Olympic browser blockage

So I went to check out the replay of last night’s phenomenal 4×100 Men’s relay only to find an annoyingly disturbing message: the NBC Olympics vidoes don’t “support” Linux. First of all, what kind of ludicrous claim is that? They’re freakin’ videos. If I’ve got the correct codecs installed, then I’ll be able to watch them. If I don’t, then I won’t. And what is this? 1998? Who still designs a website for only a select few browsers? I know I reported that the FAFSA website does, but at least theirs turned out to be just a warning, and it lets you continue anyways. Shouldn’t something like coverage of the Olympics be accessible to anyone, especially since broadcast coverage seems so locked down? They currently support 4 browsers: IE (Win), Firefox (Win), Safari (Mac), and Firefox (Mac). Sorry Opera fans, you’re not privileged enough to see the Olympics online.

NBC Olympics only allows 4 browsers

NBC Olympics only allows 4 browsers

The bigger issue here is that the videos appear to be in Windows Media format. In fact, from the looks of the NBC Olympics website, the entire show is being run by Microsoft. Now my problem is that I can probably play their WMVs on my linux operating system, but their silly browser detection is preventing me. Things like this should not be happening to such an international public event.

Sorry to say NBC, but there are a lot of web browsers out there that are capable of displaying your videos. No one’s asking you to go out of your way to “support” them all, just don’t preemptively block them. Plus, is anyone else concerned that they’ll start doing this to Hulu and other network’s sites? Well I am, and I’m not one bit happy about it!

Burden of Proof

According to Cory Doctorow’s latest article in the Guardian, copyright holders (like the RIAA, MPAA, etc.) are lobbying in governments here and abroad to force ISPs to pull the plug on customers who are “caught” transmitting or receiving illegal copyrighted material. That much isn’t necessarily a bad idea. After all, frequent violators may be proving that they don’t “deserve the privilege” of accessing the Internet. What really catches in his craw (and mine) is that they don’t want to have to prove anything. That’s right. The burden of proving their accusations is far too great, but they still feel like the “3 accusations and you’re out policy” is a good one. Never mind that they recently accused a laser printer of downloading the newest Indiana Jones movie. Surely everyone should just take their accusations as pure truth. Doctorow feels like we should hold copyright holders similarly accountable: 3 false accusations and they should have their copyright enforcing privileges on the Internet revoked.

The Day The Music Died

This is so incredibly frustrating. On one hand, I want to rub people’s faces in it. But on the other, I see a ton of people every day buying songs from iTunes, and they’re in the same boat. They just don’t think it could happen to them, or they don’t care because the DRM isn’t getting in their way of listening to music they’ve “bought”. Or even worse, they don’t even know what DRM is or why they should avoid it like the plague. With DRM, the customer is always wrong:

Imagine if Tower Records sold you a CD, but then, a few months later, knocked on your door and replaced the CD with one that you can’t play in your car. Would you still feel like you “owned” the CD? Not so much, eh?

But Apple reserves the right to change at any time what you can do with the music you purchase at the iTunes Music Store. For instance, in April 2004, Apple decided to modify the DRM so people could burn the same playlist only 7 times, down from 10. How much further will the service restrict your ability to make legal personal copies of your own music? Only Apple knows.

Don’t let this become your fate. Own your music if you’re going to buy it online. Buy from Amazon MP3, which offers DRM-free music for cheaper than iTunes, and they even add it to your iTunes library automatically! Or if you feel you must buy from iTunes, never settle for anything less than DRM-free (iTunes “Plus”). Otherwise, it’s smarter to just buy the CD for a few bucks more.

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

I received word today that my Stafford loan lender for school (Northstar’s Total Higher Education Loans, T.H.E.) is temporarily suspending new loans for next year. As I went to look at the benefits available through another popular med student lender, MEDLOANS (a Sallie Mae subsidiary), I quickly read about how Sallie Mae is likewise tanking financially. They have not said anything about their plans for the 2008-2009 school year, despite its impending beginning. This is a problem, and not just for me. It’s a problem for nearly all students in higher education.

This is frustrating because I really like T.H.E., and I don’t want to look around for another lender. They gave great benefits to their borrowers, like no fees and good interest rate reductions with on-time payments. Unlike most other lenders, they also paid out benefits to more than 80% of their borrowers (many other lenders only pay out 20% or less), and if you lost your interest rate reduction benefits, it was very easy to get them back. They even have their own blog called The Ramen Report, which keeps students informed about hot topics and “things you should know” about financial aid.

