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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in astgtciv's LiveJournal:

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    Sunday, July 10th, 2011
    5:43 pm
    Medical Costs (continued)
    As yet another follow-up on fraudulent medical costs. *

    Here are two tables of medical costs.   The first is the itemized bill I referred to in my last post.   The second is a more recent large bill from a hospital.   The first column in the tables is the amount charged for that item on the bill.   The second column is how much they were contractually allowed to charge (by the insurance company).   The third column is an extra profit calculation, based on the assumption that the allowed charge is a fair market rate.   I just subtracted the allowed amount from the original charged amount, divided the difference by the allowed amount, and then converted to a percentage.

    It is easy to see that Labcorp drastically inflated the cost of every procedure.   By comparison, the 'insurance discount' for the hospital bill is both small and very consistent.

    Table 1. Labcorp bill.
    Charged Allowed % extra profit
    $310.00 $43.70 609.38
    $165.40 $19.27 758.33
    $116.36 $13.81 742.58
    $37.83 $4.49 742.54
    $114.00 $13.53 742.57
    $104.15 $12.36 742.64
    $115.69 $13.73 742.61
    $133.05 $15.79 742.62
    $111.64 $13.25 742.57
    $92.10 $10.93 742.63
    $38.51 $4.57 742.67
    $294.92 $35.00 742.63
    $339.27 $22.17 1430.31
    $489.72 $58.12 742.6
    $115.53 $13.71 742.67
    $803.77 $95.75 739.45
    $115.53 $13.71 742.67
    $115.53 $13.71 742.67
    $153.23 $20.63 642.75
    $46.77 $6.30 642.38
    $169.00 $15.67 978.49
    $199.00 $10.93 1720.68
    $91.00 $16.45 453.19
    $130.00 $16.45 690.27
    $23.00 $2.45 838.78

    Table 2. Hospital bill
    Charged Allowed % extra profit
    $3,435.00 $3,359.43 2.25
    $192.03 $187.81 2.25
    $683.88 $668.84 2.25
    $77.75 $76.04 2.25
    $24.34 $23.81 2.23
    $14.16 $13.85 2.24
    $49.55 $48.46 2.25
    $53.07 $51.91 2.23
    $793.03 $775.59 2.25
    $3,123.96 $3,055.24 2.25
    $292.88 $286.44 2.25
    $292.87 $286.43 2.25

    * Before I was hesitant to call it fraud outright, but I'm now convinced that it is clearly fraud in spirit, even if not by the letter of the law.
    Sunday, June 5th, 2011
    1:13 pm
    Global Warming vs Global Cooling
          In political discussions on global warming, it is common to see people citing how wrong scientists were about global cooling back in the 1970s.   As an easy infographic, here are charts from Google Ngram Viewer showing the trend for the phrases "global warming" and "global cooling" in books over time.   The first chart shows the full time period from 1920 through the present.   The second chart shows just 1920-1985, so that the vertical axis is more clear.

    It seems clear that the idea of global cooling never had the popularity of global warming.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Sunday, November 7th, 2010
    11:30 am
    Costs of modern medicine: huge discounts standard?
    Long ago (protected entry), I wrote about my health insurance company pre-negotiating an over 50% discount on a medical procedure.   (I linked to this story about Republicans in the Senate blocking Medicare from doing such negotiation on drug prices.)

    Now, the 50+% discount seems tame.   I just paid a medical bill where the insurance company had pre-negotiated an 89% discount.   Seriously: 89% off before they paid anything.   (They paid 42% of the remaining bill.)   Now, given that they would be willing to pre-agree to an 89% discount, what was the real cost of the health service?   (The 89% was a weighted average for the bill, so some parts were even more deeply discounted.)

    More important than the percentage, though, is the amount.   The original bill was for over $4,400.   And this was for a relatively standard set of lab tests ordered on a healthy patient as part of a well check.   $4,400 worth of lab tests with no discussion of cost from the doctor's office, because they were standard procedure, and not one of the various optional tests discussed.

