Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I wrote a blog post for my employer's blog. It's a list of things I try to do when I start a new gig.

New Job Checklist: how to start a gig

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cool Tool: Ninite


If you're setting up a fresh computer I strongly recommend you make a visit to Ninite. It's a site that offers all of the best free Windows and Linux software from a single web page and a single download. How it works is you select all the software that you want and then click the Get Installer Button. Boom, a single installer is downloaded and once you run it, you've got all the software.

My only reservation for Ninite is it will install the software on your C drive. I could not find a way to change the destination. I recently built a computer with a 60GB solid state hard drive, and I've tried to keep most of the programs off of it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

OTUG Presentation Big Ball of Mud

OTUG's latest distinguished lecturer presentation was Joe Yoder and Brian Foote's Big Ball of Mud.

First, let me say that Foote and Yoder were the most entertaining speakers I've seen at an OTUG presentation. Their presentation style was to tag team the presentation. Each speaker would talk to a point or two and then the other would take over. Their approach really worked well. Foote and Yoder's energy levels seemed to stay at a higher level than it would have been with a single continuous speaker.

If there's one criticism that's resonated about the distinguished lecturer series recently it's that the presenters tend to be academics who do not speak to the same world that working software professionals live in. There's nothing wrong with speaking to the abstract, if not disconnected, world of academia. Sometimes I think that people come into these lectures with the expectation that they will receive a practical lecture that can be directly applied to their situations.

With that said, Yoder and Foote's presentation is clearly rooted in real world practical experience. If anything, Big Ball of Mud is the antithesis of the ivory tower lecture. It's all about the disconnect between what we say we are doing and what we are doing.

The premise of Big Ball of Mud is that software professionals aspire to produce software that is architecturally elegant, yet the product that we so often create is very different than those aspirations. As Yoder and Foote put it, "if [most] software were architecture, it would look like a shanty town." They liken software architecture to 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and that everyone is in denial that we are creating shanty towns.

Yoder and Foote call this ugly software mud. The dirty and chaotic messes of spaghetti. We all see mud in other people's code, and in that I've seen the monster and it is us way, we see it in our own code too. It's really a wonder that anything ever worked until we the noble craftsmen arrived, or is it.

They point out a few of the types of mud and the ways that it happens. Copy and paste, which they call metastasis. Big Bucket of Glue, or taking open source libraries from the wild and haphazardly gluing them into an ugly chimera of an application.

Yoder and Foote raised the question, "Why does stuff that sucks hang around so long?" It's easy to characterize the obvious negative traits of mud, but Yoder and Foote pointed out some of the things that aren't so obvious. The mud that we encounter works. If it didn't work, we'd ditch it. The mud that we see is sufficiently complex, otherwise we'd find the time to replace it with something beautiful.

Yoder and Foote showed examples of how a good enough solution now can be more valuable than a beautiful solution later. It kind of makes sense that for software to add value, it must be available.

Yoder and Foote addressed software craftsmanship. Brian Foote, talked about Amish furniture craftsmanship. He even wore an Amish hat for that portion of the presentation. If we think about Amish made furniture, it's beautiful and of excellent quality. We all would like furniture that is of that quality and is beautiful. We also buy stuff that's made of particle board from Ikea in droves. Sometimes the Ikea furniture is good enough.

The takeaway from the talk I got is that mud is the byproduct of a trade off from writing software in a way that costs less upfront. The mud is a technical debt that may, or may not, need to be paid down the road, but it is a debt that certainly does not get paid at the onset of its introduction. We can clean up mud through refactoring and replacing muddy software.

Foote and Yoder brought up a great point that automated tests will have your back when it comes time to clean up the mud.

We can strive to create mudless software, but it comes at a cost that becomes impractical. I'm reminded of a project that I was on. We set the goal to get our automated test code coverage at 85%, and we did. It was a worthwhile effort. Someone then thought we should strive to get the code coverage to 95% and we did at the cost of adding about 30% more time to our work. Was that 10% worth the effort? Is it worth 1/3 of a feature? In that case we let our idealism take precedence over the practical need to deliver something of value to our customers.

