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Make Money off of the Uninsured

How much do the uninsured cost the American healthcare system? This is a question with great practical relevance, as without a clear understanding of the health needs of the uninsured and the cost of providing care for those needs, it’s impossible to make a policy which successfully addresses the issues facing them.

Now, I personally was under the impression that the uninsured pose a major burden to the healthcare system. After all, we’re talking about a fairly large number of individuals who cannot afford health care (and hence need to be subsidized by the American taxpayer). Much to my surprise, the blog Healthcare Economist quotes from a paper from the Journal of Health Economics that finds that the uninsured in net might not actually be a burden on doctors’ wallets at all (hat tip: A. Phan)

The majority of physicians actually make money, on net on their uninsured patients12-14% of physicians found their uninsured patients patients more than twice as profitable as their insured patients; that is the net payments from the uninsured were more than twice the expected payments from the insured patients.

The reason? Apparently (although, as a consultant, I shouldn’t be surprised by this), insured patients are able to extract bargain prices for medical equipment/drug suppliers as a result of insurance companies being able to bargain for prices. Uninsured patients, on the other hand, have to pay the full list price, because they lack the scale (or, in other words, the bargaining power) to negotiate lower prices.

But, even more interesting, is that if the higher prices are ignored, the study concluded that

Even our most conservative estimates suggest that uncompensated care amounts to only 0.8% of revenues, or at most $3.2 billion nationally


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It Could Happen to You Too…

It’s holiday season — a time for good cheer. But remember: while it’s okay to have fun, always take the necessary precautions when you’re with the people that matter most to you.

Because, it could happen to you too (Hat tip: V. Liu):

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Google for Blackberry Gets Better


Google has recently overhauled the two applications I use on my Blackberry the most (Gmail and Google Maps) and introduced a new useful one (Google Mobile Updater) as well as made a few interface changes to the Blackberry Google Talk applet.

The new Gmail upgrade is the least polished of the overhauls. It feels a little more sluggish, although, thankfully, they’ve now included new bandwidth status messages to at least give you a hint of what’s going on. It also adds new features such as:

  • new keyboard shortcuts
  • contacts interface which allows you to search through your Gmail contacts, call those you have listed phone numbers for
  • secure connection — you now have the option to use a secure connection for all your Gmail interactions
  • drafts are something that I always thought were a no-brainer; unfortunately, these drafts don’t show up in your Gmail draft folder and you can only have one at a time
  • notifications are something which make the Gmail update much more useful; before, when new messages were received there was no way for me to know when or how many. New mail messages in my work inbox would result in my Blackberry’s LED flashing, a vibration or tone (depending on what mode I set the device at), and a change in the inbox icon revealing that there were new messages. Gmail’s new applet has finally fixed this allowing one to customize exactly how Gmail will notify your Blackberry that new messages have arrived– by icon, by LED, by tone/vibration, etc.

Much more useful is the Google Maps upgrade which now includes a new feature called “My Location” for those of us too poor to pay for GPS service and a built-in GPS device in our phone (and who can’t stand to re-charge our mobile phone devices super-often as the GPS service drains your battery like crazy). My Location is a feature which allows Google Maps to estimate your location to within ~2000 ft radius (highlighted by a light blue circle surrounding the blue dot in the interface) by locating the cell phone tower that you are closest to. While this doesn’t let you pinpoint your precise location, it makes the app much more useful. Case in point: on my way to our office’s Community Impact Day, I got lost, and instead of having to find some clunky means to estimate my location in Google Map’s interface, I simply used the My Location feature to give me an estimate of where I was so that I could quickly see the local streets. The video below summarizes:

Not particularly useful, but visually more interesting is the Blackberry Google Talk application updating to allow for Google Talk icons to show up, and a restructuring of the menu to be a little more usable. Alas, neither the rarely-updated Google Talk desktop application or the Blackberry Google Talk application seem to be able to interface with AIM the way the Gmail client does.

