This letter was emailed to Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Representative Duckworth over the weekend. Neither Senator received the email, though it appears Rep. Duckworth did. Hard copies are going to the these individuals today in the hope that someone in a position of power will help those of us afflicted with chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, ALS, Lupus, and many others.
The Honorable Richard Durbin
United States Senate
711 Hart Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Mark Kirk
United States Senate
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510
The Honorable Tammy Duckworth
United States Representative
1701 E. Woodfield Rd., Suite 900
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Sirs and Madam:
Sometimes it is difficult to see real-world problems from different viewpoints and circumstances. If you would indulge me for a moment, I’d like to tell you about my circumstances that affect many others in similar situations.
I live in Schaumburg, Illinois. I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, attended St. Giles grade school and Oak Park River Forest High School. My alma mater include College of DuPage and DePaul University. I graduated with 4.0/4.0, and 3.9/4.0, respectively. Growing up, our family of 4 (sister included) was an upper middle class family with many advantages: private primary school, nice house, travel, and numerous cultural events. Both parents are PhDs and my father is a retired university professor and WW II veteran (Army, Pacific Theater). My parents, even at advanced ages, are active and doing well.
I am not. I was unfortunately diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1991. I was 23. Though still ambulatory, most of my walking is brief and with a cane. I have little control over bowel and bladder functions as well as many other typical M.S. symptoms. I am male and 46.
The last few years have been very difficult: I’ve been laid off twice (4 times total in my life) and unable to work a full-time job in recent years because of M.S. Further, though I’ve had health insurance, I have paid over $34,000 out of pocket just for medical expenses the past two years. Last year I made only $26,400 (from Long-Term Disability) – the majority paid for medical expenses. I’ve had to raid my retirement plans (another $10,000 requested today on top of $25,000 in 2013) and over the weekend I sold much of my AT&T stock (from my days as an employee). My furniture is either second hand (Craigslist) or ready-to-assemble furniture from IKEA.
Last month I lost my long-term disability plan, carried by The Hartford insurance (adjuster Natalie Bourne), despite my neurologist’s instructions to file for social security disability. I did so immediately of course (with attorney Jeff Rabin), and my claim is somewhere in process (aka limbo). The Hartford claims I am able to work full-time, despite my neurologist’s (Dr. Daniel Wynn) assertion to the contrary. Thus far in 2014, I have earned $600.00. An attorney (Mark DeBofsky) advised me that The Hartford may be in violation of ERISA but said his costs were more than I would recognize in return. I am very fortunate to have these fine attorneys on my side.
I also signed up for an Affordable Care Plan in December of 2012 and received a partially subsidized plan with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. I have since learned that BC/BS will not cover two prescriptions at all and the cost of my catheter supplies has escalated to $900.00 for 90 kits or 4 to 6 weeks supply. I have zero income, except for a few dollars from published eBooks. I have yet to fill my two most expensive prescriptions and have no idea if BC/BS will cover them at all. I was advised not to earn more than $800.00 per month at the risk of losing any chance at SSDI. My mortgage payment is $825.00 on a very modest townhouse/rowhouse.
I was compelled to drop out of my master’s degree program at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. This is a shame; I am three classes short of a master’s degree in Project Management. Following a lay-off in 2009 from Wisconsin Tool and Stamping (I was MIS Manager), I volunteered for Illinois Worknet (Mohamed Faheem) and started a blog for the unemployed: http://homepreneurs.net with related social media outlets. The various sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Twitter, et al. – have well over 100,000 visits, presumably from some of the many millions of unemployed and underemployed. I have attempted to assist those that I can.
I have enough money to survive for perhaps two more months. I will then default on all debt. I do not live frivolously: I drive a 2006 Toyota Matrix and live in a simple townhouse in Schaumburg with a second floor that is useless because of stair climbing issues (falling).
I know I am not nearly the only one in this situation. Many other friends and acquaintances with M.S. suffer from similar situations. Several either have gone into bankruptcy, live even at older ages with parents, or are on the precipice of financial ruin every single day. We have no savings, no cushion, and no room for error. This is very disturbing for a country that has so many millionaires and other wealthy individuals. I was born into a solidly upper middle class environment; I am now well below the poverty line. I am educated, experienced, and intelligent, yet have virtually zero recourse. Even with SSDI and a part-time job (an extra $1000 per month), I will not survive financially.
