January 22, 2008

Under 40 Mammogram Notes

Posted in Medicine, Rants at 8:44 pm by a11en

This is an adult topic, but it’s not necessarily “adult.” The things talked about here are scientific in nature, not erotic.

So, I was researching this evening something that stuck in my head (a friend brought this up recently due to something she experienced) regarding Mammography. Basically, it’s an x-ray of breast tissue. Unfortunately, for shorter women, and women who aren’t well endowed, it often is difficult to get a Mammogram performed properly. To make matters worse, there is a slight increase in risk due to the gamma-radiation of the Mammogram for women under the age of 40. To top this all off, it turns out that women under the age of 40 often have regular breast density differences just due to their more active hormones, etc. There are apparently missed cancers in differing breast-mass Mammograms, as well as false-positives for differing breast-density which is often completely normal for women under 40. Very interesting.

A 1998 article on the subject [1] suggests that due to these factors, Mammography is not useful for younger women, and suggests that directed ultrasound examination be used to determine the type of mass and whether it is clinically suspect. The reason for the directed ultrasound is quite simple… if they go running around doing a complete ultrasound examination, they will likely find many more masses which are not suspect due to the differing breast density in younger women. Then, if the mass is clinically suspect, fine-needle aspiration which has an excellent rate of determining benign or malignant masses can be used. Then, decisions about what to do with both can be discussed. Benign of course you can simple do a follow-up clinical examination to determine if the mass has grown or not, and any other subsequent ultrasound or FNA can be done at that time.

Basically, Mammography has changed very little since the 1970s, and over a billion dollars spent in trying to update it to make it a better screening method has failed to improve it’s effectiveness. [2] Couple this with very low cancer rates in women below 40, the increase in risk due to radiation, and the density differences which cause false-positives, Mammography appears to be somewhat unimportant and unuseful for women under 40. One of the reasons I suspect it is a preferred test, is quite simply due to its cost. Cost appears to be $50-150.00, quite an easy bill to foot. The problem quite simply is that if it misses smaller masses and has false-positives on varying tissue density, it doesn’t appear that useful.

The reason this came up was quite simply because I was confused at the call for a mammogram in a friend who is well under 40 (actually under 35)… that lead me to dig a bit more, and I realized that the clinical suggestions are such that there is not much that indicates mammography in women that young. [Not just the screening procedures.] So, I feel quite likely this is another case of a doc (here a practitioner not an MD) just following rote the marching orders, failing to realize that age was an important factor here, and with a simple test, why not? Well, why not is quite simple- poor efficacy (false positives and false negatives) and an (albeit small) increase in gamma-radiation exposure. No reason to do so, why do it? Besides, that very same day (within a half-hour) she’s scheduled for an ultra-sound examination (I wonder if it’s a comprehensive US, or if it’s just directed- better be directed, or else I’ll think someone is not doing their job very well over there…). The ultrasound does a much better job at imaging masses in women this age, and will likely just confirm an earlier diagnosis of fibroadenoma for similar masses in the same patient.

I get quite tired of docs who can’t stay current with these things… I experienced this with another friend who had been mis-diagnosed with a very crazy disease. Reading and talking with the experts in the field revealed that quite likely the docs were being way over cautious, and that there was very little to indicate the extreme (and somewhat rare) disease classification was warranted.

In this litigation crazy world, however, I can understand overly cautious docs. Likely they’re doing everything they can for the first friend, simply because litigation of missed cancers in younger women is much much higher than in older women. So, again, litigation rules the marching orders for docs, not the actual science behind the medicine. The hippocratic oath suggests to me that even a slight gamma-radiation exposure when not warranted may be simply removed to prevent any slight possibility of complication in the future. Of course, if she was litigation crazy, she could simply suggest that any future breast cancer was likely caused by the non-indicated use of a mammogram while she was younger than 40. [How’s that for a scare, hospital lawyers?]

Update: The first friend had her examinations today. She asked the practitioners again about the mammogram, but they gave her line something like: “We need the mammogram to help support the ultrasound.” So, she says to them: “Well, ok, I think I understand, but I’m going to wait on the mammogram right now because I’m uncomfortable with the test at this time.” She keeps her ultrasound appointment, is in and out for the test. (I had time to read maybe 2 long paragraphs and make notes for that chapter.) The ultrasound tech confirmed everything I said here, as well as suggested that for my friend, it would be a bad idea due to her breast size. The ultrasound went perfectly, did a fantastic job of imaging the mass, and it was found to be a simple fluid filled cyst. Had she gone ahead with her mammogram, she likely would have gotten a bazillion hits on different masses, and then the rush to find out which mass may be cancerous would begin. When, due to the extremely high false-positive rate (90%) for mammography, coupled with the under 40 cancer rate (less than 4%) every mass would likely be benign. I suggest an alternative method… create a grid of dots on the breasts, and do FNA’s all over the breast tissue. At least the efficacy would be significantly higher than in a Mammogram. [Of course I don’t actually suggest this- but it would be more effective than mammography in young women. Likely you’d be doing FNA’s all day long with all the masses that would show up in mammography.] Finally a simple disclaimer- I’m not an expert, I’ve just read some articles on this. So, don’t take all the above as rote. Find the actual journal articles, read them, and make up your own opinions. [It’s surprising how easy it is to do.]

