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Sunday, May 25th, 2014
11:49 am - Making my new DirecTV RC71 remote work with my Samsung TV and Onkyo Receiver
My regular readers will understand that this is really not aimed at them; it's reference for me when my devices get wiped by an EM pulse and I need to reconfigure them; and it may be helpful for some random schmo wandering around the web.

So recently I upgraded to the HR 44 Genie receiver. I had complained several times to DirecTV that the interface lag on my nearly 10 year old box was prohibitive, but they wanted me to buy one of these receivers for $300 in order to upgrade. Finally I told them to go fish and they "transferred me to their disconnect department."

I was chatting with the disconnect guy and asked him if his department was really "Customer retention" and he said it was, so I told him, "What really cheeses me off is I've been a great DirecTV customer for years and y'all want to reward me for that by making me use this really old box." Presto, we decided not to disconnect me, he shipped me out this new one and the interface lag is gone. Gave me a pretty solid discount, too. So maybe I can watch TV again!

Anyway, the device came with this new DIRECTV RC71 Remote Control and so I thought, maybe it will be an improvement over what I'm running.


I have an older Samsung TV - along the lines of this 8000-series model, which by the way I recommend as it is awesome - try the 3D remaster of Shadow of the Colossus on it if you don't believe me - and it's running via HDMI through an Onkyo receiver similar to this one, mine's a little older but same series.

I was a little surprised at how confusing and nonintuitive the process was to figure out - something that works this well and is so easy should be better publicized. Here's how it goes:

  1. Get everything wired up and installed.
  2. The door on the right of the receiver opens downward and to the front. Slide the card in.
  3. Don't throw away the sticker rattling around in the box; it has a bunch of serial numbers on it that you need to activate the receiver.
  4. Use the phone menus at 1-800-DIRECTV to activate your receiver. It's all automated. At one point you'll have to stop saying 'yes' and 'no'; she'll make you press '1' or '2' instead.
  5. Ignore the annoying prompts to configure your remote from the receiver menus; you'll never get it configured for RF. When it asks you to configure it for RF by pushing mute+SELECT and then entering 961/ChUp, ignore it as this does not work.
  6. Instead, while the receiver is on, hold MUTE and ENTER. After a few seconds your RC71 will pair with your HR44 and enter hybrid RF/IR mode.
  7. Enter the Samsung Menu. Go to System. Turn on Anynet (HDMI-CEC) control.
  8. Enter the Onkyo Setup menu. Go to Hardware Setup -> HDMI. Turn on RIHD which allows other devices to control your receiver.
  9. Only now, after that pairing is done, do you go to the DirecTV HR44 receiver's SETTINGS and HELP -> Settings -> Program Remote -> Program TV.
  10. This is the confusing part. I wanted to program my Onkyo first. But you can't. Don't bother. Program the Samsung first; it will be relaying commands to the Onkyo. Enter your TV's model number. Mine is a UN46D6000. It found it, but there's a serious delay before it recognizes that - like two minutes, during which time the receiver thinks it has failed. Keep trying. Eventually it'll prompt you to try the Volume +/- button; when it works, you can tell the receiver it works.
  11. OK. Now, go to the DirecTV HR44 receiver's SETTINGS and HELP -> Settings -> Program Remote again. This time, you'll see "Program Audio Device" as an option. Tell it about your receiver. Omit the dashes from the model name. It didn't have my TXNR1008, but it did have the TXNR1009, almost the identical device, so I told it so. Again, it initially thought it had failed, but eventually caught on. This time it prompted me to turn the device off to see if it worked.
  12. Yes, it turns off. Now what? Now turn it back on. Your receiver didn't turn itself off - it wasn't fooled! It's still waiting for you to confirm.
  13. Confirm and you're done! You are pretty much universal on the RC71 now, although I am not sure how clever the thing is about multi-zone - I have one TV, two audio zones, and I didn't try to configure the remote to deal with my second zone as I don't see what button would be doing that.


    If you give up, this Harmony universal remote can also solve all your problems, but I don't think it's much easier than the above - in fact I think it can be a little tricky to set up too. But it will control every device known to Logitech, which is most of them.

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Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
4:58 pm - recipe: fried chicken
The New York Times recently did a thing about fried chicken and it got me thinking that I would like to try it. I have now tried making it twice and thought I might share the recipe with you; it is surprisingly easy and surprisingly good. I do not feel like I have worked all the bugs out; I am journaling these recipes - particularly the dredge and the oil method - in order to keep track of what worked. The NYT are idiots so I more or less advise ignoring them, although if you wish to see what they said, the Google is your friend.

Herewith, then:4 out of 5 dentists surveyed thought you should see a cardiologist before clickingCollapse )

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Sunday, May 5th, 2013
11:51 am - DSM-V's a-comin' out, doo dah, doo dah
The anti-psychiatry movement is out in full force lately, due to the imminent release of DSM-V. Here's a Slate article reviewing a book that hops on this trend; I have read 5 or so similar articles on the topic in the past week.

