Thursday, June 28, 2007

Health Care: Reform the Patent System

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read my blog since its inception (that means you, honey) that I have issues with the patent system. Being a software developer, I've marveled at the absurdity of patents granted to the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, and others. Whether it's the GIF image format or Amazon's one-click idiocy or even the RSA's holding web security hostage, patents do more to undermine invention and progress in the software world than support it.

The same can be said of patents with regard to health care. In a previous post, I detailed how Aventis' games with Lovenox patents had a very direct effect on my family financially. Shortly thereafter, the FDA's treatment of Mylan Laboratories over a drug patent demonstrated an anti-consumer, pro-big-pharma, pro-patent attitude within the FDA, the gatekeeper for U.S. health care.

So, how would I fix it?

  • Shorten Patent Duration: During the life of the patent system, we've gone from 14 years to 20 years while at the same time improving the technology required to create inventions. There's no reason to grant a 20 year monopoly on anything. I would argue that 7-10 years is a more appropriate duration in this day and age.

  • Prohibit Patent Abuse by Pharmaceutical Companies: As I detailed in my Lovenox post, pharmaceutical companies frequently patent a compound upon initial discovery often times without any target condition. Once they create a drug and push through FDA approval, they then patent the final form of the drug, effectively extending the original patent by 20 years. They then use both patents to prevent generic competition. No matter how good they are at smoke and mirrors games, companies should only get one patent on an invention.

  • Any Trace of Government Funding in an Invention Precludes Granting a Patent: Think about this one for a minute. Our government throws money at anything and everything through their earmark grants, especially health care. If someone develops an invention using our tax dollars, they should have no right to a patent on the invention. In fact, the work should be in the public domain. It's the only logical outcome of public funding yet it's the exact opposite of what we do.

  • No Patent Without a Prototype: I know this might hurt some small inventors, but I don't believe patents should be granted unless a physical product exists. If you want to patent a flying car, fly the damn thing to the U.S.P.T.O. and let them take a look.

  • Expire Patents Owned by Holding Companies: While the grandfather clause protects existing IP holding companies, we can change future patents to expire upon purchase by a company who is little more than a team of submarine patent lawyers. If there's no physical product, there's no reason for the patent to exist.

  • Time Limits for Patent Lawsuits: If a product is on the market for at least 24 months without any objection from a company holding a patent on the underlying technology, that company cannot sue. Too many companies are using patents for leverage after their product failed in the market. Eliminate that option, but give them enough time to discover offenders.

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Health Care: What Would I Do?

In all of my writing about health care including criticism of Republican candidates' failure to put forth any real plans, it occurred to me that I've never put forward any reform plans myself. While my posts have hinted at things I like and don't like, I've never stated exactly what steps I would take to improve U.S. health care. This article will start a series of articles on how I would change our health care system.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Interesting Blog Posts

Just a few interesting postst that came across some blogs I keep up with:

YouTube on iPhone and Apple TV

Someone please tell me why this is news. Who cares? Does anyone care about having YouTube on TV or on a Phone? I certainly don't, but maybe I'm daft.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Hypocrite Series: Democrats on Bush's Stem Cell Research FUNDING Veto

Obama and Clinton both posted strong rebukes of Bush for today's veto. The only difference is that one candidate was honest, one was not. The Democrats have long played a dishonest game with stem cell research claiming Republicans were banning it. The truth is that a majority of Republicans have opposed government funding of embryonic stem cell research, not stem cell research in general. And, where is it written the government should fund any research?

Before I get on a rant, let's get back to the point. Obama's quote from a blog post:

By vetoing funding for stem cell research once again, the President is deferring the hopes of millions of Americans who do not have the time to keep waiting for the cure that may save or extend their lives.

Nicely done...Obama was honest about it. Let's see what Clinton had to say in her blog's post:

So let me be very clear: When I am president, I will lift the ban on stem cell research.

Oops...looks like she's playing the political game of turning a ban on funding into a ban on research.