  1. M. Morrow, S. Wong, and L. Venta. The evaluation of breast masses in women younger than forty years of age. Surgery, 124(4):634–641, 1998. (via Science Direct)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammography

January 1, 2008

Chief Illiniwek > USC Trojans?

Posted in Rants at 7:30 pm by a11en

So, how in the world is the USC Trojans less racist than Chief Illiniwek?  This is a prime example of a one-sided view of racism.  During the half-time show at today’s Rose-Bowl, I saw a Trojan warrior running around on the field with a sword and brush-helmet, and the whole band wearing similar clothing.  All in all, if I had Trojan heritage, I’d suspect I would be as affronted as if I had Illinois Indian (yes, that’s the name of the tribe) heritage.

So, just because there isn’t a tribe that we can pay for the rights to use their image, we can’t use the honorable position of the Chief (which many a young UofI man has fought hard to become and is a revered position)?  Unlike the Seminoles who have an Indian run in on horse-back and fire off an arrow?

So, I ask you, how is the Trojans less racists than the Illini/Chief Illiniwek?  Or, less racist than the Seminoles, if you can’t see that discussion clearly?

It reminds me of an old friend of mine who said that discrimination was only possible in a situation where a larger group of people were oppressing a smaller group of people.  Of course, never mind that if you check a dictionary this is not the case at all.  The only thing I can think of, is that since the Trojans are considered to be “white” and therefore are a larger group of the population, that they aren’t considered to be racially depicted in contrast to the minority American Indians (such as the Illinois tribe).

But, then again, should it surprise me with today’s popular idiot mentality which appears to be running rampant in this ever-PC world?

Speaking of which, another popular topic is the ever present “It’s for the children!”  Like the current Illinois smoking ban (went into effect today)… which I’m so thankful for being enacted… after all, we don’t want any of the 3 year olds who go to the local bars to get an ear infection (which is about the only statistically significant effect of breathing SHS… then again, most bars have modern ventilation systems, which negates that statistic…).  I’m very happy the Children who frequent bars will be safer now.  Speaking of which, here’s a useful TED video for you to watch if you have kids:  “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.

Sorry for the side-track there… Let’s just say that unless your team is named after an animal, an inanimate object, or a plant, you better change your mascot…

November 13, 2007

The Happiest Man In The World?

Posted in Christianity, EasternPhilosophy, Productivity, Rants, Religion, Work at 1:57 am by a11en

A very quick blog-post regarding a recent TED lecture I listened to (posted recently from 2004) on the training of our minds to focus on happiness… I’m supposed to be working on a journal article review, so I must make this short…

Matthieu_Ricard‘s TED lecture regarding happiness touched on something I have come across before (just found his Google lecture– will have to watch that also). During his talk, Ricard discussed how Anger and these types of emotions can be destroyed, by focusing on the actual emotion of anger, rather than the event of the anger which frustrates you. Surprisingly, a light-bulb went off above my head (I have it on my desk now- well, ok, maybe I’m joking… ). You see, this sounded very very much like the talk of a great man I truly admire- C.S.Lewis in his discussion of his search for Joy in Surprised By Joy. [note- this is not the complete focus of Lewis’ book, but it does play a role in his discussion about happiness and his pursuit of it.] You see, Lewis realized (as the great philosopher he was), that every time he was truly happy and went to observe what happiness meant, he all of a sudden was no longer happy. The conclusion that Lewis came to, was that Happiness itself cannot be studied, aside from the event of happiness which could be experienced. In otherwords, observing his emotions technically, meant that his motions ceased to be. And this very much ties in with Ricard’s discussion of Mind-Training (say through meditation). Basically, observation of the state of being Angry, turns your focus from Anger’s object, and upon the object of You and how you are experiencing anger in its pure form- your emotional response only… say the physical response of your body to your emotions, etc. A very interesting twist on a concept I had heard of before.

Frustration reared its ugly head for me in my work these past few weeks, and the action(s) of a supposed friend/mentor has me quite fuming. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to complain, and so I must move forward, not to let my emotions dictate my actions or my ability to act. In fact, a negative response to this likely won’t do any good at all. And so, this week, I think I’ll take a page out of Ricard’s book, and observe my physical and mental response technically in regards to my emotions of Anger, and see if I can’t make them more fleeting, as Ricard says… as birds flying across the sky, leaving no trace on my mind.

There are many things that Christians can learn from the mystics and philosophers of the east- just as Chesterton saw them, I also see them- they are philosophers and scientists, not solely religious focused practitioners. Buddhism and the like is a religion, and then again, it isn’t. Very much like a koan itself… it has no specific god, but sees all as god at the same time. What is much more interesting, is to look at how Buddhists (and Toaists) see Man’s position in the world, and how one copes with one’s existence, and the mystical explanaitions of such existence. Very interesting.

