Off to Hawaii…

This post will go live at 4 AM, which is the same time Ashley and I will be getting into a cab and heading to the airport. I’ll be essentially brain-dead at that time, and Ashley will be tired but excited. Why? December 1st is our fifth wedding anniversary, and we decided a seven-day cruise in Hawaii would be a great way to celebrate it. I couldn’t have picked a better woman to marry, and I feel blessed every day that she’s my wife. We’ll be back on December the 5th, so if you’ve emailed me or posted a comment on this blog that’s in moderation…well, everything will pretty much grind to a halt. I expect to relax, spend time with my wife, see as much of beautiful Hawaii as possible, and take approximately 4596 photos (or so). Did I mention that it’s snowing in Calgary and about -10 Celsius? I’m not leaving a moment too soon…see you later!

Medical Professionals and Assumptions of Power

This post requires some back story: About three months ago, I was eating dinner, and I must have been really enjoying my food because I bit down very fast, and very hard, on the inside of my right cheek. It hurt like a mofo, and there was a fair bit of blood. Within a few minutes, I had a swollen spot of tissue about the size of very large pea. Over the next couple of weeks, I tried chewing on the left side of my mouth, but invariably I’d forget and chew on the right side and bite the swollen tissue again…and again. I was biting it every few days, so it just wasn’t healing. I went to see my dentist for a cleaning, and talked to him about it. He said to give it six to eight weeks to heal, and if it hadn’t healed (or I kept biting it) he’d laser it off. I, ignorant of such things, asked it the laser cauterized the tissue. He said no, that would require 400 degrees of heat and burn my entire mouth – the laser super-heats the cells in the swollen tissue and causes them to evaporate. Cool! The dentist was very nice, the office was clean, he had shiny new gear, and it was only three minutes away from my house. Seemed like the perfect new dental professional. The receptionist told me when I was booking the appointment that it would cost $149 if it wasn’t covered by insurance – not too expensive, and certainly worth it.

A little over a month after my first appointment, I was back in the chair to get the swollen tissue blasted away – a least a few times a week I’d chomp down on it, so it wasn’t healing. When I arrived at 7 AM (ouch!) after not getting enough sleep the night before, he started the procedure. It was pretty interesting, because the laser machine was quite small – about the size of a breadbox (who even knows what that is anymore?). First, a bit of topical gel for freezing. Then a needle into my the inside of my cheek – don’t worry, I didn’t feel it. While the dentist was using the laser to blast away the tissue, his assistant was holding the suction straw, removing the smoke from my mouth – yes, smoke. Thankfully, I didn’t smell burning flesh, so the laser must do something else other than just burn (do boiling cells smoke?). I left with a slight indent on the inside of my cheek – the dentist said that he was going to send off the tissue (I guess there was some left after all) for a biopsy. He must have saw me look dubious, because the tissue was swollen from constant trauma, not because I contracted spontaneous mouth cancer that grew a tumour in 30 seconds. He explained that sending it for a biopsy was “standard procedure” and something they did “just to make sure” even though he acknowledged that he was quite certain there was nothing wrong with the tissue. I shrugged and figured “Ok, whatever, their call.” I assumed (oh boy, here we go) that the biopsy was part of the original fee for the procedure. I left the office and they were going to submit the procedure to my insurance company to see how much would be covered.

I received an email today from the dentist’s office telling me that Blue Cross (my incredibly useless and lame “health insurance” company) wasn’t going to cover any of the procedure. I wasn’t terribly surprised – if I were to be attacked by a chainsaw-wielding psycho, and lost all four limbs, Blue Cross would likely only cover the cost of sewing my legs back on, claiming that re-attaching my arms would be purely cosmetic. Yes, they’re that bad – I’m slowly obliterating my teeth by grinding at night, and Blue Cross won’t cover a new appliance. At any rate, I digress – I’ll rant about insurance companies another day. The dentist office told me that the cost was $265. Pardon? I emailed back and asked why it wasn’t the $149 I was told it would be They replied back that the $265 covered the laser excision (read: laser slice ‘n dice) and the biopsy. The biopsy? The thing that I didn’t think I needed but the dentist wanted to do anyway just to be sure, even though it was pretty ridiculous? Yeah, that biopsy.

