Riding the Rails to Work

This morning I rode the new SunRail train to work. Our light rail commuter train just went into operation here in Orlando last week and for the next week or so is free. So why not try it? Right? If you have ever been to any major city with a great rail and bus system, you know the value of these types of system. For example, in New York City I’ve been able to get from the airports to downtown Manhattan and even get around town exclusively via the bus and train system. In Seattle, the light rail was able to get me from the airport to downtown where I was staying for less than $3.00. Taxi riders paid as much as $40. I even met a Microsoft employee who works in downtown Seattle who takes the light rail to and from work daily. So when they announced plans for a light rail in Orlando, I knew right from the start that I would have to try it.

Currently, each train only has two passenger cars, but each car has two levels. The lower level gets used mostly by people who bring their bikes to either get to the station from home or from the station to work. On the upper level seating is very comfortable and is arranged in groups of four seats. Some groups have a small table between them. The trains are very well lit. In fact, some people on the early morning train have asked if the lights could be dimmed so they could sleep, but that is not an option.

On the other hand, the trains all support free WiFi and even power outlets if you need them. So I pulled out my iPad and was able to get through both my work and personal email on the ride into work. You cannot do that in your car or at least you should not be doing that unless you are carpooling and someone else is driving. Another thing you cannot do in your car on the way to work is use the restroom facilities which you can do on the train (although I did not try that), but still, it is just one more reason to consider taking the train. Oh, and texting while you ride is definitely allowed on the train.

But the best reason to take the train was that: “There is no traffic!” One of the major corridors through Orlando from the north to the south is the multi-lane I-4. Even at 6 AM, the traffic can be quite heavy although it usually moves well unless there is an accident. In the evening, going home is significantly worse. But even when the traffic moves, you still have to contend with the Type A personality drivers who have hang onto your back bumper until they can find a small gap in the lane next to you to slip around and get a car or two ahead. And no longer will I have to worry about those crazy motorcyclists pulling wheelies at 65 mph going down the highway and weaving in between cars.

After the free period ends, the cost of riding the train will be $2.00 for a one way ticket plus $1.00 for every county you cross. However, there will also be round trip tickets, 7-day passes, 30-day passes, and even an annual pass. Discounts of 50% are offered to seniors, students, and disabled individuals. There is even an extra 10% bonus for buying a pre-paid card with $10 to $300 on it. You need to consider how much you spend on gas and wear and tear on your car. Maybe you even pay to park downtown. If most of your driving is to and from work, you may quality for a reduction in your car insurance by taking the train. But best of all you can arrive at work or at home at the end of day without having to deal with the stress of driving. And that last factor will only become more important when they start the new I-4 widening project later this year. Construction during the widening will make an already bad commute even worse in the interim. And for those environmentally conscious folks, every train rider is one less car on the road pumping out carbon dioxide.

Yes, I know that Orlando still does not have the infrastructure for public transportation like New York City, Philadelphia, London, and many other large cities, but this could be a step in the right direction. Kudos to Orlando for taking that step.

C’ya next time.

Serving as Executor

Over the last year I’ve had to serve as executor to two estates, my father-in-law’s estate and my wife’s estate.  But these were not my first experiences at this task.  I had to close out my parent’s estates both in 2003.  It’s challenging.  It’s frustrating.  It gives you no time to grieve for the one you lost.  Attorneys are constantly asking for this information or that information. In the meantime you have to sift through years of paperwork, discover accounts, locate documents, and try to figure out where everything was stored.  There is no time for anything. No time to relax.  No time to watch a little television.  Then if you have to sell off a house or other property, the workload increases dramatically with having to clean out a house filled with decades of accumulated things, trash the junk and the worthless, sell off the better stuff for pennies on the dollar, list the house for sale, deal with realtors who only really care about turning over the house as fast as possible, negotiate the final sale, file all the necessary paperwork and file final taxes.  Multiply the complexity of having to deal with estates from a different state than the one you live in with each state wanting a piece of your pie and it is at times enough to make you go crazy.

Even working with an attorney can be a massive drain on your energy and your well being. Then friends and relatives (if you still have any) begin to wonder why you have changed.  You never seem to have time for them.  You never have time to go out, to go to the movies, or to one of the parks.  And when you do go, they think that you are insensitive about the loss of your loved one.  It’s kind do mind numbing.  People may say ‘Can we help?’ But what can they really do? Trips to the courthouse, lunchtime meetings with banks and attorneys, going to the post office to send registered mail, and countless phone calls that you must take during work because these other people do not work evenings or weekends even though you boss is angry with you for taking personal calls while you are at work.  Dealing with insurance firms and investments who require a dozen different documents to prove the other person is really dead and you have the rights to handle the estate.  Paying expenses out of your own pocket until the estate can free up some accounts and give you access to them.  Balancing other peoples checkbooks.  The list goes on and on and sometimes you just wish that you had gone first and no one understands why you seem so worn out and down.  After all, it has been 3 months since the other person died.  But estates can take months if not years to completely resolve and close.  Perhaps for the dead, it is one final cruel joke to play on the living to account for all the things you should have done while they were alive but didn’t.

