Monday, August 31, 2009

Beautiful Time Lapse, Beautiful Music, Beautiful Prose

Michael Marantz arranged and composed the music that sets wonderful visual and audible scenery to Carl Sagan reading from "Pale Blue Dot". Full screen this one and let it run.

EARTH: The Pale Blue Dot from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 5

In my previous post I said I would avoid coconut oil because I believed it was unhealthy. It turns out that coconut oil is actually pretty healthy so long as it is not hydrogenated. According to Wikipedia, non-hydrogenated coconut oil may actually raise the levels of 'good' cholesterol.

Nevertheless, Katy surprised me last night with a jar of organic coconut oil. I'm starting to measure out my corn in cups. I measured a heaping half cup of Orville kernels, and about a tablespoon of the organic colored popcorn. I used 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of Flavacol.

I added them all to the Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper
and cooked them.

The results: best yet. It tastes exactly like the popcorn at the movie theater.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 2, take 3, take 4

We used Orville's popcorn for attempts 2 through 4 of getting movie theater popcorn at home.

It's producing a much larger and more consistent popcorn than the organic stuff. The organics aren't bad, but they're different. One advantage with the organic popcorn is the shells are a little thicker and don't get stuck in my teeth.

In attempts 2 through 4 I dialed in the amounts of corn, olive oil, and Flavacol.

8 heaping tablespoons of corn, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of Flavacol seems to be the right ratio.

I've been told that coconut oil produces a more theater like flavor, but I'm concerned that it is not very healthy.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: take 1

All the ingredients arrived. The Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper was the final piece. Last night I tried 6 oz. of organic popcorn with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 3/4 tablespoon of Flavacol. I mixed all of the ingredients into the popper and then applied it to heat.

One challenge was finding the appropriate heat level on my stove. I didn't want to scorch the popcorn so I worked my way up the dial and found that the kernels pop around the middle of the dial.

The results: pretty good for a first try. The corn popped a little smaller than the kind I'm used to, but it tasted pretty close. The smaller kernels were much more filling than regular popcorn.

I'm going to try using Orville's popcorn tonight and less of it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care Hodge Podge

Congressman Anthony Weiner asks what value is there in having private health insurance on Morning Joe. As far as I can tell, all they really seem to do is deny coverage and take a 20% cut.

I am struggling to understand how people can be in favor of private, for profit, health insurance. The market forces of improving profits and reactively providing health care are at odds when insurance companies can summarily deny coverage, weasel out of honoring their coverage through preexisting conditions and rescinding policies. What's so good about a corporation that just takes our money and rips us off when we become inconvenient to their profits.

I'm terrified of the private health insurers. I have absolutely no faith that they will honor their end of the agreement should something catastrophic happen. They'll dump me and eventually Medicaid or Medicare will cover some treatment.

Isn't that ironic? The private health insurers get to cherry pick the healthy people while the government gets to pay for the poor, the old, and the infirmed. They say that they are against a public option, but there's one that they are counting on, or not. They don't care unless there's something in it for them.

I believe Wendell Potter when he talks about his experiences as an executive at Cigna.

I share Weiner's position where I just don't understand what value there is with private for profit health insurance.

Some people have criticized health care reform saying that changing the system will cause the loss of jobs. I certainly hope that it does cause some jobs to be lost. I won't shed a tear if health care lobbyists are sent packing, or if the people whose job it is to find a way to rescind a policy are canned. I have nothing against those people, but their positions are not doing good things for the country.

If the cost of insuring people is lifted, or the responsibility of insuring employees is lifted, employers, small businesses, will be able to employ more people. The cost of insuring employees is growing at a ridiculous rate year over year. I would submit that the cost of health insurance is the number one detractor from annual raises. The health insurance companies are getting double digit raises year after year and everyone else is lucky if they get 4%.

Why are people angry about Obama being a socialist while most people's raises are going to improve the profits of their health insurance company? I think the people who are the most outraged by health care reform are not well informed. Bringing guns to a town hall meeting and acting in ways that would embarrass a pack of baboons isn't the way to voice one's position.

