My Healthcare Questions for Journalists

I am a 49 year old male and I’m married with no kids.

I am an entrepreneur with a young startup and no employees.

I am not an expert on healthcare.

I currently buy health insurance through the exchange via the Affordable Care Act.

I chose a mid-tier policy that I think meets the needs for my wife and me. Here in Virginia, it seems affordable for the coverage it provides. The deductibles are higher than I’d like but that possible cost weighed into my decision on the plan I chose.

As a startup, we don’t always get a regular paycheck but we think health insurance is very important and so my wife and I never fail to pay that bill!

Prior to starting my own business, I had been fortunate to work for thee very large companies that provided health insurance for my family.

Here are the questions I’d really like to hear answers to from the journalists writing and talking about the Trump proposal on the future of healthcare in the US and the repeal and replace plan for the Affordable Care Act:

  1. Why would insurance companies want to sell affordable policies directly to individuals? I always thought that insurance companies preferred to sell group policies to corporations with many employees so they could spread out their risk and that insurance companies really didn’t want to cover individuals directly.
  2. Under the new proposal, everyone is saying that a person can’t be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. The pre-existing conditions requirement in the new proposal doesn’t really have anything to do with anything right? There were very few companies that sold health insurance to individuals before the ACA, just because they didn’t want to. Won’t many companies just choose not to sell to individuals again?
  3. Today, if a company has more than 50 employees, they are required by law to provide insurance. How many of those companies are going to now stop group coverage?
  4. When people say that before Obamacare, they had lower health insurance premiums, did they have plans with unlimited coverage before or are they comparing apples to oranges?
  5. Is the proposal keeping the exchange site online so people can easily shop for insurance in one place?
  6. Why should we think medical costs will come down? Prices are inflated. How much is an aspirin if you get it inside of a hospital? Also, Prior to the Affordable Care Act, many people went to the emergency room and then bailed on their bills because they had no coverage, but they stiffed the hospital on the payment. Those drove costs. How does this proposal help?
  7. Why should we think that any new affordable policies will provide quality coverage? Won’t they go back to their old ways of making “fine-print” policies that were basically scamming people who didn’t fully understand what they were buying and when something bad happened, that event wasn’t covered.
  8. When you hear that consumers will be able to have access to more affordable coverage, will any of those affordable plans cover something traumatic like open heart surgery and follow up recovery treatment? My mom’s chemotherapy treatments were insanely expensive and had she not had insurance that took care of everything, she couldn’t have afforded the co-pay to have the treatments in the first place.

I have two more points that I couldn’t really turn into a question.

First, I feel like there are a lot of people who are complaining about their insurance costs don’t really know the details to fairly compare their plans before the Affordable Care Act and after and they haven’t had any health incident where they were required to understand.

Secondly, The media is not asking the right questions of people to uncover the details of how these new proposed changes are really going to change healthcare insurance coverage for the Americans who aren’t covered by their companies group policy.

On that note, I think every journalist should start interviews with anyone buying insurance with, “Do you pay for 100% of your own health insurance for you and your family OR are you covered by a company group plan because of where you or someone else works?”

QR Codes In The Garden

Here at Plants Map we have over 160 universities, botanical gardens and other users scanning QR codes every day on tens of thousands of plants around the world.

A QR code is simply an image of a block of text and in our case, that block of text is a URL to a page we host for a specific plant.

There is no magic to a QR code. The beauty of the technology is that the codes can be read with any one of hundreds of free or paid apps available for multiple mobile devices and operating systems.

There is a great book called “QR Codes Kills Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground” and it gives hundreds of examples of why QR Codes have a bad reputation.

We see these bad use cases all of the time and many of us are just so used to QR Codes being used incorrectly that we don’t even think about scanning one anymore. Codes on moving vehicles, billboards and in places where they are impossible to scan because something is blocking part of the code. Most of the bad QR Codes were just poor decisions taken by the marketing department that decided to use them in the first place.

Millions of QR codes are used in manufacturing every day. There is a real utility behind the code where it is used to identify a part or count items as they ship. You get the idea. I don’t need to explain how that could be useful.

One of the biggest problems I see with QR codes generally is that the content that you view after you scan a code is either not worth seeing in the first place or in the case of a web page, the site you land on is not mobile friendly. Once you experience that a couple of times, why would you scan another one?

