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2010 Home



The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

The Layout

Part I


October 1, 2010






Company X was having financial problems.  Costs were up. A team was established to solve the problem.


The team noticed the cost of thread was higher (as a % of total costs) than industry norms, and noticed Company X had used the same supplier for 10 years.  They decided to put "Thread" out to bid, and went with the lowest bid.  Savings?  25%.


Job done.


The next month, the financials improved.  Bonuses paid.  Costs were down.


But then management noticed the number of customer service calls was increasing.


Another team was created to deal with this problem.  Yes, calls were up 20%.  Wait time was up 44%.  There were not only more calls, but also that each call was taking longer!


The recommendation?  Hire three new customer service representatives.


So Company X moved on.  Costs - initially down due to the lower-cost thread - were up again, with the hiring of new employees to deal with customer-service issues.


There's really nothing new here.  You've got a problem?  Solve it.  Two problems?  Create two teams to solve each.  Four problems?  Four teams!  Four solutions!




Was it a mere coincidence following our change in thread suppliers customer service complaints rose?


I don't believe in coincidences.  OK - maybe a little.  I believe more in "cause-effect" than "coincidence".


If there was a relationship, let's find it:


for example:

if: we have high overhead costs;

and if:  materials is much of our costs,

then: (the team recommended) we bid materials to the lowest cost provider.


Fair enough.


But is it the case all providers are the same?  Do they all provide the same quality product?  Of course not.  How might this apply to our situation?


If: we bid materials to the lowest cost provider;

and if: the lowest cost provider may have lower quality;

then: the consumer will get lower-quality products.


What will the consumer do?  Sit and be happy with their unsatisfactory product?  Would you?  Of course not.  Therefore:


If: the consumer will get lower-quality products;

and if: Consumers are unhappy;

then: it follows  Consumers will call customer service.


Of course they will.  And what's the logical result of this?


If: consumers will call customer service;

and if: there are only so many customer service representatives;

then: customer service will be slower.




Enter our second team to solve the problem ---- CREATED BY THE FIRST TEAM!


Let's lay all this out visually:





It's not surprising.  Actions have consequences!  And often times our actions have consequences outside our immediate realm of consideration.


Nonetheless, they're connected.  Most everything in a system is connected - somehow.


Sadly, we too often use the term "unintended consequence" to summarize what just happened.  Sure, it's "unintended", but it's also entirely predictable!


Things are interconnected.  The method of dealing with the high-costs and customer-service issues independent of one another we might call "System A" thinking.  Silo thinking.




We saw, however, there was nothing independent about them at all.  There was a direct cause-effect link between the two.  Cause-effect relationships:  System B thinking.



A good physician uses symptoms to diagnosis the core problem - what's really wrong with the patient.  To treat the patient otherwise is to put a band-aid on the problem.  It does the patient a disservice.  Worse than that, it gives the patient the impression health is on the way, when likely the condition only exacerbates itself.


This is all common sense, isn't it?


Isn't this obvious?


Of course ... Maybe ...


Today, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported:


"The U.S. doctor shortage will accelerate by 50 percent when 33 million uninsured Americans enter the healthcare system as the main provisions of healthcare overhaul law take effect."



Their solution?  The AAMC called for Congress to increase funding to train new doctors.  Just like that. 


Problem?  Doctor shortage. 

Solution?  More money to train new doctors.


Quick and easy.


Does that solution sound eerily similar to the quick-fix solution of putting the thread out to bid?


We said things are interconnected.  Let's take a shot at seeing how.


But to connect means we need to connect something.  What should we connect?  There are many complaints about the current health-care system, from patients to doctors to insurance companies to businesses.  Everybody loves to gripe.  What are they griping about?  Let's start there.


* Doctors complain about reimbursement levels for Medicare and Medicaid care.


*  Individuals moan because insurance companies fail to cover pre-existing conditions.


*  Businesses complain because of the ever-increasing costs of their plans.


*  Individuals complain because of the lack of portability of their coverage when they switch jobs.


*  Insurance companies complain they can't compete across state lines.


