A Brief Tale of Malfeasance by Aetna

I currently have the worst health insurance I have ever had. The deductibles are high – the highest I’ve every had – and the coverage is the lightest. Added to that, the insurance company, Aetna, is making it a pain in the ass to cover doctors and procedures that are medically necessary for my wife and which were trivially covered under previous plans.

Yesterday, it got even better. We received a letter from Aetna stating that in order for my wife to get certain things covered, we had gather an improbable amount of information – much more than the phone rep said was needed in a previous conversation – and get it to them within 5 days from the date of the letter.

The letter was dated the 15th, we received it on the 22nd. It was not certified or in any other way tracked – just another First Class letter. They were asking us to deliver a large quantity of information in the past.

I believe, after all the rest of the crap we’ve been through with this company, that this is deliberate, willful malfeasance – and that sucks, because it means we’re now into the dirty tricks that insurance companies use when they really don’t want to meet their contractual obligations.

On the up side, our broker is going to bat for us. I hope she’s as much help as she seems to want to be. In the meantime, we’ll have no choice but to assume that every Aetna employee is actively hostile to our interests and willing to use dishonest means to avoid fulfilling the company’s contractual obligations – and if this isn’t settled to our satisfaction, and soon, we’ll be going to the state insurance board and the attorney general.

If it’s feasible, I may update later with a redacted pic of the letter – I’m very interested in documenting Aetna’s bad behavior publicly. (They could, of course, avoid this entirely by behaving well. Care to lay odds?)

TL;DR: I Got a Straight Job

So… I’m employed in the normal sense, and winding down my other commitments including Moveable Feast (which I still wish a long and lucrative life).

As is my custom, I’m not going to name my employer here. It’s not top-secret or anything, but I prefer to avoid any confusion between my foul-mouthed ranting and the company’s press releases. My words are mine, the company’s are the company’s, and ne’er the twain shall meet, unless I speak at a conference or something.

I will say that I’m almost 100% focused on mobile development, specifically iOS, which is fun for me.

On a side note: I’m hoping to have a bit more time & money for small personal projects now, including (but limited to) revisiting Guitar Cardio (web and mobile), painting, maybe updating this blog more than twice a year, and taking up the Chapman Stick. We’ll see how all that plays out in practice.

Four Hour Body Shake Tip – Glutamine Powder

If you’re following Tim Ferriss’s many tips and refinements to Occam’s Protocol in The 4-Hour Body, you might be taking glutamine after workouts for recovery, or doing a brief, high-dose regimen for intestinal repair. I went with this part of the program, and to that end purchased some unflavored glutamine powder. What nobody tells you is that unflavored glutamine powder tastes like ass.

I tried a number of flavoring agents, but I’ve only found two solutions to the flavor problem. One is to just mix the powder with water and drink fast. The other was the discovery that one cup of whole milk will neutralize the ass flavor of 5-10g of glutamine powder – which is handy if you’re doing milk-based post-workout shakes or doing LOMAD/GOMAD.

Four Hour Body Meal #1: Concoction

So I’m a month into Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body, inspired partly by my brother‘s striking success, and partly by some sketchy bloodwork results at my last check-up. Exhibit 1:

Oops.

Like the guy at the fish counter once told me: “You don’ want none-a dat.”

Part of the bloodwork-fixing process, of course, involves food. Now, food is something I enjoy, but rarely put a lot of thought or effort into. I’m usually either buying lunch out or having some of whatever my wife made herself for dinner. Unfortunately, my wife’s surgically-necessitated, high-bacon diet is not going to bring down my waist measurement nor my cholesterol. It was up to me to find something that tastes good, takes as little time as possible to prepare, and fits within the relatively strict but straightforward rules of the various diet protocols laid out in 4HB.

I’ve hit upon something I call Concoction – the recipe for which has probably already been independently invented by about 50,000 4HB readers, but which I’m going to document here anyway. If you’re doing the 4HB Slow Carb diet (the one for fat loss), you know that each meal needs a lean protein, a legume, and some vegetable matter. For one batch of Concoction, you need 12-14 oz of canned lean protein. I use line-caught tuna or organic chicken, because I’m a hippie. Today’s Concoction started with tuna:

For legumes, I like red kidney beans or lentils. Today, it was lentils, 1 can:

My favorite veggies are raw broccoli florets or raw baby spinach (organic, of course). Today, though, I’m experimenting with 1 cup of chard, which I hand-shredded thoroughly:

If you’re just doing Slow Carb, the ingredient list ends here. If you’re doing Occam’s Protocol (for muscle gain), you get to add in a quality carb like quinoa, brown rice, or a whole grain pasta. I favor the Trader Joe’s brown rice that I can microwave in the bag in 60 seconds (1 bag = 10.5oz):

Recapping the main ingredients:

  • 12-14 oz lean, canned meat
  • 1 can lentils or beans
  • 1 cup green stuff, chopped or shredded relatively finely
  • (optional) 1 bag (10.5oz) brown rice

This is all very healthy, but only so-so on the flavor, so I also add 2-3 teaspoons (I think, it’s not like I’m measuring anything but the greens here) of lime juice:

And to really make it sing, I also add sriracha:

There are many schools of thought on how to correctly use sriracha in food preparation, but I’m with The Oatmeal on this one:

Proper application of sriracha sauce

These are my favored flavors; there are many like them, but these are mine. Add whatever works for you to the main ingredients in a big bowl, and mix.

