Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Health Survey

Rate your sex appeal. What is your personality type? How clean is your kitchen? These are just a few of the questions streaming from the Internet, magazines and newspapers. Some seem innocuous and other just plain weird. Questionnaires about sex life, condom use, bathroom habits, smoking, drinking, exercise, diet, ghosts, healthcare, zombies and the list goes on are visible everyday. After visiting a website or an on-line merchant a prompt appears asking if you would like to complete a survey. Who writes these surveys? Perhaps there are rooms full of people with way too much time on their hands and other people working in rooms with padded walls watched by attendants in white coats.

But every so often a survey comes along that seems to have merit and a useful purpose. But outwards appearances could be deceiving as I discovered. I am involved with the evaluation and selection of my company’s health insurance policy and as part of the process our agent presented an option available from our present carrier. And I volunteered to be the guinea pig for the “health survey and rewards program.” I won’t give the exact name as I don’t want to reveal the name of the company.

Briefly the benefit of the “survey” is a discount on the insurance premium if a minimum number of employees sign up and participate in the overall program. There are direct rewards for the participant after reaching certain point levels. The discount grows larger as more employees join. A possible ten percent discount is hard not to investigate. I logged on to website, created a user name and password, and then I answered a series of health questions. The objective of the initial survey reveals how old you are through an evaluation of your health, drug, diet and exercise regimens. Not withstanding the fact that they already knew my age from my insurance records the questions really weren’t very involved.

They wanted to know what diseases and treatments you have, what medications you take, diet, smoking, sleep, and exercise habits you have were the extent of the questions. After a fifteen minute survey the computer informed me of my “equivalent” age. Bingo: sixty-eight. Exactly right. I would have be depressed if I was seventy-five and elated if I was fifty, but sixty-eight, how normal.

Another surprise came after the survey results were reported. A variety of pathways to improve your score (and presumably your health) involving more than just hints and tips on diet, medication or exercise were presented. Links to follow and forms to complete, as expected from an insurance company. One of the suggested ways of earning more points was to donate blood. Help you and society at the same time, how noble.

Another means to earn points is to get a health screening. Download a form and get it completed by your doctor. Better yet, download the form and go to one the company’s clinics. No mention if there was a charge, but do you think the clinic would see me without requesting a payment? I doubt it.

Would there be a penalty (increase in premium) for not following the clinics recommendations? How about if I gained weight? Or reduced my exercise level? Would there be more points for walking and less for skydiving? Of course these activities are good for you, but what if a penalty was imposed for not following guidelines?

My cynicism about the program is influenced by the existence of the question: What is the purpose of an insurance company?

You would be wrong if you answered that its mission is to provide health care. The purpose of the insurance company is to make profits for the stockholders. They do that by charging premiums for a service in which they control the amount of benefits paid out.

What if you went to a car dealership with $30,000 and they said you were eligible to get a used 1970 VW, not the current model? Emphasis is often given to guiding the policy holder to less expensive options. Generic drugs, select hospitals, preferred doctors, clinics, allowing this procedure while denying another and generally dictating what and how much they will pay are the means to holding down costs.

Maybe I am a cynic but after giving the survey and the program some thought I have decided to opt out. They already have sufficient information about me from my doctors; they don’t need me to give them a noose so I can hang myself (increase my premium).

So here I am sitting at my computer writing about a giant and perhaps mythical insurance company conspiracy to get more money from me instead actually improving my health.

Not my current computer

Maybe I’ll go for a walk and retake the survey and get my age down to 60? Now that would be worthwhile, I’d pay for that.

60th Birthday Cakes

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bonus Shots: AKA "Unexpected Results"

One of my hobbies is photographing various sites and outdoor art in San Antonio.  Some of these photo-jaunts can be found on my Weebly website, under the Public Art tab.

Usually I drive in a general area with very little planning and discover noteworthy locations accidentally.  At other times I have a very specific target, usually generated by a newspaper or TV story, to locate.  Before or after the area of interest has been photographed I will often find other fascinating places to photograph.

This past weekend was no exception to this routine.  In December I read a newspaper story about the restoration of the old Mission Drive-in facade.  The original facade had a mural depicting the Mission San Jose, one of the most photographed missions in San Antonio.  Late Sunday morning my wife accompanied me as we set off to photograph the restored mural, and we were rewarded with “bonus” shots.

