September 30, 2005

Oktoberfest Roundup

Our friends at the California Staats-Zeitung have the lowdown on all of the Oktoberfests going on in the Southern California area. The Oktoberfest issue is the advertising bonanza that they wait all year for: this year's edition is a triple issue, with color (!) pictures.

Anyway, it looks like we can choose from:

  • The Phoenix Club, in Anaheim, running from today until October 30th. Tonight is their grand-opening party mit Würdenträgern (dignitaries – had to look that one up) der Stadt Anaheim und der County of Orange. Folkdancing! The Phoenix Chorale! Live bands from 9/30-10/9 and 10/14-10/30. Adult admission $6, free parking.

  • Old World, in Huntington Beach. When I was a kid, Old World used to be a fairly fleshed-out European shopping center (and they had rides!) — now they're fading away, except for stuff like this. Open September 11th through October 30th. Admission $10.00 on "Party Nights" (21 & over), $4.00 on "Kinderfest", free on "Family Nights". Live "Oom-Pa-Pah" Band direct from Germany! And of course, the world-famous Chicken Dance! Meet the Oktoberfest shot girl's! (sic — their copywriter must've already met them.)

  • Alpine Village, in Torrance, running from September 10th (milk that cash cow!) until October 30th. The granddaddy of them all, and the buyer of most of the CSZ's special-advertising-supplement space. Two brass bands direct from Germany! Contests in woodsawing! Pretzel Eating! Stein Holding(?!?) Cow Milking! Sounds great, except for the fact that we went last year and weren't too impressed.

. . . I suspect that we'll make it over to the Phoenix Club event, since it's right down the road (plus I've always wanted to check out the Phoenix Club, but have never gone before). I don't know if we'll go tonight, though; I wouldn't want to get trampled by all of those Würdenträgern.

And Oktoberfest gave the powers-that-be at the CSZ an excuse to put their favorite Magier Duo back on the front page after a far-too-long absence: it's Siegfried & Roy! Now helping to open Oktoberfest at Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas.

(After an incredible run, I think that this is S&R's first front-page CSZ appearance since my last blog entry on the CSZ, one year ago . . . the Vegas-loving little old lady that I speculated about back then must've retired.)

Posted by Kevin at 08:23 AM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2005

Editorial Corner: Transplants

Most of you who've come to know us through blogland don't know that Shelby was almost on the heart transplant list three years ago.

The buildup to being put on the list involved a lot of meetings with individuals — transplantees and Stanford Medical Center employees — and a lot of time in support groups. The thing that always struck me was how caring yet incredibly serious everybody involved in the program was. Employees knew they were the facilitators of a sacred trust, taking the results of one family's selfless decision to donate — often made during the pain of unexpected death — and using that literally give someone else a second chance at life. Recipients and their families were incredibly grateful for and mindful of the second chance they'd received, taking all kinds of time to visit with us, answer our questions, and help us with the process.

At the same time, we learned how the organ procurement process worked — how the system was set up to be fair and give everyone the best chance. UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, maintains regional (because organs can't travel very far) waiting lists for each type of organ. The lists are prioritized by the severity of your illness, the time you've spent waiting, and your physical characteristics (your blood type, body size, and some other genetic markers). Nothing else matters; fraud and outside influence are infintesimally rare. When an organ becomes available, UNOS works down the list, contacting the medical teams of eligible candidates until somebody is found who's ready for transplantation.

Which is why this week's news coming out of LA leaves me both flabbergasted and angry. Doctors in the liver transplant program at St. Vincent Hospital gave a transplant to a Saudi Arabian man who was number fifty-two on the waiting list, likely because of reasons of money or influence (the Saudi Arabian government paid full freight for the transplant) — and then proceeded to falsify paperwork to cover up what they'd done, callously putting other lives at risk in the process. (LA Times Article #1, Article #2)

