Archive for May, 2010


the 6am shuffle

May 27, 2010

It’s one of those days.  Y’know, those days.  I was reading this post last night (“Sneaky Hate Spiral“) on one of my favorite hilarious blogs, laughing so hard I was crying, and now it just seems prophetic.  Prophetic, or ironic.  Ironically prophetic.  Something.

This morning I had to get up at 6am.  Not, “oh, I’d really like to get up at 6am and take the 7:15 bus to work today so I can be awesome and get things done,” like I do sometimes when I have a surplus of coffee and bad ideas, but “if I don’t get up at 6am it will end up costing me $9 in exact change on Tuesday, because I won’t have my new bus pass and the old one will be expired.”  Blah.  So my alarm went off, and like every other morning, I stumbled out of bed to hit snooze, then dove (pretty much literally) back under the covers.  This diving business caused the wineglass on my bedside table to fly across the room and shatter.  Yay!  Shattered glass all over my carpet, in the dark, when I have to get out of bed barefoot in 9 minutes.

Clearly the solution was to go back to sleep anyway and ignore the glass all over my floor.  Yeah, that worked well when my alarm went off again.

It’s worth explaining that me and my alarm clock have a really unsatisfactory relationship.  It yells at me, I turn it off, we wait 9 minutes, and repeat.  And repeat, and repeat…  By the end of this process, I am not at all more awake than I was before we began.  Somebody recently suggested that I move it across the room.  Yeah, started doing that about 6 years ago.  It worked a lot better in my college dorm room, where I had to jump off the top bunk onto the cold tile floor to turn it off (also, it was the first year I was doing it).  I’ve tried switching back and forth between obnoxious radio stations and the buzzer, I’ve tried using my phone, watch, and alarm (my phone and watch alarms are scarily easy to silence), I’ve tried hiding the first two in strange places around the room, I’ve tried purposefully setting my alarm early to allow for a token number of snoozes (I actually still do this most of the time), I’ve tried just about everything I could think of.

This morning, though, I had an ephiphany as I dozed amongst the shattered remnants of my fifth broken wineglass this year.  I should turn the light on!  Not that dinky lamp next to the bed (tried that), but the overhead light that I despise so much!  Hooray!  Problem solved!

Yeeeeaaaah.  Not so much.  Alarm went off, I somehow managed to avoid most of the broken glass in my frenzy to reach it and hit snooze and flick the light switch, and then I slept quite peacefully under the fluorescent glare.

Dammit.  I think I need an intravenous drip of coffee, timed with my alarm.

Read the rest of this entry ?


did he just measure time in parsecs? and other stories

May 24, 2010

It was 87 degrees this past weekend.  A week before, though, I was snow camping (ish) for the first time in my life.  Oh, Colorado.  Anyhow, the pictures from that trip are up (here’s the post where you can get a link — ask me if you want access).  If I have some time, I might put a few up publicly on my main page, but lately I’ve been super busy, and super lazy whenever I’m not busy being super busy.  Here, though, is a sample.

Mt. Evans at sunset, from last weekend. Mmm, mountains.

Helped along by the extremely warm weather this weekend, I had a pretty fabulous time.  Sunday I played in the spring league ultimate tournament, where my league team did pretty much as expected (i.e., we got the crap kicked out of us in our first game, and then drank our way through our “beer bracket” consolation game).  Our beer bracket opponent was a lot of fun, and we ended up basically calling off all scoring in favor of just playing until the pizza showed up.  Our final point (after the hard cap at pizza went on) was quite literally a free-for-all — all members of both teams got onto the field, and only cross-gender hammers into the end zone scored.  Yay silly ultimate!  The only sad bit is that I can’t play summer league, and so my organized ultimate days are gone until August.  Boo.

Saturday eve was spent hanging out eating bratwurst and watching movies — “Sherlock Holmes” and then just for extra fun, “A New Hope.”  Sherlock was about as expected (meh, fun moments, whatever), and of course everyone with any nerd cred has seen A New Hope way too many times.  It’d been years since I’d re-watched it, though, so it was fun to do that, especially with other nerds and a bottle of red wine.  I never did realize, for instance, that Han Solo has an appallingly limited knowledge of astronomy for a star pilot.  He says his super speedy ship made some famous run in “less than twelve parsecs” — but parsecs are a unit of distance, not time.  Silly Han.  I felt obligated to announce this fact at the re-watching.  We can maybe forgive him, though, since he’s doing that bragging in a bar.  Maybe.