*  Doctors complain they are overworked.


*  An individual purchasing insurance is at a disadvantage (taxable income) to an employee getting it through their employer.


*  Medicare-eligible patients are finding it harder and harder to find a primary-care doctor.



And a few recent ones, due to health care reform:


*  The AAMC says there will be a huge doctor shortage.


*  McDonalds will not be able to provide health care to its employees due to the loss-ratio / rebate provisions in health care reform.


*  Companies are taking huge hits to their financial statements due to the removal of the Part D subsidy in 2014.



Those are just a few of the "gripes" I've heard.  These should get us off to a good start.


Next time, let's get off to that good start ...





The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

An Initial Look

Part II


October 2, 2010






Let's get started.  But what does this mean?  In our example of "Company X", we found problems were connected.  We claimed in all systems all things are connected. 

Let's put that to the test.  Let's choose a couple of problems from the health-care-gripe-list, and see if we can connect them.

Which ones?  Let's just pick a couple that seem to be related to get started.  For example, here's a couple dealing with "individuals", so let's try them:

*  Individuals moan because insurance companies fail to cover pre-existing conditions.


*  Individuals complain because of the lack of portability of their coverage when they switch jobs.


Let's first put these in visual format, rather than sentence / narrative format:


OK - let's go ahead and connect them.

What strikes me, initially, with Statement #1 is I don't think it's even true!  It's certainly not true for me!  Pre-existing conditions, as an issue, doesn't even apply.  I have coverage.  Have always had coverage.  Pre-existing conditions?  So it can't be the case "everybody" gripes about it, because I'm not.  Who, then, are we talking about?

People who move from one job to another?  Even most people who move from job to job are exempt from pre-existing condition clauses.  This is because most people switching jobs can prove creditable - that is, continuous - coverage, and insurance companies look at this when determining if pre-existing exclusions apply - or are waived.

To whom do pre-existing clauses apply, then? 

Only to those individuals who change jobs and don't maintain continuous coverage, or those who have been without coverage.

Statement #1, then, is really a cliché ... it's a good talking point repeated by many, and with a little bit of intellectual due diligence, we can peal away the skin to look at the core.  Let's take a moment to clean it up:


That's a lot of work - and we haven't connected anything!

Taking a quick look at Statement #2, it seems to be OK.  It is the case "Individuals complain because of the lack of portability of their coverage when they switch jobs", isn't it?

Or is it?

Do all individuals complain, or some, and not others?

We saw, in cleaning up Statement #1, the core issue was "continuous coverage".  Might this apply here, too?

Let's look at the person changing jobs, or worse, the person losing their job.  They now lack coverage.

But why?

Because their coverage is tied to their employer.

Even with this, something is missing.  The person who's secured a new job has no worry.  But often times, they leave their current job only after having secured a new job.  The fear of not finding a job, and therefore losing coverage, is a real one.

It's called "job lock".

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Let's clean up Statement #2, by merely saying "Insurance is not portable".

This is true.

But why is it not portable?  Because insurance, for a majority of people, is tied to their employer.

Connecting these two, we have:

If: A majority of people's insurance is tied to their employer.

Then: Insurance is not portable.


In the course of examining Statement #2, we fell upon another common gripe of the system we'd neglected to add earlier:  job lock.  We also see there's a connection between it and what we've got already.  That is:


OK.  Now let's get to the work we started with:  Connecting Statements #1 and #2:

Notice our Statement #1 deals with continuous coverage.  Is this related at all to portability?  Maybe.  Let's try.  Here's a first pass:


If: Insurance is not portable;

Then: When jobs are hard to find, some people may find it hard to maintain continuous coverage.


But what's the relationship between this and our "Statement #1"?  It seems this statement, in addition to Statement #1, leads to the conclusion gripe about pre-existing conditions not being covered.  That's the real gripe, anyways, isn't it?  When they're not covered, people gripe.


That is:


If: When jobs are hard to find, some people may find it hard to maintain continuous coverage;

And if:  Insurance companies apply pre-existing condition provisions to people lacking continuous insurance coverage;

Then: Pre-existing conditions are not covered when there's been a lack of continuous coverage.


