Archive for May, 2008

Michael’s Pizzaがオープンしました!

Friday, May 30th, 2008

横浜に住んでいる友人のMichaelとなおみさんが、2年前から自分のピザ屋さんをオープンしたいと言っていたのですが、ようやく鷺沼でオープンしました!

Michaelのピザはすごく美味しいので、ぜひ一度試してみてください。詳しくは「暮らしのエッセンス」ブログの記事へ

After two years of planning, some old friends of ours from Yokohama, Michael and Naomi, have at long last opened their own pizza place in Saginuma!

I can vouch that Michael makes some great pizza.  Be sure to check it out if you’re in the area!

Michael’s Pizza
Yayoi Building 102
Arima 9-3-14
Miyamae-ku, Kawasaki
☎ 044-856-7075

Open 11:30 ~ 14:30, 18:00 ~ 21:30; Mondays closed

Tell them Evan sent you!

Fix the mktemp / coreutils block in Gentoo

Friday, May 30th, 2008

Looks like mktemp is now provided by coreutils.  No wonder.  This block has been bugging me (read: I’ve been ignoring it) for months.

To fix just unmerge mktemp and update coreutils.

Update: Same for the setarch / util-linux block should you come across it.  Unmerge setarch.

Scratch that WordPress Etch

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

This post comes via notes taken from another blog… seemingly gone awol.   Here for posterity.

Etch naturally has an older version of WordPress.  To upgrade to a more recent, possibly though unlikely more secure version,  the easiest way is to change your tracking to testing, install WordPress and then change back.  How to do it:

1.  Edit your /etc/apt/sources.list to track testing. If your sources.list says etch or stable, change that to testing.  For example if your source.list has:

deb http://debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian etch main contrib non-free
deb-src http://debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian etch main contrib non-free

change those to:

deb http://debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian testing main contrib non-free
deb-src http://debian.lcs.mit.edu/debian testing main contrib non-free

2.  After you change your tracking to testing do an apt-get update.

apt-get update

3.  Install WordPress

apt-get install wordpress

this may pull in a few new php libraries, such as libphp-phpmailer.  Let it.

(Note that you do not want to do an “upgrade”, but rather “install” as listed above.   “upgrade” will try to upgrade a ridiculous number of packages, whereas install will focus only on packages required for installing and/or upgrading WordPress.)

4.  Change your tracking back to Etch. just reverse what you did in step 1. that is change testing back to etch.

5.  Clean everything up.

apt-get clean && apt-get update

After all this is done, login back in as admin to WordPress, and it will tell you that you have to update your WordPress database tables.  Do that and you’re done.

Figuring out Blue Cross Blue Shield and Healthcare Reform in Massachusetts

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I moved to Japan immediately after graduating from college, so for the first ten or so years of my professional life my only exposure to health insurance was socialized Japanese health care.  When I began working on my own in Tokyo, I was initially shocked that I didn’t have a choice of vendors, and that my monthly payment was more like a tax than the purchase of a service.  I avoided paying for awhile.. at least until the government started sending me scary looking warnings in a gigantic red Japanese font (seriously, like a 200 point font).  I relented and paid.  In hindsight I’m glad that I did:  I started actually using the health care system.  It was inexpensive and straightforward.  I took better care of myself.

When my wife and I began the process of moving back to the US, my father nervously admonished me about getting health insurance as soon as possible.  I thought this a bit odd, but didn’t dwell on it.   I figured that the miracle of capitalism would provide us with a smorgasbord of inexpensive, high quality health care options.  Besides, if that didn’t pan out, I was sure that whatever the the national plan was, it would be fine.  I put it off.

On a return trip to the US I stopped by the hometown insurance agency ready to review the rich bounty of health care options due to me as an American.  The hometown agency listened, looked at me like I had two heads, and then gently sent me on my way.  As someone self-employed, they said, my only option in the state of Massachusetts was Blue Cross Blue Shield.  Blue Cross Blue Shield?  The geezer company with the dodgy Vitruvia Man/Staff of Asclepius double logo thing?   What the heck?   Where’s my laundry list of super affordable health insurance options from modern companies with cool logos??  I put it off again and went about my business.

