Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ten Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't

Folks are posting their lists of ten unique things they've done. Mine has fewer famous people than John Scalzi's and not as many puppets as Mary Robinette Kowal's. She's met Muppets.
  1. Been bitten by a penguin (specifically, the penguin I'm staring at in my profile picture).
  2. Pet a wolf (who, unlike the penguin, did not bite me)
  3. Sprained my foot in a knitting accident (Note that says foot, not ankle)
  4. Shot a hole in someone's living room floor (With their permission) (Sort of)
  5. Bought a one-way airline ticket in cash and arrived at the airport without luggage.
  6. Surprised my family by showing up unexpectedly on Christmas morning. If you want adventure, I'd seriously recommend #5 before trying this.
  7. Almost got married without realizing it
  8. Hot wired a car
  9. Got TSA agents to hum the Indiana Jones theme
  10. Moved cross-country by mailing all of my worldly possessions parcel post (except for the file cabinet, which went by air cargo)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Love When New Misses the Obvious

From Seven Health Woes Brought On By Winter
High cholesterol

[Cholesterol] levels are highest in the winter and lowest in the summer, according to a 2004 study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Out of 517 healthy people, 22 percent more people had high cholesterol (240 milligrams per deciliter of blood, or higher) in the winter months than in the summer months, according to the study.

The change in cholesterol levels could be attributed to people exercising less in the cold months, the study said, though more research is needed to find the exact reason why.

May I suggest starting that "more research" with an exploration into month-by-month eggnog consumption? Or the seasonally-adjusted frequency of parties with hot hors-d'oeuvres that can be described with the phrase "bacon-wrapped." I'd suggest a nutritional assay of fruitcake, but no one actually eats that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

New Website

Yes, I have been neglecting you, my poor blog readers. There have been reasons (read: excuses), but most of them boil down to a limited number of hours in the day, most of which are already spent writing or otherwise staring at the laptop screen.

One of the other things I've been doing instead of blogging with you is setting up a new website for my business-y side. I'm billing it as my online home, but it's really more of an online office where people can find what I've written, and learn how to hire me if they need copy editing. There's a blog over there, too, but it's going to be more professional. This is still my kick back and watch the penguins go by blog.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The PengDar is Down!

I don't know how I missed this. The 100 word writing challenge last week was about Penguins! And, I the Penguin Queen, did not participate!

Read the entries of the writers with functional pengdar here. I expect votes to consider creativity, storytelling and penguinal correctness.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clearly I Am Under-Paid

A screen grab from today:

Welcome Apex Minions!

Thanks for clicking over. This is my semi-personal blog, where I write about the odds and ends of life. I'm working on getting the professional website up, but as I wrote, if you wait until you're ready, you'll never do anything.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Someone Has To Do It

People, at least non-kosher people, like bacon. Ergo, we have people who grow bacon. Because people really like bacon - sometimes for eating, sometimes for taping to cats (Emp. Peng., please do not get ideas; it has been done) - we need to grow bacon efficiently, which means keeping bacon growers up to date on the latest pork-producing technology and developments.

Enter the Swine Extension Specialist. Yes, apparently that is a real job, which involves waking up in the morning and putting "Evaluate pork producers' acceptance of distance education media" on one's to-do list. It's not quite taping bacon to a cat, but if you can't convince pork producers to drop in on a video conference every now and then, you'll run out of bacon, though the cat supply presumably remains unaffected.

At this point, I am, of course, imagining these people at a cocktail party.
"So, what do you do?"
"I study ways to convince hog farmers to take correspondence courses"

I am also wondering how many people bought tickets to an event called the Indiana Pork Conference and were disappointed, and why "sow" isn't a more widely accepted unit of measurement, but that's another entry entirely. One I will not be writing.

Back to the Swine Extension Specialist. Buried in the methodology section of the aforelinked study is this little gem:
To give the producers more information about distance education, a handout was developed for them to take with them and read at their leisure. The handout gave the producers general information about distance education, media used in distance education, and contacts for more information about distance education. 
As much as I would not want to have a job description like "Study ways to overcome hog farmers' objections to chatrooms," I'm doubly glad my to-do list does not include "write hog farmer swag." I'm guessing that the intern or grad assistant got that appended to his or her list.

