my brother

by sam on 03/17/2015

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my family here, but my brother Jeff was on NPR Weekend Edition this Sunday, talking about the amazing work that he does as education coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon: The Truth About Humanitarian Work: High Ideals vs. Hard Realities.

There are not a lot of people who can say they breathed a sigh of relief when their family member told them they were moving to Beirut, but when it’s after almost a year of his living in Kabul, Afghanistan, we all relaxed mightily.

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instagram roundup – february

by sam on 03/4/2015

more cats and coffee. of course. and a few other miscellaneous things. but mostly cats and coffee.

Visit my instagram page to see everything.

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instagram roundup – january

by sam on 02/8/2015

For 2015, I decided to finally get on board the instagram wagon. I’ve been a holdout because I’ve had issues with their user terms, but at a certain point, when everyone else in the world is using the service, and my photography has fallen off a cliff because I’m not using the same sharing service as everyone else…well… So January was a slow start, a bit of testing the waters. I’ve set things up so that my pics get cross-posted to twitter and Facebook and flickr already, but I thought it would be good to do a monthly roundup of what I’ve posted back here on ye old blogging platform, just to keep this space going. I joked the other day that I should just rename my website “cats and coffee” (my friend Adam appended “and customer complaints”, which I thought was pretty spot on).

Visit my instagram page to see everything

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Weill Cornell’s billing office is the ninth circle of hell – updated

by sam on 01/21/2015

[update] after I posted the lengthy rant below, the billing department resolved the problem to my satisfaction. They still haven’t been able to locate the payment, but the quality control supervisor got involved after the last go-round of errors and agreed that the missing money should no longer be my problem to deal with, so my account has been cleared up. I do actually hope they find the payment, but now it’s entirely on their end, and their problem, to resolve.

It’s been some time since I posted a real blog post, and even longer since I posted something that wasn’t purely photographs, but I have a rant that I need to get out, and its really too long for twitter. For the last year and a half, I’ve been seeing a doctor affiliated with Weill Cornell. She’s great. that’s not the issue. The particular reason I’m seeing her is not the issue (and it’s not a serious health issue, but I see her every 2-3 months, which is important to note). The issue is the Weill Cornell billing department, which I think is now just trolling me.

Short note – last year my office switched to a high-deductible health plan with a health savings account. It’s kind of annoying, but we’ve all gotten used to it at this point. One of the “features” is that, instead of paying a co-pay during your visit, you owe the entire balance of your bill until you hit your deductible, but only the “insurance company negotiated rate”. Once you’re bill has been submitted to the insurance company and the insurance company discount has been lopped off, you can (in theory) go to the insurance company website and pay the balance you owe your doctor from your HSA directly from the insurance company website (You can also use a debit card to pay for things, which in hindsight is clearly the better option).

I did this with ZERO problems when I paid my bill in August for my June visit.

Then I had an appointment in August, and paid my bill the exact same way in September.

Then in October, I got a nasty letter saying I hadn’t paid my bill and that I was in danger of being sent to collections. Thus begins the saga. I go to the HSA website and get all the payment documentation, and fax it in to the number on the bill (because, of course, there’s no email).

I then follow up with a call on Monday. Of course they didn’t receive my fax. They give me an email address, which begins the email saga. I email the documents. There’s no evidence they received the payment. They claim the account number on the payment info is wrong. Doesn’t matter that its the exact same info as the August payment that they received. Doesn’t matter that it’s the exact same payment record info that was used to apply the insurance company discount. Doesn’t matter that the info has detailed information that includes: My name, my doctor’s name, the date and time of my appointment, my insurance info, the exact dollar amount being paid. It’s lost in the system.

This goes on for about a month, and on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I get a call from a supervisor, basically demanding more documentation. My HSA folks are actually really good and send even more documentation, including a trace they ran on the payment, that shows exactly when Weill Cornell accepted and deposited the money into their accounts. Still no joy. But at this point, WC has decided to put a freeze on this particular bill because clearly I’m not a deadbeat. Clearly they recognize I’ve made some sort of payment and they need to track it down. Part of the issue also is that there’s only so much money in my HSA, so it’s not like I can just pay the bill again. Nor should I have to, because, you know, I’ve already paid it!

So far so good, right? Not so fast.

In the meantime, I went to see the doctor again at the end of October. So I ask the billing office during one of our interminable calls trying to sort out the issue, not wanting to be a deadbeat, how do I make sure that I can pay the bill for my October appointment when it arrives and not have the payment misapplied to the frozen August visit? I’m told very specifically that the best way to handle this is to call the office and pay by phone, so that I can explain the situation.

