Flea markets

I was at the Alameda Antique Faire today. Make no mistake about it, this is a flea market, and a vary large one. I was reminded of nothing so much as my father. He loved these places. He spent a lot of time at them, on both sides of the booth – usually as a seller, but also as a customer, always on the lookout for something he could flip.

So it’s strange to realize that I’ve been thinking recently that a great way to purge myself of a decade or so of accumulated junk would be to set up at a flea market for an afternoon! It would be so easy just to set this stuff out on the curb, or take it to Goodwill or another charity. But I know that there’s a little bit of my father in me when I just can’t bring myself to do that, knowing that there is a couple hundred dollars to be made, three and five dollars at a time, amongst all this… stuff. Plus ça change…

Obamacare for me

Or should I say, “Obama, care for me.” What a fucking nightmare health insurance can be in this country. When it works, it can be great, it can be basically flawless. 8 years ago, when I was diagnosed with aortic aneurysm and needed to schedule a surgery relatively quickly, it was all handled by the various doctor’s offices and hospitals without my having to do anything. The result was that my open-heart procedure, performed by one of the leading surgeons in the country and followed by a week at Stanford Medical Center, cost me a total of $10. No questions, no headaches, no massive medical bills that I needed to challenge. I simply received an invoice from my provider at the time, HealthNet, stating that they had paid $280,000. and I owed nothing, having already paid Stanford my $10. co-pay.

Fast-forward to today. I’m now covered by Aetna, and have been for the past 3 years. However, every year when I renew through my employer’s health insurance program, there seem to have been changes implemented since the last time. This year, apparently, the “medical group” which provides my “health care providers” and therefore my treatment has changed.

Last week I was to see my cardiologist, for my annual echocardiogram and follow-up consultation. The day before my appointment – one day before – her office called me to say that they’d just noticed that my insurance had changed, and that they did not accept insurance through my new medical group, Hills Physicians. In the past, this kind of situation has always been easily resolved by getting a referral from my Primary Care Physician, so I rescheduled my cardiologist appointment, and put in a request for this referral with my PCP.

In fact, I had needed a different referral just a couple of months ago, when a sudden hearing problem necessitated a visit to an ENT specialist. That referral proved to be no problem, and I have since seen the ENT 5 times. However, he was not able to get to the root cause of my problem, so wanted me to see a rheumatologist. This of course necessitated another referral, from the ENT to the rheumatologist.

So as the calendar ticks down on the last few weeks of 2013, I have been trying to schedule appointments with both of these specialists, and get the necessary referrals, which require literally hours of phone calls – much of that time spent wading through phone trees, then leaving messages because the humans are never actually available to speak with, and then repeating this process a week or so later when they have left a message on my phone.

Today I was to see the rheumatologist. I’d made the appointment a couple of weeks ago, and my ENT’s office had assured me that the referral was in place. But this morning – yes, about 6 hours before the appointment – I received a voicemail from their office. The “new patient coordinator,” with whom I have spent seemingly hours not talking, had called to tell me that the “authorization” that I needed had not been received…

An authorization is not the same thing as a referral. An authorization is required from the insurance company for payment before a procedure, e.g. a CT scan or an MRI, is performed. A referral is when one doctor sends the patient to another doctor. The referring doctor would initially be the PCP, but after that it can be a daisy-chain. In my case, the ENT to whom I’d been referred by my PCP was now referring me to a rheumatologist. Only apparently he hadn’t.

More phone calls, to the rheumatologists office (I left at least 3 messages there today; she has never answered her phone over the weeks that I have been calling), to the ENT’s office, and also to Aetna.

Surprise, surprise, Aetna proved to be the most helpful of all. Not only was I quickly talking to an actual human being, having dialed their customer service number, but she was unfailingly polite. When I described the problem, that the rheumatologist had not received an authorization, she put me on hold while checking the status of any pending requests. When she returned, she asked if it was not a cardiology authorization that was needed? Because that was the most recent one they had on record, and in fact it had just yesterday been denied.

Cardiology authorization? Denied?! Okay, well that’s a separate piece of bad news. We’ll have to deal with that later. (This was an authorization because a procedure – the echocardiogram – was involved.) But what about the rheumatology authorization/referral? It was at this point that the Aetna rep explained to me the difference between an authorization and a referral. And when I told her that the referral was coming not from my PCP but from my ENT, she even went on to call my ENT’s office to inquire. But the person who handles the referrals was unavailable…

I of course had to cancel my appointment with the rheumatologist – for which I most certainly had better not incur a penalty, something many doctor’s offices do, for a cancellation within 24 hours of a scheduled appointment – and request another for next week, all by means of voicemail of course, since I still could not reach the human.