Oh, and as much as you can believe f-MRI (and I have my doubts sometimes), Ricard and his fellow Monks were completely off the charts in the studies [2] they participated in. So, meditation does change the brain…

Not only do we have to learn good habits in our work, etc, we must also learn good habits in our mind. Ricard’s closing statements about how much we focus on our exterior, good health, exercise, etc., and contrastingly, how little we spend on our interior, mental processes, health, and internal happiness, was very poignant.

Update- Wednesday; November 14, 2007- Reading more has been interesting. I wanted to add a few points.

• It’s clear that some of the Catholic Astheticists have a link of common experiences with monks of the East. Merton recognized this, and it led to a long discourse (which still exists to this day) between Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism (here the Trappists). It’s also clear that there is a wariness occurring in the Catholic church about the amount of Buddhist practices which are entering into many churches and retreat centers etc. In fact before he became Pope, the new guy also was discussing this. It appears that the “grass is always greener” syndrome is happening here for many western Christians.

• I think there is a delineation that should be made between a mental practice of a methodology know to alter the mental state, bringing about this “mental training” that Ricard discusses and practicing religious aspects of a methodology that should likely raise some warning flags for Christians in the process. For example- the concept that all is the same and all is nothing… this is somewhat Nihilist and should raise some flags… while we may not know for sure, a Christian believes this is not correct. I.e., that there is a truth and a wrong in the world, and that there is a divine truth and a divine good. And that man is separate from this divine good etc. Much of this discussion will not jive with many aspects of Buddhism. But, this does not mean that a philosophy separate from a religious practice cannot have portions of truth in it for the Christian believer. As C.S. Lewis would say in regards to the earlier religions that had aspects similar to the death of Christ, etc.- it is not these earlier religions that show the fault in Christianity, in fact, it is the very fact that they harken to a truth that is Christian that upgirds Christianity. They share partial truths, namely because there is such a thing as the full truth. It shouldn’t surprise us if man every once in a while stumbles across a truth which we find also in our Christian teachings.

• I focus on the philosophy of the eastern thoughts, not on the religious aspects (unless I’m doing comparative religious readings), and find the majority of this all quite interesting. Those who are familiar with Sin should immediately recognize reflections of it in Tao “The Way”. C.S. Lewis did, and commented on it in his “The Abolition Of Man.” I.e., to live a sinless life, one needs to flow around obstacles in one’s path like a river around rocks… (that east-west image I just created should give you a sense of the richness of this type of discourse)

• So, I step forward here, deeply interested in meditation again since reading of the fMRI results. Anxiously awaiting the future publications of this work. And, I am now reading what I can about practices etc., to determine if I can mix meditation “mind-training” into my current spiritual life. BTW, I see some practices in the Eastern Christian sects that have this meditation history (Jesus prayer etc.), and so it is likely that there is a synergy here. Merton and the Dalai Llama certainly noticed it… it should be an interesting experience…

• ps- “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome actually works both ways… in my experience, a good portion of the Chinese students who arrive in this country are just itching to talk about Christianity with anyone who seems open to it. They have a real curiosity. So, it goes both ways. 🙂 They also will chat about ConfuTse and ChuangTse etc., if asked… which can be quite interesting as well. [ps- I love ChuangTse more than both ConfuTse and LaoTse. While LaoTse may have been the first, ChuangTse was the one who expressed it the best.]

October 23, 2007

WLS-AM Difficulties in Streaming Audio

Posted in Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 11:31 am by a11en

Well, I figure it’s time for a small mini-rant.  After all, you guys get tired of listening to me not-ranting, don’t you?  😉

I’ve been a long-time listener to WLS-AM (890 kHz- Chicago, IL).  When I can’t get it via the radio, I often attempt to get it via streaming audio.  Recently, the radio-station made a change to how it was streaming its audio.  It appears they have contracted out the audio streaming to some insane company called  players.eonstreams.com.  Fine.  Just fine.  Except, well, that it’s impossible for me to stream their audio anymore!  I can’t get their stream in anything other than a d*Q!#@ web-browser with their !@!@# pop-up window and in-line advertisements.  Well, that’s just b-e-a-utiful.

They’ve lost a listener, at least an on-line listener.  They used to be one of the major online radio streams, and I can only guess that now, they aren’t even registering in listenership.  Why oh, why, WLS-AM did you need to make this change?  Honestly, do you think it was worth it to get a few more adverts up to only support web-service streaming with weirdo-pop-ups and platform specific audio?  [Windows media player only!]  What in the world is happening up there at the station?  Someone dropped the ball on that one.

Guess the money was worth it.  Well, you can count me out on listenership online.

September 6, 2007

iPod Touch: Released due to hacking of iPhone?

