Why you need a hobby

As security professionals, we deal with a tremendous amount of stress. Like my new boss told me about a week into our tenure together, we tend to be perfectionists, and frequently we’re asked to deal with the most cavalier people in our organization. It’s a toxic combination.

One of the first things my boss asked me after we met was what I think about at home. In all honesty, I can’t help but think about work sometimes–I apologize for being crude, but I have a thinking chair at home and it doesn’t look like the one on Blue’s Clues–but I have a lot of other things I think about at home too. Important things like my family of course, but other important things too, like trains and baseball and baseball cards.

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How to re-attach an Omnipod pod

My wife is a type 1 diabetic, and for the past year or so she’s been using an Omnipod to deliver the insulin she needs. She likes the Omnipod a lot better than the old-fashioned Medtronic insulin pumps she used to use, but one problem with the pods is that they can come off before their useful life is over. The pods cost around $20 and our insurance doesn’t cover any extras, so it’s important to be able to revive or restore the Omnipod adhesive if a pod comes unstuck.

The pods are supposed to last three days, but sometimes the adhesive only lasts a day or so. Humidity, sweating from activity, swimming and bathing can all make the adhesive fail prematurely. It seems the pods themselves are a lot more waterproof than the adhesive is. Then again, she says sometimes just the force of changing clothes can be enough to knock a pod off.

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What your health insurance company doesn’t want you to know

My wife is a Type 1 diabetic. She’s the type of person insurance companies go out of their way to deny coverage for, and while I suppose I can say I’m used to them not covering her without a fight, I’m not exactly good at fighting the system. What I’ve learned the hard way is that you need to make sure, every time you change health insurance, that you have at least 12 months’ worth of certificates of creditable coverage. And don’t expect them to tell you this.

You see, the more you don’t know, the more they can deny coverage and rake in profits. Health insurance isn’t about health, you see. It’s all about profits. Read more

What to do when your COBRA paperwork doesn’t show up

I’m writing this to hopefully save someone from having as bad of a day as I’ve just had. You see, I started a new job on July 3. My new health insurance starts August 1. My former employer terminated my coverage on July 2. COBRA is intended to fill gaps like that, but all I have is a promise that my COBRA paperwork will show up someday. My former employer didn’t send the COBRA paperwork, just a promise that it was coming. Famous last words, you know.

That promise doesn’t help when my wife needs insulin today. And when my current employer doesn’t know what to do, my old employer won’t answer the phone, and my old insurance company doesn’t know what to do either, that’s enough to ruin your day.

What I didn’t know was that COBRA doesn’t work that way.

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A more likely use of the Medtronic exploit

Yesterday morning, as I completed the long journey from my parking spot to my office, another more likely use of the security vulnerability in Medtronic insulin pumps occurred to me. Yes, the risks involving insulin are very real. And yes, a determined attacker could use this vulnerability to take a Medtronic owner’s life. But those chances are slim.

But nothing says this vulnerability has to be used to do mortal harm. An attacker could use it just for exploitation. And there’s enough difference that some people wouldn’t have a problem with crossing that line.
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Shame on you, Medtronic

Insulin pumps marketed by Minneapolis-based Medtronic have a serious, life-threatening security flaw, and the company couldn’t care less.

For these two reasons, this isn’t your typical security flaw, and Medtronic’s response–in 30 years, we’ve ever seen a problem that we know of–is beyond deplorable. Ford’s infamous decision to pay lawsuits rather than fix a deadly flaw in the Pinto comes to mind.
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Ugh. I’m beat.

I went in today for a massage, to get my shoulders tuned up so I can get another year out of these two arms without my wrists tingling and aching and otherwise not doing their job. I’ll feel 17 again in a day or two. In the meantime, I feel like I just got beat up. At least this year it was only 3 knots back there. Last year it was more like 5, or something ridiculous like that.

Fathers: Give your family a gift this Father’s Day weekend

I’m sitting here watching NBC’s tribute to Tim Russert tonight. Although he was famous for being the biggest political guru of his generation, he was also the author of two books, both about fatherhood.