Why do I bring this up? I think it's important we find someone honest to go into the presidency regardless of their policy positions.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Reading Speed

Through a post on Jason P. DeFillippo's blog, I stumbled onto The Low Information Diet which I should have already seen as I've been reading Timothy Ferriss' site for a few weeks now. Mr. Ferriss presents some unusual ideas, but the one that most interested me was his recommendation on improving how fast you read.

Quoting the document:

Reading speed increases to the extent that you reduce the number and duration of fixations per line. That is the verifiable science of speed reading in one sentence.

The process is simple. First, draw a vertical line down the center of five text pages, then draw two additional vertical lines 2” to either side of each center line. Practice fixating only at the points where these vertical lines intersect the horizontal lines of text, then progress to unmarked pages of text. By training peripheral vision and consolidating eye movement, you will be reading at least three-times faster than before.

Before I get into this, let me state unequivocally that I don't consider myself a speed reader and have never had any formal training in speed reading. I didn't even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night so I'm probably way off base. Having said that, I think most who know me would agree I work with text a little faster than the normal person. Let it be known that I don't work with text for enjoyment. If you want to enjoy your reading, go elsewhere. I've always hated reading and only use concepts to increase speed and comprehension, not enjoyment or appreciation of eloquence.

Ironic that I can't shutup when I write, isn't it?

I do agree with Mr. Ferriss that eye movement plays an important role in how fast you can read, but I'm going to bet that a lot of people aren't in the position where eye movement matters much. Additionally, I think there are better ways to consolidate eye movement *if* you can control the format of the printed text.

The first breakthrough you can make in your reading speed is to discover useless words. In general, useless words are words that you wouldn't capitalize if you were formally typing the title of a book in a bibliography. Words like "is", "are", "a", "the", "that", "which", etc. make great candidates with one notable exception, "not". You must pay attention to negation, or it will take you longer to read a block of text using this method. Even worse, you might completely misunderstand what you read if you don't catch yourself skipping a negation.

Reading without the connector words can be a little jarring, but they're only there to make things flow better in speech. They impart very little meaning on a normal sentence. Occasionally, you need to slow down and pick up verb tense, but other than that, they're largely useless.

The second breakthrough comes in discovering that how you were taught to read is slow. This has become more clear as I've been working with my 4 year old on reading. He reads the letters of a word, and I tell him what the word is. Letters make up words, words make up sentences, and sentences make up paragraphs. We build from smaller to larger. When he was just 2, though, he figured out the word "Pizza" without knowing anything about letters. How? He memorized the symbol after we told him what it was. The point is that reading letters is slow, but reading words as symbols is fast.

Let me give you another example. I'm a fairly fast typist today, but a few years ago, I could easily hit 90+ wpm speeds with peaks in the 110-120 range. The difference between 40 wpm and 90 wpm is how you think about what you type. Do you type l-e-t-t-e-r-s, or do you type words. Words I use frequently just flow out of my hands. I don't think about the letters I'm typing at all. It's only in a word I don't use frequently that I slow down to think about the letters. And you know what I realize at that point? I really don't consciously know where all the letters are on a QWERTY keyboard. I used to know, but I don't now.

Reading is the same. The more you can divorce your brain from the process of converting letters to words, words to sentences, and sentences to paragraphs, the faster you will read. Treat each important word as a symbol. Try not to think about the letters, and never pronounce it in your head. Just look at the word and know what it is similar to how you look at a company's logo and instinctively know the company. This takes practice and isn't 100%, but it can be done.

Once you master treating words as symbols, you can move onto phrases. If the text you read is somewhat uniform, you may be able to abstract collections of words into a given meaning like you've done with individual words. For instance, I work in the computer programming field. I can look at phrases like "object oriented programming" and spend less time on it than I would a simple word like "speed".

At this point, it may be time to tackle eye movement. When your eyes move across a long line of text, it's easy to lose your place. I've never tried Mr. Ferriss' method so I can't comment on it. What I have tried is using small columns of text. Reading top to bottom is a whole lot easier than reading left to right, top to bottom.

