Monday, September 23, 2013

Please Feed Ed to the Alligators: Part 3

(See Part 1, Part 2 for the beginning of the story)

Near the end of the following day, I have not heard from Ed yet so I call the phone number he gave me. It is his direct line. He's gone for the day. I do a little dance of rage as I navigate back to the general claims queue. That conversation goes sort of like this:

Me: Blah. Blah. Here's the reference number so you can read about my problem.
Gina: <READ.READ.READ> Uh-huh. Ok, what can I do for you?
Me: Ed didn't call me back.
Gina: Well sir, we've been very busy. Our customer callback time is around 2 weeks.
Me: Wat?!?!
Gina: Also, Ed and I do not have any way to verify the fax was received. There is no actual fax. It goes to a different department and we won't be able to access it for 10-15 business days.
Me: But...why...did....Ed...tell...m...
Gina: ...that makes no sense to me either.
Me: Ok, is there some person you can put me in touch with who CAN tell me the fax was at least recieved?
Gina: Of course! You just need to hit '2' from the main menu.
Me: There is no '2' from the main menu, you have to say a word like 'claims', 'find a doctor', or something.
Gina: Are you sure?
Me: I am. I have extensive experience with your phone menu system.
Gina: <laughs> Oh, well you just need to say 'claims'. That will get you to them.
Me: <sigh> When I just called now, I said 'claims' to get to you. You just told me that people in your department cannot help me.
Gina: Yup.
Me: how will saying 'claims' next time get me to the right person?
Gina: They're not here now. It's too late. If they were here now you could talk to them.
Me: That makes no sense, I said 'claims' at 10am and I got 'Ed'. You and I already agreed he made no sense and can't help me. Every time I've said 'claims' I get people who can't help me.
Gina: <long pause. clickity-clack>
Gina: You know, I think you really need some help with this. I'm going to check on this personally and call you back tomorrow.
Me: Really. Not in two weeks? That's just what Ed said.
Gina: I'm not Ed.
Me: Ok. sure. whatever.

Gina sounded way more confident and competent than Ed, but I decided to go a different route. I needed to figure out where the failure was happening. Was Old Insurance Co. not sending the fax? Or, was New Insurance Co. receiving it but dropping it in the bit bucket?

I needed to be a middle-man and I signed up for a month of HelloFax's 'receive a fax' service. The first month is free. I called Old Insurance Co. back about an hour after I got off the phone with Gina.

Me: Hi. Member number blarghty-boo-309.
Mary: <reads> Ok, what do you need?
Me: I need ANOTHER fax of my certificate-of-awesomeness.
Mary: Yes sir. Let me put in the request. It'll take 24-48 hours to process
Me: Last time I asked for this I was promised 2-3 minutes.
Mary: That is...not possible. <She sounded vaguely like Agent Smith from The Matrix>
Me: ...and yet it happened.
<5 seconds of silence.>
Mary: So....should I put in this request, sir?
Me: Yes. Here's my fax number....
Mary: Ok, you should get this in 24-48 hours. No need to call and check, it will arrive in 24-48 hours.
Me: Bu...
Mary: kthxbai. <click>

That was over 3 weeks ago. I have not received it.

There is a happy ending to this story. Gina called me back two days later.
Gina: Hello, I'm so sorry for not calling you back yesterday. I was sick.
Me: <stunned silence>
Gina: I can confirm that we have received the certificate-of-non-slacker-ness and are we now re-processing your previously denied claim.
Me: Woah. <still stunned, sounding vaguely like Keanu>
Gina: So if there's nothing else I can help you with, I'll be going...
Me: Uhh...Wait! May I speak to your supervisor?
Gina: Ummm...Is there a problem?
Me: With you? NO! I want to tell her how awesome you are and how she should feed your co-workers to the alligators.
Gina: <laughs> I'll forward you along right away.