Let's recap:

We've cleaned up our statements - twice.

We've connected things - reasonably.  I didn't say this was perfect.  It's merely a good starting point, to me.

And thus far, we've found a common link: 

"A majority of people's insurance is tied to their employer".

I haven't even said this common link is a problem: it may or not be.  It is, however, a common link.

We'll do more tomorrow with this.

And some other questions arise as well.  For example, let's suppose I leave my job and cannot find another.  Can't I purchase individual coverage?   And if I purchase individual coverage and I show continuous coverage, aren't any pre-existing condition clauses waived?

We'll see ...



The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

Part III


October 3, 2010






We're off to a good start - a time-consuming start, for sure, but not time wasted!  On the contrary, a little hard work has really paid off!  Not only have we found a common link between two existing problems, we've highlighted another problem, in addition to clarifying our initial problems.

And we've uncovered additional questions to follow-up on.

We will - in due course.

Let's continue.  Let's take another gripe from our list and see what can be done with it:

*  An individual purchasing insurance is at a disadvantage (taxable income) to an employee getting it through their employer.


Why is this?

The issue goes back to World War II, and the federal government imposing wage and price controls wages and prices of goods.

Industry, longing to compete for a shortage of workers, was refused the opportunity to offer potential employees more money.

What could they do to provide attractive benefits to hire the best workers?

They started to offer health insurance.  A "fringe benefit".  A "non-wage" benefit.

And the War Labor Board declared these "fringe benefits" - sick leave, health insurance, etc. - did not count as wages for the purpose of wage controls.

Consequently, the value of the "fringe benefits" soared, as an end-run around the government wage-and-price control policies.

But this doesn't explain why the majority of Americans have insurance through their employer now, does it?  After all, one would have expected, with the ending of WWII and the expiration of wage and price control policies, employers would have resorted to pre-WWII policies, offering employees more money, and letting the employees purchase insurance themselves.

What are we missing?

We're missing the tax treatment of employer-provided contributions to the insurance plans.  Employers did not have to pay payroll tax on their contributions to employee health plans, and, under certain circumstances, employees did not have to pay income tax on their employer's contributions to their health insurance plans.

Why should they?  Taxes are paid on wages, and these were not wages, though they were "benefits".

But this was all informal - until 1954.  Under the 1954 Internal Revenue Code, employer contributions to employee health plans were exempt from employee taxable income.

And employer-sponsored health insurance took off.

Let's (briefly) summarize this, incorporating only the relevant aspects of the visual diagram above:


But what about our initial gripe:

*  An individual purchasing insurance is at a disadvantage (taxable income) to an employee getting it through their employer.

The implications of the IRS ruling are obvious, of course. 

If: the IRS ruled employer-sponsored health plan premiums are tax-deductible;

And if: the IRS ruling dealt only with the tax-deductibility of employer-sponsored health plans;

Then: it follows individuals purchasing insurance on their own were not able to deduct the cost of their health insurance.


Therefore: individuals purchasing health insurance on their own are at a disadvantage when purchasing insurance on their own.

That is:


Let's take a moment to see where we're at:  we've looked at three undesirable effects in the health-insurance system, clarified them, found a fourth, and, most importantly, found a link among all four.

And not just a link - a common cause:  Statement #7:  The IRS ruling.


Stay tuned for Part IV ...



The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

Part IV


October 4, 2010






A common link.  We've not said it's a common problem, but an entity responsible for multiple problems.

But these were problems one could intuitively infer a common link.

The earlier claim was all of these undesirable effects were symptoms of some common problem.

Let's choose one with no such intuitive connection:

*  Medicare-eligible patients are finding it harder and harder to find a primary-care doctor.


Ask a physician and they'll tell you:  they lose money when providing care for Medicare patients. 

But why?

Medicare payments to physicians are 50% - 60% of what the physician receives from the Commercial market.


If: Medicare payments to physicians are 50% - 60% of what the physician receives from the Commercial market;

Then: Physicians are less likely to want to see Medicare patients, and more likely to want to see Commercial patients.

