THE BIG DISCOUNT

Patient refusing prescriptions.

So we went to the drugstore to pick up Bob’s post heart-attack prescriptions and the pharmacy clerk said she looked around and knocked $135 off the price. That cut the bill in half. She should go on our Christmas list.

What she did was look at our prescription list and then went to her phone to check that against an app called “Good RX.” This must be pretty new stuff because we just heard of it last week. We heard of it but we’re not as sharp as the gal at the pharmacy and we didn’t install it on our phone. We thought: come on, how much could this save you?

Good RX gives you coupons for lots of pharmacies, just about any you can think of. You can print them out or show them on your phone. Savings run up to 80 percent. You can also print the coupons directly from your computer by going to GoodRX.com. So this cut our drug prices without requiring an Act of Congress.

Free Science

Sci-hub.org is a free searchable online database of 67 million scholarly articles. They’re made available to you by a 20-something Kazakhstan grad student named Alexandra Elbakyan. Another site offering free articles from journals is LibGen.io; it carries all kinds of copyrighted material for free. Similar sites are cropping up quickly.

As you might expect, the publishers’ rush to the courthouse could rival a cattle stampede. Ordinarily the cost for downloading an article is $30 apiece, which adds up pretty quickly. Free is a very attractive price and everyone in the scientific community seems to be using these sites because they’re quicker, easier, and let’s not forget the free. The loudest complaints have come from Elsevier, a Dutch company that is the largest publisher of scientific papers,

What about copyright laws? And what about payments to the authors? Well there are no payments to the authors; Elsevier doesn’t pay the scholars anything. Because of the constant pressure to publish in the academic world, researchers are usually happy to be cited more widely.

But what about Elsevier’s copyrights? Could Ms. Elbakyan, and others running copyright-free web sites, be arrested and extradited back to the U.S.? Almost certainly not. This may come as something of a shock back here in the States but many countries have no laws governing foreign copyrights. Ms. Elbakyan’s website is hosted in St. Petersburg, Russia, where judgments made by American courts are not enforceable.

Note from Bob: This sort of thing is very widespread and there’s nothing you can do about it. In a conversation with Isaac Asimov some years ago, he complained bitterly that his science fiction books had sold 15 million copies in the then Soviet Union and he had received not a penny in royalties. (Bob was picking him up at the train station, because the famous sci-fi writer had a lifelong fear of flying.) Charles Dickens complained about receiving no royalties from the United States even though he sold more books here than he did in England; yep, we used to be one of those countries with no copyright laws concerning foreign authors.

Coding With Minecraft

A certain kid relative of ours loves a game called “Minecraft.” He is not alone. Over 144 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide. By the way: four of those games were sold in Antarctica. Lots of indoor time in Antarctica.

Microsoft paid the game’s creator $2.5 billion four years ago for the rights. You can build things in Minecraft using low resolution blocks that look slightly like Lego bricks. But you can go way beyond that, the blocks can shrink automatically to provide perspective, and they can even be assigned tones, so your picture can play its own background music.

Basically, the little blocks are programmable, and we found a great book for these players. It’s called “Coding With Minecraft,” by Al Sweigart, $30 from No Starch Press.

The author begins, “’Just three more diamonds, and then I’ll stop,’ I remember telling myself…I needed the diamonds for a new pickaxe. I needed the pickaxe to mine more obsidian. I need the obsidian to make a Nether portal. I needed to go to the Nether world to pick up lava. And I needed the lava for … what did I need the lava for again? Oh right. I was sculpting a giant phoenix statue in the side of a mountain. I wanted to make lava pour out from its eyes and beak.”

If you play Minecraft, you’ve mined for diamonds, made dozens of tools and built all sorts of structures. But what if you could program Minecraft robots to do all of that for you in a fraction of the time? That’s the thesis behind this book.

Internuts

  • 40 Resources Every Designer Should Know.” Search on that to find project templates, ideas for web design and photoshop tips. You can even make your own graph paper. Webydo.com is one of the free sites mentioned here for making your own website.
  • “The complete list of Google Home Commands so far” or “The complete list of Alexa commands so far” will bring you a couple of articles from CNET listing everything you can command your smart speaker to answer or do for you, such as play music, a game, give you a reminder, tell you the weather forecast, and answer all kinds of questions. Sometimes. It’s still early days and the digital ladies inside often say “I don’t know how to answer that.”
  • 15 Tiny Things to Improve Your Life.” Search on that phrase for some great suggestions. Example: if a task only takes a minute or less, do it as soon as you think of it. Or practice a new skill or hobby for ten minutes a day.

 

 

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