I have consulted with a bankruptcy attorney (Nate Pomrenze) and determined that even Ch. 7 bankruptcy (full liquidation) is unrealistic, insufficient, and inadequate. Basic monthly living expenses – food, shelter, medication – are not wiped out in Ch. 7 and SSDI (even with a part-time job) is simply not enough to survive, given my condition.
In 2012, I attempted and was approved for a stem cell transplant at Northwestern University and Hospital in Chicago with Dr. Richard Burt in the hopes of arresting or reversing my condition. Cigna medical (my insurance at that time) would not cover this still-experimental treatment and a third-party evaluator (appointed by Cigna) also ruled against my claim. I would need to pay for the transplant from my own pocket: the cost – $120,000 at minimum.
Why do I send this email? Each of you has faced difficult medical challenges in life for either yourselves or family members. You have better coverage of course than I, and the means to pay for better treatments and therapy. I represent an increasingly frustrated and “dismissed” segment of the population. We are a growing group of Americans – 400,000 cases in the U.S. (200 new cases per week) with a life expectancy of 6 years less than healthy persons, according to a recent study by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Though we are ever-hopeful of better treatments, most have seen scant progress in 100 years. We suffer indignities of falls, diapers, and struggle to get dressed and function every damn day.
Our hope for an affordable health care alternative has not occurred: as indicated for me, at least 2 prescribed medications are not covered at all in my Blue Cross “Gold” plan, and medical supplies are more than I can possibly afford (I boil catheters for multiple uses). Our hope for a faster transition to SSDI or financial assistance is non-existent. Instead, we spend what little we save over a lifetime with little hope for the future. Any chance at potentially life-altering treatments is likely impossible with AFA.
I am not asking for your pity, condolences, or sympathy. I am asking each of you to examine your own past medical situations and realize that millions in the United States are in similar circumstances (with MS, ALS, Lupus, et al.) You are somewhat fortunate: Annette Funicello, Richard Pryor, David Lander, Montel Williams, Teri Garr, and myself, not as much. I lay no claim to fame as the named individuals; I am Joe Average. The Joe Average you represent and I put into office with my votes. The Joe Average that coached kids’ little league baseball and basketball teams; the Joe Average that serves as an election judge; the Joe Average that worked his tail off to earn college degrees despite medical issues; the Joe Average that is shamed and regarded as irrelevant by society; the Joe Average that is facing homelessness in months.
I ask that you stand up and speak out for Joe Average and that you help me and others afflicted with better financial and medical options. We are American citizens and we should be afforded the rights and dignity of every citizen and certainly more than non-citizens. While I cannot speak for others, my father’s North American family history traces back to somewhere around 1790 when a Joseph Shaw arrived on American shores in an unknown ship. My family fought in WW 1, WW 2, Viet Nam, and Gulf Wars. We are free because they contributed and in some cases, paid the ultimate price.
There are two choices all face in some way: either we use our power and influence to help others survive and succeed, or dismiss emails, letters, issues and complaints as ranting from the disenfranchised. It is my hope that my votes over the years were not in vain.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Dion D. Shaw
P.S. Many dozens of people are bcc’d on this email (lawyers, media, Illinois residents) and I will post it on Facebook and other social media outlets I control as well. I am not afraid to speak up for myself, but I will not identify other individuals for reasons of privacy and no prior notification. I attempted to email each of you at the same time, but two of three were returned from servers. Rep. Duckworth seemed to go through.
P.P.S. This letter was posted on WordPress, Facebook, and Homepreneurs website over the weekend and distributed to various social media outlets as well.
Interested in becoming a published author? Publish on SmashWords and control your work from content to distribution and pricing. SmashWords is one of the largest – if not the largest – distributor of indie (independent) books in the world. The retail customers include iBooks (Apple), Nook (Barnes and Noble), Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and more. If you want to make money as a writer – especially as a book author – use SmashWords. This post has a step-by-step process for publishing on SmashWords. If you really want to cover all eBook bases, refer to the recent post with a similar tutorial for Kindle.
eBooks are quickly overtaking print books as the media of choice. iPad, Kindle, and Nook reader sales are strong and eBook sales will surpass printed book sales (see graph) in 2017, assuming current sales trends remain. Writers need to consider and embrace the eBook platform if they hope to be successful.