    Current Mood: thoughtful
    Wednesday, October 20th, 2010
    8:03 pm
    Quote of the Day: Building because you like building
    "[T]hey just can't wrap their head around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things." — Mark Zuckerberg

    It seems strange to say this about Hollywood, which should be full of people (writers, directors, actors, musicians) who do stuff because they like doing it.   It makes me wonder who is responsible for that take on things in the movie (which I haven't seen).   But, I deal with people on a daily basis who can't believe that I like doing many aspects of my job (math, data analysis, debating, etc).   They just can't wrap their head around the idea.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Monday, April 5th, 2010
    7:58 pm
    Dear TransUnion: Stop lying
    Dear TransUnion,
          Considering your (legally recognized and protected) status as a credit reporting agency, it is disturbing to receive a letter from you that starts out with a big lie.   I recognize both that the letter in question is a form letter and that the language was almost certainly given a pass by your legal department, but I must still demand you change it.
          Ignoring the meaningless customer support niceties, the first sentence in your letter to me reads, "Based on the information you provided, we are unable to locate a credit report for you."   This is a lie.   I know that because I called and talked with a representative on the phone, and he had no trouble finding my credit report.   Additionally, your website says that it can locate my report just fine.   Both your website and customer service representative said straight out that the problem was an insufficient ability to identify me as the person the credit report is about; why must your letter claim to not find it instead?
          Two additional comments: first, I received an equivalent letter from Equifax that was direct and honest as to the problem with getting my credit report.   Second, your website was actually the only one of the three to correctly identify the problem in the first place.   Both Equifax's and Experian's websites gave uninformative error messages.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Tuesday, March 30th, 2010
    7:47 pm
    News story vs Chart: States going backrupt
          This morning, the NY Times had an article about state debt problems.   The article was accompanied by a handy graph.   However, it appears the article writer never saw the graphic. Read more...Collapse )

    Current Mood: amused
    Saturday, January 30th, 2010
    8:16 pm
    Maryland DMV/MVA: Requesting the rules
    Today I was at the DMV (called MVA here in Maryland) to get a driver's license.   It was our second trip.   I presented six different proofs-of-address, but they only accepted one and required two, so no license.   They claimed my utility bill wasn't a utility bill.   (It didn't show "activity", just my initial deposit.)   They didn't accept another letter from the utility company (not bill or anything else).   The copy of my rental contract that I had with me had a typo, and they said they could only cared about the first page of the rental contract, so it being correct in the rest of the contract wouldn't matter.   They wouldn't accept an addendum to the contract, because it lists the purpose as name change and is just an addendum, anyway.   I presented two pieces of mail from two different federal government agencies (from two very different return addresses).   I was told that the two proofs could not be from the same bullet point on their list.   (The text on the actual list is, "may not be from the same business, company or agency".)   I have sent an e-mail to the Maryland DMV/MVA customer service address requesting a copy of the actual rules, given that the listed rules are obviously incomplete.
    Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
    12:19 pm
    Being Invisible Update: Not enough credit history to see credit history
          So, long ago I wrote of being invisible, with respect to credit reports.   Since then, I've gotten a credit card (which is a story unto itself, told briefly below), so I have a credit history.   On my TODO list for a while has been checking my credit history at one of the three credit report aggregators.   I know I've checked at least one (and probably all three) before, but can't remember which and when.   So, I started with the first.   It said it couldn't identify me.   I tried the second.   It just said error, try again later.   The third was most specific, saying there wasn't enough in my credit history for it to identify me and to call in.   So, I did so.   After pulling up my account, the first question I was asked was for a previous address.   I confirmed that they list the address that I've lived in since 1986 as my current address.   The representative implied that there wasn't actually any other address listed.   (Which makes the question weird.)   He then says there isn't even enough information there to identify me over the phone, so I should fax them ID + a utility bill.   I ask about e-mailing, but he says no [1].   (Fax? Who uses obsolete faxes?)   Now, I have never had a utility bill in my name, at any address.   I'm currently awaiting their response to a faxed copy of my ID.
          Credit card: after much procrastination, I finally applied for a credit card (late spring/early summer of 2009).   I applied through my bank, and got a call saying they couldn't give me a card, because I had no credit history.   I pointed out that I had a account with the bank with a great deal of money in it, but was told that it was a VISA rule.   Oh, well.   Unexpectedly, I later got a notification that the person I talked with had made a special request to someone higher up and gotten an exception.

    [1] So, before faxing sensitive information to a phone number, I did a quick search on it.   One of the first hits I got was this discussion, which has both the fax number and an e-mail address to send a scanned image to.   So the representative was wrong on that.

