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Observations, Paradigms, Miscellany

Pre weblog musings

Comments about me from complete strangers

July 26, 2003

I went for a hike in the Middlesex Fells. Started out pleasant enough, T ride up to Oak Grove, taking the Skyline trail to the East Fells. I stopped in the central east area of the West Fells for a bit to eat. The is a man in front of me, about 50 feet away. He waves "hi" and comes over. "Which way should I go?", he asks. I tell him to follow the white trail through the lower parking lot. "Is they anything wrong with going the other way?". "Now really they are about the same.", I answer. He continues on this way and I finish my lunch. Later on, on the other side of the park I run in to him. "Thanks! Good trail!".

Continuing around the trail to the other side of the park, as I am getting ready to cross over to the East Fells, I happen upon a biker. He is finishing up a bit of business, saying "Oh, sorry, just making a pit-stop" as I walk past. He could have picked a more screened spot. Making my way to the ice rink parking lot I stop for a moment, start on my apple, and have a look at a fitness course. A car passes on the road and a younger male yells "FREAK!" out the window. I promptly display the finger and move my way. I was wondering at the time who was the bigger freak. Me, the guy with long hair in his late twenties enjoying a summer's day and an apple, by himself. Or the other male in his late teens making an ass of himself with his buddies in the car.

After a ride back on the subway I start walking back home. Along the way I pass two kids, a black male and an asian female, sitting in front of a cell service provider. I throw a normal quick glance in their direction, just see what they are up to. The black kid shouts out "Fag!" as I am walking past. I look back, "Are you a fag?", "No, I'm not!" I answer. "Well you must be a fag, because you looked", "Fuck you!" is my reply as I walk away. There was a middle-aged woman behind me observing the exchange, I think she proceeded to scold the boy.

September 22, 2003 evening

I was walking to home from work, heading toward the Hynes T stop, and a black woman passes me. "You'd better get yourself a new pair of pants brother. Them's too short for you." Actually the pair I was warring at the time was one of my better fitting ones.



Logan Airport, Boston MA 6/99

Flights are running late at Logan as usual. I am waiting for a flight to Baltimore. There are about 6 flights delayed & people are waiting in a small annex (4 gates) to the terminal. There is standing room only and tensions are high. A mentally disabled woman (Possibly Downs' Syndrome) with her care giver is seated in a wheel chair next to me. She is moaning and flailing her arms in response to the stress caused by the crowded area. As she puts her head in her care giver's lap. The care giver she says, "If we did that they would arrest us." I felt the same as the woman in the wheelchair and agreed with the care giver.

Blanford T stop, Boston MA 2000

A man is parked on Commonwealth Ave, talking on his cell phone as he starts to open the driver side door of his car without looking for on coming traffic. Two boys on a bicycle (one riding on the handlebars) as close to the car just after the man opens his door.

St. Mary's T stop, Brookline MA 2002

A young couple is walking side by side, holding hands, and both talking on their cell phones.

Boston University School of Dental MedicineWinter 2003

As I walk into the cafeteria for lunch I see a woman talking with the owner. She inquires in a gruff tone what the sugar content and price and comments on some of other less savory ingredients (in her opinion) of Columbo yogurt. "$ 1.30 is a lot to pay for this garbage" she states to him as she starts to pay. After payment for the yogurt she eyes a jelly filled danish, asks the price, and buys it without further inquiry or compliant.

Foresight? Brighton MAJune 21, 2003

As Carl and I were walking to my car to run some errants we pass a card that had the passenger side window knocked out. On a care that is parallel parked it is most likely not an accident. He tells me about a friend of his who had his rear window knocked out, but nothing was stolen from the car. The guy gets the window repaired and a few days later the same window is knocked out, again with nothing stolen. So the window was knocked out twice in the same week. I relay to Carl that my passenger side mirror was ripped off about a year ago. No other damage to the vehicle. We get to my car and my passenger side mirror is dangling by one of its stretched out springs.

Terrorist Melon, My kitchen September 19, 2003

I had gotten a watermelon from my sister the Sunday before and it had been sitting on the kitchen table, awaiting consumption. Not knowing when it had been picked and having a busy week at work I kind of forgot about eating the melon or refrigerating it. Then while I am sitting at breakfast going my normal routine I notice a little bead of water on the melon. Thinking nothing of it I just wipe the melon. About 5 minutes later, eating my cereal and reading I hear, POP! The melon had exploded, away from me fortunately, and its insides splashed onto the wall and the floor. It took a solid half hour of cleanup. At least the kitchen floor got mopped.

