Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas the Geeky Mom Way!

Star Wars: The Old Republic
Image via Wikipedia
Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are having a joyous holiday season, whatever you celebrate! I am blessed to have my dear family and many, many friends both 'in Real Life' and online.  I have been sharing Christmas greetings with Trusty Friends and family from all over the world.

The last few weeks have been a flurry of activity getting ready for the holidays, finding a new job, and picking up a new Geeky Activity--writing for TORWars.com.  I'm quite tickled that they thought I wrote well enough to bring on board for a weekly column on the Jedi Consular class in Star Wars: The Old Republic

Yes, the game rocks, and yes, I am a confirmed fangirl. I love the KOTOR series, and TOR is a blast to play. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it approximately a bazillion stars, which, for those of you counting, is Officially A Lot.

The other project occupying my time was the creation of two sound files with Christmas greetings. One was for extended family, since we now live 800 miles away from them.  The other one was for Trusty Friend Athos, who is from my Star Trek Lotus Fleet group.  He has been deployed and isn't able to be home this Christmas. We fleetmates decided that if Athos couldn't go home, we were certainly going to bring some 'home' to him. 

Creating these gifts involved many Geeky Activities, not the least of which included using Audacity.  I spent many an hour cursing out that program when learning how to edit the LucasCast podcast two years back. The great thing about it? It's free. The bad thing about it? You have to have a PhD in sound engineering to understand the darned thing.  GVerb? Are we talking about some new verb tense? Is a 'hard limiter' the bouncer at the bar who cuts you off when you've had one too many? Nope.  By the way, Audacity's 'phaser' is not at all the same as Star Trek's phaser. This is Important. I want to make sure my Trusty Friends are fully informed.

Anyway, after finally herding all the Lotus Fleet cats, and one resident self-described furry, into the Lotus Fleet chatroom, I was able to finish the recording of all the Christmas greetings and performances. Trusty Friends Jureth, Future, and Kheren should be commended for being brave and doing solo performances and putting mine to shame on top of it.  My son even contributed by playing a viola solo. I was humbled by everyone's contributions to help make Christmas better for a serviceman who can't make be at home this year.  I finished the editing, uploaded it to the Lotus Fleet site, and sent off a copy to Athos via Skype. He managed to get enough bandwidth half a world away to actually be able to download it.  I was tickled he received it in time for Christmas day.

My family, however, does not have Skype, nor are they Lotus Fleet members, so I didn't have the option to send them download links that way.  This was A Problem. Short of burning the mp3 to disc and sending it to them, I was limited in ways to get the file into their hot little hands. No matter what guarantees the shippers make, when you ship at the busiest time of the year, it means that your package might arrive sometime by the 24th century. Besides, I wanted family to have it before Christmas, not after.

I tried to send the file via email.

Fail.  The file was about 22 MB bigger than Gmail's 25 MB limit. Our little family of four had quite a bit to say to our family on top of the kids' performances.

I tried to upload it to YouTube.

Fail 1: They don't take just plain mp3s. It has to have at least 1 picture in it. It can be  a 1x1 pixel picture, but by God, that counts as a picture to make it into a movie. I opted to go with Renaissance paintings and stained glass pictures instead as something moderately more interesting than a 1x1 orange pixel.

I spent the day re-acquainting myself with Windows Movie Maker, which I had cheerfully learned in a weekend at the beginning of the year to help my son make a movie for his history class. After an extensive Google search of approximately .51 seconds, I found more Renaissance Nativity art than I could possibly ever use in a century. I happily added a number of images to the sound file and made a "movie".  I then tried to upload to YouTube again.

Fail 2: YouTube doesn't take projects longer than 15 minutes, and mine clocked in at 37 minutes.  I had actually read this before starting the movie project, so you'd think I would have paid attention to this Important Fact and that my sound file was entirely too long. Nope! Now, if you're Special, you can indeed upload files longer than 15 minutes. However, this involves getting somewhere in the vicinity of a billion people to like your videos and confirm that you don't post nasty stuff. I didn't have time to become 'Special'. The file needed to go out TODAY, darn it!! So, I tried to figure out how to break the freshly minted movie down into 3 parts smaller than 15 minutes in size to re-upload to YouTube.

Fail 3: Windows Movie Maker apparently does not like splitting music AND video at the same spot. The 'split' tool will split music, OR video. Not both, at least without jumping through about 15,853 hoops. I know this because I googled how to split the files on YouTube.

In desperation, because it was getting late on Christmas Eve, I turned to the Trusty Skype Posse (tm), who are experts in all sorts of gaming and geeky goodness, and who, like me, were of course ONLINE on Christmas Eve. I'm not quite sure what this says about any of us, but it says something interesting, I'm sure.

Anyway, Trusty Friend Jeff had an outstanding suggestion--upload the file to Dropbox, and then send the family the link to the file so that they could download it.  It was the perfect solution.

Dropbox allows you to upload up to 2GB of items for free, and then you can share the files with anyone anywhere. You can pay a monthly fee to increase that amount. This is a great way to transfer files from home to work, or in my case, transfer larger files from my home to the homes of my extended family.  Uploads are quick, and the program is easy to understand. There's also an Android app for it.

If you would like your own Dropbox account, you can use referral codes from either Jeff or me.  This will give you an extra 250 MB of free storage, and give Jeff or me an extra 250, too.  His referral code is http://db.tt/TCoPTlf.  My code is http://db.tt/TvaRxdnM.

Merry Christmas to all!
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Geeky Mom Gaming--The Old Republic Pecan Pie recipe

Pecan pie.
Image via Wikipedia
About 20 years back, Trusty Hubby asked for one thing for Christmas--a homemade pecan pie.  This was when I was working on my advanced degree, and we were poor and so couldn't afford much in the way of gifts. In fact, I think we were still watching TV on our old portable black-and-white TV that Hubby's mom had given him. Somewhere along the way, the plastic knob had broken off, and we had to use a pair of pliers to change the channel. Nothing was going to keep us from watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. We were determined.  By the way, Star Trek definitely looks better in color.

Anyway, I decided if that was what Hubby wanted for Christmas, I was going to make the best pecan pie I possibly could. Conveniently, the Columbus Dispatch had a pecan pie recipe in the food section that week. I also had the Joy of Cooking, which is quite possibly the best cookbook on the planet. If you do not have a copy, go get one and use it. Between the two, I put together a recipe that has become a family favorite. Is it low-calorie? Heck, no. Who makes low-calorie pecan pies? Sometimes you have to splurge. This pie does not have a regular pie crust. I decided to use a crumb crust instead, so it's about as full of pecans as can be.  Hubby loved it, and I've made it every Christmas since then.

The other day, Trusty Hubby invited a co-worker over for dinner and asked if I'd make pecan pie again.  I agreed.  When I mentioned that I had to go make dinner, I was asked by the folks online what we were having. I replied, "Homemade turkey soup, fresh pan rolls, and pecan pie." Then I was asked by someone if I would adopt him, and I think at some point there was a profession of True Love.  I also got a tell from Shayla, and we shared some cooking ideas. I told her I'd post a copy of the recipe.  Now, I love gaming in general, but MMO gaming is unique in the way it brings people from all over the world together. Who knew I'd be sharing a pecan pie recipe with an international community?  That's world diplomacy at its best.

