All posts for the month March, 2012

That is all, really. Turned over 3500kms on the not a big Ford truck this week. It’s surprisingly liberating to ride. I had no idea that the biggest benefit would be being far more calm in traffic. You would think I would be nervous with all of the cages around me, but instead, I feel safer. I can get away from them. I can avoid the worst traffic. I can filter. I’m still not ready to split, but I’m sure that will come, probably with a Ninjette or something else a little smaller. This truly has been a game-changer for me, and the game is now on.

After being told that my packages were undeliverable, I did what scientists due: I researched it. I called the USPS station that delivers to my house in Michigan and asked them if the address was good. It took me a while to get there, at least three phone calls, but Jeremy answered the phone and asked me right off the bat, was I getting any mail there. Yeah, I get baskets of junk mail. Then, dude, the address is good. We deliver if the address is good. Your address is fine, ma’am. You have a good carrier and that route is a nice one. Thank you for confirming, Jeremy.

I called Aetna back. This time, I asked for a supervisor, who swore up and down she would call back in 40 minutes. After about two hours, I called again, and as usual, the third time was the charm. I somehow to get connected to the actual pharmacy service (instead of “customer” service), and spoke to a guy who not only could see the entire file, but started from scratch with the data, checking and double-checking the address information. We got as far as the ZIP code when he asked me if my town was near Akron, MI.

Any modern piece of software that ends up printing a shipping label has a neat feature called ZIP code cross-check. This automatically populates the city field based on the ZIP code entered. Pharmacy guy found the error with minimal effort – the city that was typed into the manual entry field was different than the city from the ZIP code, because the ZIP code had not been transcribed properly. One digit was off.

I’ve reconfirmed that address with at least five Aetna reps over the last two months. Not one of them noticed the ZIP code error. This kind of issue is what software is supposed to fix for us – to reduce the impact of human error. In this case, the software worked fine. But apparently it required its user to understand the importance of what it was doing. This is just more proof that there is still no cure for stupid.

I live in Germany (duh). My generous employer contracts with Aetna International to manage my health care benefits.  This has produced some rather funny phone calls that have left me with a serious case of indigestion. Most focus around the pharmacy benefit – Aetna’s international plan strongly recommends that participants use the Aetna mail-order pharmacy to save costs. Sounds good, right? Until you discover that they don’ t ship out of the country.

My first go-around with these people centered around two reps at the pharmacy call center who were sure that Aetna shiped to Germany “all the time”. I repeatedly told both of them that NO, I DO NOT LIVE ON AN AIRBASE. I HAVE A GERMAN POST CODE. Both swore up and down that this was no problem. Four weeks later, I was sitting in the office of a German doctor, begging in broken German for a maintenance medication that is so rarely prescribed over here that she had to call a pharmacy to see if it was even available! It turned out to cost four times what the US generic price is due to being unusual.

Once I had some meds, I returned to the phone. Since not only does the US Government prohibit US pharmacies from shipping out of the country (APOs and FPOs are technically US addresses, so don’t count), Aetna refuses to allow its reps to make international calls, severely limiting the contact options for those customers living overseas. Once I determined (I had about 6 hours into phone calls at this point) that I was on my own, I figured out that I could get the meds shipped to my job and the kind staff in shipping would forward them to me.

This worked fine, until the USPS decided that I no longer lived at my house.

I rode out to Kalkar Mill on Saturday afternoon to check out the stones. Kalkarermühle is an operating windmill in Kalkar, NRW, Germany, and home to a diverse bunch of people who have decided to keep the windmilling trade alive as volunteer millers. One of the millers is a friend and fellow rider, and introduced me to this neat old technology last fall.

The key to the mill is the stone set. The lower stone, shown here, is fixed and does not move. The upper stone is supported on a pintle that is driven by the familiar sails that catch the wind and power the operation. The entire rig runs at around 120rpm, which is quite speedy, considering that the stones are about 1.6m in diameter. That comes to an edge speed of 24m/s! When the season for milling is low (winter), the millers open the stones for cleaning, resurfacing, and rhynd repairs. On this stone, the darker areas are the wear surfaces, and the grooves are the feeders that feed the grain in.

Fixed stone from Kalkarermühle

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