Therefore: It's harder for Medicare patients to find a Primary-Care physician.


This begs the question:  why are physicians reimbursed at such a low rate?

When Medicare was created in 1965, Medicare cost projections for 1990 were $9 billion.  Actual costs were $107 billion.  And America is aging.

Costs are exploding.

And this is a government program. 

How do they control costs?  They have three options, and they've employed all three:

1. reduce benefits;

2. raise premiums;



Yes, I'm certain people claim these consequences of Medicare - low physician reimbursement, inability to find a doctor, etc., are unintended.

Of course they're unintended.  But they're entirely predictable, aren't they?

We'll deal (again, but later) with this notion of "unintended but predictable" consequences.

For now, you may be asking:  I've explained the phenomenon of Medicare patients unable to find a doctor.

I've not linked it with anything, however, and that was the goal - that was the promise.

Let's try now.

By now, you should be rather use to these diagrams.  I'll simply merge a couple, and add a couple clarifying statements at the bottom.


We now see our claim yesterday about the IRS ruling being responsible for many undesirable effects is both true - but also merely a symptom.

There's a deeper issue at stake.

Tomorrow, we'll look at a couple things ... integrating another undesirable effect, as well as looking at the core issue above - from a different perspective ...



The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

Part V


October 5, 2010






Let's take a break from our analysis of the problems of the health care / insurance system and take a look instead at one specific issue many people talk about, and how it has been dealt with in the new health care bill:  administrative costs.

"They're too high", we're told.  Often times, the remedy of "single payer" is put forth.  As that's not politically popular (at this moment), the remedy instead is to mandate a maximum amount insurers can charge for administrative costs.

How is this done?  By forcing a "rebate", or "cash back", to the insured members in the event claims paid out (versus premiums coming in) is too low.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Let's see how it works in reality.  And let's not take an egregious carrier charging 30% for administrative costs (they really don't exist, but it's good politics to talk as though they do).  Let's take a company charging 15% administrative costs.  Let's allow them (for now) to make some profit as well:  5%.  This is a company in compliance!  Let's see how -  if at all - such a law affects them.

Let's put some numbers on the table to show what our company looks like.  With the numbers above, you might expect something like this:


Of course, in reality we know there is variability in medical claims, just as there's variability in everything!  I flip a coin 10 times, and "over the long term", the average is 5 heads.  However, on any given set of 10 throws, I might see 4, 8, 5, 6, or maybe even 0 heads!

So our model above, incorporating variability, might look as follows:


We have variability, and in the long run, we still have our 15% administrative costs and our 5% profit.  We still comply with the mandates of the law, don't we?

Let's see.

In Year 1, we had a good year.  We brought in $100 premium, and only paid out $70.  Premium exceeded claims by $30.  But let's remember, the law says if claims exceed $20, we have to give it back.  Our rebate to the membership, then, is $10.  In total, then, we've paid $70 in claims and $10 back in rebates, for a "Total Cash Out" of $80.


Suddenly, our "good year" is now only an "average year"!

But we'll make it up in the long run, right?  Let's see how it plays out, in the long run:


We were a good company.  We were complying with the government mandate of 15% admin & 5% profits.  This should have allowed us to pay out $80 for $100 brought in!  But you see - in the long run - we're now paying out $84 for every $100 brought in!

Let's suppose we're in charge of pricing our product and we know now, instead of a long-term ratio of 80% we're really looking at 84%.

What would you do?

Increase premiums?  You have to to cover costs!  But how much?  The common-sense answer is by the amount lost due to the rebates.  That is:  84% / 80% = 1.05.

Our new premium is (100)(1.05) = 105.  This should be sufficient, right?  Let's see:


Our long-term claims ratio has fallen to 76.2%, but with rebates, it's actually 82.3%!  What accounts for this?  Claims variability!

Again, our premium must be too low!

Our new premium now is (105)(82.3% / 76.2%) = 113.40.  Is this sufficient?


FINALLY!  In the long-term, we've hit our 80%.

