Coffee heat rising

Real Books Don’t Disappear…

Salesman_demonstrating_Nook_tablet_in_a_Barnes_&_Noble_bookstoreHere’s something to entertain you, here in our Brave New World: with some question about the survival of Barnes & Noble, loyal B&N customers are beginning to wonder what will become of their Nook e-books if the company goes kaput?

Barnes & Noble has already deep-sixed the color version of the Nook, and some observers think, along with technology expert Jeff Kagan, that “the Nook may become the Betamax of e-books.”

Huh. Think of that.

Therein lies the reason this old troglodyte clings to her wallsful of real, paper-and-ink analogue books. Unless it’s a PDF that you’ve bought and downloaded into your computer and backed up externally, these  e-book things are ephemeral, and you “own” them at someone else’s pleasure. Barnes & Noble selleth and Barnes & Noble taketh away. Ditto Amazon.

A hard-copy book can be eaten by crickets or printed on acidic paper that rots away… but by and large, once it’s bought, paid for, and parked on your bookshelf, no one can barge into your house and grab it away from you.

In the virtual world, however, Amazon can and does do exactly that, as we’ve known since 2009 when it yanked George Orwell’s 1984 off the Kindles of customers who had already paid for it and begun to read it. In 2012, Amazon deleted over 4,000 e-books when one of the largest distributors in the country declined to accept a change in terms of service, and then a little later that year it remotely wiped a customer’s Kindle, “accidentally” revealing that it can erase purchased and paid-for ebooks at will.

And because you don’t own those books at all — you own a license to look at them — all those hundreds and thousands of dollars worth property cannot be passed down to your heirs. If your whole collection of learning and knowledge exists in the form of e-books, you have no right to give them to your children and grandchildren.

Now, it has to be said that about 99.8% of published books could be disappeared without harming the course of humanity’s intellectual progress. But… The potential for censorship — we could call that thought control — is obvious.

And IMHO the potential for thought control already looms way too large in our electronified culture. This morning a member of our business group gave a presentation on the pervasive electronic surveillance the government has slapped on the entire country and probably on most of the rest of the world — how they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, and why it’s way too late to for anyone to do anything about it. It’s scary stuff.

Those of us who blithely fork over our privacy and our rights to corporations and secretive government agencies assume too much in imagining that these entities will always be benign.

So far, though, it’s not too late to buy a real book. Preferably with cash. 😉

Image: Selling the Nook. Tomwsulcer. Public Domain. Photographer warrants identifiable subject has consented to publication of image.

 

Midori!

If you’ve never heard the astonishing classical violin virtuosa Midori, take the first opportunity you find to go to one of her concerts.

The Phoenix Chamber Music Society brought her here last week. This, hot on the heels of Chanticleer, one of the most gorgeous a capella groups ever, the first fully sold-out concert the society had enjoyed in a while. Midori’s concert was also sold out, and for good reason.

My companion in spending-on-concerts crime, being a tax accountant, was reduced to having to work that night (or at least to subside into comatose stupor for a few hours). So she offered up her ticket, and I invited a friend from choir. She decided to fix us a lovely dinner of chicken and dumplings beforehand (!! haven’t had that since my mother made it) at her great old North Central home, and then it was off to the shindig.

Midori. My god. It was the single most astonishing performance I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been in concert halls around the globe. She played, solo, for a good two hours, an all Bach program. Many of the pieces were extremely challenging. By the end of the evening she seemed no less vigorous, no less inspired than she was when she started. Her playing: spectacular. The music: awe-inspiring.

Put it on your bucket list: a concert by Midori.

Annals of the Floored and Flabbergasted

So La Maya e-mails to report the latest astonishment: When La Bethulia sold the rental house she owned down near M’hijito’s house, she called the insurance company that issued policies on that house and on two other houses they own, one of them free and clear, and asked them to cancel the insurance on their former possession. Time passes.

La Maya gets a letter from the credit union, which owns the mortgage on their house here in town: they have no proof of hazard coverage from the insurer.

Bet you can see where this is going, eh?