I noticed this the most reading the Bible, of all things. Even as difficult as the Bible is to read using my techniques, I still found myself reading through it fairly fast. Why? The columns are only 4-5 words wide, and you never have to move your eyes left to right if you concentrate. Imagine yourself taking a picture of each line, discarding the unncessary words (not so easy with the Bible), and reading the important words as symbols out of what remains.

This is similar to what Mr. Ferris recommends, but it negates some of the training needed with his method. Having said that, a lot of text you encounter won't be in nice, thin columns like the Bible. If it's an online text, I'd say reformat it if at all possible. Shrink your browser width. Shrink your mail reader width. Do what you need to do to get a column width you can read without moving your eyes. If it's printed material, you might have to fall back on another method to minimize eye movement.

And last but not least, you have to practice. You aren't going to read all that fast if you don't read a lot. My job forces me to read a lot, especially if I want to keep up with all of the blogs I like and get some real work done. Just like typing, you won't improve much if you don't do it, and dare I say, you could even slow down much like my typing has over the years.


It Pays to do a Little Research

Growing up, I didn't have a parent who taught me anything about cars or how they work. Schools were no use either. You got on either a college or vocational education track, and you stay there. Since I was on the college track, little practical knowledge was imparted in my schooling. It wasn't until just a few short years ago that I started learning a little about how cars work and, more importantly, how to fix them.

My current vehicle is a 1995 Dodge RAM with a little over 100,000 miles on it. Sadly for me, mileage is not the only determining factor in mechanical wear and tear. Time in and of itself seems to cause its own problems, and I've had my share of them the past year. Last July, I had to have the transmission on my truck rebuilt. Let me rephrase...I let the transmission shop I happened to breakdown near tell me it had to be rebuilt. Upon further research, I discovered that using the wrong transmission fluid in a Mopar transmission is bad news, and mine had been changed a couple years prior. It's possible changing the fluid would have brought it back, but it's even more probable that verifying the right fluid went into it 2 years ago would have saved it for several thousand miles.

Nevertheless, it's too late to revisit that flight of ignorance. My truck's new trick was to quit blowing cold air. On my previous truck, the same thing happened, and I just said to hell with it and drove without cold air. Of course, now I have a 4 year old son, and going without air conditioning is a little more than an inconvenience to me. So, I dutifully set about to call around and see what sort of cost I might be confronting knowing full well it would be bad.

The answer? $1200 to install a new A/C compressor. Ouch!

At that point, I decided to do some research. Replacing the A/C compressor turned out to be not such a big deal except for government requirements to have a certified shop do the refrigerant draining even though my truck was already on R134a instead of the dreaded R12. When reviewing the process, though, I discovered it's very common for the A/C compressor clutch to go out before the compressor. Considering my time was short, I decided to let a shop evaluate it and find out which it was.

At the shop, the mechanic dutifully told me that the compressor would have to be replaced. Upon further discussion, he admitted that it was just a problem with the clutch but that nobody would sell a clutch by itself. If I could get the clutch, he could have it up and running for $75. That's right, less than 10% of the initial estimate.

So, off I went in search of a clutch, and you won't believe what I found out. Nobody will sell a clutch by itself. BUT...and this is a big but...salvage yards will sell old compressors for less than $100. I lined up one to buy at a local salvage yard, but upon picking it up, I discovered that it was 33% of the way to the same condition as my clutch. The shop was extremely helpful and located another compressor for me, but while we killed time, I asked what they were doing with the broken unit. They said they'd trash the clutch and keep the compressor core.

At that point, I decided to buy the broken part by itself. I didn't need the whole clutch, just the clutch plate. It was broken, but it was still working and might tell me if my A/C compressor seizing up might have caused the clutch problem. After forcing the salvage yard to take $5 for it, I went home to try my hand at the install. It should have required a special tool according to my book, but I improvised. Within 20 minutes, I had the new clutch plate installed, fired up the truck, and, believe it or not, it worked.

