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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Tell Me It Ain't So, Shoeless Joe Actuary

Unless you've been living in a cave the last few months, you probably have heard about a large rate increase Wellpoint (doing business under the "Anthem" name) had proposed for their Individual Health Insurance policies in California.

After several nationally televised presidential finger waggings, Wellpoint and California's Insurance Commissioner (none other than Governor's office hopeful Steve Poizner) agreed to engage a third party to review the actuarial justification for the increases. Dave Axene of Axene Health Partners was engaged.

The results of the review are best summed up in this USA Today Headline: Oops! .

The review determined the actuarial calculations used by Wellpoint to justify the rate increase introduced several errors that in total resulted in average increases about 10% higher than actuarially justified.

Prior to the release of the report, Anthem (really Wellpoint) announced that it is removing the rate increases, and will come back in a month or so with something that might be more coherent. Anthem's mouthpiece claimed that the overstuffed rate increase was due to "mathematical error".

In other words, we are asked to believe this was simply an honest mistake. Certainly an esteemed and universally loved corporation would not file excessive rates with the hope that their screwy math underlying the rates would never be scrutinized.

There is no way of knowing how these "errors", which would have conveniently worked to lard up premiums and Wellpoint's treasury by millions, occured. Given no other evidence, I must presume this is an honest mistake made by well meaning actuaries. It is very hard to believe that.

Please, Shoeless Joe Actuary, please tell me it ain't so.

Wellpoint employs over 160 accredited actuaries. It would be unusual for a high exposure (i. e., big enough to raise public anger) rate increase to be proposed without several levels of peer review. I fail to see how this could have happened.

Poizner reports "state officials immediately suspected Anthem's original proposal was inaccurate, but company officials insisted it was not. However, the company agreed to the independent evaluation by outside experts". It seems unbelievably stupid that someone wouldn't have taken a close look at this mess, knowing that in short time, all would be revealed.

This doesn't smell so good.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Please Ye All and. . .

If this article from a questionable source holds true, we may have seen the first unintended consequence of the recent Federal Health Care Legislation (OK, I agree,it's really just Health Insurance legislation).

The article smugly claims the legislation requires new congress persons and congressional employees find their health insurance through the exchanges, rather than through the Federal Employees program. Too bad for the newbies - the exchanges won't exist for few years.

This appears to be a technical glitch written into the law during the the negotiation and last minute rush (i. e., abandoning common sense principals while pandering to google-eyed gun-totin' flat-earth conservatives).

Of course, congressional staff will be quick to fix this glitch. I am sure there will be other glitches, and we'll see how legislative oopsies that only hurt folks wothout inside the beltway influence get resolved. My advice - don't hold your breath.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How IBM Saved The World. . .Not

In case you were busy with other things in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you might like this short video from IBM.

If you ever wondered how Apple and Microsoft were able to conquer IBM's old empire and divide it among themselves in less than a decade, This 1977 IBM commercial might give you a hint.

The beauty of this is that IBM really believed they had the answer. They stopped working on intensely on smaller computer technology for several years because they were sure they had had already solved that problem. This video presents IBM's sure-thing solution, rolled out in 1977. This was the "one big thing" that would make IBM's rapidly developing smaller competitors irrelevant.

Today's question; What problems of today are we sure we have solved with the "one big thing"? How brilliant will our silver bullet solutions look in 30 years? Should we seek and weigh other potential solutions?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why I'm Really Glad I Don't Watch TV

Or, How to Spend 150 Million Bucks and Not Run Away With an Election.

Billionaire meg Whitman has been reported to have spent $150 Million, (yes, that's $150,000,000) in her attempt to buy the office of the Governor of California.

This is insane for a minority Republican party primary race against Steve Poizner, another billionaire.

People who watch TV in California are well aware of this, since a typical weeknight evening TV viewer is now being treated to no less than 30 of her tasteful and charming ads, like this one. I have never been more glad I'm not one of them.

Acknowledging that Whitman has no substantial agenda to offer, I still can't believe what cheesy ads her campaign cranks out. All the money must be going for hooker and Bondage live "sex" shows for her campaign managers (aw,shucks, Republicans would never do that, or would they?)