A lot of folks are hopping on this bandwagon: the idea that psychiatry diagnoses are subjective. One contrast that is frequently made is to an infectious disease diagnosis. For example, this author points out "With scarlet fever, you can trace the symptoms to the presence of strepococcus bacteria in the body."

True, as far as it goes. (No one mentions the Koch postulates, which are of course the strong form of the ability to assert causation in infectious disease.) But here is something not addressed by the author or the Koch postulates: Many people have streptococcus bacteria in the body. Not all of them will develop clinical infections; not all of those who do will develop scarlet fever. Even those affected with a Group A strep infection sometimes don't develop scarlet fever. Is this of any interest to those making this analogy? It should be, because it demonstrates the limits of knowledge about illness and in particular the definitions of illness that we use. (Antibiotics are often given to asymptomatic Group A strep carriers, particularly mothers and those who have frequent contacts with the infirm; and such people, who would otherwise meet the definition of robust good health, have died of anaphylactic reactions to those antibiotics. Now are you interested in the definition of disease that we use? You should be.)

Criticizing working docs on the grounds of science is a dicey affair and every article I have read thus far is doing it wrong. Why do docs do anything? Because a patient shows up somewhere - the hospital, the clinic - a marked place where a patient-doctor encounter can occur. Most of these patients are in need of help; the vast majority are seeking help, a few have been brought for help without consent or against their will by paramedics, police, or the court system.

A patient seeking help, I find, is usually not interested in science; and when he or she is, the interest is almost always misplaced and governed by anxiety. A patient in need of help is in need of help. Help is what doctors give and diagnosis is part of the process that is used to determine what help is appropriate.

Trouble is, as we have expanded to the information society people have opened the doctor's toolkit, peeked in, and begun complaining about how it is used. No one complains about which snake a plumber uses to clear out your stopped up toilet; if the toilet flows, the plumber's methods are best left to his own sewage-reeking management, and we hope he drives away pretty soon. The doctor's process used to be similarly obscure, cloaked in medical Latin, and no one gave a damn. Nowadays everyone gives a damn; HIPPA, the supposed privacy act, in fact ensures that government and insurance have access to all rendered diagnoses, and CMS, the US de facto regulator of healthcare, won't even permit a doc to receive pay for work where the diagnosis isn't encoded by picking it from a list. Patients are encouraged to know their diagnosis and Google it, and anyone who has ever attended a cocktail party where people 40+ are present understand that the right to medical privacy is routinely waived - people prefer that EVERYONE know the sordid details of their diagnoses and treatments.

Nowhere is this more apparent than behavioral medicine, which is also called psychiatry. And we see that there is a lot of public discourse lately, about psychiatric diagnoses and how they are constructed.

For instance, much is made of the fact that in 1977 (The web seems to have gotten the idea that it was 1973) the APA repudiated their prior diagnosis of homosexuality as a behavioral disease.

You know what's been nearly eradicated since the 1970s? The parade of men through docs' clinics, saying "Doc, I can't stop having sexual thoughts about sex with other men. What's wrong with me?" Nowadays, most of those men know what the issue is, and most of them come to understand there's nothing wrong with them. Boy howdy, was that ever not the case in, say, 1972. You think those men didn't have a problem? You think it was OK, back then, for a guy to be gay and not know it and think it was an illness to be cured? Did that guy really truly not have any problem at all?

In fact, those men, men who think about sex with other men and hate themselves for it, they are still around, though there may be fewer of them. Nowadays they are looked at, not as medically ill, but, at least on the Web in articles written by wise pundits, as objects of popular pity and scorn. That's good, presumably - an improvement based on the fruits of our newly gained wisdom - because it is much better to be pitied and scorned than to try to get help from a doctor. Those guys commit suicide at an alarmingly high rate - but who cares? They were pitiful creatures to begin with. And, they've been spared the indignity of diagnosis, and that is a much higher good! We know that now!

Quibbling about disease definitions is all very high and learned, and the brilliant, masterful pundits who analyze these details for Web publication are no doubt the world's most erudite and incisive minds. I for one am grateful to receive the benefits of their staggeringly vast wisdom.

Yet, when I am confronted with the reality of a patient, complaining of symptoms, in my examination room, I am sorry to report - I weep to report - that that wisdom is not available to me, at least not in a form that I can use. Practical, specific courses of action in such a case - patients complaining of crippling anxiety preventing them from doing activities of daily life - or so depressed that they lose the ability to read and write - those practical, specific, courses of action are surprisingly absent from the clever critiques I have been reading - articles that, from their breezy tone, seem to have been dashed off in an afternoon (but which of course doubtless were inspired by decades of daily reflection upon, and study of, the topics under discussion.)

More fool I, the hapless physcian, then, when confronted with a patient who has these problems. I must endure the foul reek of their odor, because their mental health problem has interfered with their ability to clean their body. I must endure physical assault, because their mental health problem has interfered with their ability to make good decisions. I must endure the critique of their loved ones because those have read articles on the Internet pointing out that the process I am trying to go through - the healing process - is less than perfectly scientifically rigorous.