It seems that the image of the muddy boot architect may be an appropriate metaphor for software creators. Some mud is needed on the job site. We may have the opportunity to clean it up, but it isn't something that we need to avoid at the cost of delivering value.

As an observation, I don't think that the software that we are creating today, with the tools that we have available, is nearly as muddy as some of the code that was created in the past. We're getting better. As a community, I think that we are moving towards producing less muddy software. Just as I was thinking, nay fantasizing, about how we may reach a time where the mud we see is more like a fine layer of dust. Then Deion Steward had to bring up a question about concurrency and multicore development and I think that may be a whole other swamp.

EDIT: Please read Foote and Yoder's paper Big Ball of Mud.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Do The Shape of Manhole Covers Have To Do With Software Development?

I talked to a friend of mine who not too long ago became a Microsoft Employee. I asked him if the mythology around their interview process is still in place.

The mythology of the Microsoft Interview is that Microsoft will fly candidates to Redmond and pass them through a strange gauntlet of technical questions and questions that are meant to see how one thinks. Candidates would meet with many interviewers. The interviewers would do interesting things like continue a line of questioning that another interviewer started. Interviewees have told me that the second interviewer would be privy to details of the content of the earlier interviews. I can imagine that it would be quite an experience.

The questions also carry some mythology. They would range from technical questions to puzzles to questions that are impossible to answer.

Technical questions seem very appropriate for a technical interview. It would seem that one would be remiss to not ask a few questions to see whether someone could communicate about technical issues.

I enjoy puzzles. I wouldn't mind being asked to solve some of them in an interview setting.

The impossible to answer questions have always disturbed me as an unkind thing to ask in an interview though. I used to work with a guy who liked to ask candidates those types of questions. For example, he would ask: how would you move Mt. Fuji or how many flowers will get delivered in New York City today? What makes this particularly unkind is the interviewer asks these questions as though they expect a specific answer.

This seems unkind to me for two reasons: one, what does this have to do with one's ability to do job in question and two, interviewees can be in a situation where they need a job whereas a hiring manager may be in a position where they would like to have another employee.

This type of questioning also reflects negatively on an interviewer for a couple of reasons in itself. Is the interviewer trying to say that they are accustomed to making unreasonable requests from his reports? Is the interviewer accustomed to using indirect methods of questioning to make unqualified psychological evaluations of people?

The Question:

Somewhere between the impossible to answer and the puzzle question is one that my friend was asked at Microsoft. The question in question is "Why are manholes round?".

Nobody has yet to ask me that question in an interview.

I really would love to be asked that question so much. I spent five summers working for the Downers Grove Sanitary District, a municpal sewage treatment plant, through high school and college. From time to time, we needed to work with manholes and manhole covers. I even worked on a street crew installing sewer mains complete with manholes.

This experience doesn't really qualify me to answer the question any better than say a civil engineer, but I feel familiar enough with the subject matter that I can speak comfortably on the subject.

Wait, there was a problem?

The answer that is comonly considered to be most correct by the people who ask this question in interviews is the reason is because a round cover will never fall into the hole. This is factually true.

I think that it's a nice side effect of having a round hole. There are some people who are adamant that this is the reason for the shape of the hole and cover being round.

If you strongly believe that this is the reason that manhole covers are round, and you believe that knowing a thing or two about the shape of manholes is content worthy of asking in an interview; I would love to be in the position of being asked that question by you. Not because I would like to work for your company, I just have a grotesque compulsion to argue.

I believe that a manhole cover is not round for this reason. I also believe that that believing that this property is the reason for a manhole being round says many unflattering things about a person.

Why I Believe That The Commonly Accepted Answer Is Incorrect

Let's look at the powers that are in play with the problems being solved.

Dropping a manhole cover into an open sewer would be a bummer, but it's hardly a major concern for the people who design sewer parts or, more importantly, the people who purchase those parts.

