Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Early TI Calculators

Today, I was frantically searching my closet for something I bought 2 years ago and "put away" in a safe place. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find my old TI calculators. I remember when they came out because I was competing in University Interscholastic League's slide rule competition that year. We have come a long way.

Here is my first calculator, the Texas Instrument SR 10:
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Info on the TI SR 10 from vintagecalculators.com

Here are the SR 51A and the SR 51II:
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Now, I need to find that slide rule . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

2010 Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks August 11-13

Don't miss the peak of this year's Perseid Meteor Shower! You can find lots of information on this year's shower plus viewing tips at http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/earthskys-meteor-shower-guide .

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I, uh, could use your, uh, opinion on something

I, uh, just got through listening to, uh, Mr. Obama's official, uh, welcome for Benjamin Netanyahu who is, uh, visiting from, uh, Israel.

Putting aside my, uh, political differences with our, uh, president, I am still bothered by, uh, something. I can't, uh, quite put my, uh, finger on what bothers me when I, uh, hear Mr. Obama speak "off the, uh, cuff" in, uh, public. I do not get the same feeling when he is reading a speech via teleprompter.

I'm hoping that, uh, you can help me figure out, uh, just what is so annoying to me, uh, about the way that Mr., uh, Obama ad libs in, uh, public. Can, uh, anyone help me out? Uh, thanks.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome White Oak Technology Conference Attendees!

Welcome to my blog. I hope you are learning a lot. I've posted my Prezi here so you can review it at your leisure.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Google Reader Presentation

I'm putting the finishing touches on my presentation for the TCEA area Technology Conference held at White Oak ISD on Friday, June 11th. Since my topic deals with how to set up RSS feeds, I thought it'd be a good idea to update my blog and have the attendees subscribe to my blog for practice. I'll post my Prezi presentation on Friday morning. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Latest Prezi Creation

I'm really getting excited about using Prezi. Here is my most recent masterpiece.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

2nd Annual Discovery Education Network Geocaching Day is May 22nd

Why don't you make plans to experience geocaching by participating in the Discovery Education Network (DEN)'s second annual Geocaching Day on May 22nd. Go here to find a group near you.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Tribute to Sally Pierce

Just got home from the funeral for my friend and colleague from school, Sally Pierce. Found out she was only 54 years old (a little scary since I'm 52). Still no details on cause of death, and I'm trying to avoid the rumor mill until more concrete information comes out.

Several people spoke including 3 teachers and Sally's brother. Very moving and upbeat messages, but I couldn't help but think about all the "friendships" we have at our schools, but how little we really know about each other unless we really take the time to develop those relationships. I think one of the things that I will take away from this experience is that I have to make time to get beyond the casual, day-to-day aspects of being friendly and really focus on being a friend.

Growing up in SmallTown Texas USA in a family where both parents were institutions in our school system, I saw first-hand how deep and lasting friendships can be among teachers. I think we've lost that to a large extent in our test-driven, cut-the-budget-to-the-bone modern version of the community school.

To honor Sally, I will strive to take that extra moment or two when a colleague or student asks a question, requests a favor, or need a helping hand and really try to get to know them. My standard, feeble rationalization is that I'm too busy or too tired. I have to change that. For Sally, and for myself.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Comic-tary on the Health Reform Bill

Sorry I don't have a source on this. Came in an email to me.

Let me get this straight...

We're trying to pass a health care plan written by a committee

whose chairman says he doesn't understand it...

passed by a Congress that hasn't read it, but exempts themselves from it...

to be signed by a president that also is exempt from it, hasn't read it, and who smokes...

with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes...

all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese...

and financed by a country that's broke...

What the hell could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What Health Care Reform Means to a Practicing Physician

The following paper was written by an Atlanta-area Urologist regarding the pending Health Care Reform issue. The author goes to great lengths to remove the politics from the issue, and I believe he makes a number of great points and reveals facts about cost and quality of care that are not showing up in the public discussions of this very important issue. I believe it is worth your time to read the following:

We are all aware that the health care reform legislation is nearing its conclusion. Before that endpoint is reached, I wanted to write an informative piece from the perspective of a physician who loves the practice of medicine and who can say, like most doctors, that I try to do what is best for my patients. It is in that mindset, and as one who also wants to see our nation reach the goal of providing readily accessible high quality medicine for all, that I am writing this. Not only do I love what I do, but I love my wife and my two girls and I want to be sure we do not leave the albatross of a failing and expensive healthcare system to them.

