Friday, March 28, 2008

Volvo's BLIS

A while ago I blogged about my new favorite car being a minivan - more specifically, the new Chrysler Town and Country. While it's an excellent car, it is more suited for hauling around the family than for use as a commuter. My current commuter, a two year old Chrysler PT Cruiser, is great and I hope to have it for another eight years or so before I start thinking about replacing it. However, after a friends wife got into a car wreck (she was not hurt) and the friends response was "Thank goodness she was in a Volvo!", I started to wonder.

When I purchased my PT Cruiser I was basically thinking about how cool it looked, how roomy it was, and how fun it was to drive. What I wasn't thinking about was safety. So, after hearing about my friend's wife, I started thinking more about safety. For hauling the family around, I'm really happy with our Honda Odyssey. We've had one totaled and everybody in the car was fine (just bumps and bruises). However, what about my commuter car? When it comes time to replace it, what do I want to have? Well, I'm thinking about safety now so I thought I'd look at what Volvo has for options.

I have to tell you, I like the C30. It looks nice, has a 227HP engine (compared to my cruiser's 150HP engine), and still gets 19/29 mpg. What's really cool though, is all of the safety equipment. Not only is the chassis built with safety in mind, but it has all of the air bags you can think of - driver, passenger, side-curtain, etc. It also has traction control, anti-lock brakes, a whiplash prevention system, pretensioners on the seat belts, etc, etc. It also has a feature that I think is really cool. It's called BLIS.

BLIS stands for BLind-spot Information System. It's a little camera mounted in your rear-view mirrors that turns on a warning light when a car is next to your car - in your blind spot. How cool is that!? You're driving down the road and need to change lanes, you can just check you mirror, do a head check and you've got a BLIS light to let you know if you missed anything. That's technology working for you.

So am I saying should everybody run out an get a Volvo? No. I'm saying that I think safety should be a far larger factor in a vehicle purchase than it is. Most companies (and people) seem to put safety as an afterthought and I don't think that's right (even though I've been guilty of it). So I'm not saying you should buy a Volvo - they are a bit expensive - but you should consider the safety options in the vehicle you're looking at as well as being aware of what options are out there.

Let's all be safe out there.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Levels of Motivation


I have this emerging theory on how to motivate people. Looking at the greatest world leaders, how did they get people to follow them? How do we get people to follow us? How do others get us to do things? When you do something, what is your primary motivation? Is it fear? love? duty? Which is the most powerful?

The following is a list of common motivators in order from least to most powerful.

5. Guilt - Guilt is a lousy motivator. I promotes slothful action and can even engender resentment. Although it may work for short-term tasks, those looking for long term results would be better served to look elsewhere.

4. Fear - Fear is only an effective motivator in the short term. When people act out of fear, it builds resentment and animosity. They will look for ways not to complete (i.e. to escape) their tasks. Granted this may not be universally true, but in general fear is a lousy long-term motivator but an excellent short term one. I also think that fear's effectiveness is inversely proportional to a person's self esteem. In other words, the greater one's feeling of self-worth, the less effective fear is as a motivator.

3. Duty - People do a lot of things out of a sense of duty. A person motivated by duty does not need constant supervision. They willingly (although not always enthusiastically) perform their tasks. There are also many levels of duty. I general, it can be as low as fear or as high as love but is usually somewhere in between. Duty is a good long-term motivator as it doesn't usually produce resentment but insures a good relationship.

2. Greed - Greed can be a very powerful motivator. In many instances is can and will subvert fear and duty. It's even been known to trump love with some. Greed is the ultimate embodiment of selfishness. When one is consumed with bettering oneself (with money or power or whatever) at the expense of all else, nobody is safe. Greed is not a good long-term motivator as greedy people tend to self-destruct while they alienate those around them. Eventually they just crash and burn and are of no use to anybody (assuming they aren't already in jail).