Here's what they did: St. Vincent had a patient — "Patient A" — who was at the top of Southern California's liver transplant list. UNOS notified St. Vincent doctors that they had a matching liver for Patient A. Unfortunately, Patient A was out of town. The doctors at St. Vincent should have told UNOS that Patient A was unavailable, so that the liver could have been offered to number two on the list, a patient at UCLA. Instead, they took the liver, transplanting it into Mr. Fifty Two, a man with similar genetic characteristics to Patient A. After that, they told UNOS that Patient A had received the transplant (and that Mr. Fifty Two had given up seeking transplatation in the US, moving to Europe instead), effectively dropping Patient A off of the waiting list. Subsequent paperwork — follow-up reports, labelling of tissue samples, etc. — was altered to replace Mr. Fifty Two's name with that of Patient A. The transplant took place in 2003; the fraud was only discovered this year after a UNOS audit.

The Times says that St. Vincent "has terminated the program's relationship with the doctors", and that their transplant program has been temporarily suspended. But that's not enough. Not only did these doctors directly endanger the lives of two people — Patient A and the patient from UCLA — they've indirectly harmed hundreds or thousands of future transplantees, who'll have to wait that much longer for a transplant because this story puts a kernel of doubt into peoples' minds, making them turn away from signing that form or putting the "donor" sticker on their driver's license. I heard that they give transplants to foreigners and people who pay the most money! These doctors don't deserve to fade off to some other corner of medicine and still maintain a comfortable lifestyle; they need to lose their jobs, lose their licenses, and go to jail.

[Also see: UNOS's Myths About Organ Donation.]

Posted by Kevin at 09:21 AM

September 25, 2005


Earlier this week, I went to the Orange County Archives in an effort to find out something about the genealogy of our house.
Conviently, our County Archivist happens to be a good friend from my days on summer camp staff, so there was no trepidation about walking into the archives and asking "hey, can you help me find out about my house?"

We already knew that our house didn't have a completely straightforward provenance, because it was moved to its current address. But we had an original address -- 125 South Rose St. -- from the city's historic preservation department, and a construction date -- 1906 -- from the sellers' realtor.

The first step was to find our building on the Sanborn fire-insurance maps for Anaheim. (Sanborn produced detailed, annotated maps of downtowns across America for the use of the fire insurance industry. Now they're useful to historians trying to figure out what used to be located where.) Our first map was somewhere around the turn of the century; predictably, the plot at 125 S. Rose was blank. We moved up to the teens -- a small outbuilding at 125-and-a-half, but the main plot was still empty. On to the 1920s -- no house yet! Okay, let's move up to the 1930s ... the first map to show our house in place was from 1943. What's happening here?

On to the property records -- the lot at 125 S. Rose was owned in the 1900s by someone named A.M. Caswell. There's nothing on the lot yet; Caswell is being taxed for the land value, but there's no assessment for 'improvements'. Caswell dies in the teens, and his estate sells the lot to a man named John Paul Taggart. Taggart holds on to the lot, but keeps it empty until 1923, when the tax rolls show that he begins to be assessed for land and improvements!

[Paging through the assessor's records, I was overcome with nostalgia. I wish that my property tax assessment for next year could be nine dollars -- but I'm sure that the people getting hit with eight/nine/ten dollar tax bills back then were probably cursing the taxman just like today.]

After that, the house is occupied by a succession of renters -- you can trace the ever-changing cavalcade of names in the city directory (that also helpfully lists such things as age, profession, spouse's name, children -- nobody had any privacy back then). Taggart never lived there; his mailing address is on Zeyn Street, in a tonier neighborhood with bigger houses.

So ... was our house built in 1922? Or was it moved to Rose Street from somewhere else? Our house's style is considerably more spartan than your average 1922-built California Bungalow would be, but its look fits nicely into the earlier Revival/Victorian-to-Craftsman transition period, which is why we felt comfortable with its supplied build date of 1906. But if you were building a smaller rental house, you wouldn't necessarily tart it up with ornamentation or special features -- damn tenants are just going to drive nails into it or tear it off anyway!