Eventually you get close to finishing everything and you just want to sit back or lay down, rest, and do nothing.  But others tasks have been pilling up.  You want to take time to grieve but it has been so long that the feelings of loss have dulled. maybe it is also from all the aggregation of closing the estate.  So while you feel an emptiness, maybe even a bit of loneliness, the pain of your loss is mostly gone.  You tend to remember more of the good times, not the bad times.  You begin to plan on how to move forward again.  How to find meaning in each day again. This is another time that relatives may call you cold and uncaring, and that hurts more than your loss because you have made peace with your loss. You have worked through your feelings while you struggled to close the estate. You want to move on but they don’t want to let you.  They keep trying to pull you back to a state of grief that you have already left behind. They don’t understand that it is over.  That it is time for a new chapter.

Sure executors get paid for handling the estate.  A whopping 2% which unless you are executor for a large estate ode an estate with many heirs is nothing.  Certainly not considering the stress and aggregation. And especially not if you are the only one to inherit the estate anyway.  Especially not if the work places your job/career in danger.  Did I tell you about the judge who almost wanted me to post a bond so I would not steal money from myself?

So another year is about to start.  I’m close to closing these two estates.  I don’t know for sure what the new year will bring.  There are some bright spots to focus on. My final recommendation to you the reader is that if anyone asks you to be their executor for their estate, try if at all possible to avoid it.  And if you must do it because there is no one else, find a good attorney who will guide you through the legal morass of estate law. Perhaps even consider some estate planning for yourself now like making sure all of your investments have beneficiaries or you could set up revocable trusts in your beneficiaries names while still retaining control.  Perhaps that could be a New Year’s resolution.

C’ya later.

Scam or Consequences?

The other day I was pulling into a parking lot where my daughter and I were going to eat and as I was looking for a spot I noticed a real nice sporty car pull into the handicapped spot at the end of the lane I was driving in.   Out jumped (literally) a man and woman along with a child and walked into the restaurant.  They seemed to have no trouble getting out of the car and certain at the pace they made it to the restaurant door, no problem walking.  So I had to look.  Sure enough, they had a handicapped placard hanging from their rearview mirror.  To the casual observer, everything might appear normal.

In the last months of my wife’s life, we had to argue with the doctor to get a temporary handicapped placard for our car.  She could only walk with a walker and could not make steps.  How do these people get a placard and use it so indiscriminately?  More than a bit annoying.  But then some people will always try to scam the system.

I remember many years ago when I was working on a contract for EDS to create an intake system for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program for the state of New Jersey that I became increasing aware of the number of people that try to scam the best intentioned systems.  The program would distribute vouchers that could be redeemed for various food items considered to be essential.  One day I went to a store that took in a lot of vouchers just to watch who would come in and how they would use the vouchers.  Sure there were lots of people who looked like they honestly needed the assistance.  However, when you see people coming in and using vouchers for the necessities with one cart and a second cart with ‘luxury’ items that they would not have otherwise been able to afford, you have to at least stop a moment to wonder whether there is a better way.

Recently there has been reports of people hiring ‘disabled’ guides who use a wheelchair to get around the parks just so they can go to the front of the line or at least through special, shorter lines.  What’s next?  Maybe they will start hiring ‘disabled’ children for the day to go with them to the parks just to avoid the lines.  Let’s hope not, but where will it end?

But it is not just our local entertainment parks like Disney, Universal, Sea World and others.  I now heard of people asking for complimentary wheel chairs at airports just to get quickly from one terminal to another without having to run and to be able to board planes before others.

This sickens me.  When we came back from Pennsylvania last November after burying my wife’s father, her cancer was getting so bad that she had trouble walking.  At our stopover in Charlotte, she asked for transportation from one gate to the other (in another terminal) because she was in such pain.  She actually felt guilty as she passed other older people walking from gate to gate while they stared at her as if to ask why does she get to ride?  In the following weeks when she was not in the hospital, she would have to stay at home all week because she could not get around by herself.  On weekends, we would take an afternoon ‘trip’ to Walmart or Target or Costco where she would use one of their motorized wheelchairs to get around the store.  It was her only chance to get out for a little fresh air.  Yet some people would look at her like she was some type of criminal riding around

There are legitimate people who really do need assistance and we should never think twice about helping them.  However, all these people who scam the system for whatever reason make it bad for everyone else.  I know it may not be politically correct and I know most people are afraid to say something to someone else who they see and who might be doing something if not illegal, at least not moral.  Yet maybe if more people started to say something, fewer people might think of such scams as having no consequences.

C’ya next time.

Is It The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

I just read a story about the decrease in the number of amphibians.  Yes, I talking about those frogs, salamanders and lizards.  Although living here in Florida, it seems like there is an over abundance of those tiny lizards that live in your garden and your lawn and sun themselves on the sidewalks until you get close when they scamper away.  In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of little baby lizards, no more than an inch long (full size can be four inches or more).