As it turns out, I had to leave a message for Gina’s supervisor. I'm pretty sure I sounded like Gina has a babbling idiot stalker, but I think the my point "Please feed Ed to the Alligators" got across.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Please Feed Ed to the Alligators: Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

Not-quite-Ed first verified the mailing address on file, which was the correct home address. He had no idea why this recent letter came to my work. I explained that I wasn't ignoring them and that it appears I'm missing some of their mail. He asked if I wanted to change my address. I pointed out to him that it didn't appear to matter what address they had since, even with the correct address on file, they had sent the letter to my work. He was silent. After a beat, I let him off the hook with a "Don't worry about it."

Before we got started, Ed needed to call the wife. This was my wife's claim and Almost-Ed needed her consent to talk to me about it. He puts me on hold and calls her. I heard about the conversation later:

Ed: Hello this is [inaudible name] with New Insurance Co., may I have your name?
Wife: No, you called me.
Ed: Yes, well, I need to confirm your name and member number before we can discuss your account.
Wife: Again, you called me. What was your name again?
Ed:  [inaudible name again] with New Insurance Co. Can you confirm your member number for me?
Wife: No. Why are you calling?
Ed: I can’t discuss anything with you until you confirm your member number.
Wife: Then this is going to be a very short conversation.
<This goes around a few times, until Ed tells her that I'm the one initiating all this and I'm waiting on the other line.>
Wife: So, you’ve got Kelly on the other line?
Ed: Yes, I have Mr. Byrd on the other line. I just needed to confirm with you that I can talk to him about your claim.
Wife: Then you can conference him in so I can talk to him too.
Ed: Umm...well...I don't think I can conference him in.
Wife: Hmm. Not suspicious at all.
<Ed eventually says enough things only the insurance company should know to convince the wife this probably isn’t just some random phishing attempt. Even so, she never gave him any information beyond, “Yes, you can talk to Kelly about me.”>

Back on the line with me, Ed insisted that what I really needed to do was contact the provider where my wife got the follow-up and get them to answer a survey my New Insurance Co. sent them a month ago. I never understood why he was talking about a survey. I explained that I was under the impression that what he needed from me was a certificate of prior coverage. He agreed (and the survey was forgotten).

Ed: Yes. That would work. I can call your old insurance and conference them with you so I can explain the correct information if you would like.
<Now, knowing my wife's side of the conversation, it is interesting he wouldn't conference in her but could do it with the other company>
Me: Srsly? You can? YES!
Ed: Please hold....<a couple of minutes pass>. Ok, I have Joan from Old Insurance Co. on the line.
Joan: <Introduces herself and verifies I am who I say I am>
Ed: Ok, I would like you to fax a Certificate of Prior Coverage to 123-456-7890
Joan: Ok. But...
Ed: ...with a subject line of Claim Resolution, Member #8675309
Joan: Ok. But we did this in June, why do...
Me: Joan, this is Kelly. I understand this is a repeat request. Would you mind just doing it again?
Joan: Uh-huh. <clickity-clack>...done. The fax will be sent in 2-3 minutes.
Joan: May I help you with anything else today?
Me/Ed: No. Thank you! Bye.

<At this point I'm impressed with Joan and wish I was still covered by Old Insurance Co.>

Me: Ok Ed, what do we d...
Ed: "Joan...JOAN!...Oh-no. Oh-no. I gave her the wrong subject line information. Oh-no.
Me: Fantastic. Does this matter? Will the fax still go to the right place?
Ed: ...Ummm....Sigh....Ummm...Yes?!?
Me: Right. Sure it will.
Me: Ok, since it's only going to be 2-3 minutes, I'll just wait here on the call until you can go verify the fax is received.
Ed: I can't.
Me: Sure you ca...
Ed: NO. You do not underSTAND the system. We use a computer-like software to do emails fax.
Me: <making some guesses at what he meant> Ok, there's no actual fax machine that spits out paper you can get your hands on. The whole thing is an electronic document management system.
Ed: Uh-huh.
Me: So I'll just wait 2-3 minutes and you keep hitting 'refresh' on your screen there until it shows up in my file.
Ed: NO. You do not underSTAND the system. It takes many hours.  I guess I can call you back when it happens.
Me: Right. I do not understand ANY of this. I also do not believe you will call me back.
Ed: I will of course call you back of course by the end of the following day of course!