Seeing good companies like this, standing there holding a bucket with a hole in it, makes me angry. We need to get the economy back on track, and I’m not sure that the soon-to-come economic stimulus packages are going to cut it.

Ben Stein Is Expelled

I just saw a commercial on TV for a movie featuring Ben Stein called Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It appeared to be a documentary about religion and science. I had always assumed that Ben Stein was a fairly intelligent individual, but it appears that even if that is the case he made a mess of a film.

I will point out 2 things off the bat. I have not seen this movie. In fact, it just came out today in the US. There is a short video clip available to watch online, and I’ve gotten some information from Wikipedia. Secondly, while I disagree with his position in this debate, I am more disappointed in the way he appears to have addressed the facts. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that Stein attempts to martyr himself (and drag you along) by asserting that if you want a career in anything scientific, you’d better not even watch this movie, or you’re risking your future. The implicit assertion here is that to question him is to prove him right. By saying he’s wrong, you’re proving that people who disagree with him will attempt to tarnish his movie. By disagreeing with his theory, you’ve been duped by the scheming scientists to keep any questions of Darwin’s evolutionary theory swept under the rug.

The basic premise of the movie is to demonstrate how a number of well-known scientific researchers have had their careers torn apart by proposing “Intelligent Design” as a means of explaining creation and evolution. I don’t doubt that they have. He then continues by asserting that this occurred simply because they attacked Darwinism and evolutionary theory. This is the assertion I have a problem with. No one is saying that questioning Darwin’s theories will ostracize you from the scientific community. The truth is, people should question Darwinism every day. The trouble is that it’s a pretty solid theory, and it continues to be proved right all the time. Indeed, the issue here is not that these scientists propose a competing theory to Darwin’s, but rather the theory they’re proposing does not assimilate well with scientific theory.

Let’s imagine you and a few friends are walking down the street and you see a man in a large coat and a black top hat. After chatting with him a few minutes, he briefly shows you his sleeves and hat and proceeds to pull a rabbit out of his hat. Everyone is amazed. You and your friends begin to discuss how he might have done the trick. One person says that maybe there was a false bottom to the hat, and the rabbit was hidden in it. That seems pretty reasonable, and you all agree that was correct. A little while later, another friend says that he believes that the rabbit was too big to be hidden in a false-bottomed hat. Perhaps there was some sleight-of-hand and the magician pulled the rabbit from under his coat and slipped it into the hat. That was also plausible. Another friend chimes in that he also agrees that the rabbit was too big for the false-bottomed hat, but perhaps it was really magic that made the rabbit appear in the hat. To attack this friend’s theory and call it silly is not the same as to defend the original one. In fact, there are plenty of plausible explanations that could account for the trick that don’t include “magic”.

I don’t mean to step on any religious people’s toes. If you believe in “Intelligent Design”, that’s great, but don’t assume that someone attacking that idea is defending another. The other has plenty of merit on its own. If you think that “Intelligent Design” explains things well enough, then why not think of the scientists as trying to figure out how God’s mind works? Really, that’s all Intelligent Design is doing anyways: accepting the explanation as “magic”. That’s fine and all, but it doesn’t help much when you want to try the trick yourself.

What really irks me about this movie is the tactics he used to produce it. In traditional Michael Moore style, Stein proceeded to interview a few prominent figures in the scientific community who deal with this debate and quote them to make it seem as if scientists have no idea what’s going on in our world. Most notable, for me, in that list was Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has made a career not out of simply telling people Intelligent Design is wrong and Darwin is right, but by explaining where and how the theory of Intelligent Design is flawed. Intelligent Design claims that the intricacies of the world are too numerous and perfectly fit together, so there must be designer (a watchmaker). Dawkins points out in his book The Blind Watchmaker that not only does intricacy not prove there is a designer, but also that if there were a designer, it did a pretty poor job in some cases.

The point of all this is not to attack religion or even the theory of Intelligent Design. The point is that it just doesn’t jive with scientific principles. Science bases its theories and assumptions on measurable facts, but Intelligent Design attempts to fill in all the little gaps in our knowledge with an idea that “if it can’t be explained, it must be because of God’s design.” Despite the flaw in that logic, the real reason that these scientists Stein presents in his movie were ostracized by their colleagues is because they were scientists proposing ideas that are not supported by any evidence. Evidence is a foundation of science. Would anyone have even heard of these scientists if they collectively decided that it was invisible pixies that threw together the first cells? I doubt it. They’d just be labeled delusional. But if the explanation has a religious backing, society doesn’t consider them delusional, and you’d better be prepared to withstand the full force of their wrath.

