Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Eurovision Song Contest and Geographics

In general I don't plan to comment on daily topics and with the exception of Apocalyptica I don't particularly like modern heavy music. But absent-mindedly following the Eurovision Song Context last weekend, I couldn't but help noticing that many neighboring countries did vote each other. This has been noticeable in past years, and this year, when citizens actually voted, I explained this to myself that immigrants and minorities vote to support their ethnic background.

So, up with the calculator, or rather the computer. I wrote a program which tries to place the countries on a 2D plane so that countries that voted heavily on each other were placed more adjacently than other countries, and vice versa. The layout tries to minimize the sum of squares of differences between the countries on the layout and the number of mutually awarded points. Final points weigh twice the semifinal points.

Yes, clearly one can observe several clusters of neighbor countries, but the planarity constraint makes it impossible to bring all voters of successful countries sufficiently close.

Oh, did I have an opinion of the winner? Not seriously, except that IMHO it was rather nice to see latex on the outside for once win silicone on the inside. And in general, diversity was really needed.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Different Kind of Hacking

I hack quite a bit of code, both for fun and funding, but this weekend I hacked up a zero-budget video demonstrating the use of orthogonal fisheye transformation as a surrogate for a big screen on handhelds. Fortunately there was some programming involved, but mostly my time went to battling against the heat strokes of my computer and ADSL modem, a malicious sound card, various video formats, and the lack of satisfactory FOSS video editing software. Oh, and since didn't have a microphone I had to use my digital camera's dictaphone feature. But that caused a lot noise and clicks I have to edit out some day.

In away all this was fun, and should I have a lot of extra time it would be fun to really delve into this subject, study video formats, more than basic computer graphics, solid modelling, blender, and make these tools as easily approachable to layman as a pen for writing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Public Healtcare in Finland: Scrap, or How to Fix It!

There has been quite a bit of debate recently on the state of the public healthcare in Finland. According to laws passed in early 70's the state (and/or municipalities) must provide an adequate level of basic healthcare for all citizens. For two decades it worked marvellously, but since the recession in early 90's the state funding has gradually decreased despite the subsequent accession. For quite some time that was compensated by municipalities and "increased employee efficiency" (i.e., in many cases unpaid, underpaid, or incompetent labor), but recently their back seems to have been broken: nurses are rallying for better salaries and more workforce, and nasty rumors are beginning to circulate about neglected elderly patients left to suffer alone in overcrowded institutions.

So far the supply of doctors has been somewhat sufficient, but as people become older the ratio of nurses to doctors should increase as treatments such as washing, feeding and moving begin to dominate. Nurses are not accustomed to defend their rights by striking, but the young have long ago voted with their feet: nursing has become an unpopular career and in fact there are roughly twice as many nurses in the age group of 40-49 than 30-39. So, as the older age groups retire, the situation will only become worse.

Simultaneously worries are beginning to rise about the state's (i.e., younger generations') ability to pay the pensions the older generations have been promised (by themselves, essentially). If all goes well, then the pensions can indeed be paid, but the economic uncertainties are considerable. Consequently, one way to make it easier for the younger generations is to lift the state's responsibility of public healthcare, at least for the older age groups. This would reduce government spending but the elderly would have to pay their own health care by selling their properties as very few have taken healthcare insurances.

If, on the other hand, we the Finns decide to keep our public basic healthcare system alive, I propose a very simple remedy that will make sure it remains in working condition: enact a law that forbids all private healthcare or any special treatment forever for anyone who has worked sufficiently high in the state or municipalities. This law should at least cover all members of the parliament and anyone else who has made a similar or salary (say, 6000 euros/month or more) while working anywhere in the public sector. Once the politics and higher public servants are made to eat their own dog food the rest will fix itself, trust me on that one!