Concoction, shown here with kidney beans and spinach. Swiss ball garnish optional.

And the outcome? I think it’s delicious, at least with baby spinach. (The chard experiment did not go as well as I’d hoped – too bitter. Plus spinach has all those sexy phytoecdysteroids.) Prep time is however long it takes you to open 3 cans, cut/shred your vegetables, and stir the stuff together – no cooking (except for nuking the rice), one measurement (the veggies), and if you eat out of your mixing bowl you’ve only dirtied one bowl and one fork. One batch of Concoction is about 600 kcal & 94g of protein without the rice, 1000 kcal & 101g of protein with the rice (if I’ve read all the packages correctly). On Occam’s Protocol, I find I usually eat the whole batch in one (sometimes comically extended) sitting, and with shakes and an eggy breakfast I generally hit my food targets. Slow Carb-ers will likely get more than one meal out of this recipe. YMMV.

Next time I get the writing bug, I’ll share some other one-course meal recipes or random findings about the 4HB experience. Short version, one month in: My weight has only gone down a little, but I’m putting on muscle with a rapidity I couldn’t even achieve in college, which means that I’m losing fat beyond what the scale shows. Based on results so far, I recommend the book (or the Kindle version, which I got). Bloodwork gets re-done in August, keep your fingers crossed.

tl;dr: I’m a Startup CTO

This blog is almost painfully disused. Then again, I rarely have news that is both interesting and contractually permissible to report.

Today, I have one such rare piece of news: I am, as of lunchtime today, the CTO of Moveable Feast Mobile Media. We’re building tools for travelers and travel journalists – and that will probably be all I say on the topic until we’re nearly ready to launch. (If the curiosity is gnawing at your very soul, don’t despair – it won’t be long.)

For the time being, I’ll continue to consult and build software on a contract basis. (To my clients: Resume breathing normally; your projects shall not be abandoned.). Keep me and my coterie of engineering superheroes in mind for your next mobile or distributed computing project.

Finally and very importantly: Much gratitude to Steve Schultz for allowing himself to be convinced that I’m grownup enough to join him in this endeavor – and for being the only MBA I can recall whom I’d ever be this excited to work with again.

Now: To business…

Paint Experiments

I spent the afternoon painting. I wasn’t feeling energetic (or skilled) enough for an ambitious project, so as an exercise I tried imitating some of the abstract styles I see around.

Piece #1 out of this effort is “Agent Lee” (8″x10″, oil and acrylic on canvas board):

(Yeah, not the best photograph. I have limited facilities and much to learn about photographing paintings.)

Overall, I’m not displeased with my result here. I think parts of it are too controlled, and I may have left more negative space than I meant to, but I do like the warm, matte black of the background (Winsor & Newton Galeria Acrylic Mars Black, which I will be buying more of), and I like the colors (although I may break them slightly instead of using pure hues next time). I plan more experiments in this direction. If I get starved for entertainment, I may even put it on eBay (pending production of a better photo) with a high reserve, just to see what happens.

Piece #2 is “400 Kilotons over the Harbor” (8″x10″ acrylic on canvas board):

…and if you think that photograph sucks, you should have seen the one with the flash.

This is a mess; if I had to pick out a good thing about it, it’s the one thing that doesn’t show in the photo, which is the very pretty effect of the transparent crimson paint (another Winsor & Newton acrylic winner, Galeria Crimson) over the yellow background.

The other thing I’ll be doing for future knife-painting experiments is going with either a fine-weave canvas or dumping canvas in favor of gessoed board; the thick weave shows through more than I like and interrupts the textures I was going for. Very distracting.

Perspective Check

On the LIRR today, I saw someone in a fast food uniform shirt. This person was probably commuting at least an hour and blowing an hour’s wage each way to sling burgers in Manhattan. And in the current economy, this person might even be grateful to have to do this. I thought about that.

I love my yuppie, first-world problems. They’re real, and some of them are non-trivial, but it doesn’t take much reflection to decide that I wouldn’t trade them for most other people’s. This week, anyway.

On the Merits of Rough Edges

Cory Doctorow has written a much-linked article for Locus magazine on the topic of Writing in the Age of Distraction. (Cory’s advice has also been touted by Drawn! magazine as equally good for visual artists.) He recommends, among other things, stopping before you feel done:

When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the “hint.” Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.

On the software engineering side: Kent Beck’s excellent book Test Driven Development: By Example makes the recommendation to “stop on red” – that is, to cease work for the day with your code in a known broken state, failing a test.

It’s a characteristic of my work habits that I generally feel the urge to tie up what I’m working on. This goes for software, where I have a lot of trouble walking away from a piece of code that doesn’t compile and behave as expected, and for fiction and screenwriting, where I always have the urge to finish a scene, transcribe all my notes, or otherwise exhaust myself and my creative urge before I walk away.