For those of you with dairy allergies or food restrictions, use a dairy-free margarine for the crust. You can also substitute butter-flavored vegetable shortening, or a mix of  vegetable shortening and coconut oil. For the pecan pie filling, you can use 1 tablespoon of your favorite vegetable or nut oil in place of the butter.


The Old Republic Pecan Pie Recipe

Crumb crust:
1 cup (4 ounces) finely ground pecans
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Pecan pie filling
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted
1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, chopped
3/4 cup (3 ounces) pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust--in a large bowl, mix the ground pecans, the 2 cups flour, and 1/2 cup sugar. Cut in the 3/4 cup butter until coarse crumbs form, about the size of small peas. Press the mix with your fingers into the bottom and sides of a 10 inch pie plate or quiche dish.  Bake about 7 minutes. It will not brown--that is OK.

For the filling--combine the sugar and flour.  Add the beaten eggs, corn syrup, and butter, and mix well. Stir in the chopped pecans. Pour into the crust.  Arrange pecan halves on top in whatever decorative fashion you like. Cover the edges of the crust with tinfoil so that the crust doesn't burn. Bake about 50-55 minutes or until set.

Remove from oven and let cool so that you don't burn your mouth trying to eat it too soon!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Comcast: "No Internet--Your Modem Battery is Degraded"


Sometimes, I wonder if customer service people sit around making up complete BS answers to customer service questions just to see what we, the customers, will actually say. I can imagine some bean counter saying to the customer service folks “Hey, we’re going to have a contest! We’re going to come up with ‘31 Top Idiot Answers to Use in Place of Admitting Cable Outage’—one for each day of the month! In February, we’ll have 4 answers to use on day 28 to make up for not having day 29, 30, and 31, unless it’s leap year, of course.”  The winner probably got a free mocha latte frappucino chai spice coffee with a cherry on top from Starbucks. 

Well, today, I had an outage, and I got Top Idiot Answer 29.  

So there I was, happily gaming with Trusty Friends Evshell, Robert Oakley, Jureth, and Crist in The Old Republic beta. Around 11:30 pm, just 90 minutes shy of when the servers would go down, my internet sputtered and went out.  My poor Jedi Consular is probably lying dead in the middle of a bunch of pirates at the moment, because it’s Internet Law that you must lag out in the middle of a. a mob of enemies or b. a Boss Fight. Losing an internet connection is not allowed in any rest zones, and is Right Out in cantinas. 

When Skype and Firefox decided not to work, I looked over at my modem. Sure enough, the link light was blinking, indicating that the modem was not receiving a signal from Comcast.  I had learned this tidbit of info the other day when my internet went down and another customer service agent said service was out in the area and that it would be restored Soon ™.  I thought about going to bed, but the siren call of TOR was begging me to come back to the game, so I called customer service again. My call apparently was routed to Eastern Europe, where I spoke with a gentleman with an accent that indicated he was from somewhere in the vicinity of Outer East Bhadislavia. He was quite nice, but the poor guy had trouble understanding my Midwestern accent, and I had to enunciate ‘I’m calling from my cell phone’ several times before he realized I wasn’t ‘calling from (my Comcast cable) telephone’.  After sending signals to my modem, he gave me the verdict: 

“Your battery is degraded and it is affecting your internet signal.”  

Now, it might have been midnight, and I might be female. I suspect he thought both were in his favor and that I would actually believe Top Idiot Answer 29.  I’m sure he didn’t realize I’ve had three years of physics and, shockingly (no pun intended), know the difference between a resistor and a capacitor in a circuit diagram. However, I thought I’d start with the obvious and see what that got me: “Please explain to me how the battery can be affecting the signal when I have the modem plugged into the outlet and my telephone is working fine.” He replied, “It can affect either your telephone or your internet, and it affected your internet.”  

Now, last I knew, batteries don’t send signals out anywhere, unless you happen to be someone whose tinfoil hat regularly beams to the Mother Ship. This is also a backup battery—it doesn’t do anything except sit there until it’s needed when the electricity goes off.  As long as it completes the circuit, whatever it's connected to is not going to do a damned thing.

Then, I asked him why Comcast would design such a ridiculous thing. He answered that he didn't know, either.  Apparently, this followup question was not included in the script of Top Idiot Answer 29.

After determining this guy was reading from the Holy Writ of Comcast Bullshit Excuses to Give Customers and that my problem was not going to get resolved, I got the address of the local Comcast office so that I could exchange my modem and 'degraded battery' in the morning.  I also  tried taking the battery out to see if that would help matters. Not a signal in the world. At this point, it was 1 am, and the siren call of sleep drew me to bed.

So, this morning, I sat down to continue working on my blog. What did I see? Working internet! Without any battery in the modem whatsoever! Clearly the ‘degraded battery signal’ answer was a complete and utter lie. I'm shocked, truly shocked.

You know, Comcast, if the internet service is down because of damaged wires, I can understand that.  After all, my region got hit with some two nasty storms and an earthquake a couple months ago. I’m not na├»ve enough to think you’ve given me new equipment, either. I’m sure it’s been in someone else’s house before it entered mine. You might even have cleaned it before bringing it to mine, too, but I never assume these things. In any case, the modem might not be working quite right, too. 
 
If you had just been honest with me, Comcast, I would have actually been rather understanding of the situation. Now, I’ve lost respect for your staff and you for lying to me to cover your butt because you had an outage and didn’t want to admit it.

Update: I spoke with another Comcast customer service agent this morning.  He couldn't understand the excuse given to me either, and after more testing decided there was possibly a problem with the line going into the house. So, he scheduled a technician to come out tomorrow morning.

Update 2: A technician came on time and replaced the line going from the pole to the house. He confirmed that the line was bad and that was what was causing the problem. He was just as confused about the first guy's 'degraded battery' reasoning as I was. He also took the time to hook up the cable box in our living room, which we had disconnected the day before to move furniture around to a better configuration. It might not have been a big deal to him, but I appreciated the extra touch. The internet has not gone out since his visit.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Welcome to the XBox Live FIFA Hacking Club!

As you may know, our Geeky Family recently moved from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.  This involved many Geeky things, not the least of which was making sure we got internet set up as soon as possible. I even thought about bribing the Comcast installation guy with massive amounts of chocolate and/or pizza if it meant he'd come to my house sooner. The only problem is that I haven't found THE pizza place in our new town yet.  Significantly more tests to the city's pizza parlors, of course, are required to make a final judgment.

Anyhow, with no internet, I naturally had no XBox Live. I couldn't find the 360s that had been packed safely away in moving boxes anyway. Yes, this was a tremendous blow to my Geek Points. I plead guilty. Setting up the computers and the kitchen (in that order) came first.

I had read about XBL hackings happening thanks to some Ars Technica articles.  I have a gamer tag in my signature on Lotus Fleet. Imagine my surprise when I was commenting on some Star Trek post, and then noticed that FIFA 12 had showed up in my sig pic.  I had not bought FIFA12.  The only 'football' in the world is what the Chicago Bears play.  Nonetheless, my gamertag showed I'd made the purchase, and now even had several achievements for a game that interests me only slightly more than golf. With the 360s still packed away. I knew right then my account was hacked.