Later, a voicemail came from my ENT’s assistant, saying that she had indeed made the referral to the rheumatologist, and could document that… prompting me to leave yet another voicemail at the rheumatologist’s office, which I hope was not too shitty in tone, just a little shitty, asking her to please figure out what was going on, and leaving her the contact name and number at the ENT’s office.

Maybe, before the end of the year, I will see a doctor…

Exponential growth

One of the really key elements at the foundation of my futurist/evolutionary thinking is exponential rates of change. When I try to explain to people my confidence in the transformative power of technology, I always bring this into the argument, but most people just don’t get it.

I was reminded of a pretty vivid example, one which gives a nice mental picture of just how powerful the concept is. It’s the old parable of the inventor of the game of chess receiving grains of rice for his work:

<< “In one version of the story, the inventor of the game of chess shows his creation to his country’s ruler. The emperor is so delighted by the game that he allows the inventor to name his own reward. The clever man asks for a quantity of rice, to be determined as follows: one grain of rice is placed on the first square of the chessboard, two grains on the second, four on the third, and so on, with each square receiving twice as many grains as the previous square.

“The emperor agrees, thinking that this reward is too small. He soon sees, however, that the constant doubling results in tremendously large numbers. The inventor winds up with 264-1 grains of rice, or a pile bigger than Mount Everest. In some versions of the story, the emperor is so displeased at being outsmarted that he beheads the inventor.”

That tale is bracing enough, but there’s a kicker: The most profound effects of the doubling phenomenon aren’t felt until you reach the second half of the chessboard. When Kurzweil tells the story in The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, he notes that “after 32 squares, the emperor had given the inventor about 4 billion grains of rice. That’s a reasonable quantity — about one large field’s worth — and the emperor did start to take notice.

“But the emperor could still remain an emperor. And the inventor could still retain his head. It was as they headed into the second half of the chessboard that at least one of them got into trouble.”

Question is, Where are we now on the computing-evolution chessboard? The answer, according to Brynjolfsson and McAfee, who do some math to figure it out: We’re 32 “doublings” in. Which is to say, we’re only now reaching the board’s exponentially impactful second half. >>

Of course, most people will still have trouble in making the next cognitive step to understanding just what that much change is going to mean to us, in terms of, say, renewable energy, medical science, robotics, artificial intelligence…

Source: http://thebuildnetwork.com/innovation/why-moores-law-is-still-exponentially-relevant/.

Oscar

Every year it’s the same thing. I say I’m never going to watch the Academy Awards again. It’s not because I hate the host – it could be anybody, really, because I’m interested in the stars and what they say, as well as the clips of all the films I haven’t yet seen – and it’s not because the wrong film got such and such award. It’s because the people around me at the Oscar party I’ve been invited to can’t just watch the damned thing. They talk through the presenter and then ask what award is being presented, who won, what movie, who’s that, what did they say? It’s so predictable and so annoying. Every time it happens – and I swear it was at least a dozen times last night – I want to say, “If you’d just shut the fuck up you’d know, wouldn’t you?!”

So why don’t I just watch them at home, by myself? The irony is that I don’t have network or cable television – I only own a tv to watch movies, which I love!

Relief

The 2012 presidential election is over, thank god. It felt very different this year, much longer and more protracted and more vicious, of course. But what I really mean is that when it was decided a few hours ago, my emotions were quite different. I was happy, naturally, but whereas 2008 was utter elation, 2012 feels like relief. I’ll take it…

wtf?

In the space of a month, I’ve suffered not one but two flat car tires, and now a cracked windshield. I suppose worse things could happen, but this seems a bit excessive, in terms of frequency.

At least with the second flat tire, I made enough noise at Wheelworks that they managed to remove it and patch it without damaging my rim a second time.

Guilty until proven innocent

Much as I hate labels, I’m sure that most people who know me would call me a liberal, if not a left-leaning libertarian. But even I can recognize liberal media bias when it is this glaring:

“One month ago today, Trayvon Martin was walking through a gated community in Florida with nothing more than an iced tea and a bag of skittles. But being a young black man in a hoodie made him “suspicious” to George Zimmerman, who got out of his SUV, tracked Trayvon down, and shot him dead.”

