Wordy Wednesday

Halloween for very small places: Wally sells mini-bales to people who don’t know any better. Wheat straw is worth about $24.20 per ton or less than half a buck for a full field bale.

Teeny Tiny Walmart Bales
A standard field bale of hay or straw has fixed height and width of 14 or 16 inches by 18 inches. The length varies according baler settings; it will be either about 36 inches or 48 inches long. A 2-string dry straw bale can be as light as 35-40 pounds. The average is probably 40-50 pounds for 2-string and 60-75 for 3-string (straw, not hay). Looks like you could get some 6-8 or more of the mini-bales from just one 50-cent field bale.

Here’s what a real bale looks like. I’m in the wrong bidness.

Real Field Bales with People for Scale

Sum Oblitus

I told SWMBO yesterday, “I’ll write about a new Alzheimer’s drug test on an old, old drug on the Ides of August.” If I remember.

As an aside, Shakespear taught us that the Scottish king Duncan died on this day in 1040, and the namesake of the Scottish play died exactly 17 years in 1057. That has absolutely nothing to do with mice nor men nor memory other than the fact that I am very glad to have remembered it.

Memory is not easy for some of us as we age.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. It’s a progressive disease, where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to their environment. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those with Alzheimer’s live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years, depending on age and other health conditions.

It’s not just our memories it kills. It kills us. The advanced dementia impairs immune function and causes an inability to ambulate as well as incontinence and aspiration so many individuals with advanced AD contract deadly “intercurrent infections,” usually pneumonia.

Alzheimer’s Research Finds an Old, Old NSAID Reverses Memory Problems in Mice

Mouse with a Pill Researchers at the University of Manchester have found that giving mice mefenamic acid totally reverses memory loss within a month. Their data suggests that the fenamate non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could be relabelled as Alzheimer’s Disease therapeutics. They published the study in the journal Nature Communications last week.

Scientists at Parke-Davis invented mefenamic acid in 1961. The U.S. patent was issued in 1964. The drug is long since generic and is available worldwide under many brand names including “Ponstel.” Doctors generally use it to treat moderate pain and it is well tolerated for post-surgical pain but it is not widely prescribed.

Oh. One might think that a widely available generic drug would be affordable!

According to goodRX.com, a month’s worth of brand-name Ponstel sells for $819.57 at Walgreens and $777.26 at Rite-Aid but the generic sells for $203.72 at Walgreens and $216.45 at Rite-Aid. With a coupon. Wikipedia reports that, in the USA, wholesale price of a week’s supply of generic mefenamic acid was quoted as $426.90 in 2014. Ponstel cost $571.70. In contrast, in the UK, a week’s supply is £1.66, or £8.17 for the branded Ponstan. In the Philippines, 10 tablets of 500 mg generic mefenamic acid cost PHP39.00 (or the equivalent of $0.88USD) as of October 25, 2014.

And therein lies the rub. Mefenamic acid costs practically nothing to manufacture but price gouging here means that, if it does prove out as an Alzheimer’s drug, we won’t be able to afford it.

I think we should march on Washington about this pricing. We’ll meet a million-strong at the National Mall on Tuesday at noon. If we remember.



The three esses or three short business stories from last week.

Liz Arden reports that a company that sells on that mega-online-retailer we all use wanted to know how she liked her new Aloe Vera Gel.

“I didn’t order, ever, any Aloe Vera Gel from them nor anyone,” she said, “and the product I did order [through that online company] hasn’t arrived yet.”

She didn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Blue Cross has been calling two-three times a day for a couple of weeks, usually at suppertime.

Since I have Blue Cross, I eventually gave in. It was a 15 minute telephone survey that boiled down to two questions: Would you recommend Blue Cross to your friends and How much of an increase in premium would cause you to jump ship?

Note to self: Stop answering the phone!

Service, I: A Brick a Day
The Windows 10 Upgrade bricked one of my laptops by trashing its Windows activation.