Finally, a month or two before we were scheduled to move back  — about the time we finally learned how to sneak my wife past Homeland Security — I caught a 60 Minutes report on hospital pricing and the uninsured.  The obvious dawned on me:  In the US, unlike Japan, one is not automatically insured.  There’s no national safety net.  You don’t purchase a health care plan that you think is better than the national health care plan, you purchase a health care plan because there is no national health care plan. Holy crap!  I finally understood what my father was talking about.  If I didn’t get insured immediately, an injury could potentially bankrupt my wife and I.  Or even my parents.  No wonder my father was nervous.

I called Blue Cross Blue Shield the next day.

Back then, in 2006, Massachusetts did not require health care insurance.  The selection Blue Cross Blue Shield provided for the self employed was limited to four simple plans.  At the time I was just discovering the brilliance of Health Saving Accounts (HSAs), so I selected a high deductible plan that was HSA compatible.  Although I wound up paying for all of our own moderate medical expenses for the next year, care was not nearly as expensive as if I had not been on health insurance, and the HSA turned out to be a great way to save money while reducing taxes.  All good.

Earlier this year, however, two important things happened:  1. health care reform in Massachusetts, and 2. the upcoming birth of our first child.   Both require significant changes to how I have been managing our health care.  Hence, this blog entry.

I started this as an anecdotal note about what to consider when switching from pre-reform Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance to post-reform insurance.   I figured I would post a few questions, do some research, and answer them.  Notes to self, plus maybe useful information for someone else.

The number of individual plans offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has gone from four to roughly fifty.  Wow.  Yet while there may now be a veritable bounty of health care options available to folks like me, no one seems to understand how they work.  A few questions has become dozens.

Hopefully this unorganized mini FAQ about choosing a plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Massachusetts will be useful to others.  If you have any additional questions, feel free to shout out a comment.  Better yet, call the Blue Cross Blue Shield 800 number and ask.  The sales agents are generally quite helpful.  (That said, knowledge about the plans and the system itself seems to vary rather drastically from agent to agent.  If you unsure about some of the answers you’re getting, call back to the main switchboard.  You’ll get a different agent; ask again.)

Blue Cross Blue Shield Healthcare Mini-FAQ

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

In the the below please note that Blue Cross Blue Shield is abbreviated “BCBS” and that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is abbreviated “BCBSMA”.

Q: In general, where can I learn more about available health care plans if I am uninsured?
A: Check out the Commonwealth Connector.

Q: How different is the BCBS provider network from plan to plan?
A: Difficult to get a straight answer on this. BCBS agents recommend searching the plan/network you are considering via “Find a Doctor” on the bcbsma.com website. Be warned that there is no direct correlation between the list of plans under “YOUR PLAN’S NETWORK” and the actual names of all the new plans. If you are looking at the various HMO plans, your best bet is to sift through the providers listed in the “HMO Blue” network.

Q: Does coverage change from plan to plan?
A: In general coverage seems to be about the same (from my still rather shallow analysis) however the manner in which services are covered varies drastically from plan to plan. Holistic health services such as chiropractic services may or may not be covered from plan to plan. Check.

Q: Different plans seem to be applied to different calendars. What is the difference between “plan year” and “calendar year”?
A: As you might expect, calendar years start from January 1st. Plan years start from the the day you purchase them. It might be unwise, therefore, to purchase a deductible calendar year plan in November.

Q: How do you change from “couple” to “family” plans?
A: Upon the birth of a child, simply call the number on your insurance card and they will add the new family member. Rates will adjust from that day. (Expect your rate to go up 35% or more when switching from couple to family!)

Q: What’s this thing about pharmacy benefits being required from 2009?
A: This is a question that the BCBS sales agents often can’t answer. In Massachusetts, plans from January 1, 2009 must include pharmacy benefits. If you are on a plan that does not include pharmacy benefits, you may be charged a tax penalty. (Sheesh.. talk about a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry.)

