High Medical Costs, Poor Medical Care

Cost and Conundrum in New Yorker is hopefully pointing out to everyone factors that need addressing if we really want to fix the health care system in the US. The author also addresses followup questions .

The focus right is now is the large number of uninsured. But the problem is much deeper - the whole system is a mess.

A system is healthy if there are counter-balancing forces that prevent any tilt towards excess. As the article above points out, we have lost that. Doctors have a financial stake in pharmaceuticals, in medical labs, in hospitals, and their income is tied to the number of high-cost procedures performed. So naturally, these will tend to go up and up, which should not be a mystery at all.

Nowadays with the economic slump the GDP number and its percent decrease is getting a lot of attention. The perverse thing about this is that if a primary care doctor helps patients so that they don't need high cost operations later on, the GDP goes down. While ignoring preventive care, and focusing on expensive care for patients results in a higher GDP. And when the country is worrying about decreasing GDP numbers, one has to wonder whether that in itself indicates bigger problems and no hope for ever fixing this issue.

Another article claims that ... discouraging demand for such coverage ... is the answer. Those ideas are quite common on the conservative political wing, and they are completely unrealistic, regurgitating the same old ideas of applying free-market economics to medicine. It proves that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Rue Jeanne-Mance Construction

Rue Jeanne-Mance Construction

"... A first step toward completing the Quartier des spectacles, Place du Quartier des spectacles is a public space that covers an area of 7,500 square metres dedicated to festivals. It is bounded by Rue Jeanne-Mance to the east, Rue Balmoral to the west, Rue Sainte-Catherine to the south and Boulevard de Maisonneuve to the north."

This picture is of Rue Jeanne-Mance in May 2009, in the midst of all the construction. This is great - the city is spending $120 million over four years to make it even better for tourists who visit Montreal during the festivals - Jazz Fest being the biggest, and in some years, they even have things going on in the dreaded cold of Winter around New Year!

Import Prices Script for Quicken

Quicken is a package that works pretty well, but the manufacturer has a tendency to periodically block functionality.

For example, Quicken 2006 has been unable to download updated stock prices since April 2009. Quicken 2006 itself installs on even the latest Windows 10 (2016) just fine. [As an aside, it is just amazing that Windows 10 has kept compatibility alive for old software - Quicken 2006, as well as the SendKeys method used by the script below! Kudos to Microsoft!]

There is certainly no technical decision to disable automatic stock price updates - it is just a marketing push, so make people upgrade even if they do not desire to move to a new version.

Quicken does have a manual "Import Prices" command seen when viewing the Portfolio. Therefore, it is not too hard to write a script that will download current prices, and import them into Quicken.

It is a .WSF file, a Windows Shell Scripting program. It has been tested to work on Windows XP, Windows Vista as well as Windows 10 (2016), and is available in source code form.

The script looks up historical and current prices for a list of symbols, and stores the prices in the format Quicken needs. Optionally, it can automate the import of the prices in Quicken by using Windows automation SendKeys method.

Archive with script and readme: QImportP-0.6.0.zip [2015-04-09]
Previous release: QImportP-0.5.0.zip [2009]

And here are links to look at the key files: QImportP.wsf, the README, and the ChangeLog file.

Prices are looked up using the Yahoo Finance web site. Quicken manual import prices only accepts date and price for a symbol, it cannot import volume and other data.

Chez Schwartz's à côté

Chez Schwartz's à côté

2008 saw the opening of a new take-out counter.
(à côté de == next to)

While it is for takeout only, they do have a small seating area which is first come first served.
This place is only open during summer rush hours, it seems.

OPUS card and À la carte tickets

OPUS card and À la carte tickets

New tickets as of 2008.

It costs CAD$7 to buy the OPUS Card. It is a micro-chip based card, and it is necessary if you wish to buy weekly or monthly passes. OPUS can store multiple single tickets on it also.
The à la carte tickets are paper-based with a magnetic strip. These have no additional cost other than amount of fare.