1. Love - True love is the best motivator. It works in both the short-term and the long-term. Those motivated by love are innovative, enthusiastic, and sometimes reckless in their zeal for accomplishment. They would only need supervision if you worry that they would go too far in their zeal for accomplishing their tasks. This is not the "if you love me you'll..." sort of love. That's manipulation border on a fear (fear of losing a loved one) motivation. This also isn't the same as a child not doing their chores. A child has full confidence that the love from their parents is not contingent on chores (and if it is, well then, I think we're back to fear). This is a genuine respect and loyalty for the motivator.

I've said for a while that while fear is a good motivator, love is the best. Unfortunately many resort to fear and greed because they can be established quickly while love and duty can take a long time to build. We see that a lot in elections. How many political ads prey on fear instead of trying to build on love? Fear is easy, love is hard. However, fear doesn't last and love just keeps growing.

If you want to be a leader, take a good hard look on how you would lead. Are you in it for now or are you looking to stay in it for the long haul?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Healthcare: Part II - More Insurance Reforms


About a year and a half ago, I blogged on healthcare or, more specifically, insurance. Looking back, I still agree with my main ideas but there's more. As I have learned more about the insurance industry and government regulation of it, I've learned more about some of the limitations that could be fixed. So here are some more ideas on fixing insurance in America:

1) Extend insurance deductions to all of the insured. Right now, if you get insurance from your employer, your premiums are taken out pre-tax. However, if you're buying your own insurance, you are taxed on the money you spent. Yes there are tax deductions for insurance, but I don't think it's the same (I actually hope I'm wrong here but I assume I'm not). Therefore, ALL insurance premiums should be untaxed, not just ones through your employer.

2) Eliminate employer contracted insurance policies. Insurance isn't a free market. I don't get to choose my insurer. I have the choice of the one insurer my employer uses and that's it. I think a centralized insurance agency for employers should be established that makes a central point that all employers could go to for all insurers in the state. That way an employee could pick whatever insurance coverage fits their needs and all the employer needs is an insurer code and a plan code. This makes it easy for employers to offer all insurers to employees and makes it easy for employees to choose the insurance plan that will meet their needs. It would also make the insurance companies have to compete against each other for customers. No more wining and dining HR reps, they have to appeal directly to the people they want to insure.

3) Standardize billing codes. Right now, each insurer has its own billing codes for doctors' offices. The office staff needs to know that a physical, for example, is AA127 for insurer A and 45B723 for insurer B and 0357128876 for insurer C, etc. This creates conditions that make it really easy to make billing errors that can cost you hundreds of dollars or more and hours of you time trying to fix the issue. If all of the codes were the same, the office staff wouldn't have to worry about looking it up every time they billed. It would save them work which would result in fewer errors and possibly even lower insurance premiums (assuming it saved enough work that doctors' offices wouldn't need as much staff).

Although I feel that the market for insurance should be as free as possible, there are a few places where standards should be enforced. As long at the standards/regulations are well thought out and beneficial, I think that they're completely appropriate. Let's just make sure we're helping, not hurting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

X-Prize for a 100 MPG Car

No sooner has Tesla Motors started production of their electric car, then I find an article on CNN.com about an X-Prize competition for building a car that gets the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon or better. The award: $10 million. How's that for motivation.

There are two categories for this prize: mainstream and alternative. According to the CNN article:

"Mainstream cars must carry four or more passengers and have climate control, an audio system and 10 cubic feet of cargo space. They also must have four or more wheels, hit 60 miles per hour in less than 12 seconds and have a minimum top speed of 100 miles per hour and a range of 200 miles."

"Alternative vehicles will be required to carry two or more passengers and five cubic feet of cargo, have a top speed of at least 80 miles per hour and have a range of at least 100 miles."

What a cool concept. Here's a $10 million incentive to build something we need anyway.

Go X-Prize!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Electric Car

On March 17th, the Tesla Roadster went into production. This is the first production electric sports car.