Consider the people who sell manhole covers. Would their primary concern be creating a cover that cannot fall into the hole that they cover? What's the absolute worst thing that can happen to the foundry that sells a manhole cover that happens to fall into the hole? Maybe they get to sell one more cover.

What's the worst that would happen to the people who purchase the manhole covers if one of the covers were to fall down the hole? The cover would either need to be retrieved or replaced. Retrieving a cover could be difficult and dangerous, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. Depending on how deep the hole is, it could be recovered by a couple of people within a few hours at most with maybe a winch if they need it. It may just take fifteen minutes.

A Google product search shows that a manhole cover costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $500.

It would not be catastrophic to a multi-million dollar municipal sewer budget to lose a manhole cover.

What About Other Shapes?

Has this ever been a problem? What shapes are even prone to this type of accident? It would be difficult, but possible to drop a square manhole cover through a slightly smaller square hole, it would be easier to pass a rectangular cover through a rectangular hole. A non-equilateral triangular cover could easily pass through a corresponding hole, but I think an equilateral triangle would have trouble passing through its hole. It is not a trivial task to perform on purpose, wouldn't it be a negligible concern for the design?

Now I Get A Little Righteous

There's an unspoken assumption in the question that sewer workers need idiotproof tools. Why else would one think that the primary design case for a manhole cover be such that it cannot possibly fall through the hole that it is meant to cover. Having worked side by side with sewer workers, I find this assumption to be insulting.

Entering a manhole is dangerous. Every year people die from suffocation. Entering a manhole is not an activity that is taken lightly. When I worked with them, a sewer worker would use a four gas sniffer to check to make certain that the air in the sewer is breathable. We really should have worn a harness that is attached to a winch for evacuation.

Not every uncovering involves entering the manhole, but there always is an element of real danger. No sewer worker takes going down lightly.

They're Like Nickels Though, Aren't They?

Manhole covers are heavy. They can weigh well over 100 pounds. Circular manhole covers can be difficult to open if you don't know how, or don't have a special tool.

The tool that we used is a hook. The hook makes manipulating a manhole fairly easy. There are also magnetic dollys that can be used, but we never had those.

Fun Personal Story About How I Almost Lost A Few Fingers

We usually didn't have the hook tool around, so I learned the hard and dangerous way how to replace a manhole cover. One problem with the circular design is one cannot place the cover onto the hole and slide it in place. It's heavy and the ledge around the edges is not wide enough to place a cover on the ledge and lower it down. I tried that and later learned that people have lost fingers doing that.

The safest way to replace a manhole cover is to drop it in the hole and stomp the high side of the cover until it falls into place.

If the cover were quadrilateral with 90 degree angles, it would be much easier to safely replace. You could just drop one edge of the cover into the hole parallel to it's resting position and slide it into place.

Now For The Reason That I Think That Manhole Covers Are Round

The reason that I believe manhole covers are round is because pipes are round. Pipes are round because the round cylindrical shape is the most efficient and strongest way to transport a liquid with the least amount of materials. Wouldn't cost and function make a much more compelling reason to design a manhole cover round?

Why would you base your design criteria for an unlikely and non-catastrophic event? It would be like designing cars in the US to be outstanding shark cages first, and machines that can move people from one place to another second. Sure, it would be very very nice to be safe from shark attack in the event that the car were to be driven into shark infested waters. It would be comforting to know that a shark won't kill you in that car, however the odds of your car ever needing to serve as a shark tank are likely to be more remote than winning the lottery while getting struck by lightning.

Ok, That's A Silly Question, But Why Make Such A Big Deal About It?

There's more to the issue though. Having the property of falling through a hole is certainly more likely just a side effect of the design. How is it that interviewers feel confident enough to assert that that property is the primary design criteria? Where did they come up with this question for software engineers?

I could see this being a very appropriate question for civil engineers and mechanical engineers who interview for a job in the sewer industry. If the position in question is designing manholes and manhole covers, yeah, that seems relevant.