Here’s the back story. See, Windows 7 Pro was activated before I started this latest trip into Windows 10. Unfortunately, it got to about 88% and quit with an error message. One of the fora answers had me check the Windows activation which is when I noticed that these OEM ‘puters don’t have the product key built into Windows; they use a generic “OEM” key. This one has a label that is all but rubbed out so I couldn’t dig out the key.

I called Microsoft.

‘Splained that the upgrade had restored Win7 but trashed the product key. I talked at length with the obstinate first level tech in India. He simply repeated over and over that they couldn’t recover the Product key. I escalated. His supervisor repeated over and over that they couldn’t recover the Product key.

“Call Lenovo,” they both said.

Microsoft didn’t really refuse to help. Microsoft refused to admit there was a problem or that they caused it. How could they cause it if there was no problem?

Lenovo was actually worse. “We don’t know your product ID. It is generated automatically and burned to your motherboard.”

Horse puckey. If they can print it on the label, they know it, and you know they printed it in a file.

“Call Microsoft or buy a new copy of Windows,” they said.

Oh. I have a problem that you and Microsoft caused and your only solution is to wipe out everything on my computer, make me buy a new operating system, and spend six hours of IT time reinstalling everything?

“Yes. The disk is $69 with shipping but you can buy unlimited month-to-month software support for $19/month and that includes the disk. Ten month minimum. The full year package is $199.”

I told the Lenovo rep that he was solely responsible for my moving all my business to Dell. He didn’t care. I couldn’t even be arsed to escalate. I hung up.

I called Microsoft back and got a tech who was nice, articulate, and capable.

“I can’t recover your key,” Bidyut Konwar said, “but I can generate a new one.” So he did. He asked for permission to take control of the computer. I gave it to him. He ran two quick tests, grabbed the machine type and serial number, generated the key, generated a check code, entered all of them, and I’m back up and running.

Note to self: ask for Mr. Konwar the next time I have to call Microsoft.

Note to Microsoft: Give Mr. Konwar a raise. He’s one of the good guys.

Service, II
The price for !@#$%^Comcast went up “only” ~$5/month from $98-and-change but breaking the $100/month barrier is a milestone. $1,200/year.

Comcast has a monopoly on broadband service in both North and South Puffin. Up north, they charge “only” $56.95 per month for the preferred Internet service plus $10 per month to rent a modem. “Basic” cable is $26.50 more and they add $5 to that for “broadcast fees.” I thought tax was only a couple of bucks but it’s a couple bucks twice for the public, educational, and governmental local access channels.

Lordy Lordy™.

I bought a cable modem. That will help a little.

I was offline for a little over 17 minutes while a service rep in the Philippines registered it to my system.

The new modem seemed to work fine the first day until some sites displayed the Comcast Activate Now page. I finally did that when Netflix wouldn’t load; activation made it load again. It didn’t happen on every page, so the aluminum foil hat brigade’s idea that Comcast does it deliberately to punish certain sites has some merit.

One forum suggested that Comcast assigns DNS servers that redirect page requests. Another says Comcast’s activation redirect is crap (they should have set it up not to get cached).

Meanwhile, I had to return the modem to get Comcast to stop charging me rent.

I drove to the St. Albans office. The door was locked. People were inside. I banged on the glass with my key until a fellow opened the door. I handed him my modem.

“I can’t take that,” he said.

I pointed at the big “Comcast” sign on the building. “Your tech rep told me to bring it here.”

“We haven’t been a retail location for three years. I can’t take it.”

I asked, reasonably politely, where I could put the modem.

“You can take it to the South Burlington office,” an hour drive down the Interstate.

That’s not an option.

“You can call Tech Support and they’ll send me out to your house to pick it up.” Apparently he couldn’t take it because he “didn’t have a work order” when I talked to him.

The tech drove by the house a couple of times. On his return trip, he rolled down the window and I threw the modem in. He had the paperwork to pick it up but no way to print a receipt.

Looks like Comcast sends their techs into our homes doesn’t trust them enough to let them write up a receipt.

Note to self: convince Google to run fiber to North Puffin.

