Monday, August 24, 2009

Too Much Computer?

Check out my profile pic. Zounds, it's that camera hogging squirrel whose picture with a couple up in Canada went viral a week or so ago. I've been "squirrelizing" various photos from my blog and e-mailing them to friends and family. My sister-in-law e-mailed me back, "They might be sending you away sooner than you think."

What, can't a guy have a little fun on the internet? Apparently not. I've been obsessed lately with doing mock drafts on Yahoo and ESPN, practicing for my family's fantasy football official draft in about a week. When I told my brother who called from South Dakota recently, his response was, "You need to get a life."

Hea, if I enjoy it and I'm not hurting anybody, so what? I know my wife is concerned that my eye doctor is going to say 'no more computer' some day (except for work, she adds quickly). Well, when that day comes . . .

I did try to tackle the leaky sink again this past weekend, but this plumbing project is not going down easy. Too bad they don't have fantasy plumbing. I'd do better at that as I don't do so good in reality. After plastering a healthy dose of plumber's epoxy on the leaky joint, it still dripped. But I tied a strip of cloth over that, and like a bandaid on a bleeding finger, that seemed to do the trick. I'm a whatever works kind of guy when it comes to home repair.

My fathers and my two brothers are much more handy in that regard. But do they have a blog like I do? Ha. Touche.

We had our annual yard sale this past weekend. As long as Wendy and her sister make enough profit to pay for subs from Izzy's in Ann Arbor for lunch, it's a success. That's one measure anyway. We sold two of the boys' old video game systems.

Their original video games sytem, THE original Nintendo, is still in our house. For now anyway. I've been trying to see if I could get it to work at all if just for nostalgia's sake. It reminds me of the days when my video game skills were better than the kids'. Back then, even Wendy would play occasionally. She called herself 'The Tetris Queen.'

After a lot of coaxing and cleaning, I was able to still play Tetris on our original Nintendo, though the picture quality was very poor and the game would only function for a few minutes before the screen went blank. All that work for just a few minutes of memories. Maybe the missus will note that at least I wasn't on the computer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Comment On Facebook

I just read an article that described how baby boomers like myself are signing up for Facebook at a rate three times greater than other age groups.

It's not that older Americans like myself have just discovered this new social networking site and are enjoying the thrill that comes with learning something new and infinitely complicated on the computer.

It's more like the article in Business Week describes it: "Older folks are continuing to join the site because they’re seeing their friends and family members living their lives on the site and don’t want to be left out."

So I see that my uncle is getting ready to take a trip to Yellowstone. I see pictures of my nephew or brother-in-law as they enjoy kayaking around Michigan. Since they live 100 miles away, it's a way of keeping up. Especially since they don't blog like me anyway (I think I'm the only one in the family, extended or immediate, who has a blog).

But what if I want to post a little note, make a comment or offer a little advice to someone in particular? You can 'write on their wall', but that sounds like something a gang member would do if he's looking for trouble. Not for me. I tried posting just a personal comment to somebody's picture, but then it turned out that EVERYBODY could see it. Not just me and him. But my friends and his friends too. Not what I intended.

Then somebody commented "Awwww, cute picture" on one of my photos, but I didn't know which one. I got the comment in my e-mail, because any Facebook comments are e-mailed to me also, but I never could find the comment on my Facebook page. Wow, so MY comment on a photo is published for everybody to see but THEIR comment on my photo I can't even see. What-ever.

Eventually, I discovered that in Facebook, there is a difference between photo comments, wall comments, and just everyday comments. Very tricky. No wonder my father's first Facebook comment published was, "I'm getting ready to throw Facebook out the window."

He had difficulty with comments too. Once he posted a comment on top of someone else's comment, so it looked like he was asking my daughter-in-law Lindsay how she liked the birthday card that my mother had sent to my nephew 200 miles away. Very confusing. When I asked my dad to clarify who he was asking, he said regarding his comments, "I write something over here, and it ends up over there." Something to that effect.

The tart-tongued comedienne Kathy Griffin recently hired her mother to run her Facebook page, featured on an episode of Griffin's TV reality series. Her mother posted a comment telling the public that they could buy Three Buck Chuck wine at Trader Vic's. Griffin consulted her friend Paris Hilton who labeled the Facebook comment "not cool." Griffin subsequently fired her mother from her Facebook responsibilities.

Hea, I think anytime one of us older folks manages to get a comment uploaded to Facebook, it's cool.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Our Health Care Dilemma

Though I like to stay light and personal here, sometimes the political animal in me leads me astray. And as someone who has worked in the health care bureaucracy for going on 30 years, I find the present debate on health care intriguing.

From my vantage point, I can understand both sides somewhat. I’m within earshot of someone whose job it is to tell people without insurance that they are going to have to pay out-of-pocket for expensive but very necessary medical treatments. Something has to be done to made medical care more affordable. But I also realize that providing health insurance is so expensive nowadays that it is bankrupting American businesses. Imagine the costs of providing insurance to all.

Anyway, based upon the legislation that I hear most often bandied about in Washington, I have three questions:

1. If legislation mandates that pre-existing conditions be covered by insurance, what about those who do not get insurance until they are ill?

A barber in town once told me that his insurance had denied him coverage for a hernia repair. Seems that he did not buy medical insurance until he suspected that he had a hernia. Then he purchased a policy and had the surgery done. When the claims were submitted, the insurance rightfully rejected the claims as resulting from a pre-existing condition. The barber had tried to game the system but ultimately lost. Under the plans being considered now, wouldn’t he come out ahead?

