Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm Disabled and I Can Prove It

I'm disabled. 

I was born in 1970. About a year later I was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. I never walked. I got my first wheelchair at kindergarten age, and my first power wheelchair in sixth grade.

Yet, around 4 to 6 times per year I have to, for one reason or another, prove that I'm disabled.

Granted, I'm 5 feet nothin', 112 pounds and sit in an electric wheelchair, but apparently that's just anecdotal evidence… We need science!

The Good Doctor

Every couple months I have to send my physician a form and ask him to fill it out. He has to state that I have spinal muscular atrophy, identify the diagnosis date, explained that my prognosis is something akin to "ain't getting better any time soon" and sign it.

With new Medicare regulations, the good doctor is not allowed to sign the said form without seeing me "face-to-face" to prevent fraud. Although I'm extraordinarily healthy, hospitalized last in 1996 for something unrelated to my disability, I go see my doctor every six months like clockwork.

Here's my typical conversation:

Doc – "Good afternoon, Mr. Tweed". One reason he is my doctor is that he speaks to me like an adult. I'm 46 and he has about five years on me. He could call me Jason, but he definitely shouldn't call me "son", "sweetie", "hun" or any of the other condescending titles I've been given by various healthcare practitioners.

But I digress…

Doc – "Good afternoon, Mr. Tweed."

Me – "Good afternoon, Dr. P." I'm not going to publish his name, but it's one of those extremely long last names common to the Indian peninsula. I purposely learned his name and its proper pronunciation. Given his level of respect, it was the least I could do.

Doc – "What brings you in today?"

Me – "Just here to prove I'm still disabled."

Doc – "That time again. Let me take your vitals".

Apparently "vitals" are pretty important to the process. They always take them. None of the paperwork said that I had to be alive, just disabled, but I figure it's better not to argue. If I have no vitals, they will probably cancel my insurance.

Blood pressure – Yep. Pulse – Yep. Respiration – Check.

Then he looks in my eyeballs to make sure they are still there. He checks my ears, freshly de-waxed. He sticks a Popsicle stick down my throat and looks deep into my soul. Nothing remarkable.

He listens through the stethoscope and taps my belly. I'm not quite sure why, but maybe he is superstitious and my belly resembles The Buddha. Good luck.

Then he opens up my chart. He has a piece of paper in my chart that tells my diagnosis, date of diagnosis, and prognosis. He copies those on to the form, and handwriting that is stereotypically chicken scratch, adds a date and the signature.

Doc – "See you in six months."

Me – "Hopefully no sooner."

Why Do I Have to Prove My Disability?

I understand some of the reasons I have to document my disability. Medicare and Medicaid fraud aren't rampant, but they do exist. I receive disability insurance payments, which are permanent, as long as I am alive. (Now I remember why vitals are important.)

However, let's take a look at some of the things I've had to ask my doctor to fill out over the years.

Prescriptions for a wheelchair, actually that takes several. First he has to refer me to a physical therapist, who has to determine that yes, indeed, I can't walk.

Prescriptions for an adjustable bed. Apparently wanting to watch television isn't a good enough reason.

Prescriptions for mechanical lift, to get in said adjustable bed.

Authorizations for a catheter bag, because they don't want any normal people urinating in a bag just for the fun of it.

Orders for a shower chair. After all, the toilet on wheels is a luxury. I'm sure lots of people would skip the whole walking to the toilet, and standing in the shower.

Maybe I don't want to shower, how about a bath. I'm going to need a special permit for the device to get in the tub. Apparently sitting during hygiene must be well regulated.

The Pharmacist

I take ibuprofen for headaches. It's difficult for me to swallow pills. I can take children's ibuprofen, but to get those adult dose I have to drink about a quart of purple flavored phlegm. So my pharmacist mixes ibuprofen into a suspension. I only need to take one filled shot glass. Apparently, this highly specialized medicine also requires a note from my doctor.

Pharmacist – "Well, at least we can charge it to your prescription coverage now."

Me – "Great. Out of curiosity, how much would it be out of pocket?"

Pharmacist – "$3.00"

Me – "Seems legit. Here's my card."

Pharmacist – "Your plan has a co-pay. $2.00"

Well, I saved a buck this month. Thank goodness for Dr. P.

The DMV for Non-drivers

So I can't drive. Pennsylvania used to charge a fee to have a state ID. The ID card used to be called a "nondrivers license" (WTF?!) It was $15 for a license not to drive.

The DMV rocket scientist brigade offered me the chance to get my ID for free since I am disabled. Terrific.

