Doctor, know thy plaintiff

How you feel about this news tidbit is a good indicator of where you fall on the lawyer vs. doctor spectrum. The NY Times has this rather menacingly-titled article: Hire a Lawyer, Forget About a Doctor? A bunch of doctors in Texas put together a website that records people who have sued their doctors for malpractice. They are careful to say this is not a blacklist, but they were obviously fed up with the number of suits going on. This is publicly available information, and accountability works both ways: if you deserve good medical care, don’t physicians deserve reasonable patients?

So what’s the name of the website? DoctorsKnowUs.com. And what do you see on this website? This:

DoctorsKnow.Us has permanently ceased operations as of 3/9/04. The controversy this site has ignited was unanticipated and has polarized opinions regarding the medical malpractice crisis. Our hope is that this controversy will spark a serious discussion that results in changes that are equitable to both patients and physicians.

Too bad. Doctors still need patients to stay in business, and the marketplace of patients seems to hate this idea enough to shut it down. But doctors don’t have to stay in business.

This idea is too good to die here. I predict other sites like it will pop up quickly.

Engineer, sightseer

Years ago, while hiking in the Hetch Hetchy valley near Yosemite in California, I came to rest briefly on the O’Shaughnessy Dam that corks the bowels of the valley. Reading the bronze plaque there displayed, I was amazed and impressed to discover that the dam was built by M.M. O’Shaughnessy. This giant structure wasn’t named for a politician… it was named for the engineer who built it. I thought this was remarkably honest and pleasant thing to do (too bad for old M.M. the dam is so unpopular).

You don’t hear about the engineers who make things so often as you do about the architects who design or the astronauts who fly the things they make. And you don’t often hear about engineering marvels worth visiting as such. So I was pleased to come across the Sightseer’s Guide to Engineering. They’ve got eyepoppers in every state. See the
Alaska Pipeline or the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel. I have to confess, I have no idea how they nominate their marvels. There are only five sights listed for all of California, and one of them is the Herman Goelitz Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield. I just hope that Herman Goelitz is the engineer who built the first jellybean.

Scenes from Chernobyl

I saw this on BoingBoing, and it’s been making the rounds, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you really owe it to yourself to give it a visit. A woman who lives in Belarus near Chernobyl likes to go zooming through the “dead zone” on her high-powered motorcycle. She likes it because, as she says, “one can ride there for hours and not meet any single car and not to see any single soul.” She was a girl when the reactor blew back in 1986, and her father, whom she quotes often, is a nuclear physicist. She sprinkles her remarkable photos with direct, informative, and often heartbreaking prose. The area around Chernobyl is, of course, devoid of all human activity save for a few officials with dosimeters. She has one picture of what looks like a digital clock in operation. Why would they maintain a working digital clock in that emptiness? But she points out the units are not hours and minutes, but micro-roentgens per hour. Here are some highlights.

Chernobyl actually has become something of a tourist destination. But not everyone was happy with their tour of the ghost town it has become.

They charged 210 us dollars for 2 hours excursion and town guard say, they all were leaving in some 15 mins, complaining that silense is tremendous as if one got deaf.

Next to a picture of a tall building, she had this to say.

This is highest building in town and in April 26-27, 1986 after reactor exploaded, people gathered on the roof of this building to watch a beautiful shining that rised above APP [atomic power plant]. They didn’t know this was shining of radiation. they learned it on next day when evacuation began.

If you want a look at a post-apocalyptic world, you don’t need to pick up a science fiction novel. This entire region has been poisoned, seriously poisoned for at least 900 years. It’s hard to believe. Riveting stuff.

Matt’s darn good idea

Speaking of RSS, Matt had this idea for an online service: RSS aggregation via email. You can do web-based aggregation with services like Feedster, but you still have to go to their site. But if you got your aggregated webfeeds by email, it really would be like the customized morning paper delivered fresh to your door. It would work like this: enter a list of your favorite website RSS feeds, and his (hypothetical) web service would mail you incremental changes to all those sites in one email at the interval you specify. As I mentioned before, this is pretty much what I do right now with Aggie, but Aggie builds a custom HTML page for me.

I threatened to out Matt’s idea on LazyWeb, but he swore me to secrecy. LazyWeb is the site where you put good ideas that you’re too lazy to act on in order to accelerate the natural process whereby every good idea you ever had eventually gets done by someone else. Finally somebody did build Matt’s Good Idea, even without the LazyWeb boost. It’s called TopFeeder. As C.G. Jung would say, Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit: Bidden or unbidden, Lazyweb abideth.

I notice, however, that the TopFeeder site appears to be defunct. So maybe Matt can build it after all.

Naaah.

RSS arrives

RSS isn’t a very sexy name, but its time has certainly come. What is RSS? It’s a quick summary of what’s most recently changed on a website. What makes it nice is that you can subscribe to feeds that you like and then get notified only when the site has changed and only with the new material and nothing else. I use Aggie to build me a web page every night culled from the New York Times and a variety of blogs and magazines. For me, this is the genuine and successful solution to the build-me-a-customized-newspaper problem that various companies have tried (and failed) to solve. This article from Yahoo News does a good job explaining the dang deal. And it looks like they might be on to a more consumer-friendly term than RSS: webfeed.

By the way, I have an RSS newsfeed for this very site (MovableType takes care of it for you automatically). Look for the little orange tag at the bottom of the right side of this page.

Where’s George?

After a recent purchase, my change included a battered dollar bill with a URL on it: http://www.wheresgeorge.com. Where’s George? is a web site dedicated to a money tracking experiment. Just like we attach radio transmitters to albatrosses and migrating antelope, we can attach a URL transmitter to a dollar bill and see where it travels, where it mates, where it gives birth, and so on. My bill was first reported in Woburn, Massachusetts at the beginning of the year, and it has since found its way to me in Watertown, Massachusetts. That’s not a long way, but then again, maybe my dollar is still learning to swim and is just about to set off on its first great road trip.

The most recorded observations on their site is thirteen. That doesn’t seem like a lot.