In fact, what a schmuck I am! How much better to be a Web pundit - someone who KNOWS what is right and wrong in all of these situations, and who can essay their insight briefly and then never actually worry about what to do in the situations I find myself in daily as a working physician! That guy is smart! I must, by contrast, be an idiot.

Here is something, however, that I can do that a web pundit cannot: as a working physician with the modern practical tools of psychiatry at my disposal: I can help those people who come to me for help.

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Friday, March 8th, 2013
9:19 am - Simcity (5): First Impressions
I have a little more free time than I used to - I've been making it for myself - and one of the things I have really been looking forward to is Simcity, the 5th iteration of the franchise that I've been playing since 1990. I bought the SimCity - Standard Edition physical copy from Amazon because there was a pre-release rebate; the digital download (same link) is what I'd buy if if I were buying it today. In any event, the ArsTechnica game guys wrote a quick set of first impressions and I am inspired by them to do likewise. I still haven't managed to play multiplayer so this is first impressions, not really fair as a review.

The server issues deserve mention; they made the front page of Google News. This is 2013. Amazon Web Services exists. Steam exists. They had a beta (although it was too limited and didn't stress the servers enough, obviously.) There is no reason that the service should have been as broken as it is, and it is badly broken and just makes for a terrible game experience here on launch week. The Origin online service is essentially a clone of Steam and EA is very well aware that Simcity is going to be a flagship game that is going to make millions of people try Origin, people who would never otherwise have touched it. I certainly will never try another Origin game; I am pretty sure that result was the exact opposite of intended.

So that has been a mitigated disaster. The servers have been down for 48 hours. But have they been totally down? No. They have been swamped enough so that you can start games, but can't play. See, the new SC is DRM'd to hell and back; you cannot do anything with it, not anything at all, without connecting to the Origin servers. There were other questionable server-based decisions: for instance, you cannot save or load a game; progress is autosaved on the servers (if they're up.) This means if you experiment with your city and fuck it up, you experience what the Ars guys call 'permadeath'. You can't revert changes to a prior version. This sucks even more than it would seem to, for reasons I'll explain in a bit. Another server problem was rolled out on day 2: 'Cheetah' speed, the highest simulation speed, was disabled. I just bought a very expensive computer with a top of the line CPU and EA nerfed my game because their servers couldn't take it? Thanks, EA.

Last word on DRM: the first paragraph of the EULA points out that I have leased the software until either I get tired of having it on my machine or until EA terminates the lease, at an unspecified time. I still play old games that I have kicking around from the 80s and 90s; this game will not be that way. It will be a piece of ephemera*. Software should be freer than this, kiddies, and I mean as in speech. 'Nuff said.

SC5 is not like other SCs. Cities are tiny; the Ars guys called them 'towns' and that's right. They are in regions; the idea is that your buddies and you all play online in a region (haven't been able to get this working, because of, you guessed it, server problems), and you can specialize your cities to complement each other. I think the idea is that if you want to turn a particular city into a health care city, or a coal mining town, or a gambling mecca, you can do that, and then offer those services to Sims in your buddies' cities. But it's hard to do that because building anything good is expensive and in order to get money you have to grow your city the way other SCs work: build I, build R to serve worker demand, build I and C for jobs, etc.

It's hard to do that in these tiny spaces! Never mind planning out a Vegas strip gambling mecca; even in the flattest city areas I feel constrained for space from the very start. I think you are supposed to bulldoze your industry once you decide where your Vegas Strip is going to be; but I have tried that and it pretty much broke my city. OK, fine, revert to the last save - ..um. Oh. I can't? Right. See above. Curved roads are extremely neat but they are so wasteful of space that if you are using them you will never build your city to where you are trying to go. Ars talks about minmaxing; I am not a minmaxer but I do like to run an efficient, pretty city with a personality and some uniqueness; those are 3 criteria and I can't figure out how to get all of them in one of these tiny city spaces. And God forbid you pick a city area that has anything but flat terrain; there is no terraforming at all and the road and zone tools are a lot less useful than they appeared to be in the trailer video directed to this topic, if there are even modest slopes. So all that space gets wasted.

The big deal is that the game is simulated down to the level of the individual Sim. I really share the Ars guys complaints about this. I click on Sims - iirc you could do this in SC4 too - and I can follow them around and read a line about their meaningless little lives. I gather that the difference is that this is persistent and real, whereas in SC4 it was a fiction made up on the fly when you clicked.

Problem is, this is implemented poorly. It is of no interest. Sims and their vehicles path almost randomly and I watched a garbage truck circle around on one road, doing nothing, for nearly 15 minutes (real time, that was a whole garbage shift in game time, and there was garbage to pick up elsewhere in the city, too.) This is a game and it's supposed to be fun; if they really spent all this effort on Sim-level simulation, they wasted their time because it adds nothing to the game mechanics.