Looking out from halfway through Monday, this week is shaping up to be a demanding one.  Every time I turn around, my workload grows.  Ask a question, BAM!  here’s another paper I need to read.  Run some data analysis, BAM! here’s another idea to build into the model, which means more coding, more modeling, and more data collection.  Yay grad studentry?  On the one hand, I’m doing work that interests and challenges me; on the other, I kind of miss being a slacker, even though I definitely don’t miss the “waaah, I’m a slacker and that makes me a terrible person and a failure as a grad student” self-esteem lag that went along with it.  Oh, slacking, why can’t you be more…functional.  Or something.



May 18, 2010

Okay, so I had a blog post all written inside my head earlier today, about how my state is so epic that it becomes mundane.  All of that was inspired by watching a thunderstorm blow up over the mountains on the bus ride home, via the epic view to the west out the bus windows, and how nobody really cares because we see this incredible view with incredible weather (beautiful or scary) every single day, so we all just read our books or go to sleep or whatever.  Blah blah blah.  Epicness.  Etcetera.

And then I got home, after surviving the downpour and hail and carrying my busted bike on my shoulder from the bus stop, and I made dinner: chicken/green bean/red onion stir fry with coriander and white pepper, over brown rice and topped with leftover fondue sauce (got invited to dinner upstairs this weekend, and it was mighty fancy).  While it was cooking, I downloaded the new LCD Soundsystem album (This is Happening) and played tug-of-war with my dog.  Then I poured a glass of wine, cranked the volume on my speakers, took a bite, and promptly started dancing.

LCD Soundsystem’s new album is hot shit.  I ate a tasty dinner tonight, have a box (yeah, yeah, shut up) of decent wine, and it doesn’t matter how much my day sucked up until this point, what I was planning to do with my evening, or what I wanted to post on my blog, because damn, things are looking pretty good from right here.

You should all go dance.


we’ve explained existence! or, why i hate science reporting

May 17, 2010

Big news breaking today from Fermilab: they’ve observed, for the first time, a system of colliding particles that produces more matter than antimatter in a significant (1% ish) kind of way.  Well, actually, it was observed a while back, but they’ve sifted through some data and written up a paper now, which, while it hasn’t been accepted into a journal yet, has been deemed good enough to release with their name on it into the mediasphere, from which it was subsequently picked up by outlets such as the NY Times.

The story about this was linked from the Times’ home page under the heading, “Physicists Find Clue to Explain Existence.”  Huh?

Okay, okay, to give everyone some credit here, this is really big news for particle physicists, and there is a logical link between the results and the headline  — they’ve observed a definite bias towards matter over antimatter, and that bias is something that’s obvious if you look around you (you aren’t made of antimatter, and nobody’s observed any anti-galaxies out there), but that has never been explained.  Therefore, in a sense, our existence does call for an explanation, and you could say that this is a very, very, very tiny clue.  It’s inarguable as well that “Physicists find clue to explain existence” makes a way better headline than “Evidence for an anomalous like-sign dimuon charge asymmetry” (this is what the paper, which has been posted on the web prior to its official publication, is titled).  I mean, I wouldn’t read that, and I’m a physicist.  Not a particle physicist, but the point stands.

Still, it’s important to remember that this is one result, in one type of particle collision, observed at one particle accelerator, and while it’s been signed off on by presumably everyone listed as an author on the paper (which is about a two-page list), and the Fermilab press folks, it’s not even officially published in a peer-reviewed journal yet, which is what earns you the Legit Science ™ stamp.  Well, okay, this is changing, too, but that’s another blogpost for another day.