Quick digression: I really should have been clearer at the beginning of this essay. If you're interviewing someone for a manhole cover designer position. You should ask this question. Sorry about that, I'll try to do better next time.

Back to interviewing software engineers. Do you want to hire someone who believes that manhole covers are round because a round cover won't fall into the hole? I wouldn't, I wouldn't want to work for someone who believes that either.

What does it say about a person who observes a correlation and assumes then firmly accepts a causal relationship? To me, it says that they have poor critical thinking skills and may be apt to assume causality between events that are not causally related. Do I want to trust my livelihood to the judgment of one who is incapable of sound critical thought?

Maybe the interviewer simply read the question somewhere or heard it from a friend. What does that say about the person? Is it that they so soundly accept information they hear or read as facts and that they are willing to use that information to judge whether a person who claims no expertise in that field is fit to hold the job in question? Is that a type of person for whom, or with whom I would want to work?

The intent of the Microsoft question is to gain insight in how someone thinks and how that person approaches problem solving. Does it? It's hard to say.

I really think it's more of a secret handshake. If you're one of the cool kids, you're probably already heard the question. I do have a somewhat sick desire to cross examine someone who gets caught passing the answer off as though they've figured it out themselves.

Time is precious. Spending time in an interview asking questions that may yield no good information about the person's ability to fill the position would seem to be a bad use of the time of all involved.

Instead, why not ask a software person about Sudoku.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Speaking: Integrated Test Driven Development

I will be presenting a use case for the Minnesota Scrum Experiences Group, a part of OTUG, on 2/23 at the University of St. Thomas. Murray Herrick room 155. Doors open at 6:00 PM.

My presentation will be a technical case study of using integration level tests to drive software development. My co-presenter, Ann Baumann Johnson, will give another perspective of the case study from the perspective of a project manager.

In our project we defined our technical requirements through executable JUnit tests at the application and integration level. We believe that by defining the requirements as such, the development team was able to deliver the exact program that was needed, even though the behavior of the program was never explicitly defined, we had no quality assurance team, and the consumers of the product were unable to test it until months later.

Although the circumstances surrounding this project were unique, the techniques we used are applicable to other software development projects.

My slides will be available on this site after the presentation.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Getting the itch to write again

I took a little respite from posting to form my opinions on some issues in the software development/flaming liberal socialist Marxist space.

I feel that these ideas are getting ready to share and I will begin posting them again in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Three different stores, two different experiences

We're upgrading the home media center. At the heart of the project will be a Mac Mini that will operate an LCD television. Up until today we hadn't purchased either of these products.

It's been slow at the office, so I took the afternoon off and decided to pick up the Mini and look for and possibly buy the TV.

For the TV, we were looking for a few things: 52 inch picture, 120hz refresh, good picture and a good price.

My first stop was at Best Buy Roseville, MN. I went to the television section and looked at their displayed TVs. There were a few that I considered purchasing, but there wasn't anything that jumped out at me. I was kind of surprised that nobody offered to assist me, but I looked at what they had and there wasn't anything that could compete with the products I found online. I think at one point an employee asked me if I was OK, but he only asked me if I'm OK. I really couldn't tell if they were busy or just elsewhere.

I then went to Ultimate Electronics next door. They had a better selection. I actually found a TV that looked really nice at a decent price. I looked it up on www.froogle.com and it had great reviews. I also found that I could get it for $100 less than what Ultimate Electronics was offering. I thought I might see if a sales person could compete, but here's the thing nobody offered to help me. There were about five guys BSing around the counter. Instead of bothering them I just ordered the same model from my phone from within the store. I thought it was kind of funny that I was shopping at Amazon from within a brick and mortar.

Had they decided to burn a couple of calories and offer to help me they might have made a few bucks off my business.

I then went across the street into Rosedale Mall. I went to the Apple store and was immediately greeted. I told the guy who greeted what I was interested in and he got a friendly lady to help me. She introduced herself and asked what I was planning to do. I told her I was planning on creating a media center for our living room. She was interested and thought it sounded really cool.

