Oh, and wonder of wonders…

A letter came in the mail today informing me that my MRI (which was last week, as you may know) is now Pre-Certified!

After spending most of yesterday on the phone with the insurance company, I feel compelled to reference Arthur C Clarke’s famous quote: Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. (see also: IRAQ INVASION and KATRINA.)

So, my joy at having saved myself $1800-$2000 is kind of tempered by the knowledge that if I plan to get my shoulder treated, I can look forward to more of the same.

How to manage your health insurance provider

From Agent Little Bird comes this crucial legal term:

promissory estoppel: A type of estoppel that prevents a person who made a promise from reneging when someone else has reasonably relied on the promise and will suffer a loss if the promise is broken. For example, Forrest tells Antonio to go ahead and buy a boat without a motor, because he will sell Antonio an old boat motor at a very reasonable price. If Antonio relies on Forrest’s promise and buys the motorless boat, Forrest cannot then deny his promise to sell John the motor at the agreed-upon price.

It helps to have documented every phone call, every promise made by your provider- with dates, times, first and last name of every person with whom you spoke.

Today, I called my insurance provider, went into their automated phone system and tapped in my account number with them, followed all of the proper menu items and then went into their hold queue for one hour, seven minutes and some odd seconds. (My phone has a timer.) My wife called at the thirty minute mark, after speaking with me on the cell phone, and kept tapping zero. She was speaking to someone within ten minutes. Makes me wonder if they have my policy number tagged so that I just drop into hold hell.

So we finally got on a three way call with someone at my insurance provider who now says that there must be SOME MISTAKE, and that the letter I received saying that I am not covered for the MRI was sent in error. She is going to follow up with some other company(?) that is part of their network (shell game) and get back to me.

Updates as I get them….

Let me tell you about my morning

the last few days, I swear…

Woke up this morning with water running under my house. Now, I knew I
had a pipe start to leak from the freeze Wednesday night, and I
intended to fix it as soon as possible (yesterday was another 16 hour
work day- Curse you, windows XP!), but last night the leak got worse,
because it got really cold again. So.

I had to do something before we lost all water pressure and the
foundation flooded.

I finished a cup of coffee, put on my Walls Coveralls over my pajamas,
and out I went, into the cold.

We don’t have a basement. We have what is aptly called “a crawlspace.”
A space where one crawls.

On a normal day, this is a fairly unpleasant task, as my HVAC
technician friend Sean Arington can tell you- it’s a cramped and dirty
place to be. Add a couple dozen gallons of water, and the dirty, cold
crawl space becomes a MUDDY cold crawl space.

I turned the water off at the street, then wiggled up into the cramped
little spot where the pipe burst. I was lying on my chest in about four
inches of ice cold mud as I tried to cut through the broken pipe so
that I could pull out the cracked section and install the patch. The
old pipe was some kind of cheap PVC that kept collapsing under my
cutters. This made it impossible to cut. This is very annoying at 6:45
am when one is lying on one’s chest in ice cold mud. I backed out of
the crawl space, went inside the house, dripped mud from the door to
the tool cabinet, found my hacksaw, and disassembled it, because it was
too large to use in the space I had to work with. I then wiggled back
under the house and using just the hacksaw blade (finally) cut out the
old pipe, put the new section in, backed out, turned the water on at
the street and heard the distinct *->pop<-* of a PVC patch giving way, followed by the cheerful gurgling WHOOSH of gallons of water pouring into the mud cavity where I had just been lying. Water off, fittings disassembled, then cleaned out and reapplied. Wiggle out. Water on. *->POP<-* WHOOSH. Repeat. *->POP<-* WHOOSH. If one reads the fine print on a can of PVC cement, there are several caveats that are hidden beneath warnings in three languages (warnings stating in no uncertain terms that the stuff is carcinogenic, caustic, volatile and just plain mean). Caveat number one is to make sure that the pipe is clean and dry. (OK, that's not possible. It's like the trenches at Verdun under there.) Caveat number two is that the drying time (specified over in the sunny West Berlin of the other side of the label from all the warnings and caveats) IS NOT APPLICABLE if the ambient temperature is below 60º F. If the temperature is below 60º, which is when pipes are likely to need fixin' from freezin' and breakin', then drying times are significantly longer. *sigh* Also.... Caveat #3: Don't reuse glue smeared fittings, which means it's time to go back to the Home Despot for more PVC parts. Driving a car while grotted head-to-toe with mud is interesting. Especially if it's your car and you ever intend to drive it again. So. Towels, towels everywhere. Now, remember, I am dripping, and it is cold. So much so that I leave a trail of drops the size and color of pennies as I walk through Home Despot. (Probably about $1.26 worth.) I buy fittings, return, wiggle into the crawl space again, smear everything (including myself) with evil smelling glue, fit it all into place, then restrain the urge to go test the fitting with water pressure immediately. Instead, I tiptoe to the kitchen, trying not to awaken Mrs. Dog to the apparition of a mud covered misanthrope staggering through the house like a mud-covered Bigfoot, and I pour myself a cup of coffee (I am so glad I made coffee before I turned off the water), then I sit on the front porch and mutter into a hot cup for half an hour. The moment of truth inexorably comes. I go to the T-wrench stuck down in the hole where the water meter is, and I heave mightily to turn the main water valve for the house to the "open" position. I lope over to the crawl space and turn my ear towards the leak. silence. When wise men and philosophers tell you that it's next to impossible to prove something doesn't exist, they aren't talking about leaks. Victory is mine. The next time you hear someone who sits in an office complain about how much plumbers make, smack them for me, ok?