My point here is that science reporting tends to be very sensationalized, and oversimplified to a detrimental point, where the science that was actually achieved is totally steamrolled by the need to write an engaging story.  Headlines are the worst offenders.  Science writing is challenging, but it frustrates me to no end to see story after story that completely missed the point, or hid it behind the tag line that gets sold to funding agencies.    There are so many smart people on the science side, and so many smart people on the reporting side, that I feel like we have to do better.

To close on a fun note, here’s a webcomic’s insight into the science reporting process.  It needs to be posted everywhere science reporting might happen.  Thanks, SMBC!


i have a new haircut, and other weekend adventures

May 10, 2010

First, the most exciting bit:

See! More than half of my hair vanished this weekend.

Eric did it, and he’s probably more excited than I am.  Not only did he (finally) talk me into doing something different with my hair, he successfully used layers for the first time ever (with a bit of coaching from me).  Hooray!  He even posed me in a field of dandelions (all of them are blooming at once out here, now that it’s rained/snowed/sleeted enough for things to green up for a few weeks) with the dog for extra cuteness.

Other than the haircut bit, I went to a “living history” performance on Saturday night with the family upstairs.  Very cool, that.  The kids in the program perform monologues they research, write, and memorize in the character of a historical figure.  For some, that means their great-grandmother who did something kind of cool, and for others, someone more generally famous (like Socrates).  I was seriously impressed.  I know most of the younger kids had a very small role in writing their monologues (seriously, I’ve never met a 10-year-old who knew the word “transcendentalism”), but a few of them carried off their performances with a kind of stage presence I know I never had as a kid.

Yesterday, we had a proper spring day, at long last, and I felt seriously spoiled when I went to my league ultimate games.  It was sunny, warm, calm (no wind!  for spring league ultimate, that’s completely shocking and changes the game entirely in terms of strategy), and we had a great view of the mountains, which were capped with fresh snow from Saturday.  Days like that make me wonder why you would be doing anything else.  Of course, now I’m even further behind for my exam this week, but hey, ultimate was way more fun than studying.  Especially because I made a few awesome contributions.  I’m not usually the one in the end zone, making the long throws or the long runs, but yesterday I got to do that a few times instead of just being a sometimes-useful workhorse moving the disc up the field as a mid.

But, speaking of studying, that’s what I’m ostensibly doing now.  My browser nanny is going to cut me off in a few moments, luckily, so I’ll brew up another pot of coffee and get to it.

P.S.  I am in the process of updating my “pretty pictures” page in the sidebar, for my post-facebook life.  It now has only a compendium of illustrated posts on my blog, with a note about getting access to my complete online galleries (which are unlisted).  Let me know if you want access to my pictures — don’t be scared, worst that will happen is that I’ll say no — and I’ll get you set up.  Leave a comment or email me.


it sleeted on me today

May 6, 2010

…on the way home from my first Boulder City League softball game of the season.  Ah, the rituals of summer — the crack of the bat, the lazy evenings with beer in the dugout, the sleet while biking home.  Thanks, Colorado.

That is all.  Return your attention to my actually relevant post about healthcare.


an offer you can’t refuse

May 6, 2010

I am shopping for new health insurance.  This is motivated both by my family’s warning about the economic situation in general (i.e., have a backup plan ready to go in a hurry if something happens) and my upcoming aging-out of my folks’ plan (depending on when the new laws go into effect, this could be as soon as this fall).  Along the way, I’ve been doing a lot of legwork to figure out what my healthcare costs are these days and to use that to evaluate different plans, and I have made some interesting discoveries.

Let me rephrase that. “Interesting discoveries” in no way describes what I have learned. What I have learned is that the system is far, far more broken than even I thought. I had heard all sorts of stories about the healthcare industry, but there’s something about discovering a direct impact on myself and those I love that makes it hit home in a way it never had before. I think a better term than “interesting discoveries” might be “shattering revelations.”

I woke up this morning believing that the healthcare industry has done terrible things, and has indeed made profit-motivated decisions that have threatened people’s lives, but that these instances are the exception rather than the rule. I believed that for the most part, insurance companies want people to be healthy and pharmaceutical companies want to help people. Maybe that’s how the industry started, but it sure as hell ain’t the way it runs today. It turns out that these terrible things are the rule rather than the exception, and that my insurance company, which even before today I referred to as Evil Insurance, Inc., has taken profit-motivated actions that have directly threatened the health and quality of life of myself and my family, and worse, lied to us about it.

