May 30, 2007

The Politics and Economics of Web 2.0

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:28 pm

Here are three somewhat different takes on the politics and economics of web 2.0.

The Canadian Rockies

Category: Canada,Tech — Biella @ 8:08 am

I am at the nice Wild Flour Bakery in the very stunning Canadian Rockies taking advantage of some time and wireless to get started with a small project whose deadline is fast coming up.

So you know all those pictures of Banff/Canmore area lakes donning aquamarine, coral like colors? Well, there is no lying going on. The lakes here are so frikken beautiful and as someone who has spent a lot of time underwater staring at corals and Caribbean Fishies, I think there is something quite nice about how the water in Caribbean and the water in the Rockies look the same. While the lakes in the Rockies are the color they are due to their mineral content, some of the lakes, like the one we hiked to yesterday, are on top of ancient petrified coral reefs. Mountains were once oceans, oceans become mountains… which if you give it some thought, is sort of mind blowing.

So, Banff is quite beautiful but in terms of mountain towns, I prefer nearby Canmore or Jasper (which is closer to Edmonton) mostly because they are not quite as ritzy and chock full of tourists (but of course there is a reason for all these tourists).

But whatever town you can make it to, I would highly recommend the Canadian Rockies. They are in a class of their own.

May 25, 2007

Pricefull and Priceless

$ 5000 medical bill (that insurance won’t pay for)
$ 450 water bill in Puerto Rico
$ 150 library fine for one lost book that normally costs under 20 dollars

Anxiety and rage from dealing with these ludicrous bills: priceless.

Ok seriously I am now dealing with these three things and it has been really really really unpleasant. I sometimes wonder if I was once a bad as* Roman tax collector by the name of Biella Plebius and now, reincarnated as Biella Coleman, I am suffering the karmic consequences of extorting people in the 3rd century A.D.

Other times I take a lighter approach to all of this and console myself that if nothing else, I am learning a lot. For example, as I had mentioned awhile back, Blue Cross Blue Shield Horizon of New Jersey is stalling and denying health insurance bills for my mole surgery. Because I had a pre-existing clause in my contract, they are trying to squirrel out of it. However, since I never had a pre-existing issue with moles, I am pretty sure they are required to pony up the cash but getting them to do this has been a Herculean, no Sisyphean task.

Since it was clear they were not going to pay if I alone was applying pressure, I was about to file a claim in Special Civil court (the bill is too high for small claims court) but I wanted to see if I had any other options. So hours and hours after diligent web research, I finally found on that I can file a complaint against my health insurance via the Department of Banking and Insurance. I am amazed that NO ONE in the doctor’s office, including those whose only job is to deal with health insurance, had a clue about this option.

And even when you go to the Dept of Insurance website it is not totally obvious that you can file a complaint (it is under the “file for assistance” category). But once I got in touch with them, they have been incredibly helpful.

Now, my detailed complaint letter is with them, and some other documentation and apparently they have an investigator on the case. I am not sure if this route will be enough pressure to get the job done but at least by the time this is over, I will be in the greater NY area so that I can move to the court option.

The take away lesson here is that if you are having any trouble with claims and health insurance, do do do do file a complaint with your state Department of Banking and Insurance. This is a great first option to use.

From Past to Future

Category: Academic,Tech — Biella @ 7:15 am

In the last two weeks, life has been jam packed, full of movement and travel and a bit of sensory overload. I went to San Francisco to visit friends from the past but also took a trip to NYC to help set things up for the future. Logistically, it certainly was not enjoyable to travel from Edmonton to SF to NYC and back to SF before heading back to Edmonton, which was only made worse by the fact that I was sick flying back from NYC to SF. But taken from an aesthetic point of view, there was something that made sense about going back and forth between cities that in reality connect my past with my future. For it was my time in SF when I did my research that more or less made possible my future life in NYC.

I had not been back to SF since I had left in the summer of 2003. My mom’s illness kept me away from the west, pulled instead toward the east. In fact, right before I left SF was also the time when my mother’s condition took a turn for the worse and I started to travel only for work or to visit my mom PR (or Debconf, which is, well, somewhere in between work and play). Because of my relatively long absence and the many memories of the area, my return hit vividly. You may leave a place, but when you return you are reminded of how much a place always leaves some imprint in your body and soul, which resurface upon your return.

Feelings and memories of the past flickered to consciousness when my eyes first absorbed the stunningly beautiful (but also vulnerable) geography of the Bay Area: the pale blue sky, the colorful bridges and houses, the ridiculously steep hills, the wispy and thick fog. San Francisco is a city, it seems to me, that has made a Faustian pact with nature. Nature and the geography have not been completely conquered. They seep right into the man-made environment, which is why it is so beautiful here. But it comes at a price measured in ways small and large. Daily battle with the hills is a small reminder and the larger reminders come in the form of terrifying earthquakes.

It was really great to see many friends, many of whom I have stayed in constant touch with on IRC, but of course, from time to time, a little flesh and blood goes a lot further than the bits and bytes. While SF does not have a high retention rate (apparently 30% of the population changes every 2 years), many of my techie friends have faithfully remained and other techie friends have since made their way to Bay Area.

As much as I find this city amazing, I was reminded of how much I find San Francisco’s weather completely objectionable, disliking it even more than the cold Canadian north (really).The damp cold and constant wind are impossible to escape, only made worse by lousy indoor heating like the “cozy” heater I already blogged about (and apparently, this is how you can fix it).

I am staying in the outer Mission district, which is where I lived for a while, and I do love the slightly warmer temperatures, flatness of the streets, and very colorful murals. While Valencia street has moved up a few notches on the gentrification scale, it does not seem out of control. And of course, the city is brimming with a particular mixture of youth and tech. In the many coffee shops, youthful faces are illuminated by Shiny New Laptops and it seems like at least every third person you meet works in the technology industry.

I had not planned on heading out to the east coast but since I was given the option of seeing a couple of apartments courtesy of NYU housing, I decided it was well worth my while to make the cross country trip, given that it may be my future home for many years. Spring in NYC is one of its more flattering incarnations for there is a slight touch of nature that drapes the city, a touch that is absent during the height of the summer when the hot concrete jungle overtakes the flowers and trees.

Heading to NYC briefly also reminded me that moving to NYC feels like a really BIG move. And not because the distance between Edmonton and NYC is 3900 KM but because of what it represents. It sort of dawned on me recently that becoming an assistant professor is not unlike the grueling period real doctors go through once they graduate medical school: residency. Even though by the time you start your job, you have been bequeathed with the title of a “doctor,” and are prepared to teach, advise, etc., in reality you are only half-baked and there is more cooking for you to go under. You need to go through a few more years of somewhat intense training to seal the deal and that is what is awaiting me starting this fall.

May 24, 2007

Proportional Registration

Category: IP Law,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 3:11 pm

Though I am not all that fond of Karl Fogel’s so called “cozy” San Francisco heater(because it does not work), I am more fond of his ideas on copyright.

And I think his recent modest proposal that calls for a shorter term period for copyright and proportional registration is a good one. I agree with 90% of it although I am not sure that all types of creations are “created” equal in so far as I would be more comfortable with having software under a shorter term and books under a slightly longer one.

Just Say No

I am in SF now and saw that the local weekly just published a really good article on those who steer clear of psychiatric drugs, called Just Say No. It is quite good, check it out.

May 15, 2007

Beyond Labeling, Skin Deep

Category: patient_activism,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 2:34 pm

While most of our products are labeled, labels often don’t reveal all that much because really who can decipher the meaning of all those weird oxidase-perio-para-whatever in your shampoo? But thanks to the environmental working group, you can access a very large database Skin Deep, which is a “a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care.” So find out what toxic stuff are in your personal care products, ditch em, and take further action:

As they state on their website:

Due to gaping loopholes in federal law, companies can put virtually any ingredient into personal care products. Even worse, the government does not require pre-market safety tests for any of them.

This is unacceptable. Sign the Environmental Working Group’s petition to Congress to turn this around and make personal care products safe.

So check out the database and the petition.

Money Talks

Category: academic,Pharma,Politics,Psychiatry,Tech — Biella @ 7:32 am

This is somewhat old news but these two articles are worth linking here and linking together for they convey nicely, in the words of AC/DC, how “money talks” and also how numbers can talk about how money talks.

One article is Senators who weakened drug bill got millions from industry from USA Today and the other is on a topic that has been receiving a lot of play in the NYTimes Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry’s Role.

I am not so much a researcher of numbers in so far as I don’t produce them, and think it is a good idea to cultivate a healthy skepticism of them, but I do appreciate what they can tell us. I think the article in the NYTimes is particularly insightful because it is based on “public reports of all drug company marketing payments to doctors” in the state of Minnesota, the *only* state that requires this access. The authors of the article are careful to hedge and qualify their findings, but many of them do suggest that the more money a doctor gets, the higher the likelihood they will prescribe more meds and of a certain class. Hopefully more states will pass such legislation and more research will be done.

This is my favorite quote from the article

“There’s an irony that psychiatrists ask patients to have insights into themselves, but we don’t connect the wires in our own lives about how money is affecting our profession and putting our patients at risk,” he said.”

May 14, 2007

The Peer Review

Category: Academic,Tech,Wholesome — Biella @ 4:14 pm

Thanks to a Mr. Kandinski, I just learned about what looks to be like a really useful (and pretty) guide for graduate students and young professors.

May 7, 2007

San Francisco

Category: Tech,Travel — Biella @ 7:36 pm

I left there four years ago and I finally return tomorrow for a few weeks. It will be great to be back.