Google also very recently introduced the Google Mobile Updater which now provides one central location from which to install and update Google software (except for the Google Talk applet which appears to be maintained by RIM/Blackberry rather than by Google). This is currently only for Blackberry devices and, taking a page from the new Gmail applet’s icon, also informs the device user of updates and new products by change of icon.

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Scientific Dictionary

You didn’t think Consultant dictionaries were the only ones available, did you (although some of these can definitely be applied in Consulting)? (hat tip to A. Phan)

From HealthCare Economist:

The following list of phrases and their definitions might help you understand the mysterious language of science and medicine. These special phrases are also applicable to anyone working on a Ph.D. dissertation or academic paper anywhere!

“It has long been known” = I didn’t look up the original reference.

“A definite trend is evident” = These data are practically meaningless.

“While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to the questions” = An unsuccessful experiment, but I still hope to get it published.

“Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study” = The other results didn’t make any sense.

“Typical results are shown” = This is the prettiest graph.

“These results will be in a subsequent report” = I might get around to this sometime, if pushed/funded.

“In my experience” = once.

“In case after case” = twice.

“In a series of cases” = thrice.

“Correct within an order of magnitude” = Wrong.

“According to statistical analysis” = Rumor has it.

“A statistically oriented projection of the significance of these findings” = A wild guess.

“A careful analysis of obtainable data” = Three pages of notes were obliterated when I knocked over a glass of pop.

“It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding of this phenomenon occurs”= I don’t understand it.

“After additional study by my colleagues”= They don’t understand it either.

“A highly significant area for exploratory study” = A totally useless topic selected by my committee.

“It is hoped that this study will stimulate further investigation in this field” = I quit.

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President Harry S. Truman popularized the phrase “the buck stops here.” It’s a very simplistic notion that at the end of the day the responsibility for problems and failures lies on that someone’s shoulders. In my mind, it’s the bare essence of what being a leader is — taking responsibility for screwups and failures.

The world, however, doesn’t seem to see things that way. Politicians, instead of stepping up to bat on issues ranging from policy failure to corruption, are much more likely to “pass the buck” to the media, to “the vast [right/left]-wing conspiracy”, to members of the other party. Rarely, do they admit wrong-doing and then immediately outline steps to remedy any problems that they might have caused. Many corporate executives when accused of incompetence or when tried in court for perjury and fraud fail to own up to their mistakes and play ignorant, and yet are perfectly willing to take the credit when broad market forces outside of their control are responsible for their “good leadership.”

That’s why it’s somewhat refreshing to see that when rumors of sexual abuse at her school arose, Oprah quickly made it an issue of her being responsible. This occurred, despite the fact that the mere existence of the school is a testament to her generosity (and arguably, her ego), despite that Oprah probably had very little to do with the hiring, screening, and the actual wrong-doing involved — she took the extra step to quickly place the administration on leave, issue an official apology, and even going so far as to hire her own investigative team on top of whatever local official investigation was being conducted and to — and this is rare coming from a celebrity — giving the students access to her personal phone number and email address.

Oprah deserves credit for doing this — when faced with bad news on her watch, she (a) quickly apologized, (b) promised immediate action, (c) took an extra step to perform an extra investigation into the matter, and (d) went out of the way to be accessible to the victims.

Tell me one good reason why the CEOs of Citibank, Merill Lynch, and the numerous financial companies who have contributed to the subprime crisis shouldn’t act in exactly the same way?

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One-way Ticket to Nowhere: Economy Class

If you build it, they will come” is usually not a good piece of business strategy. But, in some cases, a product which nobody wants in one market, may be quite the hot commodity in another (from the Times Online):

AN INDIAN entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

All they want is the chance to know what it is like to sit on a plane, listen to announcements and be waited on by stewardesses bustling up and down the aisle.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the “virtual journeys” of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

As on an ordinary aircraft, customers buckle themselves in and watch a safety demonstration. But when they look out of the windows, the landscape never changes. Even if “Captain” Gupta wanted to get off the ground, the plane would not go far: it only has one wing and a large part of the tail is missing.