Plants Map Tag

Plants Map Tag

Our tags are used to quickly get to a web page for a specific plant on a mobile-friendly website where the user then can add notes and photos in one or two clicks to keep their records. In an urban forestry environment, where there might be 60,000 trees and 12,500 of them are Acer rubrum, what other solution is out there to quickly find the exact Acer rubrum you are measuring, pruning, watering, observing, photographing or documenting?

We are working with a farm that grows several thousand trees – all of the same genus and species. They will scan a QR code, unique to each tree to identify the exact tree they are picking and using the mobile website to track fruit yield on each tree.

If the QR Code goes to a page that has a useful function, QR Codes are very helpful.

We are experimenting with other types of sensor technology for large indoor growing operations and possibly for Plants Map signs and tagging in the future, but those tech solutions require special equipment not available to most consumers.

In 2012, Comscore found that 97% of smartphone owners didn’t even know what a QR Code was so you think they know the meaning of NFC, BLE or RFID or Beacons? Apps are out of the question as the latest research shows that outside of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest the rest get no usage after only a couple of days. (Not to mention the continual cost of updating them for every operating device as they update their operating systems.)

We decided on a mobile-friendly website and QR Codes are just one way to access the deep-linked plant pages while out in the landscape.

QR Codes are open source and nothing special is needed to create them and the programming to build a reader is available for free.

Here is an offer. Sign up and add a plant to and then visit the “tag” page and request a free sample tag for the plant you just created. We’ll send you one in a couple of days. When you get it, scan that QR Code and take a look at the mobile-friendly website and all of the options to add notes, information and photos or to quickly share that plant on social media.

Our goal here at Plants Map is not to be a “tag” company but to connect people with plants in any way we can. If you have other ideas that we can build into our free site, please share and we’ll see what we can do.

Welcome to Southern Hills in Fairport, NY

I didn’t think I was the type to post to but that was before I checked the mail yesterday.

I opened letter that included signatures from two of our neighbors, Barbara and Jeff Barteld who, since July have been publicly stating displeasure over the fact that Tracy and I fenced in our back yard.

The Bartelds have had county officials from the building and permits office and from the public works department out to visit the property and the fence project on multiple occasions. Everything was legal and cool with the town each time.

Read on… Below the photo of our yard is the text of the petition that arrived yesterday along with a link to the .pdf version.

Southern Hills, Fairport, NY

November 14, 2008

Mr. & Mrs. Blevins
6 Brackley Circle
Fairport, NY 14450

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Blevins,

In the 20 years since our community, Southern Hills, was developed, we have enjoyed a proud tradition of family oriented community, full of friendly neighbors, and with lots of children and pets enjoying each others company while respectful of each others properties. It is with this proud tradition in mind, that we, your neighbors, are so disappointed with your choice to install such a massive fence.

As you may have noticed, Southern Hills is largely void of fences. The ample yards and the beautiful rolling landscape create a lovely “park-like” setting that has come to identify Southern Hills. Any fences that have been installed are typically small and/or close-set to the house. Usually as small yards for pet safety. Of course, many others have chosen to use invisible fences for pet safety. The stark contrast created by your fence, however, creates a disruption to the Southern Hills identity. Especially a stockade fence, which creates isolation, and gives the impression that you don’t wish to be part of our community. This fence divides our once-beautiful open area in the dozens of back yards bordered by Cannock Drive, Kirkby Trail, Brackley Circle, Chenin Run and Chardonnay Drive.

Neighbors spoke with you as you were considering installing your fence, and shared the community view on fences. Still others felt strongly enough to create and sign a petition, which we have attached to this letter. [Download the .pdf file of the letter and petition.] In the spirit of maintaining the proud tradition of Southern Hills, we respectfully request that you remove this fence. If you are unwilling to consider this, please at least landscape around the fence to soften its stark appearance.

We hope you will view this note and petition in the manner it was intended, as candid and honest feedback from neighbors who care deeply about their community. Most of all, we are hopeful you will act on this feedback.


Your Neighbors

cc: Jim Smith, Perinton Town Supervisor


Southern Hills Petition


We, the undersigned neighbors of Southern Hills, hereby protest the installation of a stockade style fence at 6 Brackley Circle. The Southern Hills neighborhood has a proud 20+ year tradition, built upon respect of each other, our families and our properties. Throughout these years, the Southern Hills neighbors have enjoyed the bonds of community, while free of the bonds brought by fences or boundaries. Each of our neighborhood members has taken great pride in their properties, attentive to details of lawn and garden, yet open for all to enjoy.