She showed me the display Mini. She explained how it would hook up to the TV. We then figured out the stuff that I'd need to get. She then went into the back room to get the stuff. While I was waiting, I was asked if I could be helped by three people. They were all friendly and nice. I thought that was really cool and enjoyable.

The lady even found that one of the accessories that I needed was on sale from Apple's web site for less and suggested that I order it from there instead. That was really considerate.

At Best Buy and Ultimate, they acted more as facilitators of visual aides for my TV purchase. They never even really tried to sell me anything or help me. I don't think I'm a demanding customer. I'm not going to buy a bunch of Monster cables, but they could make a few bucks on a purchase.

I know that online retailers are eating some brick and mortar retailer's lunch, but I think a lot of it has to do with the experience. I'm not going to work hard to give them my business. If they want it, it's there. They've got to offer me something more than what I can get from an online retailer to get it.

EDIT: here's the TV I picked up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Prepare To Come About Means Duck

Nothing Toxic--better not browse this one too much at work--shows what happens when you ignore the skipper when he says "Prepare to come about".

This is the reason why wearing a life vest is very important on a sailboat.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 6

Looks like the ratios are getting dialed in. I've had a lot of luck with the following proportions: 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil, 4/9 cup of Orville's popcorn kernels.

Mix the Flavacol into the popper with the kernels then add the oils. Put the whirly popper on the stove for a few minutes and the popcorn's done.

The end result is popcorn that is about right for my taste.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What's BW3 Trying to Say About Their Customers?

I've been a little annoyed by Buffalo Wild Wings' overtime commercials.



The message that I think they're trying to say is: Buffalo Wild Wings are so delicious, and their beer service is so prompt that young, attractive, and culturally diverse patrons would prefer to enjoy their tasty wings and cold beer much longer than the sporting events that are displayed on Buffalo Wild Wings' many gigantic projector screens. The young, attractive, and culturally diverse patrons are enjoying the tasty wings and beer so much that they'd like to see a referee risk his career, his livelihood, and the integrity of the game by intentionally make an incorrect call to prolong the game so the Buffalo Wild Wings patrons can enjoy eating the tasty chicken wings and drinking cold beer.

What Buffalo Wild Wings is saying to me is that their customers, the people who pay them money, aren't intelligent enough to understand how sports work. The people that one will find at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant during a football game would rather just have sports showing on the many gigantic projector screens so they can stay there.

I have to ask the obvious question: isn't enjoying tasty chicken wings and drinking ice-cold beer with friends reason enough to be in a bar/restaurant? Are these people embarrassed about being at the Buffalo Wild Wings such that they need to fabricate an excuse of 'enjoying the game' to justify their presence there? What are these people hiding? Do I want to be around people who live such complicated lives?

Let's pretend that the customers all have wives who expect them home right after the game and that's the reason that they want the game to get extended. Why don't they bring their wives to the game? The ringleader customer seems to have a female companion, could be his daughter. There are other ladies there, like the one featured at the 15 second mark. Is there an element about Buffalo Wild Wings that men would prefer their wives not see? Are they leading a secret second life? Is there something about the tasty chicken wings and ice cold beer that they would prefer their wives not enjoy? Do they hate their wives? Themselves? Society?

Let's also explore another possibility. Maybe the people in the commercial are highly influential morons. They don't understand the competition part of sports, but they still like the action. They'd be the same people who aren't all that interested in fine tapestry like way that the subplots of a Michael Bay film come together, but they sure like seeing giant robots beat the crap out of each other with lots of loud explosions. If this is the case why not just turn on ESPN Classic, Transformers 2, or replay the game on DVR and let them watch an old game and keep the integrity of the sport in tact for the rest of us? If they just want a game that will take a long time why not watch cricket instead of football?