Q: My current claim summary shows “Amount Charged” and “Amount Allowed” columns. What is the difference between these?
A: “Amount Charged” is the amount that the hospital would have billed you had you walked in without insurance. “Amount Allowed” is a lower price the hospital and BCBS have negotiated.

Q: The claim forms make it look like “Amount Allowed” is what BCBS has already paid on my behalf. You mean that it’s actually just a lower, agreed-upon price?
A: Yes. And it differs from hospital to hospital. Moreover, this is what 60 Minutes and other news programs are talking about when they report on problems with hospital pricing. When you purchase a health insurance policy in the US, often what you purchase is their bargaining clout.

Q: If I potentially want to plan for medical expenses, how can I know what the negotiated price is in advance?
A: You can’t. There seems to be no way to learn these agreed upon costs in advance. You can, however, purchase a plan with a higher monthly premium that does not have deductibles but, instead, has fixed copays per incident.

Q: Is there any way to know how much I might pay for a medical expense without insurance?
A: Yes, actually. BCBSMA has two health care cost calculators available from the Member Self Service page. Click on either “Treatment Cost Estimator” or “Treatment Cost Advisor”. The Advisor is from Subimo and generates “in network” versus “out-of network” estimates. The Estimator is from Benefit Nation (which would appear to have a defunct website) and generates national estimates. The two seem to be fairly close, though the Estimator produces weird stats, such as “only 67% of women use a hospital for birth”. Huh?

Q: How are “Out-of-Pocket Maximums” different from “Deductibles”?
A: A “deductible” is the amount you have to pay before BCBS will render coverage. If you have a $5,000 dollar deductible, then you personally have to pay $5,000 before BCBS will cover you. An “out-of-pocket maximum” is the maximum you would “copay” if you were on a non-deductible plan. So if you had to share in the payment love for every expense, say $25 for every doctor’s visit and $500 for a hospital stay, and your out-of-pocket maximum is $1,000, then once you have paid $1,000 for the year, BCBS takes over payments completely. (Note that there seem to be some hybrid plans that have both deductibles as well as copays/out-of-pocket maximums.)

Q: If I switch from one deductible plan to another, does the amount that goes towards my deductible carry over?
A: No. Be very careful here. Plans “refresh” when you change them and any amounts that would have gone towards your deductible are reset back to zero. Switching from a plan with a deductible to a non-deductible plan also, of course, means that you will lose any money already paid towards your deductible. (The sales agents are rather reluctant to explain this..)

Q: Does BCBS provide benefits after one person meets their deductible, or does everyone on the plan have to go over the deductible before BCBS will take over?
A: This seems to depend on the plan. If it is a couple plan, in general it seems as though benefits are provided on a per-individual basis. In some of the newer plans I have noticed this disclaimer: “The entire family deductible must be satisfied before benefits are provided for any one member enrolled under a family membership.” So, think carefully about high deductible family plans.

Q: Speaking of deductible and non-deductible plans, why would I chose one over the other?
A: Good question.

  1. If you are young and healthy, chances are you will not spend much time in the doctor’s office. In that case go with a deductible plan: On the off chance that you do get sick, it’s a safety net. You know your maximum possible medical expenses for the year and, most likely, you won’t spend it. Take that money and what you would spend on expensive monthly premium and invest it in an HSA instead.
  2. If you expect to require considerable medical care, a plan with a higher premium and no deductible may be more suitable. This is especially useful if you know you have a large medical expense coming up. It’s nice to know, for example, that the max you will pay on that expensive little bundle of joy being born will only cost $500, rather than the five or six thousand dollars the hospital would bill you directly.

Q: But wait.. speaking of HSAs, which plans are HSA compatible?
A: Only four! And I personally have received details on just three. Ask for the “Saver” plans.

Q: Exactly what does “HSA Compatible” mean?
A: This was interesting. The agents at BCBS didn’t seem to know; they just knew that a plan was “compatible” or not. I called my HSA provider (HSA Bank) and got this answer: “The plan itself must explicitly state that it is an HSA compatible plan. If you switch from an HSA compatible plan to a non-compatible plan, you can use your HSA account through the end of the year and then must close it.” Woah, glad I checked.