Posted in iPod, Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 11:00 am by a11en

So, in talking on the phone (regular cell phone, which I hate, btw), with my brother about all the wonderful possibilities for the iPod Touch, we touched on a number of aspects regarding future devices. We also talked about how Apple set this release up with panache to fit within their tier of products. An earlier commenter, Shawn, brought me a bit back down to earth, chastising me for not seeing the iPod Touch for what it is. True, Shawn, the iPod Touch is just that- an iPod that you can touch the screen of. With the added bonus of Wifi. [Interesting]

And on that note, my brother made an observation that I must share with you. Kudos goes to the guy for a moment of sheer genius. The question we were trying to answer was: “Why not a microphone? Why not bluetooth for keyboard attachment?… etc.” In a flash of brilliance, My Bro, hereafter called “D” (to protect the innocence of little D… yeah right).. said the following: “Dude. They released the iPod Touch because people were hacking the iPhone.” I sat in silence for a few moments… I think D is onto something serious here. It fits. It fits good. It fits really really good. What was everyone and their doggies with webpages screaming for when the iPhone came out? “No Phone.. we just want an iPod.” It was a nice enough device (touch technology getting major kudos here, as well as the sweet flip-screen ability), that people started hacking it. They made it work in Europe, they made it work as an iPod without any darned phone ability. They were taking the device and hacking it in a big big way. Big enough that there were startups thinking about offering their services to hack these devices for everyone.

ATT must have been pissed. I know I would have been. Hell, they probably had the European release scheduled, and then the Asian release… everything planned out. Then, within 2 months of it being in the wild, a crack that allowed other network useage, as well as new applications and bricking the phone for use as a Wifi Browser (albeit a seriously expensive wifi browser)?

So, what does Apple do? They have this device in the works… they were planning to do this. What did people really ask for? An iPod that let’s them surf the internet. Pretty sweet device. I suspect Apple was (is) gearing up to give us more. How do they stop the incessant hacking? They release a device that gives us exactly what we were screaming for. That would cause either (1) the iPhone hacking to take a serious hit in interest, and (2) start a whole new type of hacking on the more popular iPod Touch. All to the benefit of the cellular networks (ATT) that were frustrated they were losing money and customers.

Let’s see if perhaps there isn’t a bit more to support this… let’s actually try and purchase one of these iPod Touches… oh, wait… I see I can order the new Widescreen Nanos… yes, they ship in 1-3 business days… I see that I can do the same with the shuffles and the iPod Classics… yup, ships in 1-3 business days. Hmm… iPod touch? No love… ships on the 28th of this month. That’s 22 days away. Hmm… interesting!! Vary vary interesting….

Looking closer at the iPod Touch… we see that it has practically the same *everything* as the iPhone. Sure, it’s a bit smaller around the edges, the top-plastic seems to be a bit shorter on top… perhaps the button divot is a bit smaller. The screen appears to be the same. My prediction? The first person to crack this cover off and look at the internals is going to find some missing chips inside and a bunch of connectivity not used. This, my friends, is an iPhone without a bunch of stuff inside. Slightly repackaged. I personally think it’s not a new product… I think it’s actually the iPhone. 🙂 That’s my take on this. They pushed this sucker out the door as fast as they could. They didn’t care they burnt some of the iPhone early adopters (oh sure, they paid lipservice to them by not including Mail.app and a chat feature and removed blue-tooth as well as the microphone port). Nope, this was a “hacker-killer.” They want to divert your attention. And, you know what? I think it’s going to work. I personally want to know much much more about the iPod Touch and want hackers to hack it as fast as they can! Give me a terminal and a few other apps, and I’m so there.

🙂 So, Kudos goes to my brother the infamous “D” (yes, he used to do some children’s TV shows back in the day along with the other letters.. “A”, “B”, etc.). I suspect that “D” is onto something here. I suspect this release solved a bit of trouble in Apple… and I suspect this was the device, albeit a bit more cut-down, that was supposed to be released next year.

Will I buy it? I’m counting my pennies. I most likely will. It’s going to be very hard not to buy it before the next Apple hardware release. So, for releasing practically what everyone wanted… serious Kudos go to Apple.

[small whisper says it’d be damned nice to have open development for this platform!]

September 5, 2007

iPod Touch: Apple almost gets it right…

Posted in iPod, Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 4:25 pm by a11en

Well, I’m kicking myself more and more for not buying APPL back in ’94. Today is one of those days. Apple listened or realized what they had here… a wifi enabled iPod with touch-screen ala iPhone. Fantastic. The price-point is not that bad either. However, there are a few things blatantly *wrong* with the new iPod Touch… and here’s my take on them…

No microphone and speaker.

As far as I can tell based on the specifications, there is currently no microphone or speaker included into the iPodTouch. As well, there is no blue-tooth connectivity. Connections can only be made via the wifi connection or via the USB port. So, this means, at least for now, absolutely no Skype abilities. Wow. Apple really missed the boat on this one. If this thing had Skype they would sell about 10x the number of units the very first month. Perhaps 100x the number of units. As it is, this thing is big.. but let’s be honest here. Useable skype in a hand-held Wifi device would be HUGE. Apple would literally change the face of telecommunication if they did this. Instead, I believe they decided to play a bit of product tier marketing. They felt- well, let’s not confuse people with a Skype enabled iPod… let’s make them buy the overpriced (due to service contracts etc.) iPhone. Apple is saving it’s own butt on this one. They won’t lose as many users from the iPhone with the new iPod, and they won’t piss off Cingular at the same time.