It goes 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds and gets the equivalent of 135 miles per gallon. Best of all, IT LOOKS SO COOL!!!!

I wish I could afford one but I don't see that ever happening. However, their next project is called the Whitestar - a four door sedan at about half the price. That puts it in the $50k range which is still more than I can afford but hopefully, they will sell well enough that competition will emerge and prices will come down so that, in 10 years or so, when I finally drive my PT Cruiser into the ground, I'll be able to replace it with something electric.

Why electric?
  • No emissions/pollution

  • No dependence on foreign oil

  • Fewer moving parts - less things to wear out - more reliability

  • Less maintenance - no oil changes, etc.

  • Better mileage/much lower cost of ownership

  • They're just cool!

Living in a city with a large "brown cloud" makes me very aware of pollution and it's effects. We really do need to clean up our air and I think a viable electric car is a big step in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Consumerism Goes Medical


Our society is getting pretty messed up. We are developing a culture of selfishness and we're being egged on by the retail industry, the car industry, the housing industry, and the MEDICAL INDUSTRY?! Ok, perhaps not medicine itself but the medical finance industry. Here's my pearl of anecdotal evidence.

A little while ago, my wife needed to have some dental work done (a bridge replaced). Turns out that this is an extremely expensive set of procedures on the order of several thousand dollars. Well, since I'm not at the point where I have that kind of money laying around, we opened an account with a company called Care Credit. They're big thing is that they'll defer interest for up to a year to give you a chance to pay off your debt. This looked like a good deal and, based on our experience, I would recommend it to people with unexpected medical bills. All in all, I've been pretty happy with it.

Well, along with monthly bills, also came a monthly newsletter called CareCheckup - Healthful Hints on Living and Staying Well. So I look at it expecting something extolling the virtues of staying well with, of course, the mandatory push to use Care Credit if the worst should happen. I was expecting it to contain stories about how Care Credit had helped many of the month to month people who get caught with medical expenses they can't afford. Was it in there? Not at all. The entire newsletter was devoted to how Care Credit can help you with plastic surgery (for your high school reunion or to get your pre-pregnancy look back), cosmetic dentistry, lasik, etc. I've looked through two or three newsletters now and there is nothing about helping with the unexpected medical expense. The entire thing is devoted to how you can freely borrow money to pay for elective surgeries.

Now comes the good part - what it actually costs. While Care Credit is great for deferring medical expense, be sure to read the fine print. Interest will begin to accrue immediately upon charging the card. The interest free gimmick only works if you pay off the ENTIRE balance before your 12 month (or less) grace period expires. After that you'll not only be charged interest on your current balance but you'll be charged retroactively for interest from the day you made your purchase. And what's the interest rate? About 20%.

So you've got a newsletter encouraging you to spend more than you have on care you don't need at a finance charge of 20%. And people wonder why the American public is so badly in debt...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Congressional Pensions - My Bad


The Arizona Republic has an article about Represenative Renzi being able to keep his pension even if he goes to prison. While the merits of whether or not he should keep his pension are debatable, I'd like to focus on the actual pension. You see, I'd always thought that legislators got their full salary for the rest of their lives. Turns out I was wrong. Way wrong.

According to the National Taxpayers Union, "Renzi, who has served five years in Congress, would be eligible for a $15,000 annual pension in 12 years" (quoted from the article). That's a far cry from his $169,300 annual salary for being a congressman. It appears that the federal pension program is like any other pension program, you have to put a lot in before you can get a lot out.

So I guess my dreams of winning an election and being set for life are pretty much gone ;)

I originally found this on The Espresso Pundit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Governor Vetos Spending Freeze


The Arizona Capitol Times just ran an article (subscription required) stating that Governor Napolitano vetoed a legislative bill that would freeze government spending. In a year where we're about a billion in the hole, you'd think any relief would be welcome. Well think again.

