Man 'O Man is it Cold?!
With the temperature being so low, I was checking the temperature quite frequently - While I had been considering the purchase of my own little mini-weatherstation, I realize I don't actually need one. Lots of people are running their own now-days, and many of those are connected to the internet. As a matter of fact, the nearest connected (on-line) weather station is located just south of the Aurora reservoir (in the Southshore community), not to far from my house. This weather station accurately reflects recent weather events and conditions: Snow on the 27th, 28th and 29th, with a total accumulation of approximately 4 inches. Following the snow came that record cold snap. The weather station showed temps of -1 degrees farenheit (for the high) and -10 degrees farenheit for the low (yes, that's without the windchill). The proximity of this nearby weather station gives me more accurate information for the local conditions. If you're still not impressed by those cold temperatures, maybe you'll be surprised to learn that the high on the 24th of December was 52 degrees farenheit! That's Colorado weather for you.
Encryption and digital signatures on my Mac:
GPGMail is an open source plugin for Apple's Mail application. It provides the functionality to sign, verify, encrypt and decrypt messages/documents (including email messages) using the OpenPGP standard. The GPGTools package (all the Mac GPG tools in one download) contains the GPGMail plugin and various other encryption/dectryption tools). I use this software in conjunction with with Apple's Mail.app for encryption, decryption, and message authentication. If you would like to correspond in secret, please take note of my Public Keys. This latest version of GPGMail (a beta) is quite buggy. It came about as the result of an expired beta, and a full update wasn't available. The auto update (in the application) wasn't working/available, so I had to download and install this beta. While it isn't working quite as well as expected, I'm sure the developers will iron out all the rough edges in the coming months.
Why do I use digital signatures or encryption? Well, I don't use the encryption very often, but I have been known to exchange encrypted email containing passwords or private information (banking and medical information). I use pgp signatures quite often, as a way of ensuring message authenticity. I'm tired of spammers pretending to be me; even my web hosting company has 'accused' me of being a spammer. Rather than doing any sort of investigating, they found it more convenient to simply assume that the person in the From: line of an email was the spammer. By using these signatures (which uses the message content (upon signing) and a private key to create a signature which can be verified by using my public key) I can assure recipients that the message(s) they received were actually sent be me, and it hasn't been tampered with in transit. In addition to my self published keys, my public keys are also available on various keyservers.
One of the best parts of this software? The developers! They're fantastic. Whenever I have a problem or question, they're eager and willing to help with a patch, troubleshooting or detailed instructions. The project/developers aren't working for a profit, they do it because they believe in the open availability of secure email.
Dish Anywhere = Dish Nowhere:
It's a White Christmas!
Morale Building Activities:
Screwed by my Dental Insurance:
How sucky is my Dental insurance company! I recently had a crown put on one of my molars. The oldest metal filing in my mouth (the military paid for that one back in the 90s) had some decay from a cavity and it needed to be replaced. While replacing the filing, the dentist noted that the tooth was hollowed out under the rather large filing, and there were some cracks beginning to form on the tooth, and I really should get a crown for this particular tooth. I didn't get the crown at that time...
After the new composite filing was put in I started to experience some pain. The pain was only noted when I bit down, not from air or liquids. And it only hurt when I bit down on the tooth. I tolerated the pain for nearly five months, then when my six month appointment routine check up came up, I described the pain to the dentist. He took another look at the tooth, and took some x-rays (I was due for some). He confirmed that the cracks had become significantly larger. He indicated that I really needed the crown now. If I didn't get the crown the tooth might come apart completely.
Why were there cracks? Why was my tooth falling apart? Well, we have to blame the military doctors. They're the ones who put metal fillings in my mouth. No one really does metal filings anymore. Those damn metal filings expand over time, cracking the tooth. That's what happened to me over the last 20 plus years. Every time I go to the dentist (over the last nine years), he remarks on the fillings that need to be replaced. Especially the metal ones. They're the worst. They've been cracking my teeth from the inside for several years. Thankfully this was the last one.
