Category Archives: technology

Why Can’t Technology Better Health Care?

For some reason, my throat has been on fire over the last few days. No matter how much water I drank, I was unable to ease the pain. I did, however, achieve a state of clear piss.
Today was my first visit to Boston University Student Health Services. (I think the guy in the upper right corner is the doctor that actually saw me.) Basically, I was told many times that I probably don’t have strep-throat, which is good. What do I have? “Um, well, just a sore throat.” Got some cough-drops for the road. Hey – free cough-drops!
“Okay, what’s the point of this post, shouldn’t Andrew go into a little rant about something?…” Indeed I do have a rant.

During the whole walk over to this place I was thinking, “for once I can go to the doctor and I won’t have to fill out too many forms, because BU made me jump through all sorts of hoops (physical, vaccinations, ‘cough for me please’, etc) back in Seattle. See, I move a lot. And each time I have to start over with filling out the forms, “Have you had any of the following medical conditions: cancer, allergies, mental problems, general pain, frustration with life, an unhealthy desire to update webpages?…” It’s really depressing to read through those lists. I hope no one has to check more than a few of those boxes. And each time I move I also end up having to get extra shots that I know I already had, “just to be safe,” because I manage to lose, or can’t read, my shot record.
But not this time. This time I just walk in there and they’re going to have it. Because I’m all checked out and I sent those “mandatory” forms in last year, before the “deadline”. You can guess what happened: “We don’t seem to have your forms. You’ll have to fill this out…”
Now, don’t we have the technology to put information into computers? Why don’t we just have a medical database where clinics and hospitals can look up our file? Why duplicate the work over and over again? “That would be scary! What if that information fell into the wrong hands?!” Look, all my money exists in a computer and that doesn’t bother me. Most of my intellectual and creative output exists in a computer too. All of this is in danger of “falling into the wrong hands” or (more likely) being accidentally screwed up by technical problems. Does that stop me from using my computer? Does it stop me from converting my greenbacks into binary? Heeeellll no. So why can’t medical information be stored in a database too? And frankly, I don’t care who’s hands my medical information falls into. Oh my god – now the whole world will know that I had a sore throat!

Strange Computations

There is so much I don’t understand about computers. For example, why does it appear that there was a HUGE spike in traffic to lawschooldiscussion.org at 1pm today? Why does it look like a russian website is linking to the “site map” button on said website? And why are there strange messages about sinking ships in my log files?
After staring at the monitor for a couple hours (in addition to staring at another monitor all day at work), I think I’ve learned a couple things, but certainly not enough to justify the fatigue that now plagues my eyes and mind.

Travel Sites Suck

It’s been a weekend of spending money. I bought a rug and coffee table (finally), an airline ticket to San Francisco, and I’m about to rent a car for this weekend’s Newport Folk Festival. And I don’t even have enough in my account to cover this month’s rent. D-oh!
I have to complain for a minute about the travel websites online. In a way they’ve made our lives easier by giving us the ability to do our own price research. Yet they’ve burdened us with slow searches and slow search results. Travelocity is the only one of the majors that actually lets you find the best price and then pick a day. You get a little calendar will all the days offering that fare. As you click though, the days you want suddenly become “unavailable”. I don’t know if they do this to make you think that tickets are going fast and you need to hurry up or if it’s just a flaw in the system, but it’s extremely frustrating. Furthermore, the price you start out with is never the price you get by the time they actually want your credit card information. This means you have to repeat several steps to actually compare deals.
Rental cars are much much worse. You have to pick the type of car and location before ever seeing a price. It might be worth it to me to go to the airport to get the car if it would be cheaper, but I’ll never know the price difference unless I go through the entire reservation process again, staring at the screen while each page loads.
There has got to be a better way to do this. Online travel reservations is one of the few lucrative industries on the internet. These companies make plenty of money. They’ve become giants in a few short years. All of their technology can be centralized. They aren’t trying to coordinate with various resellers or franchisers, so they can have one technology team to develop the interface. Why then, can’t they do a better job?

