Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gone Intermodal!

Yesterday, I dragged my wonderful wife on a bike ride and picnic on White Rock Lake. I crammed a picnic blanket, a couple of sandwiches and some snacks and water for our trip into a very large pannier. Unfortunately, my wife was terrified to ride in the road. I tried my best to explain that the safest place for a cyclist is in the road, preferably well into the lane and not on the gutter where cars will try to pass with minimal distance. In spite of this, we both made it in one piece (should be no surprise there, riding in Dallas is very safe, and most drivers are very respectful) at the DART station on Pearl Street and rode up to the White Rock Lake station. The SLRV makes it easier to get a bike on and off the train, and even has bike racks, but these would prove impractical at rush hour. The trains were only moderately full and we had to inconvenience passengers just to get the bikes up.

I must make an admission that we did not ride on the street to get to the pedestrian bike path. I can see now why VCs do not like riding on the side walk, they were filled with debris and broken glass, and cars passed by at 40-50 miles an hour!

We finally navigated our way to the pedestrian bike path and rode down to a nice sunny spot on a hill with a great view of the lake and the activity below. People were out walking, jogging, biking, sailing, rowing and even kayaking! Nothing like a beautiful day in Dallas to bring everyone outdoors. On the ride up to the hill, my wife made an astute observation, "Riding [on the pedestrian path] is just as annoying as riding down the Katy Trail." I grinned ear to ear and offered to ride in the street, which was an unwelcome alternative.

I noticed a lot of cyclists out there on very expensive bikes riding both the trail and the road around the lake. It's easy to tell those who ride as a commute from those who just do this sort of thing for exercise. I don't ride a fancy bike, in part because I think it would fall apart on the terrible roads of inner city Dallas, but also because I don't need a $1,000 bike to get to work. My 'hybrid' $100 bike from WalMart (with a little work and modification: brakes were terrible and the spokes were in desperate need of adjustment to balance the wheel) does the job just fine. The other thing I noticed is that several of the cyclists out there failed to 'take the lane,' which is essential to bike safety on the roads. I guess they've never been in traffic before. It's fine to get out there and pretend to be Lance Armstrong for a while, but at least be safe about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Love My Health Insurance

Why? Because it is the coverage I need and without the bureaucracy that I don't. Allow me to elaborate. I have what is called a high deductible plan. It means that my insurance won't help to pay for medical care until a certain amount has been paid out by me. This sounds awful on the surface, but my employer has found a novel way around the problem, and I'm sure that many other businesses do this as well: They reimburse me throughout the year for the payments.

My deductible is $1,150 a year before insurance kicks in for a more traditional 'copay' style. I am compensated an additional $1,150 into my HSA, and this in turn pays for my medical expenses. My maximum out of pocket is only about $4,500 before insurance totally takes over, and since I would only have a 20% copay after the deductible, this means that I would have to access over $16,750 worth of medical care before insurance totally picks up the tab.

Being young as I am, it is not very likely that I would access that kind of care except in some catastrophe. The money that I don't spend in the following year rolls over into the next year, so every year I am a little less exposed, and in the meantime take a greater interest in my medical expenses. My thought is that this money will continue to grow until this coupled with emergency savings will be enough to handle any medical disaster later in life (barring, of course, a disaster early on).

But the very best part of the plan? Since I pay the majority of my medical expenses, I don't have to work around an intruding insurance agency, working a narrow web of doctors and having to receive referrals to specialists if I know I need one. It's nice to have the freedom to see the doctor I need to see rather than going to a family doctor, who in turn recommends the wrong specialist, who again in turn refers me to another doctor.

Besides all of this, all of my preventative care is covered, free of charge, by the insurance company. Annual doctor's visits, inoculations, eye exams etc. It's in the insurance company's best interest to detect and address problems and illnesses before they grow unmanageable.