Renewing my passport, Boston MA, October 9, 2003

My passport expired and I wanted to renew it, always good to have it ready to go for a trip (advice from my mother) and in this day and age one can never have enough forms of Identification. So in the morning I go to the Back Bay post office where the State Department web site says I can get the forms and file my request. Due to construction the passport office is closed. "Okay", I think, "I can just do it by mail", using the PDF form. Really the only reason I wanted to do it in person is to have the photo taken, thinking in 10 years passport processing would have gone digital and that processing a passport would be like getting a driver's licence renewed, just from a national central office, and by definition slower.

I had some time to kill in the afternoon and the desire to procrastinate, so I go to the post office down town (also listed as having a passport center). Takes me a bit to find the office due to a vague street address. Upon walking into the lobby, I see the passport office off to my left. In between myself and the office is a rope barrier and security guard. "Yes sir, but you have to go through security." says the guard after inquiring about where to get a passport renewed. I've diagramed this below, basically I have to through the check point, to the end of the lobby, around the end rope barrier, up the other side of the lobby and into the passport office. So I go through the security check point (X-ray, metal detecter, and guys with guns), take out my wallet, cell phone, keys, check book, pen, and Visor, putting them in a little plastic basket which is send through the X-Ray.

Passport security

The room is the same place where they add money to postal meters, so a dank, fluorescently lit room (think Barny Miller). I ask the postal clerk for information. He get's a form and we go through the check list. It's the same form that I down loaded from the State Department web site. "Just fill this in and take it up stairs to the postal counter. Get yourself a nice padded envelope. They just mail it to the same place we do. You'll need a picture too. We charge $15, so you might want to go somewhere else. If your a AAA member, go to their office where they charge $8."

He gives me the address to the downtown AAA office and I head over. The lady who took my picture was amused by the fact the postal clerk referred me. So with my pictures and form in hand I head for the closest post office. Yes, the one with the security check point. I ask the security guard in front of the check point, "Excuse me, is the post office up stairs?". "You have to go through security sir." Taking that as a "Yes" I place all my crap in the little basket, pass through the station and proceed up stairs past at least four guards standing around talking.

After filling out my paperwork I pick up a padded folder and wait in line. At the counter I make some remark about the post office being a government agency. Clerk, "Actually we are separate. Well, they call us semi-autonomous when we are making money, but we are autonomous when we lose money." I remark about the Homeland Security upgrades. Clerk, "Yeah, they felt bad about all the expense, so they gave us some extra money last year. I didn't see any of it though." My odyssey was finished so I walk down the stairs, on the far side of the rope barrier in the lobby and went back to my normal life at work. And yes, I did eventually get my passport in the mail a few weeks later.

Bad brakes, North Adams, MAOctober 11,2003

A friend and I decided to drive out to MassMoCA in North Adams for the day to catch some of the new exhibits. Lovely day, the leaves in the Berkshires were just changing and we stopped at a lovely little antique store/cafe for a pit stop and lunch. North Adams is an interesting little town. Over the last few years members of the community have been revitalizing the town through art and tourism. It is truly becoming an interesting little weekend destination. So you have a slight artsy feel to the place while it is still a sleepy little Western Massachusetts shire.

After touring the museum for a few hours, we are walking back to my car. I had parked on the part of the lot that is slightly up hill. Right before my friend says, "What's that car doing in the middle of the parking lot?", I realize that it my car back rolled back. Upon testing we found that my parking brake gives very slightly. No damage was found, no notices or announcements, just my care in the middle of the lot.

Honking, Boylston St., near Fenway Park, October 29, 2003

It is not an uncommon occurrence in Boston for drivers behind you to honk while a stop light if you hesitate even for a second after the light turns green. In this instance I am crossing the street, walking in front of a car signaling to make a right turn at a T intersection. The light is red on his side and a cab behind him is hooking at him, not a quick "heads up" honk, but a long "MOVE" honk. Turn on red is legal at this intersection, but as side I was crossing in front. To my delight, after the light turned green, the front driver waited at least 3 seconds to turn and endured further honking from the cabbie.