In fact, whole swaths of the game mechanics feel bugged to hell and get out. One of my cities was located downwind from its connector highway (which is positioned outside of city limits so you can't modify anything about it.) Sims in my city complained about "germs," which live in air pollution (?); the air pollution, as far as I could tell, was floating over my city from the highway as traffic picked up. Sims rioted angrily in front of City Hall for the entire duration of my game play, about 4 hours last night. I was not able to figure out anything to do about this problem, which kept worsening as the city grew. Is this fun? In general, it was no fun to me to have one highway and one train track; why can't I build these things? A lot of the intricate parts of the simulation feel rushed and unbalanced like this; I always used to marvel at the depth of the various simulations in the old Simcity games - I think SC2000 was the best of them at this - and at how sensitive they were to all kinds of player interventions. I don't feel that way about this game.

Power and water hookups have been simplified and sewage has been added; these parts of the game mechanics are dull now, no longer fun, although the water system in SC4 I recall as being extremely frustrating. I get why this was done but I am no longer sure why water and sewage are part of the game at all. Roads are much easier to lay and can be prettier but in general the functionality is less and there is barely even a dedicated traffic display; mass transit has been nerfed and is simplified and, again, boring (adding a streetcar or subway system to a cramped, growing city in SC4 was a challenge and one of my favorite parts of the game.)

The idea of a regional, specialized city was a good and interesting one but I feel like little time was spent on actual regional integration; many services have a screen where you can sell services to other cities in your region, but those cities do not actually lose money when they pay you, and it's not even clear that when you play as those cities that you experience the benefit of the transaction. There is nowhere that I have found that you can look at transacted agreements. (In fact, city planners give 'missions' for money but I have yet to actually collect any of this money, which I assume is another bug.)

I do like that the 'ploppable' buildings can be expanded to meet growing demand; that's fun. If I did not hate the word 'ploppable' so much I would be more excited about it; it is used throughout the tutorial and ingame text, so you cannot escape it. It recalls to my mind a cow pat, or worse. On that topic, the detailed sewage map, showing squishy nuggets of brown stool pulsing and peristalsing through your city's sewage pipes, also disturbs me; I feel like this is just the kind of display that would be made by an obstipated, overweight, balding coder obsessed with his ploppables. The sewage display and sewage disposal pipe make clear that the poo is not only squishy and brown, but also aromatic; was this really necessary, Maxis?

Finally, the game is beautiful. I love the camera - its interface is a bit retarded, but I am catching onto it after 6 or so hours of gameplay - and I love the way the cities look at night and daytime. I love some of the 'filters' you can apply to change your city's appearance. (I wish the game took better advantage of my fancy graphics card, although I understand why they aimed lower.) I am surprised and disappointed at the supergeneric quality of the buildings and their signage: buildings visually mostly have names like "Mid-cost business," "Low Cost Apartments" and such, and it makes the city seem super generic. I assume this was because the whole deal was rushed out - the game definitely feels like it was rushed out the door - and I assume it can and will be upgraded as time goes on.

tl;dr: I like the shiny new game and am looking forward to playing it multiplayer as was intended, but I feel like the game is buggy, shallower in simulation than I expected from the advertising, and not ready for release in a lot of ways; and I hate every cloud-based feature with passion. It makes me want to download SC4 and play it, and since that can be done on Steam for $20 (PC only), I will probably be doing that instead in a few weeks.


* And by ephemera, I mean shit.

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Sunday, February 24th, 2013
9:31 pm - More on Secure Boot and Linux
And I do mean "Moron."

More on this topic after the cutCollapse )

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Monday, January 7th, 2013
2:14 pm - Some Arduino links
Arduino software

Arduino Uno R3: This is the right arduino, a nifty little Italian-made board powered by USB with useful lights on the board.
An assortment of LEDs. These are nice because you get resistors with them and it is easy to figure out the voltage drop depending on the LED colors.
BB400 Solderless Plug-in Breadboard: This breadboard accepts 21-28 ga solid copper wire ends and has a power strip for workbenching your ideas.

I am having fun with these things. Another thing that is good to get are small servos, but I haven't done that yet. If you browse around Amazon you can find kits like this one from SparkFun - I bought that one for Sarah as a Christmas present. That kit was for exploration; there are other kits that are basically 'build this'. They are marked up cost-wise so if you have some idea what you want to do, piecemeal is better.

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1:47 am - fiber optic scrap
Anyone have some short fiber optic scrap around? Thicker the better, up to about 3/8"; less than a foot long. If so and you'd be willing to mail it, drop a comment and I'll hit you with an address. I'd owe you one.

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Sunday, December 9th, 2012
4:23 pm - Lumosity - We Steal Your IQ Score and Sell It
Say! Want your IQ measured, and associated with your name, address, credit card number, income, health insurance, and buying habits?

Then head on over to Lumosity. Oh, of course, they don't tell you that's what they're doing. They have 'brain exercises' for you. Those 50 years of research that prove that "brain exercises" don't ward off Alzheimer disease, nor in fact do they have any other measurable benefit? You won't be hearing about that either.

Lumosity's partners? How about all those insurance companies, which partner to feed Ingenix, the world's largest health information database? Ever thought about applying for health insurance, or long-term care insurance? Well, you're *dumb*, so it's gonna cost you more. Or, you're doing something on IQ testing that shows you're going to develop Alzheimer disease, or Parkinson disease; so it's going to cost you more - a lot more - if you can get insurance at all.