I didn't want the pain returning, and I certainly didn't want to deal with a tooth that can't be repaired. I told the dentist to schedule a date to have the crown put on. A week later I went into the office, the dentist extracted the filing and fitted me with a temporary crown; I got the permanent one later this month. With the temporary crown on, I no longer had the pain I did with the filing. A week later, I got a letter from my insurance company. Guess what? They rejected the claim. According to their rejection letter: "Based on the information submitted and reviewed by our consulting dentists, no benefits can be allowed for this procedure because there appears to be insufficient evidence of extensive loss of tooth structure due to decay or fracture." What! I called the dentists office, they explained that when they submitted the claim they included a statement regarding the hollowed out tooth, the expanding filing and the cracks that were forming. They even noted the developing cracks on x-rays (from a year earlier) submitted when they did the filing six months ago. The office/billing assistant said that she would resubmit the claim with additional information and the newer x-rays. Hopefully they will allow the claim under appeal. What a bunch of crap! Why do these medical and dental insurance companies treat us (consumers) like crap? It seems like they never believe that any medical procedure beyond the routine check-ups are necessary. Hopefully I won't have to pay this ~$800.00 bill out of my own pocket. And so, the battle begins...
A week later, I had the temporary crown replaced with a permanent full zirconia (Zirconium Dioxide with Ytrium Oxide stabilizer) crown. The new crown fits perfectly, and the dental office also provided me with a copy of the rebuttal they're sending to the insurance company (complete with photos that point out the cracks in the tooth, and testimonial from two dentists indicating the necessity of the crown). According to the dental receptionist; who worked for many years as an insurance specialist at a large dental office; insurance companies routinely deny claims near the end of the quarter as their budgeted claims begin to reach or exceed their estimates. Yup - Like I've often said, these for profit insurance companies don't give a damn about your health, all they care about are their profits!
Update (writing this in Dec of 2018): The insurance covered ~$300.00 of the crown. Apparently they would only pay the cost of the cheapest crown, a non-zirconia crown. Yes, the kind that don't last as long and are prone to fracturing .I must remember that the money I pay for insurance isn't designated for my dentail health - It's intended as a way for the insurance company to make money. I'm not entitled to it, I only get to use some of it, if the insurance company thinks they can spare some of it.
PS: Just in case you were wondering - Parts of the above article are intentionally written in a sarcastic style. It's a finely honed form of expression used by Americans when we sense that we are getting screwed. Unfortunately, even though I wrote the above article in a sarcastic style, it's entirely true. We're all getting screwed by the banks and large corporations (normal for profit banks/corporation) in this country. They don't give a damn about their customers.
USAA is Number One!
It's not often that you get a good feeling about your insurance company. It's not often that your bank or insurance company gives you some money back (see below). That's right. They paid me. All companies hold a certain amount of capital. Since USAA is a member-owned company, it cannot issue stock to raise capital. It must raise capital through other means. One way that USAA manages its capital is through something called a "Subscriber's Account" (Subscriber's Savings Account - SSA). USAA holds a portion of its capital in each member's name in a "Subscriber's Account". Since there are no shareholders, profits are retained for financial strength or returned to the members - Yes! Returns are accomplished through the SSA. Each year a portion of USAA's profit is retained as "unassigned," the rest is allocated to each member's SSA using a formula based on the amount of premium the member paid that year as well as the member's SSA balance. The allocation of capital to a member's SSA occurs early in the calendar year. Late in the calendar year a portion of the member's SSA is distributed to the member via checks or electronic funds transfer. The entirety of the SSA belongs to the member, but is not completely distributed until approximately 6 months after the member no longer has a USAA P&C policy.
USAA is an insurance company and a bank (United Services Automobile Association). It is 'NOT' a publicly traded company. It's an 'Association', the members are the 'owners'. It doesn't answer to 'stockholders', it answers to it's members. Military members and their families (past and present) constitute the membership. The company suggests products and services, but the members get to vote on all the big changes and decisions. They're focused on products and services which help members meet their financial needs, not services that generate the most income for the company.