    Edit:Minor formatting

    Current Mood: Amused/Annoyed
    Saturday, January 2nd, 2010
    11:21 am
    Continued: Internet: Good news/Bad news
          So, I decided to make another try and tried Comcast's live chat.   I was told to go into the local Comcast office, which was closed at the time (too late at night) and the next day (yesterday, due to the holiday).   Problematically, I was told I'd need authorization from the previous account holder, details to be determined by the local office.   I went in this morning and found a rather long line.   The woman I talked with understood the issue very quickly, but took a long time to do whatever setup they required.   She never asked for proof of address or who the previous account/connection holder was.   (However, part of that may have been because my account was already in the system, listed as "Pending".)   She said I'd still have to call in and give them my modem serial number, otherwise it would stop working.   After calling and the message saying that the wait time would be ~30 minutes, I tried the live chat again.   It took a while (and I'm very suspicious that they have a combination of AI and human doing the responses), but it appears to have worked.
          Note one: I wonder about their architecture, such that I could plug the cable modem in and have it immediately work, but I have to tell them the serial number (and MAC address) manually.   I can guess that they have it set to allow an unrecognized modem to work on a valid port for a limited duration for ease of setup.   But why can they not pull the information they need from it as plugged in?   Is it just confirmation?   And do they actually need the serial number if it is my equipment, or just the MAC address?
          Note two: I got the impression that the live chat is done with each human doing many chats at once, with some type of chatbot for support.   However, it could just be done with aliases/triggers, like are common in text-based MUDs.

    Current Mood: Accomplished
    Thursday, December 31st, 2009
    6:32 pm
    Internet: Good news/Bad news
          I've just moved, and so I'm dealing with fun things like utilities.   Good news: I currently have real internet access (high-speed cable through Comcast).   Bad news: they want to turn it off and then wait a few days to send somebody to turn it back on.
          Unfortunately, I made the mistake of calling before I'd tested things fully, and so I got an appointment for them sending somebody out to turn on things on.   I tried asking the representative if they could do it remotely, but she said no.   Except, then I found that it was actually still turned on!   There was a problem with the DNS, but I got OpenDNS set up (logging into a server I knew the IP of).   So I call them back to cancel the appointment.   The new representative (after first being sent to billing) said they still had to send somebody out to make sure everything was working.   When I told her that was unnecessary, she insisted that they still had to send somebody out, because my current service was going to be turned off today or tomorrow (end of the month; makes sense).   Easy enough to deal with: cancel the turning off the service and just transfer it to my name (which I actually had originally asked).   She said no, basically saying the turn-off couldn't be cancelled.   I also asked about setting up my account over the telephone, and was told the representative would handle the paperwork when he came.   Except, that means I have to be here; they gave me 3 hour windows for the appointment, so unless the person is early, it will mess up my workday.   I don't know if that will be a problem or not yet.
          So, currently I'm debating calling again.   I know that such places often keep notes on callers (mine says I already have an appointment for internet installation; the automated system told me as soon as I called, and the (2nd) representative told me again), but I really don't believe them when they say they have to send somebody out.   And I expect them to charge a full activation fee, for wasting their time and mine.
    Edit:   Fixed timestamp.

    Current Mood: annoyed
    Saturday, December 12th, 2009
    6:18 pm
    School Update
    While I don't yet have the paper in hand (they mail it), I did walk across the stage.   So, I guess I'm officially Dr. Astgtciv now.

    Current Mood: Accomplished!
    Friday, December 4th, 2009
    7:24 am
    Quote of the Day: Defender of Medicare
    The Senate bill would impose "draconian cuts" on Medicare, says Senator John McCain, who proposed much deeper cuts just last year as part of his presidential campaign.Paul Krugman

    Current Mood: Normal
    Friday, November 20th, 2009
    8:42 pm
    Bush v Gore, Jay Bookman's blog, 2000 vs 2008
    After the Supreme Court ruled in "Bush v. Gore", the official count of ballots in Florida ended.   But the actual counting didn't.   The Associated Press and other news organizations sponsored a more complete recount.   The results showed that Gore received more votes.   Seriously.   Now, did you know that?   Did you know and forget?   Did you never hear it in the first place? Read more...Collapse )

