Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loving / Hating E-Books

I spend a lot of time on my Kindle. So much that over 200 books each are in both my read-me list and my archive list. Think of the archive list as I-have-rights-to-the-book, have-read-the-book-unless-it's-complete-crap, and have-tucked-it-out-of-the-way-to-keep-room-for-lots-more-books list. It's storage, where only titles are stored along with whatever piece of code allows me to re-access the book/s when I'm near a wi-fi signal if I wish to reread.

Obviously with something approaching 500 books there, I mostly love my e-books. With the upcoming task of organizing our library, the one where three walls are covered in what are lately referred to as hard copy books, my appreciation for my e-books library grows even more.

But I also have a growing annoyance with what seems to be an increasing sloppiness in the medium. I still purchase the very occasional paperback, and do not see the same issue there. So I can only assume it's a side-effect of not needing to invest the money into paper publishing where errors are fixed as much as possible ahead of time, with publishing making any needed fixes very expensive. Nobody seems to bother with that process when publishing happens (only?) on line.

Or in short, e-books need proofreaders and are not getting them.

I just finished what could have been a damn good series, the Black Douglas Trilogy by J.R.Tomlin. It's got everything I could want in historical fiction: good plotting, well-developed main characters, apparently good research into events, landscape, clothing, food, attitudes: everything needed to put the reader into the time and place. There's a heft to the books that's often missing in trilogies. Many of them seem to be a single book divided into three in order to garner more revenues, a tendency which annoys me enough in many case to never read past the first part. This set was well worth sticking with.

Add my own interest in the subject matter here. The setting of the trilogy is the 20+ years past the brutal death of William Wallace, better known to movie fans as "Braveheart". The trilogy starts with his death, and follows Robert the Bruce and more particularly his knight James Douglas until their deaths. My ancestors came from there, at least the ones whose stories have been passed down in even minor parts to the present. Fighting with Wallace became the reason for them needing to flee Scotland, changing names, and eventually winding up in America. So a good story that picks up where the movie leaves off is just the thing to appeal.

However... (You knew that was coming, right?)

Without exaggeration, nearly every 2nd or third page contained a major editing, i.e., lack of editing, error. She joins the ranks of modern authors that have little awareness of the proper usage of commas. These days they get inserted between nouns and verbs in the same sentence with no reason for one, as well as plenty of other inappropriate places, or left out altogether even though needed for clarity. Truthfully, she's not anywhere as bad as many. But that's not my major gripe.

Using a word processor, it's very easy to add and delete words or recombine phrases to make your text better. Cut, copy, paste, add, delete, proof.  One hopes proof is the final step, with proper corrections, but even that is not - pardon - foolproof. When you proofread your own stuff, it's common to see what you know you meant to say rather than what's actually on the page. Ask me: I know from experience. I make it a practice to go back to the very start of a posting and reread the entire thing. Sometimes several times are necessary. I pick up a lot of mistakes that way. Just not all. A fresh pair of eyes can be extremely helpful.

Unfortunately, many different authors these days seem content to leave me, the reader, to be their second pair of eyes. When I have to come to a screeching halt every couple pages in order to figure out what the author thought they were saying, I get annoyed. I could claim it is because I'm doing the work without getting the royalties. But really, the gripe is much more immediate. My enjoyment of the book is interrupted when I want to go galloping ahead to see what happens next, assuming, of course, that whatever I'm reading is worth that.

If not, my irritation gets that book kicked right into the archives, not even a memory, author or title.

This trilogy is too good a read to consign to forgetfulness. That doesn't make the irritation any less. If this were a book report, I'd recommend you read it anyway, sitting hard on your irritation. And in my case, I whipped off an email to the author this morning requesting her to please please please get a good proofreader. After all, she has another book out, a prequel to the trilogy.

I'd like to enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wire Rapt

I have a new hobby. Well, no, that's a bit of a lie. I have a new variation of an old hobby. It's all about rocks.

Pretty ones.

Sparkly shiny colorful ones.