Ridiculous Situations


Boston University Student Health Insurance number, Fall 2002

In Massachusetts, by state law, all full-time students must have a specified minimum amount of health insurance. Boston University (BU) has offers a plan that all students are enrolled into (and this must pay for ) unless they are covered by a policy of equal or greater coverage. The plan is okay and the cost is reasonable (Around $900 for a year in 2003). Claims to the plan is administered by the Chickering Group, who cover a number of university health plans. This is also the company that issues any cards, formularies, and other information.

Last year I get my card in the mail and upon looking at it I notice my account number. Let's say its 123-45-6789-01. Does the pattern of the first three segments look familiar? Now let's say (for example) that my social security number (SSN) is 123-45-6789. My SSN is printed on my insurance card. This is about the time that I was becoming increasingly carful about where my personal information was being stored. With the increase in identity theft and the SSN becoming the key to most personal information, I was concerned that my SSN was neatly printed on a card without even the care to take out a few hyphens. I dont' even carry my Social Security card with me any more.

So I contact the Chickering Group asking what can be done about this situation. I receive a prompt, courteous reply:

Please contact the Office of Student Accounting and let them know you wouldd like to use your BU "U" number as your health insurance identifier. They will then send this information to us and we can re-issue you an ID card.

The "U" number that the Chickering account representative is referring to is the university identification number (UID). When I started at BU in 1997 the SSN was still used as the student/staff/faculty ID number and this was printed on the identification card in the expected form. To come in line with the new federal laws at the time and in concern for the privacy of its affiliates, BU switched to a supposedly random number. All of the numbers begin with "U", for example U98765432.

The answers I receive from Student Accountings general information email address refers me an administrator. We have a phone conversation that basically boils down to a few points. The person I spoke with was obviously frustrated with the situation as I was not the first student to speak with them about this issue. The reason that a SSN is used on the insurance care and not the UID is historical. At the time BU switched over to using the UID (1997) Chickering's computer systems were not able to accept IDs numbers that contained letters. Since 1997 Chickering has upgraded their system and it will not accept letters. Each year at an annual meeting to evaluate the student health insurance program, the issue of reprogramming the interaction with Chickering came up. Each year it is tabled for convenience and avoidance of expense. Basically they have just not gotten around to it and it would be impossible for me to get an insurance card with my UID printed on it instead of my SSN. To do so BU and Chickering would have to modify the whole system or I would have to remove my SSN from most BU records (save departments like Payrole and Technology Transfer), substituting it for another.

My reply to Chickering:

Thank you for your reply. I talked with Student Accounting at BU and they said that it was not possible to change the number that is listed on my insurance card and that this is a matter that is being looked in to. Therefore I was wondering if it would be possible to issue another card to me without my account number printed on it, so just the relevant information with contacting Chickering and the group number would be listed on the card. Since I have my social security number memorize the information being absent on the card would not be an issue.

The response:

We need a numerical identifier to access your insurance records and this number must be noted on the card. Your providers and pharmacies also utilize this identifier in their systems as well. This allows all of our systems to link up and maintain all of the same information on each patient, so care and claims can be handled in the most efficient manner possible. If you are concerned about confidentiality, please be aware that we comply with all state and federal patient privacy issues. Our web sites and systems are secure and no one can gain access to them. We have discussed with the school the issue regarding Social Security numbers and we are working on a plan to utilize BU "u" numbers for each student's ID card. As you can understand, this will take some time to change.

The representative is correct and again courteous, but they were missing my point. So I reply:

I thought that was what the situation was. No concern ever entered my mind that Chickering or Boston University would in anyway knowingly release or allow easy access to the social security numbers of students. The concern that did enter my mind was the simple fact the social security number of the student was printed on the card. So one does not have to go to great lengths into obtain the number, it is conveniently printed on the card.

I find it ironic that Chickering and BU are doing nothing to violate the Social Security Administration's policy or Federal law in taking over 5 years to switch over to using BU ID numbers for student health insurance policies. As two private organizations you can use my social security number for your records and use it as an ID number if I choose to give it to you. Except here I really don't have a choice. Since BU is my employer, by Federal law I have to give my social security number to them.

It would seem that I really have no options in this matter other than just to not carry my insurance card. Handy that BU included a blank insurance card with the plan pamphlet and that my insurance account number is easy to remember.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. I will be contacting some key people at BU in an attempt to expedite the resolution of this matter.

It's now a year later. I got my card in the mail again this year and yes, my SSN is still printed on the card. I'll graduate before they do anything about this.

Last Updated: 11/22/2003