Q: Some of the HSA compatible plans require a “Utilization Review”. What is that?
A: Actually, all plans require this, though only a few of the Saver plans seem to explicitly mention it. Utilization Review is a department within BCBS that reviews claims, presumably for fraud.

Q: When switching plans, does BCBS provide the alternative coverage immediately, or is there a transition period?
A: Alternative coverage can take over as immediately as you want; I requested that my new plan take over on that day. (I was particularly interested in this issue since, when I first signed up in 2006, I was limited to only emergency medical coverage for the first year! Seems this restriction is no longer in effect.)

Q: How often can you switch plans?
A: Once per year on renewal. Exceptions can be made for subscribers who experience financial difficulties and need to move to lower priced plans.

Q: What plans have a lifetime maximum?
A: Since health care reform, seemingly none. My plan from 2006 had a lifetime maximum of a million dollars; this would appear to be somewhat anomalous.

Q: Is there any significant difference between “individual” and “self-employed” plans?
A: Yes. Plans for those who declare themselves as self-employed may be cheaper than “individual” plans depending on the work you do. Ask.

Q: How did you find out about the self-employed plan thing?
A: There was an option in the toll free call tree for “self-employed plans press one; individual plans press two”. I couldn’t find information anywhere else on the website about self-employed plans so I asked.

Q: If I change plans, when does the new plan go into effect?
A: For individual plans, immediately on the day of plan purchase, or a future date that you request. Self employed and/or small business plans may take up to thirty days.

WordPress Category Intersections Revisited

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

WordPress has included native support for intersections since (I think) version 2.3. Unfortunately, however, robust post retrieval support is only available for tags (eg. tag=A,B retrieves the union of “A” and “B”; tag=A+B retrieves the intersection of “A” and “B”).

Categories still require a hack, and the old plugins for this of course now no longer work.

To get intersection working, try adding the following line before the loop:

<?php <span style="color: #ff0000;">if ($_GET['cat']) query_posts(array('category__and'=>preg_split('/[\s,]+/',$_GET['cat'])));</span> ?>
<?php while( have_posts()) : the_post(); ?>

This applies an intersection to any list of categories separated by space, comma, or “plus” signs in the request.

See Ryan Boren’s post on WordPress intersection and union taxonomies for details on the various forms of post retrieval queries now available.

Line number column in Emacs

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

emacs-linum-mode.PNG

This is something I’d always wished Emacs did; finally got around to finding a minor mode for it.

While the built-in line-number and column-number modes are fine, linum-mode makes it much easier to see where you are in the code at a glance.

To apply it to all buffers by default, throw the following in your .emacs:

(require 'linum)
(global-linum-mode)

Update: Now baked-in to version 23+ of Emacs!

Setting file execute attributes in Subversion

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

If you have a repository containing SSI-embedded files and you are using XBitHack, you will definitely want to do this:

$ svn propset svn:executable on *.html

Subversion will now preserve the executable bit.

Now if only there was a way to preserve ownership as well.

Ben & Jerry help me figure out where my income tax dollars are going…

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Given that I recently learned how I am voluntarily stuffing Uncle Sam’s pocket with income tax dollars each year, I decided to look around and see where exactly that money was going. Believe it or not, I got the answer from Ben & Jerry, the ice cream guys.

It looks like this:

true-majority-pie-chart.png

Aha. Over half of the discretionary budget, $463 billion per year, goes to the Pentagon. This so that they can shoot missiles at it and play Wag the Dog and start illegal wars and curtail civil rights and so on. Sweet.

Anyway, looks like Ben Cohen has been working with USAction on TrueMajority.org, an attempt to impose sanity on the US federal budget with a Common Sense Budget Act. It’s amazing what could be done by redirecting just a fraction of the discretionary budget. Going to keep close tabs on this I think.

Still, it makes me sick to my stomach to think about where the rest of the money is going.

I need some Chunky Monkey.

John McCain tells the truth about Iraq. American media goes berzerk.

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

The reaction of the media is bizarre here.

Is it me or are the talking heads actually attempting “damage control”?

And if so.. what’s the point? Towing a fictitious party line is not going to help McCain.