Google Fiber isn’t available for this area
Enter your contact info to get updates.

The Google Service Plans and Pricing page is unlike any you’ll find on any cable or phone company site. Google actually tells you what they charge. Period.

Why do we let the other guys get away with this stuff?


Mail It

Tales of a South Puffin headed North.

We’re south of South Florida and actually more comfy year round than the mainland (it’s sub-tropical down there in the Keys, so we do get a bit of temperature swing but it’s small).

I’m a sunbird. I stay there until the ocean gets warmer than the air, and then follow the cool air to North Puffin. I’ll be back before I have to start wearing longjohns and cutting a hole in the ice for supper up there. That’s a reference to ice fishing although I have never understood why people would spend a day sitting on a bucket to try to catch a block of ice. I mean Walgreens or Kinneys sells ice for a buck or two.

Today is the first day of Summer but my last day down south last week felt like summer. It was sunny, sunny, sunny and calm with a high of 91 or so which meant a heat index of about 108. The water temp was 90F at Station VCAF1 — Vaca Key — which is off Palm Island Drive on the Gulf side of Marathon. It certainly felt like bath water in the ocean. The “cold spots” were probably 85.

As an aside, 2016 is a very special year because the solstice coincides with the “Strawberry Moon.” Named by early American tribes, the Strawberry Moon is a full moon like any other, but the one that marks the beginning of the strawberry season. The two events coincide once every 70 years. It may be pink when I get the picture.

I have several chores to do when shutting down the house. Tell the cops. Turn in my !@#$%^Comcast devices (the high point of the day, you betcha), and (temporarily) forward the mail.

I generally did the latter at the counter, but the Post Office got all official-like and started making me fill out a form and mail it in. Last year, I actually handed it to our postal person, but the USPS probably charged itself for the “postage paid” response card.

Our postal person was up to his eyeballs in customers when I went in for the form so rather than waiting in line, I decided to do it online. It’s easy peasy. Go to “USPS.com. Find ‘Change of Address’ under ‘Quick Tools.’ Follow easy on-screen instructions to enter to enter your information.” And the easy on-screen instructions really were easy.

Until I got to the Identity Verification.

Identity Verification — Credit/Debit Card

We must charge your credit/debit card $1

In order to verify your identity, we process a fee to your credit/debit card. The card’s billing address should match either the old or new address entered on the address entry page. If your card is billed to a different address, you may enter it by selecting the “Enter a different address” option. This is to prevent fraudulent Change of Address requests.

Please note that the Internet Change of Address Service uses a high level of security on a secure server.

Wait a minute. What?

You charge a dollar to verify my identity? What, are you nutz?

Banks, which charge for everything, have figured this out; they don’t charge.
Paypal knows how to do it; they don’t charge.
I think my stockbroker put four cents in my account.

I stopped at the counter on my way out of town. Our postmaster is on vacation but our sub gave me the form to fill out. I did it on the spot and handed it back.

“You know you can do this online, right?” she said.

“You charge me a dollar.”

“That’s an ID check because anyone could go online and change your mail.”

I just shook my head and handed her the form.

“I’ll take this but it takes at least two weeks to go through.”

By the way, she doesn’t know me from Art. Didn’t ask me for ID, though.

<le sigh>



First, do no harm.

I met a fellow at the drug store counter the other day (we’ll call him “Bob” so he remains completely anonymous). Bob told me his insurance company denied renewing the 30 mg Prevacid™ prescription he’s taken for years. A little research shows that the FDA approved 15 mg Prevacid™ for Over-the-Counter sales. Bob thinks he can remind Aetna that “the FDA decided you still need an Rx for the 30 mg.”

Mortar and PestleBob is, as we say in Big Pharma, scrogged. Oh, he can buy and take two of the 15 mg pills and he will, in the short term, but that is exactly the same as taking the 30mg which the FDA says you need the prescription for.

“Someone got stupid or cute,” he added.