Before jumping into eBook publishing, have your story or other work formatted correctly and ready to publish. Refer to SmashWords founder Mark Coker’s guide for eBooks as a reference. Also be sure to have cover page artwork prepared and ready to upload to the site. SmashWords has a no-nudity policy for its covers; if writing erotica, know this in advance. SmashWords current cover guidelines:
They (covers) should be vertical rectangle-shaped (the height is greater than the width), not squares, and must be a minimum width of 1,400 pixels. A recommended size is approximately 1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall (the proportions of most paperback books in the USA, which have height 1.5 times greater than their width). To view the pixel dimensions, right mouse click on the image and click properties.(2) Updates and examples are found at http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/06/new-ebook-cover-image-requirements.html.
Some lessons I learned after publishing several eBooks on SmashWords:
- A TABLE OF CONTENTS IS A MUST. Especially for iBooks.
- DO NOT USE TABS. You may want to make a book of poetry look pretty or visually appealing, but no in eBooks, yet.
- DO NOT USE EXTRA SPACING OR LINE RETURNS. This is another guarantee that “Meatgrinder” will reject the file.
- SmashWords uses the “Meatgrinder” program to convert a .doc (MS Word) into an .epub file. Errors are common the first time through, don’t get discouraged.
- Create a separate title page from the body text. “Meatgrinder” does not know the difference between title page and body page. Use the “page break” option in Word for this.
- Most autovetter error messages are very confusing and opaque. You can follow the style guide and try to correct the problems. It is often slow and frustrating.
- Help yourself and do not use numbered lists at all. My most recent eBook had one bizarre error, and that was for several numbered lists in my book. I removed all numbered lists and the error resolved.
- Instead of numbers, use bullet points: the “-“ works well. Nothing fancy, just basic.
- Be consistent with paragraph styles throughout your eBook. Use the same font (arial, times new roman, courrier) and no larger than 14 pt.
- Use the “save as” feature and save your document in compatibility mode. Word version 2003 or .doc format.
- SmashWords is not nearly as fast as Kindle for mass distribution. With Kindle, the eBook (assuming no errors) will be on sale within 12 to 24 hours. SmashWords, while immediately on sale (at SmashWords store) after publication, won’t show errors or distribute to its affiliates (via the Premium Catalog) for several days. Don’t be shocked if you wait for 5 days or more. Since the affiliates include Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel and more, your eBook must be error-free.
- Microsoft Word has many hidden formatting issues. Use the paragraph icon (show/hide) to reveal extra spaces and line returns (see below).
- Download Adobe Digital Editions to review your .epub file. epub is distributed to all SmashWords affiliates.
These tips won’t cover all errors – sometimes Word files become corrupted for no known reason. In these cases, backup the file and copy and paste all of it (ctl + a) into WordPad or Notepad to remove all hidden formatting. Copy the program back into a new Word file.
Create an account on SmashWords (free) using an email address. If you are charging for your work, you will be paid within 40 days after the end of each quarter. If in the U.S.A, payment is by paper check or PayPal account. If outside the U.S., PayPal is the only option. You will need to supply an address and tax ID number too. Payment thresholds are $75 for paper checks and $10 for PayPal.
Existing accounts don’t need to go through the setup process unless something has changed or you are using a pseudonym (pen name). SmashWords allows multiple pseudonyms, but the payment information (for taxes) should be the same.
Click on the publish tab in the toolbar as shown below:
- Enter the title of the book
- Select pre-order (see description) or publish immediately option (note above about distribution to affiliates)
- Long and short descriptions are important – they are the similar to the back and inside cover of a print book.
- Choose the language and dialect (if appropriate)
- Set pricing. You have 3 choices: Free, Let Reader Set Price, or set a price more than $0.99. About pricing – this can be difficult. Too low, and readers may think the book is cheap (content). Too high, and readers won’t buy. Many authors choose $2.99 for a 15,000 to 20,000 or more word book. Research pricing against similar products.
- Set sampling. This is a preview of the first part of your eBook. For short stories, 25% to 30% is good, for novels, 10% to 20%, depending. Sampling includes the cover page, title page, and table of contents page. Adjust sampling accordingly.
- Choose the category. Category and Tags are part of the metadata for your eBook. If a reader searches for paranormal romance, they don’t want ABC and 123 for kids.