IQ scores are the some of the most sensitive information about a person that can be compiled. They predict health, lifespan, income, educational status, crime risk (victim or conviction), and nearly anything else you care to name. I think it's very evil to steal and sell this information under the guise of providing brain exercises.

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Monday, October 1st, 2012
5:06 pm - Pearls from day 2 of Objective-C study
In no particular order:


  • They didn't have books like Aaron Hillegass' magnificent Objective-C Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide (Big Nerd Ranch Guides) the last time I tried to learn something about coding. What an improvement.
  • C syntax and data structures are similar to Pascal, which I learned once.
  • Obj-C objects are fairly similar to Java objects, which I learned about once.
  • In fact, I kind of feel like Obj C == (Pascal + Java) / memory-management.
  • There are three distinct things a dude needs to learn about:
    • Objective-C
    • Xcode
    • Cocoa/iOS

  • I have books for all of them this time.
  • I wish I'd known that back in 2003.
  • Because I was ready to write a Java program and I totally got stuck on Interface Builder.
  • I wish I'd kept fighting with it. I was so close.
  • Xcode 2012 (4.5, I think?) is really, really slick. It is teaching me as much as anything else.
  • Programming is fun again.

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Sunday, May 8th, 2011
10:09 pm - the police
Spent much of the day listening to the Police box set.

Stewart Copeland is an ass, and he can't sing or write songs, which is sort of the tragedy of Reggatta de Blanc. Yet, he is a really powerful drummer. Good enough to warrant Rolling Stone's #3 rock drummer of all time? Maybe. I love the way he uses the hat and the snare.

As proof, I give you "Wrapped Around Your Finger." Listen to what they're doing. Sting's stilted, affected lyrics in his bizarre Cockney drawl; Summers noodling like a 13 year old with a flanger, an Octavia, and an echo; Lord alone knows what sort of New Wave synths being desultorily keyed; and through it all, Copeland is the rack on which all these ill matched clothes just naturally hang together. You could listen to this entire song - get the meaning, the feeling - just from his drum track. Now listen at 3:09, as they mix Sting's pedestrian, plodding bass up and the entire song changes. Copeland tightens up for the "devil and the deep blue sea" lyric - and then, at 3:23, he hits the snare, the single, most iconic drum strike in all of rock history. I've just listened to it 50 times writing this paragraph - it is truly incredible. Go check it out, maybe under the influence of your favorite entheogen.

Sting cannot play the bass. He's terrible. He's whacking around with no sense of where the beat is. Sting playing the bass, plus a rhythm section, would be a rhythm section with one dude way off on the bass. Listen to the opening bars of "Walking On The Moon." No sense of rhythm at all. In fact, early Sting sounds like a white guy imitating a white guy doing reggae - badly. You wonder what the fuck he was thinking. Then you look at the rest of his career - white guy imitating a white folk singer - white guy imitating a white country music singer - and whatever the fuck he's doing now - and it starts to make more sense. He's the meta-vocalist, possibly the meta-musician. He does have a great voice, though, and I like the Jung-infused lyrics.

I think I am less slavishly devoted to Andy Summers than nearly anyone else reading this. He's not bad, but I swear, every time I hear him on these tracks, I keep wishing Johnny Marr had stepped in and done it right.

There is some wonderful music on this set. If you feel like taking a trip, going back to the 80's some day, you could do worse than just plug this one in and let it run.

Message in a Box on Amazon.com. Knock yourself out, kids.

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Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
8:23 pm - Avadon
I've played maybe 10 hours of Spiderweb Software's Avadon: The Black Fortress over the past week. Bought it, paid for the key, am a happy customer.

You remember when you were a kid, playing Ultima IV, and were kind of like "This is awesome, a D+D style role playing fantasy adventure with neat, well-differentiated character classes, moral choices to make, and a giant world to explore?" And then 1000 hours of gameplay later, "Man, I love this game, but jeebus is it ever a lot of work to try and win it?"

Well, that's Avadon, except minus the hard work, minus the frustration, minus every part of the above that was not totally awesome. It's like someone actually took a great deal of time, effort and all their experience with the great long-form RPGs, and used it to make a perfect game with 21st century user interface, fun graphics, great music, and superb gameplay. It's as if the programmer has a really neat story to tell you and has constructed a really nifty fantasy-RPG gameplay architecture designed in every way to enhance the experience of your participating as that story unfolds.

You can also read Jeff Vogel's blog which is a really interesting read about how it happens to come about that someone would make this game, what the choices and compromises are, how they are decided. Totally enhanced my fun playing the game to read all this.

I give Avadon a 10 out of 10; the first game I have felt that way about in decades. If anything at all in this little write-up piqued your interest I advise you strongly to immediately head over to his website and download the demo, which has at least 8 solid hours of free play in it. After that, I won't have to tell you to fork over the $25; you'll be happy to do it.