Many of the young and healthy in this country see no need for spending thousands of dollars each year on personal health insurance when they have more pressing spending priorities, like a mortgage, student loans and credit card bills. What stops them from waiting until they are seriously ill to get insurance?. A $1,000 fine or something like that? They’d still come out ahead by waiting.

2. If there is a “public option”, how will private insurances compete?

Anytime there is a new treatment available, or a medical benefit that a particular group wants, insurance plans like Blue Cross/Blue Shield calculate the cost of the benefit and pass the cost along to its subscribers. That doesn’t happen with public plans like Medicare and Medicaid. And benefits with those plans are usually much more generous. For example, Medicaid pays for office visits, pharmaceuticals, surgeries and even nursing home care.

So if you had the option of subscribing to a private plan that essentially rationed your care—and most do regardless of the rhetoric you hear—or subscribing to a public plan where simple political pressure or lobbying by interest groups could provide you with better benefits, which option would you choose? This is why the insurance industry and many conservatives so strongly oppose the “public option.”

3. In any of the bills currently being considered by Congress, what will control the growing costs of health care?

Most of the bills I’ve seen discussed focus on health insurance to cover more Americans. Fine, but how will that control the escalating costs of health care? More people covered mean more people seeking services. Demand will certainly go up. So economics dictate therefore that costs don’t go down. Physicians are paid fees for services for the most part. More patients, more services, more fees. The drug industry largely supports the bills being discussed because more patients, more services mean more prescriptions. Covering those with pre-existing conditions mean insurance companies will be forced to pay for services where previously they wouldn’t. So their costs go up as well. How are the savings achieved?

Maybe I'll go to one of those town hall meetings to get some answers.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fast, er, Speedy Women

[If the line spacing is a little funky, I apologize. I tried to fix it . . . many times]
The tent's packed away, the volleyball's back in the garage, the air mattresses are all deflated. Our clothes, sandy and wrinkled, await the wash. Only the memories are fresh. We did miss the dogs. My nephew mentioned particularly missing his old sleeping buddy who kept him warm.

Camping sure doesn't get easier when you're fifty-something. We added an extra night to our usual two-night stay at the Silver Lake State Park near Lake Michigan this year. More time for the joints to heal between activities. Even the walk to the bathrooms seemed awfully far for some reason.

I declared that I wanted at least one break from the usual routine that we've been practicing for the past dozens years or better. Something new, something other than the dune scooter, go-carts, miniature golf, beach volleyball, swimming and card games at the picnic table.
How about walking the dunes at night by flashlight? C'mon, it'd be fun, I said. One by one, my family and extended family took a pass. They would rather stay behind and toast marshmallows instead. Da cream puffs. Finally, my wife agreed to cross the one-mile stretch of dunes to watch the sunset on Lake Michigan, then return in the fading light, only because she worried that I would get lost or worse.
At the last minute, she got a repreive when my nephew Billy agreed to go instead. So the two of us struck our across the seemingly endless expanse of sand that began at the Silver Lake State Park pedestrian entrance to the dunes. Along the way we passed a couple of college age girls kicking a volleyball around.

We continued on, our feet sinking sometimes ankle deep, worried thqat we might step into one of those sinkholes a park ranger warned us about earlier, where you can find yourself suddenly buried up to your chest and in need of a rescue. But my enthusiasm to see a Lake Michigan sunset carried me on. We also noticed the girls had begun following us at a distance.
Then Billy and I hit the dead dunes area, where trees and grasses had moved in to reclaim the sandy shoreline, preventing the restless sands there from moving farther inland. There was a maze of paths this way, that way, but eventually we navigated to a ridge overlooking the big lake--a simply gorgeous view with the sun hanging low in the sky.
A few minutes later I noticed those girls appeared on a hill behind us. Somehow among the labyrinth of paths through the forest, they had come upon the one that led to where we were. Were they stalkers or something? They passed us with a quick, "Hello", then ran down the hill to the beach, shedding shirts and shorts to go swimming in Lake Michigan.
Wow. Such energy, such spunk! The water temperature at mid-afternoon in Lake Michigan only rose to about 70 degrees. That may be comfortable to some polar bears but I prefer my swimming hole to be more tropical.
After enjoying the sunset, we hustled back, hoping to make it through the forest before the flashlight really became necessary. We did find a short cut but I felt bad for the two girls we left swimming by themselves with nobody else within sight or earshot.
Retracing our steps quickly, it was still light enough to see under the purple skies, the sand being almost luminiscent in contrast. We had made it about halfway back to the park entrance when I heard voices atop a dune behind us. Those girls were back. How'd they find their way back so quickly?
By the time we reached the car, they were ahead of us. I had to repeat the story of the quickfooted women a couple times at the camp afterwards, though the others didn't find the tale as fascinating as I did. Hea, when you're my age, any time women are following you for more than 30 steps it's an event.

Somewhat on a related note, the next day Wendy and I drove down to another beach along Lake Michigan to see a para-skier zipping across the rough waves along the shoreline. "Boy, he's good," I said, as the skier looped out towards the horizon through the murky, choppy waters before steering back to shore, landing his boogie board gently on the beach. Then I discovered that 'he' was a 'she.'

That exercise seemed to take a lot of arm strength to steer through the heavy winds and surf. Suffice it to say that after this latest trip, I have a lot more respect for the strength and endurance of the fairer sex. The pictures I'm posting show the sunset over Lake Michigan (embiggen the picture to see the aforementioned young lady swimmers), Billy walking the dunes with me, the paraskier on Lake Michigan and on the shore helping another para-skier get ready to go.