I am struggling to make this interesting, to find an enticing story or analogy that creates a level of excitement. I, unfortunately, cannot. But then, this is so important. We make such an effort every day to do what is right, to raise our kids, to provide for and protect our families the best that we possibly can. Yet we are willing to accept major changes in our ability to obtain health care, and we accept it without taking enough time to see whether the changes are beneficial or hurtful. Health is so precious and fleeting. Once gone, it cannot be restored. I see that every day. Reading this will be boring; it will be work. But it should not take more than 20 minutes. So please take a breath and push through some of the doldrums of numbers and data. BECAUSE OUR HEALTH CARE IS WORTH IT.

I have no hidden agenda. I do not see a Democrat prostate cancer, a Libertarian kidney cancer, a Republican bladder cancer. I treat people, and I choose treatment based on evidence and data that directs me to the best cure. This has nothing to do with our President and I am making no statement in this writing other than expressing an educated commentary about the health care legislation.

Health care reform should be implemented in ways that make sense, ways that have been shown to effectively rein in costs while maintaining quality of care. I am not going to delve into any of the political theater or discussions regarding abortion or kickbacks or death panels. This is to be a pragmatic discussion of the effects of this health care reform bill based on historical models along with current information specifically pertaining to this bill.

I am going to discuss information regarding the Senate bill, as it is the piece of legislation that will become law if the House votes it through. I will relay information that is within the CBO reports and the Chief Actuary of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Estimated Financial Effect of the Senate bill. These are readily found online. And remember the goal as stated in the opening quote in the legislation: “The purpose of this is to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending.”

According to the latest CBO report from 3/11/2010, the cost of the bill has been estimated at $875 billion for years 2009-2019 with a few other additions that bring the total to around $1 trillion. This expenditure is above and beyond the normal cost for delivering health care, currently running about $2.5 trillion a year. Despite this additional cost, the CBO estimates that the bill will “yield a net reduction in federal deficits of $118 billion over the 2010-2019 period.” Sounds great. Even better, the bill is estimated to bring health insurance to an additional 31-33 million people. And best yet, if you make less than 4x the poverty level ($88,000 for a family of four), then you will get money from the government to help offset the cost of insurance if purchased through the exchanges (outside of employer-supported plans). The health insurance industry would have to accept all applicants (guaranteed issue) and could not vary premiums based on health differences between applicants (modified community rating).

So we have a $1 trillion plan that covers more people, assists families with the cost of insurance, gets rid of those detestable insurance practices, and does all this while decreasing the federal deficit. Maybe that sounds too good to be true, but let’s see what conclusion a broader understanding brings.

We have been repeatedly told that health care costs are unsustainable, and they are. Our businesses, families and government cannot sustain this level of spending. Our country will go bankrupt. We need to find a way to spend less money on health care. And remember the stated purpose: “to reduce the growth in health care spending.” The CBO only comments on the effect of the bill on the federal budget—“the agency has not assessed the net effect of the current legislation on NHE” (national health care expenditures, the cost our country pays for health care).

Fortunately, the Chief Actuary for CMS has described this impact. The report from 12/10/2009 states that “total national healthcare expenditures under this bill would increase by an estimated total of $234 billion” more than if we just kept our current system. Read that again. This plan makes an unsustainable path more unsustainable. It actually raises the cost curve. If we are worried about bankrupting our country, then why are we looking to a plan where the costs actually go up? And this is in direct contradiction to the stated purpose of the bill. This means that our government will eventually be unable to pay for Medicare for seniors, that funds will not be available to help decrease the costs of health insurance premiums for poor families, that those children needing government assistance may not have any. This means that we will once again be putting off truly fixing a problem to future generations, at which time the fix will be even more difficult and the damage perhaps irreparable. This is a major sticking point for me. Costs go up, and everyone agrees that the costs are too high now.

How does the CBO say that the plan decreases our federal deficit (not overall health care cost)? Does the plan have efficiency-driven savings? Well, according to CMS, this plan will bring about “a relatively small reduction in non-Medicare federal health care expenditures of $2.3 billion.” So the plan does not make health care delivery more efficient. If we are to see deficit reduction in the face of rising costs, then that can only occur through cuts and taxation.
First for the cuts: Medicare gets cut to the tune of $493+ billion. I will not delve too deeply into the cuts, but they will be based mostly around decreasing reimbursement to hospitals, physicians and other aspects of health care for our seniors. The cuts in Medicare will hold off the expected bankruptcy of that program by all of 9 years, moving the expected date of exhaustion of the trust fund from 2017 to 2026. Shouldn’t a $1 trillion plan do better than just keep Medicare from bankruptcy for an additional 9 years? What happens to those 65 and older when Medicare runs out of money? And what will be the effect of the cuts upon our seniors?