I thought that Buffalo Wild Wings is a place where one can enjoy tasty chicken wings and an ice cold beer with friends at a reasonable price. These commercials make me question whether I want to do that in the company of these people who are willing to destroy the sanctity of the games that I love all so they can lead a secret other life/escape from their wives/entertain their simple minds. I don't like the idea that the patrons of a single Buffalo Wild Wings might have such influence over the outcome of sporting events. I think that mafiosi may frequent that Buffalo Wild Wings. I don't want to be there if another mobster tries to rub someone out.

For the sake of my personal safety, I think that I will stay away from BW3 on game day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Documentary Movie review: Beer Wars

We watched most of Beer Wars last night. It's a very well made documentary about the brewing industry as told from a former beer executive, Anat Baron.

I must admit I've been largely ignorant of the business behind beer. I was fortunate to have worked The Sanctuary Restaurant that featured many great beers before featuring many great beers was popular. My experience there gave me an appreciation for the non-macro brewed beers. My current favorite beers come from the Surly brewery.

I'm not a very good descriptor of beers. I honestly couldn't tell whether one beer is more 'hoppy' than another. I struggle to identify different notes in beers and wines, but I do know what I like, and Surly beer is one beer that I do enjoy.

One thing that I have noticed is that I don't really care much for the flavor of the big American beers. I used to enjoy drinking Budweiser during hot summer days. It is genuinely refreshing. So is water though. I can get good drinking water from my tap for less than a penny a gallon.

Miller and Coors don't taste much different to me either. As far as beers go, they are fairly bland.

Beer Wars explains how the big breweries are able to get people to drink their beer instead of the more flavorful, and IMO better, regional and local beers. The obvious first reason is branding and advertising. The big beers do a lot to get people to associate themselves with a brand of beer. I used to know a guy who'd only drive Ford vehicles and only drink Miller beers. He had a sense of pride for being loyal to his brands.

This is one of the most fascinating facets of humans to me. Why is it that we are so eager to embrace an identity and give so much to it, when it's not in our best interest to be loyal. If we were to look out for out best interest, loyalty is not something that we'd give out easily. A savvy purchaser knows that they will get more value for their money if the sellers know that the purchaser is shopping around.

It's probably in our best interest as customers to stray like tomcats between businesses. If they view us as loyal, they will be less willing to provide the best products and services at the most competitive prices. Instead, they will focus as little attention to keeping our business as they can afford and focus on gaining new business. That's true for any competitive market.

Beer Wars gives a copious amount of time to the small brewers and shows them as people who try to compete on the quality of their beers and whereas the mega beers compete through advertising and low prices. Seeing the smaller brews made me curious to taste some of these beers and less interested in drinking the larger beers.

The competitive beer market is far more complex than I realized. One thing that I was completely unaware of is the three tiered alcohol market. I didn't realize that brewers are prohibited from selling their beer directly to retailers, restaurants, and the public. They need to go through a distributor. The distributor acts as a middle person and sells the beer to the liquor stores and restaurants. That seems like a position of considerable influence. I struggle to understand how adding a mandatory distributor between the producers and the retailers will promote equity within a competitive market.

I enjoyed watching Beer Wars. Beer Wars is told from the perspective of a smaller beverage producer, but I think the content is valid. I was influenced by the film to want to experience the variety of the smaller craft brews and to drink less of the larger beers.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Beautiful Time Lapse, Beautiful Music, Beautiful Prose

Michael Marantz arranged and composed the music that sets wonderful visual and audible scenery to Carl Sagan reading from "Pale Blue Dot". Full screen this one and let it run.

EARTH: The Pale Blue Dot from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 5

In my previous post I said I would avoid coconut oil because I believed it was unhealthy. It turns out that coconut oil is actually pretty healthy so long as it is not hydrogenated. According to Wikipedia, non-hydrogenated coconut oil may actually raise the levels of 'good' cholesterol.

Nevertheless, Katy surprised me last night with a jar of organic coconut oil. I'm starting to measure out my corn in cups. I measured a heaping half cup of Orville kernels, and about a tablespoon of the organic colored popcorn. I used 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of Flavacol.

I added them all to the Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper
and cooked them.