So what’d they do? You might remember a post of mine back in the winter griping about how they wanted to take me off of my most important asthma medication, and how they did the same to some of my family for their respective most important medications (you can read the post here). The changes to their formulary were pitched as a “cost control” measure – so, openly profit-motivated in a sense, but pitched in a warm-fuzzy “Look! We, just like you care about affordable healthcare, and this will help us minimize your overall plan costs!” way – but today I inadvertently ran across evidence that this is not at all the case.

They removed my primary asthma drug from their formulary under the “too expensive” ruse, but the fact of the matter is that the asking rate of my pharmacy for this drug is $100 less than my other asthma drug, one that they insisted I switch to (yeah, hard to switch to something you’re already taking). In terms of real cost to the insurance company – the rate they actually reimburse the pharmacy at – the one they were denying costs them half of what the other drug does. This stinks highly of a back-room deal with Evil Pharma, Inc. With hard data in front of me, I can now see that the only reason that they didn’t fight me when I started fighting them about it is that in terms of their costs, this drug is the second-cheapest drug I’m on, and it probably wasn’t worth the cost of the man-hours needed to argue with me (I have in the past proved myself to be a prolific user of their man-hours). My mother and father, unfortunately, have not been so lucky; they have both had to switch to other drugs. I’m not sure how this is working out in my dad’s case, but for my mother, this means a noticeable change in her quality of life. More alarming to me is the interim period without the original drugs or the substitutes, which it’s no exaggeration to say could have been life-threatening. Previous denials of care in my mother’s case for other stated reasons (who knows if these were true or not) have also had serious risks and consequences. If they had actually fought me, I would also be facing a major reduction in quality of life, and would be at a much higher risk of death from my respiratory problems.

All of this deserves a clear summary of what’s happening here: Evil Insurance, Inc. put my family’s lives at stake and seriously reduced our quality of life because of a deal they made with Evil Pharma, Inc. , and lied to us about the reason. The utterly routine way in which this was all handled makes it obvious to me that this happens all the time.

Say it with me now: the system is broken.

Not only that, but it’s broken in a way that leaves people utterly powerless over their healthcare. What’s the point of me seeing a doctor if the doctor ultimately has no power to decide what drugs I can go on? Sure, the system leaves me the option of paying my own way, as if paying out more than 2/3 of my income to cover my care is really an option (this is no lie, I did the calculations today as part of my insurance search). And I’m always entitled to the option of not getting healthcare at all, if you could consider that an option even on par with “paying out 2/3 of my income.” The system is completely, utterly broken, to the point where people’s very lives are put at risk all the time because of profit.

If this still doesn’t seem that bothersome to you, let’s project this scenario onto another industry. Say, the car industry. For example, if a hypothetical company was selling cars with a hypothetical problem that caused uncontrolled acceleration or threatened a driver’s ability to brake, citizens would surely demand action. “People are dying because the car company is too cheap to take action!” they’d cry. Congress would announce outrage, demand the problems be fixed, and punish the company responsible. No?

Clearly this hypothetical example is not so hypothetical after all. My question, then, is why does the healthcare industry get away with it on a daily basis?

My theory? Our system needs an overhaul on every level imaginable to stop this kind of abuse, and it’s just too big of a problem for people to want to tackle. Witness the recent healthcare reform debacle. It basically shut down the capitol to argue about reforms that are like shooting a spitball (an expensive spitball, mind you) to fend off a grizzly bear, and nobody has had the courage to even try to do that in two decades.

This whole mess just makes me feel hopeless. I honestly don’t know what to do. There’s nothing I can do, really. Learning all of this makes me certain that I don’t want to take part in this system at all, but removing myself would mean stopping my healthcare altogether (I’m counting paying the 2/3 of my income as still taking part, since it lets them bleed me dry financially). Thanks, but no thanks, I don’t want to end up dead. And herein lies another part of the problem: it’s impossible for millions of us to opt out. It’s truly an offer you can’t refuse.