The definitive answer would come if we could find a 1920s building permit for the Rose Street address. If the house were moved, the paper trail might not be so clear. So the next step is off to the city, the Anaheim Museum, or the Anaheim Library's local history room -- stay tuned!

[By the way, I have to say that working in the Archives can be a surprisingly physical profession -- all of the records beyond a certain age are contained in gigantic ledger books, produced in an age before computers (or, once you reach past the 1920s, before typewriters). Hefting those from their storage shelf to the reading room every day must add up.]

Posted by Kevin at 09:51 AM | Comments (1)

DSL: Fixed!

Our DSL came back to life on Friday night. Working with the ISP, we'd reached the "well, maybe it's a problem with your line" stage, and they'd made an appointment for someone from SBC to come out and test our line. If there was a fault between the central office and our service entrance, it was SBC's problem, and they'd fix it at no cost; if there was a fault somewhere inside the house, it was my problem, and I could either pay the SBC guy to fix it or take the matter up myself.

Haunted by the specter of possibly spending money (my great motivator), I crawled underneath the house for another look at our phone lines. I ended up hauling out around a couple hundred feet of wire (the remnants of an alarm system that was installed by trained monkeys who really liked wire, plus an unused extension) and rewiring the surviving extensions' connection to the service entrance.

And that did it! I don't know why all of the wirejunk underneath our house was perfectly benign until just last week, but there you go. Maybe it was the cumulative effect of all those constant low-level earthquakes shifting stuff around just enough ...

Posted by Kevin at 08:35 AM

September 21, 2005

DSL, Arrrrrrrgh

For those of you who think that computer people never have computer problems ...

Our DSL has been broken this week. It'll sync up for a few minutes -- long enough, say, to send/recieve E-mail, visit a few Web pages, post a blog entry -- before it drops the connection and then syncs up again.

Naturally, while I was away at PDC, our entire software-development paradigm changed on the Macintosh, which means that I have to download two files -- one about a gigabyte, one two gigabytes -- before I can do any work on the Mac at all. Without the ability to maintain a persistent connection, this hasn't been working so well.

I spent Monday on the phone with a technical-support guy. We unplugged all of the phones in the house. I tried connecting the DSL modem to the wall with phone cords of varying lengths. I walked around the house and connected the modem to different phone jacks. I waited for a callback as he called a super-secret tiger team at SBC and talked telephone-technician talk. Eventually he decided that my DSL modem was bad, and sent me a replacement.

The replacement got here today; I plugged it in with great anticipation. If anything, the problem is even worse.

Now what? I'm sure tomorrow's answer will be "there's a problem with your phone lines". But the phone line to my office connects directly to the service entrance for the house; I installed it myself last year. I've rechecked all of the connections on that line, and disconnecting everything else in the house didn't make any difference. What do I do if they fob me off by telling me that it's my problem?

Going to the library, last year's WiFi refuge-of-last-resort while we were waiting for DSL to be activated, won't work this time now that I've switched from a Powerbook to a desktop Mac. I think they'd notice me trying to wheel in a cart with the CPU, keyboard, and monitor ...

Posted by Kevin at 10:32 PM

September 19, 2005

Hooray For The Auto Club

Being a little disgruntled over how much we pay for auto and home insurance (it could pretty much be free and I'd probably still be disgruntled, but hey), I fell prey to a banner ad from the Automobile Club of Southern California promising BIG SAVINGS if we bought combined home and auto coverage through the AAA.

So I submitted our information for a quote, and, lo and behold, we will save big money by going with the Auto Club -- probably about $600 for this year. Plus, since you have to be an AAA member, roadside service and all the maps you can eat are included with the deal.

The AAA agent was concerned that we have enough coverage to rebuild our home to its original level of style and craftsmanship — "I'll bet that you have built-ins and lots of crown molding!" — so she sent over a flunky to take pictures of our house this morning. The thing is, there isn't that much wholly original style in our house. The exterior has escaped stucco or aluminum siding, the front portion of the house has kept its original windows, it has a built-in china closet and a medicine cabinet — but the walls are drywall instead of lath and plaster, the molding around the doors and windows is almost all new (we don't have any crown molding), the kitchen is an add-on, and the hallway bookshelf that the insurance rep was photographing with admiration would take $30 of materials at Home Depot and a day's worth of saw and router work to replace.