What is interesting in the design of these ads is that Whitman's face rarely appears in her ads. Being raised properly by my momma, I will not speculate as to why this might be.

In response to this ad blitz, competing Republican billionaire Steve Poizner has come up many millions with of ads, but nothing compared to Whitman's ad blitz:

This ad really encapsulates the surreality of all this. "I know what's good for you, but, hey, don't take it form me, listen to the singing fish."

No need to worry about Republican billionaires taking over the world, now that the Self Appointed Guardians of We Common Folks have come to the rescue with their own TV ads. Actually, this is my favorite of all the campaign ads I've seen.

Maybe once Jerry Brown, the presumptive Democratic candidate stops rolling on the floor laughing, he can get his act in gear by signing Jello Biafra. Schwarzenegger might be married to a live Kennedy, but in my book, that doesn't even hold a candle to having a Dead Kennedy song about you.

I say,

Gerry for Governor, CALIFORNIA UBER ALIS!

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hangininsac 2.2

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have changed the blog's layout to promote easier reading and access to the awesome content.

Some Government computers users report they don't see a list of recent posts directly below the search bar. If you don't see clickable list of recent posts, please let me know and I will figure it out.

Youtube's recent change to a wide screen format made it difficult to fit some embedded videos in the postings column of the old layout. I wasn't terribly attached to the old layout, since millions of other bloggers and blogbots have also taken the path of least resistance and copied the same layout from Blogger. I changed to a plainer layout that gives the full screen's width to content. Once blogger comes up with some prettier templates that fit youtube's format changes, I may change the look again. Sometimes a guy just wants his blog to look pretty.

I added a Google Search and a click-through list of recent posts. Please rest assured I am not using the Google Search to monetize the blog. It's only there for your convenience. If I had an account with Adsense, I probably would have made about three cents by now. Contrary to what you hear, there really isn't a lot of money to be made this way. From looking at postings in Adsense's forums, a blog with a few thousand readers per day and an optimal ad-clicking rate will yield about $10 to $30 per day. We're not talking big bucks here. Even celebrity megablogger Wil Wheaton has given upon running ads for anything besides his own self-published books. If Wesley Crusher can't,what hope is there for the rest of us mere mortals?

In this vein, Tom Tomorrow's recent cartoon applies here.

Anyway, if your heart cries for the previous layout, respond with your complaints, hopefully expressed in the most demeaning language possible (after all,this is the Internet).

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Soviet Cartoons Meet Ray Bradbury

I have always liked the dark and surreal art from the later years of the Soviet Union. This cartoon rendering of Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains is a great example. Here you can see enough angst to fill all the buckets in my neighborhood, and more. This cartoon is hideously creepy, but I couldn't stop watching. No one has ever done creepy like the Good Old Evil Empire.

In the 1980s,it was trendy for Soviet cartoon studios to do American Science Fiction short stories. Rhizome, an avant garde blog from New York's New Museum has posted a collection of these cartoons.

Enjoy the cartoon...and sweet dreams.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dangers of Spellcheckers, Again

I shrugged off Brigham Young University's Previous spellcheck snafu, thinking that these were college students in white socks writing a daily for the most boring institution of higher education in the universe, between eating mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread and saving the souls of the dead.

Well, I was wrong again. It looks like no one at the Penguin Publishing Group
checks what comes out of automated spell check programs. Looks like someone missed "salt and freshly ground black people" in a cookbook recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto.

How could anyone have "spelt" tagliatelle and missed "pepper" in favor of "people"? Are ground black people higher in cholesterol than ground Asians? Only Jeffrey Dahmer's preserved brain knows for sure.

That' s my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May/June Issue Review

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) sent me an advance copy of the May/June issue for review on Hangininsac. These days, everybody wants to jump on the blog bandwagon, mostly because on the content – selling planet, there aren’t a lot of wagons that haven’t lost their wheels. Since I have read this magazine for about 20 years, I deigned to review the magazine for special release in Hangininsac.