CMS states that “providers for whom Medicare constitutes a substantive portion of their business could find it difficult to remain profitable and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries).” Even worse, “simulations by the Office of the Actuary suggest that roughly 20% of Part A (hospital) providers would become unprofitable within the 10-year projection period.” Currently, only 72% of physicians currently take new Medicare patients. When hospitals go out of business and fewer doctors accept Medicare, access for seniors will worsen.

But Medicare cuts do not even begin to cover the entire cost of this plan. So now come the taxes. Individual and business mandate penalties are expected to raise $64 billion for the government. The payroll tax for Medicare will go up. High-cost employer-sponsored health plans (a.k.a Cadillac plans often part of union contracts or for those workers at high risk jobs like policemen or firemen) will be taxed. Medical device manufactures like those that make pacemakers will be taxed. Pharmaceuticals will be taxed. Insurance companies will be taxed.
Investment income will be taxes. The taxes will either stifle innovation or according to the Chief Actuary, be “passed through to health consumers in the form of higher drug and device prices or higher insurance premiums.” The revenue to the federal government, i.e. taxes, will total $486 billion. The folly of taxing people and businesses in the midst of a recession is fairly self evident. I don’t know many who would say that increasing taxation increases the availability of jobs and drives economic recovery.

The expansion in health insurance to 33 million people sounds good, at least until we look just a little below the surface. A majority (15-18 million) will come from the expansion of Medicaid. Currently, just over 50% of physicians take Medicaid. Once again, the Chief Actuary of CMS states that “providers might tend to accept more patients who have private insurance and fewer Medicare and Medicaid patients, exacerbating existing access problems for the latter group…(an) outcome (that) should be considered plausible and even probable.”

The problems regarding Medicaid expansion extend further. According to the CBO, state spending on Medicaid would increase $25 billion. In Georgia, we are furloughing teachers, decreasing the numbers of firemen and policemen, and limiting our legal system because of budget shortfalls. The states cannot tolerate any increased costs passed along by the federal government. In expanding the Medicaid program, we are giving people health insurance that does not equate with access to health care, and we are doing it at the expense of our seniors and our economic well-being.

To now recap with a bit more detail: we have a $1 trillion dollar plan that expands healthcare to 31-33 million people. It raises the costs of what is already considered an unsustainable cost problem by $234 billion more than if we kept the current system. It cuts access to health care for our seniors and raises over $486 billion in taxes. A majority of those that receive insurance receive a substandard product (Medicaid) that few physicians will take. Our states will have to find more cuts or raise taxes. Medicare goes bankrupt in 2026. And in this environment, less people will be inclined to pursue a medical career, further worsening a physician shortage already expected to leave us short of 200,000 doctors by 2025. Our economic recovery and the availability of jobs are negatively impacted.

The plan does not sound as palatable as before. But before I reject this treatment plan, I will look back at history to see if perhaps I am reading this incorrectly.

On to Massachusetts, where in 2006 the state passed a sweeping overhaul of its health care system. The system, which influenced the current health care legislation, has faced unexpected and unchecked growth in costs, both to the government and individuals. The state’s health care expenditures have increased 42% compared to an 18.3% increase in the rest of the US where this plan was not enacted. According to an analysis by the Rand Corporation, “in the absence of policy change, health care spending in Massachusetts is projected to nearly double to $123 billion in 2020, increasing 8 percent faster than the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).” Without significant policy changes, the program’s long-term viability is in doubt.

And this is occurring despite dropping coverage for 30,000 legal immigrants, increasing the cigarette tax $1 a pack, initiating $89 million in new fees on the health care industry and receiving $1.5 billion from the US government. Meanwhile, the cost of insurance premiums in the state is the highest in the nation, and the cost per person for health care is 15% higher than the rest of the US (that includes downward adjustment for cost of living differences). Double-digit rate hikes are expected again in 2010. And access to care is an issue: the average wait times to see a physician in Boston is 50 days (compared to 11 here in Atlanta).