    Current Mood: Normal
    Sunday, November 8th, 2009
    8:23 am
    Research vs classes at NCSU and Georgia Tech
    *** Draft: feedback welcomed ***
    Open letter to Georgia Tech
          I recently spent some time talking with a Computer Science professor at NC State University.   We contrasted the requirements for graduate students in her department with the requirements here at Georgia Tech's ECE department.   Three things stood out strongly to me.   First, they are only required to take 6 classes (18 hours).   By contrast, Georgia Tech's ECE department requires 43 hours.   Second, they do not have any type of comprehensive examine equivalent to our prelim exam.   The professor told me they used to, but the faculty voted against it, arguing that their graduate assistants were taking too much time studying for it; the faculty wanted them to use that time researching.   Third, the professor promised a (high school student) that she could get him his PhD in just 1 year, under the condition that he did research and wrote papers while he was an undergraduate.   I don't know if NCSU policy would normally forbid such a short PhD, but there are no time periods listed on their requirements.   Contrast that with a clearly specified 2 year minimum here.
          For verification, I checked for the requirements on NCSU's website.   It says:
    Ph.D. students normally complete 72 semester hours of post-baccalaureate course work. They must also complete at least two courses from each of the two core areas with at least a 3.5 GPA and two 700-level CSC courses, individualized in-depth written and oral preliminary examinations, and a public defense of their dissertation describing substantial, original, and independent scholarly work. -- Source
          Indeed, it only lists 6 courses required.   The 72 semester hour requirement includes research hours (see the requirements for a MS degree for confirmation of that).   Notice that both the written and oral prelim exams are "individualized in-depth": i.e. individualized to be about the student's research topic and research done so far.   Now, 72 semester hours would require 4 semesters, assuming a max of 21 hours per semester. However, three semesters is only 9 hours short, so maybe it would be possible to graduate in a single year given a full-credit summer and carrying over enough graduate credit from an undergraduate.
          So, Georgia Tech, I would like to say thank you for your sanity on this issue.   I'm sorry that NCSU has apparently fallen into the mistaken belief that research alone is an academic education.   It is not.   As a grad student here, I've taken 52 hours of classes.   With my graduation imminent, I wish that I'd taken more.   I learned a great deal during my research; I also learned a great deal while working as a teaching assistant.   But neither is a replacement for proper classes, with the forced breadth of topic.   A very important technique used in my PhD thesis came from a non-ECE class, taken to fulfill the PhD's minor requirement.   There is no minor requirement listed for CmpSci at NCSU.
          Georgia Tech is a major research institute.   But, I'm glad that it has not allowed its research focus to override its primary focus: education.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Monday, November 2nd, 2009
    9:56 pm
    Legal jargon
    When reading a legal contract, which is worse:
    1. Words that you don't know what they mean?
    2. Words that you know, but which are not used in way that you recognize?

    On the other hand, now if "purtenance" comes up in Balderdash, I'll be prepared.

    Current Mood: amused
    Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
    8:35 pm
    Science in the Media: CR diets and long life
          As an example of why I don't trust the media on science reporting, here is an article that is much better than usual, but still fails:  Tests Begin on Drugs That May Slow Aging.
    It may be the ultimate free lunch — how to reap all the advantages of a calorically restricted diet *, including freedom from disease and an extended healthy life span, without eating one fewer calorie. Just take a drug that tricks the body into thinking it's on such a diet.
          (A calorie restricted diet means one where the caloric intake is significantly below the normal (healthy) baseline. Think 1600 calories instead of 2000.)
          From this opening paragraph, I expected it to be a bad article.   Why?   Because there are no proven advantages of a calorically restricted diet in humans!   This issue is raised in the article, starting at the end of the 15th paragraph (so people who stop reading before then will miss it entirely).   And even then, I'm not happy with how it is presented, although my problem is with the feel more than the specifics.   The issue of calorie restriction in humans is very much one where we don't know the answer, because there is no good evidence in humans (either direction, that I'm aware of), and the best evidence in primates is both bad and ambiguous.   The article notes that the answer is unknown, but then presents the debate on calorie restriction in general, which is in terms of animal research, with a lot of discussion of compounds and genes.   As is common, the pro-side in this case has strong financial reasons to believe that calorie restriction (and drugs that mimic it) works in humans.   Financial conflicts of the skeptic side are not as apparent from the article.
          Another complaint:  the article mentions rapamycin, which has recently caught attention for providing a dramatic increase in lifespan in mice, even when it was given late in life.   Quite impressive.   However, the article fails to mention that rapamycin is already a prescription drug for humans; specifically, it is an immunosuppressant used to prevent rejection of transplanted organs.   Oops.   Taking an immunosuppressant long term doesn't sound like a good idea.
          Oh, so I called this a much better than usual example.   So what is a worse than usual example?   "In the week when the NHS is under attack from all sides in the US, The Guardian gave free advertising to Nuffield, for their unpublished published 'report', which nobody even read, in exchange for 370 words of content."

