Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The RIAA Has Done It Again

Well, the RIAA has done it again. They've made me angry enough to stop buying, and buzzing about, yet another band's music. Sorry KoRN. You just lost a fan because the RIAA thinks that fan based art, celebrating your music, is bad, and mentioned your name in the threatening letters they love to send out.

I found this by way of Boing Boing. The RIAA sent one of its threatening letters to RPG Films a machinima site. Machinima is a growing fan-based video art form where people match up video game action with popular music. It's a celebration of both the games and the music, not a business. Not a one of these guys doing it is making a cent off it.

I know that many of you may be surprised that I like KoRN's music, but don't worry. I won't be listening to it any more. I would encourage you gentle readers to quite listening to, and more importantly, quit buying, their music as well. At least I won't be listening (or buying) until they apologize for being so stupid as to let the RIAA decide to threaten legal action against people who are clearly their fans, and not the pack of money hungry thieves the RIAA claims them to be.

Then again, maybe the real money hungry thieves are the members of the RIAA. They
certainly don't like independent musicans trying to play the game. That vile behavior is clear in light of the recent Sony payola scandal. Don't you just love legalized monopolies that use Mafioso tactics to hurt the very people that feed them? Sheesh.

Sorry KoRN. You let the RIAA do this, so you get to share the blame. Don't like it? Stop the RIAA from hurting your fans by actively protesting such actions. Then maybe I'll start listening (and buying) again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Moon Landings and Lost Friends

Today is the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. 35 years ago, humans first set foot on another planet. Wow. That's an amazing thing for me. I think it's what may have started my love affair with astronomy and the space program.

You see, even though I was only three years old, I remember it. My parents had taken my brothers and I over to my Aunt and Uncle's place to watch it. I still remember seeing those grainy pictures of Neil Armstrong stepping down from the lunar lander, and uttering those immortal words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It still fills me with awe, and wonder.

What's even more amazing is that they did it with computing power that is completely archaic by today's standards. The box on my desk is smarter than the computers they used. (So why does it crash so often? Hmmmm . . . ) One thing those computers couldn't do, though is show it to you in full panoramic view (by way of Boing Boing). Got check it out. It's been 35 years, and it still gives me goose bumps.

It seems only fitting, then, that if one of my childhood heroes had to die, that he did it today. This morning James Doohan passed away quietly at home. Mr. Doohan played Mr. Scott on TV's Star Trek.

Like many folks my age, I really only got to see Star Trek in syndication, but I loved every episode. Mr. Scott gave us a great role model. Okay, maybe a drunken Scotsman isn't such a great role model, but one who loves his job, loves engineering and technological problem solving is. He showed a (albeit fictional) combination of competence and creative thinking that I'm sure inspired many a geek into various engineering fields. His ability to think under pressure, and still keep his sense of humor, was just cool.

Mr. Doohan was a wonderful actor, and from what I know of him, a great human being. Will Wheaton said of him, "Everyone who watched Star Trek liked Scotty, but everyone who met him loved Jimmy . . . I'm sure I'm not the only person today who feels like they lost a friend."

I'd like to think that maybe now, Mr. Doohan is getting to "explore strange new worlds," with as much joy as he gave us, when he was only pretending to.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

"Domestic Partners" and Salt Lake County

Jenny Wilson and Joe Hatch, democratic council members from Salt Lake County, have proposed that "domestic partners" of Salt Lake County employees should have equal insurance protections. Councilman Cort Ashton, however, said that he believes residents have already made up their minds on the issue. When amendment three of the Utah State Constitution was approved last November, it excluded gay and lesbian couples from legal marriage, and the benefits thereof. Wilson claims the benefit is not about marriage, but instead aims to expand the benefits to partners who have shared the same residence for at least a year, and are jointly responsible for living expenses.

The term "domestic partner" is nothing but a badly coined euphemism for people living together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage, whether they're gay or not. In that sense, the proposal is not about marriage. It is about marriage rights, though. Some would say Wilson and Ashton all have some things right, and some things wrong.

I think they're both missing the real issue.

Why can't the insurance companies just step up and say, "We don't care. If you pay the premiums, you can add who you want." The only reason I can see is money. The more independent policies the insurance companies can force people to pay for, the more money they make. Covering people in the same household, whether they are married, or the children of the insured, needlessly complicates the issue.

Think about it. Why is the "who" of the household so important? If I have medical insurance through my company, and I add my wife, that's only one other person on the policy and I pay more money for it. Why does it matter whether or not it's my wife? It's still just one more person. Why does a "family" plan have to only be my wife and children? What about an elderly parent who is a dependent? My parents don't live with me, but if they did, why couldn't I put them on my insurance?

The only answer, again, is money. "Fair Insurance" is an oxymoron these days, if it ever was to begin with. I've blogged about the mess that modern health insurance is, before. This is just more fuel on the fire.