This magazine has serious status in the geek world. While I was reading, I made every excuse I could to locate myself in geek oriented coffee shops. I shamelessly waved the issue around, until someone mentioned I had a copy they hadn’t seen. What greater pleasure can there be than saying, Oh, this little thing, it’s an advance copy. The editorial staff asked me to look it over. I smiled as I silently thought, I am somebody, dammit!

Since F&SF changed from eleven to six issues per year, the issues have gotten pretty hefty. The May June issue weighs in at a hefty 254 pages, not including classified ads and contest results. This magazine is not for literary wimps. It takes a while to read. Unlike some F&SF diehards who stay up all night so they can be first to comment on the F&SF website’s discussion forum, I usually leisurely savor each bi-monthly issue over a week or two’s bedtime reading.

This time was different. Since I had promised my review to none other than someone who put the initials ag/gvg at the end of an email, I knew I had to turn my review around in a reasonable amount of time. Reading three novelets and eight short stories over a couple of days was a new and refreshingly intense experience. I have gained a new respect for the world's slushpile miners.

Even condensed into two days, this issue was enjoyable to read. As I worked through the issue from beginning to end, I found the stories to be better and better. The Crocodiles, the last story in the issue, was my favorite. Steven Popkes put a new twist into the alternate history genre; alternate history, now with zombies! The story follows the life of a German scientist working on secret weapons development during World War II. Rather than working with heavy water, the Reich develops a disturbing and macabre recipe for zombies. You’ll need to get the magazine to find out how they do it, and what happens next. This story was so evil that I felt guilty for enjoying it so much. Funny, I feel the same way when I watch South Park.

Seven Sins for Seven Dwarfs retells the old Snow White story with a more clear explanation of the dwarfs added. After all, if they were such great miners, where were the riches in gold and gems? What did they keep in their seven locked chests at the feet of seven identical beds? Why did they sing and work all the time?

Dr Death and the Almost Superheroes tells the story of a person with superhero powers who didn’t quite cut it as a superhero. Dr Death lives the life of a vagrant, traveling from city to city by bus, using his superpowers to alleviate human suffering in his own unique way. As a bonus, this story provides an impressionistic but gritty view of contemporary bus travel in America. It makes dealing with the TSA seem almost bearable by comparison.

The Remotest Mansions of the Blood is set in a remote Latin American village where reality and magic collide. Alex Irvine adds a self-centered middle aged American man obsessed with one of the village’s younger women. This recipe yields an improbable and memorable stew of John Updike and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Real Martian Chronicles is a rich gift from the late John Sladeck’s papers. Sladeck gave us mundane diary entries from the prosaic father of a mediocre mid – twentieth century British suburban family living through their first week at a Martian colony. The fist entry documents tea sets broken in transit, and suburban life on Mars goes downhill from there. This short story is a great work of satire.

In addition to these tales, this issue includes stories of chaste teenage romance in a small town overshadowed by magic in the local woods, further adventures of Fred Chapelle’s shadow thieves, the relationship between a young boy and his artificial intelligence (AI) controlled toy system, lifelong sisterhood embodied in works of art, and a foundling’s love for a Goddess.

I have subscribed to F&SF for longer than I have had any other periodical publication. It’s the familiarity yet freshness of the stories that keeps me waiting for the next issue to fall in my mailbox.

What makes this magazine stand out in the genre is that, in some small but important way, each story departs from the formula. Almost all the stories follow familiar fantasy or science fiction formulas. Several time-tested formulas, including rube becomes wizard’s assistant, families colonize Mars, and South American magical realism appear in this issue. However, every story throws a down and outside curveball into the formula. Whether it’s throwing a John Updike character into a magical realism village, or dwarfs with deep, dark secrets, I never know what to expect from each new story. That’s what keeps me waiting for the next issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Interstate Germ Warfare...So It Begins

Disturbing news has reached the Hangininsac strategic defense bunker.

The Wisconsin State Legislature has passed a resolution naming lactococcus lactis the official State microbe. Lactococcus lactis is the major germ involved in cheese production.