I think the high deductible with the HSA strikes a nice compromise on health care for people willing to be prudent, plan and save for the future. The way I see it, the money I spend would have been spent in the form of a lower salary to purchase a low deductible plan. At least this way, my employer has provided me with a little more control over how my health care dollars are spent.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Back On the Bike

My ass has finally recovered from the pot hole incident. I rode in this morning, when it was freezing cold. I think my hands might have suffered mild frostbite...

Anyway, can't wait for warmer weather.

Quote of the Day

"Our tax money is going to support these wealthy companies, in the form of tax breaks"

-Tim Burga, AFL-CIO

What a curious thing. The government is distributing wealth to someone by not collecting wealth from someone. Can I take this a little farther? If the poor receive tax breaks, as they do, are they made wealthier? Or is it merely that what little wealth they have is more preserved from the ravages of taxation. I suppose it doesn't matter much to Mr. Burga that increased corporate taxes would likely result in more expensive products, reduced demand from higher prices, and in all probability a reduction of jobs available for the very union workers whose interests he claims to uphold.

But consider this: If tax breaks were given to the wealthy, does this mean that more taxes are then collected from the poor? The answer is no. Cutting taxes for the rich never increased the taxes for the poor. In reality, they just shared a little more of the overall tax burden for a smaller collection of revenue for government.

If the rich are taxed in greater proportion of their earnings, does this in turn increase the earnings of the poor? Again the answer is no. In the progressive tax scheme, there is no winner except government. Everybody will pay taxes of some kind, and if history is any indicator, those taxes will increase with the insatiable appetite of government programs.

Remember, when the 16th amendment was passed, it was largely thought that only the very top 5% of wage earners would ever pay taxes. Now, teenagers with part time jobs at grocery stores have to pay their fair share. Our tax system is no longer a suitable means of collecting revenue, but has become a mechanism for the dispensation of social justice, with a complex tax code and loopholes to prove it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meeting Manners

Somebody needs to establish rules for how to conduct a meeting. Somebody has probably already done this, but here is my version from first hand experience:

1) If you ask for the meeting, you should have to put together the agenda for that meeting and keep everyone on task.

2) Pay attention, asshole. Put down the Blackberry/Iphone/Droid/Whatever the hell and actually keep up. Besides, you will look retarded when there is a serious discussion and a question is asked when you aren't paying attention. Besides, I would be willing to bet that any email you receive during the meeting can wait until after the meeting.

3) Don't invite the entire planet. Seriously, does the janitor really need to chime in on best practices for project management? Didn't think so.

4) Take notes. I'm not here speaking just for the hell of it. I am really trying to impart important information. You are not the rainman, and you WILL forget what was said four weeks ago.

5) Don't come unprepared. Of course, having an agenda ahead of time for everyone to see prior to the meeting would make this easier. If there is no agenda, then don't complain when no one in the room has the materials that you need. If, on the other hand, there is something important that you need to talk about at the meeting, have handouts or prints or something to put in front of people. Also, bring pens/pencils to make markups. This is a personal annoyance because I don't like having to drag my entire desk top of crap to a meeting only not to use it. I have a back condition and this causes actual, physical suffering for me.

6) If we are from different organizations, and I am not a member of the one hosting the meeting, don't expect me to share meeting minutes unless you are willing to share the burden. Besides, meeting minutes I take are going to be presented from my point of view, not yours.

7) Don't try to solve the problem in the meeting. These are just for an exchange of information, and in all likelihood, this issue will bring up others.

8) We don't like talking out of turn in grade school, so what exactly has changed now? Don't hold side conversations during somebody's presentation. If there is something important to say to one person, either say it aloud in the meeting, or talk off-line. Rude.

9) Seriously ask yourself: Could this issue be addressed through email or a phone conference? Dragging a bunch of people away from their desks takes just that much more time out of the day and can be a productivity killer.

10) Leave the chickenshit at the door. Nobody wants to take part in your personal pissing match. If you have problems with someone at the meeting, then recognize for our sake that these are YOUR problems. Please don't share them with the group.