But the news article specifically pointed to only a few species that appear to have decreased in populations by 50 percent or more within the last decade.  Although scientists are still not sure of the cause of this decline, they cite factors such as disease, new preditors, the increased use of pesticides, and yes, of reason behind all negative change in the world, climate change.

If this story was an isolated report and only about a few frog species, perhaps the majority of people would take little notice of the warning.  However, could it be a part of a larger pattern?  Digging around the internet, it does not take long to find reports on the loss of honeybee colonies, bats, and the decrease in marine animals and especially the shrinking of coral reefs.  You could also look at the loss of many species of plant life especially those that grow only in tropical rainforests which are being cut down at an alarming rate.  How long will it take until the loss of these species directly effect us, our food supplies, our environment?

Of course, the other side of the argument is that species come and go all of the time.  It is called evolution.  The troubling fact is the rate of extinction may be accelerating.  Such mass die-offs of species has happened several times in the past.  Mass extinctions have occurred several times in the past and each time, the extinction seems to be related in some way to climate change, either warming or cooling.  Sometimes the climate change may be initiated by an external factor such as the meteor that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Note that I did not say that the meteor caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Most scientists today believe that other than dinosaurs living in the immediate area of the meteor strike somewhere off the Yucatan peninsula most dinosaurs died over hundreds if not thousands of years.  Scientists have modeled the effect of the dust and dirt kicked up into the atmosphere by the meteor and possibly volcanoes that erupted shortly afterward.  While the dust could have lead to cooler temperatures as the sun’s rays were blocked, gasses from the volcanoes could have led to a greenhouse effect much like the one around Venus trapping heat and raising temperatures on the surface.

In any case, most species did not survive.  While the die-out may appear instantaneous from a geological point of view, it could still have taken decades or even centuries for some of the species to die off completely and then slowly be replaced by other species who could cope with the climate changes and adapt.

So if most of the extinction events can be associated with some type of climate change, does it follow that today’s climate change and loss of dozens of species in the last century mean that we are at the start of the mass extinction?

Even if that is true, does that mean that mankind is doomed to become extinct as well?  Keep in mind that with every past mass extinction, some species did survive and even thrive in the new climate conditions.  The more adaptable, the more likely a species might survive.  Mankind, if nothing else, is adaptable.  With our increased use of technology, we may be able to survive any mass extinction even to the extent of manufacturing our own organic food in factories in petri dishes rather than farms.

However, the world could be very different in a few thousand years as more species die and perhaps new ones come to the forefront to fill in the gaps in the ecosystem.  If you could hibernate for the next thousand or perhaps five thousand years, what type of world would you wake up to?  Would you recognize anything?  Yet that new ecosystem could over time become just as vibrant as the one we have today.  In effect, the end of this era might be nothing more than the start of the new era.  The only question I would have is how mankind would fair during this transition.  While we may survive due to technologies we already have today, will mankind fall below a critical population level in which science and technology become unimportant compared to the daily needs of survival?  Will we slowly lose the ability to develop new technology?  Will we even be able to continue to maintain the old existing levels of technology?  Will mankind revert to living in caves?  Will all written record of our great society be lost as the records deteriorate?  Will the knowledge and technology lost over time become the substance of myths and legends?  Will future archeologists ponder over how their primitive ancestors were able to develop the skills to make the strange discoveries they unearth?

Could this have happened before?  Could our current society be just one of several that rose and fell in the past?  Such concerns give more validity to the arguments why we need to explore space and establish colonies elsewhere so that mankind may survive any disaster to this vulnerable planet.

But then just perhaps, this has happened before.  Perhaps the people of Atlantis really did have flying ships.  Perhaps they did explore space and leave colonies elsewhere.  And for the real conspiracy theory advocates, maybe some of the UFOs reported today are nothing more than our ancient ancestors who survived their mass extinction returning to see how the new life on planet Earth survives this one.  So could the beginning of the end of this cycle simply be part of the end of the beginning of the next cycle?

Ok, I would guess you did not expect this story to take that twist.  However, remember when a science fiction fan lives inside a writer, all bets are off.

C’ya next time.

Getting Back Into the Groove

I first want to apologize to my regular readers for being ‘absent’ for much of the last two months or so.  The last six months have been some of the hardest, yet some of the happiest, (for very different reasons) in my life.  The hard part as those who know the situation took up most of the first half of the year, but the happiest part is seeing my daughter move from a residency program at a local VA hospital to a full staff member as of July.  Her success after going through all the same hard times as me gives me hope.  So the last month we have been spending time looking for a new apartment for her, looking for furniture, packing what she wanted to move over for now, carrying stuff over in cars every night and unpacking it into her new place and even the ‘joy’ of building IKEA furniture.

She didn’t move far.  Just across town.  Far enough to have her own life, yet close enough for visits.  I don’t know if she truly realizes how proud I am of her accomplishments, but I am.  I don’t know if we were just lucky or if Sue and I (mostly Sue probably) did something right in raising her, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what that may have been.  So don’t ask for advice.

