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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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How we learn

An article on Lifehacker this week explained a lot about how I initially became a computer professional. Its advice was to fly by the seat of your pants, try things without guidance or manuals, not be afraid to fail occasionally, and learn before you go to sleep.

So when I spent many nights in my late teens disassembling and reassembling obsolete IBM PC/XT clones to learn how they worked, I was unwittingly doing all of it right.

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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.
Read More »A more likely use of the Medtronic exploit

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.
Read More »Shame on you, Medtronic

How the Republican Party is losing me

I tend to lean to the right. For as long as I understood what it meant to be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, I called myself a conservative Republican. In college, I wrote a newspaper column for 3 1/2 years brashly titled "No Left Turns."

In last year’s primary, I voted for Ron Paul for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of things he said made sense. Two, at least he sincerely believed in the things he said that didn’t make sense. And three, he’s a doctor. When Ron Paul predictably didn’t get the nomination, I voted against John McCain and for a Democrat, Barack Obama. The main reason was health care.I come from a long line of Republicans. My great great great grandfather, Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar, helped the Republican Party get organized in the state of Ohio prior to the Civil War. My great grandfather, Ralph Farquhar, worked for the powerful Ohio Republican Marcus Alonzo Hanna. And my dad was three things: outspoken, Republican, and a doctor. Sometimes the order varied.

In 1992, Dad was very much against Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, but he was very much in favor of some kind of health care reform. The system desperately needed it, even then. Rarely did a week go by without Dad getting an angry letter from one of his patients. The story was always the same. Patient comes to Dad seeking treatment. Dad treats patient. Patient gets better. Dad bills insurance company. Insurance company denies claim. Patient can’t afford to pay.

The only variance was the patient’s understanding of what happened. Sometimes the patient was mad at Dad. Sometimes the patient wanted Dad’s help. All too frequently, what happened was Dad just didn’t get paid. The insurance provider–be it Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance–wasn’t going to budge. The patient legitimately couldn’t pay the bill. Dad could press, but if the patient paid, the patient would go hungry. If Dad didn’t bill, Dad wouldn’t go hungry. Dad had a soul, so Dad would do what people who have souls do and just tear up the bill.

Someone had to give a crap about these people. Unfortunately sometimes Dad was the only one.

Dad told me once that if I decided to become a doctor, he would lock me away for seven years. Being a doctor is a family tradition. Dad thought there were better things for me to do than spend my life messing with computers, but being a doctor wasn’t one of them. He wanted me to have a better life than he had.

Dad died of a heart attack in 1994, aged 51. Had the health care system allowed him to practice medicine and stayed out of his way, I’m sure he would have lived longer. Maybe he would have been still been alive when my grandmother and father in law needed him.

Fast-forward to 2006. My wife was pregnant, but having a hard time of it. Extreme nausea was keeping her almost bedridden some days. Her doctor found one and only one anti-nausea drug that would work, a treatment normally given to cancer patients. Our insurance was willing to pay for it once. When her 30-day supply was exhausted, the doctor tried every treatment that the insurance company was willing to pay for, but none of them worked. She fell into a vicious cycle of dehydration and nausea. One built on the other, and she ended up hospitalized.

The drug cost about $80 a week to just buy outright. I bought a week’s supply to keep her out of the hospital for a week while I figured out what to do next. The doctor knew I was unhappy. I asked him if it would do any good to get a lawyer and sue the insurance company. I was serious and he knew it. He said he wished someone would do that, but if it was me, the only thing I’d accomplish would be getting some face time on CNN and meanwhile we still wouldn’t have the medicine we needed.

This is the free market compassion that Rush Limbaugh spouts about. I’ve yet to figure out what’s compassionate about cutting off a woman’s medicine so she has to go into the hospital. The insurance company will pay for part of her hospitalization, but not the medicine that keeps her out of the hospital. Oh, and while she’s in the hospital, she can’t work.

