August 12, 2004

Core Practice Software I

Modern, mainstream medical practices have a trifecta of software. A mainstream small business accounting program provides for general accounting needs just like any other business. But such programs break down with the arcana of insurance provider billing so a second program exists just to do billing. For those thinking ahead, a third program is added to the mix, an electronic medical records program. This one tracks patient records including observations, diagnoses, and treatments.

There is an efficiency problem here. You can buy three separate programs that don't work with each other and get triple data entry with higher than normal chances of data entry error. Or you can integrate the three together and have data pass down the workflow chain. This not only lowers error but also reduces record keeping overhead, a serious cost in itself.

The name of the game is 55%. That's the traditional overhead figure for a medical practice in the Chicago area. If you can drop the overhead figure below 55% by investing in tools and training, you're going to do pretty well for yourself as a doctor.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:50 AM

The Practice

My wife is starting a new business, a private practice incorporated as Maria Medical. We've been in a quiet period that ended yesterday when she finally broke the news to her boss. The business is interesting and I'm going to be blogging about the general experience here with cross-posts at my other haunt, Chicago Boyz. I'm hoping to get a few postings from the Mrs. as well so we'll see.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:00 AM

June 02, 2004

Giving Communists the Mickey

The Dissident Frogman Famously gave Marx and Che "the Mickey" but now imitation rears its head with Mickey Mao making his first appearance.

I'm starting to lean towards my own shirt, tentatively titled "Mickey Nicky" with Nicolae Ceausescu "getting the Mickey". Anybody know any good T-shirt producers specializing in small runs?

Posted by TMLutas at 12:11 PM

May 29, 2004

EZ Shareholder Activism

An article at Innocents Abroad demonstrates a gaping need for a changeover in how stockholders are empowered to vote. The problem is that corporate governance gets to be too much trouble if you are an index investor or highly diversified with a great many small positions all across the market.

The problem has a solution but only if stockholders get into the current century in the exercise of their voting rights. What is needed is a group of corporate governance improvement organizations that can solicit voting rights from shareholders. Let's say that you think that stock options should be expensed (I'm not taking a position pro or con on this and the example could easily be reversed). If you could assign stock expensing votes on all your holdings in a short amount of time, you would be much more likely to do so rather than going through your entire portfolio, identifying which companies aren't up to snuff and composing a shareholder proposal that you personally present at the yearly shareholder meeting.

Essentially, it's an information technology problem, something that isn't really all that difficult to solve. All that needs happen is for some big wheels to come up with a universal system that anybody with a governance idea can plug into and make all public corporations plug in too.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:29 PM

May 17, 2004

Bumper Stickers For a Sane Islam II

This inspired my creative juices for another bumper sticker.

Honor killings dishonor the Prophet

Female circumcision is anti-muslim

There are probably dozens of ways that muslims can inexpensively, visibly support moderation as true Islam and fight back against extremists. So where can you get such things and why aren't they being sold by muslims to muslims?

Posted by TMLutas at 12:24 PM

Bumper Stickers For a Sane Islam

Ooh, two business ideas in a morning. Clayton Cramer has this one but he means it as something of a political statement. The idea of muslims putting bumper stickers saying "Al Queda -- Not in Our Name" is great but there's no reason not to make money off the deal, no?

I bet you could make a killing just selling to CAIR, no? Well, it would be interesting to see what would happen if you tried...

Posted by TMLutas at 09:58 AM

Close the Door

Putting my potential business hat on. I think that some engineer has a load of money waiting for him if he could figure out how to make a self-contained door hinge that can be told remotely to close the door. The scenario is you forget to close the door to the bedroom on the way to the shower and, you realize this on your way out of the shower. The current solution is a mad dash for the bedroom door and hope that nobody sees. I'm thinking something that gets its energy off of the motion of opening and closing the door and something that you can trip from a distance (X-10 would be ideal).

Posted by TMLutas at 09:04 AM

April 19, 2004

Blog Tank

I've been thinking about the idea of a blogging think tank for some time. Essentially, a think tank would provide a measure of respectability to the blog format as well as provide resources to bloggers such as group subscriptions to various information services and, hopefully in future, a reasonable employment avenue for the best of the best.