The first thing I did was call XBL's customer support. A very delightful lady named Kathleen helped me out, making sure the account was canceled and that my credit card was removed from the profile so the hackers couldn't use it. Whatever Microsoft is paying her, it's not enough.  She's outstanding at customer service.  Kudos to her!  I also called the bank and canceled the credit card, and then changed both my XBL and my hotmail passwords. I had some strong passwords, but apparently not strong enough.

There is some discussion on whether this is linked to EA or not.  I'm not sure on that one.  My EA master account isn't the same name and certainly does not have the same password. From what I'm reading about the sheer number of hackings, I suspect that Microsoft got hacked themselves, or hackers have found a security hole somewhere. In any case, both MS and EA are being very, very quiet about this.

I've managed to finally locate one of my 360s, so tomorrow will be the adventure in contacting XBL customer support again. I hope Kathleen is there tomorrow.

Edit: I had to find both Xboxes and get the console numbers off both. Xbox confirmed that I'd been hacked--no surprise there. They also told me it would take about 3 weeks to fully investigate the hackings before they could restore my account. It did take about 18 or so days before I was able to restore the account. All my points got refunded to me, and MS gave me an extra month of XBL to cover the lost time. Restoring the account, once I received the email instructions, was very easy.

Microsoft and EA: I'm seeing a lot more reports of this on Twitter and Facebook. You have a big security problem. Please fix it before more of us suffer hackings. 
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Help Cryptic Find More Dilithium Mining Revenue!

Patrick Stewart as Locutus, the assimilated Je...Image via WikipediaAs my Trusty Gamer Friends may know, Cryptic has been bought out by Perfect World.  Perfect World (PW) publishes games in Asia, and they are all free-to-play, or f2p.  Well, you can't run games for free. There are costs involved, like server usage, electricity, staff to run the games, someone to empty the trash at night, and new corporate jets for the owner(s). So, f2p games run by giving 'premium content' to paying subscribers and maintain a 'store' where one can buy in-game items for money if we don't want to wait for them to drop from monsters or come as quest rewards. Usually these aren't expensive at all. You can spend a few bucks here and there for things like an armor component or weapon, a new ship skin, a mini-pet, and so on.  In games like LOTRO, this is pretty straightforward.

Cryptic, however, has decided to live up to their name and create a system that is so full of obfuscation that even Dennis Miller would be impressed. They have decided to add the 'dilithium component'.

Never mind the fact that in the time period in which the game exists, dilithium can be re-used with great ease and doesn't need to be mined. Cryptic decided canon can be ignored.  So, it is now a rare commodity that requires mining of dilithium ore and then refining the ore, because this is exactly what my heroic captain wants to do with her time.  Rescue planets from Borg invasions, cure deadly plagues in the nick of time, use our elite diplomacy skills to prevent interplanetary wars, mine dilithium ore for the next 500,000 years.

Aside from the fact that this is a completely immersion-breaking activity, the max amount of ore that you can refine in a 24 hour period is 8,000 DC.  This would be fine if all the items were, say, in the couple hundred DC range. They're not. Cryptic is charging 100,000 DC to make some items.  So, I can make 1 good item for my Vice Admiral in 13 days.  Welcome to the grind-fest, my fleetmates.  Of course, you can always buy the DC in the Cryptic store, wink wink, nudge nudge, sledgehammer sledgehammer.  So, I can pay real money to make items for my fleetmates. I like this idea about as much as I like the idea of stabbing myself in the eyeballs repeatedly.

Now, Cryptic so far has announced that they will be charging DC for ships, ship components, and any crafting items.  In the spirit of helping maximize Cryptic's profits, I'm offering this list of dilithium sinks that Cryptic can add to the game to make it even more grindy.

1. Charge dilithium for all Duty officers. Hey, we're going to use them to gain our whopping 50 dilithium per day.  At that rate, we should charge about 500,000 dilithium per DOFF.
2. Add in DC charges not only for each ship, console, and weapon, but also every color change and paint job style, windows, doors, and seats on the ship. We'll be generous and keep the charge at 1k per window.  We're going to add windows to each ship, however.
3. Give us a token for all trophies at the end of major series. Charge us dilithium to actually claim it from the trophy vendor. 25k DC seems about right. There will also be a 25k fee to place it on a hook.
4. Charge at least 100k for each skill point we earn.  That'll certainly encourage leveling up.
5. Charge 10k DC every time we hear a door go 'swoosh' in game.
6. Charge 30k DC for every quest opportunity.
7. Charge DC every time someone uses the "KHAAAAANNNN!!!!" emote. We should go for at least a million DC per emote use there.
8. There should be a fee for each breath that a toon takes. Of course, the respiration animation rate will be increased from the normal 14 per minute to approximately 256.  Per second.
9. Extract a departure fee of 500 billion DC for each person leaving the game. That will ensure that they never can leave, because as we all know, one of Gene Roddenberry's great ideals in Star Trek was indentured servitude.

Please feel free to comment on your ideas on how to increase Cryptic's DC revenue! I can't wait to hear your ideas, too!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recipe Swap! "Best Brownies"

I'm following a number of folks on Twitter, one of whom is @meesherbeans, because she works for Bioware, which is one of my favorite gaming companies, and she has a lot of fun tweets. This morning, she tweeted about peanut butter chocolate fudge. I already knew she was Cool, but anyone who can make great fudge AND game should be elevated to Gaming Goddess.  I offered my brownie recipe in exchange for her fudge recipe. Voila! We are now exchanging recipes on our blogs! How's that for Geeky Awesomeness?

Anyway, I originally picked up this recipe, "Best Brownies", from the Columbus Dispatch about 20 years back, and it's been the only one we've used in my home since then. It's better than any box mix and just as fast to put together.  The challenge will be not to eat them all before they cool off.  It is dairy and soy free.  If you like male brownies, add nuts. If you have nut allergies, leave out the almond extract and nuts. I think this counts as a pareve recipe for my Jewish friends, but someone can correct me if that's wrong.

My friends and I contend that all the calories fall out when you cut the brownies, but I suspect nutritionists would frown upon us for saying that too loudly.

Best Brownies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan with oil or spray with cooking spray.

"wet ingredients"
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil (vegetable oil is fine if you don't have soy allergen concerns)
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

"dry ingredients"
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cocoa (regular, not the Dutch version)
1 cup chopped nuts, optional

In one bowl, mix together all the wet ingredients until smooth. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, and then blend into the wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges of brownie pull away from the edges of the pan. Do not use the 'toothpick test' to check if the brownie is done, or you will overbake it. When cool, cut into squares and serve, if you can manage to wait until they've cooled.  We never can.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How Lt. Uhura Created a Doctor

The Space Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the ...Image via WikipediaThis weekend, my son and I had the great pleasure of going to the Chicago Star Trek Convention. We had a marvelous time meeting a variety of stars from nearly all of the shows except for the Voyager and JJ-prise folks, who weren't at this one. I laughed so hard at some of the antics of Dominic Keating, Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes that I thought I was going to hurt myself. Conner Trinneer, John de Lancie, Rene Auberjonois, and Nana Visitor were also highly entertaining.  Rene and Nana even did a performance of "Cross Your Hearts" to support their favorite charity, Doctors Without Borders. If you've been looking for a good charity to give a donation, check them out. Check out Alien Voices as well. Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie have worked hard on audio presentations of some classic sci-fi works. 

Leonard Nimoy gave us a poignant farewell, as this was his last official Star Trek convention appearance. It was so hard to say 'good-bye' to him. When you're 80 years old, though, you have to suck the marrow out of life. May you live long and prosper, Mr. Nimoy, and thoroughly ENJOY your retirement!