Note to Purdue University: while I've never been to a pork producers' conference, I've been to writers' conferences and music teachers' conferences. I even managed to crash a urology conference once. As swag goes, a handout on distance education sucks. I got better swag from the urology conference, and the closest I get to being a urologist is having a urinary tract. Should you ever consider updating this study, you'll get better results with fridge magnets, mini buttons, pens or this.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Getting What I Paid For

In the course of fact-checking for work today, I discovered that my little slice of Ohio is the fourth-highest-paying city for doctors. This surprises me, because my experience with the doctors here has not led me to the conclusion that they earn that for their competence. I'd be more inclined to think that they accrue these higher-than-average salaries by starting to sneak up on patients with a prostate exam 16 years ahead of when the ACS recommends snapping the glove.

I tried the local, high-earning, doctors. That's why I now drive to Cleveland when I need a physician.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Troubleshooting Fish in a Barrel

Yesterday, Emp. Peng. procured the Rookery's sixth coffeemaker. Considering that there are only five mammals in the household and three of those are cats, this may be overkill, in the way that my jar of Skippy may contain peanuts. However, I justify the purchase because, for all of our coffeemaking technology, we did not have one with simple "Push the button, and a full pot of coffee comes out" functionality, and the kitchen is a good 15 feet from my office. Now that I'm working full time plus freelance and spec projects, bulk coffee brewing has become a matter of workflow efficiency. At my level of coffee consumption, the time for brewing each cup individually adds up.

So the Black & Decker Model DCM600W joined our house, and the coffeemakers started establishing beachheads in parts of the Rookery outside the kitchen. It's your basic $12 model with no user-serviceable parts and only one button, the one that brews the coffee, so I figured I could make a test pot before sitting down to see what the good folks at Black & Decker decided had to be included in a user manual. After the box, which blazed "Built to Last!" in huge bold letters beside the bullet point for "2-year limited warranty," I figured the manual had to be a hoot.

There comes a point when the user manual troubleshooting guide is just insulting. This one started out with:

Problem: Coffeemaker does not turn on
Possible Cause: Coffeemaker is not plugged in
Solution: Check to be sure appliance is plugged in to a working outlet and the on/off (I/O) is powered on.

That was not the insulting part. Two rows down:

Coffee is not brewing
Possible Cause: Water reservoir might be empty
Solution: Make sure water reservoir has sufficient water to brew desired cups of coffee.

That's a little insulting, but who hasn't been in the lack-of-caffeine fog and forgot to put water in? Usually, one would check the water tank, if only because the water tank is attached to the coffeemaker, making it easier to locate than the manual. The next row down takes the cake, though:

Coffeemaker brews clear water
Possible Cause: There may be no coffee grounds in removable filter basket
Solution: Add sufficient amount of coffee grounds to paper filter in removable filter basket.

That's just plain overcompensation. Like the guy driving the comically oversized SUV, the coffeemaker is full of bluster to disguise its teeny tiny ... feature list. Seriously, we had the intellectual capacity to purchase the coffeemaker. If we need to consult the troubleshooting guide to determine that, if coffee doesn't come out, we forgot to put coffee in, perhaps we shouldn't be using a coffeemaker without adult supervision or be allowed around the pointy scissors necessary to remove the zip tie from between the plug prongs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Slice of Supermarket Life

I admit that I'm nosy. This tendency rears its ugly nasal passages in a big way as I'm standing in line at the supermarket. I pass time in line contemplating why people buy the things they are buying.

I'm not alone in this hobby. A Sam's Club checker once asked me outright when she was baffled at my order: 4.5 pounds of Kraft grated parmesan cheese and three pounds of prunes. In that case, the two were unconnected; prunes and parmesan are staple foodstuffs here at the rookery, and we happened to run out at the same time.

The order that lady behind me unloaded onto the conveyor belt today required no explanation:
  • Children's Tylenol with Fever Reducer
  • Pedialyte (2 bottles)
  • Fifth of vodka

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You Might Be a Copy Editor If...

I spent the weekend at Context 23, a wonderful weekend of speculative fiction writing and fandom, and a must-attend convention for any beginning genre writer. Today, after the convention closed, Emp. Peng. and I went to lunch with Stephen Zimmer. On the walk back to the convention hotel where we were parked, we passed a sign in a parking lot:
No Semi's
What followed will be on the blooper reel when my life flashes before my eyes. I stopped dead and shuddered. Emp. Peng., ever the dutiful husband, asked what was the matter. I couldn't bear to look at the sign. I could only point in the general direction. Words failed, but I managed to get out, "Apostrophe!"