We just need a doctors note verifying your disability. Apparently, sitting for an hour in the DMV in my wheelchair wasn't verification enough.

Back to the doctor. Verified. Another hour at the DMV. 

DMV - Here's your card and your fee has been waived. 

Me - Great, how much did I save. 

DMV - $15

DMV – Would you like to apply for a disabled parking permit?

Me – Yes, please.

DMV – Great. We just need a doctors signature on this form verifying your disability!

Me – Doesn't the other form I gave you today apply?

DMV – No, we have to have an original signature on both.

Me – Why wasn't I giving both forms at the same time?

DMV – You requested a non-drivers license. We didn't think you would need to park.

My parking permit would arrive in a week or so. It'll hang on my mirror with its oversized bright blue wheelchair. Then I'll be able to park in a space with an oversized bright blue wheelchair on it, marked by a sign with an oversized bright blue wheelchair. It's conveniently near curb cut, marked with… Yeah.


Outside the DMV, my van was parked on the street in a handicapped space.

Under the wipers, a ticket.

My van has a raised roof, a lower floor, and a ramp that slides underneath. The body extensions to cover the works make me feel like I'm driving one of those GTA vehicles, running from the cops, and shooting at pedestrians. All I needed is some lights underneath to be a playa'.

Then I remembered that I'm driving a Toyota minivan. I ain't no playa, it's just how we roll!

Apparently the Parking Enforcement Officer, which is only one initial shy of a PEON, gave me a ticket for parking my accessible van in an accessible parking space. Handwritten on the violation was the words "no permit". Apparently this permit thing that I haven't had for years is a bigger deal than I had imagined.

Went back inside the DMV. They said they couldn't do a thing. Fill out the form and plead "not guilty" and write a letter explaining the situation.

Form filled. Form mailed.

10 days later, I open the mailbox.

DMV, office of handicap parking. Looks official. Yeah, parking permit.

District Magistrate, Office of Appeals. Also looks official. Boo, my not guilty plea means I have to go to the magistrate in person a month later.

I rolled into the magistrate court with parking permit in hand.

The Judge

His Honor – "Handicapped parking violation? How do you plead?"

Me – "Not guilty."

His Honor – "Do you have a parking permit?"

Me – "Yes, it's right here."

His Honor – "Why wasn't it on the vehicle?"

Me – "I was inside dropping off the application."

His Honor – "So the permit was not yet valid on the date of the ticket?"

Me – "No Sir. Am I required to have a permit to use the space?"

His Honor – "No Son (again with the "son"). The permit prevents fraud."

Me – "Is there an abundance of parking fraud?"

His Honor – (Clearly getting perturbed) "Apparently there is, we wouldn't have a permit."

Me – "So I am legally allowed to use the space if I'm disabled, even without a permit."

His Honor – "Yes, absolutely. As long as you were disabled at the time of the incident."

Me – "Okay. I've been a wheelchair user for 40 years."

His Honor – "No problem, I will find you not guilty pending documentation for the record."

Me – "Documentation?"

His Honor – "Yes, it's simple. All we need is a note from your doctor!"

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Juno to Jupiter: The Mind Blowing Math of NASA

Jupiter photo from Hubble telescope
Jupiter as seen by Hubble telescope, courtesy of NASA
I remember sitting in Mr. Taylor's math class. Frankly, I was always pretty good. Geometry and trigonometry came easy to me. Algebra and calculus required much more effort. Most of what I learned came from studying with a good friend of mine, Addison. In college my math helped me understand macroeconomics, and Addison went on to manage a company focused on Big Data. We were pretty good at the maths.

NASA, however does mind blowing math. August 5, 2011 they launched a satellite at Jupiter. On July 4 of this year, while Addison and I were both celebrating independence with friends, him on the West Coast and me in the east, the geeks at NASA couldn't take the day off.

Mind Blowing Math Level I

Launching a satellite on a rocket isn't quite like shooting a gun.

If you shoot a rifle, most of us could hit the target after half a dozen practice shots.

A pistol is much more challenging because your barrel is shorter and fractions of a degree mean missing the target.

Archery is even more difficult. In archery you have to aim high because the pull of gravity makes the path of the arrow arch slightly. Every 10 feet of distance makes this shot dramatically harder.

Not only did NASA hit the target, but it was a bull's-eye and they only got one shot.

Mind Blowing Math Level II

So why did NASA land on July 4? If they're so good at math, wouldn't they have realized it's a holiday? Seriously, Addison and I would've both been happy to have a couple NASA dudes at our cookouts, assuming they brought Doritos or something.