He died today of a heart attack. He was only 58.

I would have liked to have asked my dad what to do to minimize the risk of heart attack. Being a doctor, he should know. But I can’t. He died of a heart attack in 1994, age 51.I think I know what Dad would say, although he would say it with a whole lot more authority, having four degrees and the title "D.O." to his name.

I’m sure Dad would point out that not all of the factors are within our control. The best we can do is control the factors that we can control. (Not that he did, sadly.)

I don’t know much about medicine (Dad didn’t want me to be a doctor, and honestly, I never had much interest), but I know plenty about controlling the factors we can, in hopes of minimizing the factors we can’t.

But diet is a big factor, and we can control it. We can (and should) eat foods lower in cholesterol. We can (and should) avoid hydrogenated oils as much as possible. And we can (and should) eat foods that seem to lower cholesterol, such as oatmeal. Soy is also rumored to lower cholesterol, but the question is whether it actually lowers cholesterol, or if it merely replaces lots of foods that are high in cholesterol.

So, here’s the gift I want fathers to give their families this week. Start eating oatmeal for breakfast at least a couple of times a week. And if you’re really ambitious, eat fake soy meat a couple of times a week instead of the real thing.

Trust me on this one. I’m a red-blooded, beef-eating Kansas City native. I grew up on the stuff. Eight years ago I gave up meat for Lent, mostly because it was something that seemed possible but extremely difficult to do. I wanted to see if I could do it. So I did it–barely. Then I went out for BBQ afterward.

Back then, I tried soy burgers. I wasn’t impressed. Trust me. They’re better now. If you don’t like one brand, try another, but my favorites are the Boca Flame Grilled. Soy bacon is good too. It doesn’t look a thing like the real stuff, but it tastes fine.

If there’s a relatively minor and tolerable adjustment that we can make to potentially increase the number of our years, and almost certainly increase the quality of those years, shouldn’t we do it?

How I fought the insurance company and lived to tell about it

My dad was a doctor. Dad told me on several occasions that if I ever came home and said I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor too, he’d lock me in my room for seven years. One of the reasons for this was because he hated dealing with insurance companies. I vividly remember going out to the mailbox one day and finding a letter addressed to Dr. Farquhar, with a very angry note written on the front of the envelope: PLS LET THE DR READ THE LTR. I asked what this was about, and Dad said insurance was refusing to pay for a patient’s treatment. He said it happened a lot.

Now I’m 33, and my insurance was refusing to pay for treatment my wife needed. The best-case scenario without her medication would have involved numerous hospitalizations. The worst-case scenario? Coma or stroke if a lot of things went wrong. If everything went wrong, death wasn’t out of the question.

Here’s what I did about it.This isn’t exactly how I wanted to tell everyone, but my wife is pregnant. She’s also diabetic, and diabetes and pregnancy aren’t exactly the best combination. It wasn’t long before she was complaining about nausea. That wasn’t anything new; she can get bad nausea at times even when not pregnant. We try to keep a decent supply of Emetrol (or a generic version) on hand because of it. But we didn’t know if it was safe for her to take that while pregnant, so I suggested she ask her doctor. The doctor put her on a generic version of Zofran, a powerful anti-nausea drug.

The difference was like night and day. Without the drug, she couldn’t be up and around for more than 3-4 hours at a time. With the drug, she could function almost normally.

But after a month, the party was over. The insurance company refused to pay for the drug any longer. The doctor protested, but to no avail. So the doctor prescribed alternative anti-nausea drugs.

None of them worked.

She started a rapid decline. Within days, she couldn’t keep food down. Four days after that, she couldn’t even keep water down. She went to the doctor, and her doctor sent her straight to the hospital where she was admitted and treated for dehydration and severe morning sickness (I don’t remember the medical term). They kept her in the hospital overnight.

When her doctor visited, I asked him what to do. He said insurance companies do this all the time.

"Let me get this straight. This guy with no education, who’s never seen her, knows better than you do what’s best for my wife?" I asked.

He said he sees this every day, and he’s sick of it.