I find it ironic that these people, some showing up with firearms, are complaining about Obama being a tyrant determined to deprive the people of freedom when the previous administration jailed orderly people for wearing shirts that tastefully voice a position differing from the president.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Movie Theater Popcorn at Home: That's a challenge I will take

I admit it. Movie theater popcorn is one of my many weaknesses. Like many, I've enjoyed popcorn in the theater and then miserably failed to make popcorn as delicious at home. As a kid, I used to experiment with different popping techniques and ingredients, but it never came out that great. It was good, but not the addictive perfection that is movie theater popcorn.

I had long since given up about making theater style popcorn.

Recently though, I ran across this post about how to make movie theater popcorn at home.

I'm going to give it a try. I've ordered all the ingredients. They are en route.

BTW, anyone interested in picking up a carton of Flavacol? I've got a dozen of them now. We're set for the next two lifetimes on that stuff.

I'll report my findings after the popper arrives this week.

Entertaining and Informative: is a collection of jury rigged fixes. You have to hand it to the subjects, they definitely think outside the box.

I'm reminded of a story that a friend of mine used to tell. He was a technician at a Sears automotive. Normally they would do fairly simple service on vehicles. They'd change tires, mufflers, brakes; that sort of thing.

They had a car come in for a brake repair. There were a few remarkable things about this vehicle. First thing: eight guys got out of it. Second: the tires were almost completely bald. Third: there wasn't a steering wheel. Instead they used either a pipe wrench or a vise grips pliers to steer the car, like a tiller on a sailboat.

When my friend told them that he couldn't let them leave without replacing the steering wheel and tires the eight men would hear none of it. They wanted to drive away. My friend ended up having the owner sign a waiver releasing them of any liability. He also let the town's finest know that there was about seven vehicle violations coming their way.

I regret my friend didn't take a picture and share it with

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This is the stuff that fuels my disdain for private health insurers

This American Life ran an excellent story about the practice of recission by insurers.

Recission is the practice of cancelling a policy on the grounds that the customer lied, or provided factually incorrect information, on the application form. What makes this practice especially dubious is the applications are so difficult to fill out that the CEO of the company issuing them can't fill them out. How can a regular consumer be expected to fill out the application correctly?

In practice, recission is a tool that the health insurance companies can use as a get out of paying for expensive claims for free card. The insurance PR spin will say that "Recission is not about cost", or it's an innocent business process that they need to do to deliver the best care that they can to their policy holders.

It wouldn't be difficult to find correlation between rescinded policies that have, or show leading indicators of, major claims and policies that do not. We don't hear about people whose policies are cancelled for no reason, but then again, who would really make a fuss about it. I'd love to see figures correlating recission to expected costs.

Recission may have started as a way to drop policy holders who opened a policy in bad faith. What it is in practice is an option that the insurance company can use to ditch paying expensive claims and improving the profit margins.

I'd love to hear someone sincerely try to defend this practice. How is it not fraud?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From "The Death Panels Are Already Here"

Mike Madden wrote that the so called "Death Panels" that is the threat du jour of socialized medicine is already here for Spot on Mike!

The current American system of for profit health insurance is deeply flawed with conflicts of interest and inefficiencies.

Corporations are ultimately responsible for providing a return on the shareholders' investment. The people who run the corporation are rewarded for producing a better return, and penalized for failing to do so.

The math isn't that complicated. Health insurance companies generate revenue through premiums. Providing health care to their policy holders costs them money. Ideally, if an insurer were to position itself to only collect premiums and pay for no health care they'd maximize their profits and do right to their shareholders.

Amy Goodman reported on TruthDig that former Cigna whistleblower Wendell Potter admits:
if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.

This is exactly the type of thing that makes a private-for profit health insurance provider evil.

It's an unfair deal where all of us pay into a system that will drop us as soon as we become inconvenient. It is trading the life of common people to enrich the already full coffers of a privileged few.

Everybody knows the deal is rotten,
Old Black Joe still picking cotton
for your ribbons and bows.

People buy insurance to protect from catastrophe. For most people, catastrophe comes in the form of a major medical procedure. Not many people can shoulder the burden of paying for a $100,000 procedure. That's why we're putting our money into a health insurance policy, if we need it we think it's there for us.

I have my doubts whether the private for profit insurance industry would be there for us. It seems that they fight tooth and nail to avoid honoring even moderate claims through denied claims, policy cancellation and payment rescission. The health insurance industry may spin their practices in ways that don't sound very bad, but it's tantamount to euthanasia. Except the person is left to suffer without care.