Anyway, I suppose it is time to start over and to start writing again.  After all, the house is empty now except for my cockatiel and before her cheeps start to make sense, I think it is time I actually start typing real words.  So, over the past week I’ve picked up paper and a pen and started to write down several ideas and I’m sure some of them will eventually develop into blog entries.  For today however, I just want to leave you with some random thoughts that will probably never make it to a full blog entry.   (By the way, the bird is sitting on my shoulder right now watching everything I type so I have to be careful what I say.)

I’ve noticed in the newspaper lately that a lot more motorcycle accidents are reporting that the injured riders were not wearing helmets.  Did you ever wonder why the government was so concerned about whether we automobile drivers have a seat belt on while we are driving and will even fine us several hundred dollars if they stop us and we do not have a seat belt on yet motorcycle riders don’t have to wear any head protection?  Seems odd.  Maybe it is a Darwin thing and we just want to thin out the population of those whose heads are too thick to be injured during an accident where they lose control.

I’ve also noticed that every major storm, hurricane, tornado, dry spell, heat spell, etc. has been linked by the media to global warming.  (Some people even think that Sharknado was a real documentary and was caused by global warming.  Some of these same people also ride motorcycles without helmets.) They act as if extreme weather never occurred before they discovered global warming.  While there may be some truth to the connection, their level of conviction that they are right and that everyone who does not agree with them is wrong or perhaps stupid seems to put people off who might otherwise at least consider the possible connection.

Currently the big story is the Royal Baby in England.  I will grant you that for those people living in England or originally from England, that is probably a very important story.  But really, this baby (I don’t think he has been given a name yet or at least I have not heard it) is only something like third in line for the throne.  On the other hand, that is probably a lot closer than you or I will ever be.  Anyway, Cheers! to England.  At least they have some good news in their media for a few days making it worth watching the BBC.

I guess Earth missed getting hit by a asteroid the other day.  It was suppose to be between 200 and 400 feet long.  Let say something around the size of a football field.   Unless it totally broke up or burned up during entry into our atmosphere, I suspect it would have made quite a dent in your car if it fell onto it.  The amazing thing was that it was only discovered a few days before its closest approach.  Yet we are being told by astronomers and the government that they have mapped over 90% of the trans-Earth orbit asteroids and would know well in advance of any potential problems.  No wonder they didn’t notice Clark Kent’s spaceship during that meteor storm.  I guess that few extra percent can really make a difference, especially if the asteroids targets your local corn field.

Finally, I leave you with this thought.  I’ve noticed that average employees who leaves a company to go into consulting becomes an expert overnight in whatever field they are talking about as long as they charge more than $200 per hour and travel at least 500 miles to the client site.  Similarly, I’ve seen consultants get hired by a company for their expertise in some technical area and overnight in the new job become dumber than a door nail (whatever that is) whose opinion is not worth a wooden nickel.  I guess it just goes to show that knowledge in any area is fleeting.

This Saturday, I plan to pick back up with a technical article on Data Quality Services where I left off months ago showing how to create a matching policy to find duplicate records.

Till then, c’ya.


It has been almost two weeks.  In some ways it is hard to believe that you are gone.  We were married for 12,577 days.  Remember?  I keep hoping that it is all a dream and I will wake up to see you again and be with you.  But I know it is not a dream.  At night I still fall asleep within seconds, like always, but more from exhaustion than anything else.  Then I wait up around 3 AM and cannot get back to sleep again because I’m remembering.

I remember when we first met back in 1977.  Do you remember?  I was driving for my old house at Lehigh University bringing in a carload of girls from Kutztown College. (It was only a college then.  Now it is Kutztown State University.) Lehigh had gone co-ed a few years before, but the number of women was far outnumbered by the number of men.  So we would bring girls in from neighboring schools for parties.  When I picked you up along with a couple of your friends, I could not stop looking at you and talking with you.  Somehow I knew from the start that you were special.

I remember our first real date two weeks later.  We went to a hockey game in Hershey, PA.  Remember?  Over the subsequent months we spent a lot of time together and it soon became apparent that we would spend our lives together.

I remember the day I asked your father for your hand in marriage.  I remember going out to dinner that night and asking you to marry me.

I remember our wedding day like it was yesterday.  I remember your dad walking you down the aisle.  Remember I told you that I had a dream shortly after we met where I saw you walking down the aisle in that church which I had never seen before the first time we went there months later.  I always believed it was destiny.

I remember our honeymoon in Hawaii.  Do you remember driving down the main street of Honolulu the first night and I could not figure out how to turn the high beams off on the rental car?

I remember moving into our first house in Macungie.  I remember our first Christmas.  I remember when we moved to Reading and we built our first house.  Remember Paulo, our builder who lived across the street?  How about our first Christmas in Reading.  That Christmas eve it started to snow and snow and snow.  It was awesome.  A few weeks later it snowed again.  So much snow that we were all out shoveling the snow off the street.  Then we found out that the township would not plow our street because it was not ‘finished’.  Remember when Paulo organized the residents of the entire street to go to the township meeting to protest their refusal to plow the street and the resulting refusing of the garbage truck to go through the street to pick up garbage.  Remember how Paulo asked the township commissioners where they lived because he had a big truck and he could deliver all of our garbage to their houses so it could be picked up.  They plowed our street the next day.