None of that bothers Gupta as he sits at the controls in his cockpit. His regular announcements include, “We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence” and “We are about to begin our descent into Delhi.”

“Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane,” says Gupta, who charges about £2 each for passengers taking the “journey”.

The plane has no lighting and the lavatories are out of order. The air-conditioning is powered by a generator. Even so, about 40 passengers turn up each Saturday to queue for boarding cards.

Gupta bought the plane in 2003 from an insurance company. It was dismantled and then put together again in a southern suburb of Delhi. The Indian Airline logo on the fuselage has been replaced by the name Gupta.

Passengers are looked after by a crew of six, including Gupta’s wife, who goes up and down the aisle with her drinks trolley, serving meals in airline trays.

Some of the stewardesses hope to get jobs on proper planes one day and regard it as useful practice.

As for the passengers, they are too poor to afford a real airline ticket and most have only ever seen the interior of an aircraft in films.

“I see planes passing all day long over my roof,” Selim, a 40-year-old tyre mechanic was quoted as saying. “I had to try out the experience.”

Jasmine, a young teacher, had been longing to go on a plane. “It is much more beautiful than I ever imagined,” she said.

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Wiki at Work

Everyone, at some point or the other, is distracted at work. I’m willing to admit that on a few occasions, I have spend a few minutes here and there reading Google Reader, checking a random Wikipedia page, and even watching a YouTube video sent by a friend.

Some folks, however, take it a bit far (hat tip to A. Phan):

Japan Officials Edited Wikipedia at Work

Japan’s Agriculture Ministry reprimanded six bureaucrats after an internal probe found they spent work hours contributing to Wikipedia on topics unrelated to farm issues — including 260 entries about cartoon robots.

The six civil servants together made 408 entries on the popular Web site encyclopedia from ministry computers since 2003, an official said Friday.

This next bit really gets me (disclosure: I’m a big Gundam fan)

One of the six focused solely on Gundam — the popular, long-running animated series about giant robots — to which he contributed 260 times. The series has spun off intricate toy robots popular among schoolchildren as well as adults known as “otaku” nerds.

And of course, the no-fun Minister of Agriculture had to note:

The Agriculture Ministry is not in charge of Gundam,” said ministry official Tsutomu Shimomura.

You heard it first, America, the Minister of Agriculture is not ACTUALLY in charge of designing big Gundams — as was commonly viewed by . . . apparently people working for said minister. I smell a cover-up…

The other five bureaucrats scolded for shirking their duties focused their contributions on movies, typographical mistakes on billboard signs and local politics, Shimomura said.

The ministry’s internal probe followed recent media allegations that a growing number of Japanese public servants were contributing to the Web encyclopedia, which anyone can edit, often to reflect their views.

The ministry verbally reprimanded each of the six officials, and slapped a ministry-wide order to prohibit access to Wikipedia at work, while disabling access to the site from the ministry, Shimomura said.

NO WIKIPEDIA!?!? But . . . how ever will I have access to the collective wisdom of humanity!? Surely, Wikipedia is useful for something, Mr. Shimomura-san!

The ministry, however, did not object to their limited contributions on the World Trade Organization and free trade agreements.

Someone’s got his sights set on controlling Japanese trade policy. . . you sly devil, Shimomura-san. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.

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Blackberry 101

Despite my protests to never become “one of those Blackberry owners”, I have, for the past three months, sadly and somewhat hypocritically, become a proud owner of a Blackberry Curve.

