Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Real Enemy: Car Talk

As much as a hassle as it would be, I am considering moving to Broolyn just so that Anthony Weiner can be my member of Congress.

Although on second thought, I don't really like "Car Talk". Its just filler before "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". Maybe he's wrong.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Badvertising: Jello Frowns on Good Grammar

I purchased some tasty Jello Pudding cups the other day, and while eating one I noticed this on the lid.  If you can't read it clearly, it has a happy face (the "O") imparting the happy lesson that "Frown is a Four Letter Word".

I get the intent, and its a very happy message, but I have to think this has big time backfire potential.  Setting aside the obvious problem (that any of these "four letter word" proverbs needs an actual four letter word in order to work!) I can imagine the discussion:

Curious Kid : "Four letter word?  But... Frown has 5 letters?  Hey Mom, why does this say its a four letter word?"

Shocked Mom: " Um... must be a mistake."

CK: "What does it mean 'four letter word'? Why would that matter how many letters it has?"

SM: (in mind: "F%!K you, pudding people!")

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do they have basic programming on the Wonderlic?

Note to your new combine results website is awful.  A basic case of putting style over substance.  Check it out for yourself, and you'll quickly know what the problem is. 

In years past the results for each event and position were listed simply and cleanly.  Apparently that format was a little too good at fulfilling its basic purpose of transmitting numerical information in a convenient format.  This year, we get a much bulkier interface which will only list 5-6 players at a time.  Instead of neat tables which transmit a few dozen scores per screen, we get over sized, unnecessary bar graphs comparing scores.  And the bars aren't even proportional or helpful.  Quick tip: graphics are most helpful when they make complex information easy to read and compare.  In this case, I know that 15<25<35.  No bulky bar graphs are needed.

What's worse than this is the interface for sorting through drills and positions.  There is a button for each drill, and as you might imagine you click the button to see the results.  There are also buttons for each position grouping.  However, when you click on a group button is blocks out that group, leaving all the other un-clicked groups for comparison.   So on the same console we have one system where pushing a button brings up data and another where pushing a button in the same way hides data.  Finally, instead of simply sorting as the buttons are clicked, the user must click an "update" button to see the desired groupings (after figuring out the backassward button system).  This is a pointless step.  We aren't comparing mutual funds here, it should be able to update after being clicked. 

For example, in order to see the bench press results for offensive lineman only, you click the bench press button, then you must click every other position group in order to hide them.  After that, you must scroll up and down, making it harder to see and compare the whole group.  So instead of pushing 2 buttons and seeing one chart, you press 10 buttons and get to see only a fraction of the group. Whoever approved this system ought to be reprimanded.  

Fix your system,  In the future, when in doubt, keep things simple. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Showing our work

We are a full service blog, and as such we strive to please our audience.  Someone asked for elaboration on my last post, which dealt with a Kaiser poll of perceptions about the health care law which was passed last year.  I took to task several supposed explanations from people who said the law had already negatively effected them, but didn't pay any attention to the claims of those who say that the law has had a positive effect on their lives.   So now I'll go through those explanations provided and examine which explanations can be tied to the implementation of the law and which might simply be wishful or partisan in nature.

1) “I’m not worried about being bumped off [down] the road because of some major illness…And as I get older toward qualifying for Medicare, I am more comfortable because the prescription drugs will be less.”

In this case, its possible that these are anticipated benefits, not actual benefits from the implementation of the law.  Several of the protections about pre-existing conditions and high risk pools have been rolled out, but not all.  Certainly the part of about anticipated Medicare costs don't yet apply, given that this person is apparently not yet on Medicare.  However, as of September 2010 the law prohibits insurers from dropping people when they get sick (a common practice before the law), so in a sense this is at least partially correct: the insured need not worry about "bumped off" due to illness.  Overall you might give this one partial credit.

2) “My son, 23, works two jobs that do not have health insurance, and he can stay under my health insurance.”

