My Obamacare (Non-) Nightmare, Part 2


Yesterday, I shared my experience with Kaiser Permanente and the ACA. In a nutshell: I currently have a  policy purchased on the individual market before the ACA was passed; Kaiser informed me back in 2010 that my policy was grandfathered; Kaiser told me in 2013 that I could purchase an ACA-compliant plan or keep my existing plan. Fact is, the story isn’t very interesting because nothing went wrong.

However, you’d never guess that “nothing went wrong” was an option if you only listened to complaints about the ACA. Apart from the rollout of (which was badly and inexcusably botched), the other big complaint I’ve heard is that people were losing individual policies that they liked because they didn’t comply with the ACA. I have to conclude, based on my experience, that either 1) people in that situation didn’t have their plans in place before the ACA was passed, or 2) that their insurance companies had chosen not to continue offering their non-complying plans. (Another possibility, I guess, is that Kaiser made a huge mistake when it told me I can keep my current plan. Based on this article, that may be the case.)

But my overall conclusion based on all of these scenarios is roughly the same—and pretty boring: Continue reading My Obamacare (Non-) Nightmare, Part 2

My Obamacare (Non-) Nightmare, Part 1


Until the disappointing numbers were revealed about signups a few weeks ago, most of the news about the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) and its problems was anecdotal. We’ve all read and heard tales of individuals who were unable to sign up online, who faced higher premiums, or who were unable to keep their existing policies. I’d like to offer my own anecdote about that last problem, along with some conclusions.

Some background is in order. I’m self-employed and live in California. I have purchased an individual health plan from Kaiser Permanente since March 2009. I bought the insurance online though My premium when I first got the policy was about $375 a month; in four years the premium has increased a total of about $100 per month. I’ve used the plan very little, but I am acutely aware of the value of comprehensive medical coverage. (If you know me personally, you know why; if you don’t, I’m happy to share offline.)

Continue reading My Obamacare (Non-) Nightmare, Part 1

Throwback: What the Doctor Ordered

Dr. Chance lifted the cylindrical vessel to the light to take a closer look at the sightless sphere within. The lense obligingly rolled in the watery liquid to meet his gaze. With a slender probe he lifted the orb from the medium, releasing a pungent odor. He had smelled this countless times before; it recalled late nights in med school.

This specimen was intact and undamaged. He studied the graceful contours, and silently praised a higher power for creating an elegant structure for a vital purpose. “This one his perfect,” he said, praising the owner of the dispensary as he returned the globe to the liquid. “I guess that’s why I always come back here.”

Dr. Chance drained the liquid. His throat burned and his eyes watered. “Two olives in the next one,” he said with a wink as he set the glass back on the bar.

My honorable mention–winning entry in the Sierra College Gothic Horror Short Fiction Contest of 1996. Happy Halloween!

On Unsubscribing

For years I’ve kept a couple of secondary email addresses for e-newsletters, website signups, and other things that require an email address but that don’t really belong in the inbox I use to run my business. I’ve let these addresses —  free accounts from the usual big online players — get clogged with messages that are not quite spam but that typically get deleted without being read.

Starting today I’m going to try something that seems daring in my cautious online world. I’m going to unsubscribe from* some of those newsletters and websites.

It’s daring (to me) because I have held fast to what used to be conventional wisdom: That clicking the “Unsubscribe” button is actually a notification to the sender that they’ve reached a real, live person. And worse, is a signal that they might want to send more messages to a given address. I no longer believe that, at least for legitimate senders. (I’m about two years behind David Pogue in coming to this realization.)

What changed my mind? Continue reading On Unsubscribing


I heard on the radio the other day that Disney would no longer issue stock certificates, and I thought of Lance Lee.

I met Lance in the late 1990s at a yoga retreat at White Lotus in Santa Barbara. He told me about his company,, which sells single keepsake stock certificates. Lee had been a conventional stockbroker, but enough clients asked to buy single shares through him that he saw a business opportunity. (He still needed a broker’s license to sell single shares.)

I wrote up for California Computer News in July 2000. Among many fun facts, Lee told me that Disney was the most popular stock he sold. A quick look at the website today shows that ranking hasn’t changed. The stock was — is — a popular gift for kids — in part because the certificate is lovely, depicting Disney characters and a smiling portrait of Walt.

For Lance’s sake, I hope that more companies don’t follow Disney’s lead and stop issuing certificates.



Hockey Season—Bring On The Sharks! (And Their IT)

In honor of tomorrow’s opening of the NHL season, I’m publishing a Customer Success Snapshot I wrote a few months ago for Symantec about Sharks Sports and Entertainment (SSE), the parent company of the San Jose Sharks hockey team.