After three months of fairly heavy usage, I’ve compiled a list of 12 suggestions and impressions for people who are looking at making a purchase or wondering what the big deal about these devices is:

  1. Get a good high-speed unlimited Internet wireless service. The Blackberry Curve is cool because it is one of the only Blackberry devices to have a camera. But, if all you wanted was a camera on your mobile device, you could’ve gotten any number of cell phones. What the Blackberry excels at is in email and Internet applications. Thus, unless you have a service that allows the Blackberry to do what it’s supposed to (mainly, email and Internet), then you shouldn’t even consider getting one of these. It’d be like buying a car but never intending to buy gasoline.
  2. Check with your firm (if this is for work) if they have a Blackberry Enterprise Server. If they are (which is probably the case if your firm uses specialized Microsoft Outlook features to handle email and scheduling), check with your firm’s tech group about which type of Blackberry service you need to purchase. Not listening to them will mean, at best, that your Blackberry device won’t be able to use some of the cooler features (i.e. scheduling meetings through Outlook), and at worse, it means your Blackberry might not work at all. Note also, that while many devices support some type of Blackberry service/software, most of these emulated Blackberrys can’t read from a Blackberry Enterprise Server.
  3. Download Gmail’s Java Application. I assume you’re using gmail, because it’s the best, free web-email I’ve seen. If you’re not, go get gmail (for the reason, refer to the previous sentence). Then, go download the Gmail Java application which allows you to use the Gmail UI features (ie labels for email, organize mail by conversations, large space limit, forwarding at will, etc.) while accessing your gmail. If your job is going to be pinging you all day, then you might as well have access to your personal email while you’re at it.
  4. To combine your Blackberry and your phone, or not to combine, that is the question. I personally don’t want to lug around two mobile devices wherever I go (assuming I only want to pay for one voice plan — which, I do, because I don’t want to pay for two completely separate phone lines for two separate yet overlapping purposes), so I bought the Blackberry and swapped out the SIM card from my old phone and popped it into my Blackberry. This meant that I didn’t get the new service plan discounts on my Blackberry purchase, but on the upside, I did not have to change my cell phone number or anything. The major downside to this is . . .
  5. The Blackberry ties you to work. On the one hand, this has been a major time-saver for me and my team. I rarely turn on my work laptop on the weekends, now, because all the essential functions (checking email, firing replies, scheduling meetings/appointments) I can do from the Blackberry — and I can do any time and in any place that has phone service. On the other hand, especially because the device is the same as my phone and hence I don’t turn it off, I never get away from the email. This of course is mitigated by . . .
  6. Turn the email notification off. For the first couple of months, I left the notification on — which meant that every time I got an email from the office, no matter what the hour (and I discovered that some workers send emails at the oddest hours), my phone would vibrate at me. It got to the point where I could feel my blood pressure rise and the stressed out “fight-or-flight’ feeling build up every time I heard the darned thing vibrate. Now that it’s off, I feel much better. But, don’t you miss out on emails that way? No, because . . .
  7. You’ll check the Blackberry compulsively. I wouldn’t say that the device is necessarily addictive — although some people would disagree — if anything, I’d say it’s a godsend during boring interludes in conversations or when I’m riding a bus or a train and I have absolutely nothing to do. You just get in the habit of checking the device for no good reason. I’ve gone hours without looking at the device without any sense of withdrawal, of course addiction is partially genetic, and maybe I just lack the “easily addicted to small handheld smartphones” genetic makeup.
  8. GPS? Some Blackberries these days come with a GPS device which makes the mapping programs (I use the Google Maps applet) much more useful and much cooler. For those devices that lack a built-in GPS, you can use the device’s Bluetooth system to connect to a nearby GPS device to feed your Blackberry your position information.
  9. Buy a microSD expansion. These devices come with more or less no memory. If you plan to use any of the features at all (including downloading big attachments, using mobile Java applets like the Gmail and Google Maps ones I just described, using the camera, or using the music/movie player features) you’ll need more memory.
  10. The device charges on USB. Very useful for charging when you have a laptop and laptop cable but didn’t bring the bulky Blackberry adaptor.
  11. Consider how fat/clumsy your fingers are when you pick a device. I’m only partially joking here. Case in point: I really liked the Blackberry Pearl, the Blackberry’s general consumption model — it looked like a phone, was much smaller than the other models. Yet, it had two letters to a key, as opposed to the standard QWERTY keyboards that the other models had. That device, while cool-looking, was just not usable for me — and I have fairly small hands. I know people who say that it’s easy to get used to, but given that these smartphones already have tiny QWERTY keyboards, I feel strongly that if your fingers are large or maybe a little clumsy, that you avoid the Pearl and buy one of the QWERTY keyboard-bearing ones.
  12. Most of you actually reading this will probably get a Bluetooth hands-free headset thing. You will look like a big dork with no life outside of work. You will probably be a big dork with no life outside of work. You have been warned.