Unfortunately, I lacked convenient white paint, so the abhorrent apostrophe stands.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Baby Corn, Defeated

A couple of years ago, I discussed how baby corn invades all Mongolian barbecue. If you've never been to a Mongolian barbecue (which bears no discernible resemblance to actual mongolian food or barbecue), you owe it to yourself to try. The basic idea is that you fill a bowl with assorted meats and vegetables then the cooks grill it up on a large circular grill. If you get a good restaurant, the cooks make a show of the grilling process.

This show occasionally results in some bonus foods, as a piece or two from the neighboring bowls works its way into your meal. As I detailed two years ago, that bonus piece always seems to be baby corn. I've been with the only party in the restaurant, none of us put baby corn in our bowls, yet I still managed to find a piece of baby corn in my dinner.

All that changed Friday. As a belated birthday dinner, we went to a Mongolian grill that, since the last time we went, has inexplicably added cheese ravioli to the meat bar. I filled my bowl with a little bit of duck meat, snow peas, peppers, mushrooms, onion and pineapple, then topped it off with a tong full of adult kernel corn. For the first time in my life, I made it through a plate of Mongolian barbecue without finding stray baby corn. My hypothesis is that the adult corn scared off the baby corn.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Good for the Citizenship Goose

The latest craze in Political Wedge Issues is amending the 14th amendment's pesky loophole about not having to work any harder for U.S. citizenship than getting expelled from a birth canal in the right place (legally known as jus soli, or right of the soil). We should have seen this coming; when the economy tanks, people look for any reason they can glom on to for the protracted pain of being out of work involuntarily. Plus, more people have a lot more time on their hands to indulge in xenophobia.

This time, the xenophobia lands on the neonatal population. Apparently, in the world where the likes of Senator Lindsey Graham live, heavily pregnant women risk traversing the desert on the U.S.-Mexican border in August for the sole purpose of "dropping a baby" (which has now gone from an indication of bad grip to a euphemism for birth) who can, two decades hence, sponsor the parents for citizenship. I have never been pregnant, so I can't speak to how likely women in the third trimester are to go for a hike in the desert. If one believes Exodus, the Hebrews managed the feat en masse, but I suspect that it's not the sort of thing modern obstetricians recommend, due to the increased risk of stillbirth that would make the whole exercise rather pointless. Part of me wants to think that if there are that many Mexican women with that kind of physical fortitude and foresight, maybe having them here and passing that determination on to offspring wouldn't be all bad.

Perhaps the stupidest argument I've heard in favor of this proposal is that the 14th amendment doesn't actually need amended to suspend automatic birthright citizenship. According to the proponents of this strategy, since the 14th amendment starts off with "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," but parents in the U.S. illegally aren't "subject to the jurisdiction," the kids aren't citizens. In a word, hogwash. Whose jurisdiction are these folks under, if not that of where they are located? The fact that the proponents of this refer to the parents as "illegal" ought to nullify that argument right off the bat. They're illegal under the laws and jurisdiction of the U.S.; were they not subject to U.S. laws, they would not be illegal. That exemption for people who aren't under the jurisdiction of the U.S. applies primarily to diplomats, who are, in fact, not subject to U.S. laws while on U.S. soil.

Moreover, I would be interested in finding out how many of the people who advocate the revocation of birthright citizenship would be able to prove their own citizenship to the standards they advocate. Estimates from the State Department in 2007 indicated that only 27% of Americans hold a passport, and the percentage is only that high because of new rules requiring a passport to go to Canada or the Bahamas. I'm among that 27%, and I also have a certified copy of my birth certificate indicating that I was born in the U.S., only a couple hundred miles up the highway from a popular border crossing, which I suppose is suspect. Of course, with a revocation of jus soli, a birth certificate isn't enough to prove citizenship, not that a certain segment of the population accepts birth certificates as definitive proof of citizenship even with jus soli in place.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sentence Diagramming Also Pays

Lack of punctuation on a sign cost Spokane County $60 in parking fines when two men successfully argued that "No Public Parking Permit Required" could have a meaning entirely different from "No Public Parking; Permit Required." Granted, the men spent far more than $60 worth of time and effort standing up for the principle of eliminating run-on sentences in parking signs, but it's still a victory for Grammarzon Word Warriors everywhere, since the county intends to punctuate the sign in question.

