About Mark Cathcart

I am an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm also the ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides; I own the new Austin Triathletes and ATxD Multisports, a sports management company.

Healthcare – Points mean Prizes!

Back on April 6th I wrote a blog called “Healthcare Stupidity“. In a work email today it contained the following:

It may surprise you, but prices for medical services can differ depending on where you go. For example, identical cholesterol tests can run between $10 and $270 and an MRI can range from $300 to $3,000. Need a minor outpatient procedure? Searching in Castlight could save you hundreds. With Castlight, you can compare costs for doctors and medical services before you make an appointment.

Earn more points! Sign up, perform a search and review your medical plan in Castlight by June 30 for a chance to win 10,000 WOWPoints on e-Deals (valued at $100)*! For rules and more details please visit Castlight Rewards Sweepstakes.

Speechless, you can’t make this stuff up. As Bruce Forsyth used to say, Points mean prizes, play your card right!

Watch the video, If you are one of my US Friends… It will dispel any notion you have of the British being intelligent and articulate, much like the US Healthcare system it seems.

Hello Lamp Post Austin

hello-lamp-post-banner-jan-2015[1]

I must admit when I heard about the Hello Lamp Post project at the Art Alliance Austin annual party*, I was pretty interested.

I regularly run past a number of places that have the project, but since I’m running and don’t have my phone, I’d not tried it until the other day. I found myself at Austin Bergstrom Airport, waiting for my my luggage, at #3. Right there in front of me was a Hello Lamp Post project. I tried.

Apart from the superficial novelty of txting an object, one of the Art City guitars, the “conversation” didn’t last long.

#512: Good evening [etc.] How do you like to express yourself?

Me: Quietly, with confidence

#512: I’m only just getting the hang of talking. Someone told me “playing the guitar” Another thing. Can you play any instruments?

Me: Nope

#512: I must learn to play something myself. Let me ask another question. Have you any songs stuk in your head?

Me: American Pie

#512: Simon and Garfunkel are stuck in mine. I’m going to have a think about wht you said now. Come and Find me again soon! Want to know why objects like me are waking on? Visit hellolampostaustin.com

Me: Thanks I know… I”m an Art Austin VIP

Screenshot_2015-04-15-17-22-21and that was it. I have to say, less than I was hoping for. Surely artificial intelligence can do better, not even an Austin fact of the day, or details about the project, number of objects, or anything actually engaging for me.

* I’m an Art Alliance Austin Collectors Circle member. Join me. While my experience with this project may not have met my expectations, the various Art Night events, and the upcoming Art City Austin events are well worth supporting and they’ve had both some great art, and great experience art.

In stark contrast

texasWhile a lot of todays action in the Texas Capital, as covered by social media, is about the “open carry”  bill being sent back for procedural reasons, given we still have a full 7-weeks of the Legge before they remount their horses and get out of dodge for the next 1.5 years(I know, how weird is that?), there is no doubt the bill make to it the Governors desk, where Governor Abbott has said he’ll sign it.

I’m left feeling pretty empty and hollow about Texas today though. I heard the news today on the Texas Standard about SB 204. I don’t know anything about this subject, but when I saw the justification

that the state could “no longer afford” the cost of operating all of its 13 state-supported living centers.

I was left wondering how. in what universe can Texas not afford to run these? Neither the Texas Tribune or the Texas Standard had any details on how the some 3,000 beneficiaries of these State Institutions would be cared for.

A few minutes later the Texas Standard went on to cover this story, about Sex trafficking and human slavery. The article makes a number of claims, all of which are appalling and repugnant.

the Polaris Project says 100,000 children are trafficked a year for sex in this country. The Polaris Project maintains the national human trafficking hotline. Texas ranks second in the number of calls to that hotline.

It seriously makes you ask, why are we not focusing on this as a problem, are there State programs, State hospice care, State rehab centers?

But most of all, what kinda of Men are the “buyers” and facilitate this in Texas? It’s just disgusting.

Almost as bad though is that the Legge is busy debating open carry, meaningless tax cuts, and closing State institutions because it can’t afford  them. A fine example of “you get what you vote for”.