"So do I need to look into getting a lawyer and suing this company for malpractice?" I asked. After all, there was at least one time when Dad said a patient needed one treatment, and a different doctor decided to do a different treatment and the patient died. The patient’s family, based on what Dad said, sued the other doctor for malpractice. If a doctor can be sued for practicing medicine badly, why can’t an insurance company be sued when it practices medicine badly?

He said if I did that I’d probably end up on CNN and he’d love to see the public pay that kind of attention to the insurance industry, but it wouldn’t help my wife any.

So I asked about buying the drug outright, without insurance. It was going to cost more than $400 a month. That’s outside of most budgets. I probably could have made it work, by making some cutbacks on food purchases, taking on some extra work, and if all else failed, borrowing some money, but it shouldn’t be necessary. This is why we get insurance in the first place–to cover these kinds of expenses.

So I looked into what it would cost to import the drug from Canada. The best price I found was $330–not much help.

I called my boss and told him what was going on, originally for no reason other than to provide justification for why I wouldn’t be at work the next day. But the more I told him, the more apparent it became that the situation offended him too–and not just because I was missing work over it. And that gave me an idea.

If the situation offended him, then it probably would offend the decision-makers at the company too. I decided I needed to talk to my boss and ask if I would be going over his head by talking to the higher-ups about the situation.

He gave me the OK, so I wrote a letter to my employer’s upper management. It wasn’t very long. In point by point fashion, I described my wife’s medical needs, what the doctor had done about it, what happened after the insurance company stopped paying for the drug, and what risks were involved with my wife not getting the treatment that she needed. I spelled it all out in lay terms. I also tried to be very matter-of-fact about it. They didn’t need my opinions on the matter–the facts spoke for themselves. Nobody would want their wife or daughter to have to go through what my wife was going through. And that was what I was counting on.

My letter climbed up the corporate ladder and over to HR very quickly. Not long after that, the HR director had the insurance company’s representative on the phone. Before the day was over, my wife had her medicine, and by the next day, she had a case manager assigned to her.

I believe this is the only approach that would have worked, and this is why:

1. I have an acquaintance who once worked for an insurance company, in the IT shop. He told me the majority of insurance adjustors who make decisions about what the insurance company will and won’t pay for are frustrated people with minimal education (sometimes just a GED) and they get their jollies by overruling doctors. It’s a power trip, and it’s what gives their lives meaning. Calling up the 800 number on the back of the card and complaining doesn’t do any good because it just proves to them how much power they hold. And calling the number and treating whoever answers the phone to a profanity-laced tirade (or even just asking the person where he or she went to med school) really drives home how much power they hold.

2. I’m just one customer and I have no control. The insurance company doesn’t care if I leave, because all they lose is a bad customer. Remember, customers who pay into the system and don’t take anything back out cause profits to rise. Customers who take money out of the system cause profits to fall. And besides that, I have no say in where my company buys its insurance anyway. The only way for me to change insurance providers is to change jobs, and that’s not only impracticel, it’s also very difficult.

What I had to do was to take my case to the people who do make that decision, and appeal to them. Working from the assumption that none of them would want the same thing to happen to their wives and daughters, I just presented the facts and let them come to the conclusion that the insurance company would do the same thing to anyone else in that situation too–including them. After all, they’re covered under the same plan I am. And of course they wouldn’t want that. What I basically did was raise the stakes. The insurance company wouldn’t be sorry to see me go, but what insurance company wants to risk losing a whole company’s business?

3. I kept my cool. By my own admission, to call me a loose cannon is an understatement. If I don’t like something, everyone around me knows it. But I wasn’t going to make any friends by saying "You guys are idiots for choosing to buy insurance from [company x] because they’re trying to kill my wife and unborn child." My emotions and opinions were more likely to make them get mad at me, and I needed them to be mad at the insurance company, not me. So I trusted them to be reasonable, rational people and come to the same conclusion I would when presented with the same seven basic facts.

So that’s how I got an insurance company to let my wife have a drug they decided they didn’t want to pay for.