Restored Mission Drive-in Facade

We found the restored drive-in mural without any trouble, sometimes I wind up on the wrong street or on the wrong end of the street.  One spot took me two attempts on different weekends to locate the mural I was searching for.  The Mission Drive-in mural is great, but the surrounding property has yet to be restored.  When the project is complete I will return to photograph the entire site.  The San Antonio Express News had two recent articles about the drive-in, if you are interested in reading more click on these two links:  1 and 2.

We proceeded from the drive-in to the real Mission San Jose and photographed it from two viewpoints not normally seen.  I photographed the Mission from the side and rear and gained new insights to the Mission as it functions today and in the past.  The side view shows statues and the Chapel Office entrance not usually seen by tourists.  The interior of the Mission is a National Park; the interior chapel operates separately as a working church.  The exterior areas are part of the church, a unique arrangement of church and government co-operation in the operation of Mission San Jose.

Statue near side entrance of Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose rear view

The rear side photograph shows very little of “today.”  It appears pristine and untouched by modern society.  If I had brought a picnic lunch we would have ended our morning trip in a peaceful meadow, free from tourists and noise.

My wife drove after we left the Mission which gave me the opportunity to look for bonus shots, and was much safer than my distracted driving manner.  The drive home took us up Roosevelt Avenue resulted in more bonus shots.  Life’s extras.  At the intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Lone Star Boulevard we approached a large sign that attracted my interest.  That diversion led to a side trip onto the San Antonio River and the discovery of the “Tunnel Exit.”  I knew it existed but had never really thought about its location.

Lone Star brewery has been closed for years, industrial site now under Urban renovation.

San Antonio River tunnel exit

One hundred and forty feet below downtown San Antonio, stretching from Josephine and Grayson Streets, north of downtown, and traversing16,300 feet south to Lone Star Boulevard and Roosevelt the underground San Antonio River tunnel remains hidden from view.  Its purpose is to protect San Antonio during excessive rains that would in the past have devastated the downtown business district and numerous residences.  Learn more about the 24 foot diameter, $111 million tunnel on the San Antonio River Authority’s web page.

Red line in center in tunnel path, showing entrance and exit locations.
A day trip revealed old and present day San Antonio to photograph.  Both gave me new insights into the city I call home. 

Side trips in life can be interesting, and often are more enjoyable and worthwhile than the original path.  Detours serve a dual purpose: one is to prevent some mishap and the other can open your eyes and mind to new experiences. 

Take a side trip someday, I am sure you will enjoy it.

The link below will take you to a brief slideshow of my Sunday photo-jaunt:
Slideshow of February 17, 2013.  

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Soccer Parent

“Soccer parents” shepherd their children around to games like herders taking care of their flock. Pushing, shoving, yelling, schlepping, cajoling and encouraging are the soccer parent’s demeanor. Eagerly and reluctantly is their attitude.

I missed much of that while my two sons were young for two basic reasons. My job afforded me too little time for this duty while my children were in elementary and middle school and therefore most of those duties were assigned to my wife. Secondly, neither boy was interested in soccer, football, baseball, band, karate or any number of time consuming activities. They had other interests, mainly friends and self directed interests. This self directed mindset had two wonderful benefits; first, it helped my sons become largely independent and self sufficient young men and secondly, it made me an observer in their lives not a director.

Moving forward twenty years I am slowly becoming a soccer father to one of my sons, Mark. While he was not an athlete as a child he developed a serious sports interest during high school. He was the manager of the basketball team (keeping score, filming and cheering the team on), in college he took an internship with the San Antonio Spurs in their marketing department (which turned out to be three years) and then he became a high school football statistician for radio (Texas Sports Radio Network) and TV games (KMYS TV).

My wife and I would occasionally listen to the radio to hear our son’s name mentioned at the end of a broadcast. He had several nicknames; the Commodore and the Human Abacus were our favorites. As time went on he became the lead statistician for the broadcasts of a local powerhouse team, followed by a regular assignment for Thursday night’s high school TV games, and home games for the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) football team.

Listening would be the main extent of our involvement in his avocation. A few years ago he asked me if I wanted to go to a game. At first I refused; I am not a big football fan and high school games just didn’t entice me. Then he asked me to attend a high school playoff game at the Alamodome (a full-sized stadium designed for college and professional games); I jumped at the chance for behind the scenes access in the stadium. I took photos from the press box and on the field.