Writing some letters succeeded in getting her the medicine she needed. And my employer, to its credit, changed insurance plans the next year, to something that takes better care of people.

Unfortunately, this year I found myself working for a very large company that operated as its own insurer in order to keep the profits to itself. And that company quickly decided that my wife was using too much insulin and my son was using too many vaccines. Their doctors disagreed, but they’re only doctors. What do they know about profits?

One day, after getting yet another denial claim in the mail, I ran into a former coworker in a parking lot. He asked how things were going. I told him, then asked if my old company had any job openings. A month later, I was working for my old company again, with the only health coverage I’ve ever seen that actually covers what I need it to cover. When they offered me the job, I had to think for a whole two seconds before accepting.

Most people can’t do what I did. On paper, pretty much every health insurance plan I’ve ever had pretty much looked the same. But like I said, there’s only been one that ever covered much of anything.

And pretty much any old insurance plan works for me, because I rarely use it. As long as I visit a chiropractor every six or seven weeks or so, I have no health issues. I could save a lot of money by declining coverage entirely and just paying the chiropractor out of pocket.

But my wife has to go to the doctor more often. So does my son. Me paying into the system and getting next to nothing out of it covers for them, who pay into the system and take back out a much higher percentage of what they paid in.

The only companies who aren’t jealous of health insurance companies’ profits are the oil companies. Since 2000, their profits are up more than 400 percent. But year after year, more and more people find it harder to get health coverage.

The system has a good racket going, frankly. Food companies sell poisonous food to the unwitting (or apathetic) masses. The masses get sick and have to go to the doctor more. Doctors give them pills for their problems, but the problems get worse because they keep eating poisonous food. Eventually they develop diabetes or cancer, at which point the insurance company can cut off coverage.

Everyone makes lots of money in the meantime. Except for the consumer-turned-patient, who pays out more and more every year, then eventually ends up with a chronic and painful disease.

I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. Not at all. The free market just found something that works really well for the people in power. It’s a beautiful system–for those who benefit.

Unfortunately that same system hurts people. I live with two people it hurts. And the system killed my dad.

Sometimes the market needs a referee. That referee is called regulation. And since the Republican Party isn’t willing to regulate, I voted for a Democrat that I knew would press the issue.

Actually what I expected was for Obama and the Democrats to push some kind of socialized medicine, and Republicans to counter with something like the German system, which is all private but highly regulated. You don’t hear much about the German system, mostly because it works pretty well.

That’s what I favor.

Some people may wonder why I care, since I have good coverage now. But if you think the plan I have will last forever, you’re smoking crack. Eventually the plan will get too expensive. Or the company could get bought out, or it could lose the contract I’m on. There are any number of things that could put me right back where I was a couple of months ago.

I’d much rather fix the system. I might need it someday, but not only that, I actually have a soul, and I’m tired of seeing other people suffering.

If that makes me a moderate rather than a conservative, so be it. If it means I’m no longer a Republican, well, some things are more important than labels and party affiliations.

Living without electricity for five days

On July 19, a fierce storm pounded St. Louis. At around 7 pm, the power flickered, then it went out. The sky looked threatening and the winds were relentless, so my wife and I gathered up flashlights and a portable radio and headed for the basement.

What happened next wasn’t at all what we were expecting.First, let me emphasize that this was nothing compared to what happened to the Atlantic Gulf Coast last summer. It was maddening and inconvenient, but at least it pretty much ended at that. With that aside, let’s get on with the story.

For whatever reason, the portable radio was already tuned to 1120 AM, which was KMOX. I knew KMOX would interrupt whatever they had going on to cover this. At first I heard good news. The worst was to our east. I learned in the fourth grade that weather moves from west to east, so this was just a typical midwestern thunderstorm that would blow over in about 20 minutes, and then the utilities would send workers out, and we’d probably have power back in an hour or two.

But this wasn’t a typical thunderstorm. This storm did the opposite of what typical weather does and it moved southeast. One minute, the worst was to the east of us. The next minute, they were saying a tornado touched down at Jefferson Barracks. That’s only a few miles away.

