Most times when a Geek Dinner is announced for London, it’s really not practical for me to attend. What with a journey of around an hour by train into the centre of the city, and then often a need to take the Underground to wherever the dinner is being held it’s really not practical to get there from work.
This week is a bit different. I’m on a course run by Developmentor, who host their London courses in a managed office block a short walk from Kensington Olympia Underground, so rather than a long train journey, the journey into the west end is about twenty minutes on the Underground. So when Ian posted on Twitter yesterday that he had had a couple of cancellations for the dinner that night I took advantage of being in London and headed along.
The host/special guest at the dinner was Betsy Weber of TechSmith who was in town as part of a trip around the UK, Ireland and France, and although I was vaguely aware of the company, it wasn’t a name I had come across.
Having said that, it was probably a fortuitous coincidence, as having taken a look at the website of the company, their product is really just what we’ve been looking for.
One of the issues we have at work is that users, like everybody else’s users, don’t bother to read manuals. They often end up learning to use the applications via onsite training as either a super user who has been involved in the development, or one of us in the development team travels around training the users. What we have been talking about doing of late is producing screen casts to demonstrate the software, hopefully cutting down on the travelling for face to face training.
Anyway, it did prove to be a good opportunity to share some ideas about screen casting, and certainly we can take a look at TechSmith when budgets allow.
Aside from that, like most Geek Dinners it was a real mix of people and provided lots of broad talk about technology. I was sat next to Ian, and we had an opportunity to catch up with his work with Silverlight. Opposite was Paul, an accountant by trade, but who also is involved in the regular Bar Camp events. I also talked to Julielyn, a friend of Betsy who was travelling with her and who runs a company specialising in Social Media and Internet Strategy. Sat next to me on the other side was Melinda who again is involved in BarCamp and Geek Dinners.
All in all it was a great evening. The restaurant, the Cote, a French restaurant in Soho had apparently come recommended from Colin MacKay – definitely a hit – good food and well priced. Having said that, none of us actually had to pay anything, as despite us offering to split the bill Betsy kindly picked up the bill for the whole evening!
I had my iPhone with me, so below are a few pictures I snapped during the evening.
So today Lucy reached the milestone of her first birthday. She has definitely developed her own little personality over that year, and is pretty clear what she does and doesn’t like (although that does seem to change from day to day). For example yesterday she seemed to have decided that she didn’t like peas – so any bits of pasta that had attached peas were carefully removed from her tray, and individual peas either tossed overboard, or put back into the bowl!
Tonight though we had chicken which went down well, in her case accompanied by crackers since we were having peas again. Then followed birthday cake and ice cream.
She had never had cake before, and her last encounter with ice cream was back in the summer when she didn’t like the cold, so she was a little careful trying them initially, but I think we can safely say she liked it as she munched through everything.
I’ve been playing around with Animoto recently – an online tool for putting pictures together into slideshows, so I’ve put the pictures from Lucy’s dinner together on that. If you want a more conventional view, the original pictures are over on Flickr.
The connection to the modern day British Airways is pretty convoluted (although they are glossing over that in the press release). Aircraft Transport and Travel ceased flying three years later in 1921 along with the other British airlines that had formed in protest at the government subsidies their French competitors were receiving. They were then acquired by a private air hire company to form Daimler Airway, which in 1924 merged with three other early airlines to form Imperial Airways.
BOAC was demerged into three separate corporations in 1946, and then remerged in 1974 to form British Airways that was subsequently privatised in 1987 to bring us to the company as it is today.
So as far as I’m concerned British Airways is either twenty-two or thirty-five, depending on whether you count from privatisation, or from when the present company was formed. Celebrating ninety years is like someone celebrating on their great-grandfathers birthday because they contain some of the genetic material passed down through their parents. Indeed given that we’re not even celebrating on the date of the formation of Aircraft Transport and Travel, it’s a bit like having a party on the day your great-grandfather first walked…
Sicko highlights the problems with the US Healthcare system. Whilst certain groups such as the elderly, military and others are covered by public health schemes, the vast majority of US citizens rely on private health insurance, or in the case of an estimated forty million people, no insurance at all. What this leads to is situations where people with inadequate or no insurance do not receive treatment, so the movie included examples of patients who were left choosing which finger to reattach after an accident purely because they couldn’t afford the cost of everything, and people who ended up going bankrupt struggling to pay bills.
So how come it has become such a big story in the UK?
Over the earlier part of the debate, our news programmes have been keeping an eye on things, but mostly with a healthy dose of incredulity that there seems to be such disagreement over what seems to us to be a common sense reform to ensure that everybody has the ability to access affordable healthcare. To be honest it hasn’t figured that much because nobody in the US is advocating introducing a system such as our NHS where the state owns and runs the healthcare services, something that is now pretty well unique in the world. Instead they appear to be moving towards a single-payer health care scheme similar to those that operate in Canada, and ironically similar to the US Medicare system that already covers senior citizens in the US.