The results: best yet. It tastes exactly like the popcorn at the movie theater.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 2, take 3, take 4

We used Orville's popcorn for attempts 2 through 4 of getting movie theater popcorn at home.

It's producing a much larger and more consistent popcorn than the organic stuff. The organics aren't bad, but they're different. One advantage with the organic popcorn is the shells are a little thicker and don't get stuck in my teeth.

In attempts 2 through 4 I dialed in the amounts of corn, olive oil, and Flavacol.

8 heaping tablespoons of corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of Flavacol seems to be the right ratio.

I've been told that coconut oil produces a more theater like flavor, but I'm concerned that it is not very healthy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 1

All the ingredients arrived. The Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper was the final piece. Last night I tried 6 oz. of organic popcorn with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 3/4 tablespoon of Flavacol. I mixed all of the ingredients into the popper and then applied it to heat.

One challenge was finding the appropriate heat level on my stove. I didn't want to scorch the popcorn so I worked my way up the dial and found that the kernels pop around the middle of the dial.

The results: pretty good for a first try. The corn popped a little smaller than the kind I'm used to, but it tasted pretty close. The smaller kernels were much more filling than regular popcorn.

I'm going to try using Orville's popcorn tonight and less of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Hodge Podge

Congressman Anthony Weiner asks what value is there in having private health insurance on Morning Joe. As far as I can tell, all they really seem to do is deny coverage and take a 20% cut.



I am struggling to understand how people can be in favor of private, for profit, health insurance. The market forces of improving profits and reactively providing health care are at odds when insurance companies can summarily deny coverage, weasel out of honoring their coverage through preexisting conditions and rescinding policies. What's so good about a corporation that just takes our money and rips us off when we become inconvenient to their profits.

I'm terrified of the private health insurers. I have absolutely no faith that they will honor their end of the agreement should something catastrophic happen. They'll dump me and eventually Medicaid or Medicare will cover some treatment.

Isn't that ironic? The private health insurers get to cherry pick the healthy people while the government gets to pay for the poor, the old, and the infirmed. They say that they are against a public option, but there's one that they are counting on, or not. They don't care unless there's something in it for them.

I believe Wendell Potter when he talks about his experiences as an executive at Cigna.



I share Weiner's position where I just don't understand what value there is with private for profit health insurance.

Some people have criticized health care reform saying that changing the system will cause the loss of jobs. I certainly hope that it does cause some jobs to be lost. I won't shed a tear if health care lobbyists are sent packing, or if the people whose job it is to find a way to rescind a policy are canned. I have nothing against those people, but their positions are not doing good things for the country.

If the cost of insuring people is lifted, or the responsibility of insuring employees is lifted, employers, small businesses, will be able to employ more people. The cost of insuring employees is growing at a ridiculous rate year over year. I would submit that the cost of health insurance is the number one detractor from annual raises. The health insurance companies are getting double digit raises year after year and everyone else is lucky if they get 4%.

Why are people angry about Obama being a socialist while most people's raises are going to improve the profits of their health insurance company? I think the people who are the most outraged by health care reform are not well informed. Bringing guns to a town hall meeting and acting in ways that would embarrass a pack of baboons isn't the way to voice one's position.



I find it ironic that these people, some showing up with firearms, are complaining about Obama being a tyrant determined to deprive the people of freedom when the previous administration jailed orderly people for wearing shirts that tastefully voice a position differing from the president.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: That's a challenge I will take

I admit it. Movie theater popcorn is one of my many weaknesses. Like many, I've enjoyed popcorn in the theater and then miserably failed to make popcorn as delicious at home. As a kid, I used to experiment with different popping techniques and ingredients, but it never came out that great. It was good, but not the addictive perfection that is movie theater popcorn.

I had long since given up about making theater style popcorn.

Recently though, I ran across this post about how to make movie theater popcorn at home.

I'm going to give it a try. I've ordered all the ingredients. They are en route.

BTW, anyone interested in picking up a carton of Flavacol? I've got a dozen of them now. We're set for the next two lifetimes on that stuff.

I'll report my findings after the popper arrives this week.