The highlight for me, however, was when Nichelle Nichols gave this amazing talk about how she'd become Lt. Uhura on Star Trek.  Then she brought me to tears when she spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King urging her to stay on the show when she resigned after the first season.  He described what it meant to the African-American community for her to be in that role, to have an African-American woman portrayed as a Starfleet officer, an equal.  She told us about Gene Roddenberry handing her back her resignation two days later, torn up into tiny pieces.  At the photo-op right after the session, I told her that I was a doctor today because of her role. She gave me a huge hug and said "Thank you!"  I treasure that moment.

This, of course, means I must share with you, my Trusty Friends, the story of how Lt. Uhura Created A Doctor.

I was destined for something in the science or medical field from early childhood. I remember reading books on nurses in first grade. My favorite shows were Star Trek, Emergency, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman. When a neighborhood friend sprained a finger, I splinted it with 2 popsicle sticks and a couple rubber bands. When other kids were writing fan mail to Farrah Fawcett and Erik Estrada, I was writing our local TV meteorologist, Paul Joseph, asking about tornadoes. Our Girl Scout troop leader decided that we Junior Scouts should work on our Collection badges one week. I was in my 'Geology/Paleontology phase' in 4th grade. I didn't have any dinosaurs to bring, so I gathered up my collection of very cool geodes, quartz crystals, and agates. The other girls brought in their collections of cute little stuffed kittens and puppies, took one look at my box of rocks, stared at me like I'd just grown 2 alien antennae on the top of my head, and took a step away.  That was the point in life when I realized I Was Different.

When I was growing up in the early 1970's, women had exactly 5 career possibilities: homemakers, maids, schoolteachers, nurses, and secretaries. Now, if someone wants to have a career doing that, awesome. Do your best at it, and love your career. Even at a young age, though, I knew those paths weren't quite right for me. The major female role models in my life--my grandmas, aunt, and mother were either secretaries, nurses, homemakers, or teacher, but I was called to something Different.

The only women who were doing anything other than The Approved 5 Female Careers (tm) were women in science fiction.  Of course, there was Princess Leia--a spunky, beautiful Senator who also happened to know how to handle a blaster better than some of the guys. She quickly became one of my heroes.

Then there was Lt. Uhura.

By the time I was old enough to remember Star Trek, the show was in syndication, so I was able to watch it regularly.  Here was a woman who was not a nurse, not a yeoman, but a full-fledged Starfleet Officer. She was serving on the bridge, an officer equal with the men. She did her job with professionalism and great competence. She was respected by the other officers and crew.  If I could have joined Starfleet and served with her, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I wanted to be a highly skilled, professional woman, respected by those around me. I wanted to be just like Lt. Uhura.

Fortunately, when I told my family that I wanted to be a doctor, they didn't laugh. They didn't even try to discourage me. They'd come to expect their daughter to be Different. I think they might have missed the antennae growing out of my head that the other girls in my school saw. My grandma who was a nurse was absolutely thrilled at my decision to become a doctor, and her support meant the world to me. I hope I can be as good a support for my son, who has decided to become an actor.  This is in spite of the fact that his decision scares the crap out of me. Having Brent Spiner and Jonathan Frakes repeat a litany of Terrible Things that Happen to Actors like drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide did not help me one bit. Thank you, Brent and Jonathan, for making my anxiety even worse. You'll make my psychiatrist very happy about the extra visits I'm sure I'll need.

Ms. Nichelle, you said 'thank you' to me. I want to thank you, though, for staying on Star Trek, for playing that role of a Starfleet bridge officer, and inspiring a shy young girl to pursue her dream, even when it wasn't a 'cultural norm'. Thank you for giving us Lt. Uhura.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to Survive a Cross Country Move, Geek style

Bless Trusty Reader Reuster, who noticed I'd not posted for a good 4 weeks. Well, that's because I was moving from WI over to PA for Trusty Hubby's new job. I've done several cross country moves in my adult life, and I officially despise, loathe, detest, abhor, hate, dislike, and otherwise bear negative sentiments towards moving.

Why?

First, it meant packing EVERYTHING up. After living in a home for 10 years, you acquire amazing amounts of stuff and/or junk, depending on whether it's located in the kitchen or the garage. We donated about 15 boxes and bags of items to the Salvation Army and Goodwill, hauled away about 3 vanloads of junk, threw away about 20 bags of trash (not all at once), and somehow still managed to have 473 items and boxes to load on the moving van. Now, Trusty Hubby is trying to pare that number down to something closer to 450 items. We are definitely packrats.

Second, it meant driving 12 hours one way to our new home.  Alone. This, you say, was nutty. Well, my boss wouldn't let me out of work a week early (I had given a month's notice instead of the standard 2 weeks) to go out with my family. That's just the kind of company it is. I made a socially unacceptable rude gesture as I left the office the last time. Mind you, it was behind my back, because one should never burn career bridges. You never know when you'll have to cross back over them again, and running back while it's on fire is Never A Good Thing. Happily, I had my iPod, and I rocked across 5 states singing to Evanescence, Globus, Epica, Skillet (woot Panheads!), and Kamelot.

Third, it means having to change all sorts of things, and I'm just not very good with change. Once I figure out the most efficient way to do something, I don't typically alter the method unless something new comes along that makes it even more efficient.  In addition, despite my generally rampant extroversion and the fact that my job requires me to talk to a couple dozen complete and utter strangers daily, it is not easy for me to develop the kind of deep friendships that one develops only after a very long time. The fact that I was moving several hundred miles away from my closest family did not help.

Anyway, I overcame many moving hurdles by, you guessed it, being completely and utterly Geeky.  Using technology and utilizing blatantly geeky skills can overcome Cross Country Moving Challeges, such as the ones below.

1. Finding a good school district.  I quickly discovered in my initial searches that schools do NOT like releasing any information that looks in any way remotely negative. So, things like test scores and how well they've met state academic benchmarks are either not listed, or if they are required to be listed, are buried in such categories as 'administrative assistant sick day policies' or 'janitorial supplies'.  You'll find the tab for 'test scores' helpfully located between 'paper towel dispensers' and 'toilet paper'.  I'm nothing if not persistent, however, and found some 3rd party school rankings (which you still have to take with a heavy dose of salt), Google Maps pictures of the school, and finally, the listing of the school music programs.  If you find a school district with an orchestra, you have just learned two things. First, you have a school district that feels it has sufficient funding to put money into a program that goes beyond the bare-bones basics.  Second, you have a sufficient quantity of involved parents who care about music education and have the money to pay for the rental of a stringed instrument. The corollary is that if parents care about music education, they usually care about the rest of their kids' education. The more involved the parents, the better the schools. This is not always the case, but it is generally true. The fact that I wanted my kids to continue playing in orchestra, of course, contributed to this. Anyway, finding out if a school system has an orchestra program is not too hard, since that is indeed listed on school websites.  This rapidly narrowed down my choice of school districts. A few emails to high school orchestra teachers later, and I had it narrowed down to two districts, both of which I deemed Good Places in Which to Live.