Hopefully it will last the summer. I'm planning to pick up one of the other compressors the salvage yard located to keep as a backup.

The lesson here is not to take a mechanic's estimate at face value. Even if he/she is honest, it might be overestimated because of the circumstances. Assuming my A/C compressor had been bad, the mechanic would have bought one from Dodge for $450-500. The price for an aftermarket part from AutoZone would have cost $280-350 depending on the brand, and any mechanic worth his salt will install a part that you bought. If you were really brave, you could grab a compressor from salvage for less than $100 and roll the dice. In my case, I spent $5 plus 3-4 hours of my time as opposed to $1200 and most likely the same 3-4 hours of my time messing with drop-off and pick-up of the vehicle.

I only wish I had done my due diligence on my transmission last year...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Prosecutors Have Too Much Power

So, a 15 year old girl gives a 17 year old boy oral sex. The 17 year old boy, who apparently has no history of legal trouble, gets a 10 year jail sentence. Huh? This apparently happened due to a poorly worded law on the books in Georgia which has since been corrected. This past week, a judge reversed the conviction calling it cruel and unusual punishment. So here we sit, 2 years later, and the kid can finally get out of jail, right? Wrong...the prosecutor plans to appeal the judge's decision. More from Yahoo News:

Teen Sex Case

What's truly ridiculous is that Wilson should never have been charged with anything in the first place. The system has likely ruined a promising athletic career, and the prosecutor decides to what...have a pissing contest with the judge? Pathetic...but even more disturbing is the intimidation tactic reported in the Yahoo article. If the prosecutor can send Wilson up the river for statutory rape when he was only 2 years older than the "victim", what could he do to the mother of the "victim" if she didn't cooperate?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

DIY Auto Repair Cautionary Tale

Several years ago, I got really tired of the Firestone's of the world charing $300 for plugs and wires. The same job on my driveway costs about $80 plus an hour of my time, and that's how it is with a lot of auto repair jobs. With a Hayne's repair manual and your helpful AutoZone employee's advice, you can do a lot of jobs that might have cost a lot more at a repair shop. However, every once in a while, lack of knowledge can bite you.

I've replaced the serpentine belt on my truck twice in its 10 year life. Both times, I struggled a bit with it mainly because I have only two arms. This time, though, I lost an epic, 2 hour battle. Sadly, I'm not clueful enough to question until I've completely lost my patience. After doing a little research, I discovered that the part numbers on the belts include their size. The one on my truck? 97.6" My new belt from AutoZone? 97.0" That may not seem like much, but for me it was 90 minutes, cuts, bruises, and all manner of unsavory behavior from a lost temper.

Come to find out, the problem was AutoZone's computer system. 3-4 years ago, I bought my 97.6" belt from the same store, but it doesn't appear that belt is made anymore. Apparently whenever they stopped making that belt or when AutoZone changed its computer system (not sure which), it went into the system wrong. It should have gone in as 97.5".

So anyway, if something's not working on your DIY auto repair, step back for a minute and verify that you have the right part. The computers aren't always right.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bush's Enemy Combatant Policy

Over at the Right Wing Nuthouse, the blogger there rails against the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to hold an American citizen indefinitely without bringing charges in this post. What bothers me about this is the guy calls himself "right wing". Since when do conservatives support an unchecked expansion of executive powers? If he's a true conservative, he should be fighting tooth and nail against this policy. Unless we're in a civil war, the President MUST honor the rights of any American citizen no matter how objectionable their conduct. The court was undeniably right in its decision, and it's disappointing to see conservatives dissect the decision as a liberal coup.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Of Alec, Lindsay, Britney, Paris, and the Hoff

Here we are in the midst of an election cycle with our military in Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin and Bush in a war of words, a G8 summit, Iran possibly going nuclear...the list goes on and on. What do I see when I turn on the TV at lunch today? Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are all showing clips of Paris Hilton going to court, and it's not even just a 5 minute blurb about it. They're covering it as if it's real news.