This is directly tied to the implementation of the law.  As of September 2010, adult dependents up to age 26 can remain on their parents health insurance if they so desire.

3) “My husband fell into the doughnut hole and received $250.”

Again, directly related to the implementation of the law.  The "donut hole" refers to a coverage gap which misses certain individuals who participate in Medicare Part D.  As a result of the health care law, these individuals all received a check to help them cover the costs of prescription drugs.

4) “If we need to purchase new health care coverage, nobody can turn us down.”

Difficult to classify this one.  Some of the provisions against denial for preexisting conditions have gone into effect, but not all of them.  The quote could imply that these people might not have coverage at all.  So its hard to say that this law has directly effected them yet or if these are anticipated benefits.

5) “We have children with disabilities. The new reform law has really helped us. Since we have children with preexisting conditions, we get coverage."

This is true.  As of September 2010, the law requires that insurers provide coverage for children up to 19 whether or not they have preexisting conditions.   There are also temporary high risk pools which have been started, so its possible that insurance for sick individuals could be purchased through these pools.

6) “I got health coverage when I needed it.”

Hard to classify without more details.  Certainly its possible that this person made use of the high risk pools or falls under one of the other covered categories, but its also possible that the implementation of the law had no effect in this case.  

7) “It has allowed my husband to have all his medical treatments for his illness.”

Again, hard to classify.  Its possible that the implementation of the law had no relation to this case, or its possible that treatment was received as a result of the provisions.  As of September 2010, there is no longer a lifetime cost cap on essential health care, so its possible that this individual received more care than they would have under the old system.  Its also possible that this person was able to keep their insurance instead of being bumped off when they got sick, which would be a direct result of the law.  Without more details, its hard to say if this case was related to the law or not.

8) “It makes our health insurance more inexpensive.”

This could be anticipated benefits down the road, as most of the subsidies for purchasing health insurance have not yet kicked in.  It could also be wishful thinking about the effects of the law on health care costs overall.

So in the cases of the 14% who say the law has personally benefited them, we get some examples which can be shown as being a direct result of the law's implementation and some examples which are harder to classify.  In these latter cases its possible that people are merely expressing a partisan or uninformed viewpoint in support of the law without actually feeling its effects, but without more details its impossible to classify their claims "true" or "false" as related to the law in question.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Health and the Body Politic

There is an interesting and, in my opinion, well done poll out from the Kaiser group on current perceptions about the Health Care Reform law.  The big headline has been that only 52% of respondents knew that the law was still "the law of the land", while 22% said that the law had already been repealed for good and the other 24% were unsure about the answer.

Its very tempting to write off that 48% as ignorant of the facts, but I think in fairness we must admit that there is a potential source of confusion: the current court challenges which have ruled against the law.  While its true that more cases have been decided in favor of the law than against it, the fact is that in at least 2 cases the law has been "struck down" by judges.  Even though these cases are not final and implementation of the law has not been stopped, I could see where some respondents could legitimately be confused about the status of the law, especially given the overwhelming news coverage of the successful challenges compared to the meager coverage of the unsuccessful challenges.  If I had to guess, I would say that few of these respondents are confused about the issue as a result of the legal challenges, but we must allow the for that possibility. 

There are some other interesting, though not necessarily new or surprising, findings in the study.  A majority want the law either upheld or expanded, and almost all the provisions of the law, with the exception of the individual mandate, are popular across all groups, even among those who want the law repealed.

What was new and interesting to me in this poll was a question about whether or not the respondent had been personally helped or hurt by the law.  In both cases the percentage saying the law had affected them was small.  A mere 14% of respondents said the law had effected them in a positive way, while 17% reported negative effects.  This seems about right, given that so few of the major provisions of the law have been implemented.  What was interesting, however, was the reasons people gave for saying the law had negatively effected them or their families.  There is both a statistical breakdown and open ended answers provided, and after looking at them my conclusion is that most who reported in the negative are either unaware of the provisions of the law or merely answered in the negative because they don't like the law in general, not because it has actually affected them.  Some examples from the negative column, with off the cuff analysis:

1a) “My health insurance doubled since the health care law, and I pay for my own because I run my own business.”
1b) “My personal health insurance went up, and I am sure it will continue. I am afraid it is going to break the country economically.”
1c) “My mother had to pay more money for medication.” 