However, this hasn’t stopped the opponents of the plan, rolling out “examples” of the failings of “socialized” medicine, using our NHS as a major source. They duped two British campaigners, who support the principles of the NHS, but are campaigning against parts of the system into participating in adverts against the healthcare reforms. They have also rolled out a series of claims about the NHS, a number of which are just plain lies – the Guardian addressed many of the better known accusations. Another trump card was that they also managed to get a British politician, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan to come onto the TV to criticise the NHS:
Watching the stories go by on #welovetheNHS reinforced how many people were grateful to the service. Whilst complaining about the NHS is almost as much of a national pastime as moaning about the weather, the vast majority of the general public in the UK are full square behind the original idea set out by Nye Bevan, that no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means, even if we could all see ways it could be improved. Faced with this, we’ve had politicians of all persuasions queuing up on British TV to defend the NHS, indeed Hannan caused his party leader to break his holiday and distance the party from the statements in the US as detailed in this BBC News article. Incidentally, the BBC also has an interesting page comparing statistics on four basic healthcare models in use around the world and their costs and effects.
From my position, I have never experienced US healthcare. All I can do is explain some of my experiences of our system in light of some of the untruths that have been presented in the US describing the UK system. It is also worth mentioning that these are my experiences, and others experiences may be different depending on their doctor, a particular illness, hospital or whatever.
That is not my experience. Thanks to the generosity of my employer alongside my NHS I have a subsidised private medical insurance scheme. The way they get used in the UK is primarily to gain quick access to minor treatment, but a number of NHS hospitals have private wings which the private medical insurance can access. Many surgeons work in both public and private systems, indeed for many minor operations you’ll find the private patients being included in the same list as the NHS patients. There is also nothing to stop you paying for your own treatment, as several people I know have done for minor procedures.
I’ve also got a choice of my GP. Where we live falls in the area of several GP practice areas – in the NHS GP’s can define limits on the areas their practice covers, generally to allow them to easily visit patients in an emergency if required. When we moved here we chose to stay with the local practice for where we lived previously as this was still within area. The surgery is a little over two miles away, and there is another just over half a mile away, and several more within three or four miles of home. In more rural areas GP coverage may be more sparse, but with multiple doctors in most practices there is still some element of choice.
When Beth was pregnant, we also had a choice over hospitals – there were three within ten miles and having looked at statistics and feedback on the units, and also considering where they were located in relation to our workplaces we opted for the unit at Frimley Park rather than the hospital that most mothers from our GP practice went to at the Royal Berkshire.
That actually brings us on to another topic, the costs of treatment. As you may be aware, Beth had complications in her pregnancy which resulted in significantly extra appointments at the hospital, and several additional scans. All of this was delivered for the same cost to ourselves, absolutely nothing. Indeed as a pregnant woman all of Beth’s regular prescription costs were covered, as they still are now, and as are any prescription costs for Lucy. I have to pay for my prescriptions, but that is a Â£7 administrative cost. Whilst it is true that I may be able to buy some drugs cheaper, I know others who are getting drugs that cost thousands of pounds, all either for the Â£7 administrative charge, or nothing if they are in an exempt category. Exempt categories include pregnant women, children and those with a number long term illnesses that need regular medication. All in all something like 85% of prescriptions are dispensed for free. Also free were the several “nervous new parent” visits we paid to the doctor with Lucy after she was born with what turned out to be minor ailments, and the regular visits from the midwife and health visitor teams. As there is no concern about paying for consultations, we are much more likely to visit the doctor just-in-case, which in turn increases the possibility that maybe serious conditions are caught early.
Moving onto another subject, the idea that senior citizens are denied treatment through their age, cost or whatever, or that they are left on waiting lists despite having serious conditions. Again, in my experience not true. A couple of years ago Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. On diagnosis she was quickly seen and treated, and indeed when she had a scare more recently, this again was addressed quickly. She received new experimental treatments for her cancer, and at the end of it, no bill, it was all covered. Unlike stories heard from the US, she wasn’t left with the choice of getting treatment or going bankrupt. We have also had a lady at Church, much older than my Mum who was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Again, there was no question of her being too old. Now I have known older people who have been advised for medical reasons not to undergo a treatment, but the decision is medical.
Like any health system, the money available is not unlimited. In the US decisions on what treatment will be paid for are made by insurance companies, in the UK we have the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or NICE. This was established to try and stop what was called the postcode lottery, where different areas would offer different treatments. This is possibly where the US accusations of “death panels” has come from, as the organisation uses statistical methods to work out whether a particular treatment is financially viable. The difference with NICE is that these decisions are made by a public body, and whilst there have been well publicised cases where they have denied a particular treatment, people have also successfully argued to have them change policy. In terms of how this affects me, in simple terms unless I get something really serious, or rare, it doesn’t. Whilst there are certain pre-existing conditions that the company medical insurance will not cover me for – and this list grows whenever I change jobs, the NHS will treat me for almost anything, at no cost, whether or not I’ve had it before. Indeed I had one medical problem that spanned more than one employer that was partially treated on company medical insurance, but also under the NHS – I could quite happily change jobs without worrying that I wouldn’t be able to get treatment.
