Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Causes Friction?

As an engineering undergrad, I've always wondered, in the back of my mind--what actually causes friction? Curiously, unless my memory is utterly failing me, this topic was not covered, even cursorily, in any of my classes. Friction is introduced as a given, like gravity. Anyway, for some reason--which may have to do with greater free time, as my brood enters Young Adulthood--I finally bothered to research the topic.

It is surprisingly esoteric and unsettled.

What seems like the most obvious idea--microscopic surface irregularities--seems to have been largely discarded (except that surface irregularities seem to be cited as contributing to the adhesion theory). Some of the different theories I came across:

Someday, maybe in the long winter of American Siberia, I will muster the energy and ambition for a Part 2 on this.

On Narrow Networks in Healthcare

Interesting article on Narrow Networks, I agree with the reasoning. My theory of narrow networks is, for the most part, restricting people’s choice of physicians does not hurt, and can help, their health, at the same time taking cost out of the system. Consumers are notoriously poorly equipped to assess the quality of their physician.

If you told me tomorrow I had to switch PCPs and it would cut my premium share 10%, and I wouldn't have to travel any farther for my new PCP, I’d say “bring it on”. I know there are exceptions, people with complex conditions, or seeing a physician who has a rare specialization—those people are poor candidates for narrow networks. I’m talking the 90% mainstream.

The one big gotcha to find a way to avoid, with Narrow Networks—or at least make sure the buyer is aware of what they are getting--is geographic inconvenience. So while I would switch PCPs In a heartbeat, I would be more unhappy if I had to drive 5-10 miles out of the way to see the nearest provider. 

There is a movement in healthcare to create tools to compare and estimate consumer medical expenses. My personal experience with these is that they aren't that useful, for various reasons, notably statistically insufficient input data. But I do think these tools could be very useful for informing a consumer before they commit to a Narrow Network. 

It would be awesome if a tool could mine my family’s last 3 years’ worth of medical visits, and calculate the impact on distance to narrow network providers. E.g., “we estimate that if you had been in the narrow network, you would have had to travel the following distances to find the nearest network provider”…then list them out and total them up.

Location sharing

Almost as soon as I got a smartphone, equipped with Google Latitude opt-in location-sharing (long-since subsumed into Google+), I have believed that smartphone-based location-sharing will eventually have some significant effect on relationships. How could a person conduct an illicit affair, if their partner can track their location? Conversely, how could one explain refusing one's partner's location request?

In the ensuing 4 years, I have been surprised how slow adoption has been. As far as I can tell from my very young adult children, there is little to no location-sharing practiced. Not even that ad-hoc kind, enabled by Glympse. So maybe I am wrong, but I still believe this will slowly but surely come to pass.

There may be an intervening period of location-cheating apps, but then the discovery of one of those by your partner would be highly incriminating.

Candid Camera Scenario: Pressing the Button Repeatedly Actually Works!

You know how people press the elevator button repeatedly, as if they believe that will summon the machine faster? It would make a great Candid Camera scenario to rig an elevator actually respond. Of course, in classic Candid Camera fashion, there would have to be variations and wrinkles, to flesh out a full segment.

First, cue the frustrated would-be passenger (Passenger A)--the elevator never seems to arrive. New passenger walks up, presses button 5 times in succession. Elevator arrives in seconds--going in the opposite direction. So Passenger A tries the same thing--no results. Maybe tries again after 30 second pass. Meanwhile, another passenger (C) walks up as A is hammering the button. C wryly comments that "you know it doesn't make it work, to press the button more times". C presses button in opposite direction of A, elevator arrives in average time.

Rinse, repeat with small variations.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Is the Contribution of Gun Ownership to Police Shooting Unarmed Incidents?

I write this as the protests in Ferguson, MO continue. The proximate cause of the upheaval in Ferguson is that an unarmed, black teen was fatally shot (many times) by white police officers.

This is a huge story, with many layers and facets. This blog post is addressing only the phenomenon of unarmed civilian suspects being fatally--in hindsight, entirely unnecessarily--shot by police officers. My intent is not to excuse or even comment highly specifically on Ferguson, or any one incident. But there is a more general issue, well worth considering.

As much as anybody else, I deplore an unnecessary death. I also believe that being young, male and black unfairly raises one's chances of being the victim by an order of magnitude.

But other countries have racial prejudice within their police forces. There is something different in the U.S. That something is the significant possibility that the suspect may have a gun. It seems very obvious that this fact is going to push police to err on the side of shooting. In fact, police in the U.K. do not routinely carry firearms!!! And yes, it is true: In 2013, U.K. police in total fired fewer shots then one officer fired into Michael Brown.

Trigger-happy, indeed.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Removable Batteries Are A Must

I've said it before--removable batteries in mobile devices are a must. The very slight thinness and sleekness benefit provided by a sealed device is so not worth it.

The latest evidence in my personal life--Beth's Galaxy S3 has a bad port (not sure why). No problem, we have a couple of options. One is wireless charging. Just add a $15 Qi adapter--which I actually already did, just for convenience. It fits snugly with the existing, backplate.

Option 2--buy some extra batteries. Dirt cheap--OEM-quality batteries are $10 on Amazon. I got an external charger for all of $3--shipping included (it also has a USB port, nice bonus). So convenient.

If I were a handset manufacturer (are you listening, HTC?), I would suck up the extra $5 bill-of-material cost and bundle the battery charger and a spare battery with every phone, Then I would advertise "double the battery life".


One of the subtle reasons spare batteries are so useful is the safety blanket factor. They are so small, you don't even notice them in a purse, pocket, backpack or even bike saddlebag. So instead of lugging a heavy external charger, whenever you are concerned about running out of juice, you slip a spare battery in your pocket. 4 times out of 5, you may not even use it, but it is there that one time you need it.