Of course, I don't trust him. I convince him to give me a direct number to contact him in case he doesn't call me back. He keeps insisting that this isn't necessary because "Of course he'll call me back by the end of the following day."

(The final part is coming soon)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Please Feed Ed to the Alligators: Part 1

Sometime in 2012, the wife’s doctor recommended a follow-up on something, I’m not really sure what it was about, but it was important, so a few months ago, she had that checkup. The wife is fine. That's not the point of this story. Between the first visit and the followup, I changed jobs, moved from AZ to CA, and changed our medical insurance. Apparently I angered the bureaucracy gods.

A month after the followup, I got a letter to my work address from our current medical insurance telling me that they "had not yet received the requested information" regarding that visit. It was the first letter I had seen.

I called and navigated a menu system that switched from asking for voice responses to key presses and then back to voice responses. I finally spoke to a person who changed my address and transferred me to claims to sort out the letter I'd received. Except she didn't actually change my address, and then she hung up on me.

I called again the next day, proceeding directly to the claims department.

Me: First, I'd like to confirm the address you have on file. I changed it yesterday.
Her: The address is: <wrong address>. Also, I see no record of your call...
Her: ...and it is not possible for anyone here to change your address. It must be done through your work.
Me: But the person yesterday said she was changing it.
Her: Uh-huh. Yup. Sure. So...
Me: Forget it. Let's talk about this letter.

The lady said a bunch of sentences littered with terms I suppose make sense if you're in the insurance industry. They were denying the claim because the follow-up had been recommended before we were covered and was therefore a pre-existing condition per their guidelines. However, if I could show that there was no gap in coverage between our old insurance and current insurance, they would probably pay the claim. I needed a "certificate of prior coverage." I thanked the woman, called my old insurance company, and spoke to a guy named Alex:

Alex: Yup. Certificate-of-awesomeness. You betcha. That’s what you need. Good thing we already sent you those. You’re all set!
Me: I never got them.
Alex: Sure you did. <clickity-clack> Well, OF COURSE you never got them we have no mailing address for you. <clickity-clack-clack> We have only a home address of <correct home address>, shall I use that?
Me: Why haven't you used it already? It IS my home address!
Alex: <pause> Sir? Would you like me to copy your home address to your mailing addresses?
Me: Copy my home address to all possible address fields you have.
Alex: Ok, so then do you need anything else?
Me: I need you to fax our certificates-of-awesomeness to Old Insurance Co.
Alex: But we alrea...Oh...Right. Ok. <clickity-clack>. Those will be sent in 2-3 minutes.
Me: kthxbai.

As I was hanging up, I had a brain-itch warning me that I couldn't actually verify the new insurance company received the promised fax because I had the old company fax it directly to them. But I got distracted by something shiny and I forgot all about it. I did remember to have my plan administrator change my address. When I asked, she said "Oh! HA! That almost never works when I do it, but I'll try." That was in June.

In early August, I got an unrelated letter to from New Insurance Company to my correct home address. Several weeks later I got a "This is your last chance to provide the requested information!" letter about the same claim. It came to my work address. Awesome.

I called New Insurance Co. and spoke to a man named something like Ed. He seemed pretty frustrated with me. They had sent four letters! Why was I ignoring them? They had no record of receiving the fax in June. I was starting over.

(Part 2 is coming soon)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I am the other

[UPDATE: When I first posted this, I linked to a friend's Facebook page in an effort to credit him for pointing me at one of the articles I link to. I thought his post was public, but it isn't. I shouldn't have done this without asking permission, and I'm sorry for that. He didn't complain, but it still wasn't the right thing to do.] 

Recent articles have revealed long-running programs at the NSA and GCHQ intent on the various encryption algorithms used on the Internet. The NSA's response tells us that this shouldn't be surprising:
"It should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries’ use of encryption.  Throughout history, nations have used encryption to protect their secrets, and today, terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others also use code to hide their activities.  Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that."
[emphasis mine]

Oh good! I thought I should be worried. They're just doing their job.