Getting things off the ground will be the hardest part. Once a foundation is formed, it's easy to see the benefits of participation and the more bloggers that participate, the more revenue will come in. So I'm starting a tip jar and Amazon book link revenue is also going to the foundation. I'm currently going on the idea of creating a Donor's Trust account with their minimum donation amount of $10,000. So give early, give often, and give big.

This concludes the begging portion of the daily program.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:39 PM

March 17, 2004

Interview Pack Software

One of the limitations of the press conference format is that if you need more than two questions to nail a politician, you're sunk. You might get your first question in, if you're lucky even two, but if you need three you have to depend on your colleagues continuing on the same thread and hitting the press secretary out of the park.

Now imagine an ad-hoc network going on, maybe with pdas, maybe laptops, maybe projected light on glasses, who cares. You not only throw out your own questions but you provide the rest of the group the killer followup question, the knowledge only you know about when a briefer is lying, etc. In other words, you create something of a press conference chat room where evasions are researched and dissected with the press gaining intelligence because the questioning process becomes more explicitly collaboration across outlet lines. Sometimes you get to take the briefer's head off after others set you up for it, sometimes it works the other way around. But press conferences become more intelligent, more focused, and more productive for all concerned.

Posted by TMLutas at 06:46 PM

March 10, 2004

Hollywood Passion Sequel

With all of Hollywood looking for ways to hitch their wagon onto the runaway fiscal success that is The Passion of The Christ, I got my own idea after reading one more Hollywood Reporter item. The Moses led the tribes of Israel for forty years as they wandered the desert and little by little they were challenged and strengthened with periodic eliminations often based on criteria that the participants in these challenges simply didn't know ahead of time.

It's a fourty year long version of Survivor where there's ample room to make stuff up as the Old Testament obviously is glossing over a lot of what happened during that time period.

Royalties may be sent via paypal to dbrutus@mac.com

Posted by TMLutas at 10:27 AM

March 02, 2004

A Banking Ace?

Ace Hardware is an interesting entity in business. You see them everywhere but they're not a corporate monolith like Home Depot or Loewes. In fact, they're a dealer owned cooperative enterprise. Ace comes to mind when I hear about David and Goliath stories like this one about the advantages that big banks have over small banks in their online operations.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing stopping these small banks from building their own Ace. They could pool their resources and create a internet banking services infrastructure that was modular and could easily fit whatever IT the banks were already running internally. They would get more services for less money and have a legitimate shot at beating the big boys online as well as at their brick and mortar locations where locally owned and operated banks already excel.

It's quite likely that they would also be able to leverage a great deal of unpaid programming talent. Bankers all over the world would likely be willing to make contributions to such an effort if it were open source and code verification costs would be lowered as large customers sent their own programming talent through the files, auditing and verifying for free the robustness of code.

Right now, all these banks are reinventing the online banking wheel. They have a built-in advantage in the physical world with their superior local knowledge and connections but that doesn't count for much in terms of online services. With a pooled effort, such banks would be able to increase the quality of their online offerings at a fraction of their current spending.

Posted by TMLutas at 10:03 PM

February 05, 2004

Dog Pack Attack

After reading this article over at Clayton Cramer's blog detailing the growing menace of dog packs and in the spirit of America's Army here's a suggestion for the NRA and the rest of the pro-gun rights NGOs, make a video game out of it.

Create a few animal/human interactions that require the use of a gun, make some of them big enough that some of the clip restrictions make a difference to success and create a database of actual incidents so that people can look things up and see how close their vacation spot is to that dog mauling 9 months ago or the moose stomping two years ago.

The concept could use some refining but the general need to educate people about gun ownership is very similar to the army's need to educate people about its subculture. It would be a shooting video game with a redeeming social purpose and would create a lot of awareness for the cause for relatively little money.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:25 PM

January 12, 2004

Paid Blogging

In my wilder dreams, I'll achieve enough of an audience that I can blog full time and make enough money at it to support my family. I have an active imagination, I'm told.