We'll see if the illusion of old-style craftsmanship and our eeeeeeeevil spa in the back yard are enough to sink our preliminary savings.

And while our current homeowner's insurance company was all kinds of concerned about our foundation and the underside of our house, today's insurance rep was a woman wearing a nice suit, and she didn't want to go anywhere near the crawlspace. So it's okay if your house falls off of its foundation as long as it doesn't dislodge the crown molding inside, I guess.

Posted by Kevin at 05:48 PM

September 18, 2005

The Flood of '38

The cover story in this week's OC Weekly is an article by Gustavo Arellano on Orange County's Great Flood of 1938. The flood covered killed 38 people, covered 182,000 acres, and caused (in 2005 dollars) about $182 million worth of damage. It kicked off the frenzy of civil engineering that built Prado Dam and turned the Santa Ana River into its current concrete-lined self.

The Anaheim Public Library has pictures of the 1938 flood on the Web as part of their "Digital Anaheim" collection of historic photos. Looking at the pictures, it's clear that our house spent some time in the water, since practically everything else in Anaheim did. This picture, at the corner of Philadelphia and Broadway, was taken less than a block from our house's original location near the corner of Rose and Broadway. Here's a somewhat blurry photo of the floodwaters around Anaheim's Carnegie library (one of Anaheim's few remaining historic public buildings, and today home to the Anaheim Museum), also just a few streets away.

Obviously our house fared better than some, otherwise it we wouldn't be living in it today! Here are some aerial views of the flooded city: One, Two, and Three.

(Looking further through the "natural disasters" category of the Digital Anaheim catalog, it seems that our house had to contend with [at least!] the flood of 1916 and the flood of 1941 as well.)

Posted by Kevin at 04:30 PM

September 16, 2005

"Well, I've Got, Like, Computer Hacking Skills ..."

One last PDC entry: a link to somebody's bootleg copy (filmed from the audience) of the Bill Gates/Napoleon Dynamite video that was shown during the opening session.

In the official copy of Gates' keynote, the Napoleon Dynamite segment is cut out, presumably because they paid Jon Heder for a one-off appearance rather than for something that was intended to be rebroadcast. If we're lucky, maybe it'll be included in the post-conference DVD.

[In the Career Day scene, the table that all of the kids are standing in front of -- leaving Bill at the "Microsoft" table, alone, until Napoleon walks up -- is labelled "Future Farmers of America".]

Posted by Kevin at 04:12 PM

Last-Day-At-PDC Thoughts

Today's the last day of PDC. Things end at 2:30; I'll probably slide out even earlier, to try and beat the traffic home.

I'm leaving PDC with mixed feelings. On one hand, it was great to be a part of a giant crowd that was unabashedly enthusiastic about programming and technology; that attitude, combined with the best of the hardcore-techie sessions felt a little like being back in lectures at Berkeley. And I have to admit that a lot of the things that Microsoft is doing in Windows Vista do look really cool.

On the other hand, PDC is leaving me a little depressed. As previously expressed, Microsoft may be showing us this vast ocean of interesting stuff, but there's very little of it that I can actually use, since I'm working on a multiplatform app based on a class library that uses a frozen-in-time circa-1993 version of C++. I guess that it's a tribute to the effectiveness of Microsoft's marketing pitch that I've got an itch to go out the door and learn everything they've been talking up this week -- C#! .NET! WinFX! -- but at the very least, I think it'll be a good idea to plan on doing a lot more occupational reading, as well as taking some classes at UCI or Cal State Fullerton Extension, so that I can improve my craft and become conversant with the current 2005 state-of-the-art in C++.

PDC was big. Really big.

