US vs Canadian Healthcare – a story of personal experience

As anyone not in a coma knows, there is a great deal of debate in the US right now about Health Care Reform. During this debate, there are many references to the Canadian Health Care system, typically by Americans who have absolutely no idea what the hell they are talking about – including a former governor of Alaska. It is referred to as “socialized medicine”, and Americans argue that it reduces efficiency, costs the government great sums of money (note that the US government already spends more per capita on health care than the Canadian government does), reduces innovation, has longer wait times, and even leads to people dying while awaiting treatment.

I recently became ill while in Los Angeles for a conference. While being sick is never a fun experience, being diabetic and being sick while travelling in a foreign country by yourself is especially stressful.

However, this gave me an opportunity to experience the US health care system first hand, albeit a little superficially. Also, since my employer provides me with out-of-country health insurance, my experience is from the perspective of someone with health insurance, not someone without. In addition, my opinion of the US health care system is based on a single experience, not a broad sample.

Lets start with my arrival at the ER. I arrived at about 9 PM on a Tuesday evening.The first step was to fill out a little form with basic information – name, address, nature of my complaint. This form is passed through a little hole in the plexiglass partition, and my information is entered into their computer system. I then waited about an hour to see the triage nurse and be prioritized. Between myself, my wife and my kids, I have been at emergency rooms in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Alberta, and do not recall ever waiting more than a small number of minutes to be triaged. It should be noted that the triage process seemed to be mostly a “first in, first out” kind of process – I did not notice anyone being triaged faster based upon the nature of their complaint.

After being triaged, I guess I was ranked fairly low in terms of priority (hey, I was only vomiting up large amounts of blood), because I then sat from about 10 PM Tuesday evening until 4:30 AM Wednesday waiting to see a doctor. Many people came in, were treated, and left before I was seen, but I understand that once you are triaged, priority are based on who is at the most risk. I also understand that I was only seeing the “walk in” side of the ER – there was another whole flow of patients coming in through the ambulance entrance with a fair number of trauma patients. Still, 7 and a half hours of waiting to see a doctor is longer than anything I have seen in the Canadian health care system. And remember, I was at a private hospital in LA, not a public clinic. I would thus expect that this was on the good side with respect to performance.

Once I actually got to see the doctor, I was treated fairly quickly. Note that the goal was not to treat the root cause in my ailment, the primary intent was to stabilize my condition so that I could return to Canada for full treatment. At this, they were very efficient, and I was out in about 3 hours. It was also made much more smoothly because my out-of-country health coverage worked very well with the hospital’s admissions/accounting people with regards to payment. God only knows how the experience would have played out had I not had insurance.

In short, my visit to the ER in Los Angeles involved wait times which were significantly longer (for both triage and treatment) than anything I have ever experienced at a hospital in Canada.

To finish off the story, I will describe my follow-up treatment after returning to Canada. On the Wednesday following my return to Canada, I called my family doctor, and got an appointment to see her that afternoon. After that appointment, she referred me to a GI specialist, who I saw the next afternoon. He decided I needed an endoscopy, which happened the next day. Seems pretty efficient to me!

Perhaps Americans (especially American citizens) should educate themselves on the reality of the Canadian Health Care System rather than blindly believing the rhetoric of their politicians who are bought and paid for by the insurance companies and HMOs, or simply know nothing about the Canadian system which they are criticizing.

Republic Air CEO puts his faith to work

 Republic Air CEO puts his faith to work – The Denver Post

I find this extremely disturbing. It is part of a major trend over the last couple of decades whereby self-proclaimed “people of faith” try to inflict their beliefs on those around them. It is especially inappropriate when the CEO of a corporation makes it clear that the organizations beliefs are Christian beliefs. While the article says:

Bedford says he doesn’t try to convert anyone or require faith as an employment litmus test.

Unfortunately that fact that he makes it clear that the organization’s beliefs are Christian beliefs, any employee who does not share those beliefs is going to feel extremely threatened. If I am an Atheist, Wiccan, Buddhist, or an adherent to any belief system which does not match the Christian view of God, I would feel pressured to either pretend to share Christian beliefs, or leave. I would certainly feel like I had no career path in this organization.

I am not saying an organization should no put forward a value system. What is wrong is to bring an explicit statement of a specific religious doctrine into it. If his vision statements such as “every employee, regardless of personal beliefs or world view, has been created in the image and likeness of God.”, that is imposing upon me a creationist, fundamentalist view of the world, which is inappropriate.