In her veto letter, the Governor stated that she vetoed the bill because it wasn't "a comprehensive plan developed and approved by legislative Democrats". Are those the requirements? At the rate we're going, a comprehensive budget bill looks as likely as comprehensive immigration reform. That's not to say that our legislators aren't working on it. They're working very hard on it but there are some pretty fundamental ideologies that are getting in the way. The Democrats want to borrow enough money to get us through while the Republicans want to cut programs (yes, I have massively oversimplified it).

So here's the problem: the Republicans have the majority so they can pass the legislation that they want. However, the Governor is a Democrat and can veto Republican legislation and the Republicans don't have enough votes to override the veto. There's the balance of power.

In my opinion, this veto is a shot across the bow. The Governor is telling the Legislature that the budget fixes must be comprehensive and involve the Democrats. This hands a lot more power to Legislative Democrats than they would normally have. So, unless the Republicans can get a two-thirds majority in both houses, they are stuck working with the Democrats. This means compromise.

The real question here is whether or not this move is bad for Arizona. The answer is "I hope not". If the two parties can come together and compromise on the budget (and that's a big if), then we may get a budget plan that works for both sides. If not, we may be in for some real trouble.

This is also covered in the Arizona Republic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oracle's Direction for PeopleSoft

There are a lot of people out there wondering what the future of PeopleSoft will look like. The answer is: "I don't know." But I do have some guesses. Based on what I know about Oracle and their current direction along with some logic of my own, here is what I think the future holds for PeopleSoft:

1) Say goodbye to the PeopleSoft Application Servers. Right now the PeopleSoft Application Server environment is redundant. It serves up web pages from a java application server (WebLogic, WebSphere, or OAS) that pulls its information from a C application server (BEA Tuxedo) that gets its data from a database (Oracle, SQL Server, etc.). Catch the redundancy? I predict that Oracle will merge C application server into the java application server. This will create a PeopleSoft stack that will more closely mimic Oracle's current offerings. It will also allow (or force) you to monitor and control your whole stack from Oracle's Grid Manager. One tool to manage all of your middleware. This has the potential to be very good. That is, if Grid Control can meet the challenge.

2) PeopleCode and App Designer will be ported to java and JDeveloper. Does this mean everybody will have to code in java? NO! This means that the existing App Designer will become a module that sits on top of JDeveloper. This will allow PeopleSoft developers to continue with their rapid code development but also give them greater power to delve into the code and customize beyond what's currently available. It will allow Oracle to give developers more flexibility without sacrificing the ease of use that's already there.

3) WebLogic will become the next OAS. I think Oracle bought BEA simply because WebLogic is way better than Oracle App Server. I predict/hope that Oracle's plan is to phase out the current OAS and replace it with WebLogic. This would give Oracle a best of breed java application server that is an integral part of their Fusion Middleware stack.

Just so you know, I'm not nor have I ever been an Oracle employee. I am a database administrator supporting a PeopleSoft HR installation. This is simply my opinion of what Oracle's direction is. I have no connections or insider information to back it up. It's just speculation.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Arizona's Autism Insurance Law (Steven's Law)


There is a bill wending its way through the State Legislator that requires insurance companies to cover services for autism. It's called Steven's Law or HB2847 and SB1263 (you can look them up on azleg.gov). Basically it covers diagnosis, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and behavior therapy (ABA).

When I first heard of this bill, I was a bit skeptical. Maybe that sounds odd since three of my four children have an autism diagnosis, but I'm not a fan of regulation. At first glance it seemed to be aimed at forcing insurance to cover whatever fad-of-the-week treatment somebody wanted to use. That just didn't seem like a very good idea. However, after doing some research on azautisminsurance.org and actually reading the proposed legislation, I became convinced that, sadly, this is indeed necessary.

One of my main fears was that the bill might require insurance to cover any "treatment" without regard to how effective it actually is. However, the bill specifically lays out what is covered and only gives wiggle room for behavioral therapy - in that behavioral therapy will only include "evidence based" therapies such as ABA. This means that if you don't have a scientifically accepted behavioral therapy, your insurance is not required to cover it.