2. Finding good doctors. Skip to number 3 if you're squeamish.  Despite being a doctor myself, I hate finding new doctors or dentists. If you move to a new town and don't know anyone, it's extremely difficult to find the good ones. It does not help that we women fear getting naked and into a compromising position for a strange person we see once a year for that annual gyn thing. Yes, I know that they've 'seen it all', but they haven't seen _mine_.  The only time I didn't care about this was when I was birthing my kids. At that point, I would have invited the Secretary-General of the UN in for a lookey-loo if it meant the babies would come out 2 seconds faster. My solution--get names from the local pharmacists and nurses and then go search them out on the net. We docs might interact with other docs occasionally. Nurses, staff, and pharmacists see them all the time, and having been a hospital staffer and student nurse before doing the doctor thing, I can tell you it is very easy to figure out who is good or not after working with them a few weeks. I also check docs out online by doing a google search on their names, and then a Medscape search on any articles they've written. It also gives me something to talk about when I go see them "Oh, hey, I saw your wrote an article on cat-allergen testing in mice when you were at Johns-Hopkins. How'd that work out?"  I learned that an orthopedic doctor I saw at Great Lakes Naval Base was a huge Volvo fan by doing an internet search one time.  These are Important Things.

3.  Find new grocery stores. I loved having a grocery store 4 blocks from home back in WI. More importantly, I loved having a store in town that had enriched Rice Dream in the juice-box size, which is great for lunches when you have a kiddo with both a dairy and a soy allergy.  It is no easy task to find this, let me tell you. Fortunately, Google search saved the day again, and I've located a few stores in the area that have this.  I also, happily, can order it online if need be, not only from the Rice Dream site itself, but also Amazon. I love Amazon. You can find just about anything there. Heck, you can even grocery shop there.

4. Having to set up the a. kitchen and b. computer.  The computer took less time. The only problem was that the cable guy couldn't come out for an entire week after I arrived, so I nearly went into internet withdrawal. I actually contemplated leeching off of someone's secured network until I remembered that ethics thing. I also remembered that my phone could serve as a wi-fi hotspot. Plug in, turn on, hit a few settings, and voila, internet success! I'll be paying through the nose next month for data charges, I'm sure.

5. Finding new radio stations. One of the things I hated about leaving Columbus, OH in 1995 was giving up Sunny 95. The DJs there were a lot of fun, and there was no such thing as internet radio then--we had dial-up then, for heaven's sake. Now, I LOVE WISN and WGN, and Tammy Lee just rocks as an announcer. The fact that she is a sister-in-law has nothing whatsoever to do with that opinion. She makes me double over laughing, and she is just as funny at family holiday dinners as she is on the air. With radio stations now streaming on the net, along with the new iHeartRadio, I don't have to leave them behind. They're as close as my computer.  I was delighted to listen to WBBM on Sunday when the Chicago Bears game wasn't available on TV. I can listen to Dean Richards, Jay Weber, Vicki McKenna, Steve Cochran (who is going to WIND shortly), and Tammy Lee anywhere in the world!

No doubt there will be many more Geek Moments as our family adjusts to life in a new state.







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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vacuum Cleaners for the Brain-Cell Challenged

Last Friday, my daughter had a nasty little fit, and by 'nasty little fit' I mean 'tantrum that would make Mt. Vesuvius look like a nice warm bath in comparison'.  Sometimes you deal with that when you have an over-tired, hungry kid with ADHD who has completely melted down over some major catastrophe in life, like a video game crashing. I came home after a frantic call from my son to find covers ripped off my bed and an overturned trash can. She was promptly banned from my room, which has the best computers. I also made her eat some food with protein, and about 15 minutes later The World Was A Much Better Place.

Anyway, part of her penance included cleaning up the mess she made. I told her to bring the vacuum upstairs so that she could clean up the trash that had spilled on the carpet. Naturally, she carried up our canister vacuum by the hose. I think it is a constitutional requirement that all 10 year olds carry things by the hoses or cords, rather than the designated handles. If you guessed that about 3/4 of the way up the stairs, the hose gave way, you would be 100% correct. The rest of the vacuum went tumbling down the stairs, crash-landing on the first floor.

She was devastated.

I cheered. I hated that vacuum from the day I bought it, but I had bought it used and couldn't return it. After I told her that she'd done me a huge favor by allowing me to buy a vacuum that I actually liked, she felt a little better. I did also explain that carrying things by hoses or cords is generally a Bad Idea.

Now, being A Geeky Mom, I had to go find a new vacuum cleaner. This, of course, required a trip not to a vacuum store, but to Best Buy, where they also had Call of Duty: Black Ops and assorted other gaming goodies. One must have one's priorities.

Once home, I put CoD:Black Ops, the 360 controller charger cord (I figure the controller will get a lot more use), and headphones over by the Xbox, and then unpacked the vacuum cleaner--a Bissell Lift-off Multi-Cyclonic vacuum.  Given my love affair with tornadoes, anything with 'cyclone' in its description automatically won points with me. It also had a pet hair cleaning feature. Since we have pets that shed about 2000 bushels of fur every 8.3 seconds, this was deemed to be A Necessary Feature by the kids and me. I carefully read the manual and put the vacuum together.  I was proud of Bissell for being 'gender-inclusive' and showing a woman putting the vacuum together instead of a man. They did not show a picture of her actually wielding the necessary screwdriver, but this clearly is progress. Either that or it's commentary on how men still will not touch a vacuum, even if it does somehow involve using power tools.

After successfully assembling the handle to the rest of the vacuum and putting hoses where hoses should go, I was looking at the photos in the instruction manual to determine where to put all the accessory tools. I also read the cautions, notices, and quid pro quos.

This was when I decided that some lawyer for Bissell had decided all of us vacuum-wielders are brain-cell challenged.

Included with my nifty new vacuum was something called the "Pet TurboEraser Tool".  This is incidentally how I describe my kids and their pooper-scooper job. Anyway, the instruction manual explained how to properly use the tool, and then made this note: "The Pet TurboEraser Tool is designed to remove pet hair from upholstered or carpeted surfaces. It should not be used on pets."  I suddenly had an image of a chihuahua sucked into the tool, or Don Corleone rasping, "I made him an offer he couldn't refuse," and then holding up the Pet TurboEraser, complete with a tuft of Yorkie hair with a little red bow hanging out of the bottom.

Some of my favorite 'Important Safety Instructions' included these gems:

"Do not put any object into openings."  Isn't the goal of a vacuum to, well, VACUUM UP DUST AND OTHER TINY OBJECTS?

"Do not pick up flammable materials (Lighter fluid, gasoline, kerosene, etc.)"  Yes, because I always turn to my vacuum for cleaning up gas spills.

"Do not pick up anything that is burning or smoking, such as cigarettes, matches, or hot ashes."  Apparently the lawyers are worried that we've somehow confused the vacuum with a fire extinguisher.

My favorite--"Do not use vacuum cleaner in an enclosed space filled with vapors given off by oil base paint, paint thinner, some moth proofing substances, flammable dust, or other explosive or toxic vapors."  Yes, because the FIRST thing I'm going to think about doing when entering a room filled with toxic vapors is vacuuming the carpet

I'm relieved that the lawyers writing this consider it vitally important to protect us from blowing ourselves up by using our vacuums inside rooms full of explosive vapors. Where would we be without them thinking about these things?
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Friday, July 22, 2011

Cell Phone Etiquette for Freaking Morons

Over the past few days, I've been following news about pre-ordering Star Wars: The Old Republic. This, happily, includes following Twitter for juicy tidbits of info.  A tweet by @grumpygamer tonight reminded me of some of the abject cell phone stupidity that I've seen. Of course, I just had to write up a blog post about it for you, my Trusty Friends.