So let's get this straight. I don't watch the news to find out about Alec Baldwin calling his daughter a pig. That's none of anyone's business. Who cares if Hasselhoff is a drunk? Britney? Shave your head all you want...I don't care. Lindsay? Paris? NOT NEWS!

Hopefully the Internet will soon send 24 hour cable news the way of the newspaper.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hypocrite Series: Giuliani's Ignorance of the State of Private Health Insurance

A Wall Street Journal article discusses the direction Giuliani is going in preparing his own health care proposal. In it, they claim Giuliani will encourage everyone, including those insured with employers, to move to the private health insurance market. Apparently the guy's never had to get private insurance. If he had, he'd realize that they don't want to sell their product to anyone who's ever been to a Doctor. He might win the Republican nomination with this nonsense, but he'll lose the general election in a big way if this is all he can come up with.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Substitute Teacher Convicted of Child Endangerment for Popups Gets a New Trial

Goods news for Julie Amero and...well...pretty much everyone in the country. Read more about the judge's decision to order a new trial. You can also read my previous post on the subject.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hypocrite Series: Giuliani on Health Care Video Clip

Giuliani's site just put out a video clip of his health care answer:

Giuliani on Health Care

What surprises me in watching this clip again is that Giuliani wants his $15,000 tax deduction to be applied no matter what you pay for health insurance. That means if you pay $8,000, you still get to deduct the full $15,000. That's an interesting idea that will never make it through Congress, and I don't see where you really need a deduction that isn't for the actual amount of the expense.

Anyway, Giuliani goes on to compare his idea of health insurance to homeowner's and car insurance. If you've read my blog, you would probably think I would agree. If so, you're partially right. I agree with the idea, not the analogy.

Homeowner's and car insurance in America is so controlled by government and insurance companies that you have a limited set of choices for deductible. If I have a $130,000 home, I'm unlikely to find an insurer willing to give me a deductible over $1200. They might blame the bank financing my home, but even if I owned it outright, I guarantee you they wouldn't give me a $5,000 or $10,000 deductible.

Car insurance is the same way. Raise your hand if you dropped comp/collision when you paid off your car. Now raise your hand if your deductible is over $500. Okay, I can see my wife's hand, and my hand is up. Anybody else? Nope? Point made.

Like I've been saying, health insurance right now is more like a warranty. It pays for everything with small deductibles or co-pays. Giuliani skirted the better analogy when mentioning oil changes. You don't buy a $2,000 warranty that includes $5 oil changes. You change it yourself for $15-20 (or more if you use the good stuff...Mobile One) or find someone else to do it within your budget. Instead, you use the warranty for a transmission rebuild or engine rebuild like it was intended.

If Americans can't come to terms with the purpose of insurance, then we should resign ourselves to socialized medicine and the expansion of the nanny-state.

I best stop this post before I draw too close a parallel between oil changes and medical tests...that might get ugly and R-rated. :)

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Hypocrite Series: Huckabee on Health Care

It's amazing all of the different places candidates leave their breadcrumb trails of positions on the issues. It seems Huckabee is doing a lot on Youtube with short videos on the issues. Here's his take on health care:

Well, as quickly as I gained respect in my previous post, I have now lost it. Talk about the non-answer of all time. There isn't really anything to discuss here. He pays lip-service to the Republican ideal of less government, but that's about it. Give me something concrete, and then we can talk.

Note: As critical as I've been of Romney, let me add that at least he has a proven record of addressing the issue. Arguably, no other candidate on the Republican side can say the same.

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Hypocrite Series: Mike Huckabee

How can you not like this guy? His explanation tonight of his answer to the South Carolina debate Evolution question was extremely well done. Evolution is no more than theory, and it takes the same kind of leap of faith to believe in Evolution as it does to believe in the Bible. If you assert Evolution as fact, then you're anti-science much like you would accuse Christians of being anti-science for pressing Creationism.

Regardless, we're still being distracted from the primary issues. A Huckabee presidency won't remove Evolution from school curriculum so let's drop that garbage and find out where he stands on health care and Iraq.