    Current Mood: Normal
    Thursday, July 16th, 2009
    9:18 pm
    Why Java is Sometimes Evil
          Virtually all of my programming for research is done in Java.   With a good programming environment (I use Eclipse), it is easy to program, with a huge standard library.   Cryptography, networking, database stuff, and much more is all standard.
          For my own projects, I tend to use C.   One reason is habit, one reason is the types of things I work on don't always work (well) in Java (for example, coding doing bit manipulation and requiring unsigned integers), and one reason is to avoid evil bugs like the following.
    public static void testJava(int num, int max) {
        Random rand = new Random(); // Random number generator
        List<Integer> list1 = new ArrayList<Integer>(num);
        Integer last = rand.nextInt(); // Random initial value

        /* Fill the array with random Integers */
        for (int j = 0; j < num; j++) list1.add(rand.nextInt(max));

        /* Walk through the list, comparing each element to the last */
        for (Integer i : list1) {
            if (last != i && last.equals(i)) System.out.println("Missed!");
            last = i;

          When called with a modest value for "num" (~50,000 is sufficient) and "max" >= 129, this will produce a few "Missed!" messages.   With "max" <= 128, it never produces any, even with "num" set much larger.   If the behavior was consistent, it would either produce "num" such messages (which a simple change to the program will indeed do) or no messages (if "==" and ".equals" acted the same).   The "Missed!" messages are produced because the JVM is caching the creation of Integers, with a cache of size 128.   In general, this is a good thing, because it improves performance.   However, as the above example shows, it also introduces very erratic behavior in the case of bugs.   (The bug is that two Integers should never be compared using "==".)   In particular, the problem completely disappears if the number of unique Integers generated doesn't exceed the cache size (128), so the problem cannot be replicated with small test cases.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Sunday, June 28th, 2009
    10:53 pm
    Management Scenario + Statistics
          Consider this scenario: you are a middle manager at a large corporation.   You are in charge of a major report that has been years in the making.   The report can suggest one of two options: Big Changes or Status Quo.   It is generally expected that the verdict will be Big Changes, because other corporations (with larger budgets) have done similar projects and gotten that result.   (And, indeed, your group used their reports as a source of data and references for your project.)   As can be expected, the report was controversial before it was even started, because big changes always are. Read much more plus graphsCollapse )
    Edit:  Oh, And it gets worse.   It turns out the comment plagerized heavily.
    Edit2: Fixed hyperlink.

    Current Mood: Normal
    Friday, June 26th, 2009
    5:24 pm
    Quote of the Day: Demand Equal Representation for....
    "We should, in particular, have several Congressional committees, plus a Cabinet-level department, representing Americans who play World of Warcraft, who outnumber American farmers."
          — Paul Krugman

    Current Mood: amused
    Sunday, May 31st, 2009
    10:33 pm
    Being invisible part 2... and 3.
          Long ago I wrote about not having any credit history.   Well, I still don't.
          Wednesday, I had an interview/visit in Maryland.   Due to the location, renting a car was pretty much a requirement.   I knew that car rental places preferred credit cards to debit cards, but I'd read that most places took debit cards now.   However, it turns out to be more complicated....
          So, I ended up first making a reservation with Hertz.   Because I specifically read their policy on debit cards, which said it depends on the site, I did the reservation by phone.   The rep I talked with had to go ask for help when I said I had no credit history.   And all she could tell me was that they *could not* say whether I would be accepted until I was there, in person.   She suggested that I go to a local Hertz place and ask them to do the background check (except, doing said check would lower my credit score if I had one, so that I might pass the test the first time, then fail it in Maryland).   She literally told me that they take the debit card and stick it in a machine, and the machine says yes or no.   Oh, and that the machine is powered by Experian.   (I also talked with a rep from the Atlanta airport Hertz rental place; she was less helpful.)
          So, with a "maybe" which I expected was a "no", I spent some time reading other car rental places' policies.   I sent questions to Budget (which never answered) and Enterprise (which didn't answer until late Thursday afternoon).   Fortunately, I came across one that had a single policy (Budget and Enterprise say policy varies by site) which didn't require a credit check.   Congratulations to Alamo for getting my business.   (I'm less happy with them for it ending up costing me more than expected.   Yes, I'm getting reimbursed so it isn't actually costing me, but it still annoys me on principle.)
          I've been putting off getting a credit card for a while.   So, I ended up finally submitting an application for a Visa branded card through my bank on Monday.   Today, I got a call from them saying that my application was rejected, because Visa apparently has a strict 'no credit history, no card' policy.   (Or, at least that is the policy with respect Visa's deal with my bank.)   I specifically asked about my rather significant savings at the bank, and was told that it didn't matter, because all Visa cared about was the credit score.   (The rep suggested having a parent co-sign for the card.)
          Follow-up:  I got an e-mail from the rep handling my credit card application saying that he had appealed to upper management (which upper management was not specified), and they had accepted due to my and my parent's relationship with the bank.   So credit scores don't entirely rule the world, yet.
          (However, other databases cause trouble too.)

    Current Mood: Normal
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