What bothers me is how the dentist didn’t discuss it with me – he made the decision for me, didn’t tell me what it would cost, and didn’t offer me the choice. I believe medical professionals should give patients information, but allow them to make the choice. Especially when it comes to dental work, which can be quite expensive, I find it frustrating that a dentist wouldn’t be up front about the cost of the work. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that medical professionals are like everyone else: they have to make a living, and some are more aggressive about making money than others. While I’m sure some dentists are up-front about the charges for their work, so far every dentist I’ve dealt with hasn’t been. We assume, as patients, that the medical professionals we deal with have the best interests of our health in mind, and are only going to recommend procedures that are absolutely necessary. I’m sure that some medical professionals act that way, but certainly not all. I don’t think my dentist is a bad guy – maybe he assumed I had great insurance and some big corporation was going to be paying for the whole thing, so it didn’t matter. Maybe there’s no profit in the biopsy for him (it goes out to a lab), and he really did only have my best interests at heart. But when it’s all said and done, I’m having a procedure that isn’t medically necessary (or logical), and it’s coming out of my pocket. I have better things to spend my money on.
Of course, if the biopsy comes back and something was wrong, I’ll feel like a complete idiot. Won’t be the first time!

Michael “Kramer” Richards Has Meltdown

I don’t really want to use this blog for “hey, look at this news story that everyone else is posting about” type stories, but this one is worth looking into because it’s so bizarre. First, you’ll want to go check out this video clip [WARNING: not work safe, extreme language, racially offensive]. Here’s a news story with some further background, and lastly there’s another video of him on Letterman apologizing. As I watched the first video clip, I thought the initial barrage was part of his comedy act (some comedy is based on shocking words and concepts) but after watching the Today Show clip I realized that the entire thing was his response to people in the comedy club who were talking during his performance. No amount of talking or interrupting can excuse what he did, however, and the fallout from this is going to be huge. I can only wonder if he was drunk or high – not that it excuses anything, but it would at least be a contributing factor to his apparent insanity.

How To Re-name MSN Messenger / Windows Live Messenger Buddies

Ok, this might fall into the “Jason, you didn’t KNOW that?” category of things on this blog, but it’s always been a pet peeve of mine when people on my MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger) list use something other than their real name as their login name. People tend to fall into one of three categories here:

  • They’re using their email address as their sign-in name, usually because they don’t know any better, or how to change it. Since Passport email accounts are often not the email address you use to communicate with them on, it’s hard to remember that [email protected] is really someone I know. Especially if it’s someone I only chat with very rarely, I quite often have to ask “Who is this?” and they act surprised that I can’t figure out who they are from their email address.
  • They’re using their first name only, or a handle. Ok, fine if you have a unique name (Janak, Darius), not so fine if you’re one of four Chris’ in my list.
  • They’re changing their name to change their mood. I actually like the “mini blog” concept where I can glance at a contact’s name and see what’s new, or how they’re feeling, but not when I can’t find them in my list because they don’t use their name at all. So one day they show up as “It’s Raining” and another day they’re in a different part of my list as “Zzzzz”. In older versions of Messenger, I’d do this by changing “Jason Dunn” to “Jason Dunn – so sleepy” or something similar. So I’d keep my name in there, and add my one-line message after it. Now with Messenger Live you actually have a the ability to append a unique message after your name, so it’s much easier to create personal messages.

Way back in the day when I was using ICQ, you could change the name of the person on your list, essentially overriding their choice on your end so you knew who they were. MSN Messenger was missing that feature for quite some time (or maybe I never discovered it at all), and just today I discovered that you can re-name people on your list. You’d think you’d be able to change via a right-click, right? Well, you can, but “Add a Nickname” sure isn’t the same to be as “Rename” (which I just realized today as well – it’s a day of discovery!). You have to click on a contact and press F2 – yeah, that old Windows standby F2. Sure, I’m probably the last one on the planet to figure this out, but in case I’m not, now you know.