No GPS chip on board.

So, you want to find all the local Star-Bucks? Well, forget using an internal GPS chip to help with routing via Google Maps or Google Earth. Just like the iPhone, the iPodTouch has no GPS capabilities. Big mistake on this one guys… there’s a whole slew of things that could have been done if you had added a GPS chip. For instance- “see where my pals are”… or “find nearest bookstore”… now I assume you’ll have to type in your current location (snore… ZZzzzz). Although, for my tin-foil hat wearing friends (I’m a part-timer) this means Google won’t know exactly what you read and exactly where you are every moment of the day (a good thing perhaps). 🙂

A bit too light on the GB’s.

Ok, so you have a wide-screen iPod capable of all sorts of goodies, you can do web2.0, and likely also streaming video etc. But, what about integration with video via iTunes? What about downloading and installing full length movies for that plane flight? [How big is that movie file again?]… at only 8 GB or 16 GB, the iPodTouch is a bit lacking on ability to store a number of BIG media files. This is a huge mistake. There should be no reason why I can’t have 3 or 4 movies as well as all my music on this thing. I suspect Apple will make a show of streaming via WiFi in an attempt to offset this lacking memory. Obviously the device is flash-ram based (a plus for those who have bricked their iPod’s that have hard-drives), however, at this size, are we sure we’re really in for a serious machine like this with such a small amount of memory?

Lack of BlueTooth – huge mistake.

Ok, to add insult to injury here, we find that the iPod Touch has no bluetooth abilities. Yes, I said “No Bluetooth”. Ok… the reason I harp on this is as follows. (1) Lack of communication ability via Wifi… obviously Apple is seeing this as a “Reader” not a full-fledged Internet communication device (again, Skype killer). If BlueTooth was possible, we could (2) sync via the computer w/o usb, we could even (3) use BlueTooth enabled cameras to download and catalog all our camera files. As well, we could link to other devices, say a (4) GPS even… hell, the whole world practically opens up with bluetooth capability, (5) local iPod to iPod connectivity, (6) wireless stereo headsets… the list goes on and on. Hell, a (7) blue-tooth connection to your fancy schmancy car… Or the ability to take (8) voice notes or (9) class-lecture recordings. Need I go on? Hell, even have a dialer function for your blue-tooth enabled phone, with address-book support!!! (10).

And, now we see how Apple set up it’s product tree, I fear. You see, if they had done these things, it would have become an iPhone killer product. Most people likely *don’t* want to have their iPod coupled with their phone. But, give them semi-reasonable Wifi connectivity and BlueTooth support, and you have a very useful product. I’ll deal with Skype for that one friend of mine who uses it too… but for everyone? I think not. Would I have paid for that limited ability? You betcha. I would have paid an extra 100 easy for bluetooth capability with microphone support. Add a GPS and extra memory, and I may have even paid an extra 200.

OsX and iPodTouch application development?

The true killer for this device will be simple. With its above limitations, it’s a nice internet browser and limited video/audio media device. Lack of high-quality recording function continues to plague all of apple’s products, and likely will continue in the far future due to Apple’s appeasement of the payola scamming record labels. It’s a shame that even though I don’t ever purchase from these guys that I still am feeling the effects of a backwards antiquated record company schema. Fine. Let’s leave that for another day. But, what will the real killer of this device be?

Lack of application development– That will be the real killer. I have yet to see if I can run a cisco vpn, an ssh terminal to my local machine with Mutt and screen via terminal… hell, the ability to directly fix websites on the fly would be wonderful. The ability to get into the os, and produce applications is what will really make this device useful. The question is- will this be? Will we be able to tap into the strength of the FreeBSD underpinnings? Mount webdav servers? Upload/download pdf files for view? There are reams of possibilities and this one item may be the true killer for this device. Will it be a serious device, or merely a candy-of-the-month toy? We’ll have to see…

The future I suspect will be like this:

The products I see in the near future: a USB-Bluetooth connection for Skype users, a USB attached GPS unit for geocachers and others, a Microphone attachment that can handle the first, as well as enable note-taking in class (ala the iTalk).

August 29, 2007

ID Theft Rears It’s Ugly Head Again…

Posted in Fraud, IDTheft, Rants at 8:08 pm by a11en

Well, fun fun fun… received a letter today from a debt-collection agency for a bill with T-mobile that doesn’t belong to me. So, now the fun begins *yet again* to try and track down how this came about. Someone obviously is still using my SSN to obtain fraudulent accounts with T-mobile. Now, there’s a chance, that this is the same old account they are trying to collect on *yet again*, and that their little “Fraud Case File’s” internal to T-mobile mean absolutely nothing to collection agencies. It’s a different collection-agency this time, so if it’s the same account from a number of years ago, then obviously someone is dropping the ball. I have a freakin’ police case-number for the damned fraud, and yet it’s still in collection?