Full disclosure: no ties to Spiderweb or Mr Vogel, other than that we both briefly posted to the Usenet newsgroup talk.bizarre in the early 1990s.

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Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
11:35 pm - New Onkyo; holiday cheer to all
My mother's train is late, and occhiblusf is entertaining her family who are in town for the holidays, so I have an unexpected, unallotted hour at home in an awake, fed state. I will use it to write a journal entry.

I have bought a new Onkyo receiver, the TX-NR1008, which I reviewed here. The review is pretty comprehensive so if you're interested, read more about it.

I hooked it up to a pair of concentric-cone Tannoy System II 6 Near Field Monitors that haineux gave me, lo these many years ago; and then, in an orgy of Amazon Christmastime discounting, added this Infinity subwoofer which I reviewed in this review. It has taken a while to get all the settings right - the sub should crossover at 60 Hz, and Audyssey sets the speaker levels for surround sound movies, not music - but once it was right, it became a thing of beauty. Along with the new red oak floors we put in - and yes, those are part of the musical experience - I am back to close to the levels of musical nirvana I used to experience in my old Manhattan apartment, except I no longer have to play the guitar to get there.

So I was inspired to go back to a box that hasn't been open for the last 4 moves; dig out the old 120 GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive; and put it into the enclosure and connect it up to the laptop. Yes; my music collection is all still there; only a couple tracks seem to have been corrupted by cosmic rays.

I must have listened to Cake's "Never There" a thousand times over crappy TV speakers, headphones, little PC speakers, but I never realized that the words are "A candle's fickle flame." I always thought he was saying "A candlestick o' flame," which I thought was a lame lyric for John McCrea. Finally with this setup I could hear it right. And boy, all that loungey triphoppy stuff I used to listen to? First of all - it gives this sub a workout, and it is a very musical sub. And second, some of this stuff is mixed really badly with waaaay too much compression. So it's nice; some of my music has gotten better, some has gotten worse.

It is nice having music out on the patio. The receiver has 9 amps and L/R outs for unpowered subs, so it can in theory do a 9.2 setup. Right now I have it set up to power 2 speakers on the patio, and I have the sub; and the two Tannoys, which are bi-amped (the tweeter and woofer are powered each by a separate amp.) That leaves 2 amps left over for the surround L and surround R speaker, yet to be acquired.

I was going to write about football, but occhiblusf and her brother have arrived, so that is it for the one hour of alone, awake, time I get in this house this calendar quarter. I hope you enjoyed it.

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Saturday, September 11th, 2010
12:31 pm - Grilling: roto chicken, steak
We bought a Weber Summit S-470 grill in natural gas. I ordered it in July - not from Amazon, to save a few bucks - and it arrived last weekend, not in time for my birthday nor for Labor Day (it was nominally my birthday present this year).

4 out of 5 dentists surveyed preferred cleaning grilled food out of their patients' teethCollapse )

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Friday, April 23rd, 2010
9:12 am - An odd decision
On the face of it, I made an odd decision today.

Since March 5th, I've spent probably 50 or 60 hours dealing with trying to get Dell to ship me 5 computers for my new office. They maxed out my business credit card with 2 authorizations for the same order, then canceled the order after a third attempt - this one an actual debit - wouldn't go through. (Let's not even talk about all the other things that got cancelled, that I was trying to pay for on that same credit card, during a busy move, resulting in probably 20 or 30 hours of wasted staff time.) Reinstatement of the order was handled by a third-tier support person, who promised me it would ship next day air at no additional fee from (slightly upgraded) parts in stock. A week later, I contacted that person to find out why I'd gotten no ship notice - and he got back to me the next day telling me what he'd ordered was discontinued.

As we entered the entire conversation again about why the windows 7 boxes with XP mode he'd helpfully re-ordered for me wouldn't work with my EMR (electronic medical record) - it had taken 30 minutes the last time to make him understand that, even if Windows 7 is REALLY REALLY good, my EMR is known not to work on it - I got fed up and told him to cancel everything. I frankly did not have the capacity to remain polite for a second iteration of that conversation, and I knew it.

Apple hardware is now en route to my office. Some of it has already shipped, because I spent 5 minutes on the Apple website, configuring and ordering it. It will run, initially, XP on Boot Camp. It is higher-spec hardware. It cost less. I know when it arrives it will be right, and if it isn't I know it'll take like 10 minutes to get it made right.

"Seriously, ikkyu2 ? Apple hardware, with the Apple tax, for enterprise - for small business? Ha, ha, you must really be a zealot!"

No, actually, it was the smart move. It was, as we say in my little neurology office, the "no-brainer."

There are EMRs that run native on Mac OS. Did you know that?

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Sunday, July 19th, 2009
9:12 pm - Dauntless

I've recently been hugely entertained by Dauntless, by Jack Campbell. It is book one of the Lost Fleet series, but it is not the work of a first-time novelist; Wikipedia reveals that Campbell is a nom de plume of one John Hemry, whom I had never heard of.

A book like this is a bit of a commodity; "Hornblower in space" wouldn't be far off the mark, and if the idea of watching a rather interesting character navigate through a series of space-naval engagements while coming to terms with his own identity doesn't titillate, you're probably well served to look elsewhere.