Also implicit in this kind of thing is the commonly held belief (among “true believers”, anyway) that if you do not believe in God, and specifically a Judeo-Christian God, then you do not have beliefs, or morals, or values, or principles. I would put my beliefs and morals and principles up against any Christian on the planet – and am fairly confident my values are more “Christian” than those who support war, capital punishment, intolerance, racism, and yet call themselves “Christian”.

So, bring all the values and principles you want into a company, but please leave your religious dogma at the door.

PS – I did not mean to imply that my values are perfect, or that I am in any way perfect – only that being “Christian” is hardly proof positive that you have strong values, or any values at all for that matter.

Man fined $305 for smoking in workplace – his truck

 Man fined $305 for smoking in workplace – his truck – Canada –

Ok, this is going to be another rant.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Another example of our government sticking their noses into things that are none of their damn business. Whether smoking is bad for me or not, it is none of the government’s business if I do it in an environment which is not harming anyone else (I do not smoke, by the way).

If they can give a ticket to a truck driver for smoking in his own truck with no one else around, what is next? Will they come into my house and give me a ticket because I work from home?

It is long past time to stand up to our governments and stop them from invading our privacy. It is none of the government’s business if I smoke when I am by myself. It is none of government’s business if I wear a helmet on my motorcycle, or a seatbelt in my car. I wear both helmets and seatbelts because I am a compulsive “rule follower”, but I should not have to. It is none of the governments business if I want to watch TV purchased from south of the border, without the CRTC’s interference. I should even be able to smoke a little marijuana if I so choose (I do not do that either).

Just think of all of the money our various levels of government could save if they would just stay the hell out of things which are none of their concern!

Michael Vick should be banned for life from NFL – George Dohrmann –

Michael Vick should be banned for life from NFL – George Dohrmann –

I have a lot of issues with the NFL’s attitude towards players who commit crimes or other actions of which the NFL disapproves.

I agree that what Vick did was horrendous. It is unthinkable to me that any human being could torture and kill animals for recreation (though for some reason shooting animals for entertainment is still acceptable).

That being said, the United States has a legal system. Michael Vick has been judge and punished for his actions by that legal system. If we disagree with the severity (or lack there of) of his punishment, then the issue is with the legal system. Vick has been sentenced. He is serving the terms of his sentence.

What right, then, does the NFL have to impose further punishment on him? Why does the NFL have the right to do what other employers can not?

Say I am a developer, a consultant, or a journalist, and I commit some crime not related to my profession – say DUI, drug possession, jay walking, animal cruelty, whatever – and I am held accountable by the legal system. My actions do not affect my ability to do my job. Would it then be appropriate for my employer to impose a suspension on me? To levy an additional fine? To tell me I am no longer allowed to work in my field?

Then why does the NFL have the right to impose its will, it opinion above and beyond the legal system? 

A Giant Leap…

I have been sitting and thinking about this day in history – obviously, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Like many others, I grew up watching the Apollo program. Honestly, it was a major aspect of my childhood. I remember being up in the middle of the night in 1969 (at 7 years old) to watch Neil Armstrong descend to the moon’s surface.  I remember sitting glued to the TV to watch every second of coverage, not just of Apollo 11, but of all of the missions which followed. I remember setting up my little cassette recorder in front of the TV speaker to record the audio so I could listen to it over and over (my first act of copyright infringement).

It was really a magical time for me – I was a little kid, and all of this real-life adventure was going on. I was already interested in astronomy at that age – I had started carrying astronomy books around with me when I was about 4. These events influenced much of my life – leading to my obsessions with astronomy and physics. It also led to my early career choices – working in remote sensing, and later working in satellite flight dynamics (sometimes I wonder why I ever stopped doing that).

It seemed at that time like we had just embarked on the first steps of a grand adventure, and that the adventure would only get grander.

So what the heck happened? Apollo rapidly lost it magic for the world. Skylab was interesting, but was ultimately a dead end. The shuttle as a program seemed exciting, but has never seemed to escape its problems. And there has never seemed to be a grand, long-term, sustainable vision for manned space flight.

Looking back, as impressive as Apollo was, mankind went to the moon for the wrong reasons. In the sixties,  there was no clear, long-term reason for going to the moon, at least not at the public and governmental levels. It was all about “we have to beat the communists to the moon”. It was not about “we need to go to the moon as a first step of humankind’s push to explore, to learn and expand.”