But our premiums have shot up 13.4%!  No carrier can do this and survive.  No insured member will accept it, either.

And there lies the rub ...

We were told:

to achieve lower cost to the consumer, the government will force carriers to give back "excessive profits".  However, we now see premiums will actually go up because of the mandate!

This is the reason why McDonalds came out with position they did ...


The Position of the Government

To achieve lower cost to the consumer ...



Unfortunately ... In Reality,


The consumer is charged higher premiums and / or the carriers go out of business: 



The Health Care System


A Rational Analysis

Part VI


October 6, 2010






Back to our analysis ...

Two days ago, we found a core issue leading to many undesirable effects - symptoms - was government involvement in the economy.  If this is an issue leading to many problems, isn't the answer obvious?


But if things are so obvious they should be done - and they're not - one wonders the reason.

Let's look at a different example to shed some light on the issue.

We started this whole exploration by talking about Company X and bidding out services for thread.  We found there was a connectedness between the actions of "buy from the lowest bidder" and "customer service calls are way up".

Let's suppose we had found the core problem was a lack of customer service representatives.  Different company.  Different situation.  Probably many same problems.  And the analysis led to "too few customer service representatives".


What to do?

Isn't it obvious?  Hire more customer representatives!

But if it's so obvious, why might it not be done?

You're in charge of finance.  Your job is to show a good bottom line.  You prepare charts to show the Board of Directors on how the company is operating.  Can you imagine - even for a moment - taking a chart to them showing operating expenses are up?

Not if you want to keep your job!

So the company - the system - is really in a bind.  A conflict.


The Goal:  To have a good company.

In order to have a good company, obviously you need good customer service, and to have good customer service, you need to hire more customer service representatives.

On the other hand:

In order to have a good company, you need to have low operating costs.  In order to have low operating costs, you do not want to hire more customer service representatives.


What should they do?  What do companies normally do?  What do people do?  When faced with a conflict?  Compromise?  Find a "middle of the road"?

Haven't they already been doing that? 

Let's see if there's any relevance between this and our health care analysis.

Our core issue was "Government is involved with the economy".  The obvious thing to do:  "have Government out of the economy".  This is capitalism!

But if this is so obvious, and we're not doing it, let's see why ...

The opposite?  Government runs the health-care / insurance system as a single-payer.

Let's complete the diagram ...


The Goal:  Have a country based on individual rights.

In order to have a country based on individual rights, we need a system where there is a separation of politics and economics.  To have this, the government must be out of the economy.

On the other hand:

In order to have a country based on individual rights, we must have a system recognizing - and providing - health care as a right.  To have such a system, we must have government running the health-care / insurance system as a single payer.

Quite a conflict.  A Constitutional-Republic conflict.

As was the case in Fahrenheit 451, "censorship" did not come from the government.  It was desired - by the people!  So too with the conflict above - this is a democratic conflict!  The dialogue between Fire Chief Beatty and fireman Montag: 

"Empty the theaters save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colors running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne. You like baseball, don't you, Montag?"

"Baseball's a fine game."

"You like bowling, don't you, Montag?"

"Bowling, yes."

"And golf?"

"Golf is a fine game."


"A fine game."

"Billiards, pool? Football?"

"Fine games, all of them."

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? Organize and organize and super organize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere. The gasoline refugee. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before."

"Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course.

"There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals."


And our current course of action?

We have neither of the above, obviously.  We do no have capitalism, nor do we have a single-payer.  We have government involved in the economy, working in conjunction with "free market".

And the result of this "middle-ground"? 

We see it:



The man who compromises on basic principles?

"There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged




Part of =EQUALS=


October 14, 2010







and Other Interesting Things

It gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  We know that.  Have you ever looked at it – visually?  Let’s take a look:



We were right, of course.  We also know this is the case – for us.  In other parts of the world, the graph is reversed.  It’s also flat – where the weather is constant.

But let’s talk about us.