There are some minor disadvantages with the OPUS card for tourists:
1) Unlike other cities (Boston for example), Montreal is charging a fee to buy the OPUS card.
2) The OPUS card has an expiry date - which is four years. This means that every four years a new card has to be obtained. If your old card has not expired for less than 6 months, you can get a replacement for free at the Berri-UQAM office.
3) Unlike many other cities' cards, the OPUS card does not store cash, so it cannot be used for multiple passengers.

For tourists visiting for multiple weeks, there is no choice but to get a OPUS card since the weekly pass (Mon-Sun validity) will not be available in paper-ticket form. Monthly pass is also only available on OPUS.
For tourists who need only 1 or 3 days passes, or only evening/weekend tickets, there is no need to get OPUS card and you can just buy paper tickets.

One problem for US tourists is that credit cards will not work in the automated machines. While the STM web site claims credit cards are allowed, a bunch of cards I tried were all denied. It was later confirmed in a newspaper report that STM has disabled use of non-Canadian credit cards.

On the bus, only coins are accepted, and only single tickets can be bought.

One very good about about STM fares is that they have many weeknight and weekend options, which are all incredible deals for tourists. These don't require a OPUS card, and can be purchased as paper tickets at the same price.

Drupal is a lot of trouble

This site uses Drupal. Drupal has turned into a nightmare. It was fine when there was a single 4.x version out there, but soon after 4.x, there was 5.x. Then 6.x. Upgrading from a older version is near impossible.

There always was the assumption that some amount of coding would be required by anyone running a Drupal site. But be prepared - you will be hacking modules left-and-right to get any thing running. At this time, one has to question whether the amount of hacking required to get things to run are worth it. Maybe all CMSes have this problem, but certainly Drupal is really a poster-child for impossible-to-ever-upgrade software.

The problem occurs because Drupal changes the API every release, adds new incompatible features, and modules and themes become unusable. And since modules and themes are merely someone's weekend project, it can be months or years before a module becomes compatible with the newer Drupal version.
Core drupal does not have image handling capabilities or spam fighting capability so even a basic site will need to use external modules. Add things like forums, automatic aliases, FAQs, it becomes a large collection of non-core modules.

The advantage of Drupal is that it is extensively customizable, and has a wide range of modules. This is exactly the same thing that makes a Drupal site near-impossible to upgrade. Once a site is up and starts to depend on a bunch of modules, rest assured that when a new Drupal version comes out quite a few required modules will not make it to that new version!

Drupal core does get upgraded without problems. But Drupal itself has become super-bloated. Web hosts that worked fine with Drupal 4.7 will not support Drupal 6.x because of heavily increased memory and CPU requirements.

Restaurants & Food Markets - Montréal

List of all my favorite restaurants and food markets in Montreal. Some of these are described in more detail in the links. Photos are available in the Montreal Photo Gallery.

A map showing locations of all these restaurants is in the Montreal Restaurants Map posting.

Schwartz's Jewish Deli
Street View Schwartz's Deli 3895 St-Laurent Blvd, 514-842-4813.
Food: 4 stars/4 Value: 4 stars/4
Excellent smoked meat sandwiches -- spicy, tender, succulent meat that falls apart easily with the touch of a fork... accompanied with a black cherry soda or hot tea, it is truly an unique experience. Take a seat at the bar-stool at the deli counter, and enjoy the food amidst the hustle and bustle. More on Schwartz's
Le Petit Alep
Street View 191 Jean-Talon East, 514-270-9361.
Food: 4 stars/4 Value: 3 stars/4
Syrian/Armenian food. Great food and excellent ambiance - the best dish is Ciche Kebab Terbialy which is filet-mignon with a special spicy sauce. Open Tuesday through Saturday. Can get crowded during lunch. Their weekday lunch specials are also excellent. Wine and Coffee available. More on Le Petit Alep
Marché Jean-Talon
7070 Henri-Julien St., south of Jean-Talon St., near the metro stop for Jean-Talon.
Food: 4 stars/4 Value: 4 stars/4
Marché Jean-Talon - Inside Jean-Talon Market bustles with activity in summer certainly and winter too. It is truly a fantastic market - all fresh vegetables, fruits you need, as well as bakeries, food stalls (bison sausage anyone), maybe the best calamari you can have (at Aqua Mare). And cheese too - inside the market, as well as at La Fromagerie Hamel close by at 202 Jean-Talon St. East. On your first day at Montreal, get down here, get yourself a supply of fruits, continue to replenish every few days. And then to eat you have crepes, fish, pastries, cheeses, and so on. Just outside the market is Marché des saveurs du Québec selling local products, at 280 Place du marché du nord, on a side street.