That is why interest in Apollo died. Once the Russians had been beaten to the moon, the race was over and there was no longer any reason to keep going back. The Soviet Union seemed unlikely to catch up or leap frog the US at the time, so there was no real motivation to go further.

Then came the Space Station. A grand vision. A permanent home in orbit. A platform not just for scientific study, but as a platform to reach further. Unfortunately, the Space Station as it came to be is a pale shadow of that vision.

This highlights the problems with the space program still. The percentage of the population that really, strongly believes in manned space travel is small. Every so often, someone will stand up with a grand vision. Occasionally, it will get funded (but never properly, just enough for promotional purposes). Then comes the next budget crunch, economic downturn, or election, the the vision gets revised, the scope reduced, and the budget whittled away.

We are seeing this right now. George W. Bush had his grand vision for going to Mars (trying to be like JFK?). Even at the outset however, it was not funded properly (cannot take away from the budget for blowing the hell out of everyone who disagrees with you). And this summer I see that a round of reviews are underway to assess (i.e. reduce) the scope.

So how do we actually have a space program? How do we push forward?

Well, the best way (maybe the only way) is for private sector to see a profit in exploration. Nothing gets people moving like dollar signs and ROI. Unfortunately, the ROI of space exploration is long term, and the vast majority of our political and business leaders are unable to think beyond the current quarter, current year, or the next election.

If space exploration remains in the hands of government, a way must be found to fund it, in a way that protects it from political games played by small minded people.

Unfortunately, I see very little hope for any of this. The magic has died – or maybe it was really all just an illusion to begin with.   

Must love God to be CTO?

I just read a job ad for a CTO that listed the following as a requirement for the position:

“Must be committed to offering excellence to God in all you do”

I am not sure, but isn’t it illegal to discriminate based on religion when hiring?

7 reasons to date a geek


CANOE – Lifewise Sex & Romance – Lovewise: 7 reasons to date a geek


Noticed this title when I was browsing around the web site (I have no idea why I go there – every time I do I find something that offends me), and I had to look at it.

Am I the only person in the world who sees why this is grotesquely offensive? I mean, would they post and article on “7 reasons to date a cripple”?, or “7 reasons to date a black guy”?, or “7 reasons to date a bimbo”? 


(well, CANOE might)


Other terms used in this article:

  • super-geek
  • nerd
  • dork

Also mentioned is that you may never need to call tech support again, and that “dating a geek is a safe bet because the nerd needs you more than you need the nerd”

When will people see that terminology such as “geek” and “nerd”, and the idea of dating someone because you can use them and control them, is offensive and not acceptable? And that these attitudes are a big part of the reason why many kids in our culture do NOT go into scientific and technical fields.

(note that I am consciously using offensive terms above to make the point).

Some Thoughts on Political Correctness and Offending People

As almost everyone probably knows, President Obama appeared on The Tonight Show last week. Many people seem to have thought this was a bad idea right from the start, but I do not see anything wrong with it. Then we (in Canada) have seen our leaders (yeah, well, sort of) appear on shows such as Royal Canadian Air Farce before, and nothing too seriously bad came out of it.

President Obama made a bit of a faux pas when he compared his bowling to being in the Special Olympics. The crowd seemed to be amused, and not terribly offended. I thought it was a funny if not-well-thought-through quip, and was not particularly offended by it – then I am not handicapped/special/differently-abled.

Or am I?

This is not a very PC thing to say, I know. The fact is, I am and have been differently-abled for most of my life. I have always been a good deal smarter than most of the people around me. This is not bragging or conceit, it is just a fact. I grew up reading encyclopaedias, doing math, physics, and astronomy, and reading philosophy – all just because I wanted to and because I found it fun. So, that made me differently-abled than most of those around me. It also meant that I had a great deal of trouble fitting in socially. I was teased, I was bullied. I was beaten up. I was avoided. I was a geek, a dork, a dweeb, a nerd. And those are the names my friends called me.

My troubles may not have been the same as someone normally covered by the term differently-abled, but there are definite problems associated.

It has become very politically incorrect to make fun of someone who is mentally challenged, or has a physical disability, or is short, or is female, or is overweight, or comes from a different ethnic background. The funny (or not so funny) thing is that it still seems to be perfectly acceptable to make fun of people who are smart, who love to learn, who love science and philosophy, and who have a hard time interacting with “normals” simply because we do not think the same way.