Dowingba is taking a run at an interesting business model, the blogathon, an extravaganza of one post per hour for 24, 48, or even 72 hours straight for the low, low price of $250, $500, or $1000 respectively. It'll be interesting to see whether he will get sufficient contributions to obligate him to the blogathon. Then again, he does seem to be undercutting his fundraising by saying that he might do the 72 hour stretch just to be able to say that he did it once.

Posted by TMLutas at 02:40 AM

January 06, 2004

Power to the Shareholders

For all of corporate history, the idea that shareholders would be able to manage large enterprises has been laughable. The entire point of corporations is to take the day to day management of the enterprise away from people who frankly don't care about the details but merely want a return with people (directors) who are paid to pay very close attention to those details and appoint further management to deal with even smaller levels of detail.

But what happens when the interests of corporate directors and shareholders start to no longer be in sync? The classic response has always been general shareholders meetings where shareholders simply toss the offending official out of the board or pass a shareholder resolution binding the directors to a particular course of action. Thus shareholders are the ultimate power in any corporation but because they don't usually care about much beyond return on investment and they have little time to manage the affairs of the company it generally takes an earthquake in bad management before they get involved.

But with the information revolution, it doesn't have to be that way. With the explosion of stock discussion groups and other forums, it's become clear that a significant number of shareholders are more than willing to express their interests more than in the past and they also have to pay a tiny fraction of the prior cost to bring their proposals to the attention of other shareholders so that they would have a chance of being voted in despite a management recommendation that the measure fail.

But is this a solution in search of a problem? The answer can be found in books such as The Suicidal Corporation which documents the many ways that managers and directors fend off protestors and boycotters by paying them off, funding people who wish to destroy their industry or capitalism itself. Timber companies funding anti-logging activists, businesses of all stripes pay off professional boycotters, it's all very convenient for the managers but the shareholders' long term interests are sacrificed because the bigger picture is outside of managers' performance metrics.

This is an opportunity for a future business that is a blend of technology and advocacy. There are three separate markets. First there are individual companies who have sufficient activist shareholders and/or management teams with enough foresight to see how this will be, in the long term, useful. A second market is mutual funds who would offer their investors access to the underlying stocks the fund holds and vote its shares as the shareholders who want to exercise oversight see fit. The third market for this type of service is on the very commentary boards that inspired the idea.

All three markets would be served well if the voting software were interoperable with the shareholders in the other two markets. This would prevent unclear expressions of shareholder intent.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:54 AM

January 02, 2004

A Change in Perspective

It's equally true to say that a spreadsheet program is a specialized form of a database management system (DBMS) and a DBMS is a monstrously upsized spreadsheet program. But a lot of people think that there is a great deal of conceptual difference between the two. Current implementations don't try to bridge the gap very much but it doesn't have to be that way.

One of my older clients came to me with a problem that brought this to light today (He's a consultant too but he uses me as a technical backstop on occasion). He was getting multiple data sets from various sources. Singly, they would fit in Microsoft Excel but all rolled in together it would be an uncomfortably large dataset and ungainly spreadsheet that would need to be manipulated by too many people simultaneously.

His problem was that he was much more comfortable in a spreadsheet mindset than in a database mindset, even though he knew that a database was a better solution for his client. After a phone call, it was all straightened out and he's off to implement a workable solution (he'd already had it 7/8ths of the way even without me).

What occurred to me was that one of two things would have eliminated the need for the phone call. If Excel had a better data store, it could scale up and have handled this problem. Likewise, if Oracle, MySQL, or even MS SQL had a front end that acted like Excel, that would work too.

The number of application programmers who would benefit from either tool is quite large. There are a lot of people who live in their little corner of the programming world. The problem is that Microsoft, the dominant spreadsheet vendor that could most easily solve this problem is also the least likely company to engineer such a solution because it would cannibalize sales for Excel, Access, or MS-SQL, perhaps even a little bit of all three. There's no commercial imperative to do it.

Nobody else seems to have thought of entering that niche.

Pity.

Posted by TMLutas at 09:03 PM

December 28, 2003

Abuse of Authority

Adam Smith Institute's Dr Madsen Pirie has an article up on the small tyrannies of development officials, in this case a "planning officer". This officer did not like the red pantilies roofing material in the plan and tried to make Dr. Pirie believe that it was mandatory to change to blue slate. After some investigation, it transpired that the planning officer didn't even have the power to mandate roofing material. It was a matter of taste.

