Manpacks — neat idea, but will it survive?

Posted by & filed under Oddities.

Gosh, I almost started this note with “while browsing the internet …” — what a dumb idea. How does one find web sites these days? While watching TV commercials? Naw. While reading newspaper? Online, which falls under “while browsing…”. There used to be catalogues as well as periodical reviews of web sites, but it’s been a while since I saw something like that.
Catalogue is so last century — you just ask Google for something and Google brings back the bacon in form of relevant result. Except for cases where you’re looking for, say, mortgage. Or a diet. Or a financial instrument of some sorts. But I’ll have to write about that sewer segment of the internet later.
For now — Manpacks. Web site for men (or their loving girlfriends) where one can sign up for periodic delivery of shirts, underwear and socks.
Idea is intriguing, first, because I am not quite sure what kind of night life monster destroys so many socks, t-shirts and underwear on periodic basis.
Okay, I can believe that my cat is capable of attacking approximately one sock every couple weeks (when the cat is bored, and if I was inattentive enough to let a sock slip, fall, show up in cat’s vicinity). So, I suppose every month four socks could be clawed up, devoured and turned into thing that goes into kitty litter. So that would mean 3 pairs over 3 months, and to keep the supply of socks constant the lowest manpack subscription could be used. Cool.

But 3 underwear, 3 shirts and 3 pairs of socks every 3 months seems to be … excessive.
Do people ever think that underwear can be, I don’t know, washed in a washing machine? Short of broken one, it’s difficult to bring one pair of underwear into unusable state every month (and I do presume a sufficient stock, so that proper rotation can be implemented).

So, it’d be nice if there was voluntary Hall of Fame of those, who actually sign up for the biggest manpack. And, perhaps, stories of where their t-shirts and socks and other things disappear too.

Hopefully, Amazon.com will not kill this neat little web site, especially as you can already subscribe for delivery of, say, cat food (as long as you calculate your cat’s appetite, they will even give you a discount).

Gym: motivation booster and destroyer

Posted by & filed under Misc.

Before Texas, I never actually went to the gym. There were school gyms, and kendo section (also in school gym) but never “gym” gym. It’s one of those new discoveries in US — the local “super”-gym. An impressive structure, with showers, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, machines, free weights, running tracks, basketball courts and rock climbing.
It’s like a small city, humming along 24 hours a day. Busy in morning and evening rush hour, empty and deserted during the night. Night crews walking around, cleaning and vacuuming, picking up occasional forgotten things.

But more impressive than structure itself, was how it can be a boost or destruction of motivation to go there. Depending on the time of the day, it’s either a sample of what one can do with years of training and hard work (plus those special “additives”), or how one can let oneself go. Or how people can build a giant hamster amusement park.

That was my first thought — my gosh, it’s like a cage with hamsters. Tons of people, running in place, huffing and puffing, pushing and pulling on spring-loaded arms, running away to drink water at the fountain every so often and not doing anything productive. Plus, the shape of some visitors certainly also makes you think of hamsters, though not as fuzzy and with better teeth.

On the other end of the spectrum are usually guys who know pretty much everything about how/when/how many times to do on which machine, which exercise and which other piece of a health puzzle and could be used for greek sculpture modeling. At that point you understand, that without 20 years of non-stop exercise you won’t be able to stand next to them without looking like a balloon animal or a stick figure. Yes, stick figure too, as to my surprise there are people that simply don’t gain weight no matter what they eat. I usually tell myself that my gut is way more efficient — walking and lifting and swimming doesn’t change much how much I weight. Shape may change a bit, but short of starving myself on a diet (which makes me extra cranky, and you don’t want to deal with me when I’m cranky) I manage to pull out more than enough energy from seemingly not very caloric food.

So, I don’t compare any more. I go when I feel the need to move and stretch and run for a bit, and I learned not to care about the surroundings (thank you, noise canceling mp3 player).
If you feel demotivated about exercising, don’t go big, go small instead. Shorter visits, at odd times, where you have more space and choices to yourself. With time, it all adds up.

And then one day you will look at the hamster action during the day and realize — you’ve traveled quite a distance, and got real results.

Plus, now some health insurance providers give you a discount if you go to the gym. Of course a bit of snooping usually is involved — Blue Cross Blue Shield, for example, plugged gym’s admission card scanning systems into its own computers, and they can actually see if you go to run three times a week, like you claimed on their form. An extra motivation boost.

Don’t give up, and good luck!

Health mandate, do it like in Germany

Posted by & filed under Politics.

I’m surprised that the Senate and the Congress didn’t seem to have studied how other countries solve problems that come with “health mandate” or just mandatory health insurance in general. I wonder if current situation is simply a holdover from the time where original plans contained a public option, or a non-profit alternative, where citizens wouldn’t be required to buy a private insurance.

The problem is obvious — if someone notices that fine is less than annual cost of private insurance, that person would rationally not buy the insurance. What’s the point? If it’s cheaper to pay the fine, and then pay from your own pocket for some small health problems, why shell out big bucks?

And if something unexpected and big happens, off you go to the insurance company, and they can’t refuse you for “pre-existing condition”, so everything’s peachy. Except for the insurance company which, despite being huge, wealthy, perhaps evil, would have to pay out more, than it can collect in premiums (because there’s a limit on how much they could charge someone with pre-existing condition)

So, how to solve this problem? Force an annual review of fines and link them to the average cost of insurance? That would bring costs way-way up, as they’d keep on creeping in upward direction with nothing to contain them.