Graphical Representation of Cyberspace

It’s way too hot outside… but I’m inside… with A/C. Thank you Lord for allowing me to work in an air-conditioned place, and for keeping my home A/C unit from falling out the window. My A/C hums peacefully while ardently clinging to the window frame to avoid the perilous drop. It’s beautiful.
I’m quite impressed with the TouchGraph application. It generates maps of websites based on Google’s “related links” search. Here’s a map of lawschooldiscussion.org related sites, radius 2 (there are no sites related to this one… it’s unique). (via metafilter)

kartoo is another graphical representation of websites. It generates a (great looking) map of search engine results.

Google Answers

Not that I’m obsessed with Google, but they’re doing something really cool called “Google Answers“. People submit a question and pay for it to be answered by one of the researchers. Who are the researchers? They’re just people who want to pick up a few bucks doing research. Anyone can apply to be one. 75% of the price goes to the researcher. The other 25% goes to Google of course. I’ve always wondered how this company was going to make money. They started selling ads and licensing their technology to companies, but I don’t know if this is paying the bills. Is this a brilliant idea to take advantage of their vast traffic resources, or are they just desperate to monetize their audience?
One thing I noticed when checking out the questions people have been asking: There’s a reason they’re willing to pay to have these answered. If the questions were easy you could just type them into Google and see what you get.
The interesting thing to see (assuming this thing takes off) will be to see how Google incorporates the new content (the answers I mean) into their search. They could copy the Ask Jeeves question and answer concept but do it much better because their ability to answer the questions is so scaleable. (There’s no reason why a million people couldn’t be “researchers” they only get paid when someone is willing to pay. Google spends no money except to maintain the infrastructure.)

The Sweetest Sound

Another day of studying… I took a break today to notice that Google is about to update their index. (They update first on other servers: www2.google.com and www3.google.com. Then the main index gets updated.) What does all this mean? It means that this page will soon (within a day I hope) be ranked #1 for the search term “Andrew Sinclair“. It only makes sense that I should be the first result in a Google search for me, but there is competition. Hundreds of other Andrew Sinclair’s are out there trying to steal my identity. That reminds me of a great documentary called The Sweetest Sound about names. It’s by a filmmaker named Alan Berliner. He finds a bunch of other people named Alan Berliner and invites them to dinner. They’re all introducing themselves: “Hi, Alan Berliner, nice to meet you.” “Hi, Alan Berliner.” Pretty interesting stuff.

Trillian IM

I might be a little bit behind the times on this one, but today I discovered something very very cool. The Trillian Instant Messenger is an interface that lets you IM across all the major platforms. Thus I now have one Instant Messenger through which I can IM all my MSN and AOL contacts. (And Yahoo and ICQ contacts, but I don’t have any of those.) The software is a little more complicated than the other messengers because it keeps all the features available to each other messenger, but you can customize it to simplify. Another great feature is that you can download skins to customize the look. Overall I’m very pleased with it (and it’s free).
I could see why such software might be controversial. It basically uses the infrastructures set up my MSN, AOL, etc. and exploits them. AOL has repeatedly tried to block Trillian. I’ve always wondered how companies could make money off of their messenger programs though. Trillian accepts donations. This coupled with the way they encourage tinkering (they encourage new skins anyway), I think they’re on the right track.
After doing a little more searching, I’ve discovered another alternative called Odigo. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks similar.

Hot Computer

My computer is still overheating. If only they made coolant for computers… Actually coolant would be handy for lots of things. This is really annoying. I was checking into getting a new power supply (I think that’s the problem) and it turns out that Sony computers use a special size that does not seem to be available anywhere – even Sony’s own parts website.
In other news, it looks like the lights are on at Fenway Park. I have a clearer view of the sky now that 461 Park Drive has been torn down (see photogallery). I think this is the first time the lights have been on this year.

PC design

I’m still unsure what caused my computer to get so hot the other day. Since then I’ve had the cover off of the case and I’ve been tripping over the open wirey box that pretty much contains all of my productive output (music and school notes being the most valuable). Anyway, my staring at this open box got me thinking about PC design. I saw a magazine article a few weeks ago about some new design concepts for computers, so I did a little searching to see if I could find some pictures online.

It seems that Intel has a knack for finding cool things and writing about them. I found my screen saver (mentioned a few days ago) at Intel and today’s search for unique computer designs lead me back there. The Concept PC Gallery has a bunch of unique concept computers. I don’t like most of them, but there are a few gems in there. (Groom Lake and UNiMOD are my favorites.) If only these were actually available we wouldn’t be stuck trying to decorate boring computers like this.