Why does this graph look like this?  Sunlight?  The fall equinox just passed, meaning we’re going to start having less and less sunlight.  Less sunlight should mean colder temperatures.  It makes sense.  Let’s see if it’s true, by graphing sunrise and sunset for the same annual period:

Indeed, exactly as we thought.  As there’s more sunlight, there’s higher temperatures – and vice versa.  But how much sunlight?  Let’s just graph that:

Temperature and Sunlight look remarkably similar.  How similar?  Let’s put one on top of the other and see.

But there’s something about the “temperature” graph that bothers me.  The temperature can rise – and fall – significantly, over a short period of time.  I’m not interested in that amount of variability – I just want to see trends.  Therefore, rather than graphing each day, let’s graphing the rolling average of the temperature over a certain period of time.  To start, let’s just try 3-day rolling average:

Lots of things stand out.  Our thought was there was a direct link between temperature and sunlight.  That seems true – but not quite.  There’s a delay between the minimum sunlight, for example, and the lowest temperature.

Why is this?  Here’s a reasonable guess:


The sunlight (or lack of it) warms the ground (or keeps it cool).  What else can a bunch of weather data tell us?  Let’s look at atmospheric pressure.  What does this look like – over time?  But before I look at this graph, let’s throw out a guess:  what would I expect it to look like?

Where would we start?

Let’s start with a cliché:  hot air rises.  Is this true?  Let’s assume it is.  It seems true for hot air balloons, after all!  Why does hot air rise?  Why does anything rise?  It’s lighter than – than what?  The surrounding air.  That is:


What about air pressure?  It seems, then, if hotter air is lighter than colder air, then I would expect hot air to be light (and therefore, have low pressure), and vice versa for cold air.  In fact, it seems I should be able to exchange one for the other:  if it’s hot, the pressure is low.  If the pressure is low, then it’s hot.

Let’s graph the data and see:


Where’s the seasonal patterns we saw above with temperature?  Sure, the pressure is low in the summer – as expected.  And the highest pressures are during the winter.  We expected to see that as well.  But why are there extremely low pressures – in the winter?  Let’s put air pressure and temperature on the same graph, just to make sure:



What a mess!  And what happens if we do a scatter plot of temperature versus air pressure?


What is going on here?  There seems a general relationship:  as temperature goes up, air pressure goes down, but I was expecting a direct relationship!



Additional Thoughts

One mistake I might be making is this: let’s suppose the temperature is 42° with a pressure of 30.00.  We get a day of sunlight that warms the ground, and excites the air molecules.  This air is just a bit lighter than the surrounding air, and is pushed up.  The new pressure – at that moment – may slightly go down, let’s say to 29.75, as the temperature rises, let’s say to 43°.  It’s still cold, though the pressure is pretty low.

The relationship between air pressure and temperature, then, depends on the conditions on a day-by-day basis.

            Let’s graph the data, then, on a changing basis:

How does temperature change, one day versus the prior, on a pure temperature basis?  How does air pressure change, on a percent basis?


That’s a little better, but still not the direct relationship I’m looking for.

An additional thought comes to mind.  I’m taking single numbers – air pressure and temperature – for the entire day.  Both, of course, change throughout the day.  By hour.  By minute.  Every single second, the atmosphere is changing!  Everything is changing!

A meteorologist’s job is to predict the weather.  Here, I’m wondering if it’s even possible to recreate the weather?

Stay Tuned for Part II ...


BUILD 4241-b

Chapter 1


A Mathematical Science Fiction Series of Short Stories


October 15, 2010














“Press ‘YES’ to continue, ‘NO’ to cancel”.

The routine had become monotonous for Jeff Lucas, head programmer for Simulacron, Inc.  Now on Build 4241-b, he had become accustomed to the boredom of watching the system install updates. Loading the update was one thing – waiting for it to refresh was another.  Pure boredom.  And he hated boredom. 

And this had become an hour of pure agony.

Regulations required he monitor the update / refresh process to make sure no abnormalities took place.  None ever had, of course, and being Build 4241-b, none were likely. 

Which is why he liked the backdoor programming trick he had written into the process, getting the computer to believe it was he shutting down the computer after the hour-long process.