He tweeted this:
He's not the first one who's heard a credit card being given out.  I regularly hear conversations with all sorts of fascinating information.  In fact, if I were a National Enquirer reporter, I'd just sit on one of the commuter trains in Chicago, New York, or Washington, DC and listen to people talk on their cell phones. I'd have enough information in 2 hours of rush hour traffic to fill 15 issues at least.  Unfortunately, you can't do that in LA because everyone is still stuck somewhere in "Carmageddon". They might get out of their traffic jam in about, oh, 18.2 years.

So, let's review the basic rules of Cell Phone Etiquette for Freaking Morons.

1. Don't text and drive. If you must text and drive, stay the heck off my roads, and by "my roads" I mean "all roads in the contiguous lower 48 United States, and Alaska and Hawaii because they're totally cool, too."  This especially goes for the chicky who ran into us last New Year's Eve because she was looking at her phone instead of the road in front of her while driving 50 mph. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Good thing her dad had great insurance coverage.




2. Don't give your credit card number out over the phone in the middle of a crowd of people.  You may as well stand on the 50 yard line of the Superbowl with a mic and yell, "Hi! My name is Joe Moron! My credit card number is 0000-3333-0000-3333 (note: not a real number), and the expiration date is 2/2011. Have a GREAT time ordering crap off eBay, Amazon, and all the porn sites you can imagine on my tab!" 

3. Don't give out your clients' personal info over the phone while sitting in an airport. This actually happened when I was at O'Hare waiting on a flight.. A guy in a row in front of me rattled off the name, full address, and phone number of one of his clients--in the MIDDLE OF THE BUSIEST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD.  I thought about copying down all the info and handing it to him, and then asking for his business card so that I could make sure never to do business with him. EVER.

4. Turn off your phone in church, or at LEAST silence the darn ringer! I can assure you that the soloist singing "Ave Maria" will do just fine without your ringtone accompaniment of Lady Gaga's "Born this Way". 

5. Turn off your ringer in the doctor's office. I honestly had a patient SITTING IN THE CHAIR IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EXAM answer his phone and talk about what pizza toppings he was going to order that night (pepperoni and mushroom if you care to know).  He wasn't even polite enough to ask me if I'd like some, too.

6. Turn off the text notification while in the doctor's office. The temptation to look at it and reply is apparently too great for some of you. I was trying to take the medical history of a patient when she decided to answer a text. She kept her phone between her legs and tried to hide the fact that she was typing in her response while (not) answering my questions. I had the distinct urge to a. grab the phone and throw it across the room or b. tell her "You know, if you've got your hands frantically moving between your legs, it usually means one of two things, both of which don't need to be done in public. By the way, you're doing a crap job of trying to hide that you're texting. How about you go do that in the waiting room until you've figured out that Facebook can wait 15 FREAKING MINUTES while I do your exam?"  Somehow, I maintained a little more control.

7. Your inability to hear your conversation due to crowd noise around you does not translate into our need to hear you answer at the volume of 220 decibels. 

8. Contrary to popular opinion, I really CAN live without hearing the following:
  • How drunk you got last night
  • How much you puked after getting drunk last night
  • What color your puke was after getting drunk last night
  • How much of an ass your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is
  • Or, worse, ARGUING with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend--with wars, famine, and weather catastrophes, no one really cares about your petty problems.
  • Where and when you're meeting your meth dealer
  • Your conversation with the 900 sex talk girl
  • Which friend is sleeping with what other friend, or breaking up with what friend, or is getting un-invited to what friend's party--if I want a soap opera, I'll watch "The Young and the Restless", thank you.
  • How unfair it was that you just got fired, and then a discussion of what happened before you got fired. Protip: if you're defending your action, a. it probably was stupid, and b. you deserved to get fired for it.
9. Texting while in the middle of a candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant is Right Out, even if you're texting your date.

10. Turn your phone's ringer off during operas, all theater performances, school concerts, speeches, and other public events. People, shockingly, pay to hear the performance, not you. I guarantee you if your phone rings during a play and an actor on stage stops in the middle of his Hamlet soliloquy to make a snarky comment to you, I will laugh my butt off, and then cheer when you get escorted out by security.

11. Do not eat and text. You will get ketchup on your keys.

12. Do not take photos of your nether regions with your cell phone camera, upload them, and then send copies to all your friends. As a medical professional who's worked in hospitals for many years, I've seen it all, and I guarantee you that your junk is not in any way remotely comparable to Chippendale men. I will not be in awe. I will squint at that tiny thing and giggle.


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    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Adventures of The Cure: Now with More Season 4!


    Let's face it—there are better things to do with your fleetmates in Star Trek Online (STO) than Special Task Force (STF) missions.  A group colonoscopy, for instance, would be more fun.

    Having done The Cure and been seriously annoyed by fighting through miles and miles of endlessly respawning Borg, I was not too excited about doing it more than once. In fact, four of us Lotus fleetmates had teamed up to do Khitomer Accords, when we learned that our fifth fleetmate, Trusty Friend Brigham, hadn't successfully completed The Cure and couldn't come with us.  In fact, he mentioned that he'd tried it twelve times before, always unsuccessfully.  The other four of us, naturally, viewed this as A Challenge That Must Be Overcome, mostly because it was going to be great fun to say “13th time's the charm!!” I think poor Brigham was rather dubious, but our enthusiasm could not be squashed. Plus, it meant he could be a 5th teammate the next weekend for the  Khitomer Accords STF.  Never let it be said that we don't have ulterior motives.

    For those not familiar with The Cure, you have to rescue Klingons being assimilated by the Borg, collect genetic samples from those that died while the Borg attempted to assimilate them, and finally, rescue Captain Ja'rod from Armek of Borg.  This is actually a cool plotline, except for the fact that a. there's unfortunately no more to the story than that, and b. it's all pew-pew the entire mission.

    We hopped in our ships and headed over to the Vorn system to see what those sneaky Klingons were up to with the Borg. We arrived in system to, naturally, find the Borg beating up on the Klingons, just like the Borg had beaten up on the Federation just a little while earlier in The Infected mission. Being the generous souls we are, we didn't just beam out of the system, we decided to help the Klingons. We quickly kicked Borg butt in space, and then beamed down to the planet's surface to collect genetic samples to find 'the cure' for Klingon assimilation. 

    This is where we had the chance to try out the new Season 4 ground combat features.  The first thing we did was cheer that the Interlink Nodes were gone and that the trash mobs had been reduced.  The next thing we did was groan at how long it took to use the remodulator on our weapons when the Borg adapted, and the fact that it HAD to be on the hotbar. This means one less slot for something important, like, oh, hyposprays, shield charges, a Borg tribble, the Ophidian cane, a Battle Horta, and things that would otherwise be more desirable for staying alive.

    We also noticed quite a time disparity between how fast the Borg can adapt to our weapons, and how quickly we can remodulate our weapons:

    Borg: We Are The Borg. We shall adapt to your weapons in .004 seconds.
    Teammates: We Are Lotus Fleet! We shall hit you with this cool remodulator thingy that allows us to overcome your adaptation! The animation takes only...(oh, crap)...at least 5 seconds, WHILE THE BORG CONTINUE SHOOTING AT US.