Incidentally, if anyone’s wondering why these things are called Blackberry’s, from Wikipedia:

RIM settled on the name “BlackBerry” only after weeks of work by Lexicon Branding Inc., the Sausalito, California-based firm that named Intel Corp.’s Pentium microprocessor and Apple’s PowerBook. One of the naming experts at Lexicon thought the miniature buttons on RIM’s product looked “like the tiny seeds in a strawberry,” Lexicon founder David Placek says. “A linguist at the firm thought straw was too slow sounding. Someone else suggested blackberry. RIM went for it.”

The “Strawberry”, huh? I picture my curve, but in pink. . .

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More Recruiting Tips

Hat tip to fellow consultant and recruiting buddy S. Chen who not only presents a lot more useful advice but also an amusing tidbit which I’m sure too many students undergoing recruiting can probably also relate to:

It’s okay if you fell asleep at a company presentation — I did that for my own company’s during the process! I know, so sad, but try to sit in the back if you’ve been having a rough day.”

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Google Reader Upgrades

My favorite feed reader just got three long overdue updates:

  1. It can now count to 1000. Back before this Google Reader update (during the wild, young days of the internet), on days when I couldn’t check Google Reader, the unread post count would build up rather quickly. However, instead of being told precisely how many blog posts I had, Google would only tell me that I had “100+” unread posts. Not particularly informative for a company that prides itself on being the organizer of the world’s information. Today, it can go to 1000. I have yet to reach the point where I have that many posts unread, but at this rate, I think in another year or two, Google may update the reader so that it can count to 10,000. But right now, our technology just can’t handle numbers that big 🙂
  2. You can use “back” and “forward”. Given that Google Reader is on a webpage, you might expect that the back and forward arrows on your toolbar should work like they do on a regular webpage. But, Google Reader is no ordinary webpage: it’s an AJAX application, which means that movement from page to page is not so clear cut. Implementing “forward” and “back” has actually been a challenge for a lot of online Web developers who create AJAX applications, so it’s very nice (and quite a feat for some hapless programmer who probably had to do a lot of unappreciated behind-the-scene work) that they were able to implement this.
  3. Search. Why a company renowned for search expertise create a product without search is beyond me, but its great that Google has finally gotten around to implementing it in Google Reader, allowing me to dig through every post I’ve ever read.
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The Class of 2011 and the World They “Always Knew”