Universal Studios: I forgot to mention our party at Universal Studios on Wednesday night. Microsoft reserved the whole theme park for the evening, leaving us free to roam in packs across the park. The only people in line for the rides were other PDC attendees; restaurants and fast-food stands across the park were wide-open, cranking out free eats for ravenous geeks as quickly as possible.

I think that Disneyland has spoiled me; my reaction to Universal Studios was a thoroughly unenthusastic "eh". If I'd actually had to pay to get into the park, and had spent hours waiting to get onto one of their rides, I think that I would have left a little upset -- I paid money for that?

None of the rides seemed all that impressive. The "Revenge of the Mummy" roller coaster was probably the best, but was way too short; at the point where I thought all right, now here's where things must really take off -- the train stopped abruptly and started to rotate onto a different track -- they opened a wall in front of us and ended the ride, meekly rolling back into the loading area. Other rides had similar problems with abruptly ending or holding back where they should have gone for it.

Posted by Kevin at 08:22 AM

September 15, 2005


Gadgets look to be a pretty neat addition to Windows.

(Yes, I know that Mac OS X already has its Wigdets on the Dashboard -- and, going back in time a little, had desk accessories way back in 1984. But if the Gadgets home page is to be believed , Microsoft came up with their Sidebar [and its Gadgets] in 2003.)

Posted by Kevin at 05:17 PM

Go Metro

Yes, LA does have a subway -- my hotel is located right across the street from a Metro Rail Red Line stop. Now that I'm living in Orange County, I know that I'm supposed to be afraid of mass transit (and doubly afraid of mixing with the common people in big, bad LA), but compared to other systems I've ridden around the world, I'm mostly-impressed so far.


  • Metro Rail stations are clean, architecturally interesting (each station seems to host its own mega-scale art project), and climate-controlled. No sweltering underground while trying not to step in mysterious puddles leaking from the ceiling!
  • A Metro day pass (rail + buses) costs $3.00. Talk about your super transit deal -- that's the least I've ever paid for a day pass anywhere. Between their three-dollar day passes and the fact that Metro Rail seems to be advertising-free (except for 'house' advertising inside the trains), you know that this system has to be receiving massive subsidies.


  • Metro Rail service is a little ... lacksadaisical, to say the least. Trains seem to come at random intervals.

    • I miss the electronic display signs in Hamburg's U- and S-Bahn stations telling me when the next train is coming, and where it's going. If an old and creaky subway system like the London Underground can tell passengers the number of minutes until the next train, why didn't Metro Rail, a system built from scratch in the 90s, start providing this info from day one?
    • In the same vein, there are charts displaying service frequency posted in every Metro station -- rush hour trains come every six minutes, evening trains come every twenty minutes, etc. -- but no charts displaying the time that it takes for trains to travel between stations. If the last train in my direction leaves Union Station at 11:17 PM, when do I have to be at my station to be sure that I don't miss the train?

Why can't Metro Rail do this?

. . . unsurprisingly, most of my fellow subway-riding PDCgoers happen to be European. Yesterday morning I took Shelby's admonition that I should be networking at this conference to heart and tried to chat up a guy waiting on the platform next to me about his impressions of PDC so far, and he turned out to be a programmer for the German Federal Office of Somethingorother. We shared a brief moment of Deutschsprachigkeit.

Posted by Kevin at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

September 14, 2005

My Brush With Micro-Celebrity

Last night I spotted Jerry Pournelle across the table from me in a buffet line. Jerry is a small-time SF author who was (is?) famous in the computer world for a cantankerous column called Chaos Manor that he wrote for Byte Magazine. Jerry was a 'normal user' who distinguished himself by treating his column as a multi-page complaint form each month -- despite having the resources to purchase anything he wanted (or get it comped on demand as a 'journalist') and the ability to essentially call many industry CEOs on the phone and cajole them into sending someone over to his house to fix things, Jerry was never ever ever able to get any piece of hardware or software to work the way he wanted it to. (Kind of a forerunner to the modern blog, when you think about it.) In the late 90s, Byte folded,and Jerry transitioned over to his own Web site.

Appropriately, Jerry was complaining about the food.