It seemed like a couple of hours passed, but it probably was closer to 45 minutes before the storm let up. We could hear pinging on the gutters. Hail? The thunder and lighting was spectacular–not in the good way–and the sky was an eerie color. There wasn’t much rain, but there was more than enough of everything else to make up for it.

Finally the storm moved to the south of us and fizzled out. We took our flashlights and cell phones and the radio upstairs. It was cooler in the unfinished basement, but there really wasn’t anyplace to sleep down there. The living room, being on a sunken slab foundation that was added to the house later, is always a bit cooler than the rest of the house, so we’d sleep there that night.

The radio kept giving updates on power losses. The numbers kept getting higher. All in all, nearly 400,000 homes lost power that night.

The Gatermanns called that night to ask if we’d lost power. My wife said we had. They invited us to stay with them. I was already asleep; otherwise, we probably would have taken them up on the offer.

I had to work the next morning, so our first full day without power impacted my wife more than it impacted me. She said she’d run a few errands once it got hot, then find a library that was open and go there and read to stay out of the heat.

Before I left, I called over to the office to make sure it was still there. The preliminary reports were that the Illinois side, where I work, was hit harder. Some of my coworkers had lost power, but the office was still in good shape. So I headed out, but not before I opened the fridge to try to salvage a few things. My wife’s insulin was still cool, so I grabbed it. There was a fridge at work, so I figured I might as well use it.

As I drove to work, I got my first real glimpse of the damage. There were tree limbs everywhere. Some were small, but some were huge. Then I saw a utility pole snapped in two. The top part was hanging by what was left of the wire. I saw some orange cones on the ground. It was keeping people away from another downed wire.

As I drove home that night, I meant to go home a different way to avoid the area with the snapped utility pole. But of course I forgot. The pole was still hanging by that thread of a wire. The cones were gone. I saw the wire still on the ground. I could imagine the scene behind that story: "Bobby, go move those cones so I can back out my pickup and go sell some propane. Try to stay away from the sparks coming off that wire."

When I got home, my wife was there and electricity wasn’t. We gathered up a handful of things and headed off to the Gatermanns’. They welcomed us in, and even took us to dinner. There was damage in their neighborhood too, but not everyone had lost power. They were one of the homes that hadn’t.

At the restaurant, people were complaining that there was no ice. The manager explained they were out of ice and trying to get more, but all of the ice suppliers in the city were sold out. That was fine by me. Using ice just to keep my drink cold seemed wasteful when there were more important uses for a scarce commodity that night.

The next morning, we drove back home so I could get ready for work. My wife was going to tackle the freezer and the fridge. She’d just filled both earlier in the week because there were some good sales. It was a shame to lose it. It could have been worse, I said. I repeated it to myself too. It could have been worse.

That night, there was another storm. This one hit the parts of St. Louis the other storm hadn’t hit so hard. Another couple hundred thousand people lost power, including the mayor of St. Louis.

My wife actually stayed around the house quite a bit. It was hard for her to leave home. We ate out, of course, because preparing food without electricity is difficult. Finally on Saturday I remembered we had a gas range. I turned on the burner, lit a match, and ignited it. We could cook! So we went to the store, bought about a meal’s worth of stuff. It was a simple meal, but it was one we made at home. Eating out every day gets old really fast.

We got used to hearing the sound of our neighbors’ generators. By the time I thought about getting one, our food had spoiled, so there wasn’t a lot of point. We worked in the yard a bit, clearing the damage. We’d been told to drag our downed limbs to the curb, and the county would come pick them up. I dragged five huge limbs from the back yard up to the curb. All of them were taller than me.

There’s not a lot to do without electricity, so we read an awful lot. As the daylight faded, we lit candles to help out. We gathered every candle in the house up and set them in the living room. Usually it let us read for another 30-40 minutes.