This habit may allow me to squeeze a little more productivity out of the day, but these neat packages are not always so pretty in the morning: When there isn’t a place where I must pick up the thread, I’m left with choices, which usually means going to a list somewhere, and that list generally presents itself as the Monstrous Wall of Shit to Do, and I usually haven’t gotten through my first coffee yet, and I will generally decide that I’d better get through my email and catch up on Twitter before I attack the MWoStD. A whole morning can get lost that way, and good luck building momentum for the afternoon.

There may be something here for me. Certainly, it’s a good sign that the “rough edge/stop on red” concept crosses disciplines so easily, and is espoused by smart people in multiple fields. It is also interestingly tangential to the notion of wabi-sabi, which holds that since all things are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, it is allowable and even desirable that our creative acts embrace this.

So, tonight I’m going to break some shit, and hope that meditation on wabi-sabi will keep me from gnashing my teeth all night. And hopefully it won’t be long before I accumulate enough mornings hitting the ground running that walking away from broken work seems normal and sane.

Refocusing

As you may have guessed from my last entry, this is heading in the direction of a personal blog again. I’m going to save most or all of my technical writing for the Kickass Labs blog (case in point: my recent Hadoop Streaming Tutorial). This has to do with the fact that much of my after-hours unsupervised play time is spent on tech projects with the KAL cabal, and if I’m going to spend the effort to write blog entries on advanced technical topics like distributed computing, I’d like to leverage it to raise the profile of the whole group.

So, look for more personal stuff here, along with pointers to my technical content on KAL.

Word for the Year

Almost 20 years ago, I made my last New Year’s resolution.  In true geek fashion, it was actually a meta-resolution, and it was that I would make no more resolutions.  They’re always a bunch of stuff you feel like you “should” do, tied to an arbirtrary calendar date, with no practical impetus or emotional drive behind them.  They fail almost universally, because if the people (and I’m no exception) making the resolutions cared, they’d have done what they wanted when they wanted to, rather than trying to talk themselves into doing things they “should” at the same time as everyone else.

I’m a bit bored with most Internet memes, too.  ‘Nuff said.

That makes this post weird. I’ve latched onto one of the memes floating around Twitter (and I’m sure elsewhere): The “Word of the Year”. People are picking a word (in most cases a verb) to focus their behavior in the coming year.

This meme passed in front of me just as I happened to have a few days off and was using it to organize the monstrous pile of projects I try to advance and maintain. I was already coming to some insights about my need for focus and direction. Even more, I was noticing that my pile of projects tends to grow, and I take very few away for any reason, whether that’s the completion of the project or deciding that there are better ways to spend my time.

So I kicked around a few ideas for a verb to focus on. One of the better ones was “release”. That can mean to release – to let go of – a project that doesn’t deserve my attention anymore, or that I’m just not going to get around to. That’s a focus I’m trying to achieve – for example, I’ll save $100 this year on not renewing domain names for projects I’ve decided I’m not going to pursue because their potential return is small in relation to the effort, or because I just won’t learn much from them.

In my work, “release” also carries another meaning – to release a piece of software is to turn it over to your users. (If you’ve never written software, you have no idea of the hubris implied in this act, by the way.) The fact that “release” can thus mean both adding and taking away makes it a compact and potent – almost poetic – verb to focus on. It’s still missing something, though – for example, it my current push to complete the Hundred Pushups program, what am I releasing?

So “release” doesn’t cover all my goals and projects, but the connotation of software release starts me down another path of thought, which is that in organizing and pursuing my work over the past couple of years, I’ve given myself credit for advancing projects, even in small ways. This is good, but when you have a lot of projects, this can lead to advancing many of them and completing none of them. (I shouldn’t say none, if I’m being specific about myself – I completed two sites with my pals at Kickass Labs, and released two of my own, including the self-sustaining GuitarCardio.com, of which I am probably inordinately proud.)

During this fit of organization, I’ve come to realize that I need to move from advancement to accomplishment. I need to complete projects, or drop them. I need to stop nudging things forward on my desktop, and launch them into the wider world.

So, my verb is “finish”.

It is, in a sense, a little morbid. A finished thing is done, dead, no more. There’s nothing else to do with it. This fits for some things, like a project I drop because I don’t see the return in it, or a one-off thing that I complete and never look at again.

It is, in another sense, deceptive. Software is never finished. (People just stop paying for it.) Nor, for that matter, are screenplays. Ditto paintings. There’s always something to add, something to optimize, some other tweak to make. But a software release can be finished, and launched, and hopefully be consumed greedily. A screenplay draft can be bound and sent to agents. Nothing is ever done, but it can be made ready.

So “finish” is kind of a squirrelly word, and doesn’t feel like it perfectly fits everything I do – but as a mantra to assist that shift in focus from advancing my projects to taking them over the line, I suspect it will do well. The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao anyway, but I think “finish” might be the tangent to the Tao that I need right now.