This is a thinly veiled attack against the Free and Flat Broke People's Republic of California, America's greatest producer of cheese and stupid commercials with talking cows who love living in family farms that never existed in California. As an aside, this is how California cows live. Ignore the small man behind the curtain, I am the Great Oz.

California needs to get over its legislative impasse and gets its own microbe before all the coolest bugs get taken by more agile and market-competitive states. C'mon folks,this is not entertaining anymore.

If California's elected representatives hesitate, we may get stuck with something like neisseria gonorrhoeae. And just in time for prom season. That would be embarrassing.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Harry Potter and The Party of Nasty

J K Rowling has taken on the the Britain's Nasty party, known as the Conservative party to the ignorant. She wrote a guest editorial in The Times, drawing from her personal history as one of Britain's poor, and later one of Britain's most wealthy, to give us a scathing and insightful reminder of what the Nasty party is all about.

This is definitely worth a read, both for how well she retells her personal story and describes the twisted social paradigms that form the bulwark of what passes for thought among British conservatives.

Just a small quote from her editorial;

"Suggestions that Mr Cameron seems oblivious to how poor people actually live, think and behave seem to provoke accusations of class warfare. Let me therefore state, for the record, that I do not think it any more his fault that he spent his adolescence in the white tie and tails of Eton than that I spent the almost identical period in the ghastly brown-and-yellow stylings of Wyedean Comprehensive. I simply want to know that aspiring prime ministers have taken the trouble to educate themselves about the lives of all kinds of Britons, not only the sort that send messages with banknotes. "

I have rarely seen a brief paragraph convey so much deep understanding about what Britain is all about. Unfortunately, I'm afraid these observations apply equally well to the U. S.

When I lived in Suburban London in 1992,, I experienced a National Election through the interpretation of the drunks who attended my pub. that was not a placid election. Britain was just getting over recent Pole tax riots. Sometimes,in those days, i had wondered how life would've been if the rioters had taken over the country.

I can't remember whether it was Franklin or Addams, of the fictional Nathan Harris who put it so well, "The Tories are full of it".

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

KFC Double Down Update

As threatened, KFC released the Double down on the general public yesterday.

I have news updates for all you Hangininsac bacon cheese chickenistas out there:

Update Number 1:

I will probably never eat one of these (probably would make me spew), so we need to rely on other culinary experts' reviews.

Who would be better than the staff of everybody's favorate NPR quiz show,Wait Wait Don'tTell Me.

A summary of WWD's review:

The sandwich was pretty good, but they mourn the death of bread. "It's lonely without bread,it's a lonely sandwich."

"It's really a triumph of nature. When they're alive, a chicken never gets to have a pork inside of it."

"I shouldn't be typing while eating this. My keyboard is really shiny."

Update Number 2:What KFC Doesn't want you to know

The nutrition guide on KFC's website lists the double down (standard model with fried breasts)at 540 calories.

However, the same document lists fried original recipe breasts at 320 calories each.

I smell a great big Kentucky Fried rat here.

I suspect the double down doesn't really provide all the goodness of two KFC fried breasts. Alas. Or else, the Colonel's telling whoppers. If we can't trust the Colonel,who can we trust?

We have:

two fried breasts = 640 calories

Double down (standard fried model)= 540 calories

Since the double down has two fried breasts, bacon and cheese, this doesn't seem possible. I suspect the bread-replacement items here are really each paltry wimpy pantywaist princess cut half breasts, not virile, manly finger lickin' good whole breasts (BTW, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, get over it).

That's just not right, this is not a wholesome southern and midwestern sandwich.

If you're still famished after the wimpy double down, I recommend KFC's sides, especially the mashed taters and cole slaw.

Update Number 3:

For those of you sheeple who don't fear the Colonel's hegemony, let your own eyes and the British press inform you.

Here's the Colonel leading his multinational evil minions in his lair, known to the rest of us as the United Nations General Assembly.

Looks pretty good for a dead guy,eh?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Those Who Don't Do Anything Become Critics

I, the Hangin Guy, have been asked by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction to write a pre-release review of their next issue. My advance copy should arrive in the mail next week. (Aside to loyal reader Lola; Thats right, I'll have the issue weeks before you get it.)