This was by far the biggest complaint.  Among the 17% who reported personally feeling negative effects from the law, 48% complained of rising costs.  To me, this seems like a basic case of post hoc, ergo prompter hoc.  The law was passed, costs went up, therefore the law caused costs to go up.  Given that most of the law hasn't yet been implemented I have trouble believing that any costs increases in the last year are soley, or even mostly, a result of the law.  In fact, health care costs were already rising far faster than inflation before the law, and I see no reason to believe that this pattern didn't hold true for the last year.  Indeed, if we could jump in a time machine and stop the law from being passed, I wager that there would still have been large cost increases over the past year.

2)“Financially the middle class will not be able to afford the insurance.” 

I find this odd for 2 reasons.  First, the law provides fairly generous subsidies for middle income families who need to purchase open market insurance.  And second, this sounds like a theoretical response, not one which points out how they personally have been negatively effected.  Perhaps they personally have seen their costs rise, in which case refer to example 1.  But otherwise this response is out of place.

3)“It is going to cost the taxpayers more money. It was passed…and people didn’t get a chance to read it.” 

Again, unrelated to personal negative effects already felt from the law.  This is teabagger whining.

4) “Because of our income, we are being strangled with paying for everyone else. Middle America will not exist under these conditions."

More pissing and moaning from teabaggers.  I wonder if these people understand the concept of insurance, or the fact that everyone already pays for those who can't afford, don't qualify, or simply chose not to purchase insurance.  The emergency room ain't free, its a hidden cost we all pay for.  And again, this doesn't show how the law has personally affected you, since the tax provisions in the law have not yet been implemented.

5) “I don’t like someone telling me I have to do this.”

Again, wingnut whining which is unrelated to the question at hand.  Whatever your opinion on the Individual Mandate, it hasn't yet been activated.  Therefore, it can't have effected you yet.

6) “Whenever the government controls anything, people get affected negatively. Government should stay out of it and not have control over it.”

Rinse and repeat.  This doesn't show how you have been negatively affected.  This is just short sighted political ranting.

However, this is all relatively minor stuff.  Overall, the results of this poll give me... hope?  I guess we will see.  If nothing else, I applaud the researchers for delving into some interesting questions.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bonds not yet broken

This is somewhat promising.  The parties have agreed to work with a counselor. A bit disappointing that they missed the chance to reconcile over Valentine's Day, but better late than never.

Even more so, they apparently have agreed to take a little trip, just the two of them.  Get away from the kids for a week, just take some time for them. 

Hopefully this partnership can be salvaged.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Double Secret Liquidation

Interesting news from the world of wine economics, one of our niche areas of interest on this blog (actually the intersection of 2 niche areas).  I reported a while ago about a strange trend, how suddenly every organization was contacting me with attempts to sell discounted batches of wine in bulk.  From the Napa Valley Register comes this story about a related movement by high priced wineries towards using "flash" sites to offload their extra product seemingly under the radar (in this case, "flash" refers not to the programming language necessarily but the short term nature of the offered sales).

I'm familiar with one of these sites, Wine Woot, which I check daily but have only ever purchased from on one occasion (ironically not for wine but for a wine related poster).  Apparently there is a stigma in the minds of wine producers against offloading their wares to discount chains like Costco or Trader Joe's.  The fear is that these discount shipments will be spotted by wine club members and others who are used to paying higher prices for these products, and thus drive down their brand value.  So what sites like Wine Woot allow them to do is sneak a bunch of product out a metaphorical back door in order to try and save both face and recoup the fixed costs of production.