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Sun, 29 Apr 2012
# 08:38 in ./general

I think the BBC are still the best in the world for many types of programs, both radio and television. Nature programming is probably one, documentaries another. They can produce the odd good piece of drama as well.

Having always loved reading about history, both ancient and modern, I've been spending time watching some BBC history recently. I've been reminded about how good they can be sometimes. They are also a reason I would happily pay a BBC subscription fee (not that I like the compulsion of the TV license).

I've been watching both Ancient Worlds and In Search of the Trojan War, loving both. However, Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan War just edges Richard Miles' Ancient Worlds in my opinion.

The Trojan War story has such a focus however, that it fascinates just a little more. Michael Wood travels from Turkey to Greece to Berlin and even to Ireland for his historical detective work, covering history, archaeology, myth and language.

The trip to Ireland was to hear an Irish bard tell traditional stories, as told through the generations. Much like the bards of ancient Greece, of which Homer is considered the culmination with the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Even though it was shot in the early 80's, and shows its age in places (it is not HD quality unfortunately), it is up to date on much archaeological evidence and research.

The war for Troy is supposed to have taken place in bronze age Greece, centuries before Homer and long before the Greek language and script we know from the classical period. Such timescales lead to a great accretion of myth and legend. The evidence that links Hisarlik in Turkey to ancient Troy is not conclusive, but for all the faults made by Heinrich Schliemann and his successors, this is a very likely place to find the city. Michael Wood makes this case quite convincingly and in a hugely entertaining manner.

Both series are very highly recommended. You can buy In Search of the Trojan War on DVD for only £5.

Sat, 21 Apr 2012
Distracted Doctors
# 11:33 in ./general

An article from Newsweek, via The Daily Beast, The Doctor Will See You-If You're Quick describes how stressed the relationship between patients and doctors has become today in the US.

Unhappy patients gripe about their doctors’ brusque manner and give them bad marks on surveys and consumer websites like HealthGrades and Angie’s List. They tell tales of being rushed out of the office by harried doctors who miss crucial diagnoses, never look up from their computers during an exam, make errors in prescriptions, and just plain don’t listen to their patients.

A number of reasons are highlighted, including health care reforms, aimed at reducing costs (mixed results there), medical insurance changes and an assembly line mentality. A lot more people are in the system now, and the number of, and complexity of, treatments has also risen hugely. No wonder things are getting stressed.

While specialists could often combat falling fees by doing more procedures, primary-care doctors get paid by the office visit, so all they could do was cram more appointments into a day and increase their panel size—the number of patients in their practices. For primary-care doctors to do a good job, says Bodenheimer, panels should be below 1,800. Today the average primary-care doctor in the U.S. is responsible for about 2,300 patients. At so-called Medicaid mills—clinics that see mostly poor patients covered by state Medicaid plans—panel sizes can reach 3,000 per doctor.

Similar issues arise in the UK, although much mitigated by the National Health Service, even though it is certainly extremely imperfect.

I'm in the process of sorting out a doctor (General Practioner) at the moment, so this has some resonances for me. The health service is one of those things that always gets people worked up. Health is important to everyone, but it's also very expensive, and getting much more so. Affording it is getting harder but working out where to compromise and reduce costs is no easier either.

Sun, 15 Apr 2012
# 07:03 in ./general
ii fortune-mod 1:1.99.1-3.1 provides fortune cookies on demand

I find the odd fortune cookie an entertaining diversion, meaning the computer generated type, rather than the (usually) bland paper versions.

I often automate their appearance on web pages I have some control over, cheap and easy filler content. There are a lot of dire ones of course, but also some laugh out loud funny, or even thought provoking. Many classics are great quotes e.g.

I had a feeling once about mathematics -- that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me -- the Byss and the Abyss. I saw -- as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor's Show -- a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why tergiversation was inevitable -- but it was after dinner and I let it go.
-- Winston Churchill

The thought occurred to me: how well do our own politicians and statesmen today stand with respect to good speeches, quotes or general intellectual ability? Not very highly is my feeling.

Wed, 11 Apr 2012
# 07:26 in ./general

I've mentioned Dr. Robert Lustig on this blog before because he has a very popular Youtube video on the dangers of sugar in the diet. His basic take is that it's toxic.

His Youtube hit is about an hour long and some people might struggle to watch it all. Luckily, the CBS show 60 Minutes recently aired a more easily digestible piece on the debate called "Is Sugar Toxic?". Worth watching and only 15 minutes. The sugar "industry" spokesman does not have many good arguments when offered a platform at the end of the piece.

A big problem (like salt) is how many foods have sugar in them now, even foods that one would not immediately take as "sweet". It's hard to know what's in food sometimes, and impossible if the labelling is vague.

Mon, 02 Apr 2012
The Hammurabi Rule
# 21:05 in ./general

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is always worth reading.

From the Sais Review How to Prevent Other Financial Crises (PDF) and Hammurabi's Code :

If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.

And thus, Taleb and Martin argue that financial agents need more "skin in the game".

This means that :

In other words, nobody should be in a position to have the upside without sharing the downside, particularly when others may be harmed. While this principle seems simple, we have moved away from it in the finance world, particularly when it comes to financial organizations that have been deemed “too big to fail.”

It's good to see smart people like Taleb, Kay and Haldane thinking hard about what went wrong and how to fix things. As Kay's said, we need to separate the "casino" part of the bank from the "utility". Human nature being what it is, you can't always trust people, especially when such large amounts of money are floating around and the reward structures are misaligned. Financiers should understand that without "skin in the game", then Hammurabi's Code might mean a sticky end ...

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