Then came the day we found out you were pregnant.  It was such a happy day.  However, it was soon followed by your mother’s illness and hospitalization.  She spent the next 8 months in intensive care on a breathing machine.  You missed having her help during this time.  But you delivered us a healthy baby girl.  We could not take Natasha into the hospital to show her to your mom, but we did take pictures in.  Shortly after seeing the pictures of her granddaughter, your mother died.  Happiness mixed with sadness.

Remember our friends, Cathy and Jeff.  Remember all those nights and weekends we worked with them preparing food for the church carnivals.  They were and still are two of our best friends.

Remember when Natasha first started going to school.  You use to take her to the school bus stop in the morning and pick her up at the stop in the afternoon.  Then one day she did not get off the bus.  You called me at work, panicked.  I raced home and we searched everywhere, even going back to the school to see if she did not get on the bus.  While there, the school got a call from the bus driver reporting that Natasha was still on the bus.  Seems that she hid beneath the seat because she wanted to see where the bus went after it dropped all the other kids off.

Then we moved to Orlando, FL.  Remember driving two cars down using walkie-talkies to keep in touch.  Cell phones were still rare and they were huge.  They were more of a status symbol then.  Remember how people would proudly place them on tables at restaurants as if to say look how important I am?  Now we all have them.

Remember all the good times as Natasha was growing up?  The school events? The birthday parties?  Girl Scouts?  The vacations?  You even got me to go on a cruise… twice.  We were so proud when Natasha graduated high school, when she was accepted to college as a pre-Pharmacy student.  Remember her first graduation with her undergraduate degree in 2010.  You had just been diagnosed with cancer the previous October and your greatest fear was that you would not live to see it because the doctor only gave you 3-6 months to live back then, but you did live to see her graduate.  You fought a hard battle just like your mom.  You fought hard enough to be able to celebrate our daughter graduating from Pharmacy school with her PhD last June, almost three years after your first diagnosis.

There was so much more you wanted to celebrate.  So much more that you will never get to see, at least not from this life.  You made me promise to watch over Natasha and I suspect you made Natasha promise to watch over me because we are all we have left.

We had your body cremated just like you wanted.  We found a really nice urn.  It does not look like an urn.  It is more like a Tiffany box.  We know how much you liked Tiffany lights and the Tiffany shades we had for the living room lights.  Actually Natasha spotted it and thought you would like it.  We also got what they call a Keepsake.  It is a small butterfly about 5 inches tall standing on a small rock that contains a few of your ashes.  The butterfly’s wings are also Tiffany glass.  If it is ok with you, we would like to think of those wings as the wings of the angel that you now are.

Later today, I will stop by the funeral home to bring you home.  I have a spot on the fireplace mantel all set aside for you with a picture of your parents on one side and a picture of Natasha and me on the other.  You will be with family again, like you always wanted.

We will always love you and remember you Susan.  Forever.

Wisdom, Not Brilliance, Will Make a Difference

Ok, it has been a tough week for me, but I need to get back into things.  I recently was catching up on listening to some of my older webcasts.  One in particular from back in early 2009 caught my ear and I thought I would share some of the insights I got with you.  The specific webcast was part of the TED Talks series and was presented by Barry Schwartz.  It was a very passionate presentation because Barry really believes in the  importance of his topic.  However, I know people who would call him angry and mad, unable to control his emotions, and danger to have around ‘real’ people.  Unfortunately, these people don’t understand the difference between passion and anger.  That is too bad, because passion is often what drives progress.  Well, let’s see what Barry says.

Barry began by talking about the typical job description.  Most jobs simply list the things that the individual should or sometimes should not do.  They rarely if ever go into interpreting the way the person in that job should interact with others.  Oh sure there are simple comments like the employee should work well with others, but what does ‘work well with others’ really mean?  Does it mean that the employee should simply follow the rules given to them by their boss and walk lock-step like an android with never any additional thought about why the rules are there or whether there should ever be a reason to disobey a rule.

Barry tells several stories such as the janitor who stopped mopping a floor at a hospital even though he was told to get it done now because he saw a patient trying to walk up and down the hall with a walker after an operation.  Another hospital employee refused to vacuum the carpet in the waiting room because there were some people in the waiting room who had been up all night with a sick relative and were trying to catch a little nap before going back into their family member’s room.  While these were hospital related examples, I remembered them because I related to how nurses would come into a darkened room in the middle of night and turn on the bright lights just to take a patient’s vitals.  Can’t they have a lower wattage night-light rather than waking up the patient every 2 hours? I thought sleep was suppose to be healing?  Can’t the vitals be obtained remotely?  Or how about the buzzers and alarms on the electronic equipment at night?  Do they really have to be that loud?  Isn’t it possible in this day and age to have them automatically signal the nurse’s station or send a text message directly to the nurse’s cell phone so they can get the message no matter where they are?