    We then discovered that Trusty Friend Jeff T didn't even have a remodulator, which prompted Trusty Friend Crist's comment, “Dude, that's like shooting blanks!”  I felt compelled to remind Crist that most guys don't like being told they're 'shooting blanks'.  Fortunately, Trusty Friend Athos had a spare remodulator thingy, which turned Jeff's shots into something far less blank-like. 

    One of the most frustrating mechanics, dreamed up by developers who clearly thought this would be another great way to torture their boss if the Perilous Pit of Pervasively Plentiful Plasma in Infected was not enough, is the one where you have to protect 4 transformers as they activate so you can power down the shields.  Worker drones do not like their transformers being activated, and try to thwart this at all costs.  They do this so effectively that it took us at least 3 tries or more to get them down.  There are four shields in this mission, so we had to go through this in quadruplicate, not unlike filling out military paperwork.  Brigham seriously thought that we were going to have to go for the 14th or maybe 100th try on the Cure after dying for the zillionth time. Fortunately, we knew CPR and could help.

    At one point, I looked up at the top of one of the forcefields blocking our path and noticed nice, open, blue sky above.  This made me wonder why one of our ships didn't just beam us up and over the forcefields and then plop us down on the other side.  I will have to question my engineering officer and/or Cryptic about this lapse in grasping the obvious.

    Finally, we made it to the section with the generator.  It was crawling with Borg, now including female Borg, one of which actually seemed to fly in the air at one point.  We all thought this was rather entertaining other than the fact that she then attacked us from behind. 

    The generator section is the most fun in the entire STF.  If the team runs into the middle of it, everyone dies horribly.  If everyone stays at the edge of the zone and works as a team to pull patrols back to them, it works beautifully.  This was what I liked about the STF—we had to be careful, we had to use all our skills, we had to work as a team, and then we accomplished it.  It wasn't fast, but it was fun.  Watching the generator explode was icing on the cake.  This is what an STF should be all about, not a non-stop pew-pew-fest.

    The last task was to take out Armek of Borg so that we could rescue Captain Ja'rod.  Before Season 4, this meant having a science officer go up to Armek with a melee weapon, use heals, shields, and all healing skills, and tank him while the rest of the team sniped at him from various positions.  I did this for Lotus Fleet in Season 3, and it only took me a couple minutes.

    That changed in Season 4.

    When the Cryptic devs said “the STF bosses are harder”, what they meant was, “We devs are looking forward to seeing you players worshipping the respawn button.”  I tried to tank Armek like I had in the previous playthrough. It took me forever to get him to just half of his HP, and mind you, I have a purple Mark XI Lirpa, a purple mark XI Borg Medical kit, and points thrown into ground skills, unlike a lot of my fleetmates who focus solely on space combat.  Finally, everything was recharging and Armek hammered me. I faceplanted and had to respawn. We all had to respawn multiple times, because Armek could one-shot each of us.  This was horrendously frustrating.  Fortunately, Athos found a secret hidey spot where he could crouch, shoot past the shields, and not get one-shot himself.  He slowly whittled down Armek’s HP, and finally, he got the SOB.  The rest of us cheered.

    After that, we had to beam back up to space, obliterate some ships that were docked, and then fight off a wave of assimilated ships, all in under 30 minutes. I think we did it in 9 minutes, because We Are Lotus Fleet, and We Rock.

    We then collected our loot—a 200,000 EC Borg Graviton Deflector Array, which is part of a set. I already had one from the previous run-through of The Cure.  So, I zoned to Sol Spacedock to sell it.  I thought this was a rather decent reward after 4-ish hours of work and hardly any drops otherwise. Guess what? You can’t even vendor the damn thing. Why? Because apparently making any kind of EC after spending 4 hours on an STF seems to be too much to expect. So, I cashed in my Mark X turret and my shield battery instead. I guess I’ll put this extra deflector array that I really don’t need on my shuttle craft.  I can’t tell you how excited I am at this prospect.

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    OMG! TEH WOMENZ!! THEY GAME!!!

    On the left is an Atari 2600 with Freeway, a g...Image via WikipediaSo, there I was, being a Geeky Mom, checking out Twitter after an extended session of mining and building in Terraria with Trusty Friends NEligahn and Ellif, when @HMXThrasher made this tweet:

    Being someone of the female persuasion, of course I had to check this article out.  I read it, re-read it, and face-palmed (appropriately on Captain Picard Day, I might add).

    OK, CNN writers--just where the hell have you been for the last, oh, 40-ish years?  I probably was gaming before half of you were even born. My dad and I played Cat and Mouse on the Magnavox Odyssey. I played Pong with my aunt when it first came out.  The Pac-Man game at the arcade ate a ton of my quarters along with my time. I shot up millions of Asteroids and a few thousand AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back game on the Atari 2600.  I play games on multiple platforms now.  If it's fun, I play it. If it's great, I play it for years. I still play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) for Jolee Bindo one-liners.  I play Star Trek Online with my son.  My dad, kids, hubby, and I all play Beatles Rock Band together--can't beat three-generation gaming. My daughter and I trade Pokemon. All of us in my family are going to be playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when it comes out.

    Lest CNN and others who are 'speedbumps on the Clue Highway' think that I am an aberration in the female gamer category, Hubby and I quest through Tyria, Cantha, and Elona in Guild Wars, along with our guildmates in The Lost Haven--many of whom are female! I've shot down my share of orcs in Neverwinter Nights (NWN) 1 and 2 and LOTRO, all while gaming with other women.  I've installed mods for NWN 1 and 2, KOTOR 1 and 2, Dragon Age, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, and Mass Effect--many of which were created by--shock, horror, FEMALES.

    Even more--we talk, write, and tweet about gaming.  Trusty Friend leXX and I podcasted for 2 years about gaming on LucasCast, and share about different games regularly in forum posts and tweets.  Several women host the podcast 'Corellian Run Radio'.  Trusty Friends NEligahn, Ellif, and I are working on the Crossed Lightsabers podcast. There are any number of women writing for gaming websites and magazines. I'm certainly not the only female gamer who blogs, either.

    Welcome to the 21st century, CNN.  Glad you made it out of your mom's basement to discover that we gals have been upstairs for years, XBox controllers or Orochi gaming mice in hand, fragging VC in Call of Duty: Black Ops or slicing and dicing the bosses in Fallout: New Vegas and Red Dead Redemption. I'll even share my controller with you if you promise to quit being so idiotically surprised that women actually game.  Try and keep up with us, boys. We women aren't going to hold back on our leet gaming skillz for you.
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    Monday, June 13, 2011

    Contacting the State Board of Insurance=Success

    Picture of the Ozark Mountains from Missouri S...Image via WikipediaMy, my.  It's amazing what contacting the State Board of Insurance will do for speeding up our coverage process.

    First, a big kudos to the State of Missouri for getting our "official" marriage license out to us so quickly, since the copy hubby and I have been carrying around for years apparently is "not official".  I was about to leave the house to express mail the 9 dollar fee when the lady in the County Clerk officer told me 'oh, it's actually free for anyone in the military'.  So, she sent it out that very day, and I was able to email it to Wheaton Fransciscan 2 days later when it arrived.  That was awesome.