Why are people scared of fictional government death panels that have absolutely no interest in denying care when there are very real health insurance companies that have an absolute incentive in denying you care?

I don't really care how we get from where we are to a better place, I just want out of our current system. There are ample opportunities to improve the American health care system. Removing the private for profit health care element would be a good start.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Excellent Read: Unconscionable Math

Taunter Media has an excellent essay, Unconscionable Math, describing the position of for profit health insurance companies from a mathematician's standpoint. The position is the for profit health care model is broken.
Everybody knows the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
That's how it goes.
--Leonard Cohen

For the record, I am in favor of eliminating for profit health care. I believe that it is impossible to both provide care to people and maximize profits for shareholders. At the end of the day, the shareholders are going to win, and the patients will suffer.

Ironically, I don't think that any of the horrors that the anti-public health prognosticators are espousing are any worse than our current system.

I have personally experienced the 'efficiency of the private insurers' and it's surprisingly similar to a bass ackward bureaucracy.

When I was a few years into my career as a software engineer, my dentist and a group of highly qualified specialists made a diagnosis that I had a Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) issue that could be treated through a surgical procedure. My condition, when they diagnosed it contributed to severe headaches and issues chewing food. I could not close my mouth completely. Three independent qualified doctors agreed that my condition required treatment which included 2 years of orthodontics and a surgical procedure to be performed after a year of orthodontics.

I contacted my health insurer to verify that the surgical procedure would be covered. My health insurer at the time, Cigna, demonstrated some of the poorest customer service and responsiveness than any business I've ever dealt with while pre-certifying the operation. The first representative I spoke with said that no, they would not cover the operation without hearing any details. I tried to contact them again and improved the prognosis from a no to a maybe. For over 9 months Cigna did not give an answer. They contacted the oral surgeon's office and sat on the surgeon's reply for months. They promised me an answer at least three times and failed to deliver it. Finally, shortly before the surgery was to take place, they sent me a letter stating that they would not pay for the operation.

The cost of the surgery was estimated at just under $30,000. I had nowhere near that much money available and I had no idea how I would cover the cost if I had to pay for it myself. The stress, worry, and depression from waiting put me in a bad condition. My attitude towards my employer and my work became horrible. I felt betrayed by my insurer and my employer. I did my part as an employee and they ditched their responsibilities when I became inconvenient.

Why did they ditch me and deny me coverage? Was it outside of my policy? Nope. Was it unnecessary? I couldn't completely close my mouth. Was it efficient? In a way it was, but not for me. It is efficient in the sense that I didn't cost Cigna any money because they were able to avoid paying for the operation.

What was the total cost? As an employee I was not nearly as productive as I could have been. The lack of sleep, depression, and worry made it very difficult to focus on my work. The loyalty I felt towards my company was gone. Before the ordeal I thought nothing of working unpaid overtime and doing whatever it took to get the job down. I was punching a clock after the ordeal.

My insurer and my company also lost me as soon as I could find a company with a better policy that would hire me. I'm sure that whoever was hired to replace me cost much more than I did. Actually I was being paid about $30,000 a year under the market price for someone in my position. To save a one time cost of $30,000, my former employer traded up by paying it every year.

There's a huge difference between trying to cover costs and maximizing profits. It's ironic to me that I've heard health insurance companies describe the people they insure as having a sense of entitlement. The insurers lament that the people feel entitled to care that would improve their lifestyle like they are trying to cheat the system.

I think there's a different sense of entitlement and it comes from the private health insurance companies. They feel entitled to take our money and our quality of life. Under our current health care system, we're playing a rigged game. These companies have no concern for the quality or value of our lives. They only want us if they are going to make money off of not providing treatment to us.

If given a choice of a public system where I need to wait for my treatment, but instantly knowing that my treatment will be covered and the current American system of being able to wait less time for treatment but waiting much longer to eventually learn whether my treatment will be covered, I choose the former.

Health insurance companies are fighting hard to maintain the status quo and to slant the system more in their favor. They are trying to scare us into fearing a government health care system.

They use words like socialism and allude to waiting for health care. I'm sorry, has anyone ever not had to wait for health care under our system? Last time I went to see my doctor I waited well over an hour to see him after I waited three weeks to see him. That was for my annual physical.

There is a conflict of interests between providing life, i.e. health care, and maximizing profits. In our current system, the profits are winning out. Are we willing to trade life for profits?