So, I’ll likely be updating this blog to discuss ID Theft and credit over the course of the following months. I’m tempted to purchase into a ID-protection system, and so I will also be updating my searches regarding this as well.

All in all, my hope is to help my readers here to increase their security and be a bit of a test-case for what they may experience in a same situation.

Some Tips…

  • Shredding– I shred just about everything in my house. Even my toilet-paper. Ok, well, maybe not that extreme. Insanely, all it takes to open an account in a number of places is a fake SSN number, a name and address, and bammo, you’ve got a new something (say a mobile phone from T-mobile). So, anything with your name (all those damned catalogs etc.) needs to get shredded (rip out personalized pages).
  • Bank– One of my banks (credit union) is wonderful. They’ve placed a security code that I need to give either verbally or on paper to my bank to do anything with my account. Unfortunately, this usually means taking out cash in person, or more often, depositing. I really don’t care if strange people want to deposit to my account, but would rather it be more difficult to take money *out* of my account. 🙂 So, it’s sort of working in reverse right now, but it’s happy to know my bank (who met with me personally with two security officers in an office) is on my side.
  • Personal Info Management– Try to limit the people you give your personal information to. This is especially true in regards to all the little companies that request your phone number, address, etc., over the phone and sometimes even in person. Keep in mind that someone *might* use your information against you. So, merely politely say: “I’m a victim of ID theft, and I would prefer not to give you my SSN, or my address etc…” Often companies *still* use SS# to confirm your identity. My bank (the other one, who is completely useless) does this.

I’ll have more important tips for you soon. Often the time you figure out you’re a victim is when collections begin. That’s the worst time, as now you have to prove that you didn’t purchase X, and why you aren’t required to pay Y. This is difficult to accomplish. Companies are getting a bit better at this, however, once the accounts are in collection, now someone else owns your debt. Likely this is what has happened with my old IDTheft… someone fraudulently sold my fraudulent debt to another collections agency. Fun, eh?

One thing you can do, is you can request a free Credit Report from each of the three companies. If you stagger these requests throughout the year, you have 1/3 of a year where you aren’t actively watching your credit report. So, you will likely catch fraudulent accounts in the space of 4 months. I personally feel we should be allowed to request and contest credit reports almost weekly or daily. Your credit report is something you don’t really have control over anymore (they’re trying to make it seem as though you do)… and to limit access to these reports is improper. You can request a report if you feel you are a victim of Fraud (which I guess I’ll get to do again), but this, as I say, is often too late.

What is one of the main reasons for ID Theft? I hate to say it, but it’s illegal immigration. You see, in order to work in this country, you need an SSN. So, you can make one up out of the air, or pay for one online. Use your real name, and the fake SSN (or another person’s SSN)… and there’s no real way to check the vailidity of this. So, you get your job, and you make your money, never mind you’ve committed fraud. My SSN currently has 1 other person on it… his name is José (and a name something like burrito- although different- not joking). Wonder if José is an illegal alien? I wonder if José will begin to *collect* on my SSN! [There are cases where this has happened in the past.] So, my friends, illegal immigration doesn’t just affect the poor trying to make a living. It influences legal residents and citizens daily. In fact, it does so in such large numbers that ID Theft is now considered the largest crime in the U.S.

So, I’m actually dealing with 2 separate incidents of Fraud. One in which an account of credit was opened with T-mobile, and one in which someone is using my SSN to get unlawful employment in this country.

Apparently T-mobile lets anyone open an account with an SSN, and fraudulent name and address. Then, they rack up about a grand in charges, and the account goes into collection, and you’re met at your mailbox with a letter for debt-collection? Now, where is my recourse? I opened a police report about this about 2 years ago, and they’re again trying to collect against a fraudulent account?

I’ll let you know how this shapes up. I’ll also try and be more info-rich along with links etc. in the future. For now, let me suggest an excellent read by the famous Frank W. Abagnale: The Art Of The Steal. I see he has a new one out. I’ll likely be purchasing that and letting you know how these both stack up to my experiences.

Anyone of you could be a victim here. My goal in these blog posts will be to help you avoid what I’m going through if at all possible. If that happens, then my frustration can be turned into good.

See you guys soon with more info, updates and help.

April 28, 2007

Ugh, Women.

Posted in Procrastination, Rants, Work at 5:30 pm by a11en

One of the most beautiful days of spring… wonderful sun, clear skys with teddy-bear making clouds… Chel comes home from a conference (must have been all day sitting on a seat), and starts in. First, she calls ahead- I want to go do something. Fine. I like the idea. Except I’ve been enjoying the day and I’m not showered yet. So, I jump in the shower immediately. She gets home and continues to berate me about how I haven’t done this or that… I apologize, then argue… I say, fine, sorry, where do you want to go? She wants to go to the mall and freakin’ buy shoes. Beautiful day, spring flowers in bloom (freakin’ arboretum is only 10 minutes down the street), and she wants to go to a dark dingy mall and buy shoes?!?!