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Hypocrite Series: Giuliani on Gun Control

In looking for a clip of Giuliani's debate comments tonight on Youtube, I happened to find this older footage about New York filing suit against gun manufacturers:

Giuliani makes it very clear in this clip that he is anti-2nd Amendment. Giuliani does not want me to own a gun, and he's willing to pursue all means including filing a lawsuit against manufacturers to make that happen. On his site, he talks about what works in New York not necessarily working in Montana. Guess what Mayor? This is America. You don't get to pick and choose. We have a right to bear arms, and it's not up to you where and when to allow citizens to exercise it.

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Hypocrite Series: Immigration

The fact that we're addressing immigration so centrally to this election cycle is just absurd. Like one of the John Edwards' bloggers said last week, it's a distraction. Now I'm not saying there's not a problem. Of course there's an illegal immigration problem. What I am saying is that it's rather convenient that it has become such a major issue for the Bush administration at this point in time. As such, it really feels like a distraction from larger issues like domestic spying, the Iraq War, health insurance, the weakening dollar, deficit spending, etc.

In my opinion, there are two important issues in this election:

  1. Foreign Relations: Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Russia, etc.

  2. Health Care

The more time we spend allowing politicians, news media, and the candidates distract us from those issues, the less likely we are to elect the right person for the job.

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Hypocrite Series: Giuliani on Health Care

I know little of Giuliani's record so he could have been just as dishonest as Romney on this issue of health care tonight. Nevertheless, he did put forward some of the ideas I've advocated over the years. Everyone should have access to tax free insurance premiums if we're going to give that to large employers. Everyone should have access to an HSA if large employers can give employees cafeteria plans. The tax system needs some equity built into it.

While I agree with him about letting the free market solve the remaining problems, I doubt he's willing to go to the extent required to really let the free market loose. It means unwinding state and federal laws to an unprecedented extent, and I really believe Giuliani is about more government and more control, not less.

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Critiquing the Debate Formats

How can anyone call what we've seen at CNN a debate? Not only do the reporters and audience members toss soft-balls up to help candidates avoid gaffes on tough questions, but not even all of the candidates get a chance to respond to them. Possibly the second most important issue facing the U.S. (health care) got what...4 responses? How does that make sense? Are you really going to tell me the don't-ask-don't-tell policy of the military is more important than health care? Wolf Blitzer apparently thought so as everyone had a chance to respond to it. Absurd...

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Hypocrite Series: Romney Lies Again

Even John Edwards' plan is no more socialized than the Massachusetts plan, and I think everyone would agree he's the most liberal of the Democrats.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Governor Bill Richardson

Am I the only person who keeps thinking they're watching an SNL skit starring Horatio Sanz everytime this guy speaks? It's not even just the look...he even seems to have the same mannerisms and cadence. Actually...come to think of it. Has anyone ever seen the two of them in a room together?


Hypocrite Series: Best Line of the Debate

Senator Clinton on Bush's diplomacy:

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

NBA: Chauncey Billups

After the game tonight, all of the commentators seem to be calling Billups to the carpet on his performance during the entire series. I'm not sure what series they were watching, but every 4th quarter and overtime I saw except for tonight, Billups came to play. In game 5, the guy calmly drills a 3 after James seemingly won the game. At the end of of the 4th, he rims out an off-balance 3 against one of the best point defenders in the game. Off the top of my head, I don't recall the plays in the 1st overtime, but Billups' shot in the second overtime was going in to tie the game if not for the miracle tip by Verajau. Just watch the slow-motion replay, and you can see it. The tip sends it about a couple inches long.

Did the Cavs seem to disrupt his normal game? Sure, but that happens to everyone from time to time. The fact of the matter is that even when he had bad games like game 4, he still hit big shots in the 4th quarter. I'm not sure at his age he needs a max contract like they've been discussing, but he's far from washed up.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Internet Explorer Goofiness

My wife tells me the new site design is goofy in Internet Explorer. I'll be looking into it, but rest assured. Even though my design skills suck, I'm not quite that bad at it.