Take some steps to improve your health today

So Michael Moore has a new movie out, this time taking on the touchy topic of health care. I was a very outspoken opponent of Hillary Clinton’s plan 15 years ago. I’m extremely disappointed that the alternative plans crafted by the Republicans dropped as soon as the Clinton plan died.

I won’t argue that the U.S. health care system is terrible now. I will argue that some of the fault belongs to the person in our mirrors though. (And I don’t want to be rude, but Michael Moore needs to take some personal responsibility too.)The best editorial I ever saw about the Clinton plan was written by Andy Rooney. What he said then is even more true today: We drag our lard butts to the doctor because we won’t eat right, and we complain when the doctors can’t cure our problems which are to at least a certain degree, self-inflicted. Then he twisted the knife a bit, pointing out that Clinton was fond of going to McDonald’s with camera crews in tow. He said something like, “Health care is in trouble. Now excuse me while I go have a triple-cheesy-greasy with double fries. Do as I day, not as I do.”

Now to be entirely fair, society encourages us to eat out a lot. It tells us that’s how to be good parents, it’s a good way to take a load off and relieve stress, and who knows how many messages–most of which aren’t true. Remember, the originator of the message is selling something. Always always remember that.

I remember John C. Dvorak once remarking on his blog, “Someone wants us fat.” Give the little man a big cigar! The food industry wants us fat because we’ll eat more. The drug industry wants us fat because we’ll take more drugs. And once both of them get us up on that treadmill, they stand to make billions. If not trillions.

I still believe, with everything I have, that the American diet (if it can be called that) is largely to blame. We eat a lot of empty food that does our bodies no good, but does plenty of harm. Dad was saying 30 years ago that biscuits and gravy cause cancer. Today, guess what? They’re saying that sausages and gravies and highly cooked fats cause cancer. Sausage gravy does all the wrong things about as well as anything, but hot dogs are another good example.

Fast-food hamburgers may not necessarily cause cancer, but they sure do a dandy job of giving you a heart attack.

Vegetarians say they have the answer, but I’m not entirely convinced vegetarianism is absolutely necessary, nor is it a panacea. I see plenty of vegetarian cookbooks that do nothing but douse the vegetables in butter and cheese. Eat like that, and you won’t be any thinner or healthier than anyone else.

I do believe the main reason healthy vegetarians are healthy is because they pay attention. They look at the ingredients to make sure there’s no meat in there, and if there’s anything in the ingredients that they can’t pronounce, they probably end up putting it back since they can’t prove it didn’t come from an animal. And as a result, they tend to end up eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, breads that don’t have a lot of ingredients in them, and other things that provide a lot of nutrition in their calories.

I’m also convinced this is why most fad diets work initially. If you hopped on the Atkins bandwagon in the early 1990s before it became hugely popular (it had actually been around since the early 1970s), it was entirely possible to lose weight, because you would be limited largely to unprocessed meats and vegetables. But I noticed around 2000 or 2001 that a lot of people were on Atkins and weren’t losing any weight at all on it. Atkins was still saying the same things, but it wasn’t working anymore. The difference? Everyone and his uncle was peddling Atkins-friendly junk foods. Instead of being limited to meats and vegetables you cooked yourself, you could microwave processed Atkins-friendly TV dinners and gorge yourself afterward on Atkins-friendly cookies and ice cream.

People stopped losing weight, their cholesterol soared, and lots of companies made lots of money. Then the gravy train ended, but that’s OK because there’s always another one.

This is a boom for drug companies too. When your cholesterol goes sky-high, the commercials say there’s no need to change your diet. You can just pop an anti-cholesterol pill. What they don’t tell you is that the pill not only lowers your cholesterol, it also wipes out your B vitamins. So now your cholesterol is lowered, but you’re depressed and have carpal tunnel syndrome (just two things a deficiency in B vitamins can cause). So now you need another pill. Funny, the same company that makes the most popular drug for cholesterol also makes one of the most popular drugs for depression.

And that popular drug has some side effects such as abdominal pain and/or headache, sexual disfunction, and other things. But there are pills for that too.

