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jazz and conversation, from the foot of Mt Belzoni

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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 Knock yourself out, kids.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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