Choripan - Street Food

The most memorable experiences in my travels are invariably the local street food vendors. In Buenos Aires, there are two places that are great for this - Costanera Norte, and Costanera Sur.

In picking a street vendor in Buenos Aires, the key thing to look for is the range of condiments available! This is such a great advantage over restaurant eating where you get only one or two choices, out in the street they lay out all the options for you to see, and pick out. There can be multiple variations on the chimichurri sauce, the standard red one, one with ají picante (excellent, and quite spicy), one a la provenzal (green parsley and garlic, maybe spicy or not). There will be mustard, mayo, ketchup and salsa criolla (onions, tomatoes). Never in a restaurant will you get all this, even in street vendors, not all street vendors serve all of these options, but it is worth walking around to find one with the range you need.

As for meat, it is of course parilla style, grilled meat. Bondiola (pork), hamburger, and the best of all - choripan is available. The paty bread for hamburger was never very good, texture and quality is poor. The choripan or bondiola uses pan for the sandwich, somewhat similar to large french bread loaf and much better tasting, though can make for messy eating since it is a bit tough. Add the other oily condiments, and maybe the cheese which also is invariably oily in Buenos Aires, and this is really messy eating, but it is all worth it. The taste, the experience, is something that will be cherished for a long time.

Costanera Norte

Spam Email Counts

Is email on the way out? That is probably not yet an easy question, but the amount of spam seems to be holding steady, with periodic bursts of spam email storms.

Here are some graphs of spam at one of my mailboxes. This is for a very public email address. The spam detection is using spamassassin which runs under procmail with a customized whitelist and blacklist. Over the few years I've used this, there have been only 1-2 false positives for spam (of course, detection of false positives is not easy since this requires digging through 100s of spam messages, but I have no reason to believe that false positives are more prevalent). There have been quite a few false negatives - messages that are spam, but missed by spamassassin. These are usually around 1%-10% of the total detected spam messages, which is low enough that the graphs below are still useful to show the trend of spam message counts.

2010 Spam Counts 2010 Spam Counts
The Spam Counts images are updated periodically, usually every day, to include data of the previous complete 24-hour period.
[This image is no longer updated - the last counts will be for 2010-September. I no longer pull all email, there are only 1-3 non-spam emails and 80-100 spam messages per day. Will move all email use to one of the publicly available web sites, and have started using text chat more, and possibly move to voice chat in future too. Email is no longer very useful for home use.]

DD-WRT for Linksys wrt54g v8

dd-wrt is third-party firmware that can be loaded on many routers and it makes available many additional features such as advanced routing as well as a keep alive mechanism. It is maintained by BrainSlayer.

In the few days of using it, some advantages of dd-wrt are evident. It has been far easier to configure on my network of Linux and Windows computers, which use both static and DHCP IP addressing. The bundled Linksys software on the new WRT54G V8 device had long DNS lookup times on the Linux computers (probably needed to use the remote DNS resolvers instead of pointing to the Linksys box), for all lookups, at all times. But instead of re-configuring the Linux boxes, in the same amount of time, it was quite easy to install dd-wrt micro-edition using these instructions: How to Flash Linksys wrt54g