Read the whole story

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Why Math is Important

If one is to believe the vinyl banner covering the sign for the defunct burger joint, there's a new pizza place down the street. That makes five pizza places in a one-mile stretch of road, coming perilously close to the density of auto parts stores on that strip. The vinyl sign advertises their special - or it might be their only menu item; it's hard to tell - of an 18-inch pizza, soda and five breadsticks for $18.99.

I predict failure for that restaurant, possibly faster than the previous inhabitant of that restaurant building, the drive-thru brewpub (anyone surprised that idea failed within mere months?). Five breadsticks is only marginally better an idea than serving beer through the car window, and only because being bad at math is a few more steps removed from a misdemeanor violation of Open Container laws.

As you might recall from about fourth grade math, five is a prime number, evenly divisible by only itself and 1. With five breadsticks, you either need to eat alone (which is way too much food for one) or have a party of five, which requires a protractor for even division of the pizza.

Assuming that the pizza is cut into the typical eight slices, it doesn't get better by ordering two of the specials. That leaves ten breadsticks and 16 slices of pizza. You could split that five ways, with two breadsticks and three slices apiece, but that leaves a leftover slice, and more people needing the bicarb than if you split the single order four ways (two slices and one breadstick apiece, with a spare breadstick).

In fact there's no point, mathematically, at which one gets an even division of both breadsticks and slices of pizza, without leftovers, that doesn't basically boil down to everyone eating a whole pizza and five breadsticks themselves.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Another Trend on its Death Bed

The only thing I know about Silly Bands is that they're apparently the latest fad for a certain age group. I shouldn't know more than that, because if history from the mid-1980s to the present is any indication, the moment I have a clue about something is the exact nanosecond it becomes uncool. It's not just trends. Products get discontinued the moment I discover I like them. I bought three pairs of sneakers because, even though they've made All-Stars since 1917, the fact that I find them comfy (and they don't give me duck feet) positively dooms the style.

Parents, I'm doing you a favor by remaining ignorant and letting you amortize the cost of this fad over a couple more months. On the other hand, maybe I should look into this and save you some money by planting the kiss of frumpy death on whatever those things are sooner rather than later.

Of course, it's possible that the end of Silly Bands is coming without me. They're sold at the supermarket now, which is about two steps away from fad death. One step if you count that the supermarket has a sign out front advertising that they carry Silly Bands. Specifically, "Marvil Comics Silly Bands." I'll accept that my supermarket's employees can't reliably tell red leaf lettuce from a red onion, since it's not like nature labels the produce or anything, but presumable Marvel Comics does label its products.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Less Yummy Side of the Apocalypse

Textured vegetable protein. You've almost certainly eaten it. The fact that you probably don't realize that you have is what makes it the other food of the dystopian future. For that matter, the food of the topian present; it's used as a meat extender in a lot of what is loosely termed "food." That microwave beef and cheese burrito doesn't get to be 89 cents by being filled with 100% cow products. Textured vegetable protein is also the "bit" in "imitation bacon bits." You may be noticing a trend. Textured vegetable protein is good at pretending to be food that it isn't.

Shame, really, because straight up, it's not that bad, especially with a bit of cheese. You can find it in the natural foods section of most grocery stores - dystopia has a sense of irony, since textured vegetable protein isn't natural, and it's claim to being food is really more of a technicality - as baggies of nondescript beige granules. Apparently, all the most sci-fi food is shades of brown. Combined with equal parts water, the granules fluff up to something vaguely akin to crumbled ground beef in texture.

Being dehydrated doesn't make a food sci-fi. Being an industrial byproduct does. Textured vegetable protein starts off as what is left over from sucking the soybean oil out of soybeans. From there, the soy leftovers are run through a processor that poufs it up and dries it out to make the granules.

There you have it. Textured vegetable protein isn't the balanced nutrition that our post-apocalyptic sci-fi bretheren get from peanut butter ball mix, but it does provide a source of cheaply-transported protein, while solving the problem of what to do with the waste from creating biodiesel.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Soylent Brown is Peanut Butter Ball Mix

I mentioned that peanut butter ball mix is one of the most sci-fi foods I know. To elaborate...