Her first mistake is thinking any man would ever want to accompany women to buy shoes. I’m supposed to determine which shoes look good? Hell, does any man *ever* look at women’s shoes? [I suggest that likely the eye immediately goes to a woman’s calf once the ankle has been spotted… ] Knowing the sun is only up for a few hours, I suggest the Arboretum… am met with frustration, and more argument, and how lazy I am… ugh.

So, I sit on the back-porch trying to do more research work while she’s off doing Lord knows what fuming at me about our inability to do things together, while I’m concerned about my Thesis.

I guess I’m the bad guy.

ps- this is linked to Procrastination and the Now Habit- because people who have trouble working and fear bad outcomes don’t ever let themselves do anything fun… and while they are supposed to be working, often they aren’t working and are procrastinating.  That goes to Fiore’s the un-schedule.  If she had told me she wanted to spend the evening together, fine, I’d prep for it… work hard until the time to go out hits.  Instead, we watch a movie together last night, and she wants to spend tonight out and watch another movie… not something I can do right now.  Oh well, will have to talk with her when we both calm down.

April 4, 2007

Grad Student Woes Part 2: “When will you be finished?”

Posted in Rants, Work at 11:27 pm by a11en

The dreaded question to the graduate student: “When will you get out?”/”When will you be finished?”/”When will you get your degree?”… and for those long in the tooth grads: “Aren’t you already done?”/”Haven’t you graduated yet?”

In fact, even those very close to you will never understand the plight of the grad-student trying to finish up, until one has already been there. The reason? Science and graduate-studies wait for no one. Think you can get the chamber to grow films within x-months? Likely you won’t be able to. Something invariably comes up. This time it was the heater-block failure. Finally we have the block ordered and the machinists have expressed their desire to only tap a #4-40 hole at the smallest (can’t do a #5-40, but they’ll do a #4-40) into the super-alloy block. Wacked out. Our in-house machinist could do it- makes you wonder why they can’t. Anyways, I digress… it took 2 weeks to figure out we couldn’t fix the old one in time, and so we’re buying another for $3.5k. Nice tidy sum. But, that was the latest wrench in the works. You should have seen the face on my graduate-student co-worker: “But, but, we were in a good growth regime!”… “Ha ha haa!!” is all I laughed. See, I’ve been there, experienced it, and I’m tired of it. It’s time for me to be finished and get out of here. I think all of this is possible by October of this year. I hope to God it is. [Believe me, I pray regularly… who says Scientists aren’t also religous… as a grad-student, it’s almost a prerequisite.]

So, I hold up in my apartment writing and working numbers furiously. Trying to make sense of the work, and increase my knowledge. That’s what I need to do in order to get further… write and discover, discover and write.

Anyone who actually gives you an ending date which is 6 months away is likely not sure of their ending date. They’re only telling you to get you off their backs. Hell, I was telling people I’d be done in 1.5 years 4 years ago. Nothing ever works the way you expect it. Graduate studies in science tends to be this big behemoth lurking over your head which will one day be done with… only when you’re around 4 months away can you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Time is running short for me. I can see the light, but I have no idea if I’ll make it there in time. Chel is ready to start a new life together… and she can’t understand why the prelim has been in the works for over a year. It’s hard to explain to her why. In fact, no one other than my professor is likely to understand why. Even then, he may say he doesn’t know and has helped as much as he can. Everyone will have their own opinions of the work. The real question in the end is whether or not the work you have accomplished will be suitable for the committee. The only way to know that is to ask the committee. The only way to ask the committee is to have as many of your ducks in a row as possible. So that when they line of up for shooting practice, hopefully they’ll all agree it’s fairly decent work.

I think I’m finally done with my misorientation calculations. I know that my axes are in the wrong section of the rodriguez space, so some more work needs to be done… but for now, I know the matrix traces are correct, and the angles based on symmetry are calculated properly. This should be enough to move forward for now. Onto the next problem. It’s going to be frustrating to explain why it took 2/3 weeks to figure this out… and hard to express my increased knowledge. Hopefully it’ll all come out in the end. In fact, I need to go update some of my documents to express this new understanding. And time to update the prelim document and work on the talk. If all goes well, (praying and crossing fingers), I’ll hopefully be done with the Prelim in 3 weeks. Of course, I’ve already told that to enough people already (over the past 3 months), that it doesn’t mean much to me anymore. We’ll see if it actually gets done.

The worst of it- the more I discover, the more I have to change the prelim and the papers I’m writing. Best to just stop and finish the writing before discovering more.

But, these last few peices of the puzzle are critical to the Prof. for publishing the paper, so it needed to be done.

Lesson of the day: Do NOT ask a graduate student when he “thinks he will be done.” It’s improper, impolite, and I know you think it’s a simple question, but I guarantee to you it is *not* a simple question. The poor graduate student has to somehow sum up all possibilities of future failures and success and try and approximate a finishing date. If he tells you greater than 1 year, he’s lying (or he doesn’t know), if he tells you less than 4 months, he’s likely correct, as he’ s almost deposited his Thesis. But, the standard rule of adding at least 2 months onto the time he thinks he’s going to be out applies in the last case.