This list makes me feel really old…

  1. What Berlin wall?
  2. Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.
  3. Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.
  4. They never “rolled down” a car window.
  5. Michael Moore has always been angry and funny.
  6. They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.
  7. They have grown up with bottled water.
  8. General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
  9. Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
  10. Pete Rose has never played baseball.
  11. Rap music has always been mainstream.
  12. Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
  13. “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
  14. Music has always been “unplugged.”
  15. Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
  16. Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
  17. They were born the year Harvard Law Review Editor Barack Obama announced he might run for office some day.
  18. The NBA season has always gone on and on and on and on.
  19. Classmates could include Michelle Wie, Jordin Sparks, and Bart Simpson.
  20. Half of them may have been members of the Baby-sitters Club.
  21. Eastern Airlines has never “earned their wings” in their lifetime.
  22. No one has ever been able to sit down comfortably to a meal of “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.”
  23. Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
  24. Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.
  25. Wolf Blitzer has always been serving up the news on CNN.
  26. Katie Couric has always had screen cred.
  27. Al Gore has always been running for president or thinking about it.
  28. They never found a prize in a Coca-Cola “MagiCan.”
  29. They were too young to understand Judas Priest’s subliminal messages.
  30. When all else fails, the Prozac defense has always been a possibility.
  31. Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.
  32. They grew up in Wayne’s World.
  33. U2 has always been more than a spy plane.
  34. They were introduced to Jack Nicholson as “The Joker.”
  35. Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names.
  36. American rock groups have always appeared in Moscow.
  37. Commercial product placements have been the norm in films and on TV.
  38. On Parents’ Day on campus, their folks could be mixing it up with Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz with daughter Zöe, or Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford with son Cody.
  39. Fox has always been a major network.
  40. They drove their parents crazy with the Beavis and Butt-Head laugh.
  41. The “Blue Man Group” has always been everywhere.
  42. Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.
  43. Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
  44. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
  45. They learned about JFK from Oliver Stone and Malcolm X from Spike Lee.
  46. Most phone calls have never been private.
  47. High definition television has always been available.
  48. Microbreweries have always been ubiquitous.
  49. Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
  50. Smoking has never been allowed in public spaces in France.
  51. China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation.
  52. Time has always worked with Warner.
  53. Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympics venue, not the scene of a massacre.
  54. The purchase of ivory has always been banned.
  55. MTV has never featured music videos.
  56. The space program has never really caught their attention except in disasters. Space Program
  57. Jerry Springer has always been lowering the level of discourse on TV.
  58. They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.
  59. They’re always texting 1 n other.
  60. They will encounter roughly equal numbers of female and male professors in the classroom.
  61. They never saw Johnny Carson live on television.
  62. They have no idea who Rusty Jones was or why he said “goodbye to rusty cars.”
  63. Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.
  64. Chavez has nothing to do with iceberg lettuce and everything to do with oil.
  65. Illinois has been trying to ban smoking since the year they were born.
  66. The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.
  67. Chronic fatigue syndrome has always been debilitating and controversial.
  68. Burma has always been Myanmar.
  69. Dilbert has always been ridiculing cubicle culture.
  70. Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling.
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Something for Nothing

Where I work, I have instant electronic access to numerous databases. While I no longer have access to Scifinder Scholar (for Chemistry papers and structures and patents) or PubMed (which indexes every biological/medical paper published), my research workhorses are now Factiva (for news and magazine articles), Euromonitor (for economic and market data), and OneSource (for general company information).

Access to these databases cost money. Lots of it. I remember balking the first time I saw the purchase price for a Thomson research report ($10,000 for some analyst’s research on an energy company) that wasn’t covered by the firm’s subscriptions.

And these databases are, if used properly, well worth the cost to the institution in question. But sometimes, you don’t need fancy-shmancy million dollar databases. I’m currently doing research which involves finding historical operating margins and I’ve found the following resources to be very useful and also very cheap (as in free) and just thought I’d introduce three of my best friends from this past week:

  • Google Finance – This is a pretty awesome tool. It’s flashy and aggregates an enormous amount of useful information. You get corporate information, stock price data (back to 1980), a quick summary of the stock performance of related companies, links to recent news articles, and a quick aggregation of top-level income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement numbers.
  • Reuters – I used to think this site was purely for news (I’m a huge fan of Reuter’s Oddly Enough which I guess isn’t exactly news), but it’s a treasure trove of financial information. Most useful of all are its industry profiles whereby it describes multiple industries, what makes them tick, and industry statistics that enable you to compare how a company is doing relative to its industry. It also lists some information for companies that are not publicly traded
  • SEC EDGAR – Any company report that has ever been filed with the SEC within the last 13 years can be found here using EDGAR, the SEC’s report search engine. This was particularly helpful when I was looking up financials for telecom companies that no longer exist because they either went out of business, changed their name, went private, or were bought out by someone else.