    I found out that the State had forwarded my complaint to Wheaton Franciscan.  Not so surprisingly, 2 days later I received a letter saying my insurance had been terminated, despite the assurance over the phone just the day before the letter that we had a 'grace period' to get the paperwork in and that I wouldn't be removed from the insurance.  I suspect that was their equivalent of flipping me the bird.

    The day I got the 'we're flipping you the bird' letter, I called WF again and said a polite version of "WTF????" The nice lady reassured me that we were still in the grace period, though I highly doubted it.  What's on an erasable voice recording and what's on paper are two different things.  Well, the day after I emailed the super-special marriage license with all the spiffy numbers, seals, and assorted other doo-dads required to make it "more authentic" than my copy, we got an email saying I'm covered after all. I suspect the complaint to the state expedited moving on our case more quickly. 

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    Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    How to Give Outstandingly Bad Customer Service in Health Insurance

    Health Insurance Does Not Insure HealthImage by SavaTheAggie via FlickrOne of the things I love about blogging is that I can speak my mind about a number of things. Most of the time, this happens to be about people being dweebs on gaming forums and saying silly things while MMO servers are down, or about adventures we have trying to kill bosses in dungeons, or about Geek Funk. These are usually fun and/or just plain silly.  Occasionally, Serious Things happen in my life, and I feel compelled to share them with you.  Face-palming at this atrocious behavior somehow makes us all feel a little better.

    So, today, Trusty Friends, the discussion is "How to Give Outstandingly Bad Customer Service in Health Insurance."  The company in question? Well, I don't want to say the name of the company...oh, who's kidding who? Of course I'm dying to tell you it's Wheaton Franciscan! 

    Now, this is the company Trusty Hubby has been working at for years.  However, he's been deployed to Army active duty several times during his tenure at this particular hospital. When he's on active duty, we are covered under the military's health insurance, so we don't use Wheaton Franciscan's health insurance then.  To be fair, we've never had any problems until he returned from this latest deployment.  Apparently, Wheaton Franciscan hired a number of new Vice Presidents during his last deployment who feel the need to justify their salaries by making life an unbearable hell for the rest of Wheaton Franciscan employees.  This includes cutting benefits, cutting jobs, cutting salaries, and just plain denying coverage for anyone trying to get back on the health care plan.

    Now, since Trusty Hubby has been employed at WF for a number of years, and despite the fact that the insurance plan has covered us in the past without any problems, and has all of our information on file, we found out we had to jump through some new hoops to get coverage again when Hubby went back to work after coming off of active duty.  Apparently during the time he was gone, WF had discovered all sorts of people claiming family members who weren't really family members.  "Hundreds", we were told. There are only a few hundred WF employees--am I somehow supposed to believe that a good 75% of the employee base was committing insurance fraud? Give me a break.

    So, then we needed:
    a. Birth certificates for our kids
    b. Our marriage license
    c. Social security numbers for everyone (what they did with this information they already had on file, I don't know--it's probably being spammed out to identity thieves in China, Russia, and/or Algeria).
    d. A copy of our 1040 tax form proving that all of us were claimed on Trusty Hubby's tax form so that WF would believe we had kids. If they show up on a tax form, then of course they exist!
    e. Proof from my workplace that I didn't have insurance through them, or we'd have to pay a surcharge
    f. Providing detailed information on an online form.

    We dutifully sent all of this in. Once. Via Fax.  When we asked several weeks later what the status was, did they have any of the paperwork? Of course not.  We faxed it again.  Silly us, this should have been our first clue that things were not going to turn out well, and that things should have been sent certified mail.  We called again.  Naturally, it was 'not received' again.  Of course, their viewpoint is, 'if our fax machine doesn't spit it out for us, you never sent it'.  I suspect they intentionally avoid putting paper in the fax machine so they a. don't have to do work that day, and/or b. have plausible deniability when someone calls to ask if they're now covered.  I was informed that I also had to fill out the online form again, because 'something was wrong with how your husband filled it out'. I jumped through that hoop for them, too.

    So, let's sum up so far:

    We've sent in the paperwork 3 times, and finally hand-delivered it once.
    We've filled out the online form twice.
    I've faxed in the form showing I don't have coverage through my employer twice.

    Everything should be set, right? 

    Wrong.

    What we have:
    Coverage for Trusty Hubby.
    Coverage for our son.
    No coverage for our daughter.
    No coverage for me.

    That's 50% wrong, my Trusty Friends.  I'd like to point out that if I got things 50% wrong in my office, 100% of my patients would be half blind.  Thank God these people aren't in charge of anything Really Important, like the CDC labs or nuclear ballistic missiles. We'd have radioactive Ebola viruses spread over half the world.

    What we're paying:
    Family coverage, for employee, spouse, and all kids.
    A surcharge for me, because, surprise, surprise, they LOST the paperwork sent TWICE stating I have no coverage through my employer. So, they're taking extra money out of Trusty Hubby's pay, all while not covering me, because this is a brilliant financial move according to some VP in the company.

    What I call this: Fraud. Pure, unadulterated FRAUD.  We are paying for something we are not receiving.

    Last week, we received an email from them, stating they could not cover me until we sent them another copy of our marriage license.  Apparently, the copy we picked up from the county courthouse, actually got signed by the Chaplain, witnesses, and everything ON THE DAY OF OUR WEDDING, was not good enough.  Despite the fact that it's been good enough for the US Army for the last 20-odd years, it is not good enough for WF.  No, WF required the version with serial numbers on it, notarized, licked, sealed, and containing both my bra size and the DNA of the County Clerk in triplicate on it.  They don't want blood, however, because that would be a biohazard.

    At this point, after having dealt with this for months, and seeing this ridiculous new requirement designed to delay coverage even LONGER, I decided that contacting the State Board of Insurance would be a simply excellent idea. I told the state that I thought this was a delay tactic so that the company would either not have to cover the 2 most expensive people in the family or could delay paying our claims.  Not so coincidentally,  the two of us who are not covered are the two who've actually seen a doctor in the last 3 months. I'd do my best Gilbert Gottfried impression and say "What as surprise! I think I'll have a heart attack and die from that surprise!"  However, I'm not sure what my insurance status is, so having a heart attack right now is out of the question.

    Contacting the state turned out to be an even better decision when I received a letter from the insurance company the next morning, DATED JUNE 1, stating they needed copies of all our paperwork, YET AGAIN, and that it was due--get this--MAY 30TH.

    Now I was really mad.  When I call to make a complaint, I am polite, but firm. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, no matter how big the fly is. Nevertheless, I informed them that sending me a form dated 2 days AFTER the due date was about as intelligent as hitting an electrical line with a metal pickax, and that we had sent PDF copies of everything JUST THE NIGHT BEFORE.  The lady who spoke to me was amazingly patient, and informed me that everything was OK, explained that yes, I still had to jump through the idiotic marriage license hoop because the one we have isn't 'official' enough for them, and that we'd have until June 20th to get this in, as a special grace period.

    Today, I received a letter saying my spouse coverage was terminated as of March 31st. The lady I spoke to on the phone again today reassured me we had until June 20th to get the paperwork in.

    Sure. Like I believe that after all this BS.  I'm sure the State Board will find all of this fraudulent activity about as fascinating as I do. Moral of the story--if you have insurance problems of any kind, contact your State Board of Insurance. They can help you get it resolved.


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