Entertaining and Informative: ThereIFixedIt.com

ThereIFixedIt.com is a collection of jury rigged fixes. You have to hand it to the subjects, they definitely think outside the box.

I'm reminded of a story that a friend of mine used to tell. He was a technician at a Sears automotive. Normally they would do fairly simple service on vehicles. They'd change tires, mufflers, brakes; that sort of thing.

They had a car come in for a brake repair. There were a few remarkable things about this vehicle. First thing: eight guys got out of it. Second: the tires were almost completely bald. Third: there wasn't a steering wheel. Instead they used either a pipe wrench or a vise grips pliers to steer the car, like a tiller on a sailboat.

When my friend told them that he couldn't let them leave without replacing the steering wheel and tires the eight men would hear none of it. They wanted to drive away. My friend ended up having the owner sign a waiver releasing them of any liability. He also let the town's finest know that there was about seven vehicle violations coming their way.

I regret my friend didn't take a picture and share it with ThereIFixedIt.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This is the stuff that fuels my disdain for private health insurers

This American Life ran an excellent story about the practice of recission by insurers.

Recission is the practice of cancelling a policy on the grounds that the customer lied, or provided factually incorrect information, on the application form. What makes this practice especially dubious is the applications are so difficult to fill out that the CEO of the company issuing them can't fill them out. How can a regular consumer be expected to fill out the application correctly?

In practice, recission is a tool that the health insurance companies can use as a get out of paying for expensive claims for free card. The insurance PR spin will say that "Recission is not about cost", or it's an innocent business process that they need to do to deliver the best care that they can to their policy holders.

It wouldn't be difficult to find correlation between rescinded policies that have, or show leading indicators of, major claims and policies that do not. We don't hear about people whose policies are cancelled for no reason, but then again, who would really make a fuss about it. I'd love to see figures correlating recission to expected costs.

Recission may have started as a way to drop policy holders who opened a policy in bad faith. What it is in practice is an option that the insurance company can use to ditch paying expensive claims and improving the profit margins.

I'd love to hear someone sincerely try to defend this practice. How is it not fraud?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From Salon.com: "The Death Panels Are Already Here"

Mike Madden wrote that the so called "Death Panels" that is the threat du jour of socialized medicine is already here for Salon.com. Spot on Mike!

The current American system of for profit health insurance is deeply flawed with conflicts of interest and inefficiencies.

Corporations are ultimately responsible for providing a return on the shareholders' investment. The people who run the corporation are rewarded for producing a better return, and penalized for failing to do so.

The math isn't that complicated. Health insurance companies generate revenue through premiums. Providing health care to their policy holders costs them money. Ideally, if an insurer were to position itself to only collect premiums and pay for no health care they'd maximize their profits and do right to their shareholders.

Amy Goodman reported on TruthDig that former Cigna whistleblower Wendell Potter admits:
if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.

This is exactly the type of thing that makes a private-for profit health insurance provider evil.

It's an unfair deal where all of us pay into a system that will drop us as soon as we become inconvenient. It is trading the life of common people to enrich the already full coffers of a privileged few.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten,
Old Black Joe still picking cotton
for your ribbons and bows.


People buy insurance to protect from catastrophe. For most people, catastrophe comes in the form of a major medical procedure. Not many people can shoulder the burden of paying for a $100,000 procedure. That's why we're putting our money into a health insurance policy, if we need it we think it's there for us.

I have my doubts whether the private for profit insurance industry would be there for us. It seems that they fight tooth and nail to avoid honoring even moderate claims through denied claims, policy cancellation and payment rescission. The health insurance industry may spin their practices in ways that don't sound very bad, but it's tantamount to euthanasia. Except the person is left to suffer without care.

Why are people scared of fictional government death panels that have absolutely no interest in denying care when there are very real health insurance companies that have an absolute incentive in denying you care?

I don't really care how we get from where we are to a better place, I just want out of our current system. There are ample opportunities to improve the American health care system. Removing the private for profit health care element would be a good start.