The piece is brief, but I tried to toss a little sports jargon in. For example: “Three Symantec solutions get lots of playing time in the SSE data center: Symantec Endpoint Protection, Backup Exec, and Enterprise Vault.”   Uy Ut, SSE’s Director of IT (and a great, quotable interviewee), used the term “skating to the puck” when we talked, but he had already used the same phrase in another tech success story I read. Using it in my piece would land me in the penalty box.


Throwback: Counting on DLP

It’s not often I get to introduce a personal anecdote into tech-oriented writing, but I did get this chance in “Counting on Data Loss Prevention,” written for Symantec’s CIO Digest in October 2008. (The link is to a 4-page PDF; the article is no longer online.) In the piece, I compared Data Loss Prevention—DLP—to the censorship done on letters my father sent home from Europe during World War II. It’s an apt comparison, I think; can you name other technology solutions that have analog analogues?

The Personal Touch at Oracle OpenWorld

There’s plenty of worry—much of it well founded—that technology is breaking down the need, and maybe even the desire, for good old-fashioned person-to-person human interaction. Social networking, e-commerce, online advertising—they’re all enabling us to spend more time with our screens and less with our peeps, or the story goes. And what do we get in exchange? A little more speed and convenience, and a lot less privacy.

You can blame the Facebooks and Amazons of the world for this, but a share of the blame likely lies with one of the grey eminences of the technology business: Oracle. Its software is the engine behind many of the biggest businesses, with the longest reaches, in the world. Oracle’s spectacular scope and scale are on full display this week at Oracle OpenWorld in San Francisco. (Disclosure: Oracle is a longtime client of mine; I write for their publications, and I’m attending the show on a complimentary press/blogger pass.)

Oracle OpenWorld is beyond overwhelming. It brings tens of thousands of attendees and $120 million to San Francisco from around the world. More than 100,000 hotels rooms in the City (and many in surrounding cities) are booked. Howard Street has become an alfresco great room. The entirety of Moscone Center and several nearby venues are packed with IT guys, programmers, developers, and marketing folks, not to mention the crowds of people here to help us find our way, serve us our lunch, and otherwise care for us. All of Oracle OpenWorld’s sessions, even the small technical ones, are highly produced, with wireless microphones, large video screens, slick PowerPoint presentations, and walk-on music for the presenters, who are introduced by voice-of-god announcers. The lights and sound will induce vertigo if the crowds don’t.

But Oracle OpenWorld is more than a gathering of nerds who prefer relational databases over relationships. It’s a gathering of people, and the human touch that invariably occurs when people interact with one another is what leads me to my favorite anecdote from today.

I was attending a session about Enterprise Mobility, and was sitting next to a fellow from Japan. (At least I surmise he was from Japan; the lock screen on his iPad was in Japanese.) To his left were two guys from Latin America. (At least I assume they were from Latin America, from their speech and dress.) We were in a darkened theater looking at a bright screen, and the Japanese guy tried to take a photo of a PowerPoint slide with his iPad. He was unsuccessful; the picture was washing out. Silently, one of the Latin American guys touched his shoulder, held up his own phone, and showed the Japanese guy how to adjust the exposure by tapping a bright spot on the screen. This all happened in seconds—fast enough, in fact, for the Japanese guy to get his photo successfully before the presenter had moved to the next slide.

Perhaps this episode serves as a loose metaphor for the positive power of technology. Think about it: One person silently and quickly provided necessary information to help another person—a complete stranger, from another land—do something he needed to do. And perhaps this episode illuminates why events like Oracle OpenWorld continue to draw tens of thousands of people, even in an era when information can be delivered virtually and online for less money and hassle. Yes, digital forums and virtual meetings may be more efficient, but they don’t do a good job of putting human beings in touch with each other. That personal contact is an invaluable commodity that can’t yet be digitized.

Throwback: Not All In The Family

For a few years I had a great gig as a columnist for Cisco’s iQ Magazine, writing about the growth challenges facing small and medium businesses (SMBs) in a column called “Growing Pains.” I got to interview small businesspeople,  consultants who helped them, and academics who studied them, and try to give SMBs practical insight and advice for common challenges.

This piece from 2006, titled “Not All In The Family,” talks about the challenge of bringing  an outsider into a business that had, previously, been run by family members. (The linked file is a three-page PDF; the article is no longer online.) Making this transition for family businesses was, and remains, a common challenge, particularly when family ownership enters the third generation. The column holds up well, I think, and is full of interesting stats. Plus, I had forgotten until I re-read it to post here that I had interviewed Nick Parham for it.

A favorite snippet: “But family businesses are at a crossroads. Many of these companies were originally created after World War II—veterans were as adept at creating businesses as they were at building families.”

If you have worked for or with a family-owned business — or owned one yourself — please share your experience.