At this point, I'm not sure what will be in the issue, but since F&SF stole my identity in their December 2009 issue, they deserve whatever I give them.

The review will be published right here in hangininsac, as the dinosaurs who still live in the world of print believe that if anything related to their products flow through enough "channels" connected to the magical interwebs, the Web 2.0 fairy will wave his digital wand and publishing will actually pay forever. It'll be just like those golden days, before the evil usurper, Lord Internet, invaded the Happy Kingdom. Doubtful, but I wish it would work as much as the next guy.

I would like to say that I finally agreed to do this after incessent grovelling and begging from Gordon van Gelder, F&SF's editor. As much as I would like to say that, honesty dictates I tell the truth. I responded to a "request for bloggers" F&SF posted on their Facebook page, and in return received a brisk email, probably written by a student intern during his 10 minute daily escape from the slushpile.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Oh Yeah! Finally Corporate America Gives Us Something We Need

Although I can't find it directly on KFC's orPETA's website,the news is everywhere!

It must be official! After months of keeping us waiting, KFC has announced it will begin national distribution of the long awaited and thoroughly test-marketed Double Down Sandwich. It's in universally respected The New York Daily News, so it must be true.

Why the big deal about another KFC sandwich, you ask?

Well, buckaroo, I'll tell you. This is no ordinary sandwich. The Colonel has redesigned the boring old British bacon sandwich to perfection. Why settle for boring old buttered bread, when you can have two fried chicken fillets to surround and lovingly hold together your bacon and two kinds of melted cheese. And, if that's not enough, for only $6.99, you can get the Double Down Sandwich Combo, with Fries and soda.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are seeing history being made. I predict this will be the first time in the history of fast food that the Federal Government will require a barf bag be provided with every serving.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Meet The New Boss

This short piece is too good not to share.

This illustrates a dilemma in Science Fiction, both for readers and writers.

Alas, there hasn't been much new and radical in the SciFi field for a generation.The last new big thing was cyberpunk. Unfortunately, cyberpunk is no longer Science Fiction, since we live that dystopic reality every day.

This video is difficult to explain, so I'll quote the producer:

"A remix of Apple's famous 1984 video ushering in the age of the Macintosh with clips from WWDC and other announcements made by CEO Steve Jobs that draws a parallel between the dystopian computer manufactures of the future Apple promised to prevent and the monopolistic vertically integrated Apple that exists in the present."

Perhaps quoting with decent sentence structure will explain it better, perhaps not.

"A remix of Apple's famous 1984 video ushering in the age of the Macintosh with clips from WWDC and other announcements made by CEO Steve Jobs. This mash up draws a parallel between the dystopian computer manufacturers of the future Apple, in the 1980s, promised to prevent, and the monopolistic vertically integrated Apple that exists in the present."

I have to be fair to Apple here. Apple, along with Microsoft, was successful in tearing down the Evil Empire that was IBM. When I started out in the Insurance Industry in 1983, we were all slaves to IBM. It sucked even worse than Microsoft.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Clarinet will Inherit the Earth

One more April Fools' Day gag:

Beware the power of the green Clarinet!

This is one of the funniest comedy skits I've seen in years.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Octopus Tempura

Unfortunately,this is not an April Fools Day Joke.

It's been said that some days you get a shit sandwich. I guess some days you might also get an Octopus Tempura.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The Best April Fools Day Stunt Ever

In 1957, still in its infancy, BBC television pulled off the best April Fools stunt ever, and I mean ever.

This has never been equalled in all these years. The BBC servers are crashing today, probably from people wanting to see this video. Therefore, I bring you an unauthorized copy hosted on Youtube.

The premise underlying all this is that in 1957, the average British citizen viewed Switzerland to be about as remote as anywhere else inthe world. It's amazing what fifty years of trans-European integration have wrought. Now when it's time for 'olidays, British hike in the Italian Apennines, sipping wine with their tripe and bean dinners, while Italians walk in the British Pennines, swilling English beer and gulping down cold porkpies.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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