Thursday, October 19, 2006

Universal Healthcare in the News

Noted an editorial on the USA Today opinion pages talking about universal healthcare.

The ideas, as well as the comments on the bottom of the page are interesting.

What I fail to see is why the right wing in the USA opposes universal healthcare, a la Canada, or perhaps the UK system. These countries spend less on healthcare per capita for a number of reasons. Sure, they pay doctors and nurses less, but the main reason is that they do, in fact, start treatment of manageable and preventable diseases earlier. Further, certain stress afflictions just do not exist - the USA is the only G8 nation where workers worry about losing their home and life savings because of illness, and that's with medical insurance.

So what does universal, equal access health care really equate to?

A business subsidy.

Unlike other subsidies, one cannot lobby the WTO to declare it as such, and impose counterveiling duties on imports from countries that have these systems. The countries judged against, as well as the left wing here, would revolt.

U.S. companies pay 0-50% of their workers' insurance premiums if they provide insurance. This is not so in the UK and Canada (but common in Germany). This is a burden on U.S. business, a "reverse subsidy" if you will.

So there is little choice - either the USA continues to impose this undue burden on its business and labor pool, or implements a universal healthcare system. Emergency medical care is not enough.

If you're really pro-business, you'll agree that a universal healthcare scheme is in the best interests of most of the businesses. The ones that will get hurt are profitable insurance providers (who have other business units to depend on) and hospital corporations. But to benefit the many? It's worth that price.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hardware Failure and Humility

Ah, it's been a bad week in the world of hardware.

Came back from Vancouver, where I had enjoyed the weather (read: mountain biking) immensely, to sunny Arlington. Took Friday the 13th to get sorted, and then hit the trail Saturday. I had figured that by skipping the 13th I was home free, but riding around the Fountainhead trails had no end of grief with my front derailleur and chain. I actually had the chain sucked around the bottom bracket and then on the outside of the outer chainring and front derailleur - yikes. Aluminum chips shaved off the bottom bracket were all over the chain. To boot, the brand-new saddlebag popped and dropped my tools and patch kit all over the trail. Thankfully a fellow rider caught up to me (fixing chain suck again) and asked if I had lost some tools.

That evening, two 512 MB sticks in my home PC decided to fail as well, leading Windows XP to exclaim random errors, usually in ntfs.sys. Unhandled exception was another interesting error. Taking out a GB of RAM fixed this, but seriously impaired performance in video games. It's just odd that memory running fine for six months decides to go south.

I guess even the pros have bad days with hardware - it happens. Off to fix my bike.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Axis of Evil and the "Foreign Policy Crisis": Self-fullfilling Prophecy?

This just on the Washington Post: Bush's adminstration has reached a crisis point with each power named in his (in)famous Axis of Evil speech (link here). Now that's news.

Let me take a different spin on this:
  1. You label three foreign countries as "evil".
  2. You refuse to actually negotiate, instead outsourcing negotiations to powers with different interests than your own.
  3. You invaded a country on the list of three, who at the time had a government in diametric opposition to Islamic fundamentalism (or populism, whatever).
  4. You wonder how you got into this mess.
Now call me what you want, but something's not right with that.

If you want a foreign country to do what you want, ask. Wave a carrot. Shake a stick. But in my mind, if you depend on mediaries to deliver that message, don't be surprised if what you say to the mediary does not reach the foreign country in a way you'd expect, and it's even worse if it's the press. If you demonize a foreign country, and have made a habit of throwing military might around, some might even say somewhat indiscriminately, and you wonder why they want to do everything in their power to deter you from being your next military target of opportunity.

Explain to me, if you led Iran, what you would have to lose. I'd fathom "nothing" simply because by being labelled as evil by a government who has used military force with questionable discrimination means you're a target no matter what you do. The sabre-rattling in your direction is more indication that actionable momentum against you is building. In fact, you'd have an incentive to build nukes just to get the USA something to think about when attacking, since it seems they'll do it anyways if you don't have them. Populism on your own turf only helps your own momentum in this regard, as your citizens also have little desire to be bombed or having to flee street to street fighting.

None of this excuses the actions of Iran and North Korea, but it does explain them. Know your Enemy. Who knows, with a different approach they be not as inclined to be your enemies in the first place. North Korea is probably not going to ever be our friend. Iran, however, could probably have been turned if it had not been demonized in the US for so long for its actions during the initial weeks of the Revolution. Yes, they held Americans hostage. If you're inclined to believe that the government just in power had its hands full consolidating control and being too busy to negotiate with the students occupying the embassy, even more reason to get over it. Perhaps the government even said "it's not worth it" to the students, or formally negotiated. We'll never know, as this got lost in the vitriol. But as the revolution in the United States has some distasteful (I use this term lightly) consequences for anyone associated with British colonial rule, the US should keep in mind that Britain got over it. Maybe it's time the United States did too - they supported the Shah after all - and their citizens actually came home.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Quintessential Consultant

In the moderate degree of interest I received (recruiters excepted), I found myself in a lengthy discussion with a CTO of a company on my way back from an enjoyable mountain bike ride. I still had grit in my mouth. Ultimately the discussion came about the pay rate and how it's calculated. I realize this is where a lot of capable people fall on their noses - they do not know what their time or contribution is worth to a company.

In the past, I always "lowballed" a salary, and have found companies more than willing to correct the pay rate to market rate quickly. This tends to be my modus operandi, simply because this way I can gauge quickly if others feel I am making a positive impact or not. The other part of the equation is that I need to see if I can feel driven by either my work at that company, or by the companies' goals. Yes, that's right, I am always looking for a company whose ideas I can buy into. Often, I buy in too much. I am working on that.

Now for other consultants: As someone who was a salaryman, I always deplored the high pay rate and no stake in the company position that a consultant usually occupies. Big words, like "enterprise" and "synergy" are typically thrown about with reckless abandon, and soon the engagement degrades into several trees' worth of inactionable gobbledegook. Sure, consultants need to pay for their own insurance, need to pay an accountant to prevent surprises at the end of the year, and so on, but that cost hardly exceeds 20% of the pay unless they work at a big consulting firm with directors and other trimmings.

Charging rates in excess of $2000/day for technology strategy consulting may be fine for strategic boardroom politicking, but in this case I will be tasked to clean up and define a project at the company that had been abandoned by its champion.

I told the company this: temp employee status (i.e. 1099 status), medical and dental (I hate dealing with that on my own), and $2500/week. The client in this case felt I was selling myself rather short, and perhaps I was, but I was not afraid to mention that if they really felt I was contributing they can pay a bonus at to-be-agreed milestones. Will they pay a bonus? Who knows, and I personally don't particularly care. The work expected is something I have done numerous times in the past, and is low-risk for me. I have a problem with milking companies for all their money, even if I am heard to say that "it's morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money."


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Signs of a Secret Network

One of the more interesting observations of the last couple of days has been the number of emails I am receiving from "recruiting agencies." All state that they have seen my resume online - interestingly it's not posted anywhere public, and responding to one (just to see what would happen) simply resulted in getting more emails from other recruiters.

In '02 a cold call from a recruiter landed me a pretty nice job, so I am not willing to dismiss this entirely, but the sequence of events makes me suspicous.

Never mind that most of the recruiter's web sites look rather amateurish (remember the old FrontPage 2.0-generated sites?).

It's just too weird. Am I being waaay too paranoid, or are these recruiting agencies some sort of scheme or scan?