Monday, March 29, 2004

Went to the barbers, got my usual chop and hack job. Barbers don't think, they run by muscle memory. Probably not completely true; definitely not completely not. Got home, found out that the nurse practicitioner I have been seeing, is going to quit the practice. Bummer. Takes me a while to warm up to any doc, and we were just getting somewhere.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

I've always been fascinated by architecture.

I'm not sure that fascinated is the right word, but what the hell. And I guess always isn't the right word, either. Double what the hell. I've always been fascinated by architecture.

Both the style and the substance intrigue me. The style: making shapes that excite you, move you. The great hall of St. Peter's cathedral, or St. Patricks. When I hear designers talk about things like moving from a small space into a large one, so that you get the gradually growing sense of width and mass, that grabs my attention. I wonder how you learn how to do that -- if its something that you have to be born with, but which can be enhanced by training, or whether anyone can be taught to do it (though even then, the best, I guess, can do it better, no matter what). But how do you know what's possible? And where does it start? Got to believe that it comes from a whole lot of messing around with models, literally just playing around with shapes to see what clicks. Sure, some are major flops, delightful only to purists of the art, but man, when you play in a ballpark that visible, you've got to accept that. Look at all the dazzling buildings in Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York.......

And the substance: making a building that works -- that lays out space in innovative ways. Curtain walls, staggered elevator shafts, multiple elevators in the same shaft. My goodness. And the materials they're made of -- how do you find out what’s even possible? I recall reading about why an I beam is that shape. How long were beams the way they were before people figured out that half the mass of the thing wasn't contributing to the support it offered? Or at least, cost more to have than it offered as support? And new solutions to old problems. I remember reading about a building which has a moving mass of concrete half way up its height that acts as a damper when the building is swayed by high winds, keeping it stable, or, at least, more stable. Wow! What kind of mind can think of stuff like that?

Maybe fascinated is a good word, after all.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Today I get to meet with the auditors -- the Corporate Auditors; when people mention them, you can hear the capitalized initials in their voices. I don't have a problem with the concept of auditors; I think of them as keepers of the faith who, by their rigidity, pull an organization toward the pole that the corporation says it hews to all the time, religiously (The analogy of the Taliban does occur to me). What I've got a problem with is the basis of audits, and response to them.

BASIS: Too much of audits are based on the whim and bias of the auditor. While some, and perhaps even most, of this is based on expert and/or experienced knowledge, much of it is based on the bias of the auditor, and what a given auditor expects and chooses to accept. What's acceptable to one is not acceptable to another; it might not even be acceptable to the same auditor at a later date.

RECOURSE: In corporations, there is no recourse from what an auditor chooses to write up. Even the IRS can be beaten into submission if you're willing to spend the time and money, but auditors have no similar back door. Most times, a manager will just roll his eyes and advise you to go along. That's not right.

I know its not that straightforward. When you delve into the intricacies of any human system, there are plenty of opportunities for disagreement. One person thinks a change is minor and should not require oversight; another thinks it's major, and ought to be reviewed. Usually, the second view is that of a person who doesn't personally have to wait for the oversight -- but that doesn't make them wrong.

Resilient systems allow for human error. About two months ago, I sneaked in a change. It was a change that was needed, and was valid -- but I forgot to get prior authorization, and waiting to get authorization at that point would have meant public notice that the change went in late. So I just did it. Was that wrong? Yes, unquestionably. I did the wrong thing, just so I wouldn’t be held to blame. A better answer would have been that I remembered to get authorization -- which is why there is now a piece of note paper on my cubicle wall with the name of that system in big black letters, to remind me that yes, I am responsible for that system, too. And if an auditor asks why I have that system name written there -- I'll -- ah....prevaricate.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Fascinating article in the Times today on findings regarding the effectiveness of stents vs cholesterol/blood pressure reduction in the reduction of likelihood of heart attacks. Really, really interesting stuff.
Whenever I see an article about concierge medical services, I read it. And I usually stop when I hit The Phrase. Sometimes it shows up in the beginning, sometimes in the middle. But it's always there.

From today's Washington Post: Doctoring at Your Service

"Eichelberger and Blakeslee say they were forced to try this new model for patient service because the managed health care system had been cutting doctors' fees. "I had no choice. It was my only way to actually stay in business," Blakeslee said. "I would have been out of business in three years for financial reasons." ..."This is not an easy road. This is not get-rich-quick", Eichelberger said. "We're probably making a little bit more money than we did before. But we know that we have potential for growth."

And there it is, again.