Angry Resident

My friend Kiyoshi made a site called AngryJournalist as a place for journalists to rant anonymously where others could read it. Someone has apparently ported this for physicians in training: AngryResident. It wasn’t by me, but no doubt only because I’ve got another 3 years before I get to worry about ranting 🙂

Free to apply

I need to renew my FAFSA for next year so that I am eligible for federal loans for school. I attempted to log in to the FAFSA website to do this, and I was greeted with the following message: “We have detected that you are using a non-certified browser.”

They proceeded to give me a long list of browsers they do support, including Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Mozilla Firefox (my browser). What’s the problem then? Oh, they only support Firefox on Microsoft and Macintosh operating systems. What the hell?! What kind of age are we living in that websites are still placing these kinds of silly browser restrictions on its users, especially a government one? I proceeded to send their Customer Support folks a nice message:

I really feel that it is unacceptable that the FAFSA website only supports browsers in proprietary operating systems (Microsoft and Macintosh). You choose to support Firefox on Mac and Windows, so why not in GNU/Linux? I think as a government website, you should allow users to choose free software if they want to and not lock them into proprietary systems that cost hundreds of dollars. See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.

Now that I re-read this, I feel like I focused too much on cost, although this is a concern for some using free software. It inherently seems un-American to restrict the public’s freedoms in such a way. In fact, it even seems against the philosophy of FAFSA. After all, how can it be a “Free” Application for Federal Student Aid, in any sense of the word “free,” if you’re required to purchase a proprietary operating system to use it?

Fortunately, their contact form did not have browser restrictions. If you’re offended by this, feel free to let them know.

The cost of medical education

Hi. I know most people think that doctors make a lot of money and therefore don’t need to worry about the cost of their education. However, in reality I (like most med students) am likely going to graduate over $200,000 in debt. Your reaction may be “yeah but you’ll be making the big bucks then, and you can pay it all back”. While it may be true that I’ll be making a decent living at some point, I will not be doing so when I graduate from medical school. In fact I will be making about $40,000/year for the next 3-5 years of my life in residency, which is for an 80 hour work week and therefore is actually closer to minimum wage (not bad for someone with a professional degree). Previously, I (like most medical students) was eligible to claim economic hardship for the first 3 years and have my $200,000 bill wait for me until I could afford to pay it and the government would pay any interest accruing. Approximately 67% of medical residents qualified for economic hardship. This past September, Congress and the President passed a bill that disqualifies almost all medical residents from being able to claim economic hardship during this period. This means that medical residents will be left with a choice. Foot a $2,000+ bill every month or go into forbearance. When in forbearance, we will accrue interest on our entire $200,000+ loan for the entire 3-5 years while in residency. This is a lot of money! In a country that needs more doctors, our government should not be making someone’s choice to go into medicine more difficult with a hefty financial burden.

If you’d like to read more about this issue, the AMA has written up a good outline of the events. If you’d like to contact your Congress-people (like I did) and let them know you’re outraged they would do such a thing to the country’s future physicians, the AMA made an easy form to do it for you. Spread the word if you care to.

I’m not blind

As I check my Rush email this afternoon, I see I’ve gotten yet another reminder to sign up for the Integrate Chicago Conference. This is really irritating, so I decided to do a little search in Gmail to see how many times they’ve emailed me about this. So far I’ve received 10 email since the first of the year telling me about this conference. That’s 10 emails in a little over 2 weeks. I’m not blind, people! Even if I wanted to go to your ICAM conference, I sure as hell don’t need 10 email reminders about it. One email to advertise and maybe one reminder as the sign-up date approaches should be more than sufficient. Maybe not as many people signed up as you would’ve liked, but it surely isn’t due to the lack of email attention they’ve been getting about it. Give it up and give my inbox a rest already!

Help Desk Urgent Care

Dr: Hello and welcome to the University Urgent Care. We’ve recently been reorganized by Help Desk staff in order to serve you more effectively. What can we do for you today?

Bob: Well ever since I started taking my new cholesterol medication, I’ve been having a lot of muscle fatigue and tenderness and I was wondering if there’s something I can do about it.

Dr: We’d be happy to help you, sir. What is your current dosage of Windopa?

Bob: I actually don’t take Windopa. I’m taking Appelia.

Dr: Well I’m sorry, sir. We don’t currently treat patients on Appelia.

Bob: What do you mean?
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