The biggest adventure was the stoplights. St. Louisans don’t really seem to know what to do when confronted with a red light (most people seem to think they have a grace period, kind of like credit cards), but when a signal is completely out, it can be very dangerous. About two miles from us there’s a major intersection that had its lights out, and every time we drove past, there was at least one smashed-in car at the intersection. We got used to hearing sirens. "Sounds like someone else ran the light," we’d say when we heard them.

When we had to go out, we avoided that intersection.

At about 3 a.m. on Monday morning, my wife got up to use the bathroom. She walked back in and flipped the light on and off in the living room in celebration. "What?" I asked as I woke up. It usually takes a while for things to set in when I first wake up. I’m known for that.

"It’s back on!" she said.

We closed up the windows, I turned the air conditioning back on, and crawled back into our real bed. Usually when I’m roused at 3 a.m., I don’t go back to sleep. But I didn’t have any trouble getting back to sleep that night. Sleeping in my own bed felt too good.

Visiting a movie sneak preview

I attended a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago of a movie that was released last week. The movie title isn’t terribly important–it was a ho-hum flick that no one will remember in six months–but the measures, well, they gave credence to a comment I made recently in a conversation.

When my girlfriend said the United States is a free country, I said that at least when it comes to copyright, it’s not.How ridiculous have things become? Let me tell you. There were four security guards as we stood in line. Cell phones, pagers, and all other recording devices had to be turned off. My girlfriend got special permission for her insulin pump. She had to tell them that no, she couldn’t do without it. Yes, really. Why? If something lights up, the thugs are instructed to assume it’s a recording device and evict you, no questions asked.

"Disney wants you to talk about this movie," the head thug said. "But Disney is equally concerned that nobody makes a copy of it."

Judging from the quality of the film, they’re more concerned about people copying their stuff than they are about making good new stuff. No wonder Disney’s in financial trouble. (The most frustrating thing about this particular film was that it probably could have been pretty good but it was blatantly obvious that the screenwriters didn’t know anything about the world they were trying to portray.)

Once we were seated, when someone came back from the concession stand, I so wanted to ask the person, "You sure there isn’t a recording device hidden in that hot dog?" But I couldn’t remember if they’d told us recording device jokes would not be tolerated–kind of like bomb jokes while standing in line to get on an airplane. I assumed they wouldn’t be tolerated and kept my mouth shut.

This totalitarian atmosphere has a lot to do with what’s wrong today with the music and movie industries. They love pay-per-view because they can control it. You have to fork over a few bucks every time you watch the movie. They’ve made two attempts at disposable DVDs because, again, their lifespan is limited. If you want to watch it again after the disc has self-destructed, you have to pay again.

You think they’re going after 321 Studios just because they don’t want people pirating DVDs? Think again. DVDs do have a finite lifespan, which does give you a legitimate reason to make a copy for your personal use. DVDXCopy is coded to only allow you to make a copy for personal use, though I suppose you could use it to make a copy of a borrowed or rented DVD. What you won’t see is people hawking DVDXCopy-made counterfeits out of the back of a van parked on a busy city street. But that’s OK. Hollywood doesn’t want you to make a copy of your Field of Dreams DVD because they want you to buy another one in six or seven years.

The way the big movie studios got big was by making great films that people wanted to see again and again. Along the way they made lots of bombs too, but that was part of the cost of doing business. Some films took a while to be appreciated–It’s a Wonderful Life being a prime example. Even though now it’s considered a classic, it was initially a flop.

And there are plenty of good films still being made. Time will tell on Secondhand Lions, for instance, but I loved it.

Being a somewhat creative person myself, I can sympathize with these companies. Making something good is hard. Making something that sells is hard. Making something good that sells both today and tomorrow is just about impossible. Even when you have thousands of people working for you, you can’t count on accomplishing that feat even once a year. The factors are beyond your control.

When the goal is increasing profits, it’s much cheaper and easier to buy a few Congressmen and set up a totalitarian state. That’s something you can control.