A Change Is Gonna Come

Then and now

Then and now

Notwithstanding Sam Cookes heavily racially motivated “A Change is gonna come“, that is exactly what is happening in Texas. Change is coming. The freedoms that have been held here as a right, are being diluted, and by that, I don’t mean the ridiculous moves by the far right, mostly white Christians.. Sure, they may win in the short term, but in the long term, they’ll have to change.

Why? They very growth former Governor Rick Perry espoused and celebrated as often as he could, proclaiming the Texas miracle, the traditional freedoms can’t hold at the growth rates we see in Texas cities. This is more pronounced in the big cities of Austin, Dallas, and Houston, but there is spill over into the mid-size and even the small cities.

This article from BBC amply illustrates the issues and what one, very small place, Kingsbury TX is doing.  I assume at least Kingsbury residents pay property tax to the county, and sales tax goes to the state, so in practice they are getting what they pay for. If they don’t have much of anything for a city government then that’s fine until they need it, at which point they won’t be generating enough property tax and sales revenue to cover it, and like everyone else in smalltown Texas, they’ll be expecting the “big city folk” to pickup the slack.

Metropolitan Texas is coming, when people live in close proximity, their priorities and problems change, and that drives the laws and loss of freedoms these people, and apparently a lot at the Texas State house are afraid of. Along with that liberty, also comes a change in attitude to toleration for everything from LGBT to the non-white community.

Instead of historically being able to segregate them, divide, force them to the fringe, more and more people live alongside those formally discriminated against, and learn that, really, they are just people too.

Of course this will take time, looking at the ridiculous, gerrymandered districts that include swathes of big cities intersected with sub-urban and rural areas will make it difficult to unset the time travelers that want to keep Texas in the 1950’s. However, as we’ve seen in the Indiana Religious Freedom debacle, big business, mostly metropolitan based, now holds all the cards and they will halt the journey back to 1950, because their success is dependent on being able to hire and keep the best and the brightest, and they don’t want to work in the 1950’s.

Healthcare stupidity

Only in America!

I’m an employed executive, I do OK. I have company provided healthcare insurance. I find the annual waste of time crawling through the policy details and trying to work out which one will pay out for real healthcare and which ones are just superficially attractive frustrating, annoying and the height of absurdity. If you make the wrong selection, you are screwed for the whole year. If you forget to make a selection you are possibly even more screwed as you’ll default into a plan which is totally inappropriate for your needs.

Then there is the whole debacle of co-pays, deductibles, out of network and a whole raft of other ways you can be screwed and charged even more. So, I’m guessing I’m not alone with this and in one of those only in America moments, there apparently is a business model for this.

My company has been promoting and I’ve been getting flyers in the mail, and emails at work in the HR Newsletter for a company called Castlight. The latest email from Corporate HR Said:

Castlight is your one-stop shop for healthcare. With Castlight, you can find a high-quality doctor at an affordable price before making an appointment. Already registered? Start searching today for the best healthcare options for your family. Castlight is provided to [—] team members, spouses or domestic partners enrolled in [—-] PPO 600 and Health Fund medical plans. Register for the Castlight Rewards Sweepstakes for a chance to win 10,000 WOWPoints redeemable at e-Deals@[—-]—a $100 value! For rules and more details please visit Castlight Rewards Sweepstakes

So, lets summarize.

  1. Healthcare providers are charging employees too much, otherwise why does the service exist?
  2. Healthcare Insurance companies are failing to negotiate the best deals.
  3. My employer is paying the company, or is getting a kick-back when employees use the service
  4. Company provided health insurance still isn’t affordable.
  5. None of this is important because you can get rewards and points for being sick and needing a doctor.
  6. If you pay by a cash back credit card, you too can make money, oops I meant save more money.

Yep, only in America would any of this be acceptable because hey, people are making good money out of it.

Changing Austin

even the sign is new

even the sign is new

I hate that Austin is changing, but when I look at much of the change, I can’t deny that its better. This hiperstercrit blog sentiment and list of changes is one of my favorites.