What's going on here is an abuse of authority. Dr. Pirie seemed at a loss as to what to do about this "pocket Hitler". The problem spans the Atlantic. Sonny Bono's congressional career, according to his own rendering, started off when an abusive bureaucrat wouldn't let him put up a sign to advertise his business. In frustration, Bono ran for mayor, won, and fired the man.

Clearly, Sonny Bono's option is not for everyone, yet all too often we all run into self-important bureaucrats who want to go beyond the law and just make our lives miserable.

Perhaps this is a job for the department of anarchy?

Posted by TMLutas at 09:25 PM

November 28, 2003

Rating EULAs

Edward Felten talks about creating a EULA rating service. In comments I already spilled the beans on my four odd years of mentally tinkering with just such a service (EF's got the basics down but his variant won't work for legal reasons, among others). The problems facing such a service are threefold.

1. Jurisdiction: EULA's routinely have clauses that are legal some places, illegal in others, and unenforceable in still others. To provide a proper rating, you need to know the relevant jurisdiction so you know what laws apply. If you're going to go ballistic over disclaimers of warranties, as long as your jurisdiction doesn't allow them any EULA language to the contrary is just meaningless.
2. Practicing law without a license: You can bet that any such service will either have lawyers on staff or get hauled into court for practicing law without a license. Jurisdiction rules here too. If you're going to be stepping on toes with poor ratings for big company licenses lawsuits over your recommendations are inevitable. Essentially you're giving legal advice. Depending on the relevant jurisdiction, this may or may not be illegal.
3. Financing: How are you going to pay for all this? Legal advice is expensive to give. Licenses change frequently and you have to check EULA's even for bug fixes and service packs (Microsoft, for one, does change legal contracts at the service pack/bug fix level).

If you provide the service on a subscription basis and generate a subscriber profile based on questionnaires that gets the subscriber's opinions on EULA clauses, you can combine that with a database of relevant law and automatically evaluate the majority of contract clauses.

The steps would be like this

Break down EULA into clauses and categorize them
For each clause check to see if state or local law voids or modifies the clause
Check against subscriber profile to see whether the clause is permissible.

At the end, you should have five figures in your summary.

Total clauses: The number of EULA contract clauses
Green clauses: The number of clauses which are either voided by law or are set in profile as permissible.
Yellow clauses: The number of clauses which are either modified by law or are set in profile as to be examined individually
Red clauses: The number of clauses which are set in profile as inadmissible.
White clauses: The number of clauses which are not addressed by existing profile and need individual examination.

This traffic light setting is intuitive and gives enough information to quickly and properly evaluate a contract's boilerplate, standard clauses. The more custom contracts would still have the need for individual legal attention though the results could be fed back into your profile so you don't have to pay twice or even pay once for custom contract boilerplate.

Since the service could also serve as a contract repository, horror stories like this would no longer need to happen. The market for this service is companies and individuals serious about legal compliance and who don't want to lose control of their systems due to contracts they never read or understood.

So why am I not running this business (it could be modeled as either profit or nonprofit)? I never found the right support team (need a talented lawyer to organize the legal analysis part) and I never had the cash.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:27 PM

Proto-Businesses

Being a free market entrepreneurial type person I often see business opportunities that are being unmet. Many of these are ones that I could not, personally fill as I'm unsuited to meet the need or I would find the market boring or I just don't have the money or the time or the other team members really suited to do this. I still like to play with these ideas because, for me, that's fun (I'm told this is not normal, sue me). I call these ideas proto-businesses. I've decided that the best (cheapest, least effort) way for me to extend the game is to include them in my blog. There's a small chance that where the problem is missing money or talent, it'll come to me this way and the cost is not prohibitive. I might also get good advice on increasing the viability of some of these proto-businesses. Finally, such an entry would serve as prior art if somebody else decided to patent some business idea that I'd thought up years prior. I got the first one of these 'in the can' already but thought that I might start with a general explanation of why I'm doing this.

Posted by TMLutas at 01:18 PM