Jerry's press name badge said "Byte/Nippon Byte", so whatever nostalgic soul resurrected the magazine saw fit to reinstate Jerry and his column there, too.

Posted by Kevin at 12:28 PM

A Few Pictures From Yesterday

Bill! Bill! Bill!
A somewhat larger Bill, thanks to the giant video screens.The PDC exhibitors' hall. Note the beanbag chair lounge area in the foreground.
Posted by Kevin at 12:23 PM

September 13, 2005

More from THE FUTURE

Hello from inside an Internet Explorer 7 window! (As I've learned today, you can keep up on all of the latest news about upcoming versions of IE at the official IE Blog, kept by members of the Internet Explorer team.)

Except for a few late-night events, today's sessions are over -- now we're gathered for dinner in the exhibitor hall, our chance to drink beer, eat acceptably decent catered food, and pester vendors for free T-shirts, pens, and other "swag".

[Don't worry, Shelby -- I've been a good boy and have so far picked up a minimum of giveaway junk; right now, though, I'm wearing a "Windows Mobile" hat, because the Windows fairy bestows five lucky hat-wearing-conferencegoers per day with a Windows-powered PDA+cellphone.]

Posted by Kevin at 06:19 PM | Comments (3)

Hello From The FUTURE

Well, I made it through the wilds of LA to downtown and the Convention Center in only an hour -- Shelby and I figured that it'd take two, at least. Still, I don't envy anybody who has to make that commute every day. (I'm reminded of someone I knew from church in Berkeley who was able to go off of his entire regimen of blood-pressure medications after he retired and stopped driving an 80-mile round-trip commute each day.)

This morning we had a keynote from Bill Gates (broken into two pieces with a totally out-of-context but still highly amusing video of Bill roaming the countryside with Napoleon Dynamite -- yes, really), then we were hit with the Vision Thing -- demos of Windows Vista, demos of the next version of Office, capped off with a "now do you want to see some COOOOOOOODE????" set of demos in how, using these SIMPLE TECHNOLOGIES ALREADY PRESENT in Windows Vista, you can do AMAZING THINGS in JUST A FEW MINUTES OF TYPING!!!! (And, no doubt, hours of back-room preparations to make these 'it only takes a few minutes' demos come off looking so effortless.)

Most entertaining typos made by this morning's closed-caption typist (you could tell that this wasn't a tech person):

'TELEPATTY' : Telephony

. . . more from Geek Central later.

Posted by Kevin at 12:45 PM

I Come Back Only To Leave You ...

As previously mentioned, it's off with me bright and early this morning to beautiful Los Angeles and the Microsoft Professional Developers' Conference. The geekery lasts until Friday afternoon.

As also previously mentioned, I'm not entirely convinced of the utility value of this conference (ask the people who were at PDC 2003 if they appreciated shelling out thou$and$ to learn about the next version of Windows . . . which is exactly the same next version of Windows that they'll be shilling this time -- two years later). But it should be fun and interesting, at the very least. Things open with a keynote from the Bill himself ... omigod! Bill!

Posted by Kevin at 01:34 AM

Materialism Corner

It Has Finally Happened: Thanks to BoingBoing, I've learned that IKEA is selling prefab houses in the Scandanavian countries and the UK. Think about how many hex bolts must come in that box! (No, you can't go down to your local IKEA and strap one to the top of your car; middlemen are involved.) Given the things that people will do at the opening of a new IKEA store, if the BoKlok concept comes to the States, how many innocent hipsters will be killed in the crush at the model homes' first preview weekend?

[Except for their communal aspect -- all BoKlok homes seem to be built as multiplexes -- many of the pictures on the BoKlok site remind me of the Glidehouse that premiered to great acclaim in Sunset magazine last year. I'll bet that IKEA does the whole thing for a lot cheaper ...]

