Monday, December 24, 2007

HIPAA and the Good Samaritan

I received a call the other day from a man who said he'd found a wallet with an insurance card inside it. On the insurance card was a phone number, and when he called it, he got me. He wanted to return the wallet (and the money and credit cards inside) to its owner, and he requested the member's phone number for this purpose.

Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to help this kind man. HIPAA prevented me from acknowledging even that the wallet's owner had this insurance in the first place--to say nothing of giving out his phone number. I apologized profusely for my inability to help him, suggested he enlist the help of the local police, and added that the wallet's owner would surely appreciate his efforts.

May your holidays be full of good will toward all--and be unencumbered by complicated federal privacy legislation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


My cubicle is strategically located by the breakroom. Thus, lots of people stop to say "hi"... but apparently lots of people also stop to check out my decor when I'm not there. And when someone introduces him- or herself to me at work, I usually hear "I love looking at all the decorations in your cube!"

So I will fall into conversation with this person. This person will ask when I got married, where I got married, etc. It's also pretty obvious by now that I am pregnant--I've gained almost 20 pounds (a little more than one-sixth of my pre-pregnancy weight) since late July, and it's pretty much all out in front--so we talk about pregnancy and babies and morning sickness and things like that too.

And then this person will ask what my husband does for a living.

In my cubicle I have six framed photographs. These include 4x6 prints of my two best friends and me, my parents and me on Wedding Day, Mrs. Gerbil at the zoo, our phenomenal but lazy-at-blogging cat, and my cousin and me. There is also a 5x7 print of Mrs. Gerbil and me on Wedding Day. In this picture we are wearing our big bridal gowns and our matching floral hair garlands, and we are toting identical bridal bouquets.

Make no mistake: this is not a picture of two sisters in a double wedding. This is a picture of two chicks getting married to each other.

(What makes this question even more bizarre is that the only man in any of these photographs is my father. If I had a husband, wouldn't you think I'd have some pictures of him up on display?)

So I tell this person that I have no husband, that this (here I point to the aforementioned 5x7) is my better half. And this person will apologize profusely and say things like "This is San Francisco; I should really know better than to make assumptions like that."

I should say so!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weasel words

After Mrs. Gerbil determined that she writes like a man, we had ourselves a lively discussion about what, exactly, makes for manly vs. womanly (girly?) writing. When I analyzed several sections of my dissertation, I found that I write like a weak (girly?) man, or possibly a European man, or maybe a European metrosexual. But other writings of mine--especially letters of complaint--came back strongly male.

I freely admit: my nickname in late adolescence was "Manly Woman," on account of my death-grip handshake and my arm-wrestling prowess.

Mrs. Gerbil's theory was that scientific writing, especially in social sciences, contains more "weasel words" than in other areas. Social scientists such as yours truly are taught never to write "X is," but rather "X may be," or "the data suggest that X is" or "it appears safe to conclude that X." This is an unfortunate effect of the scientific method, whereby you can never actually prove anything, just disprove its opposite (i.e., the null hypothesis) within a reasonable margin of error (i.e., less than 5%).

But theologians such as my better half don't engage in a whole lot of hypothesis testing. They just come up with an interpretation, hopefully think about it for a while to make sure it's internally consistent, and present it. They don't need to do validation studies to see if their conclusions hold up under different conditions. I suppose it's all just a matter of faith for them.

So then this begged the question of how social scientists insult each other. (Trust me. It did.) If we social scientists really wanted to be true to our hypothesis-testing heritage, we might have to say things like

The data suggest that you suck.

It appears that you suck.

We can confidently reject the null hypothesis that you do not suck.

You suck (p < .05).

It appears safe to conclude that you suck. However, further research is recommended to determine what factors, if any, mediate or moderate your suckage.

And now, if you will excuse me, I must go calculate the Spearman's rho of your mom.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Assorted tidbits

1. If you know me in real life and/or read Mrs. Gerbil's blog, then you already know that we are moving to Massachusetts in a little less than a month. If you don't know me in real life and do not read Mrs. Gerbil's blog, you are hereby informed that we are finally moving back East! (And why aren't you a reader of Mrs. Gerbil's blog? Hm?)

2. Many people have asked whether we will be having a home birth for the gerb. We are not. (Or, at least, we're not planning one.) This is mainly because we doubt our new landlords would appreciate my giving birth on their carpets.

3. It was ridiculously windy here yesterday. I left the house (for a walk to the post office) with wet, fresh-from-the-shower hair. I returned 15 minutes later with completely dry hair.

4. Rite Lite Hanukkah candles totally suck. I think a more appropriate name for them would be "Rong Lite."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dream on

I had a very strange dream the other night. I don't recall most of it, but high-capacity porta-potties figured prominently therein. And in my dream, they were called...

...Oodles of Doodles.

I'm pretty clever even in my sleep, eh?