So why to I agree with the bill? First of all, the bill only requires insurance to cover what they should already be covering anyway. Autism is treatable. If caught early enough and treated effectively, a child with autism has a very good chance of living a normal life. It is a health issue just like cancer or chicken pox. We expect insurance to cover our necessary medical expenses and for those affected by autism, treatment is a necessary medical expense.

Second, as I have previously stated, they bill doesn't go too far. It's not covering any treatment you can come up with. It only covers those treatments that have been scientifically shown to help those affected by autism.

Third, it includes Asperger's Syndrome and PDD NOS under the umbrella of autism. Both of these classifications are similar to autism and can be helped by the same treatment but, because they aren't specifically autism, they usually don't get the coverage they need (either from insurance or from State services). I think it's about time these were brought into the autism spectrum so that those affected can get the treatment they need.

I think the only real downside of this bill is that it is necessary at all. Insurance should already be covering the things mandated in this bill. I guess the insurance companies figured that if a child with autism never becomes functional, it's the State that will foot the bill for lifetime care and not them. OK, perhaps (and hopefully) I'm being overly cynical, but it still comes back to this bill only requires what insurance should already be covering.

I support this bill and, if you live in Arizona, I would encourage you to contact your State Legislators and encourage them to vote in favor of it.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Autism Vaccine Ruling

I first heard about this from an article at huffingtonpost.com. The title boldly stated: "Government Concedes Vaccine-Autism Case in Federal Court - Now What?" Now what indeed. Well let's take a closer look shall we.

First of all, contrary to what the title implies, the government did NOT admit that vaccines cause autism. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the article is wrong. In fact it does a very good job of explaining what is going on. The government admitted that the vaccinations aggravated a pre-existing condition the girl had. This condition, known as a mitochondrial disorder or Mt disease, is what caused the problems. The aggravation of her Mt disease manifested with symptoms consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That's what happened.

To me, this says a few things. First, it reaffirms my premise that ASD is not a single condition but a group of conditions that have similar symptoms. As research progresses, I believe that scientists will be able to identify the specific conditions and find treatments for them. However, the treatment won't be the same for everybody. I feel that one of the large frustrations of ASD is that a treatment that works well for one individual may not work at all for another.

Next, it tells me that children should be tested for Mt disease before they are vaccinated. If vaccinations aggravate the disease, then the children should not be vaccinated. Along with this, I think some research needs to be done to figure out why the vaccinations aggravated the disease. Was it the thimerosal? Was it the vaccines themselves? Was it something else? None of that is currently known. The only thing for sure is that the vaccinations most likely caused the onset of ASD in this girl.

Finally, it does NOT tell me that thimerosal and/or vaccinations cause ASD. Three of my four children have ASD diagnoses and I do not believe that they were caused by vaccinations. I'll admit that my wife and I are cautious enough that we're spreading the vaccinations out (so our kids aren't pumped full of so many diseases at once) but we don't feel that the vaccinations caused it.

So where do we go from here? I think that more research is needed. I think people need to get all of the facts before they start pointing fingers. I also think that people should not blame the government (or anybody else for that matter) for their kids' autism.

OK, here comes my rant: Vaccinations laws were not intended to give children autism so I'm not sure why people are blaming the government for it. As for treating it, the government already pays for the treatment of thousands of children with ASD so I'm not sure why some people would think they deserve more money on top of that. Autism is not somebody's fault. It's not anybody's fault (even if it was caused by something specific, I'm pretty sure it was unintentional). It's just something that happens to some of our kids. There are lots of scientists out there trying to find the cause and/or more effective ways of treating ASD so let's try let them do their work. Meanwhile, let's focus more on helping our kids and less on blaming someone else for their problems. It will make everybody happier.

See also the CNN article.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Our Best Kept Money Saving Secrets!

WARNING: May contain excess amounts of cynicism.