My poster example of change, is the house opposite mine, a 74-year old Hispanic guy lived there alone, he was so financially broke he couldn’t afford to retire; his hands were twisted and ineffective but he still did plumbing work. His only real pleasure was playing scratch cards, I’d often bump into him over at the corner store. He died last year, my neighbor and I agreed to put a bid in for his home, clean it up and modernize it, and rent it out at an affordable price using the property itself as an investment, rather than the rent as income. It was an old school south Austin shotgun duplex.

His nephew was in charge of the estate wanted $450k for the house. We looked it over, inside was awful, he hadn’t done any real maintenance, decoration, or refurbishment and our contractor reckoned it would cost $150k to sort out the piller/beam, the floors, a/c, electrical etc. We offered $350k but it was refused. They sold for $420k to Sett Studios. The city applied for Historic, the neighbors all wrote in opposition to the Historic zoning, the city withdrew the application. It will likely be replaced some some variant of this, which is two doors down on the same block.

So is Austin changing, do I blame people like me moving in? Yes to a point. I’m part of the problem. On the other hand, would anyone have paid the $450k and refurbished, no! Can I blame the nephew for asking a high price, absolutely not. Could you really ask someone to live in the house as it was, not really, although I’m sure some do it’s really not what we should be aiming for in the USAs fastest growing city, absolutely and totally not. This isn’t change for change sake, it’s necessary regeneration.

The “Welcome to Austin” mural is a perfect analogy of change. Yes, it has changed, although most won’t have noticed. Back in early 2013, I asked Todd Sanders at Road House Relics if he had any plans to repair/refurbish the mural? I introduced Todd to the folks at the neighborhood association, and contacted a personal friend who is in a senior position at the AUSTIN CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU, and a few months later the wall was stripped, and perfectly repainted by a team from Creative Action. It’s new, it’s vibrant, the only way you can spot the change, the new mural says (C) 2013 top-left. Change is inevitable.

of by for

With Senator Ted Cruz and other right wing nutty boyz lining up to be our next President; and yes, I will be a US Citizen by the end of the next Presidents first term, it’s worth asking yourself…

If the US Government has been bought by big business, who sold it?

Of by for is independent and fiercely non-partisan film that looks at how Washington and the US Government works. You can stream it from Vimeo, Amazon instant video and other fine distribution systems (aka iTunes). Of by for was bought to you, in part, with financial assistance of this non-citizen.

insidious greed – HSBC

If you’ve not been following along today, it’s well worth reading back through the BBC Business Live News feed on the HSBC Tax Avoidance scandal. It is indeed the perfect example of the sort of insidious greed that is destroying society today.

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It’s not just the “me” culture that is all around us, but the industry and culture that is behind it. Rather than pay taxes now, there is a whole industry on tax-avoidance. It’s become an accepted practice, mostly illegal, certainly immoral and to deflect interest in their actions, just like with the bully at school, they deflect criticism and investigation away from their own failings, by making a big deal about those who can least defend themselves.

The amount of tax avoided, mostly illegally, by the HSBC 7,000 will have gone along way to dealing with many of challenges that the UK is currently facing, and the austerity measure they are taking.

Add to that the same offshore tax dodges being employed by large companies, and the industry of sleeze ball consultants, awarded for advising, aiding, and making this possibly, doing everything from advising, writing, and ultimately even joining governments to implement tax policy that facilitates this has got to stop.

It’s easier to blame welfare cheats, immigrants, in fact anyone than themselves. Here in Texas we have both past Governor Perry, and current Governor Abbott continually railing against the Federal Government. Under Governor Perry, we had the HHSC(Ed: no relation) contract scandal, with the State going with a no-bid contract, with little oversight and unclear results to again go after the “little people“. It’s much easier to make them the problem than deal with the problem of insidious greed of the wealthy and their legions of shills.

hsbc taxWatch this extract from the BBC Panorama show to get a quick summary, or read the summary here.

Texas as a playground for rich Mexicans

After the recent fuss over alleged Muslim “no-go”  areas in Europe and,  specifically the UK,  which are total nonsense,  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal better meet with Texas Senator Ted Cruz and start talking about a wall along the Tejas border with Louisiana.

At least down in Southern California, they think swathes of Texas are already a playground for middle and upper classes from Northern Mexico.  Gotta love uninformed,  speculation. Back at ya ‘Merica

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