Then last year he got me four tickets to a UTSA home game at the Alamodome. Friends joined my wife and me for a wonderful time in a domed stadium. Reluctantly, I am becoming a soccer parent.

This year Mark was contacted by the basketball coach of St. Anthony's Catholic High School about his football blog and asked if he would write about basketball. Those details are best described by Mark in his blog. My point is that Mark asked me to accompany him to a game or two. Several weeks ago I went to a game with him as a photographer. Playoff time has arrived and yesterday I went with him to a local university for a high school basketball playoff game. 

Coach Kevin Smisek (L) and Mark (R)

I gave up a Friday night out with my wife, sister-in-law and friends to go to a high school basketball game. My time as a soccer parent has arrived. It appears that I will most likely end up at a few high school football games next year.

I used this new found involvement as an excuse to buy a new gadget for my camera. Recently I bought a 75-300 mm telephoto lens to help me get better photos from a distance. This addition was followed by a new battery and a mono-pod purchase to steady the new large lens. Soon I will need a larger bag. A man needs his gadgets and only the slightest justification is needed to buy stuff.

The best thing about being a soccer parent to an adult child is that I don’t have to buy donuts, pizzas, or hamburgers after a game for the team.

Mark and I grabbed a late night bite after the game, alone.

Late dinner at Hong Fong, San Antonio's oldest Chinese restaurant

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Downsizing In-Place

Downsizing is a term used to describe two different activities.  One activity is the business procedure of reducing staff and locations to remain profitable and ward off bankruptcy with the hopes of rebounding in the future.  Sometimes this process works and sometimes it fails.  But the goal to rebound is always part of the overall plan.

Downsizing for senior citizens has a very different meaning.  Downsizing means moving to a smaller home, getting rid of excess furniture and clutter that has accumulated over many years.  Downsizing is the goal.  Making life simpler, less expensive and safer is the goal of downsizing.

There are many valid reasons for a senior to downsize his or her home and life.  Often downsizing is a forced event caused by financial or medical setbacks.  Families of senior citizens are the frequent catalysts for the changes.  One day I will possibly downsize and move but until then I plan to Downsize In-Place (DIP) to avoid the unnecessary turmoil from a forced or unplanned downsizing.

As with many aspects of life and work, planning is the key to a successful project.  DIP has many advantages and these benefits may actually stave off the actual need of moving to a smaller home as a result.  Implementing the plan will result in an orderly and effective change in the life of the senior citizen.  There will be time to reminisce about family events and evaluation of the disposition of the possessions.  More importantly the senior citizen will be actively involved in the process and not an unwillingly bystander, thereby keeping his or her self-esteem intact and not a helpless or reluctant on-looker.

My view is that the goal of DIP is to allow the senior citizen to remain in his or her home as long as possible and perhaps forever.

Planning will reduce the stress to the senior citizen and the family.  Planning and implementing the various points slowly over time is the goal of DIP.  Senior Citizens Guidehas a wonderful article about the process of DIP which I encourage you to read.   Another interesting web site is Aging in Place which contains very valuable information.  Rather than try to recap or recreate this information I encourage you view these two links and to Google “downsizing in place” for more information.

My blog and futures posts on DIP will be reflections on my adventures in DIP.  Some of them are humorous, some serious and most are in the future.

First I lost forty pounds, most healthy downsizing action known.  Then I had to buy pants with a smaller waist line, adding more stuff to the closet.  Some of the larger pants found a home, others still fill my closet.  The end result is that I have more pants in the closet.  But my health is better.  Perhaps I ought to get rid of the oversized pants and keep at the diet and exercise program.

Now tackling my wife’s closets is beyond my control, scope of authority, understanding and ability to effect is another story.  I can’t worry what is beyond my control.

Last year my wife and I tackled one modest clutter program.  We organized over forty years of family photographs that were stored in envelopes, boxes, and albums.  Prior to this project we had a total mess.  The end result was that we gave a few pictures away and now have the photographs stored neatly in several plastic containers with labels.  A number of photographs have been digitized and filed in an orderly manner.  Last week in a search for a particular picture we found several more boxes that need to be organized.  Back to square one.  Thank goodness my recent pictures are digital and stored on the computer; a lucky few ones get printed and put into our travel albums.

