Aug 29

Dropped from the Dow

I saw a headline stating that Exxon Mobil is being dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and I clicked the link because I was curious to know why. I learned that Exxon Mobil has been a part of the Dow since 1928, making it the oldest member. So what happened?

As I read the article, I realized that I had misunderstood what this means. I was confusing it with being delisted from a stock exchange, which usually means that your company is circling the drain and its stock is almost worthless. (This happened to one of my former employers, Pliant Systems, in 1999.) But the Dow is a stock index, not an exchange. Basically, it’s a bundle of stocks that are selected to represent the American economy as a whole. As such, it needs to be updated as the economy evolves.

This particular update was triggered by an impending Apple stock split, which would alter the blend of manufacturing and technology stocks in the index. So the Dow is adding some tech stocks: Salesforce, Amgen and Honeywell. Also being dropped are the drug company Pfizer . . . and my current employer, Raytheon Technologies.

That was a bit of a shock. I’ll try not to take it personally.

Sep 05

Aliens in Roswell

Are there aliens in Roswell, New Mexico? People have been debating that question since 1947. Now the matter has been settled. Last week, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities arrested 15 aliens in Roswell. What were they doing there? Painting military airplanes!

Jun 23

The cursive menace

Three years ago, I joined Bob in criticizing the practice of teaching cursive writing in schools. At the time, I condemned cursive for being illegible, but it didn’t occur to me that it can actually kill people. However, in one particular context — the handwriting of doctors — sloppy handwriting can cause prescriptions to be filled incorrectly. The result could be harmful or even fatal. Recently, the state of Washington addressed this issue by passing a law that forbids physicians from using cursive writing in prescriptions. On prescription slips in the state of Washington, cursive is now illegal.
Some people are already making fun of the new law. On the blog of the libertarian Cato Institute, Michael Cannon calls it “really, really dumb.” Blogger Pejman Yousefzadeh asks, “Doesn’t government have more important things to worry about than this?” But despite my normally libertarian leanings, I approve of this law. In fact, I say it doesn’t go far enough.
Medical mistakes can kill people. If doctors’ sloppy handwriting leads to such mistakes, it’s inexcusable for them to continue writing that way. The medical profession should have solved this problem on its own, but if doctors are not willing to do so, it’s reasonable for governments to step in. In an ideal free-market economy, this would not be necessary, but health care is heavily regulated in our society and thus largely insulated from market forces. If our governments are going to regulate doctors, requiring them to write clearly is a valid part of that. Besides, governments created this problem in the first place by teaching cursive writing in public schools. It’s only fitting that they should have to solve it.
So Washington’s new law is a good idea. But why does it only apply to prescriptions? The harm caused by doctors’ sloppy handwriting is not limited to prescription slips. It also occurs when their treatment instructions are illegible, leading to medical mistakes that can be a deadly as an incorrect prescription. This law should have prohibited doctors from using cursive for any written instructions, not just prescriptions.
Medical schools should be teaching a handwriting class — one that concentrates on clear, legible printing. If doctors write illegible instructions that lead to harmful treatment mistakes, that should be grounds for a malpractice suit.
Now, can we get the public schools to drop cursive writing from their curriculum and use the class time to teach something useful?

Sep 04


As I mentioned in my previous entry, I was born in Louisiana. Specifically, I was born in the town of Thibodaux (pronounced “TIB-uh-doe”), about 40 miles east-southeast of New Orleans. It occurred to me today that I really should use the Web to find out how my birthplace was affected by Hurricane Katrina. After the scenes of devastation in New Orleans that we’ve all seen over the last few days, I was afraid of what I might learn. I braced myself and opened my browser, half expecting to find that the town had been entirely destroyed.
But Thibodaux is still there and in relatively good condition. Thanks to the Daily Comet, I’ve learned that the town suffered wind damage and power failures, but wasn’t flooded. And now Thidodaux is hosting refugees from New Orleans. Nearly a thousand people are being sheltered on the campus of Nicholls State University. A field hospital has also been set up at NSU to handle the overflow from Thibodaux Regional Medical Center, which is full.
I can’t claim any real connection with Thibodaux other than having been born there; I don’t even remember the place. But I still feel proud of my birthplace for what it’s doing to help the victims of the hurricane.

Jun 06

Getting the news

The hallmark of a historic event is that people remember where they were when they first heard about it. I don’t know whether the death of former President Ronald Reagan will be remembered in those terms, but I will record here that I was in the Green Room at Raleigh Little Theatre. Tech Week for Smokey Joe’s Cafe began today. That’s the week of dress rehearsals (with light and sound cues, scenery and props) that precedes opening night. It’s traditional for the cast to provide dinner for the crew on the first night of Tech Week, so it was during Tech Dinner that I heard the news of Reagan’s passing from the other techies sitting at my table.
I remember where I was when President Reagan almost died in 1981. On March 30, 1981, I was in my room at the Bates West dormitory at the University of South Carolina. I don’t recall exactly how I first got the news, but I remember that within an hour or two of the shooting, The State published an extra edition reporting all of the information that was available. The newspaper carrier who normally delivered the paper to Bates West subscribers came through the dorm knocking on doors and offering the extra for sale. I bought a copy, and I still have it somewhere. It was the only extra edition of a newspaper I had ever seen.
And I’ve never seen another one. It’s hard to imagine a newspaper rushing out a special edition today. What would be the point? By the time they can print it and deliver it to customers, those people will already have seen the same information on CNN, or read it on any of a hundred news sites on the Web.
Of course, the same thing is true of the regular daily edition of any newspaper. By the time it reaches your front porch, it’s already out of date. That’s one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to a daily newspaper anymore.

Sep 18

So far, so good

It’s intermittently windy with occasional strong gusts, but no sustained high winds. And it’s not even raining hard. According to the news reports, the eye has reached land. Isabel is 600-700 miles across, so that means we’re definitely inside it already. Perhaps conditions won’t get any worse than this. If so, we’ll be just fine here. No power outages to speak of yet (a fraction-of-a second flicker earlier this morning, but only the computers noticed).