Materialism Where I Drive: We'd been making plans to buy (or at least get on the waiting list for) a new Toyota Prius after the first of the year. But now I look at the pictures of the 2006 Honda Civic hybrid, coming out next month, and I'm tempted. I think it looks nicer -- in comparison to the lines of the Prius, there's more car, less boy-wonder. The MSRP of a Civic with all of the geegaws will likely be several thousand dollars less than that of a comparably-equipped Prius. But the Civic is smaller -- statistics say that the Prius has more cargo space than even my current Ford Contour; the Civic doesn't have a split rear seat, because batteries make up the back wall of the trunk. And the likelihood of paying MSRP and not being faced with an onerous wait list seems remote. We'll see -- in the meantime, hopefully gas prices will dip down just enough, for just long enough, for the multitudes to decide that they don't need to buy hybrids anymore, thus allowing us to swoop in. (Here's one detailed review of the 2006 Honda Civic hybrid.)

Posted by Kevin at 12:29 AM

September 08, 2005

Other Things

Because I realize that my fights with the insurance company are small beans compared to what others are going through right now: please donate to help the people and to help the animals. And don't forget to use matching-gift power, if your company offers it.

Totally unrelated: I've had German Joys in my blogroll for a while now, but have never given it a formal introduction. It's another expat-in-Germany blog (in this case, a law professor in Düsseldorf, with some collaborators), with a literate, informed take on German life and culture. Recent items that I've enjoyed: an entry on the Sie and du torture-chamber, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (their wierd retrograde posters also lined the streets in Hamburg), and your chance to pick Andrew's religion.

Andrew also seems to be the only person other than me who likes the Deutsche Bahn.

Posted by Kevin at 09:37 AM | Comments (2)

Why'd I Bother Blogging?

Well, they sure took the wind out of my complaining sails. A couple of hours after I wrote my previous entry, I got a very apologetic call from an insurance-company supervisor — sorry for being so non-responsive, sorry for making you go through all of this, you did speak to someone on August 29th, and she did promise to reprocess your claim; that was rejected, but upon examining your policy, it does say that we pay for emergency-related care at 90%, so we'll be reimbursing your entire claim at 90%, which leaves you to pay, um . . . thirty dollars. Do you have any other problems today? If there's anything else that I can do for you, you just call me directly.

Reading my policy! Who would've thought of that?

Posted by Kevin at 08:55 AM

September 07, 2005

Seething Insurance-Company HATE

Weeks later, I'm still going round-and-round with the insurance company over the paramedic call that they refuse to reimburse at anything near the 90% rate that they're supposed to pay for emergency services.

About a week and a half ago, I spoke with a woman who promised me everything; not only was she sending the full $300 claim back for reprocessing at the 90% rate, but she would call me back after the claim was processed successfully. Of course, she vanished into the aether — when I called today, not only was the claim not reprocessed, they had no records of me speaking to anyone on or near the date I'd called. Mischievous ghosts!

And now that the hospital stay has pushed us above a certain secret dollar limit, they've started getting picky about other claims, in addition to making 'errors' that always seem to work out in their favor — most recently, they processed an in-network doctor's claims as out-of-network, which, unless they reprocess the claims, is an $800 difference out of our pocket.

Dealing with the insurance company and its panopoly of secret rules, thresholds, and limitations is starting to feel a lot like playing in a card game where you can't see any of the cards. By mail.

[I've also found out more about how city paramedic services work in Orange County (at least billing-wise): Anaheim charges $300 for every paramedic response; any ambulance transportation on top of that is a separate charge. You can get the $300 charge waived if you join the $3/month 'Ambulance Subscription Program' (now that we know about it, we have). All of the cities surrounding Anaheim have a similar policy, charging anywhere from $82.50 to over $700 for a paramedic response. None of these cities have a mutual you've-already-paid-over-here arrangement to waive these fees — so while we may be safe in Anaheim, getting hurt anywhere else in Orange County is likely going to cost us a damn sight more than the $51 'prevailing charge' that our insurance company uses as their ceiling for paramedic charges.]