The system is not perfect, probably the most frustrating part is NHS dentistry. The story of a patient who took to repairing his crown with superglue has been mentioned as an argument against a government run healthcare system – the irony being that dentistry is the one significant part of the NHS with a large private involvement, and that is where the problem came from. If you actually read the story rather than listening to the rhetoric, you’ll find that the reason he fixed it himself was because even supposedly NHS dentists were trying to get him to pay to have the crown fixed privately. More recently, after the NHS introduced a new contract for dentists a significant number of them decided to opt out of the NHS and only offer private services – at which point they charge per treatment, rather than the new NHS contract which was an attempt to move away from that model. It is worth noting that Beth who during our time with the practice had needed several bits of dental work was invited to transfer to become a private patient – me who was only needing the six monthly check-ups was ignored. That left us without a dentist for a while as we looked around for another NHS practice, but we’ve now managed to sign up with another local NHS dentist. Dentistry treatment is not free, but is subsidised for NHS patients. Even if you aren’t registered with an NHS practice, you can still access emergency NHS dentistry cover through a network of emergency dentists.
Other times we have experienced the NHS have been via accident and emergency units. Again we’ve sometimes had a wait, but that is mainly because they prioritise admissions – if someone is rushed in in a critical condition they will be seen ahead of more minor cuts and scratches. Again you can pick and choose where you go, so for example now we have a new unit close by with a minor injury we’d go to a local minor injury unit rather than the city centre accident and emergency unit that is slightly closer, we also have a 24/7 medical telephone help-line that we have used on a number of occasions – they have been able to advise home treatment in some cases, and can also advise whether a doctor, or even an ambulance should be called. The ambulances and paramedics of course are also all part of the system too.
So would I want to make wholesale changes the NHS? Absolutely not. It may have it’s problems, but those are problems that need to be solved without chucking the baby out with the bath-water. Like any sixty year old institution it needs to change and evolve, but not at the expense of the level of care offered to the population of the UK. As to the US, like many on this side of the Atlantic, I can’t fathom why so many people have a problem with it. Check out this video:
Here is an American who is apparently vehemently opposed to “socialized” medicine (without realising that her parents are about to be part of such a scheme), despite the fact that the current private system is hitting her family business with healthcare costs for employees, and she herself admits that she is having to find money to pay for upcoming medical treatment for her child. Over here, she’d only be concerned about the medical treatment, not for how it will hit the family financially – all of the medical treatment she is having to find money for would be covered by the NHS over here.
The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.
One of the things about having a relatively new house, is it costs relatively little to heat, thanks to the modern insulation. The downside of course about being so well insulated is that in this weather, once heat gets trapped in the house, it is very difficult to get rid of, usually requiring windows open and a good breeze to dissipate. As a result, when we get weather like we’ve had for the past few days, where we’ve had almost no breeze, we’ve generally had to be very fastidious about opening and closing windows and curtains at the right time of day, and using electric fans to shift air around the house. Although we’ve been fairly successful, by the afternoon, the upstairs is often unbearably hot.
Whilst it is a rare occurrence here, Beth is well used to soaring summer temperatures from her life growing up on the prairies, where the kind of temperatures we regard as a heatwave over here are pretty normal for the summer. As a result Beth’s parents house is somewhat better set up for coping in summer heat, whilst being even more insulated than our house here to cope with the plunging temperatures in the winter. Although we obviously can’t do much about mimicking the shady location of the house in Canada, we have often talked about duplicating another feature, which is having ceiling fans, which do a much better job at circulating the air around in the house than the small fans we have been using. Needless to say it’s always been one of those things that we’ve thought about after the heatwave has gone. But this time around we managed to get fans sorted in time for the heatwave, even if we couldn’t find an electrician to fit them until today!
After having a look around, whilst you can pick up a cheap fan from a local DIY store, the prevailing wisdom seemed to be that you wanted something well made and reliable, as the fans need to be properly balanced to work efficiently, and most especially not wobble. It just happened that the sole UK importer of one of the top US brands was based locally, so we gave the Hunter Fan Company a call.
We actually opted for their own brand fans, rather than any of the American imports, not least because they were cheaper, but as I said they turned up on Monday, and the electrician came out and fitted them today. Even more impressively he didn’t even need to get the balancing kits out of the packaging as both fans were perfectly balanced and wobble free as delivered.
Here is a short clip of the fan in our bedroom:
And this is the one installed in Lucy’s room:
Having had them installed and turned on, it was a definite case of wondering why we hadn’t got them sooner. From a room temperature of almost 30 ã€¬C, and the room unusable, it brought the atmosphere in the room down to a level where Lucy was able to nap in the room, something she hasn’t been able to do because of the heat. Certainly a worthwhile investment, and good enough that we might just have to invest in one for the living room as well!
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in Southern England.