In the Hangar Before Take-Off

Rock stars have laptops too. And sometimes they go a little sideways, and I get phone calls.

Tonight I was down at REM HQ as they were preparing to leave to hit the road for the Vote for Change Tour. Usually, when I do this kind of work, I am at one house or another, and it’s quiet. There might be some company dropping by, or the dog scampering from one end of the house to the other, but seldom am I surrounded by crew and management, all bustling around with cell phones strapped to their ears and SHOUTING to be heard over the music.

Picture me hunched over the band’s (and some of the crew’s) laptops, upgrading software and virus protection and checking firewalls. In the meantime, on the other side of the wall, the whole building is being shaken by the band as they rehearse for the next three months of shows.

The songs sound GREAT. The band looks GREAT. How’s everybody doing? They’re GREAT. Inside the building, the music often made conversation impossible, but all of us worker bees in the outside room of the studio were banging our heads along with the new songs. (Because, you know, they’re GREAT.) Everyone is just burning with this positive “Band on a Mission” vibe. In the air is a palpable sense that REM is about to get saddle up for the swing states and fight the good fight. Was it like this being on the airstrip right before the Americans left for Europe in 1942? REM has one foot out the door to get to the world…

As John Edwards likes to say, Don’t give up hope, America…. Help in on the way!

I Have New Boots

I am singing a new song today- It goes “I have new boots, I have new boots, la-la-la, I have new boots.”

For my birthday, my lovely and talented girlfriend bought me a new pair of workboots, and they are some fine, fine things. Tom Joad would be proud. (if you don’t know who Tom Joad is, please turn off your computer, turn off your television, go somewhere quiet and read this book.)

Why are these boots so wonderful, you ask?
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what?

Well, I guess I should introduce the new look and the new subject matter-
My name is Patrick and I am currently studying to be a teacher. I am in one of those fast-track masters programs, where I have a BA in the subject matter (in this case, History) and I go to school all summer to learn how to make lesson plans and how to do grades and that sort of thing.

I have been observing classes for the past two weeks as the kids get ready to get out for summer. It’s been interesting.

I am aware that some of the teachers that are in the schools already (that spent four years in college and ran up great big student loan debts) kind of resent those of us that are coming in with the crash course program. They call us “Microwave Teachers.” I hope to do well enough to dispell some of their concerns when I get there.

I will be recording some of my impressions here about the process and about teaching when I (hopefully) get there in the Fall.

Comments are welcome!

Recording with Steve Albini

Ended up recording a session yesterday with the infamous producer, Steve Albini. Revered by some, reviled by others, the man and his studio are an interesting realization of a set of DIY ideals.

Interesting things about the Steve Albini recording experience:
1. The studio is fucking amazing. And in there it’s always 1975, technology-wise. There are dozens and dozens of those microphones that engineers like to hold up to people like me and say “Hey, this microphone is just like the one that John Lennon sang into at Abbey Road. And it costs more than your house.” All I know about that is that the mics that look old and expensive always are, and they do sound better. They have no digital gear onsite, except for a few workstations so that they can browse the web do email and bookkeeping. If a client wants to bring in a workstation and use Pro Tools, that’s doable, but then Albini’s staff doesn’t have to support it when it crashes. There are two studios, an A and a B room. The B room is nicer than 90% of the studios I have recorded in. (We were in too much of a hurry to get into the A room and look around, plus there was some other band in there.) The ceiling is an easy 30 ft, all the interior walls are adobe, because adobe sounds completely different than brick. (I had no idea, but when Albini took out a key and tapped one of each in different walls, the adobe was much warmer and flatter sounding. You learn something new every day.)