We’ve all heard of Martin Shkreli, even if we don’t remember his name. The then-new CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired rights to make Daraprim™, an HIV and cancer drug that has been on the market since 1953 (it is a sole-source medication for toxoplasmosis that is frequently used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection in patients with compromised immune systems). Turing raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill; Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) called that move “pure evil.” Mr. Shkreli was arrested in December on securities fraud charges.

The Burlington Free Press reports that Bob and Deborah Messing of Montpelier are in the same boat. “She’s on Orencia™ … for rheumatoid arthritis. He recently finished a course of Harvoni™ … to treat hepatitis C.

“Both drugs are expensive. Harvoni™ lists at $1,125 per pill, or $94,500 for a 12-week course of treatment. Orencia’s list price tops $3,000 a month.”

Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans use beta-blockers to treat hypertension and other heart ailments. My grandmother died in 1953, after living as an invalid with high blood pressure for years. Daraprim™ wouldn’t have helped her but drugs like Inderal™ would have. If she could have afforderd it. Pronethalol™, the first ß adrenergic receptor antagonist, was introduced in 1962 to treat angina pectoris. Propranolol was launched under the trade name Inderal™ in 1965. Corgard™ (generic name: nadolol) came along a few years later. We call them beta-blockers.

Bob’s wife Jean takes nadolol every day and her blood pressure is well controlled. It’s one of those miracle drugs that was on the Walmart $4 list ($10 for a 90-day supply). Unfortunately, the price of generic nadolol skyrocketed after a supposed “shortage” in 2013 — it was actually cheaper to buy the branded Corgard™.

Found on the Interwebs: “This bull$%!# is the game the manufacturers and distributors play. They create a shortage then raise the price through the roof. This one is unforgivable. It’s an old drug and shouldn’t cost more then it used to.”

Drugs.com shows the current price for 90 tablets is $201.38 or $2.24 per pill. Intriguingly, their best price is $0.88 per pill for 30 tablets. “Prices are for cash paying customers only and are not valid with insurance plans.”

Jean called one of the generic nadolol manufacturers and was told there was absolutely no shortage. They didn’t explain the price hike, though.

I can.

Oh, there has been plenty of finger pointing. Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker and the manufacturer of Corgard™, paid $68 billion for rival Wyeth back in 2009. Even with the Wyeth deal Pfizer has product, patent, and no-drugs-in-the-pipeline problems. “That cost isn’t it, though. It’s the distributors.” “Oh, no, the retailers did it.” “Not me! I barely make the rent.” “Medicare and Medicaid and the VA can’t negotiate better prices under federal law.” And so on. For the record, Pfizer’s Wyeth buyout led to massive R&D cuts and weak productivity. No wonder prices went up.

There’s a bigger issue.

I have no more idea what Corgard™ or Prevacid™ really costs Bob than I do what a quick appendectomy would set back my granddaughter. Neither does the doc who prescribes the drug or cuts on her tummy. And, “for people of the Messings’ modest income, big manufacturers’ discounts and state assistance make their costs manageable.”

See, we don’t actually pay for any of them ourselves. Except for Bob who got scrogged.

We’ve gone from trading our own hard-earned, multi-colored greenbacks (or a chicken) for medical care to trading a get-out-of-jail-free card for it.

I bought a truck. I knew exactly what it cost before I closed the deal.
I bought a television. I knew its price precisely before I clicked BUY.
I bought a pound of ground beef. I knew exactly what it cost because it was right there on the label.
On the other hand…
Our doc prescribed Keflex when SWMBO had a strep throat. “How much will this cost?” I asked. He had no idea. “Your insurance should cover it.”

Pharmacy CadeuceusWe have a fantasy that medical care is free, so no one pays attention to what it costs and that leaves the door open for the price of Corgard™ jumping by a factor of 20 and Daraprim by 55 times.

Last month, the Vermont state legislature passed S.216, a bill that requires drug companies to explain price increases. The bill has the state health board list just 15 prescription drugs with dramatic price increases and would require the drug companies “to provide justification for the increase in the price of the drug” to the state Attorney General.

35 states have made some forms of price-gouging a crime.

It’s a start.