Losing Momentum

There’s nothing worse for a writer, when you’re working on project, you get some momentum going, then you have to quit – and you can’t get the momentum going again. When I was working on my Zune review, I ran into a big snag with the software that ended up costing me about five hours out of my review day. I thought I could make it up, but I had to quit working on my review at 2 AM on the 15th, because I had a 6 AM wake-up call for a whole day of meetings on the Microsoft campus. I stumbled my way through the day, spent two hours getting to the airport in horrendous Seattle traffic (I hate that city sometimes, just for the traffic), made it home and was in bed by midnight. The next day, at a 7 AM dentist appointment, as consequently, didn’t get enough sleep and was like a zombie all day. That night I had a three hour music practice for a music/drama event that’s happening tomorrow (Sunday), and then on Friday I went to the library for a few hours and tried to work on the Zune review but didn’t make much headway. So I have two parts of the review finished, but the most important two (the actual device functionality) have yet to be written – and I’m leaving for a vacation to Hawaii next week! The clock is ticking, the Zune review needs finishing, and I’m writing on my blog. Back to the Zune…

When Engineers Run Your Company

I picked up a new router (as I explained in an earlier post) and needed to update the firmware. So I headed off to the Linksys site. I knew that I had a WRT54G router, because that’s what the package and the Web-based admin interface said. I wish they’d have implemented a “one button update” where the router would ping the server, and if there’s a new firmware update, it would push it down and install it automatically. That’s the way it should work, but it doesn’t of course. Upon finding my way into the support area, it prompted me to select what kind of device I had. Here’s what one portion of the drop-down menu looked like.

linksys-wireless-productlist.png

So I knew I had a WRT54G, but what version did I have? Did the box tell me? No. Did the admin interface tell me? No. I had to go into my furnace room, where the router is, and flip it over to find the version number. Why didn’t the admin interface tell me what device I had? Why didn’t they revise the package to that it said “WRT54G-4” or something similar? It’s insane that they’ve had seven hardware revisions without changing the actual product number – imagine if they did that in the automobile world? “Oh, you have a Mazda Protégé 5? What revision? You’ll have to look on the engine to find out before I can get you this part…”

Sleepy in Seattle

Made it into Seattle tonight. I spent 30 minutes at the airport phoning electronics stores in and around the Bellevue area, trying to find a place that had a Canon Powershot SD800 camera in stock. Phone voicemail systems are really hell on earth, especially when combined with dysfunctional voice-activated 411 services. I’d dial 411, ask for the phone number for CompUSA in Bellevue, be transferred over, and while waiting on hold to speak to someone, the 411 system would cut in and say “thanks for using our service”, then terminate my call. Whaazaa? Very frustrating – this happened three times to me. The times when I wasn’t cut off, I was trapped being bounced from phone to phone. Frys Electronics in Renton was the worst – I call the front, ask for the camera people, they transfer my call, and it rings around 100 times. I kid you not, I was standing there for five minutes letting it ring. Why? The dysfunctional 411 service didn’t SMS me the phone number like it said it would, so I’d have to dial 411 again to get the phone number. Stupid. Thankfully, a helpful cab driver suggested I try Circuit City on the way to the hotel, so we stopped near Renton and sure enough, they had ONE camera in stock, and it was so new they hadn’t even put it behind glass yet, it was still in the stock room. I got it for $399 USD + sales tax, which is a heck of a lot better than the $549 CAD + GST it was going to be sold for at Visions. Why are electronics, and pretty much everything else, such a huge rip-off in Canada? Ashley and I were at Chapters on Sunday and it was amazing looking at the US prices being at $6.99 and the Canadian pricing being at $9.99. The two dollars have been within 10% of each other for pretty close to a year now, shouldn’t these prices have come closer together? Canadian retailers need to kick some ass in the channel and get better pricing. But I digress…the new SD800 is awesome, check out this wide-screen capture mode:

canon-powershot-sd800-widescreen.jpg

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve used a Canon point and shoot, so I’m a bit rusty with the menus systems, but this one looks like a winner so far. Great design, great screen, amazingly fast start up, very little shutter lag (none if you turn off the flash), a high ISO mode that still looks good, 3.8x optical zoom, 7.2 megapixels, and the image stabalizer is the real deal: I was taking images in my dim hotel room, without the flash, and they weren’t blurry. I’m very impressed with this camera so far! The only down side? It’s not as thin as the Casio S-500 I’ve been using for the past year and a bit. I think I can put up with the “bulk” though in order to get better pictures.

Tomorrow morning I have to race down to Circuit City in order to buy five Zunes – I hope there isn’t a line-up…

Microsoft Live Search: You Suck…edit: I Suck!

Not like this is news to anyone in the tech world, but I’m constantly amazed at how bad Microsoft’s search engine is. I haven’t done a lot of detailed comparisons, but one ranking I’m always interested in is how well my own sites are doing. Here’s a comparison.