Where is the kindness, caring, and empathy in today’s world?  Where is the moral will to do what is right rather than simply what some procedure says to do or what will cost the least amount of money?  Having to make many phone calls to various people lately I can tell you that I am sick and tired of answering machines that pick for people that are either not at their desk, on another call, or simply do not want to answer that say, “Your call is important to us.  Please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as possible.”  Four hours later you might get a call back.  Sometimes it is the next day.  In either case, I have to ask how important was my call to them really?

A wise person knows when to ignore the rules and when to improvise for the greater good of the customer, patient, or client.  They treat rules as guidelines, but not absolutes, not as limitations.  They depend on their experience to choose the better path.

Barry then goes on to tell the story about a father and son at a baseball game.  I actually remember seeing this in the news.  The son was thirsty and wanted a lemonade.  The father went to the concession stand and bought a Mike’s Hard Lemonade which was a relatively new product at the time.  He really did not know this product had alcohol in it.  (I see you snickering.) Anyway, he brought it back for his son and an employee of the stadium saw the boy with the lemonade and called the police.  The father was arrested and they tried to move the boy to foster care.  It took two weeks for things to be straightened out and the father reunited with his son.  The point is that a simple conversation could have solved the issue without all of the expense of an ambulance, police, courts, foster homes, judges, and more.  Wisdom would have solved the problem in minutes while procedures cost everyone time and money for what was a simple mistake.

Brilliance is nothing without wisdom.  Even the most brilliant person can look stupid if they don’t apply their brilliance to know when and how to apply rules.  Take away a person’s ability to think and just blindly follow rules and you take away the growth of their moral skills.  Furthermore, too many rules can lead to stagnation.  Providing incentives on top of those rules takes away a person’s understanding of doing what is right unless they are paid for doing it.

Barry also maintains that we all need to build character starting with students in our schools.  We need to teach them how to respect themselves, how to respect their school mates, respect their teachers and staff, and respect learning.  Everything, he maintains, follows from that.

Is Barry right?  Perhaps.  At the very least, it should make us pause to consider.  All I can say is that it is all about what you do and how you do it.  Practical wisdom, not blind obedience to rules, will help you make a positive contribution.  That type of wisdom does not require brilliance, but it does require practice building your moral skill and moral will.  If your organization does not support you building those skills, then even the best employee forced to constantly swim upstream will give up and never really soar with the eagles.

Thanks Barry for a very insightful presentation.

C’ya next time.

New Research: Similars Attract! Really?

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times from a research group at Binghamton University Binghamton N.Y. reported substantial evidence that the company we keep in high school affects everything from our happiness, weight, grades, and other factors.  What I find interesting is that this conclusion should not come as a surprise to anyone.  Other than close neighbors that we may have grown up with, most people tend to associate with others having similar interests and goals in life.  In fact, the researchers did go so far as to say that most people have best friends with very similar grades and habits.  I’m thinking why would anyone think that kids would have as their best friend someone who they were jealous of or maybe despised or hated?

However, the interesting part was the conclusion that a person with grades lower than the average of a circle of friends they associated with tended to improve their grades over the course of the study time.  It also was true that the smartest members of the group tended to drop in their grades or class ranks slightly to bring them down to the group average.  Sort of makes me think that if you really want to succeed, you need to start hanging around with others who have succeeded.  But then you might also start to think that if you are already at the top of your class in whatever, that associating with a group that was shall we say not as gifted may not be in your best interests.

Where else have we seen this type of behavior?  Is it not better to buy the lowest price house in a good neighborhood than the highest price house in a poor neighborhood even if both houses cost the same amount?  Do you feel like you got more of a bargain by buying an item on sale at that high priced boutique than paying the regular price for the same item at a discount store even if both prices were exactly the same?

Ok, maybe I am getting a bit off topic here.  The point I want to make is that don’t we all tend to associate with others that are similar to us?  If we want to improve something about ourselves, don’t we tend to look for groups that have the trait(s) we want?  If we want to become healthier or lose weight, do we not associate ourselves with others who exercise more or eat healthier?  If we want to be better at playing a sport, do we not try to play with or even against others that we recognize as better than us in that sport?  Competition can lead to motivation, and motivation can lead to success.  So if we want to do better in school or even at work, shouldn’t we try to hang out with smart kids rather than mock them or try to shove them into their lockers?

This does not mean that family and environment are not factors in success.  They certainly set the stage for whether you can succeed or not.  Becoming the next great basketball star may not be possible if your parents won’t let you play sports.  Similarly, no matter how smart you are, you might not become the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates if you don’t have a family environment that lets you pursue your dreams and instead requires you to go to work after high school to help support the family.  Rather, what the report does seem to say is that you can make incremental improvements to whatever trait you are trying to change by carefully selecting with whom you associate.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to explore other friends and activities that may be on or beyond the fringe of what your norm is.  While they may not all lead you to the ultimate goal you want to achieve, they will help round out your personality and give you a better understanding of other people and the activities that are important to them.  How much has your social network reflected this concept?  Has the growth of on-line digital communities or social network sites changed this?  Probably not.  So if you want to improve something about yourself, find a social networking site that will challenge you to reach your goal.