This is only further proof that the world of science is an inexact world. Trying to accomplish a work which is worthy of the PhD title is very difficult, and very loosely defined. Intensity of work from X- university is different than Y- university… x-research group very different than y-research group… x-field different than y-field, etc. So much so, that it’s very difficult to determine how one arrives at the PhD state…

In fact, I don’t really care how one does it… I just need it done so that I can move on and achieve a good work for a company. I need to accomplish more in my life than papers and theses now. So few will ever read my work that I often wonder what good it will all do in the end… hopefully I’ll garner a decent wage for my family, though. [You don’t wan’t to know how much my friend is making on much less effort… let’s just say that anyone who tries for their PhD is *not* in it for the money!]

Sorry for the rant today, guys. Here’s a link:PhD Comics- How's your research going?

I recently got to see Jorge Cham of PhD comics give a talk about graduate-school at my university. Excellent, excellent stuff. All I can say is that we are not alone… everyone goes through very similar experiences. I just hope that when I get done with this “experience” that I’m a Dr. so and so, instead of missing that degree. It’s a never-ending worry of mine, and sometimes it causes me to sit stunned before my work… I may actually never finish in time. I can’t let my worry stand in my way here, though. I have little to no time to worry anymore. It just needs to get done. I just hope it’s not too late to do so…

March 19, 2007

Going Postal… (why GTD)

Posted in GTD, Rants, Work at 8:47 pm by a11en

Free-wheelin’ post here… just a brain-dump. Trying to keep myself positive since I just discovered our growth system may be down for a long while here… [and time is not a commodity I can spend right now].

While listening to some GTD related audio that a friend sent me recently. Wonderful stuff. An idea I thought I’d share with you clicked for me: You know the postal service, right? And the jokes about people that go “postal”… the reason is always given that the mail “never stops coming.” It’s very very true. I mean, think about it… gobs and gobs of mail on Monday, gobs and gobs of mail on Tuesday, gobs and gobs… well, you get the idea. Not to mention that rain or sleet or shine or snow, they’re out there- walking that beat, or driving their little trucks. It’s all gotta get to people on time. My hat’s off to the postal service. I can completely understand why insanity may ensue!

I just realized, we are all pretty much experiencing a very similar effect. The never ending stream of things we have to do. That’s right, gobs and gobs on Monday, gobs and gobs on Tuesday… no matter what the weather is like outside, you and I most likely will be continuing to receive large amounts of things we must get done. In this day of the information age, things can fly into the inbox from around the world in less than a minute. (How long is that Satellite lag, or the land-line in the ocean again?) If you’re like me, rarely can we accomplish those tasks in that amount of time. So, we can expect to have bags and bags of these things that we are hoping to do, or are being told to do, lying around somewhere. Perhaps it’s in your head. [Need to drop the transmission from the bike, and fix the dog-eared shift-lever… Need to do the oil in the car… Need to write the ending to the preliminary document…] The list goes on and on. This is why we are darn well close to going Postal. Insanity. Never ending stream of stuff we just never really seem to get done.

In fact, as you get better at doing things (like fixing the growth chamber), more work comes your way. Someone says: “Hey, Allen is pretty decent at fixing this stuff… he did it last time… let’s let him do it.” And so, another item hits the inbox. This is actually a good thing. It means people want you to do things. They value your work; value your help. [I guess perhaps they may just not want to do it, but perhaps they are making this decision because they don’t feel they’re the best person to do “it” for some reason.]

So, how do we cope with this? How do we cope with that one last piece of straw before it breaks our backs? [Say the heater isn’t working anymore?] We must try and keep our brains clear of information so that when these issues arise, we can have the mental ability to work our way through them. In the information age, we must flow like water around rocks in our path. We must constantly adjust, renegotiate, find solutions. If you don’t, you’ll be left behind. You’ll snap, you’ll go postal. You’ll never improve.

What you need instead, is a trusted system, where all your “need to research x price on internet”, “need to buy oil from wallyworld”… etc. lives. When you have that trusted system, your brain can relax. Why? Because it knows where to go when it has time, and it’s ready to do something. When that crisis arises, you now can look at your trusted system, review anything that might be pressing (meeting at 3 more important?)… and chose wisely. In the heat of the moment, you’re likely to forget that meeting at 3pm, likely to miss something important, and more likely to despair if you do not have trust in a system that is more precise and durable than your short-term memory.

That’s what I got out of some of what I’ve been working on lately. And, I think I’m still sane… not postal yet. 🙂 Heater block is busted… perhaps… but we can swap it out for the old crappy system.. yes, it’s crappy, yes it brings into question our work… but at least it may still work… Had I despaired and not stopped to think of ways around this last straw… I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any work tonight.

So, I struggle to have a mind like water… one of these days I’ll succeed. 🙂

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