An hour of free time.  Enough to get dinner to replace the lunch he had missed in order to have this build ready for updating by tonight.  He checked his watch: 5:45.  Back in an hour.

He didn’t seem worried, but his fast gait told another story.  It was now 7:05.  He tossed half his sandwich into the trash and darted around the corner to …


The nighttime hour cloaked the sleek building in a blanket of black.  What was going on?

Donna Jacobson caught Lucas moving towards the back entrance.  It was he who spoke first.  “A power outage?  How can this be?  We haven’t had one of these since we installed the Electro-Magnetic-Pulse breaker two decades ago.  What happened?”

“Security is looking into it now.  It’s not mechanical, they say, and there’s been no thermal abnormalities either.  I say it was the upgrades our system got today.  It can’t be coincidental, can it?”

His head turned, forehead wrinkled.  “Upgrade?”

“Nothing serious, but darn frustrating.  That’s for sure.  It hit me first this morning, the extra step in the update / refresh process.”

Donna had done a quick rework of the architectural module, and management had demanded this small change be labeled Build 4241-a.

He was worried now.  She knew he was working on Build 4241-B, and because he was away, would know he would have – he should have – gone through the same process.  Tipping his hand might mean severe reprimand.  The company had one strict rule:  Do Not Leave Your Computer.  He tread cautiously. 

“How did it work for you?”

“I came to the normal “YES / No Continue” screen, and was about to click “YES”, but then I noticed a line underneath it reading ‘non-Neurological Applications’.”

Non-Neurological Applications”? he said, in the tone of a question.  He knew it was a mistake immediately, as Donna shot him a glance.  He recovered quickly.

“That was odd.  What did you do?”

“I thought I was just imagining things.  I thought, ‘Well – it must always have been there, and I just never noticed.  I clicked ‘Yes’ as usual.”

“And then I hit the second screen, about 25 minutes later.”

“Press ‘YES’ to continue, ‘NO’ to cancel” with ‘Neurological Applications’ now beneath it.  Now I knew this was something new.”

His mind was racing.  What did it mean?  He looked at his watch. 

“What time did the power go out?” 

He could only hope.  If the power went out before the hour had elapsed, the system – not receiving a “normal shutdown” command, would abort the update entirely.  It would go back to the previous Build.  Build 4241-A.

But if the power outage had taken place after an hour, it would recognize a normal shutdown, because his backdoor trick had been programmed to do just that!  He now cursed the day he had written that little bit of code.

This was bad enough.

But the two “Yes” Commands worried him.  If the non-Neurological Applications were installed, then the computer was waiting there with a second prompt – for the Neurological Applications – to continue.  If the hour expired, the system would automatically shutdown, assuming the entire Build was complete.

The two applications would be out of synch.

Only a few seconds had passed since his question.  “Oh, it just went out”, she said, glancing at her watch.  “About 10 minutes ago”.  He stole a look at his own watch, which read 7:09.




Part of =EQUALS=


October 16, 2010






And that brings me to Edward Lorenz.

He came upon a similar question – by accident.

In trying to create a model, in the 1960s, to simulate weather patterns, he found he couldn’t even recreate his own model.


He was rounding his data to six decimal points, but ultimately, this rounding manifested itself in huge errors that meant he couldn’t even predict his own weather data!

He called this phenomena “The Butterfly Effect”.  Small changes in the inputs can lead to dramatic effects in the outputs.  This is the Lorenz Attractor:

How can I recreate this image?  By these three equations:


I honestly don’t know what these mean, particularly with respect to a spreadsheet.  However, I did find these:



What do they mean?  Each x, y, and z depends on the previous value of x, y, and z.  ‘t’ represents “time”, so as time moves forward, the values change.  And what about the three variables:


We set these!  OK – let’s create a spreadsheet and see what we’ve got.  And for the three parameters?  What values should I use?  The figure above was with


so I’ll try these, and see if I can re-create the diagram.  But first, the table of data points to graph:


What can I do with this data?  It’s hard to create a 3-d scatter plot in Excel, but I can plot the coordinates against one another.  Let’s see what this looks like: