January 31, 2009

Steamboat Mickey

Category: Academic,Free Culture,Open Access,Politics — Biella @ 7:51 pm

This is a great little video/animation Steamboat Mickey, which references one or more events from each year, starting in 1928 and ends in 2008. The music, which accompanies the animation, is fantastic and is by Owen Chapman, an assistant professor of communication at Concordia and a great DJ/sound artist.

January 28, 2009

HFCS is even worse thanks to … mercury

Category: Not Wholesome!!!,Politics — Biella @ 6:46 am

So, on the one hand, I am not surprised about this news about a study which found that high fructose corn syrup, which is of questionable health value, is laced, with a significant amount with mercury.

On the other hand, I am surprised that this is not splattered all over the front pages of all the major newspapers. This is serious stuff. Mercury is extremely poisonous and is known to cause all sort of health problems from immune system dysfunction to massive neurological damage.

Might more of our foods be laced with heavy metals, aside from fish, HFCS. It is very likely.

More on this, but later.

update: Since the article I linked to did not mention the amount of mercury found, here is the original publication (and as a small aside, why newspapers don’t link to these documents is beyond belief). Page 9 of the PDF is particularly telling because it reveals how it was difficult for researchers to obtain more samples so that they could enlarge the sample size….

January 25, 2009

Pedagogical Re-indoctrination: FLOSSIFY!

Category: Events,F/OSS,New York City,Politics — Biella @ 6:38 am

If you are in the NY-area and would like to help out with the project described below, they are looking for volunteers. Help FLOSSIFY the enormously popular book Digital Foundations. The event is being hosted Feb 6-8 at the lovely Eyebeam with some Free as in Beer and Grub provided!


FLOSSIFY 1 : Digital Foundations
For a long time educational courses have been cheap marketing
for proprietary software companies. Can a student really afford all
those expensive softwares required by the courses? No. Ever hear of a
software company kicking up a fuss because students are using
‘unofficial’ versions? Well, it does happen but not often. And why not?
Because proprietary software companies know, as the universities know,
that once the students leave their training they will be indoctrinated
with those tools and simply slipstream into being paid up proprietary
software citizens. Simply put, unlicensed software used in education is
tolerated because it is cheap marketing.

This is how tools become ‘industry standards’.

FLOSS Manuals is fighting this flow by converting textbooks that
use proprietary software to using free software in their examples.

We call this process “FLOSSify”. We convert the book from
closed software to Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) hence we
‘FLOSSify’ the book.

Our first text book is the wonderful Digital Foundations book produced
by Michael Mandiberg and Xtine Burrough
(http://digital-foundations.net/). Its a text book designed to teach
software by teaching design. The current toolset it uses is the Adobe
Creative Suite and we will convert these examples entirely to using free

FLOSSIFY 1 : Digital Foundations will focus on a fun 3 day event at
Eyebeam, NYC. Anyone is welcome to attend and some food and beer will be
provided. Come and meet some of your old geek friends, make some new,
and help make a step towards unshackling education from proprietary

FLOSSIFY 1 : Digital Foundations
Eyebeam, New York City
Feb 6-8
starts 10ish
finishes when we are done
fast connection, a table, some chairs, and beer and food provided
contact adam@flossmanuals.net for more info



540 W. 21st Street, (between 10th and 11th Avenues)
New York, NY 10011
Tel. 212.937.6580 Fax: 212.937.6582

January 20, 2009

Pirate Philosophy

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,Pirates — Biella @ 6:34 pm

Culture Machine has just come out with a new issue and it is all on pirates. Looks like a great collection.

Google it

Category: Blue Cross Blue Shield,Blue Cross Horizon — Biella @ 12:43 pm

So I am still getting a lot of comments on my blog about BCBS horror stories and recently this one was submitted, which seems particularly horrific:

I had an accident in June. I was rushed to the emergency room on a Saturday afternoon. An Orthopaedic surgeon that was on call came in to set my bones. BCBS says that the physician was out of network and they paid $3900 of a $21,000 bill. I had NO choice and I was not in any shape to find out if the doctor was in-network. Seems illegal to me.

Wow. I also got an email from someone else also undergoing some horror who has asked me for the email of the public relations director who had emailed me many moons ago. Normally I would feel somewhat guilty giving it out, but given that BCBS is seriously causing a lot of problems for people all over the country, I think it is important that top executives in the company know they are causing havoc and financial problems for scores of peoplethis one is pretty horrible as well . Second, the information is already public and so one can easily find this person’s name by googling BCBS Horizon public relations director (You will get his name) and then google his name and you will get his email and phone number.

Good luck. If I were not a professor and were financially secure, I would definitely spend all my time on health insurance reform activism (and kick some serious ass, since I really enjoy that type of political work). In the meantime, I will help in the little ways I can and hope that this administration, which is a vast improvement over the last, will also rattle the health insurance industry as well. There are also groups out there doing great work, so if you are into reform, do lend them a helping hand if you can!

January 18, 2009

Easy to Miss

Category: Puerto Rico,Travel — Biella @ 6:41 am

calle-monjas, originally uploaded by the biella.

In the last 8 years, I have spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico and I always hit the Old City for some food, walking, music, and beautiful views. When walking around my favorite streets, I noticed for the first time the lovely tiling pictured above, which features 5 dancing nuns. Even though I have walked on this street probably hundreds of times, I have never noticed it until last trip.

While this is a very small detail there are many things one might overlook when visiting PR as they are not well known. One of the easiest things to miss is my favorite trail in the National rain forest, El Yunque, Tradewinds. It is easy to miss because it is not on the main road (It is on the closed service road, which you reach at the end of 191) and it is not mentioned very often in travel books and web pages. But if you are visiting El Yunque, I recommend the trail. It is as lovely as can be. Since it is not frequented very often, I would make sure to have a hiking buddy as it is easy to slip and fall (there is tons of mud). But do check it out if you visit the rain forest. It is really lovely.

Blue Cross No Shield

After two years of phone calls, nasty emails, filing claims and reports, Blue Cross Blue “Shield” of NJ finally ponied up every last cent of cash they originally did not want to pay. Since the ordeal began, many BCBS customers left comments here where I chronicled my plight and many have also sent me emails as well. In the end, I think I was successful mostly because I had the email of the director of public relations (he made the mistake of emailing me) because well, I would send him these emails and I think he just did not want to receive anymore.

Recently I received an email from Reynold Weidenaar with a pointer to his webpage where he is also chronicling what is happening with BCBS since they want to deny coverage for physical therapy. This is great and more folks need to do this exact thing, which is chronicle every last detail in a public place. In the end, they have a lot of paperwork and we need to turn it back to them and in very large numbers.

January 1, 2009


Category: Alzheimers — Biella @ 12:02 pm

When I return to PR, my blog tends to lie fallow. Between taking care of the house, outdoor distractions (like the very overgrown garden and the very enticing beach), and most especially visiting my mother, I turn away from the computer, from my analytical mind, from writing. But since we have edged into a new year, I thought I would spend a little bit of time ruminating on 2008, which was one of the most unforgettable for me.

With each passing year, it seems that 12 months bleed right into the next 12 months. But within this swirl, there are a handful of years that retain their sharp edges (1992, 1996, 2005, 2005-2006 are the most memorable). 2008 now sits among those as it is the the year that a tube was placed into my mother’s stomach and soon after she was taken from the hospital into a nursing home without even the chance to say goodbye to the dog who was her steadfast companion and the house, which was her home for over 20 years.

Over the last 6 years while I have not written much about my mother and her Alzheimer’s, I did so fairly consistently with at least 3 entries per year, that is until March 2008 when she was put in the nursing home. Soon after being admitted, I wrote one entry and since then have not had the heart to commit much to words, something of which I am ashamed of and have sworn I would write about at least once before another years passes us by. I don’t have the desire to constantly write about my experiences with her but it seems to be that Alzheimer’s is erased far too often from public view and I would rather not contribute to that type of very pervasive silencing either.

The recipe for my silence has been made up of various ingredients. One was I was just really really busy. Last semester was frenetic so I often did not have an ounce of room/time to think, much less blog about such a difficult situation (and I spent a lot of time going back and forth to PR as well). Another is that I was trying to avoid the heartache that arises when you focus in, with some detail, care and attention, on something that is unavoidably painful. Each time I tried, I ultimately failed and told myself, I would do so later. Finally I was blogging less and less about these types of subjects so it just seemed a little out of place every time I tried to commit something to words.

For me, one of the hardest things to accept—and this probably fed into my silence—is that I played a part in prolonging her life when I know she wanted out (with a capital O U and T). But at the time the feeding tube was placed in her, she was walking and talking and it did not seem right to refuse her food (and I hoped that with some food, she would then start to eat on her own as she can swallow just fine) not to mention that her caretaker (a devout Catholic) and my sister would have never at the time been ready to refuse the feeding tube and I was not exactly quite ready either. Well, what we did not foresee was that 5 days in the hospital did her in and when she left, she could no longer walk, she could barely talk, and yet due to the feeding tube, she gained back the dramatic weight that she had shed over a year so that her body at least looked far more alive than it had been for years thanks to the steady stream of nutrition being slowly pumped into her body.

I just know she would not want to be alive under these conditions and yet at this point, there is not much I can do legally except refuse certain classes of treatments if she gets sick (such as respirator) or wait until she becomes completely vegetative and then go through the legal hoops, that ultimately may not be successful, to remove the feeding tube. It has been so hard for so many months that as I late I have been trying to approach the whole thing with at least one dash of Zen-like detachment (by which I mean an embrace/acceptance of suffering in this world) and just spend as much time as I can with my mother, which I did a lot over the summer and I am now doing this winter. I am most probably moving back over the summer as well as my sister is not faring all that well after being with her for so many years.

Even though she no longer knows my name, or who I am, I can tell she notices my presence and there are days she even seems to be happy. In fact, over the summer, she had some pretty lively days when we could manage to joke about almost nothing. Those days were rare and precious and today they don’t seem to happen at all (she did seem a bit excited that it was a New Year though I could not tell if she really knew what I was saying). Over the summer, generally I would climb into her bed and we would co-nap for a couple of hours. And then the worst were the days she was hysterical and crying, and the absolutely worst was when she was crying, pleading for her parents. Those were days that did not break my heart but my soul.

Thankfully those days of hysterics seem to be happen less and less and my mother just seems to sleep a lot. I sometimes like to think she is like those really old cats or dogs who seem to spend interminable hours sleeping and resting and don’t seem to be suffering all that much though I can still tell she is still in a bad mood from time to time.

She also has a wonderful roommate, Ana, who also pretty advanced Alzheimer’s though certainly not as bad as my mom. Unlike my mother, she is happy as a clam, so much so she is always saying things like “Isn’t this a great day?” “How wonderful the day is,” etc. etc, which is a nice counterbalance to my mom! I sort of like that my mom’s roommate is, personality wise, the polar opposite of my mother, who is not a fundamentally unhappy soul, but she was emotionally erratic one with quite a few peaks and valleys and this is still very much the case.

Having Ana around (and her family) has transformed the way I have seen this illness and my mother’s condition. I am certainly not thrilled that she is alive and in fact think how we end (or don’t end) life is something we as a society should be ashamed of. I clearly want to see her released, freed like a bird from the cage of this world (my mother loved loved birds I think because they symbolized freedom), but spending time with Ana, who again seems quite content, made me realize how part of the Alzheimer’s experience is rooted in one’s personality. My mom has always been difficult and when she was sick but still quite functional, her personality made the illness difficult for her and those around her. She never really had much luck changing her karmic personality and it sure is not going to change now. But as I said she does seem to rest a lot. I just hope her last few months, possibly years, are if nothing else peaceful and tranquil.