The undersigned neighbors of Southern Hills, respectfully request the immediate removal of this fence.

Karen Wilson
1 Brackley Circle
Fairport, NY 14450

Lee Jacobs
2 Brackley Circle
Fairport, NY 14450

Denise Rainey
4 Brackley Circle
Fairport, NY 14450

John Holloway
40 Cannock Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Amy Holloway
40 Cannock Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Mary Posella
48 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Michelle Brienzi
58 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Barb Barteld
59 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Jeffery Barteld
59 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Danielle Barteld
59 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Meghan Barteld
59 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Corinne Dercola
60 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Mike Dercola
60 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Alicia Culpepper
61 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Jonathan Culpepper
61 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Susan Lewis
63 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Paul Lewis
63 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Jeff Stanek
64 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Nancy Pallatto
65 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Robert Frustaci
69 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Stacey Pollack
71 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Joseph Dragicevich
90 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Cerise Dragicevich
90 Chardonnay Drive
Fairport, NY 14450

Janet Sary (Lang)
67 Chenin Run
Fairport, NY 14450

69 Chenin Run
Fairport, NY 14450

Catherine Gilligan
71 Chenin Run
Fairport, NY 14450

B. J. Y
73 Chenin Run
Fairport, NY 14450

Lori Webster
5 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Lee Jones
11 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Donna-Sue Cianciotto
12 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Cris Betlem
2 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Cindy DeRusso
20 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Doris Nowicki
21 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Gail Grant
4 Kirkby Trail
Fairport, NY 14450

Andy Jasie
14 Wedmore Road
Fairport, NY 14450

Sue Jasie
14 Wedmore Road
Fairport, NY 14450

Shopped in person, buying online

Yesterday, Tracy and I bought a new house in Fairport, NY. Over the past two years while we have been living up here, we’ve been saving money in case we needed to do upgrades to the house before we moved, rather than after we got settled in to the new place.

After the closing we drove over to Henrietta, NY with our checkbook in-hand and visited Lowes, Home Depot, Sears and Best Buy to buy a refrigerator, double oven and microwave.  (We could have been talked into a cook-top stove too).

We spent at least four hours shopping.

Tracy had a folder with fliers, brochures and printouts from the computer of all of the items she had picked out. We walked the aisles and rows of appliances comparing items and cross-checking with all of Tracy’s paperwork, finding the things she wanted to buy.

We moved from store to store comparing sales offers and prices throughout the late afternoon and into the evening.

We ended up not making a purchase but not really because we didn’t find everything…

Not one store associate or salesperson offered any help. None of them said, “Hello”, and believe me, after that long in several stores, we saw at least ten employees in those sections doing “something”, though I’m not sure it was “work”. We weren’t the only shoppers in the sections either and only at Best Buy did I see one of them getting assistance.

At Sears, where I believe the sales associates are on commission, three of them were sitting on the washing machines across from where we were browsing!

When we got home, we went online to do more comparison with the data we picked up during our trip and we’re now ordering online and having everything shipped directly to the house.

One-for-Ten Rule

I don’t think I’m a messy person. In fact, there’s this odd behavior where I pick up things found in the wrong place, and when I’m finished, I end up putting whatever it is back in the same wrong place.

My wife has been out of town for ten days, tending to our house that is still for sale in Birmingham, AL and visiting with her parents.

Maxine and I have been buddies in and around the house for the past week-and-a-half. We walked to Fairport several times. We went to the park several times. We climbed a small mountain in a snowstorm to go take pictures on Sunday. We’ve tracked in dirt, birdseed, snow and what appears to be about a half-bale of straw. As far as I can tell, we’ve only killed one house plant.

I’ve accumulated a pile of dirty clothes and two loads of dishes (surprisingly, I did not order pizza one time).

I’ve figured that it takes me about one day to clean up for ten days left on my own.

I really hate my Nikon Coolpix S9

Ok, I’ve given my new Nikon Coolpix S9 digital camera a month of constant use and I’ve decided that I really don’t like it. I’ve had a lot of cameras over the past 20 years since I first began a career as a photojournalist. A Nikon fan since my first FM (which I still own and it still works), this model doesn’t cut it.