Posted by Kevin at 03:42 PM

September 05, 2005

Last-Day-In-Hamburg Recap

Not much to say about our trip to Fresno that Shelby hasn't already said, so instead I'll recap my last day in Hamburg: shopping, model trains, roller coasters, and a parade. Everybody loves a parade, right?

(Click on any of the pictures to get a larger version of that image.)

I woke up early Saturday morning to start my shopping odyssey; I had a list of Germanic items that I wanted to bring back, and I wanted to get them early enough so that I'd have time left in the day to enjoy myself. I started the day at Wal-Mart (I know, I know — but they helpfully open early, instead of waiting until 9:30 or 10 AM like everyone else), where I stocked up on the staples: Haribo gummi candy and Milka bars. Then I had breakfast.

After that, I wandered the streets and shopping arcades of downtown: I stopped by Habitat, because I was intrigued by their "Flap Clock" that I saw mentioned in an entry at Apartment Therapy. Unfortunately, the flap clock turned out to be huge, hugely expensive (100 Euro!), and it wasn't in German — Habitat sells French and Spanish versions where the months and days of the week are in their respective local languages, but all of the clocks for sale in Hamburg 'spoke' English.

More stores: Alsterhaus, for their wine department. Lush, for Shelby. Baren-Treff, for more gummi bears.

Coming out of Baren-Treff, I noticed that a strange parade had started up on the street outside. I'd broken the first rule of being a pedestrian with a blog in Hamburg: always carry a camera! Fortunately, it was a very long parade, and my hotel was right up the street, so I ran and got the camera.

The theme of the parade wasn't entirely clear, but at a guess, I'd say it was "Tradition, plus Marching Bands".

There were groups of people marching in traditional outfits.
There were guys driving tractors.
There were hunting-and-shooting clubs, with some people competing to see whose jacket could be draped with the most sashes, medallions, patches, and necklaces.
And then there were the marching bands, who except for the German flags and such, could have been clandestinely dropped into an American parade or football game without looking at all out of place.
After the parade, I rode the U-Bahn over to Miniatur Wunderland to see what had been added to their gigantic model railroad layout since my last visit. The biggest change was that they'd finished the 'Skandinavien' portion that was under construction in my last set of pictures. Because the MW staff had already demonstrated complete mastery over HO scale trains and cars by the time they'd reached Scandanavia, they were working on a new challenge: boats! Ordinarily, model railroaders shy away from using real water to portray miniature water for two reasons: it doesn't look right (ripples and waves are 'full size' instead of to scale), and it tends to evaporate/get stagnant/grow algae. Not so for the wizards of MW: not only are they circulating 30,000 liters of water through a filtration system to fill a river flowing through 'Scandanavia', they're floating self-propelled, self-guided boats on top of the water! For now, there was only one boat faring the small seas — to give us a 'taste' of the boat system to come, the signs said — but it was pretty impressive: a container ship that left its mooring on one side of the room, travelled about twenty feet down the river, and docked itself in front of us. After a few minutes, it left that dock, and started back to whence it came — with no guidewires to be seen anywhere!

After I'd had my fill of Miniatur Wunderland, I got back on the U-Bahn for one last night at the Hamburger DOM. We'd already visited the fun fair a few nights ago, but nobody (but me!) wanted to ride any of the rides! So I had some Wurst and a Berliner, and rode such things as The Largest Transportable Ferris Wheel In The World, and the top-suspended roller coaster, which took you around an upside-down loop with your feet dangling.

Some of Hamburg's famous swans, in a large flock near the Rathaus.
It's election time in Germany, which means that every street is absolutely lined with posters from the various parties. After the election, though, everything quickly disappears — unlike America, where you'll see candidates' signs rotting away in hard-to-reach places for weeks/months/years after the races have ended.
Posted by Kevin at 01:37 PM

September 03, 2005

Gas Up

As we get ready for a four-hour drive to lovely Fresno, California, here's an appropriate Orange County link-of-the-day:

(Executive summary: if you want cheap[er] gas in OC, live in/drive through Garden Grove. If you live in Irvine or Tustin -- you're screwed.)

Posted by Kevin at 08:51 AM