She calls AAA Insurance and discovers that instead of canceling the policy on the rental, they canceled the policy on their residence! The house hasn’t been insured since last October!

Moving on… I decide to drop by Lowe’s while I’m cruising around. As I arrive at the right turn into the parking lot, I see an old guy walking along the sidewalk. He’s going to get to the mega-driveway into the vast parking lot before I do.

So of course I slow down and stop so he can walk cross the driveway, holding up traffic behind me.

He ambles across the blacktop. Gets about three-quarters of the way to the other side and…stops.

Looks like he’s going to turn around and go back.

No.

He circles around a couple of times like a dog getting ready to lie down.

Then he decides to walk into the parking lot, headed toward the Lowe’s entrance…right straight up the middle of the drive. Now he wanders around, blocking the entry, so there’s no way to get into the lot without running him down.

A serious temptation…

Speaking of La Bethulia’s rental house, I see by Trulia that the people who bought it last October did a modicum of fix-up — installed some Saltillo tiles and upgraded the stand-alone studio so it could in theory be used for a rental — and then sold it for exactly what they paid for it!

Why?

An acquaintance who earns his living as a financial adviser recently opined that you don’t pay taxes on Social Security. Well, no. Not if that’s all you’re living on. But if you have the kind of investment income his customers do and you take that advice to heart, you could be in for a surprise.

Whaddaya think? Do we live in a Monty Python show? Or is it a Kurt Vonnegut novel?

Bug-Eyed in America

Ever have an experience where something you hear or see or participate in leaves you with your eyes bugged out? Like, you just. can. not. believe. it.? As in, you can’t believe a Ph.D. in English would preface a sentence with “Like,” let alone separate every annoyed, frustrated, flabbergasted word with a period? Yeah. Like, one of those experiences.

My whole freaking day has been like that.

7:30 a.m.: Meet beloved English 102 students. By now they have plodded through an entire year of freshman comp, a pair of courses designed either a) to remind of all the things they should have learned in 13 years of K-12 education or b) to teach them all the things they missed during that lengthy period. Administer extra-credit final “exam,” jestingly dubbed the “Phaque Phinal.” Only those whose grades are on the borderline need apply: if 30, 40, 50 points of extra credits would kick you up a grade, by all means do participate.

Final Wee Quizzie…for 5 points of extra credit:

Question: What is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning?

Answer: Inductive is pertaining to, or involving electrical or magnetic induction. Now deduction is based deductive from accepted premises, as in deductive argument [sic, sic, and sic].

Bet you don’t believe this, do you?

It’s real!

Bug-eyed moment.

Return an edited master’s thesis to an interesting and probably gifted student. Explain why several paragraphs full of amazing/wild/sometimes afactual assertions and allegations need documentation. Realize bright young(ish) woman hasn’t a clue about basic citation and documentation; fix her non-APA in-text citation and references documentation and tell her to cite vast quantities of unattributed factoids and wild allegations. Duck under the desk as volleys of outrage are lobbed at student from Graduate College.

Climb out from bomb shelter.

Fix thesis as best as possible under the circumstances. The circumstances: Grad College Format Cop demands student follow formatting guidelines; gives student link to same. Editor goes to link; it contains no formatting guide and no clue to formatting requirements, but editor finds a link to a PDF that claims to explain issues. No guidelines are forthcoming, but PDF contains a link to “master’s thesis formatting guidelines.” Editor clicks on this. Link takes editor back to link provided by Format Cop. Bug-eyed moment.

Cruising across the city, editor hears a report on NPR to the effect that some earnest soul proposes the U.S. Congress establish national standards for teacher promotion evaluation. Sorry, can’t find a link to this. But the eyes bug out.

Continuing to listen to NPR news, editor learns that hotel maid whose claims that a high-ranking French politician raped her were thrown out of court has won a civil suit against the man whose career she wrecked with apparently false charges. Says she, “I thank God, and God bless you all.” Eyes bug out. God bless us, every one.

Evening: NPR reports that the federal government wishes to regulate the descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cats. Presumably not just their lives, but all nine of their lives. The eyes bug out.