Well you see, they wanted to land when Jupiter was in the neighborhood, only 345 million miles from Earth. Remember, every 10 feet or so makes a difference in archery, so if they could take a shot when Jupiter was close, as opposed to when it's 610 million miles away, it'd be much easier.

Remember, planets don't travel in circles. They travel in ovals, at different speeds. They are shooting at a moving target that gets closer and further away.
Juno satellite on its path to Jupiter - courtesy National Geographic

Mind Blowing Math Level III

Arrows fly much slower than bullets. Because of this, gravity has a much bigger influence. The more time it takes the arrow to hit the target, the more gravity comes into play.

Imagine shooting an arrow that will not land for five years. The effect of gravity will be huge.

NASA knew this, and took it mind blowingly further.

Satellites fly pretty fast, thousands of miles per hour. If you're going to shoot something at a target 345 million miles away, you definitely want the fastest possible spacecraft.

NASA said, "What if we could get extra speed from gravity? Gravity could help us instead of making it more difficult." So they shot this rocket at the path that the gravity of Earth would come into play more than two years later!

They were using the gravity of where the earth would be two years from now to influence the speed. They had to get close, but definitely not hit the target, because shooting yourself is a bad thing.

Back to the archery… You fire an arrow, and before the arrow reaches the halfway mark, you chase it down and stand in front of it. It's going to whizzz by your head, so close that your 1980s hairstyle will influence the path of the arrow.

In this case, the satellite increased in speed by 16,330 mph.

To get a better understanding, National Geographic created a pretty amazing picture. The satellite was shot so it would make a complete orbit around the sun traveling slower than Earth. Earth makes more than two orbits. When the earth and the satellite pass each other again, the gravity speeds things up similar to a car coming over the crest of the hill.

After all, when you are taking a 350 million mile road trip, you want to save on gas wherever you can.

Mind Blowing Math Level IV

Remember we are shooting a moving target, Jupiter.

The next level is even crazier. We aren't going to hit Jupiter. We are going to miss, on purpose.

You see, crashing into Jupiter is impressive enough, but if you're going to travel all that distance, you want to make sure to see the sights. Imagine driving to Arizona without bothering to check out the Grand Canyon.

We missed Jupiter, but we missed so close that the satellite got grabbed by Jupiter's gravity, and now it's orbiting the planet probably with a couple GoPros.

We want to drive by taking pictures, but we don't want to land. You see, the giant red spot is some pretty harsh weather. Imagine a hurricane. A big one can cover the lower half of Florida. This one is bigger. Bigger than Florida, bigger than the United States, bigger than the entire earth; it's actually about three times the size of Earth. Plus, this hurricane seems to never end.

It's a little dangerous to orbit Jupiter. If you use a telescope, you can see four moons. If you use a gigantic telescope, you'll realize that there are actually 67 of them orbiting Jupiter. Just saying, in this traffic make sure to use turn signals before merging.

Mind Blowing Math BOSS LEVEL

Pretty impressive so far… But wait…

The sun is a ball, orbited by a bunch of little balls. Those orbits aren't like the circles in our high school science books. In reality, the orbits are more like eggs, wobbling because each of the little balls influences the others slightly.

Keep waiting…

But the sun isn't stationary. Plus the orbits aren't necessarily flat.

The sun is streaking through space at tens of thousands of miles per hour. The planets are being dragged, not in circles or egg shapes, but in a spiral pattern.

If you actually drew orbits in three dimensional space, they would look like a corkscrew.

What this means is that, while the earth rotates once every 365 days, in that period of time the sun has traveled millions of miles. When we rotate back to the beginning, in three dimensional space we are millions of miles away. In fact, in the past 13 billion years, since the Big Bang, the earth has never been in exactly the same place twice, and never will be.

The satellite's name is Juno. It sounds like the capital of Alaska, but it is spelled like that movie about the teenage angst of a pregnant girl who's actually a lesbian in real life. Whatever.

So, Juno traveled 345 million miles, which took five years and two laps around the sun, to fly by earth so close it messed up our hair, toward Jupiter. When it arrived, it missed by just enough to become the 68th satellite, and the first man-made device in orbit. The entire time, we are all flying through space on a spinning ball, corkscrewing around another spinning ball.

I guess the guys at NASA had a pretty good reason to miss my July 4 pool party. By the way, boss level math nerds are welcome to the party next year, and you don't even have to bring Doritos.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ray Stevens - Everything Is Beautiful

On the day I was born, June 7, 1970, this was the #1 song in America according to Billboard. I'm amazed that 46 years later how much we have seemed to digress. This song has a pure and simple message. Civil rights was in its infancy, and America was embracing its newfound wealth.