My mother used to make peanut butter ball mix for me and PengSis as kids. There's no set recipe. Basically, mix peanut butter (I think creamy works better) with a bit of honey to make it sweet, and enough wheat germ and/or dry milk powder to make it not sticky. What you're left with is a concentrated, moldable brown paste with all the protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals a body needs. It's dense, easy to transport, doesn't spoil (as far as I know, never lasted long enough to find out) and made from relatively cheap agricultural products. In short, it's exactly what every bit of post-apocalyptic sci-fi has humanity's survivors eating. Except for when we're eating industrial waste products. That's another post.

OK, so "tastes like the apocalypse" isn't the world's best tag line for a product. Try it anyway. Dystopia was never so yummy. Dystopia can also be dipped in chocolate.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

You First, the Global Medicine Version

One of my clients is extremely opposed to vaccinations. I'm not. It's a point on which we agree to disagree, with an arrangement that I don't have to directly put my name directly to anything opposing vaccinations. I think she is mistaken and using faulty logic to reach her conclusions about vaccinations, but I also know that her thought process is not going to be swayed. Plus, she who pays the bills makes the rules.

Personally, though, I put vaccinations right up there with sanitation and contraception as one of the great advances in science and medicine. However, vaccinations, like peanut butter ball mix, are so mundane that we don't appreciate just how sci-fi they are. Our planet is crawling with tiny, deadly things that straddle the border between lifeform and not-life. These things can kill us in dozens of ways that bypass our biological defenses. To protect our young from these maybe-alive things that we don't completely understand, we give our children substances that artificially enhance their immune systems, starting in infancy, and continue taking these substances at regular intervals throughout life to keep up the immune system enhancements and deny these maybe-lifeforms a host population. Does that not sound like the start of a plot to an episode of Stargate, or any of those sci-fi dramas that rely on dropping Earthlings onto other planets inhabited by aliens who are pretty much humans with SFX makeup?

In the unlikely event that I ever have fledglings of my own, you can bet your bippy those kids are going to be vaccinated against everything we have vaccinations for, even chickenpox. I don't, myself, even remember getting the chickenpox, though the blood tests indicate I did at some point before I was 18. I do, however, know or know of two people who nearly died from the same virus I can't remember.

My hypothetical fledglings are also definitely getting the HPV vaccine. Here in the U.S., we've more or less tamed cervical cancer. Women still get it and die from it, but not at nearly the rates they did before Paps became ubiquitous. Without the widespread screening, cervical cancer is right up there with giving birth on the list of Things That Kill Women Young, but the U.S. has been so good with paps for so long (possibly related to my prior post about GPs holding our contraceptives hostage until we pay the annual ransom of cervical cells) that mothers in my generation don't remember what a killer it is. Both HPV and chickenpox vaccinations run into the problem that the parents deciding to vaccinate their kids don't know how dangerous the viruses can be.

The HPV vaccines protect against the viral strains implicated in most, but not all, cases of cervical cancer, so having the HPV vaccine isn't a get-out-of-pap-free card. Here in the developed world, we'll still need to get regular paps to find the sliver of cases of cervical cancer that aren't attributed to the strains of HPV in the vaccine, and I wouldn't expect that the number of deaths from cervical cancer to go down too much once we deploy the vaccine. There will be side effects to the HPV vaccine; there are side effects to anything we do, including eating a bean burrito. The benefits aren't likely to be huge. Why, then, risk getting the HPV vaccine?

Because it's not about us. In the U.S., we have readily available gynecological care and fairly widespread screening for cervical cancer. On a global scale, this is unusual. In many parts of the world, gynecological care is all but nonexistent, and what is available is usually focused on keeping women alive during and after childbirth. Cervical cancer screenings are way down the list of health priorities, below things like malnutrition, malaria and the large collection of fatal diseases caused by contaminated water. However, the fact that cervical cancer isn't on the radar doesn't mean it doesn't kill women in those parts of the world. A lot of those women could be saved, to raise the children they manage to survive the births of, with widespread deployment of HPV vaccines.

However, the developed world has some bad history with the populations that would be most well-served with widespread HPV vaccinations, starting with that whole colonization thing, and going downhill from there. Some of these places have resisted efforts at universal polio vaccination, mistrustful of the motivations of those offering polio immunizations. In some places, folks have raised concerns that the polio vaccinations are a cover for population-control measures. Given some of the attitudes toward the developing world by the places on the planet that generally develop vaccines (including the kind of insulting subtext to the terminology "developed/developing" and "first world/third world"), one could understand where they're coming from.