BTW, This is my 200th post.  Two years ago I never thought I would get this far.


In the Name of Safety

I’ve been thinking about the following question lately.  Well, actually, I’ve been thinking about it for several years.  It just doesn’t seem right.  So I’m going to ask you all to think about it and if it bothers you as much as it bothers me, perhaps you might consider writing, emailing, or texting your state congressman.

The question is simply this.  Why do motorcycle riders in the state of Florida not have to wear a helmet?

Stop and think about it a second.  Children have to wear helmets to ride bicycles these days.  Automobile drivers and their front seat passengers must wear a seat belt or other restraint.  Construction workers have to wear helmets.  Why do motorcycle riders and their cling-on passengers get a pass.  Are they afraid of helmet hair?  Do they think that it is too hot in Florida for a helmet?

The problem as I see it is the potential for serious head injury in a motorcycle accident is at least as great as injury from an automobile accident at the same speed.  Ever see what happens to a motorcycle rider in an accident in which the motorcycle flips and the rider goes flying over the handlebars flying like a circus performer, but with far less grace and far greater risk of injury?

I remember the day when I was still in junior high school when I was taking a short cut home through a hillside dirt path.  I was going a bit too fast, but then most kids think they are indestructible.  Anyway, as I was coming to the end of the path down the other side of the hill, I hit a ditch that cut across the path and the front wheel of my bike bit into the dirt stopping the bike, but my momentum carried me over the handlebars and into the gravel stones at the end of the path just where the roadway began.  Fortunately I was not hurt badly.  Just a couple of scrapes on my hands, elbows, shoulder, and knees.  Enough to cause some bleeding, but not life threatening.  Fortunately, I did not hit the ground on my head.  I made it home and suffered through my Mom’s digging out the stones that had tried to bury themselves into my skin.  Actually, that hurt more than the fall did.  But it taught me a lesson that I never had to repeat.

Nearly every day I have to drive on I-4, one of the major roads that cut through Orlando and the only one that makes getting between work and home in a reasonable amount of time possible.  And nearly everyday I see at least one motorcycle rider weaving between cars at a substantial amount over the posted speed limit.  To be fair, it is not all motorcycle riders.  In fact, I have noticed that most Harley riders are fairly safe in their riding.  Furthermore, most of them have helmets, but not all.  No, the real problem seems to be with the smaller, less expensive bikes.  While I may say the riders of Suzuki bikes are the most numerous in this group, it is not limited to Suzuki bikes.  Most of these riders speed along cutting between cars just to get a little further ahead with no regard to the danger they are placing themselves in if the drivers around them don’t see them speeding up behind them just to cut around them at the last minute.  I’ve also seen them cut between two cars in adjacent lanes or even ride in the shoulder of the road.  Now I don’t know what the road shoulders are like where you live, but here there is often everything from fine sand to gravel to rocks, not to mention the occasional bag of trash, tire fragment from a retread that disintegrated, and even the occasional suitcase, table, water jug, or other item that fell off a truck.

Unfortunately, if these people end up in an accident, they, along with the press will be the first to blame the automobile driver for not watching out for motorcycle riders.  I believe they often get it backwards.  The motorcycle rider needs to watch out for how they are driving and whether they are creating the unsafe condition in the first place.  Just the other week, I saw two Suzuki riders pulling wheelies side by side as they raced down I-4 after passing an accident which probably held them up in the resulting traffic for several minutes.  Neither of the riders had helmets on, but one did have a helmet strapped to the back of his bike for all the good it would do there.

Now there is no way to legislate against stupidity.  But why can not we have a law that requires motorcycle riders and their cling-on passengers to wear helmets?  Should insurance companies raise the rates of motorcycle riders who get into accidents without helmets?  Should insurance companies of the automobile driver in an accident with a motorcycle reduce the amount it pays for any injury to the motorcycle rider if they were not wearing a helmet leaving it up to the motorcycle riders insurance to pay the majority of the bill no matter who was at fault?  Should police more aggressively ticket motorcycle riders who behave irresponsibly on the road pulling wheelies, racing around cars, riding on the shoulder, etc.  Hardly a night goes by, especially on Friday and Saturday nights that I do not hear the sound of motorcycles racing along the major road that is only about a block away.  You can hear them rev their engines at the light, then take off down the highway shifting through their gears and perhaps stopping if they get a light a little further down the road.

I for one don’t want to pay their insurance bills.  Insurance should not be to protect the irresponsible while the responsible pay for others mistakes.  Accidents will still occur even when everyone tries to follow the rules and thus insurance is needed.  So if we cannot teach people to be responsible, can we at least make it a law that they must wear a helmet?  If safety restrains are so important in cars, why not helmets for motorcycles?

C’ya next time.