I was always the kid walking along nose down looking for a pretty rock to pick up. Not always even pretty. Sometimes just uniquely lumpy, or stripey, or textured in a pleasing manner. To me, anyway. Mostly they'd be kinda ugly, especially in retrospect, like when Mom would be "helping" me clean out my room.

My biggest impediment to the hobby was growing up in the one small bit of Minnesota without agates. I see them all over these days, but never found them when I was young. Minnesota agates are characteristically narrowly striped in shades of reddish brown and white. I brought home pocketfuls of quartz, or feldspar, even chert, hoping that they would somehow redefine themselves as agates overnight, but they never would. Eventually we moved, and suddenly agate chips were all over the place. My best find ever was a spot along Lake Superior - nevermind where - that was/is easy to access by the public and where every square foot of tumbled rocks yielded at least one agate, some as big as a cubic inch!


On occasions when there was spare change to be spent, I'd buy polished agates. When older, I'd go for agate/geode bookends, or agate slice mobiles, and drool over the truly fancy, pricey stuff. Once the kids were grown and gone, I had a bit more money to spend, and in my wanderings on line discovered snuff bottles carved from rocks. They seemed to be exclusively made in China, and back in those days were quite inexpensive on the whole. Then the Chinese rediscovered their cultural heritage at the same time they developed a capitalisted middle class, and prices skyrocked. 

The bottles were my education in various rocks and minerals. I'd never before heard of all the different jaspers, or agates defined by something other than state of origin, like Minnesota or Montana. New terms like dendritic, plume or drusy entered my agate vocabulary, along with rhodonite, labradorite, malachite, pietersite, charoite, chrysocolla, sodalite, azurite, and on and on.

But snuff bottles are hard to display, and nobody else seems to appreciate them, much less know they even exist. So I was more than receptive when a friend offered to show me how to properly string beads together. If nothing else, it offered me a whole new way to collect and enjoy rocks. There was the added bonus of being able to make presents for others. Eventually, however, there are only so many ways to string rocks and glass together. I needed to find more options, or some way to expand the jewelry making. Using up my rather large supplies of beads would be a bonus, and finding a market would be even better.

I thought about learning wire wrapping, but the local classes were offered during working hours, and I was not going to take time off work. But then, of course, retirement forced its way into my life. Suddenly I had an abundance of time. I just needed lessons.

Somehow I was smart enough to relocate into a retirement community that provides lots of activities - for a modest price - including a club called Sterling and Stones. I can make everything I could possible need to make jewelry. Major equipment is available, along with training, supervision where needed, classes, ideas, networking. I can see other people's products, buy - or even sell - on site, or off.

My first class was wire wrapping, using relatively inexpensive copper wire. Class taught us how to make three projects: a bracelet of all wire, plus a pendant and a ring each incorporating a stone cabochon. One thing our instructor stressed was the availability of free patterns for different kinds of projects on line. I started researching those, found other kinds of wrapping, other styles of projects. I suddenly had a bazillion ideas, dozens ways of implementing each, ways of incorporating stones, wires, crystals, varieties of metals. I can start with cabochons, or a single bead, go anywhere. Pendants appeal the most, but now I can even make my own earrings. If rings appealed I could do those, but I was shown how to cut through the band of a ring and use the cut wires to integrate the mounted stone into a wire bracelet.

I'm fascinated. (Go figure, eh?) Tools are being located, ideas being hatched, cabs and wires ordered. It's much cheaper if they come from, say, Hong Kong or India, using economy mail rates. Translation: next month or even March. So I'm chomping at the bit, imagining all the projects I can create, while waiting for supplies. I've gone through the two cases of already acquired beading supplies, seeing how this works with that, what still might be needed, how leftovers gain new life. I see projects while I'm trying to read, or flick through commercial breaks, or prepare a meal. I go back over plans, finding new questions, new possibilities, toss out ideas for others, and pretend I'm still normal.

I am, simply put, wire rapt.

(Oh, and those of you on my X-mas present list, be warned for next year. I'm thinking about you!)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Test Driving the New Insurance

New year, new insurance plan, new doctor, new state. I also needed new Rx refills, and the old doc in the old state was getting tired of providing services long distance. It was working, at least for me, after finally finding a clinic with a lab that would test my blood coagulation levels, after which I'd call the old clinic with the information and they'd tell me whether and how to adjust my Warfarin levels and when to test again.