So useful are these sites that I’ve actually created Firefox keyword searches for them (except for Reuters where I still can’t get the keyword search to work). Now I can look up Dell’s financials with a simple “fin Dell” (to search on Google Finance) or “sec Dell” (to use EDGAR).

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This just in (hat tip to The Chem Blog):

BEIJING: In the first such case, a Chinese youngster was killed when the battery of his Motorola cell phone exploded, police in northwest China’s Gansu Province confirmed on Wednesday.

The accident occurred at noon on June 19, when welder Xiao Jinpeng was working at the Yingpan Iron Ore Dressing Plant in Jinta County, Gansu Province.

The cell phone, a genuine Motorola, in his chest pocket suddenly exploded and Xiao, 22, died at a local hospital after emergency treatment failed, commissar with the public security bureau of Jinta County, Bai Shixiong said.

The initial investigation showed the phone battery exploded after being exposed to a high temperature, breaking Xiao’s ribs and penetrating into his heart, Xinhua news agency quoted police as saying.

“We haven’t ruled out quality problems with the battery induced the tragedy, but other causes remain possible,” Bai said.

Local police and work safety officers are still trying to ascertain the model of the phone and the battery, and whether they had any quality problems. An investigation report is expected to come out in a couple of days, the official said.

Many Chinese handset users, who are familiar with fake or low-quality accessories, are demanding an immediate reply from relative departments and Motorola about whether the explosion was caused by battery defects or improper use of the phone, the report said.

The local work safety administration temporarily recorded Xiao’s death as a work safety accident as the explosion occurred at the workplace, about 800 km west of the provincial capital, Lanzhou.

However, it is waiting for the investigation results to ascertain direct responsibility. A team of representatives of Motorola are expected to arrive at the site today to help the investigation.

Exploding cell phone batteries were very rare, a public relations official at Motorola’s China branch said. However, Motorola was taking the incident very seriously and would respect the results of the investigation.

Experts said quality defects, frequent overcharging, short circuits and exposure to high temperatures or flammable materials could lead to battery explosions.

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A Graphical History of Religion

Something I found the other day while browsing in my archives for Google Reader, but its a graphical history of the rise and spread of today’s major modern religions Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Its pretty astonishing how different things looked just a few hundred years ago — as late as the 1400s and 1500s it was not clear that Christianity, one of the later religions relatively speaking, would grow to be the dominant religion. You can find the original here.

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(Hat tip to Eric):

Researchers from mining group Rio Tinto discovered the unusual mineral and enlisted the help of Dr Stanley when they could not match it with anything known previously to science.

Once the London expert had unravelled the mineral’s chemical make-up, he was shocked to discover this formula was already referenced in literature – albeit fictional literature.

“Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral’s chemical formula – sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide – and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns.

“The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite.”

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I loved Gundam Wing and Gundam Seed. Imagine my delight upon seeing…

Life-Sized Gundam Robots!

The 77 pound (5 foot) robot has 14 movable body parts right down to its finger joints, and emits a plethora of sound effects (yes, the Vulcan fires too) while you remotely control his fear-inducing flashing eyes. Marketed as a “sophisticated plastic model” (kind of like its companion to the left), Bandai hopes to ship over 1,000 of these behemoths to living rooms and anime stores everywhere when they drop this December. If this has instantly skyrocketed atop your holiday wish list, you may want to reconsider — the ¥350,000 ($3,000) pricetag and the giant hassle of self-assembling over 250 parts might just deter all but the most hardcore fans.

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