plane's speed defined by rotational speed of wheels.

The plane is started up, and as it begins rolling, positive feedback causes the treadmill to immediately begin to approach infinite velocity. Meanwhile, the body and wings of the plane are moving through the air, and pretty soon, it's passing through the air fast enough to take off. The wheels are at this point spinning an infinite number of times per second, but the plane still takes off.

In the real world, if you can make a Case #3 treadmill, the plane may not take off, because you have a chance to burn out the wheel bearings before it reaches flying speed. However, while wheel rotation is a suitable measure of speed for a car, it makes no sense whatsoever for an aeroplane, because what matters for an aeroplane is not how fast the wheels turn (unless they're going fast enough to cook the bearings) but how fast it's travelling with respect to the air around it (for lift) and how fast it's travelling with respect to the ground (for navigation).

The bottom line: THE PLANE TAKES OFF.

Now can we PLEASE go back to finding a '67 Chevy that we can put huge amounts of rocket power in and hope it doesn't blow up this time?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Humanity and the environment

Everyone seems to be concerned about such things as drilling for oil, logging, air pollution, light pollution... the big, high-profile things. What I find more annoying are small effects on the environment.

For instance, take car alarms. Please, take them far away. They're annoying enough when they're themselves (loud, piercing, and less useful than the nipples on a man's chest, since everybody including the police has learned to ignore them), but now they've infected the natual world. A bird which hangs out near my house has developed a song consisting of its imitation of the latest car alarm: a cycle through several annoying noises.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Friendship and nationality

As those of you with a calendar will have noticed, this weekend was the 4th of July. Notable for any number of events, but of course the one which got all the attention was in 1776, when the United States of America declared their existence and their independence from the rule of the United Kingdom. This act rather upset the British, and there was a somewhat nasty war over it, but in the 200 and change years since, things have improved, and so my presence as a British subject at a friend's party was no impediment to conversation. Much fun was had by all as we spent an afternoon talking, knitting and generally enjoying ourselves, followed by trooping up the hill to watch several fireworks displays at once.

We also found out that I'm rather comfortable in a kilt (a long story is behind that, and I shan't tell it here), and so I've decided that the LA and I should take a trip into the City to visit the local stockist of Utilikilts, and also that I should start knitting myself some suitable socks. So, tomorrow, I shall visit the yarn store for some nice lightweight yarn, suitably sized needles, and then I shall embark on the fun of making my own socks.