- If your eBook contains adult content, choose that button. SmashWords publishes only original and legal works. Period.
- Select the eBook formats desired. By default, all available formats are selected including: ,epub, .mobi (Kindle), PDF, RTF, plain text and more.
- Click on the browse button to upload the cover
- Click on the browse button to select the eBook text. .doc is preferred, but ePub is currently in beta testing. I have not tried uploading an .epub file yet.
- Click on the agree box
- Click on PUBLISH IMMEDIATELY
The file will go through the “Meatgrinder” process and spit out the results. You may receive errors as mentioned above. If not, go to the dashboard and assign an ISBN number to your work. After an ISBN is assigned (required for Apple iBooks), click on submit for review and addition to the Premium catalog. This process will take several days and may give errors too. You will receive an email notification when the process is complete or if errors occur.
Congratulations! You can now claim to be a published author!
Business Ideas for you
Originally posted on David Cummings on Startups:
Idealab, the most famous tech startup incubator in the world, just released a 90 minute video from their IdeaDay event last week. The goal with IdeaDay is to share 10 business ideas they’re excited about in the hopes that potential entrepreneurs, team members, and investors come forward to partner with Idealab in some way on them. Of course, the ideas are free and people can take them and run with them on their own as well.
Here are the 10 free business ideas from Idealab’s IdeaDay:
- Too Many Pictures – With digital pictures stored in so many places there’s a growing need to wrangle them all in a manner that’s more maintainable (e.g. photos on Facebook, Picassa, Instragram, Dropbox, etc)
- ActionMail – Interface with email in a more manageable manner through features like pulling questions out of email text and prompting for answers, prioritizing inbound email based on whether or not you’ve already emailed the person, etc
- Deliver.it – An Uber for delivering common, convenience store-like items where the items are already in the vehicle (as opposed to someone having to go pull a specific order, all the items are in the vehicle ready for delivery)
- LifeChanger – Wearable technology, similar to Fitbit, that would be used track eating, smoking, etc with the goal of changing and/or improving behavior
- Product Search – Moving beyond standard shopping comparison engines, the idea is to have a guided product search that takes into account more structured search criteria
- DashCam – Bring the popularity of Russian car dashboard cameras to North America for the purpose of saving money on insurance, providing more context-sensitive information, etc
- Luv.it – Provide a list of places, hotels, restaurants, etc that you love and get a list of ones you might not know about based on what other people love (recommendation engine to find other stuff you’d love but don’t know about, as different from Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc)
- Dashboard.biz – Real-time business dashboard with the most important, actionable metrics pulled from other cloud-based systems
- CloudShare – Cross cloud file storage searching (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, etc) for personal files as well as coworker files so that if a coworker has a file that you want, the software prompts them to share the file only if a match was found (as opposed to the standard practice of emailing a company mailing list and interrupting everyone to see if they have a file)
- Optipark – System for real-time assigning of parking spots based on the size of the car whereby the parking lot is stripped with a variety of parking spot sizes such that 10-20% more cars fit in the same area (think of using a touch screen to say the type of car you have and it telling you a specific spot to use as it knows all spots in use and not in use — future idea would be to use LED lights to dynamically stripe the parking lines for maximum efficiency)
Watch the IdeaDay video to get a more detailed explanation of each idea as well as visuals. Overall, I think it’s a very cool idea that Idealab is open sourcing ideas as a way of recruiting people to get involved. Well done!
Agreed – Pinterest is a valuable source of website traffic.
Originally posted on The Daily Post:
If you’ve eschewed Pinterest because you don’t care about ombre cakes or repurposing wooden pallets for home decor use, you might be missing out on a huge audience for your blog (and some delicious cake). Today, we’ll push past the inspirational quotes with beautiful typography, turn left at the green smoothies, and explore whether Pinterest is a good match for your blog.
Originally posted on The Daily Post:
You’ve been working hard on your blog: you put thought and effort into your About page, your site title and tagline, and you’ve even picked a funky blog name. You sweat your photography. You read and re-read your drafts to make sure they’re just so.
With over 1.4 million posts published on WordPress.com every day, how do you make sure your work stands out in the crowd? Crafting strong post titles is one way to snag reader attention, pique interest, attract followers, and earn repeat visits. Here’s a few ideas to think about as your write titles for your posts.