January 1st was the start of the new plan. After a lot of phone runaround, I found a clinic within the plan who actually had a doc accepting the insurance and new patients. Hey, who knew their card and inch-thick catalogue of information wasn't perfectly accurate? At any rate, the 6th was the first appointment I could wrangle, and managed to convince the old doc that if she'd keep me in meds through then I'd quit bugging her for refills.

It was the usual new patient visit. It started last year with a pre-visit to fill out paperwork to transfer my medical records, plus 6 pages of my summary of my medical history. Gotta wonder how much of anything actually got read. And really, who actually remembers exactly what date my tonsils were yanked or my tubes tied? Now the caesarean date I celebrate every year, so that's easy to remember. Some procedures I can winnow down to my age at the time, like 5 for tonsils, 12 for appendix, and 40 for gall bladder. But when did I have Bells Palsey? Break my nose or wrist? Especially the latter, since, without insurance and with the urgent need to keep working anyway, I treated it on my own and never sought medical help. I found a couple ways to immobilize it and let others assume it was just carpal tunnel, a sprain, or some such for a few weeks. It let me know when it was usable again. And family history? Hey, bro, if your health status is anything other than "healthy", I guess I lied on the form.

Other than blood pressure, O2 levels and pulse, the visit was just questions, followed by a perfunctory stethescope check through my shirt followed by being sent over to a lab for samples and told to report back in a week. For the record, the BP was fine, especially for being taken 30 seconds after walking in the room rather than sitting for 5 minutes. Pulse was 60, O2 was 97. I was given a sheet with the lab address, a new appointment for next week, and sent on my way. Oh yeah, the mandatory co-pay was made at the point of entering the office. I'd given them the insurance card back at the pre-visit.

The lab tests were to be made while fasting. Nothing for 12 hours before. He apparently doubted the diabetes diagnosis, either because he hadn't made it himself, because I was controlling blood sugar levels by regulating carb intake, or because that status somehow affected my insurance. I've been relying on A1C tests semi-annually at the old doc's office for a couple years now and hadn't needed any fasting tests. Let me just state for the record that when I get hungry, there is an amazing correlation with with a mood condition best labeled CRANKY. Keeping this in mind, I'm very proud of myself for my forbearance with the rest of the next  morning.

The lab takes both appointments and walk-ins. So did my old doc's lab, though hers was about two doors down the hall from the exam room, and not several blocks away. At any rate, I got up, caught the first few minutes of local news while the dogs were in the back yard, and did the usual getting ready to leave the house routine. I figured 8:00 AM was a good time to show up, get poked, and go find breakfast on my way to pick up my filled prescriptions. After finding the lab, I signed myself in and managed to find one of the two remaining empty seats in the waiting room. they must have had over 30 chairs in there. Not looking promising so far.

Eventually they called my up to the desk. Was I new? Did I have insurance? Had the doc send (emailed) over his orders for which tests? Yes, yes, yes, and... Oops! They didn't take this particular insurance plan. Or perhaps the plan didn't take them. Whatever.

They were both very sorry and very helpful. I was given a map plus name and address of the right kind of clinic, and they printed out a hard copy for me of the tests my doc wanted taken. They were so nice that I didn't bother to ask just why they were snickering about something on his orders for one test. I wasn't sure I wanted to know. I was sure that I figured a little amusement on their part was reward enough for putting up with the inconvenience of an unpaid visit as well as their respectful treatment of me.

Before leaving the parking lot I pulled out my cell and called the the doc's office. No help there. It was just a few minutes till 9:00 and they weren't open yet. While I sat and waited, I made a call to the insurance company. I needed to verify that this new lab was indeed in the system and this visit would get paid for before driving the mile or so over there and waiting again. They confirmed it was in thier system. So, since it wasn't the one the doc recommended, did I need to get ahold of him to reissue his orders to the new one? No, but I should call his office and let them know what was going on. Something along the lines of a polite reminder that insurance status needed to be checked out before referrals were made.