Of course, who can blame them? Do what you want to do, the way you want to do it? Desirable. And have less annoying paperwork? Excellent. And your customers really do get better medical treatment? Faster, more focused, more comprehensive? Outstanding. And earn more at the same time? Stellar. Go for it.

Why can't they admit that the increased dollars are attractive? Do they think it will detract from their image as noble healers? And, if so, is that so bad?

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Another bullet dodged.

After the failure of the second remote control for the Sony DVD/VCR player, we had thought to stop by Circuit City to look for a replacement unit. We did this grudgingly, as the idea of replacing the entire unit simply because the remote doesn't work does not fill us with happiness. Bad enough that the remote is a modern masterpiece of non-design, but to have to replace the whole thing.... well.

We were in the store for quite some time, looking at units ranging from a very inexpensive DVD player to a quite expensive DVD player/recorder with 80 GB hard drive. After wandering back and forth, thinking about the method that we'd use to connect the player to the TV in a way that would allow connection of the old VCR (which we still have), we balked. None of the options, from the cheapest to the most expensive, sounded right to us. A combination of gibberish on the units (what in the hell is 'Double ReMastering'? One unit proclaimed this ability) and on the advertising copy (how expansive is 80GB for video recording? Is that ten minutes or ten hours?), along with the thought that we had just done this, why were we even thinking about doing it again -- convinced us that we weren't going to buy spontaneously, no matter how long we had to wait for the remote's replacement.

Which was in the mailbox when we got home. Zing!

That's not to say that we won't eventually do a massive replacement. We've agreed that when the television dies, we'll replace it with a flat screen unit that can display letter box format but is not necessarily high-definition ready. What I'd really like is the ability to mount the television up above the mantel, where there is a socket, though no cable or antenna connection. I understand that there is the capability to have wireless television connectivity; I don't know how to do that, though, and I certainly don't trust the people at Circuit City to tell me, no matter that I did once see an article about a person -- one person, one Circuit City -- who was quite good at it. If it becomes commonly possible, that's one thing. We're neither of us pioneers.

We'd also like to replace the audio equipment that's in that room. It currently consists of an amplifier that I bought when I was in Thailand with the Air Force (which is to say, 30+ years ago), a turntable, and a cassette deck. There's also a pair of speakers hung on the wall which were once connected, and now are not. The basic problem there is two fold; first, I detest the design of pretty much all amplifiers; they are black in black on black. I want something with elegance, style, simplicity, and color. Come on, it is possible. And second, the newer amps (which means, those built in the last fifteen years ) don't accept turntable input. I resent having to buy a module just to connect them. I know that that makes me sound like someone who resents that there are no decent buggy-whip makers these days.

An interface to the PC (or the local LAN) would be nice. A Tivo would be good, too, because we do watch television on occasion (why, just last night we watched Men in Black; how cutting edge is that?) , and hard drive recorders make more sense than tape, provided you can watch one thing from the hard drive while recording another. Can't do that with tape. Oh, and being able to watch something from the hard drive while the timer is set to record something else, or even starts to record something else -- that would be good, too. Can't do that with tape, either.

We vaguely know what we want. We vaguely know how it's might be possible. We just don't know how to put it together so that it actually works, and we know of no one we trust to guide us, impartially, on this. No matter how many cheery Circuit City ads we see.

Good thing we enjoy figuring things out.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I've come to the conclusion that any job which is described using the phrase "your .....professional', as in 'your financial services professional', 'your window repair professional', your television and audio professional', is more than likely referring to someone who is undertrained and unempowered. People who can actually do things -- who iknow what to do and can do it of their own volition -- don't have that phrase in their job title. They actually ARE professionals.

Monday, March 01, 2004

One of the sayings that I like is 'Sometimes wrong, never uncertain'. Not universally applicable, but it comes into its own on occasion -- as this evening, when I had a quiet discussion with my daughter about the mechanics of having her period (or as she referred to it, "that end of sentence thing"). She knows what will happen, and how it will manifest itself, but she didn't really know how she'd handle telling the teacher that she had to go to the bathroom right now, and she couldn't see herself going up to her in the middle of class, whispering urgently while other kids milled around. I had a couple of ideas about that, which she accepted with some relief. I told her that if she needed to talk to someone, and there weren't any girls around to talk to, she could talk to me, and I promised not to laugh or think that what she was saying was gross (though, truth to tell, I could have done without learning a couple of details about her friends that she mentioned as proof that they knew what they were talking about.) She told me that she knew that while the whole process might be messy, it wouldn't hurt, and I agreed. Like I know.

But what the heck. Sometimes wrong, never uncertain.