Here’s a picture shot in “Auto”. It was the third in the sequence of six blurry shots.

Sad. That was a funny moment.

(If you have to know, my wife and I traded photos of our Christmas presents instead of the gifts because we were visiting in Alabama and traveling by air. I photographed and gave pictures of the wrapped gifts instead of the unwrapped gifts. After the laughter wore off, I gave her the pictures of the unwrapped presents.)

Here is a photo taken on “Auto” outside at about 3 p.m. in the afternoon. I was standing still. The little sailboat was moving, but not that much!

I’m going to keep the camera because it is very small – my top feature at the time I bought the camera – and based on confidence in my experience, in cases where I absolutely need a good photo, I’m pretty sure that I can adjust the settings and hold still enough to make a usable image. However, I wouldn’t recommend this camera to anyone.

When I want a digital image and it counts, I’ll stick to my Nikon D200 or my wife’s old Canon Elph.

Nikon Coolpix S9 Sub-Compact Camera

I bought a Nikon Coolpix S9 on Friday. I wanted a very small camera to carry in my pocket. Though the camera has impressive features, I’m not sure I’m happy with the purchase. Here are a few notes…

First off, the battery only lasted for about 25 shots. Now, in the spirit of disclosure, this it is a new camera for me and I was playing with the menu features quite a bit. I had fully charged the battery on Saturday morning and was conscious throughout the day that I was trying to conserve the battery for a party that night. There was no indication the battery was going low until the display showed the low battery symbol with about 25% remaining. (I can’t imagine why anyone would bother buying a 2 Gb SD card because simply shooting without viewing and editing I couldn’t imagine getting off more than 250 shots. The 2 gig card holds over 2500 full shots.)

Second… SD cards formatted in the camera don’t work in my card reader that I use for all of my memory cards and plugged into Mac’s OS X 10.4.8. Other SD cards (from my Canon Elf and my Canon Elura) do work in the same reader. The Nikon SD formatted card did work when attached directly to the computer inside the camera.

CAN YOU SAY RED EYE? Every single indoor shot had the problem. I don’t want to be spending my editing time after every indoor shoot fixing red eyes. I know sub-compacts have this problem and I understand all of the science of why this happens however my old Canon Elf isn’t that much larger and it does not have the problem.

Fourth – Even in a well lit room, photographing a friend opening presents from a distance of about 12 feet, the pics were horribly lit. Using no flash, the shutter speed was so slow that everything blurred.

Finally, if you hold the camera with one hand, the surface of the camera is so smooth, you almost pinch it out of your finger grip when pressing the button. Holding it with two hands, you need to be very, very careful to not get your left hand in front of the lens because of where it is located on the top front corner of the camera.

It takes video. On my card, it could record almost 2 hours of video and sound.

There is an option for using it as a digital audio recorder too. You can annotate your photos with a voice caption too. (I did not try that).

Overall, and after one full day of use I am not impressed.

On a positive note, it sure it a compact camera! The menus are easy to understand and adjust. It doesn’t have many options, so it isn’t hard to understand. One feature I’d like is to be able to reset to “default” every time you turn it off and back on. It seemed easy to set options and then forget they are on or where to go to change them.

My parents just bought the Nikon Coolpix S7 which is about a half-inch larger and noticeably heavier. I may wait to see how their snaps turn out after their trip to France later this week and consider that upgraded model.

Sample video clip:

Not so fast

Yesterday I needed to ship back a gift for repair to the manufacturer that happens to be in Canada. I packed up the gift, printed my label and headed off to the U.S. Post office.

After waiting in line, the nice lady behind the counter apologetically explained that Canada requires labels to be typed in ALL CAPS. Canada also requires a form that explains what is in the box in addition to the shipping form that the U.S. Post Office requires and the third form that U.S. Customs requires (no hazardous materials or food, etc.)

After all of that, I find out that for my $23, it will be delivered to the company in 6-10 weeks. I walked out.

Five minutes later, I walked into UPS (with the same box) and the guy behind the counter typed up the packing slip on the computer from my nice and neat label, then printed it, I signed it, paid my $17 and walked out a few minutes later.

The package will be in the repair shop on Friday afternoon.