Meet with friend who knows how to make things of glass. He gives me — gives me — a handful of glass hearts that will be perfect as beaded necklace focal pieces, just really pretty and cool and appealing. He calls them “tchochkies” and thinks they’re worthless and so hands a half-dozen of them to me for nothing.

Eyes bug out.

Decide that if I can sell these, the proceeds had better go to charity.

La Maya calls. She and La Bethulia have been awarded permanent guardianship of four-year-old grandchild, whose Bi*ch Mother is in yet another drug rehab facility. Child is much improved in stable environment. La Maya is only ten years less decrepit than I am. La Bethulia is pushing my advanced age. One woman has lost so much weight from the stress that her clothes no longer fit; the other is considering going back on antidepressants as a way to cope. Bug-eyed moment.

Kevin Carey, writing for the New  York Times, describes the amazing abuses of the credit-hour system, academic standards, and online ripoffs. Bug-eyed brain boggles.

In the same august publication, one Salem Solomon describes the ungraceful enthusiasm of our country’s proposed new Secretary of State for craven African despots. The brain is getting too damn tired to boggle very dramatically.

It’s been like that all day long. I’ve lost track of the bug-eyed moments…these represent just a fraction of them.

Is it only me? Or have you had a bug-eyed day, too?

 

 

Lord, it’s hard to be humble…

Of course, we know one of us is perfect in every way, right?

Do you find it difficult to be patient with people whose foibles are really not significantly worse than your own? I have to keep reminding myself to be kind. Sometimes. Like, f’r example…

When the friend who likes his wine calls on the phone three sheets to the wind (again!) and drones on, on, and further on about nothing very much. Invariably he calls when I’m in the middle of something I’d like to get finished with now, not later. So his interrupting me while I’m struggling to get through some involved or laborious project does nothing to enhance my gracious personality. And then he bores me stupid with an endless monologue rehearsing all the uninteresting trivia of his day as though these were earthshaking matters of state. The entire one-sided conversation, which groans along until I tell him to get off the phone because I’m busy, concerns one subject and one subject alone: himself. The only responses that are expected or allowed are “uh huh,” hmmm,” “how wonderful,” and “isn’t that interesting?” Even those are hard to wedge in edgewise.

I hate listening to drunks on the phone. Even amiable drunks.

True, we should give thanks that at least he sleeps well at night. His perennially shit-faced cousin used to call at 2:00 in the morning and natter on in exactly the same way. On and on. And on.

Today when he called I managed to blurt out that a mutual friend has sold her house and is moving to his neck of the woods.

“Well, don’t give her my phone number!” said he.

“Don’t give her your phone number? Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to listen to her go on and on about hummingbirds. She’s the most boring person I’ve ever met!”

Heeeee!

Then he proceeded to tell me, for the third time, about the glories of his startling discovery that you can put an egg in bread dough.

Yes. Did you know you can put an egg in bread dough? You can. You can put an egg in bread dough.

😀

Truly. You couldn’t make this stuff up!

Awww, C’mon! Am I really that dumb?

Seriously. How dumb DO they think we are? And more seriously: could they be right??

Late in October I dropped by my doc’s office to get a flu shot. I was there for all of 10 minutes, 8 of them spent in the waiting room.

Friday, comes a statement from my insurance company: the doctor has charged my insurer $86. The insurer is disallowing it, claiming the Her Doctorness is not in the RAN+AMN network. So now I’m expected to pay this bill.

Yup. You read that right. EIGHTY-SIX BUCKS for a $10 flu shot.

So I shot off an e-mail to her, she also being one of my coreligionists who sang in the choir with me ($86 for a flu shot: ain’t that Christian?). She replied that she was shocked and would get after the office manager. And so she did. Yesterday morning, comes this missive from that worthy:

I am very sorry for the inconvenience. We deal with hundreds of insurance plans and our front office MA should have known that we are out of network for Ran+Amn. You must understand however that your card also has BENEFITOPTIONS and BEECH STREET in large letters. We do participate in these plans and it is the ultimate responsibility of the patient to make sure hisor her primary care physician is on the plan.