So, if we show up with an HPV vaccine and want to inject it into all of their virgins, while at the same time saying that we're not giving it to our own little girls...that just isn't going to go over well. We need to adopt the HPV vaccine in the U.S. as a measure of good faith for those who don't have the backup detection methods we have. Getting the vaccine in the U.S. may not reduce death rates from cervical cancer here, but it can go a long way in the places that will benefit directly from the vaccine more than we will.

Bad Penguin News

The pengsperts aren't sure what's going on, but whatever is happening spells Brazilian penguin doom.

Monday, March 22, 2010

MarmotaWatch '10

We have the official First Woodchuck Sighting of the season!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Answers I Really Want on Health Care Costs' Upward Spiral

Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius has called for insurance companies to justify, explicitly and publicly, their premium increases. Now President Obama has gotten in on the action, calling for the aforementioned justification to be posted online for all to read.

OK, OK, we get it. Insurance companies make money dealing with people who are sick and vulnerable and facing the potential of giant mountains of dream-crushing medical bills. You know who else makes money there? Doctors. Once we get the explanation of the premium increases, I'd like to see the politicians press the doctors on their fees. My insurance company may raise my premiums, but at least they only do it once a year and give me some advanced warning. My insurance company, unlike my doctor, has never raised my costs mid-procedure while I was in the exam room with my pants dropped.

For the past 12 years, I've taken quarterly injections of prescription Depo-Provera, which I procure at a retail pharmacy for approximately $45. With my most recent dose, the doctor flatly refused to fill the prescription I have been taking since the late 1990's with no ill effects unless I came in for an unnecessary checkup, and also decided not to tell me she wouldn't refill it. That, I found out from my pharmacist when I went to pick up my medication and the pharmacist had no record of a refill. When I called my doctor's office to find out why I had no refill waiting, I was told the doctor would only provide me with my medication if I got it from her stock and agreed to schedule the unnecessary procedure during that call. The office staff had no idea what the medication would cost me. Note to politicians: it's hard to bend the cost curve if the doctors won't tell you the costs.

Fast forward to the appointment to get the injection administered. The nurse took me to the exam room and had me sign the usual raft of paperwork for getting an injection, then left to draw up the dose. I get the shot administered in my butt, and was all prepped with gluteal exposed when the nurse returned with the syringe in hand and told me, "The billing department says you're going to owe $50 for today's visit. Is that OK?" She's standing there with the medication I need all drawn up, I'm one cheek to the wind, and NOW the doctor's office tells me I have to pay $50 on the date of service, even though I carry insurance that has no copays. Say what you will about health insurance companies, and I'll grant that $50 isn't the $1,000-plus annual premium increases some folks are seeing, but at least the insurance companies give notice before they try to get more money out of policyholders.

I wonder what they would have done if I had told them that no, it wasn't OK. That I had assumed that they would use the procedure they'd used since my first appointment, where they run the claim through the insurance company and bill me a few weeks later, after insurance processes it, at which point I pay the entirety of the fee, minus the substantial "negotiated discount" (that, I will address in another post, along with cost-shifting). They had the medication drawn up. It's not like they could just put it back in the vial for the next patient if I walked out. In the end, since we keep a very little extra in the Health Savings Account, I told them I'd be able to pay the $50. On the way out, I asked the lady who took my money what the final bill would be, since $50 was getting pretty close to what I usually paid the pharmacy and the doctor combined when I brought my own meds. The office person looked up in her book, which she told me was way out of date, and said that the drugs would be $80 (mind you, I paid $45 at the pharmacy if they let me buy it there), but she didn't know if that was still the case or what the negotiated rate was.

To recap, after denying me the option to get my medication from my source of choice, the doctor's office can't tell me what they're going to charge me for it, but make me pay $50 toward that cost anyway, right now. And it's the insurance companies who have to answer for their deeds?

