The cost of free money

It’s a purely American delusion that there exists such a thing as free money. (Allow me my sweeping generalizations, please.) More services and less taxation? Sure thing — that’s more in my paycheck, right! Rebates on my purchases? What a bargain! Suing my doctor for malpractice? Bonanza!

What’s never counted is the cost of free money. But this amazing essay shows starkly the cost of medical litigation — steadily worsening medical care. (Thanks to for the link.)

Some choice quotes:

our judicial system appears to have so easily dispensed with the basic elements of tort law: In order to have a claim, a defendant must have been negligent, and that negligence must have caused injury to a plaintiff … [but] only the degree of injury, not negligence, predicts how a jury will decide a malpractice case.

This is … unfathomable. How do these cases even survive in the court? There seems to be this impression of plaintiffs, and apparently perpetuated by the judiciary, that if something bad has happened, someone must be negligent. And we’ll damn well sue until we find them.

Another quote, from a juror of a successful plaintiff who sued after her husband hit an overhead wire with a metal pole:

“Oh, we didn’t think the electrical company did anything wrong, but this way the children will be taken care of.”

But is she truly willing to pay for their care, I wonder?

Beware links in sheep’s clothing

Public service announcement follows:

A new exploit in Internet Explorer has been identified, where it’s possible for a URL to appear to go to one site, but in fact directs you to another. The chicanery is very difficult to detect.

For example, this link to actually sends you to Barnes and Noble, instead. It’s easy to be fooled by this, because the status bar (when you hover over the link) and address bar (after you follow the link) still read “”.

Of course, it’s obvious in this case you’re not actually seeing The danger here is that a link in an HTML email may appear to send you a valid site, but which is in fact a clever near-identical spoof designed to capture sensitive information (credit card numbers, for example). Spoofs like this (e.g. redirecting to convincing-looking but fake Paypal sites) have existed for a while, but they’ve been relatively easy to detect by looking at the address bar. With this exploit it’s hard to tell you’ve been duped.

Microsoft doesn’t appear to be taking this very seriously. I do, though.

Be careful out there, kids, especially when clicking on links within emails from people you don’t know.

Revisionist History on the Web, again

First, Time magazine surreptitiously pulls an article from their website where Bush Sr describes why invading Iraq was a bad idea. Then, Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary pulls the newly-published definition of McJobs following complaints from McDonalds.

This is worrying, and not just for the obvious political reasons. There’s no doubt the Internet has revolutionized the way we as a society disseminate and ingest information, and is an improvement on the days of journals and libraries. But at least in the print media there is an automatic audit trail when documents are edit after the fact of being published. You can see an article clipped from a newspaper, or the black ink of redaction in a classified document. But on the Web, documents can disappear, and the seams mended without a trace. In the Time case, even the reference to the Bush Sr article in the table of contents was deleted! Unless somebody notices, documents deleted from the web are simply gone from the collective consciousness. (Do you really think researchers and historians will be using anything other than electronic media in the next decade or so?) It’s chilling to think that history is changing before our eyes to an extent we probably don’t even know.

Do not shop at Fry’s Electronics

Fry’s Electronics: Where the Customer is Always a Criminal

I am never shopping at Fry’s Electronics again. Their customer service appears to be modelled on the antithesis of customer care: for them, the customer is always wrong and, if you’re trying to return electronic media, you’re probably a criminal as well.
Continue reading “Do not shop at Fry’s Electronics”

Nonfamous in the NYT

After writing this article about Amazon’s new “Search Inside the Book” feature I was contacted by a New York Times reporter on Friday last week who interviewed me about my experiences using Amazon and how the new search feature affected me. Then, on Monday, the New York Times called back and said they wanted to do a photo of me for the article. How could I say no? Sure enough, a very nice photographer visited casa nonfamous that evening and proceeded to take some cheesy shots: me leaning back on a chair in the office with my feet on a stack of books while gazing casually into the camera (as you do); me in the sitting room with a cocktail in my hand and a laptop on my lap casually searching Amazon; that kind of thing. She took two rolls of film, and luckily the final result is only somewhat cheesy rather than exceedingly cheesy. I’d love to see the other shots she took. She’s a wedding photographer too, she says, so we might take a look at her portfolio — there might be some business for her in May.

And so, the article appeared in the New York Times today. Well, it’s on the website today, and it appears in the Circuit section tomorrow (Thursday). Guess I’ll pick up a copy or two, eh? 🙂 got a brief mention in the article, so I if you’re a first-time visitor as a result of the article, welcome! Leave us a brief comment if so, we’d love to know how many people had their curiosity piqued by our little site.

Just for self-defence

A gun is a great defensive weapon … until it’s wrested from your hands by an attacker and turned back on you. The NRA would do well to heed this lesson. A 19-page blacklist found on the NRA’s website listing organizations, politicians and celebrities opposed to guns has been turned against the NRA by anti-gun activists. It’s a perfect description of the broad spectrum of poeple opposed to the out-of-control gun laws in the USA. Some celebrities were so miffed that they weren’t included that they even petitioned the NRA to be added!

Heh, heh.

The sky is falling!

Well, not really, but at 11AM this morning one of the largest eruptions of the Sun in over a decade sent billions of tons of high-energy gas and subatomic particles towards the earth. It could cause some disruption in radio communications and such, but on the bright side there’s a good chance of some beautiful aurorae tonight. Step outside around midnight at take a look — hope it’s clear! has the details.

I’ve only seen the Northern Lights once before, about three years ago, from the rooftop of my old Capitol Hill apartment here in Seattle. The sky flashed an amazing irridescent green for about half an hour. An amazing sight I’m hoping to see again.

Search inside the book has just introduced an incredible new feature. Now when searching for books, it doesn’t just look for keywords in the title and author — it looks in the actual content of the book! Pretty amazing stuff.

I actually found this really useful today. Years ago, I read a book by (at the time) a new Australian author. It was a bit of a pulp thriller, but I really enjoyed it, and I’ve been meaning to see what the author has written since then. Problem was, I couldn’t remember the title of the book or the author. I tried a couple of Google searches as I recall but could never work out what the book was. But today I searched for “antarctica seal marines invisibility” (yes, the book did touch on all these plot points!) and found Ice Station as the sixth search result. Brilliant!

It looks as thought they’ve done a wholesale scanning of a large collection of books, and then used OCR to create the search corpus. I noticed a couple of transcription errors, but on the whole it seems to work pretty well. Try it out!