Fine. I could do that later. If I were going to eat, I needed to get moving and get the testing over with.

On the way over, my cell rang. I recognized the number: I had just called it. My doc's office was now open, and they were calling me. I doubted that they returned missed phone calls, and wondered what was up. This time it was their recommendation for my new-to-be cardiologist. Since I was still driving, and pulling off, parking, and reentering traffic is a tad complicated down here on major streets, I asked her before giving me the data whether she could check with that doc's clinic and verify that in fact they took my insurance, giving her the story of my current expedition for lab work. She said she'd check and call back.

This lab was harder to find than the last one. Phoenix has this habit of putting buildings with an address on a particular street behind other buildings along the street, separated by parking, shaded reserved parking areas (often covered with PV solar panels), more parking, and wandering driving lanes undistinguished by any traffic lane designations, designations of intersections, or indications of who should yield to whom whatsoever. In short, you better know where you are going before you attempt to navigate to safely get there. AND prepare to stop for everybody else as they won't see or stop for you. At least this building had an open handicap parking spot.

This lab had also done a decent job of clearing out their waiting area. I began to hope I was getting closer to having breakfast.  After handing over my accumulated paperwork, they handed me a cup and asked if I could please pee into it. I reflected that it had been enough of a delay since leaving home that it should indeed be possible. The request surprised me, however. Other than random drug tests and possible infections, I hadn't been asked to do that as part of my lab work for years. Before heading back, however, they asked for my credit card, and handed me another form to sign stating that I would cover whatever part of the bill (over $500 for today's tests) the insurance refused to cover.

Oh goodie.

The process itself was speedy, punctuated by a conversation on the scar tissue inside my elbows from being a 10-gallon Red Cross donor, an apheresis donor, and a plasma seller at the stab lab during the really lean years of single parenthood. A good phlebotomist can navigate through it, but it gives the rookies fits. She was good.

OK, now breakfast?

Well, no. I needed to head to WalMart for the meds, plus grocery shopping. If I didn't go straight there this late in the morning, all the electric scooter carts would be in use. Besides, there was nowhere I passed on the way that offered anything even remotely tempting. And topping it off was the niggling thought that I wasn't sure if the drug plan had a deductible at the start of the year or not. If not, I knew one of the meds cost nearly $60 in WalMart prices per month and the scrip was written for three months. That kind of consideration is not best conducive to a hearty eating-out appetite.

I wound up having to pull off and stop along the way anyway. I got my callback with the cardiologist referral, now confirmed to be in the insurance system. What should have been a quick off/on turned into a long wait for the green light and a resulting backup just to get back onto the cross street.

There was a solitary scooter left for me at WalMart, functioning even! I got in line to pick up meds. It happened to be the longest line I've ever seen at any WalMart, just because I was hungry, I'm sure. Even with two waiting the counter, it stretched back between the benches and around the corner down the main aisle. Lucky me, I was sitting down for it. Of course, to get near the counter required a bit of scooter jockying for the sharp angle. As I was backing into place, I nearly ran over the elderly lady who saw my maneuvering as her opportunity to approach the counter for her own order. Lucky for us all her daughter of about my age was with her and pulled her out of the way, also gently letting her know it wasn't her turn quite yet.

It's never a good sign when the clerk starts hemming and hawing, preparing to tell you something about your order. One of my meds was there. The other one, the pricey one, would be coming in, say, maybe the next afternoon? Good thing I have about three days worth left. It's not a medical emergency. She checked on its ETA for me. I hate the hassle  for nothing. Their ETA translated for me into either coming back late enough in the evening that there are again some scooters available and working, i.e. charged, but early enough that the pharmacy is still open, or I head over early the next morning. With that being Friday, that means really early, but late enough that the pharmacy is open. Hmmmm......

I still didn't know if I had a deductible on the meds. The one I paid for was about the same price with or without coverage. I'll find out. Tonight. Tomorrow. I'll decided when I decide.

Breakfast was finally accomplished at 11:30, breaking into a pre-cooked chicken before leaving the parking lot. And using about three of the doorful of napkins I keep in the car, left over from dozens of take-out meals back in the days of 12 - 14 hour work days.