Is it any wonder we never really get better? We take a pill for one thing, and the pill fixes that, but then we get something else. The domino effect starts, and it’s possible to go from being on no drugs to being on five in a matter of months.

About a year ago, my wife was out talking to someone. She mentioned she was diabetic. The elderly gentleman she was conversing with said he was too. They talked some more, and it turned out he became diabetic as a teenager, just as she had. He seemed like he’d lived a long and healthy life to her, so she asked if he had any secrets to share. He did. “Stay away from junk food, and you’ll be fine.”

Good advice. Simple advice. Unfortunately it’s difficult to follow, seeing as every other commercial between the hours of 4 and 8 is for junk food. Most of the rest are for drugs, with the occasional car commercial thrown in.

Here are some starting points my wife and I have picked up from the books of Dr. Mark Hyman.

1. Avoid processed food. Buy your groceries from the outer ring of the grocery store, staying out of the aisles.

2. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup. This ultra-common sweetener is very cheap, but your body doesn’t know what to do with it. Eat lots of sugar and eventually you feel full, but if you eat the same amount of high fructose corn syrup, you’ll only crave more. Is it any wonder food companies love this stuff? It costs half as much, and you eat twice as much. What’s that mean? Profit!

And guess what? Just about anything that comes in a box or a package has lots of it. When I went in search of a loaf of bread that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it, I was only able to find one kind, and that included all of the premium brands that promote themselves as healthy. So what did we do? We bake our own bread in a breadmaker now instead.

3. Avoid trans-fats and hydrogenated oils. Partially hydrogenated is just as bad, it just sounds a little better. This process makes food last longer on the shelf, which decreases costs, but again, your body doesn’t know what to do with it. It raises cholesterol levels but gives no nutritional benefit.

Once again, most products that come in a package have lots of them. Fortunately the tide is turning against this trend. Hopefully it lasts.

4. Eat smaller portions of meat and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. Meats aren’t necessarily all bad, although there’s little question that the hormones and other things the animals are given aren’t exactly good for us. There’s also no reason you have to eat meat at every meal, other than status. I usually have meat at one meal.

Fresh fruits and vegetables give more nutrients than meat and fewer undesirable side effects like higher cholesterol.

5. Eat whole foods that are as fresh as possible. Bleached white flour loses its nutrients. Canned vegetables lose most of their nutrients. Cook fresh, in-season vegetables and you’ll be healthier.

6. Watch the salads. How is it that people can eat salads all the time and still not lose any weight? Look at a McDonald’s nutritional guide and you’ll see most of their salads have as many calories as one of their sandwiches. Or more. They put the same junk in their salads as their sandwiches. It just looks healthy.

And even if you have a simple, traditional salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded carrots, watch the dressings. A tablespoon of any of the common, traditional dressings has anywhere from 50-75 calories, and odds are you’ll use at least three of them. Possibly more. You could waste 10 percent of a 1,500 calorie diet on a condiment.

I don’t disagree that there’s something wrong with our medical system. That much is obvious. But the health problems that we’re creating and perpetuating with our current lifestyle would bring any medical system to its knees.

Trust me. The doctors aren’t all happy. My dad was one. He told me that if I ever told him I wanted to be a doctor, he’d lock me in my room for 7 years. Dad didn’t mind being a doctor, but he hated dealing with insurance companies and the government.

One day one of my coworkers was arguing with an insurance adjustor about a medical procedure his wife needed. The doctor said she needed it. The insurance adjustor said she didn’t, and insurance wasn’t going to cover it.

I told him to ask the insurance adjustor where he went to medical school.

Doctors go to school for a minimum of six years. I searched for an insurance adjustor job to see what the qualifications were. A two-year degree was all that was necessary. It didn’t specify that two-year degree had to be in biology or anything else relevant.

The current system is great for the drug industry, the insurance industry, and the food industry. If the system changes, I don’t expect it will get any worse for them. They have lots of lobbyists, and lots of money at stake.

I don’t expect it will get all that much better for us. The best thing for us to do is to take steps to need to use it less.

And ironically, if we use the system less and reduce the burden on it, it should get better.

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