So why does Salt Lake County care about new proposals and bills, when it could be a selling point for the insurance company? All the county would have to do is demand such coverage flexibility when they renew their contracts. Whoever they're using as an insurance provider would be nuts to ignore such a large client. In fact, I think the insurance companies are too greedy to ignore it. New laws and policies wouldn't have to be passed, and the market would make the correction by itself. The repercussions on the industry may just move beyond Salt Lake County, as well. Smart coverage could become the rule, and not the exception.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Stolen Data Trade in Moscow

I found this article about the stolen data market in Moscow by way of security expert Bruce Shneier's blog. It details an experience the writer had at a software market in Moscow. Within 15 minutes he was able to talk with a vendor selling databases of private information, gleaned from various sources in Russia. This is the exact kind of data that could be used for identity theft, and who knows what else. Reading the article was a very surreal experience for me. The really weird part is when you start considering the possibility of this kind of thing happening with information from other countries, including our own.

Thoughts Turn to London

In light of the terrorist bombings in London today, I just wanted to express my condolences to the families of those who have died, or been injured, by these criminal attacks. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

I've never been to London, myself, but I found an article by someone who has. This is actually an old travel journal entry from 1987, but I think it's a more than fitting tribute to the character and strength of our friends across the "big pond." It was so touching; I just had to share it with you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Melting Pot Medicine

I found an interesting article over at Yahoo News about how many immigrants are choosing to use plant-based remedies they learned in their home-lands, over the modern medicines being offered by American doctors. This is an interesting revelation. I've blogged before about the rising cost of health care, and according to the Yahoo article, that's one of the main reasons some of these immigrants are seeking "natrual medicines" over modern "chemical medicines."

I'm curious to see what kind of an impact this will have on our national health care system. The debate (more like a shouting match) over so-called "natural" and "alternative" medicines vs. "modern" or so-called "allopathic" medicines is really bizarre. It's very politically charged. Different groups get very passionate about what they perceive of as truth, and scream bloody murder about the "other guy." All the while they ignore the fact that the "other guy" might be right once in a while.

A lot of it has to do with money. Health insurance and pharmaceutical companies are very big businesses. They see plant-based medicines and "alternative therapies" as both a detriment to American's health, and the company's profit margins. (I've got my own unsubstantiated opinion as to which is more important to them, but that's another blog.) Companies and practitioners of alternative and so-called "natural" medicines scream and rant just as vehemently, trying to defend their practices so they can stay legal, and unregulated.

I think some of the problem is simple terminology. Some Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are called naturopaths. Some people refer to Mecial Doctors (MDs) as "allopaths" or "practitioners of allopathic medicine." MDs just call themselves doctors (even when they don't have a Ph.D.). ODs (Osteopathic Doctors) call themselves either osteopaths, or just plain "doctors" as well. Most people don't refer to Chiropractors as doctors, and yet they are "Doctors of Chiropractic" (DCs).

The way we talk bout medicines is bizarre, too. Pharmaceuticals are referred as "modern medicine" or "chemical medicine" while plant-based medicines are referred to as "herbal medicines" or worse, "dietary supplements." What's so funny is that many Pharmaceuticals started life as plant-based medicines. Aspirin is really salicylic acid, and was originally derived from white willow bark. The Pharmaceutical companies just refined out what they considered to be unnecessary.

It's all chemical. Even food is chemical. Everything we eat, drink, or swallow, whether it's food, herbs, or drugs is chemical, and it all affects us. That's why the term "side effect" throws me. There is no such thing as side effects, only unwanted effects.

Modern medicines are no safer, or more deadly, than natural medicines. Pharmaceuticals and herbs are both potentially dangerous when used incorrectly. Heck, some of them are dangerous no matter what. To make things even more confusing, both pro-herbal and pro-pharmaceutical sides like the use that same argument against each other.

Exacerbating the problem is the lack of research on many herbal remedies. The scientific community and the FDA like to "remind people" that there is no scientific evidence on herbal medicines, but then they make no effort to create such evidence. In many scientific circles such research is considered to be a waste of time, or "unworthy of scientific pursuit." Something must be going on, even outside of the obvious "snake oil" approaches, or some of these remedies wouldn't have survived this long. Where such research is being done, in many cases the research itself is shoddy, not meeting rigorous scientific standards, and yet it still gets published by the media (and the researchers doing the work).

The controversy surrounding Hypericum (St. John's Wort) is a perfect example. Some studies show effectiveness in treating mild depression, but not major depression. Others show no benefit at all. Still others show benefit in all kinds of depression, as well as anxiety and sleep disorders. In Great Britain it is commonly prescribed for minor depression, but in American it's not a prescribed medicine at all. Who are we supposed to believe?

I know I don't have all the answers, but it seems that if a treatment is working for a large body of people, it's worth studying, don't you think? Whose side is the FDA on, anyway? The pharmaceutical company's or the American public's? (That's another blog in the making.) One thing is for sure, though. With the rising costs of modern health care and pharmaceuticals, more and more Americans, immigrants or otherwise, are going to be looking for alternative solutions.

I recently discovered that a lot of research is going on in Europe on herbal medicines, where they are more widely accepted than in America. Much of it is very promising, but the FDA and the medical industry in America refuse to consider the research.