2. They have several dorm-style rooms there so that bands that are recording there can stay there while they record. I have been in that sort of situation before on the first five-eight record and I would say that can be good and bad, IMHO. If the session is going well, a band can increase its productive time by half again, I think, if they are all onsite. There won’t be any “Well, we were going to start at noon, but the guitar player isn’t here yet.” At Electrical (the name of the studio), it’s “Run upstairs and ROLL THAT WANKER OUT OF BED!” There is a rather large television, with just about every movie you could think of on VHS. There’s a full kitchen that the guys that work there seem to keep pretty stocked and it’s significantly more inviting than any studio kitchen I have ever seen. There is an electrical repair shop onsite and a guy named Rob (I think) that emanates the vibe that he can fix anything. In the short day that I was there, I saw him running electrical conduit, rewiring something, and I am pretty sure that we was making some sort of repair to a piece of tube-amp mayhem of some sort. He has that Mad Scientist vibe. Just give him a soldering iron and some space, y’know, and he’ll put it right, whatever it is. Also onsite are ‹geekspeak› ethernet jacks in every room with dynamically assigned IPs so that all you have to do is plug in your laptop and take an IP from the server and you are hooked into their wireless(!!) T1 connection(!!).‹/geekspeak› This courtesy of another staff mad scientist named Russ- a guy who is going to need an extra head soon because his brain is so damn big. (I am sure that he’ll work out something with firewire and a fan-cooled external enclosure.) Keeping things lively is the bookkeeper, planner, schedule master, and stand-up comedian (no, seriously…) named John. I thought he was kind of a hostile asshole at first, then as the day wore on, I found out that he is actually a quite friendly and personable asshole. There was another guy on staff that was wandering around-I am pretty sure that he is an engineer- cradling this tiny Italian greyhound. I am ashamed to admit that I have forgotten the guy’s name, but his dog was named Eupheetsis. (Spelling is approximate, but it was “Feet” for short.) Interestingly, this engineer and his dog kind of had the same build- they were both illustrations of what zero body fat looks like.
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Work

I have a quick question- what happened to work?

There was a time, I think, when a job was a job. Somebody correct me if I am wrong here, but as I have read in texts from the last century, one used to sell one’s labor in exchange for one’s bread. A day’s work for a day’s pay, that sort of thing. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

The last few jobs I have had that weren’t manual labor jobs (and there has been an assortment of those- carpentry, tile work, painting…), I have been repeatedly scolded for not being enough of a team player. I had a confrontation with a short, nasty little man at this one company and these were the words that he said to me: “I get this feeling that this is just a job for you. It’s like this is just the place that you come to earn money.”

I got a nasty bitemark on my tongue trying not to say “Whoa, Mr. Newton… SOMETHING made that apple fall on your head….” What do you say to that? I mean, ferchrissakes, this was a company that builds (mediocre) websites for banks. I didn’t like bankers BEFORE I had to talk to them every day about technology.

This was right in the middle of the dot bomb economy, and no one was making money. Every day at this company, there were emails from the president and discussions about the stock holders and much hand-wringing about the Board of Directors and will the company be profitable in time to outrun the expectations of the stockholders? And if it doesn’t make it, HOO-BOY, the stock price is going to drop like a stone. Maybe if I had been stupid enough to take some of the CASH that they owed me in STOCK, that would have bothered me…

But heretical, black tongued demon that I am, to me, it was just a job.
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Why it’s called Drudgery and Treachery

Well, damn if it didn’t happen again- laid off/fired/made redundant at another mediocre job.

The tech economy in this frozen city is just horrifyingly stilted. I was lucky enough to get hired to build a server and set up a small internal network at this company, the one that just sacked me. Unix server, handfull of PowerMac and Win2K workstations. I was supposed to hang around and maintain them after that. I got them up and running in a week. Fine tuned them for the next week, then sat around waiting for something to go wrong…

Nothing did. (Now, you’d think that would earn a guy some job security, wouldn’t you?) So they started finding stuff for me to do. I spent a week working in Photoshop. LOVE Photoshop- and for a writer, geek, guy with one graphic design class, I am pretty okay with it. And I am pretty fast. Faster, I think, than anyone expected me to be. Because I blasted through a couple of directories of color corrections and cropping images before anyone had expected me to finish the first one. I spent the whole week beating deadlines, getting a pretty good bit done.

The Monday after that week, I came in expecting more P’Shop work, I found myself doing “Pick up this heavy thing and put it over there” work all day.

Not too bad for a day- I was a carpenter for years, so carrying heavy stuff isn’t that big a deal. Then Tuesday- more “Carry this downstairs and bring that other heavy thing back.”

Wednesday? More of the same.
Thursday? Ditto.

Friday morning, I asked for more Photoshop work. Just out of curiosity, really. It was beginning to seem like maybe I had been demoted from computer whiz kid to lummox. “Well,” came the reply, “we just don’t have that much of that for you to do. But since we are moving our offices over the next few weeks…

I prayed for a computer to break, the server to crash, or for someone to just lose a password. Like I said, I don’t really mind heavy lifting, but it’s not the job I was hired for. Nor is it, quite honestly, the job that I wanted. But then when a computer finally did break, the woman that runs the office (and the one that BROKE the computer) wouldn’t let me fix the machine. She just sent me out to lift more heavy stuff as she tried to reformat and reinstall the OS. She eventually had to let me do my job, but not until after a monumental struggle.

Two days later she asked me for the password to my computer. The day after, she asked me to train someone else to admin the server. (Sure, that shouldn’t take too long….)

I saw the writing on the wall. So this morning’s announcment was more of a formality than anything….

Here I am, again- jobless. *sigh*