How many shows have been on the air (from that show with Steve Urkel to Revenge of the Nerds to Big Bang Theory) that are based almost entirely upon ridiculing this segment of the population? If Steve Urkel had been mentally challenged, would the premise of this show have been deemed acceptable? Of course not. If he had been in a wheel chair? No. Then why is it acceptable to make fun of him because he is smart but socially challenged.

This may seem petty, but take it from some one who has lived through it. It is serious. And not just for the individual. It colours the way our society sees and values people. It drives one of the problems facing our society, which is the low value we place on scientists, researchers, and educators. It influences smart young people to hide from who they are for fear of ridicule and not fitting in. It causes young people who might have an interest or talent in scientific and technical fields to be pushed away from these fields at an early age.

It no longer really offends me. Almost nothing offends me anymore, as I have developed a pretty thick skin, and I am too much an egomaniac to really care what anyone else thinks (just kidding!). But think about it the next time you watch TV, or a movie, or read something – notice how deeply engrained this is, and think about what it means in our society.

Some Thoughts on the Economy

The economy is in trouble – or at least it seems to be. This is hardly a shocking statement for anyone who has not been under a rock for the last year. I sit and I wonder (as I am sure many people do) just how we ended up where we are. I am not an economist or politician or any of the people who are presumed to have an understanding of the dynamics of national and global economies. I am just a poor dumb physicist/mathematician/software developer/business person, making a few observations.

1) Is the state of our economy driven largely by media? I have noticed during my lifetime that at all times, there are certain people in the press, on TV, publishing books, etc. with “end of the world” stories about the coming economic crises. It seems to me that at certain points, mass media starts giving these doomsayers much more attention than they deserve, and further that a year or so after that happens, our economy tanks. I wonder at times if it is not at least partially a self-fulfilling prophecy – if the mass media tells us for long enough that things are bad, then our resultant behaviours cause things to get bad.

It is kind of like a (not serious) theory I have about airplanes. What if heavier-than-air flight is really impossible? Maybe airplanes really only work because the people on board believe that they work? At any given time, there will be some people who do not believe, but as long as enough believe, the everything is great. But what happens when suddenly a critical number of people on the plane start thinking “Hey, this can’t work”? Poof, the plane crashes.

Maybe the economy is something like that.

2) Big banks, Wall Street, rich people, major corporations. Everybody’s favourite targets. Have they done a lot to contribute to the current problems? Of course. Are they and they alone to blame? Hardly. Our economy got where it is because pretty much everyone involved drove it here. The real estate industry predicated on constantly rising home prices. The mortgage bankers finding new and creative ways to allow people to afford the ridiculously expensive houses they really could not afford. Consumers expecting that they should be able to afford these houses. Consumers digging themselves huge debt loads buying things they could not afford. You. Me. Everybody. We are in this mess because we all created it. Maybe to greater or lesser extents, but we all played along (except maybe for the segment of the population who never had the opportunity to play, because they have been in an economic crisis the whole time.)

People are talking a lot about this psychology of entitlement, mostly referring to executives at banks and on Wall Street. I think the problem goes much deeper than that. Our whole society has a feeling of entitlement. We work hard, so we deserve that bigger house, that newer car, that big vacation – who cares if the numbers don’t work out, we deserve it, dammit. It is the whole “American Dream” (or in my case, “Canadian Dream”) concept. It is just that, however. Just because you have worked hard and you deserve it, does not mean it will happen.

3) Values. Not religious or moral values, but the values we place on things. Who are the highest paid people in our society? Corporate wheelers and dealers. Professional athletes. Movie stars. TV stars. Musicians – at least the popular ones. I know and understand the economics of why these individuals are paid such ridiculously huge amounts of money relative to their contribution to society. I understand that what they get paid is an investment by someone, and they get huge amounts because those paying them expect to get much, much greater amounts in return for their investment. The athlete gets huge sums of money because he/she puts butts in seats at stadiums, and sells merchandise.

The problem is with the people who buy into this crap. The people who pay silly amounts just to see a sports game, or a movie, or a concert. The societal value system that says these people are worth paying to see.

It is also silly that in our society, these people are valued at such a level, when the people who really have the power to solve the worlds problems – researchers in science and engineering and medicine and throughout our universities have to fight tooth and nail to get enough money just to keep the research going. Not to mention the value we place on our educators and the infrastructure around them. Education and fundamental research should be getting the big pay checks, not people playing games, playing make-believe on a movie screen, or pumping out music.

This inversion of value is endemic in our society, and we will not truly break out of the current cycle of economic crises until our values change. Period.

Just my thoughts – but they are, of course, correct. 🙂