The Trouble with Health Care – Part 2

Last time I talked a little about some alternative treatments to just chemo, radiation, or surgery for cancer.  This week, I want to explore some of the trials getting the drugs we need for my wife’s home care since insurance forces hospitals to send people home sometimes before they should.  Case in point, when they sent my wife home the Thursday before Christmas but she could not handle the problems she was having and wound up back in the hospital the Thursday after Christmas.

When you do get to see a doctor or get treatment for your illness at a clinic or hospital, most likely they will send you home with one or more prescriptions for additional medicines you will need to take over the next several days at the very least or even longer in some cases.  However, going to your local drug store of choice may not be as easy as it sounds.

First, you have to find a drug store that will accept your insurance.  Some drug stores accept nearly all insurance plans, but most do not.  Where we work, our insurance plan covers something called Express Scripts.  For years we were able to go to our local Walgreen’s drug store.  Then Walgreen’s and our insurance had a disagreement over their contract and Walgreen’s stopped accepted Express Scripts.  Another local drug store picked up Express Scripts and we just transferred our business to them.  All was good until I tried to get the drugs that the hospital doctors prescribed for my wife.

On the Thursday before Christmas, the hospital discharged my wife to go home to recuperate.  They included three prescriptions.  The first was one for nausea.  The drug store we went said they would fill only part of the prescription, not the whole thing.  Instead of getting the 48 pills she was suppose to get to take 1 every 6 hours which would last 12 days, they decided they would only give us 12 pills at a time, enough for 3 days.  I would have to go back every 3 days to get the prescription refilled.  First, that is inconvenient when I am trying to care for someone at home.  Second, it gives the drug store an opportunity to charge a separate co-pay for each refill rather than just a single co-pay for the entire prescription.

The second prescription was a drug for pain and is commonly prescribed.  They did however, need to enter my driver’s license in with the order because it is a prescription drug that is sometimes abused.  When they tried to enter my driver’s license, their computer system rejected it.  In fact, they tried several times on several different cash registers and it was rejected on all of them.  Now I know my driver’s license is valid, but try to explain that to a technician who is more concerned that I may be a drug abuser trying to get a pain medicine to take for fun.

Maybe that is why they did not want to fill the prescription for the third medicine, which was also a pain medicine.  However, this medicine does not come in pill form.  Rather it is a patch.  (It is sort of like the patches for people who try to stop smoking.)  The patch is suppose to be good for 72 hours and is a slow release of pain medicine.  I suppose people can abuse these patches too by applying multiple patches on themselves at one time.  Anyway, they said they did not have any.  So I asked the natural question, ‘Can you check any of your other local stores to see if they have it?’  I was told, ‘No.’

Now while I have no proof other than the word of a very close pharmacist, that such a reaction is common when a pharmacist does not want to fill a prescription.  The secret is that a pharmacist does not have to fill every prescription submitted to them.  If they have any doubts about the interaction of a set of medicines, they can turn down the prescription.  If they feel someone might be abusing the drug in question, they can turn down the prescription.  In fact, if they do not turn down a prescription that for either of these two reasons, they could get into trouble and could lose their license to practice.

Unfortunately, there are rings of drug abusers who get prescription scripts for pain medicine from real or even questionable doctors, especially doctors from out of state or questionable pain clinics and try to get pharmacies to fill them.  Often one or two will try a series of pharmacies in an area and if they get the prescription, they report back to their buddies in the ring and soon the pharmacy is getting dozens of prescriptions for the same pain medicine from the same doctor or clinic.  The real tip-off is when the doctor or clinic is from of state and each person claims that they are in the area on vacation and ran out of their pain medicine.

If the pharmacy gets into trouble for filling these dubious prescriptions, the pharmacy immediately throws the pharmacist under the bus and the pharmacist loses, not just their license, but their job.  So is it any wonder that pharmacists will error on the side of caution?  However, in my case, the script was not from a pain clinic or a doctor from out of state, it was from the local hospital.

So I heard that Walgreen’s was not accepting Express Scripts again so I went there.  They said they had the drug I needed, but that even though they were now accepting Express Scripts again, they were not accepting Express Scripts from our organization.

Finally, I was able to get the prescription filled at a local food store surprisingly enough.

The problem is this.  Why go after the pharmacist in these cases?  Why not go after the doctor prescribing these pain medicines if the doctor or clinic is not legit?  Can doctors from hospitals for example apply a seal to their script (sort of like a notary) to validate the script so that the pharmacist knows they can trust it?  Apparently, the fact that the script was on hospital paper may not be enough.  Without this type of system people in real pain cannot get the medicines they need and people who just want to get high by abusing pain medicines will have a more difficult time getting these drugs.  It would seem like a simple way to validate legitimate scripts and would make our health care system a little more efficient.   Second, this game about who accepts and who does not accept your insurance coverage has to stop.  A caregiver does not have time to run around town looking for a pharmacy that will accept the script while the person they are suppose to be home caring for alone and in pain.

Well, that’s enough for this time.  C’ya next time.