Done – I do this on December 22nd (the day before my December appointment), specifically directing them to apply the payment to my OCTOBER visit. The only reason I waited so long was that I was hoping that they would have sorted everything out by then, but they didn’t.

Today I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve gotten any update on the August mishegoss, so I send an email requesting a follow up on what’s been done over the past month to track down that missing payment, and this is the response I get (some items redacted):

Good Afternoon Ms/Mrs. Dow,

I apologize for the delay in getting a resolution for you. We have confirmed with [HSA] there has been only one payment of $XXXX issued to Weill Cornell Medical college from your account. The payment of $XXXX was received and applied to your account. However, was applied to date of service 10/20/14 in error. We have correctly applied the payment to date of service 8/19/14.

The total amount due on the account is still 2x[$XXXX] for dates of service 10/20/14 and 12/23/14. The next invoice will be run this month and will reflect the current charges.

Once again I apologize for the delay and the misunderstanding, If you have any further questions please feel free to call me at [redacted]

You see what they did? They took my correctly applied payment for my October visit, wiped out the record of my payment for that visit, and applied it to the supposedly “frozen” August visit, assuming that was the missing payment. Nevermind that it was an entirely new payment made months after the original payment for which they have about 18 different forms of documentation, made following THEIR instructions so that it specifically wouldn’t be misapplied. I was speechless. So now, the fact that the August bill was frozen/disputed has been wiped from the system, and they’re charging me a second time for October.

I was about two seconds away from sending a response that was nothing but a series of “WTF”s. My actual response was not much better, although it did use words, none of them qualifying as vulgar. The CAPS LOCK key was not so fortunate.

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by sam on 10/12/2014

It was somewhat of an impulse vacation, when I realized that if I didn’t take some time off soon, I wasn’t going to get a break until the end of the year because of the way some work projects were shaking out, so I put in for some time and decided, rather impassively based on some good deal opportunities on Expedia, to go to Venice for the week. I got back last weekend, but with the jet lag and the catching up with work and other stuff, I finally got to sit down and sort through photos this weekend.

The way the trip worked out, I really only spent four full days in Venice. I landed on Sunday mid-day, and flew out again on Friday afternoon, leaving Monday through Thursday as the days to truly wander around and soak in the atmosphere. I largely avoided the whole Clooney wedding kerfuffle (arriving after the main event, and yes, I planned my trip before that whole mess was even announced), but the tourist crowds in general were not avoidable.

By day then… (if you click on the thumbnails, you can click through all of the photos from the trip without having to exit)

Sunday and Monday: Some arrival shots, my hotel was situated right on the Grand Canal on the Dorsoduro side across from San Marco, so you could sit in the front lounge/bar and just drink cocktails and soak in the view. I did this a lot. On Monday, my original plan was to go to the architecture biennale, but apparently it’s closed on Mondays, so I recalculated and spent Monday at San Marco, visiting the museums (Museo Correr and the Doge’s Palace) and generally wandering around the area.

Tuesday: Second and more successful attempt to head over to the architecture biennale, curated by Rem Koolhas and held at the Venice Arsenale. It was mostly video installations, which doesn’t really lend itself to photography, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the country pavilions at the end, choosing instead to grab some lunch and then head up the grand canal via vaporetto (where I got a coveted seat on the back deck of the boat) to the jewish ghetto for a late afternoon tour of the synagogues – again, no pictures allowed inside, but the tiny synagogues built secretly into the top floors of the houses here are a marked contrast from the luxury of San Marco. A definite must-see if you’re ever in Venice. The word “ghetto” actually derives from this tiny island, which was originally an italian “gheto”, or foundry, and which is where the original jews of venice were segregated because they could be walled off and locked in at night during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Wednesday: it was pouring rain on Wednesday, so I decided to make this my lazy day. I slept in and then headed over to the Peggy Guggenheim collection, which was near my hotel. Not a lot of pictures, because I generally don’t think photographs of art do any justice to the art itself.

Thursday: My last full day, which was beautiful again, I decided to just take a lengthy walk, starting in San Marco and heading back up towards and past the Rialto Bridge, wandering in and out of side streets and canals and basically getting lost (although you can never get really lost in venice, because you’re never that far from the Grand Canal). Made my way back for a late afternoon lunch near L’Accademia Bridge, the “other” bridge that crosses the Grand Canal, and then finally went back to San Marco for the ultimate in tourist trap dinners, but had a total blast listening to the band and just generally enjoying the piazza, wine, and atmosphere.

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