I also organized most of our paper work.  One file drawer is important paper work and documents.  I intend to make a smaller file of essential personal documents to be easily moved in case of emergency.  Some of that information is digitized on the cloud.  A second drawer is of interest to only me.  My instruction to my survivors is to look at that file with the following advice: read, laugh, cry and discard.

Personal documents, pictures and some antiques require special attention.  Memories and items of value need slow, thoughtful planning and disposition.  A forced, hurried downsizing will cause stress and mistakes.  Even if no family member wants some antique of sentimental value it may have financial value and shouldn’t be sold at a garage sale.

My sons refuse to let me get rid of our original Mac computer (which can be found on Ebay for $300).  I have walked my sons around the house and pointed out items that I think have significant financial value.  To my surprise they have expressed an interest in two or three items that are not of much value.  One is a storage hutch made by high school students (so bad that a companion piece for it is in the garage with tools and junk storage).

My personal reasons for promoting DIP are simple.  I like my house, my neighborhood, the nearby library, nearby bookstore and shopping.  I know where things are in the house, my son’s rooms give me a space to use for myself, I know the quirks of the house (which circuit breaker controls the coffee pot), I can find the bathroom in the dark, and I like the sound of rain on the metal roof of the patio.  I am not sentimental about the house.  My home for 35 years is comfortable.  And I will DIP to stay here as long as possible.

Next challenge is the garage.  Coming soon a garage sale near you.  Forty years of junk, cheap.
My work bench used to be in space now occupied by one son's excess books and comics

Second son and spouse's pile where my car used to be

Of course I have lots of stuff for the upcoming garage sale with the hopes of moving my workbench back into its place and be able to park one car in the garage.  Of course, neither child or spouse live with me, it's another story how the stuff came to be in my garage.

Blog change:  Only my photographs will be used.  Unless there is good reason to use another persons work.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Birthday Blunder

My February 5th blog, Stuff Happens, alluded to my lack of plans for my wife’s birthday (we won’t say the number). That comment might not have accurately described the circumstances; I had plans but they were not clearly formulated in my head or even implemented.

“If it wasn’t for the last minute nothing would get done,” is a phrase I sometimes use to describe one of my sons behavior. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and appropriately it applies to me also. I have been known to procrastinate but more about that later. So my plans while slow in starting came together just-in-time.

Procrastination allows time for the pieces to fall together without rushing, and I hate rushing. Rushing causes errors. Being late would be bad, but getting the wrong gift or not having a birthday cake could be worse.

I finished on time or just-in-time and hope that I got things right. The details of today are not important. Implementation is important. Flowers, a personal gift, lunch together at our favorite Italian restaurant, and dinner with my wife’s sister and nephew. My nephew treated us to dinner. I bought a cake at the last minute.

I got it done. By my standards I think I got it done right, but wife may say that a cake for a kid pointed out the flaws of my implementation. Next year is a mile-stone birthday and I think I ought to start planning now; otherwise I’ll be in big trouble. (If the dog could take out the garbage I might be handed my walking papers). But at least I have year to procrastinate.

Next Blog Post: Downsizing-In-Place

Blog Change - no cartoons from the internet, other changes still being formulated.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stuff Happens

It is funny how work and life interrupt the flow of a blog. It is has been over a week since my Alphablog series ended with the promise of continued Reflections on Life and Work (my blog’s subtitle) and a revised appearance.

S… happens. A hectic weekend with family events out of town, followed by a visit from old friends from New Jersey, preparation for an upcoming visit to my office by an engineer from Europe, and finally a major computer problem and a small flood in the office over the past weekend. My energy has been sapped, my desire to write diminished and as my wife’s birthday approaches I realize that I haven’t gotten her a gift yet.

I am in trouble now. So what am I to do? Write a blog. Vent my frustrations on paper while I figure out what to do about my wife’s birthday. I won’t reveal my solution because my wife will read the blog and find out.

Come back later and my solution will be revealed. You will be surprised and so will I. I can’t wait to find out what I did.

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February 6, 2013
First blog change.  No ads.  Sorry Adsense.

February 7, 2013
Iris' Birthday - will write about the day on Friday.  Started off at 7 am on a positive note.

February 7, 2013 Lunch
Iris' Birthday continues as planned (if it wasn't for the last minute nothing would get done).