KEYWORD: pocket pc
SITE: Pocket PC Thoughts

Google: 5th result
Live Search: not in the top 120 results

KEYWORD: smartphone
SITE: Smartphone Thoughts

Google: 4th result
Live Search: 53rd result

KEYWORDS: digital media
SITE: Digital Media Thoughts

Google: 4th result
Live Search: not in the top 120 results

KEYWORD: zune
SITE: Zune Thoughts

Google: 17th result
Live Search: 64th result

It’s not that the results returned by Live Search are all that bad – they all seem to be fairly relevant. But the search engine seems to hate my sites and I can’t figure out why. So either Google has it all wrong, and my sites are not valuable resources in their respective categories, or Live Search has such a radically different method of ranking that my sites simply don’t matter. I’d disagree with that of course, so for now Live Search sucks in my book.

UPDATE: Well, turns out the egg is on my face. Although I never explicitly blocked the Live Search bot from scanning my sites, it seems I had an old robots.txt file on there that was stopping it from indexing the content on all my sites save Zune Thoughts. So my apologies to the Live Search team. I’ve now deleted the robots.txt files off my sites, so come back and visit me Mr. Live Search Bot!

Don’t You Just Hate It When Technology Doesn’t Work Right?

As a geek, when I implement new technology in my life, I always hope it’s going to go smoothly – but I also know that not every product is designed perfectly, and there’s a good chance it may take some extra work to get things working right. But what I wasn’t expecting three days ago, when I swapped out my D-Link 624 802.11g router for a Linksys WRT54G 802.11g router, was that a device on the network would stop working. Why the new router? I swore I wasn’t going to get a new router until the 802.11n spec was finalized and shipping routers were really up to hardware spec, but I’ve been seeing lame performance lately from the D-Link router that no amounts of reboots would see to fix, and I had some issues with it when I was testing out Slingbox mobile. The guy I was dealing with, Jeremy Toeman, told me that D-Link routers tend not to very very spec-compliant, and that Linksys were the most trouble-free in his experience. I’ve tended to avoid Linksys everything, because I think the hardware is ugly and I’ve seen a few Linksys routers go bad. But I was fed up with my D-Link, so I wanted something new.

Oh, did I mention that in the past 12 months I’ve also purchased a Belkin pre-802.11n and a Netgear 802.11n router? Both gave me trouble as well, constantly dropping WiFi signals and generally conking out and requiring reboots. I know part of the problem is that there are about eight wireless networks within range of my house, so my router has to content with a lot of interference. You’d think that those supposed kick-ass MIMO antenne on the pre-802.11n routers would have solved that, but they didn’t.

At any rate, I hooked up the Linksys WRT54G, updated the firmware from 1.00.9 to 1.01.0 (don’t you just love engineers?) and got all my machines working. Everything grabbed an IP ok, speed was awesome across all my machines. But my Roku M2000 wouldn’t connect and get an IP. Normally the Roku M2000 is amazingly stable and works well, but despite repeated reboots, it wouldn’t connect to the network. I checked the DHCP tables on the Linksys router, and I could see that the M2000 was getting an IP address…yet the M2000 claimed it has no such IP and reported an internal IP of 169.*….if you ever see a computer with a 169.*.*.* IP, you have a problem because that’s not a “real” IP that a router would dish out. I searched the Roku forums, and discovered a post where someone was having exactly the same problem as I was. The solution that worked for him was to roll back to the 1.00.9 firmware.

So I started down that road myself, only to discover that Linksys only offers their current firmware from the Web site. Here’s something good to know: if you ever need old Linksys firmware, you can get them all from the Linksys FTP site. I waited 30 minutes in a queue with tech support to discover that little gem of information. I’ve now rolled the WRT54G back to 1.00.9 and the Roku M2000 is now working perfectly. Things really shouldn’t be this hard.

Cool New Windows XP Theme

zune-desktop.jpg

There’s a new Zune theme for Windows XP that’s quite cool – I dig the black title bars and the orange start button. Anything but the green/blue combo until Vista arrives! You can download the theme here, although apparently the theme needs some tweaking in order to be perfect. I didn’t like the default background very much, so I replaced it with the above wallpaper. I’ve collected it, and a few other wallpapers that would go nice with the Zune theme, into a single ZIP file. Enjoy! [a note to you wallpaper graphic designers out there, embed an URL or something into the EXIF data of the JPEG so people can figure out where they got the image from]