Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Day on Jury Duty in MA

Lucky me -- I got called for Jury Duty! Having postponed once, all I could do was hope that the dulcid tone on the juror hotline would tell me that I didn't need to report. Although I diligently polled the line waiting for its message to reflect Thursday's message instead of Wednesday's message (when jurors were cancelled), it turns out I had to show up.

Like a good citizen I get to the courthouse at the designated time and although they were quick to make sure I had directions both on paper and the web site, no one pointed out that the parking lot was on the one-way street going the wrong way from the road on which the courthouse officially sits. No problem, I can find my way around the block and to a parking spot, although it might have been handy had they actually told you were you were allowed to park instead of where you weren't allowed to park.

Not to be deterred I made my way through security, beeping wallet and all, but alas there was absolutely no clue about where I was supposed to go to check in. I walked into the first office I found to ask and took my place politely behind the guys checking in for probation appointments and was directed downstairs where there was a sign marked "Jury Room!" Aha - this appears to be the right place. I traded in my questionairre for a juror number and took my seat in the juror room. Upon discovering that there was nary a wireless network to be found, I started typing away on this entry.

Some random observations:

  • There are many fewer people than I expected, based on last jury duty in Oakland. There are only about a fifteen of us total in the room (this makes me nervous; maybe there is no selection and we're actually going to sit on a jury????).

  • Many people didn't bring anything to do. Poor them; we are going to be sitting here quite a while.

  • I seem to be the only one typing away (I'm writing a paper when I'm not blogging, and I also brought my kindle and a paper I'm supposed to read).

A nice court official comes to speak with us around 9:00 AM. He's friendly enough and trying to prep us for the day. It seems that there are nine court cases going on upstairs and at most they will impanel one jury. So the game is that everyone is upstairs trying to settle without a trial. We get to sit here until they either decide they need a jury or decide that none of the cases will need a jury. So, no early dismissal -- we're going to be here awhile -- probably until at least lunch time (1:00). After giving us all the news, he then set up a DVD designed to both tell us about jury duty and get us excited about doing it. Oh yeay; it really worked on me. (There was some amusement getting the DVD working; also a bit of a gasp when this nice court officer who I thought of as a kindly old man turned out to be only eight years my senior.)

10:00 and we're still here ... one guy is talking on his phone quite loudly -- he's bored and just calling people to chat. And now, one of the women wandering around the room chatting with others asked him to take it outside. It's going to be a long day.

Aha -- movement around 11:00. We are told that they are going to impanel a jury and the judge will be down shortly. Update at 11:15 -- well no, they aren't going to be down to impanel a jury, and the judge will come down and tell us why. Around 11:30 the judge comes down. She explains that she has a case, they have witnesses and they need a jury BUT this trial is likely to go longer than today and she won't be here tomorrow. Therefore, she'd need us to sit today and then come back on Monday and that doesn't seem right. So -- she's sending everyone home and they will do the case another day. Interestingly enough, she explains the real value of our presence. It seems that the very fact that there is a jury ready to serve is a forcing function for the parties in the lawsuit -- it usually motivates them to settle.

What an interesting system ...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Healthcare Costs are Ridiculous

Twice a year I take my son to see two doctors in one appointment at one of the premier children's hospital in the country. He has been seeing these doctors for approximately ten years. During that time our health insurance has never changed. We book these appointments approximately three months in advance. So, this should all be simple, right?

We arrive for our 9:30 appointment at about 9:25. I immediately put our name on the sign-in sheet. We start getting signed in at 9:43. For one of the two doctors, they can accept any form of payment; for the other, they can accept only cash or check. OK, I have cash. The co-pay is $15; I have both twenty dollar bills and five dollar bills. I say that I can pay cash, but will need either a five or a ten for change. Without batting an eyelash, the woman checking me in says, "I don't have any cash." Unable to stifle it, I laugh. Fortunately, she sees the humor.

[Interrupt: it is 9:53 as I type this -- we overhear one of the administrators say, "Right now, everyone is rolling along right on schedule." Um, in what universe is it the case that at appointment time+23 we've not yet been called into the office "on schedule"?]

Back to our story: She proceeds to check me in with the one doctor for whom we can use any form of payment. This entails approximately five sheets of paper and seven sticky labels, not including the credit card receipt and the receipt that she printed for me. Oh yeah, did I mention that this hospital actually has all its medical records online? I kid you not -- in the doctor's office, everything is online and we can pull up any old visit or test done at this hospital (at any of the hospital's three facilities that we use regularly).

Now we get to deal with doctor number 2 who can only accept cash or check. I have pleasantly left $25 on the counter, dying of curiousity to see how they are going to deal with this, since it is so not my problem TM. Once again, the woman checking me in says, "I have no cash." Another parent checking in, however, has change for a twenty. Whew. Disaster averted. She changes my twenty, I pay then in ten ones and a five (to give them a nice variety of change for future clients). Now we get a hand written receipt, in duplicate using carbon receipt paper (honest!), another seven sticky labels, carefully affixed to various pieces of paper, and at 9:51 we are fully checked in.

Is it any wonder that the system is inefficient? What a collossal waste. It's now 10:04 (we got called in for height, weight, blood pressure check; my son is now officially taller than I am). We are in the doctor's office and I'm guessing by 10:15 we'll see doctors -- a full 45 minutes after our designated time. Once here, the two doctors will work like a well-oiled machine. Seriously, they are efficient, friendly, informative and treat us well -- I like and respect these folks, but why can't the rest of the process work as smoothly as they do?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Math, Gender, and Race

Here I am at the Massachusetts State Mathcounts competition. These are arguably the top middle school mathematicians in the state, and I have to confess at being struck by some interesting demographics. I don't have the actual numbers for this, but the organization is run by grey-haired white males; the preponderence of the coaches are women; the vast majority of the competitors are male. The male to female ratio is about 4:1. My impression is that if you are a private school, that greatly increases the probability that there are women on the team.

The top 10 students in the state are all male. Of those, by appearances, only 2 are Caucasian. The remaining 8 appear to all be of Asian descent, perhaps either Chinese or Indian.

I'm not sure what to make of all this, but as a woman in a STEM field, I find it pretty depressing.