But if you don't mind a bit of space opera, and want to stand shoulder to shoulder on the bridge as the right-thinking Alliance Navy clashes again and again with the evil, business-minded Syndic, well, look no further. Space Marines, escape pods, musings on total war, a hero come back to life - I feel like a lot of people on this friendslist would probably enjoy it.

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Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
11:53 pm - Kindle 2 price cut
Amazon lowers the price of Kindle 2 to $299.

Smart move. They're lowering it aggressively below cost to compete with Sony's latest e-reader, figuring the revenues on e-books will more than make up for it.

Word on the street is the DX, while larger and higher-res, is a little ungainly to hold in your hand and nearly impossible to type on while you're holding it. The form factor of the Kindle 2 seems about right. I think it's about the right time to buy one of these.

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Sunday, June 14th, 2009
1:52 pm - Health care: nutty idea number, part two
So let me bring up some of the objections to the ideas I put forward in my last post.

Number one - and this is a strong objection, out there in the minds and mouths of a lot of doctors - is:

"There's a lot of ways of getting from Point A to Point B in medicine. Different ways may be right for different patients. There's no one-size-fits-all approach; every doctor agrees about that. If the government gets in the way of standardizing outcomes, what's to stop it from standardizing practice - from dictating how I practice medicine?"

The answer to this, again, is a hard problem that looks hard. Obama has already asked specialty societies to define their three costliest conditions (for neurology, it's probably stroke, Alzheimer and diabetic neuropathy, in that order; you could make a case for headache and back pain, too, if you think back pain is primarily neurological) and to propose ways to standardize the process of caring for these ailments and to propose ways to limit their cost effectiveness.

There are some problems with this. AAN, God bless them, acts with the interests of neurologists in mind. That is its charter. It's not going to want to propose things that impoverish neurologists.

But it is going to want to propose things that improve patient care. Doctors are really all about improving patient care. We're taught that from the first day of medical school. That's why we exist. Sick people get cared for, one way or another. Even if a sick person is dumped out in the gutter to die, that is a health-care-delivery model of what to do with sick people: diagnose them as sick, and then treat them by dumping them in the gutter. The doctor, then, is supposed to improve patient care. There is so much compassion and wisdom and knowledge in the medical and nursing and ancillary sectors of our industry. Everyone's on board with that. There are docs who study their whole lives to know the best, most cost-effective means of treating a stroke and maximizing good outcome for minimum cost. Empower them to make their recommendations the law of the land.

Unfortunately, politics being what it is, recommendations like that are very political. What if the doctor-expert referred to above says, "Put everyone on Plavix, put no one on Aggrenox," and then it turns out that the maker of Plavix has paid him $1 million in speaker fees?

Obama is not a tyro. He is not unexperienced in politics! He is not unaware of conflicts of interest. I hate to say this - I am gritting my teeth as these words come out - but, really, think about it: Who better to handle politics, than a politician? And in case you haven't noticed, our government is increasingly made up of politicians these days.

Strong ethics protections need to be in place at every step of this project, or it will fail and fail spectacularly and fail commensurately with the inadequacy of the protections.

Number two. We've talked a lot about cost reduction. Across the board cost reduction must occur. If it does not occur, our society and economy will collapse. NY Times says docs have to get on board. Agreed.

Honest docs, practicing in good faith within the guidelines, must see their economic position boosted. Venal, corrupt, self-referring scumbags must die. But it's not that simple. The bottom line is, the current situation doesn't let honest docs practice. If I didn't do a few EMGs for carpal tunnel from time to time, my practice would lose money. I can live at the comfortable standard a doc ought to enjoy - if I own all my own diagnostic equipment and keep that equipment humming happily.

Make sure I can make that kind of income practicing right medicine, first. Now, once that's accomplished, now take away my EMGs and EEGs and carotid duplex revenues. Do it incrementally, or you will lose your doctors in this transition. You don't see it, but you are already losing them. The best and the brightest are opting out of taking care of sick people because they don't want to become corrupt scumbags and they don't want to be played for suckers either. This trend has to be undone immediately.

That hypothetical venal, corrupt scumbag across town I compete with? He donates $50,000 to the local hospital auxiliary annually (if I tried to compete with that, it would bankrupt me, incidentally.) He finds a way to refer all kinds of healthy people to other docs for bullshit procedures. Unlike me, he is WEALTHY. And as a result, he's well-beloved in town by the hospitals and the docs who refer to him and a lot of people listen to him, even though he has no idea what he's talking about.

If all that the next proposal does is ratchet every physician's payment down equally, it will fail. It will just drive the least wealthy docs out of business. Unsurprisingly, these are not going to be the docs most culpable for that portion of soaring healthcare costs that are physician-driven. A lot of honest docs have been driven out of business already by this strategy. This leaves us with what's left; a lot of docs who've already proven their skills and ability to game the system to their own profit. They adapt. A lot of grumbling about the current plan is coming from these docs, who feel like they're playing chess with Jabba the Hutt and at any moment he might decide to upset the table and crush them with his tentacle.