– Maria Roach Moveon.org

This is simply inflammatory and irresponsible. George Zimmerman may well have killed Trayvon Martin for reasons other than self-defense. It may have been a murder, and it may have been racially motivated. But whatever happened to due process? This is not like the Rodney King case, or dozens of others since then which, by virtue of having been captured on video, provided real, objective justification for outrage at the perpetrators of hate crimes. Zimmerman should face charges, and we should see what comes out at trial before throwing a rope over a tree branch.

Everything sucks these days

Can’t anybody do the job right?

I got a flat tire yesterday, which in itself sucks, but at the same time was really kind of strange, as Catherine got a flat exactly a week ago. I mean, I get flats pretty often on my bike, but not my car. It also sucks that these are Pirelli P-Zero tires, and having them patched means losing their speed rating of 150mph or whatever it is. Since I drive that fast all the time.

But whatever. I made plans to go in to work a bit late, and googled around for a good place in Oakland to have the patch done. Yelp tells me that Frank’s Tires, conveniently located just of Broadway in downtown Oakland, has an overall 5-star rating. Quick, cheap work done by a nice guy. Okay, sold.

So, encouraged by more than one review raving about Frank’s “sure, no problem, roll it on in here!” attitude, I take my car in without calling ahead. My spare is on the car and the flat is in the trunk. Frank hesitates when I ask if he can patch the tire today, but says “sure, okay” when I say that I’m happy to leave it and come back at lunchtime. I show him where the screw had penetrated the tire, and he tells me that the cardinal rule is never to take out the offending object, just bring it in to the tire shop! Yeah… but what if the screw had been .5 inch long, and not causing a flat, just stuck in my tread? Then I have no problem and don’t waste my time (or money?) taking it in.

But whatever. Here’s my tire, here’s where the patch will need to go. I ask him politely to not scratch my matte-black aftermarket rims. He says he’ll try…

I give him plenty of time, come back at around 1:30. “Did you hear the message I left for you?” Um, no, I didn’t get any message. “I can’t fix your tire. My equipment isn’t big enough/won’t work/some lame excuse like this.” Oh. And what is this? This gouge, no, two gouges, taken from the lip of the tire? “I didn’t do that. It was like that.” It absolutely, positively was not like that, but beyond stating emphatically that it was not, I don’t bother to argue. That one Yelp review is ringing in my ears. I am glad that it is only the tire, and my rim appears to be unscathed. Frank suggests taking it to Wheelworks on Harrison.

Why the hell didn’t I just come here to begin with? I had these guys put 4 new Bridgestones on my first Audi TT. They did good work then. When I stop by, I am helped by a nice guy named Francisco. It’ll take 2-3 hours if I want to wait. Can I drop it off and come back around 6:00 to have it mounted? Sure, no problem. I again politely request that they take care not to scratch my rims. Francisco tells me not to worry, they actually have a plastic dismounting blade that they use rather than the standard steel one on rims like this. It won’t scratch them at all…

6:00, I’m back. The wheel is ready. Can you mount it for me? “Sorry, we are swamped, it’ll be at least 2 hours before we can get you on a lift.” Fine, I’ll mount it myself at home, but if I stop by tomorrow can you guys torque it down for me? “No problem.”

It’s only when I get home and take it out of my truck to mount it that I notice the long scrape along the edge of the rim where the blade is slipped between rim and tire… WTF?!

I could tell you the rest of the story, of how I went back the next morning to have the bolts torqued down by Francisco, and pointing out to him the damage to my rim, and not getting angry or asking him for anything more than advice on where I might get them buffed and painted, and him telling me that he knows places I can go, or how to do it myself if so inclined, as the damage is minimal, and how he knows where I can get the necessary paint to match, and how he has my email so he will get me all the information…

But what’s the point? You can imagine that I never heard from Francisco again, and that in my opinion he now sucks too.

When ideas have sex

This video gives me the kind of thrill that almost nothing else can do. It does this by means of the ideas contained within it, and that of course is what the speaker, Matt Ridley, is describing in his talk: The power of ideas as expressed by the collective brain. And so my steadfast and absolute position that evolution is the single most essential thing for people to understand if they are to make any sense of where we are today as humans, and where we are headed (as post-humans, no doubt) is once again reaffirmed.

httpv://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex.html

Meta-blog

I decided it was time to move my 10-digital blog to a WordPress platform. The only way I seem to get content online these days, if it’s not on Facebook, is via blog posts, and so the more I can simplify that process, the better. My “movies” and “books” blogs will follow suit…

There’s just not enough time to spend polishing these nuggets into little gems. I do what I can.