Grocery store flu shots are less expensive because they are purchased in extreme bulk for the masses. They also have a greater incidence of sideeffects, Dr. Wallbanger [my doc friend’s senior partner in the practice] tells me.

In our practice, we normally do a nurse visit taking the vitals of thepatient receiving the flu shot. Insurance billing requires that we bill $40 for this procedure and insurance pays whatever they like.

Billing code 90471 is administration of the flu vaccine and the going ratefor insurance billing is $26. The rate for the vaccine itself is $20.

We administer flu shots in our practice as a service to our patients, andwhen billing insurance there are set amounts for each service provided.

As our front desk did make the error, we will write off all but $20 of the remaining balance for your flu shot.

Total price for a cash pay flu shot is $30, you already paid $10, so
remaining balance is $20.

Again I am very sorry for the inconvenience.

Okay. Are you following this?

Item 1: The head partner in this practice is actually suggesting, with a straight face, that the vaccine he’s getting is BETTER than the second-rate vaccine dispensed at Walgreen’s or Safeway, where, if I’d had the time and patience to track down a flu shot clinic event, I could have had the shot for a $10 copay.

Oh, dear Dr. Wallbanger: can you spell S-P-E-C-I-O-U-S?

You understand: he and his office manager assume I’m so stupid I will buy this story.

Item 2: We’re told the insurance company requires that the practice overbill, in the amount of $40, for a grand total of 2 minutes of a junior college graduate’s time.

And Item 3: We learn that really, we shouldn’t believe anything we’re told by the front office staff. Just because the staff says the practice is in-network doesn’t mean it is in-network. In other words: it’s the patient’s responsibility to read our minds. And BTW, try to read RAN+AMN’s corporate mind, too, since that worthy organization does not publish a list of participating providers online, at least not that three Google searches will bring up.

What’s being said here is either “we try to gouge your insurance company and if we can’t get away with it we still overcharge you but only by about half of the overcharge we try to extract from your insurer” or “we think you’re dumb as a post.” Or maybe some combination of those.

Okay, okay, I admit it: They could be right!

This afternoon I donned some garden gloves and rolled the compost bin into the alley by way of trying to salvage it after the Great Bee Fiasco. By the time I got it where I wanted to dump the contaminated compost, wisps of white vapory stuff that looked like smoke were leaking out around the lid. It kept on leaking. “Is it on fire?” I wondered. Felt the side to see if it was hot: no, not especially. So I waited a while till this phenomenon settled down.

Finally opened the lid. White airborne powdery stuff was still floating around inside.

Waited a while longer. Then rolled the thing upside down and tried to dump out the compost.

No luck. It really needed to be pulled out a fistful at a time, not a practical option with weird (stinky!!!!) white powdery stuff drifting in the air.

Went into the garage to drag out a little hand-sized pitchfork-like thing. Held my breath and tried to fork out the bin’s contents without inhaling any powdery vapor.

This did not work well, and soon I was fairly certain that if I breathed much more of the “beekeeper’s” crud, it was gunna make me good and sick. Rolled the composter over to the bulk trash pick-up place, where it will sit for the next two and a half months, providing the Trash Cop doesn’t wander up the alley before the next pick-up is scheduled. He hates that.

By the time I finished, my throat was burning and I felt dizzy. Luckily, I’m going to dinner at the home of friends, one of whom is a nurse-practitioner. A psychiatric nurse-practitioner (where was she when I was busy hiring the bee dude?), but a nurse nonetheless. Matter of fact, this is the very friend who gave me the composter as a lovely and much-valued gift, some years ago. She should be able to recognize if I start to croak over during the salad course.

The bee dude’s bill is in hand: Contrary to his listing online as such, this guy is no “beekeeper.” He works for an outfit called “Atomic Exterminating Company.” Atomic, indeed: young Dr. Strangelove nuked my bees, nuked my composter, and damn near nuked me.

Well: Dumb tax, eh?

I’m still left with the question of how we’re supposed to know when service people are lying to us! I guess that requires you to be smarter than this Ph.D. is.