The last 40 years have taught docs a profound lesson: overdeliverers flourish; they enjoy the blessings of wealth and popularity and prosperity for themselves and for their children and for the servants that staff their vacation homes. Meanwhile, honest docs have a saying - we've all heard it: "No good deed goes unpunished."

This problem isn't going to get unwound easily or gradually. It's going to take care and diplomacy and difficult negotiation across the country. And it's going to take a show of good faith by the government. Maybe start by boosting physician reimbursements 25% for a year or two while the kinks get sorted out. Give us a safety net while we participate in our grand experiment.

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Saturday, June 13th, 2009
11:37 pm - Health care: nutty idea number
"How, Dr. ikkyu2?"

That's a question people rarely ask. They hear my point of view and my criticism, and they listen politely. But they don't say, "How would you fix health care in America, smart guy?"

So I'm about to answer the question that no one's asking.

4 out of 5 dentists surveyed didn't want to hear the answer either.Collapse )

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Saturday, June 6th, 2009
2:17 pm - Breville JEXL800 Juice Fountain Elite review
Continuing my shameless shilling of Amazon-available products, here's a review of the Breville Elite Juice Fountain, which arrived last week. (A factory-reconditioned model is available here for considerably less.)

I love writing reviews. This one is straight off the Amazon product-review page!

I guess I'm an "experienced juicer" - I owned a Juiceman II a few years ago, used it to make all kinds of juice. It was a decent little unit.

But I was ready to move up. Having been around the juice carousel once, I knew what I wanted. Here are the things that the Breville Juice Fountain does like no other:

1) It's easy to clean. If you don't think this matters, you've never used a juicer. Every part can go in the dishwasher. Parts that get heavy exposure to juice are brushed steel, so they don't stain. Every part can go in the dishwasher. The plastic parts are clear so you can see where the bits of pulp are hiding. The pulp can is specially shaped and sized to hold the bag that you used to hold your fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. And did I mention: every part can go in the dishwasher? That's huge.

2) It doesn't drip, splatter, or spray. In other words, it's designed right. After a huge juicing session, your countertop will be clean beneath the machine.

3) It's loaded with POWER. Sure, it has a huge 3" juicing feed tube - big enough to accept a whole medium sized apple - and that's neat. But if the disk at the bottom is going to slow down and bog when you press a whole apple on it, what good is that? None, because you'll end up having to take the machine apart, fishing a half-juiced stuck chunk out of the stuck disk, if there isn't enough power. The Breville's 1000 watt motor macerates an entire apple in less than half a second without even appreciably slowing down. And it could care less about seeds or stems, although you don't want to put too much wood down the feedpipe because you will drink bitter wood juice if you do.

4) It's quiet. This is a side effect of the POWER, I think. Since the motor doesn't bog, it does its business efficiently without a lot of waste energy being dissipated as noise. It's not whisper quiet, but you could probably use it in the kitchen without waking up hubby in the bedroom. If your cat is sleeping in the kitchen, though, she'll wake up.

5) It's got a really fine screen. Much finer than the one on the Juiceman. This means that there's no pulp in your beautifully colored, clear juices. It also means that the pulp is not quite as dry, and that you might have to work a little bit with the included stiff bristle brush to clean it to keep it operating efficiently. That's fine.

6) It has two speeds - fast for hard fruits and veggies like carrots, ginger, and apples; slow for soft ones like grapes, berries, peaches, tomatoes, and peeled citrus. No compromise.

Basically this is just a well-designed unit. Even the power plug has a hole in it so you can pull it out easily with 1 finger. There are no annoying nooks and crevices where unreachable pulp can hide. The included juice pitcher has a separate fill port that fits the spout perfectly, and a pour spout that has a special anti-foam ledge. And it's clear, with graduations every 2 ounces so you know just how much juice you've made. It feels like this is the juicer you'd design if you'd been thinking about juicers for many years.

And you can get it shipped right to your door! The health benefits of fresh, unoxidized juice are incomparable. The labor savings are incredible - have you considered soup stock? Celery, onions, tomatoes, peppers? Healthy and delicious! And I'm looking forward to putting the Breville's output to work in my Cuisinart ice cream maker!

The only caution I'd give is that if you drink 30 carrots the first day you get the machine, you might find yourself to be in violation of your states' "emissions laws" - if you know what I mean, and I think you do!

So, what are you waiting for?

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Monday, June 1st, 2009
9:23 pm - Large screen Kindle
I'm actually kind of excited about the Kindle DX that Amazon's about to release. Apparently it has a 9.7 inch e-ink screen; it's become pretty clear that nearly any book I'd ever consider buying from Amazon in the near future would be available on it, including some nifty neurology textbooks. And I could use it to store current-practice guidelines, too, and therefore always have them with me.

The price point, on the other hand, I'm not so enthusiastic about. Even the regular old Kindle with the 6 inch screen seems too expensive.

Anyone reading this have Kindle experiences to share? I'm interested in the good and the bad.

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