As a result of the worry that health care spending will overwhelm the state’s budget, Governor Patrick Deval in 2/2010 opened the possibility of capping the fees that physicians, hospitals, medical imaging centers and other health care services can charge as a way to constrain the rapidly rising costs. But this comes at a price. Physicians will flee the state, further exacerbating the access problem. Quality will be negatively affected as well. In the 1970s and 80s, 30 states instituted a similar policy of capping fees that hospitals could charge. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1988 looked at the mortality levels in those states and compared them to mortality levels in other states without the capped fees. The study concluded that those states with the capped fees had a 5-6% higher death rate than those hospitals without the caps. So the outcome from the Massachusetts model is increased health insurance coverage. But access has decreased. Costs have dramatically increased. And soon, quality will decrease as the death rate rises. I do not see that as a desirable model to expand to all American citizens.

Massachusetts is not the only available model to review. In 1994, Tennessee launched TennCare. The program successfully cut the state’s uninsured rate to about 6 percent. But in 2005, the state was forced to scale back significantly, slashing 170,000 people from the rolls after the program’s rapidly increasing costs threatened to send the state into bankruptcy. In 2003, Maine expanded its Medicaid program to cover 22% of the population while also creating a "public option" known as DirigoChoice to compete with private plans. The system that was supposed to save money has cost taxpayers $155 million and rising. The premiums for DirigoChoice have increased 74%, and few low-income Mainers have been able to afford the premiums, even at subsidized rates. The state legislature proposed an infusion of funds through a beer, wine and soda tax, but that was rejected by Maine voters 2:1. Last year the legislature passed a 2% tax on paid health insurance claims contrary to public wishes. Since 1988, many other states—Oregon, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington—have enacted reforms aimed at achieving universal coverage. All offered new government subsidies and/or expanded Medicaid: ALL FAILED. To quote a pair of physicians from Harvard (who are actually in favor of socialized medicine) “There is little reason to think that the current Massachusetts reform, or a national plan modeled on these state reforms, would have any better long-term success.” I could not agree more with their assessment.

I could go on, but I hope my point has been made. We do need to reform our health care delivery system. But we need to choose the right reform. We cannot be led by political ideology and ignore evidence. Medicine is not political. We practice evidence-based medicine to treat disease. It is a concept that we should apply to curing the ills within health care.

While it is beyond this, please let me assure you that good options to truly correct the underlying flaws do exist. In Indiana, the state developed a high deductible health plan with health savings accounts for its public workers, and the state has saved 11% of its healthcare costs as a result. The retention rate of workers in that plan is 97%. In 2005, Safeway Inc began a Healthy Measures program that incentivizes healthy lifestyles through the financial reward of premium discounts. They found that aligning financial incentives to healthy living has decreased their health care costs by 40% while decreasing workplace absenteeism by 11%. Please read about Whole Foods, another example of real-life cost savings that are possible with well designed reforms. No system will likely ever be perfect, but we cannot choose one that increases costs, decrease access and worsens quality. We can and should do better. More effective options and ideas do exist.

Thanks for reading this. Please pass it along. It is in no way political. This is about health care. And please, fight against this bill-call your Congressman again and again.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Geography Texas Style

I got one of these tee shirts for our foreign exchange student from Paraguay. Imagine my surprise when I got one for myself on Christmas!

Geography Texas style on Twitpic

I'm almost 52 and my mom is still buying me clothes! (that's a good thing, btw, and I love her for it)

Fun at Nestle Crunch Hotline

Those zany Nestle people! Have some fun and check this out.

  1. Call the Nestle Crunch Hotline at 800-295-0051.
  2. When asked to press keys for English or Spanish, simply wait for a few seconds without pressing anything.
  3. Listen to the additional options and press 4.
  4. Listen to this menu of options and press any of the menu options (press * to return one level in the menu). Menu option 7 is especially important.

Click here to go to the Nestle Crunch Website.

Thanks to Katie Warren on facebook for this.

UPDATE: I've been trying to call this number recently and it's always busy.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I'm trying to start a Freebird's Movement

I recently patronized the new Freebird's in Pearland Town Center and received one of their awesome stickers.  Since their motto is "It's not normal," I promptly tried to find a nontraditional place to put the sticker. Here is the end result of my thinking:

guess where i put my freebird's bumper sticker? help me start... on Twitpic

Help me turn this modest attempt at nonconformity into an epidemic.