More interesting solution would be similar to what is done in Germany — you can refuse to purchase the insurance, but then for next 5 years you can’t run back if something back happens. So, offer people opt-out, with 5 year ban on “can’t deny pre-existing condition”. Those, who think about the future, would carry insurance. Those, who don’t want to, would still be able to bring a financial ruin onto themselves. Problem solved.

Of course some people may say it’s unethical. But the problem is not ethics, but choice. Ethics is foregone as soon as medical service becomes a for-profit business. If you are driven by money, you inevitably can get into situation where the choice is “follow shareholder’s instructions” or “do the ethical thing”. Just look at all the drug patents. If manufacturers were walking the purely ethical road, as soon as new drug is developed, it’d be sold at cost. Which would make Wall Street extremely unhappy…

Sprint Evo: a phone any geek would want

Posted by & filed under Technology.

All I want to say is “Wow!”. Can it be? Could we finally have “the” perfect Android based handset in the form of HTC Evo? Certainly looks like it. HTC took everything cool about Android hardware, and Sprint had enough sense not to screw up the design (I was quite shocked when I saw Sprint version of Hero, a nice phone but mangled beyond recognition with physical chassis changes)

Rumors were floating for a while now, that there’s going to be “super” handset. The only thing left, is to get the actual price. Hopefully, the phone won’t get into stratosphere of “windows mobile” pricing (HTC TouchPro 2 costs $300 — I guess executives still rely on existence of some nebulous “businessman” that would want outdated windows platform phone). But even if it will cost $300 it would still sell more units than Google’s Nexus One.

Speaking of which, as long as Evo is less than $500, Google can forget about Nexus One sales for Sprint. While GSM versions could theoretically attract some European customers, accustomed to purchase phone at “list” price (but also enjoying free incoming calls/sms, and generally paying way less for contract plans than US customers), CDMA version certainly has more limited appeal.

The other distinctive feature is 4G Wi-Max capability, with service from Clear. I don’t know if it will make any difference. While Wi-Max service area is being expanded, it’s still way smaller than Sprint’s regular 3G network. So, I hope there won’t be any premium charged just because the phone can connect to 4G. Similarly, I also hope that there will be an option to use new handsent on Sprint’s standard “everything data” plan, because it’s their best weapon against top competitors (Verizon, ATT, T-Mobile), and because I bet Sprint will attempt to charge premium for using 4G.

Overall I’m happy. Now, do tell the price of the phone, Sprint, and try to push the handset out the door as soon as possible. Otherwise there’d be a chance of an upset from, say, Verizon, offering something similar, but on their more expansive network.

Change of weather, change of MS’ heart

Posted by & filed under Misc, Technology.

Austin was pleasantly warm for a couple days, and yet again the cool weather is back. It’s a bit of an annoyance — temperature jumps like a scared rabbit. 75F in the afternoon, and low 30s at night, with some rural areas getting a light freeze.
I’ve learned it a long time ago that rural areas are pretty much always colder. Not many cars, giant buildings with temperature control, sewage and just a large amount of obstacles that prevents wind from equalizing the temperature.
Of course sometimes just having a building creates that wonderful wind tunnel syndrome.
So, the wind blew hard over the last few days, bringing in not just a patch of bad weather, but some other news too.
– Palm is not doing too hot, with shares dropping and sales lagging
– Microsoft is still kinda sorta not sure about the copy and paste function on its new mobile platform.

While first news I kinda expected, the second one is somewhat disappointing. Yes, I completely agree that Microsoft’s mobile solution needs a brand new platform. With most software products, it seems to be the best to wipe the slate clean every once in a while. Just like with clothes, too many alterations and patches start to obscure the original idea. Grand design, however cool and dashing it may have been some years ago, shows its age. “Nobody does things this way” becomes mantra, and backward compatibility becomes a drag on new ideas and interesting implementations.

So, I was quite happy to hear that Windows 7 Mobile Platform will be “brand new”. I wasn’t quite as happy to learn that MS decided to take a page out of the Apple’s playbook.

Apple makes things pretty, shiny, good for average user but in many aspects extremely rigid an uncustomizable. If your idea of convenient product doesn’t exactly match what Cupertino thinks, you’re out of luck. Just look at all rooting and hacking that is required to make iPhone a bit more flexible or do something that Apple decided not to do in “current release”? Of course many of those functions will probably appear later, but Apple loves saying “users don’t need it” (and then reverse itself — copy/paste, video recording, mms, all those little things normal dumb cell phones used to do for years, before suddenly they were “not needed” by users, and then needed again, just as they got re-introduced into latter revision of Apple products).

Now Microsoft used to be much closer to “geeks”, never quite making up its mind about one way to do something and leaving it to the user. You want to start an application? There’s probably 5 or 6 ways to do it. Buttons? All over the place and any shape you want. Config options? Scattered throughout but giving great flexibility…

And suddenly “No copy/paste, because users don’t need it”. Hello? Such little convenient things are a norm of day, even on Apple’s products now. So please double-check your UI developer’s report and just keep copy/paste. Hide it behind the config option if you must, but let those users that want it some sneaky way to activate it.

And don’t forget the applications. Sure, most users will never want to wander away from the walled garden of pre-approved “App Store” (Apple or Microsoft). But don’t lock the door for those who like a bit of flexibility. That way Windows Mobile 7 could be the 7th Lucky Version, that starts as pretty and UI-wiz as Apple’s iPhone, and continues to have flexibility for those users who want custom interface or extra small-scale apps, that are relevant for small audiences only.

Of course Microsoft already said that copy/paste could come back later, after platform is released. But come on, Microsoft, take your chance and start it right!