Wait a minute. I use encryption all the time and I'm not a terrorist, cybercriminal, or human trafficker. So, I must be an other. You're probably an other too. Your mobile phone uses encryption on every call. Your web browser probably encrypts the conversation with your bank's website and gmail so all your neighbors can't just read everything by just listening in to your wireless network signal.

Apparently just trying to hide something like my bank account balance or an email conversation with my wife about a fight we had makes me an adversary.

I am the other.

Thanks to: A friend on Facebook for putting some of these articles in my reading list and Ken at Popehat for starting the "other" meme.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Radio-controlled Awesome

If you don’t think remote controlled helicopters are neat, skip this post (also, what the hell is wrong with you?) If do think they’re neat but don’t have one yet, read on for my review.

R/C helicopters have been around for a while, but have typically been expensive, kind of hard to control, and often required a lot of space. They were more for dedicated hobbyists and not the casual amateur. In the last few years, electronics, batteries, and other components have gotten better while costs dropped. Very small quad-copters started showing up at expensive toy prices, eventually a few hit the $100 mark. Somewhere around May or June, Blade introduced the Nano QX. I’ve owned one for about six weeks. It’s the first real remote-controlled anything for me, and it’s one of the best toys I’ve bought in a long time.

The Nano QX is small and light, with a well-designed frame that protects the plastic blades in most situations. If you brush up against a wall or the ceiling, the frame hits instead of the blades. Because it’s very light, when you crash it is unlikely anything will break. Mechanically, it’s very simple. There’s a frame, four plastic blades with four motors all wired to single controller board, and a small battery that slides into a spot in frame underneath the controller electronics. There are maybe 11 or 12 parts total. All of them are easy to replace and available at Amazon or other places online. If you buy it with a remote control, you should pay about $100.

What really makes it easy to fly is the electronic controller. In the default mode, you plug in the battery and put it down on a level surface. The controller board initializes and calls that “level.” From that point on, if the blades are spinning, then the controller is going to try to keep this little guy level.  While in flight, if you let go of the controls, it returns to a level hover. When it runs into  breeze or draft (the A/C at my office blows pretty hard), it’ll get moved, but it will stay level.

With a little practice, you can pick it up (throttle at zero), turn it upside down, and toss it with one hand while applying a bit a throttle with the other. Your Nano will flip itself over and probably end up hovering. It’s not magic, you can’t throw it against the wall has hard as you want, but it works better than most people expect. The end result is a small, light, durable, relatively cheap, easy to fix toy helicopter that does most of the hard work of keeping itself in the air.

To computer/gadget geeks, these things are addictive. A couple of months ago, someone in my office brought his Nano in. At first I stayed away from it. I once tried a friend’s coaxial micro helicopter and even though I was flying it inside a large gym, I nearly broke it in less than a minute and it cost him way more than $100. But, this guy in my office kept encouraging people to try it. Eventually a few of us did. It takes a few minutes to learn the basics. After that, it’s easy to keep it in the air. You crash it a few times and realize it’s ok. When you get a bit out of control, just kill the throttle and it drops to the ground and doesn’t hurt itself. Set it right side up (or toss it) and off it goes. You quickly build confidence that you can keep it in the air and that it’s actually kind of hard to break in a crash.

A couple of us ordered them a week or two later. Three more people bought theirs a couple of weeks after that. On Friday, we had five of them all in the air at once. They’re durable enough that the rest of the office thinks they make good targets for Nerf guns. So far, even a direct hit doesn’t break it. They’re fun, user friendly, not too expensive, and hard to break. What’s not to love?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Repost: Ambient Backscatter

The future is awesome.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Repost: Kale

Not much else to say, I don't understand while people continue to try and eat it.

Shmoo Radley: Kale - Best Avoided: Kale is not food. Not that I’m an expert. I think chocolate pop-tarts are food, but I expect that’s open to some debate...