This is one of the best companies I've ever done business with. I've never been steered wrong, wronged or misled by USAA. Their service has always been the best. I can't imagine another company which treats it's members like owners, always looks out for the interests of it's members, and doesn't seek to screw those it serves. If you know a company as forthright, honest, and responsive, please share it with me.</rave>
Screwed by the Banks:
I received a 'postcard' in the mail today - I'm a member of a court ordered class action lawsuit between my bank and 'consumers'. The postcard indicated that the bank has decided to settle the lawsuit out of court. I'll get $9.50, and the counsel for the plaintiffs (our lawyer) will get $1.5 million dollars. I can decide to accept the $9.50 (my share of the per person settlement), or excuse myself from the class action and reserve the right to go it on my own against the bank. My recourse if I excuse myself? Well, I can go through the banks 'arbitration' process. I can try to get a lawyer to build another 'class action' suit for the same reasons as the initial case. Or, I could try to sue the bank on my own... I think.
I wonder who would 'win' that arbitration? Supposedly the 'arbitration' firms hired by these big corporations are 'independent' and 'unbiased' - I don't know about you, but I'm biased towards the company that pays me... I like getting paid for doing my job. As long as I do what my employer wants me to do, my employer keeps paying me. It's an arrangement that suits both of us. Why don't these big corporations just skip the 'independent' arbitration charade altogether. Since it's 'legal' to eliminate your constitutional rights through a 'forced arbitration' clause in a contract (like the one between my bank and me, or the one between you and your cell phone carrier), why don't we just make it 'legal' for corporations to 'pay' the judges directly? There's no need to pretend that we're getting any 'justice' through these forced arbitration clauses, let's just allow the corporations to pay the judges directly. That way I'll get my constitutionally (see Bill of Rights and First Amendment) guaranteed right to sue, and the corporations will get what they want. A guaranteed right to 'Never be wrong'.'
PS: Just in case you were wondering - The above article is intentionally written in a sarcastic style. It's a finely honed form of expression used by Americans when we sense that we are getting screwed. Unfortunately, even though I wrote the above article in a sarcastic style, it's entirely true. We're all getting screwed by the banks and large corporations (normal for profit banks/corporation) in this country. They don't give a damn about their customers.
Artists want you to Hear their music - If you like it, you'll buy it, or maybe you'll buy some concert tickets. The major labels of the music industry want you to pay for their product. - letting you hear it for free is contrary to their business model. Well, guess what? I won't buy the music if I can't listen to it first, and no one listens to the radio anymore (I don't because of all the advertising, interruptions, lack of new music and lack of information - you can never figure out who/what is being played) The major labels are killing themselves with their restrictive distribution and dissemination policies. If you like new music, you can do a web search to find your favorite artists web site, a new music web site, or an archive of free music. Free music is available - Legally! Don't believe the propaganda of the major labels - Not all free music is illegal. You can legally download and listen to all sorts of music for free (Have you heard of Pandora, Presto, MySpace, SoundCloud or DashRadio?). I download (purchase) most of my music from a couple of commercial sources (eMusic and iTunes), but I occasionally download tracks (legally) from various websites, newsgroups and blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music.
Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!
Unlike some music outlets, eMusic doesn't have any DRM and they don't insert unique track id's into the ID3 tags. Their terms of service are consumer friendly. eMusic allows you to burn as many CDs as you like and copy downloads to an unlimited number of your computers and portable MP3 players. At less than $.50 a track (I'm currently paying $19.99 for $22.99 worth of downloads per month) you can't really go wrong. You don't have to be a member/monthly subscriber to access the site or buy music, and the membership prices (per album) are compared to the non-member prices right up front, so you can see how much you save as a monthly member. eMusic offers a really good value for your download dollar. iTunes and Amazon still charge more. eMusic offers more music for your money, and the variable bit rate recordings make for exceptionally high quality recordings. If you still want your own copies of the music, check out eMusic.
These are some of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my music collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)