I got an email from Costco today that was entitled "Our Best Kept Money-Saving Secrets!". I'll admit right now that I'm a Costco junkie. I shop there more than just about anywhere else and, judging from the amount of people I see there, a lot of people are like me. So when I see an ad for Costco's best kept money-saving secrets, I'm immediately intrigued. What does Costco recommend for saving money?

So I click on the link provided only to find a list of things to buy. Not just regular things to buy (you know stuff you use every day), but luxury items. Excuse me? OK, how is buying a "Natural Stone Pond and Waterfall Kit" for $799.99 (pictured left) a money-saving secret? How about " Sympathy Heart, Red Roses" for a mere $279.99? This is a money-saving secret? It seems to me that Costco has fallen into the frame of mind that most other retailers are trying to push onto consumers, namely "It's not how much you spend, but how much you save that's important." In other words, if you spend thousands of dollars but "save" hundreds, you're somehow ahead. Sure I might be up to my eyebrows in debt, but I saved so much on my custom made designer window covers!

This is a rare occurrence, but Costco has really disappointed me on this one. I'm sorry but a good price on a modular wine cellar is not a money-saving secret. A good money-saving secret is something like "Spend Less Than You Make." I know, it doesn't sound like a secret but how many Americans are out there that don't seem to know this at all? Well, I bet they're "saving" lots of money.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

So Who's Going To Be President?

I was surprised to see that Hillary Clinton was able to win both the Texas primary and the Ohio primary. I really thought that with Barak Obama's momentum that he would carry at least one of those states. Guess that shows how much I know...

So, who's going to win? I'll give you my predictions but bear in mind that my record on predictions isn't that good. After all, I predicted that:

1) John McCain's candidacy was doomed before the primaries even started (granted a lot of people made that mistake).

2) That Barak Obama would be more of a fringe candidate and not a serious challenger (I actually thought John Edwards had a pretty good chance).

3) That Mitt Romney would do much better than he did (after all, he's intelligent, understands economics, has a history of turning around businesses, etc. - what's not to like?).

So, based on those and my many other mis-predictions, you can take these thoughts with a grain of salt. So here's what I think:

1) Barak Obama will eventually win the nomination. He still has a lot of momentum and is a very appealing candidate to liberals as well as moderates. I also think that too many people hate Hillary Clinton for her to be a viable candidate. Obama has the advantage of having designated himself as the "candidate of hope" which resonates with a lot of people. Unless he makes a colossal mistake, I think he will get the nomination.

2) John McCain will not win the presidency if he runs against Obama. I think McCain's best chance is if he runs against Clinton. There is enough conservative hatred of Clinton to really mobilize the base Republicans and her reputation as a Washington insider is not going to help her with the independents that view McCain as a maverick (in a good way). If he runs against Obama, a lot of the conservatives that don't like him may stay home. After all, Obama hasn't done anything to make the conservatives hate him (not yet anyway). Also, the independents that are going to be key for winning in November really like Obama as well. That just makes things doubly hard for McCain.

So that's how I see things right now. I do, however, reserve the right to change my opinion as new facts, etc. emerge.

Who do you think will win?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Arizona's Employer Sanctions Law Seems To Work

The Arizona Legislature recently passed a law that punishes employers for hiring illegal immigrants. It uses fines and the loss of one's business license to "encourage" companies to only hire legal workers. So far, it seems to be working.

When I originally blogged about the immigration problem, I voiced my opinion that border enforcement would not work until we removed the incentive for illegals to come here in the first place. Basically, if they can't find work, they won't come. Well, Arizona's Employer Sanctions law went into effect March 1st and it seems to already be working. The East Valley Tribune recently published a story about school enrollments going down and apartments being vacated due to illegals moving out of the state to avoid prosecution under this law.

Although the long term effects of removing the illegals without any way to replace them with legal workers is still up in the air, the new law looks like it's having the effect that was hoped for.