When I came home from being shaken down at the doctor's, I called my insurance company, UnitedHealthCare, to possibly try to figure out how much I was going to owe for this visit. The very helpful insurance company representative explained to me that more doctors are moving toward a policy of requiring payments on the date of service at the beginning of the year, when people haven't satisfied their policy deductible, regardless of what that policy deductible is. Because the doctor actually controls the negotiated discount, she couldn't tell me what the final bill would be, but gave me the information for filing an ethics complaint against my doctor if, once things settled down, I felt she had acted unethically.

Already, that was more answers from my insurance company than I got from the doctor. Insurance companies are being made the villains in the health care reform debate. Frankly, the insurance companies, while they definitely do some sleazy things, at least protect patients from some medical bills.

What seems to be lost in all this is that, aside from premiums, patients don't actually get bills from their health insurance companies. They get bills from their doctors. While premiums can be enormously high, the people you hear about who were bankrupted by illness were not bankrupted by their insurance premiums; they were bankrupted by doctor and hospital bills. You know, the things that your insurance company negotiates down on your behalf. If the President and the Health and Human Services Secretary get the answers they want from the insurance companies, I hope they turn their attention next to getting explanations for the actual medical bills from the people sending them: the doctors and hospitals.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Not Dead Yet

No, I did not die of my penguin-inflicted injury (though if I get to choose how I die, that's toward the top of the list), nor did I contract Penguin Flu and spend five months recuperating. My extended absence from the blog has been partly from keeping very busy with my now-year-old freelance copy editing business, and partly from racking up the GDP of several small nations in MyFarm. As if Facebook weren't enough of a time suck without the games.

Back to my penguin-inflicted injury, though. For my birthday last summer, Emp. Peng. surprised me with a trip to Kentucky, specifically the Newport Aquarium. We started the day off with the Penguin Parade, which has three penguins in a modified Radio Flyer forming a processional for the assembled crowds and distracting us from a very informative discussion by the aquarium docents on the volume of guano a penguin produces daily.

As we waited for the penguin parade, Emp. Peng. drew my attention to a sign advertising the Penguin Encounter. In addition to a cross-border penguin excursion, he'd arranged for the add-on tour that included 45 minutes of in-habitat time with the African penguins! Me and the penguins in the same room! He had specifically booked the 4 p.m. Encounter, since the aquarium staff said that was the best time, right after penguin lunch when their bellies are full and they're content.

The schedule gave us some time to see all the aquarium exhibits, and we even took the behind-the-scenes tour of the vet areas, kitchen areas and inner workings of the aquarium. We caught the sea turtle trying to eat scuba equipment as the diver prepared for feeding time, and learned that, in the absence of algae or native kelps, the fish eat broccoli. In the veterinary clinic, the tour guide showed us how you anesthetize a penguin, which requires duct tape and an extra-large drink cup from Arby's.

The day capped off with the Penguin Encounter, which would prove to be a close encounter, indeed. After some basic hygiene to ensure that we didn't track any germs into the habitat and some instructions to keep our camera straps securely around wrist and neck, we were led into the habitat and shown to the benches along the wall. The penguins roam free during the encounter, but the keeper has to give the humans the green light for touching the birds. If the penguin wants to touch you, that's up to the penguin. One, Paula, spent most of the encounter trying to eat Emp. Peng.'s shoelace.

Mostly, the penguins waddled around while the keeper recapped most of the same guano talk from the morning processional. The penguins, fully loaded from lunch, obliged with a demonstration of their guano-producing ability, though they managed to miss us both. One other person in our Penguin Encounter group was not so lucky on that front.

Three times during the 45 minutes of habitat time, the keeper brought the penguins around, luring them with a hamster-shaped cat toy, so we could touch them, shoulder to tail, using the aquarium-approved two-finger touch. On the first round, I was introduced to Blue, a juvenile. The juveniles are known by their flipper band colors, since their final home zoo or aquarium will name them. The keeper positioned Blue facing away from me and occupied his beak with the hamster toy while I got to feel penguin feathers firsthand, thus crossing one more thing off my list of things to do before I die.

A few pets in, Blue apparently decided the hamster toy wasn't interesting anymore, craned his neck around and beaked me in the back of the hand! Actual penguin bite! The keeper caught his beak and turned him back around, and I, undaunted, went right back to petting him. By the way, their beaks are sharper than they look, but the damage was minimal. I made Emp. Peng. take a picture of my penguin-inflicted wound, anyway. If you look really close, you can see a straight red welt where his beak pinched me, right about in the center of the photo: