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Take the Stairs

StairwellEveryone knows about elevator etiquette.

Seemingly, anyway.

You know, where you let people off before you get on? That type of thing? Even my 4-year old knows…

Bafflingly, there are actually countless people who are apparently unaware that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Whatever, that’s fine by me as I’m a stair climber.

I take the stairs at work at least nine out of ten times — and only take the elevator when it would be socially awkward not to, like, when I enter or leave the building with someone I know.

The unwritten rule in a stairwell is kinda like the rules you should follow on a desolate sidewalk or even a grocery store aisle — you don’t pass people that are moving the same direction as you are and you NEVER ride their heels either.

(This rule, of course, doesn’t apply on busy city sidewalks that are both wide enough to not make it awkward and crowded enough so as the slower of the two parties doesn’t feel at all threatened or hurried.)

So, without fail, every time I’m cruising down the stairs at a pretty decent clip — skipping a stair with each stride — some bonehead on a lower floor enters the stairwell and procedes downward slower than those darn folks that stand stationary on those people movers at the airport…


For real, people! Those people movers are so that your walking speed is increased dramatically…like almost a 100% increase in speed.

They’re not for standing on!? Argh?!

Anyway, in the stairwell, it drives me bonkers.

I mean, I know they heard my pace in advance as they opened the door so they’re totally aware that now I’m behind held up.

Are they going slow on purpose?

I can never be certain as etiquette requires that I stay back at least one landing but, c’mon, seriously…

If your standard stairway pace can’t beat an elevator down 10 stories or up at least 5 stories, well, take off your FitBit and stay out of the stairwell.

We don’t want you here.

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FitBit HR ChargeMy wife received a FitBit HR for her birthday this past weekend and I put it on for around 25 seconds. This is my review.

Pretty solid build — a little like the rubbery material Swatch watches were made of in the 1980’s.

At the same time, while solid, it also kinda looks a bit like a Happy Meal toy giveaway — cheap really.

No one really remembers those days when McDonald’s handed out “tech” things so, apparently, it’s okay to charge $150 for something visually very similar.

On the plus side, while the material feels like a Swatch, they’ve pressed a pattern into it so it’s not arm-hair pulling — think of a really wide and tight elastic on your arm.

Yeah, it’s nothing like that.

It has a couple of flashing lights on the bottom side that touch your wrist that I’m guessing are checking out your blood flow to calculate your pulse — kinda like those one finger clothes-pin style pulse meters.

It also has a real watchband clasp unlike the friction clasp that the regular Charge model has. That alone made it worth $25 more in my book as it can’t just “fall” off.

My wife, though, disagreed and thought the less expensive model would be more comfortable.

The small display bar only lights up with the time when you tap it or press the one button on the side.

I realize that this is a battery saving measure and can totally respect that. However, the trend with most modern devices to have so few buttons is highly annoying.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated trying to turn a tablet on or off. There’s only one button — do you hold it down? Do you not hold it down? Is there some sort of magic pressing pattern required to make it do something?

With a singe button, this “new” wearable technology is akin to the on-board “computer” on my nearly 20-year old car.

You know, where you set the clock using a single button and endlessly frustrating patterns to jump from hour to minute.

Even my current Blu-Ray player only has a couple of buttons. One to turn it on and one to eject the disc. Should I lose or break the remote, well, the whole device becomes a paperweight.

I hate that.

The FitBit HR Charge is also not waterproof. I dunno, if a wearable device is suppose to “track” your daily activities, you’d think they’d ensure that it can be worn in the shower.

I know why it’s not waterproof but whichever company figures out a way to make it that way, well, that’ll be a game changer. Hey, watches are waterproof…and have been for like 30 years, right?

Anyway, in the short time that I wore it (no, I didn’t get a rash), it told me that it was 7:31PM and that my heart was beating 85 beats per minute.

Pretty uninteresting stuff, right there.

It also told me, since my wife had been wearing it pretty much all day, how many steps had been taken (with a little progress bar pushing her towards 10k, I’d assume), how far she’d traveled, and how many calories had been burned.

Now, as a geek, I could tear down the accuracy of all of these number with ease.

I mean, only a moron would think a device like this, straight out of the box, could be accurate with so little to go on and so many variables a strap of rubber with a blinking few lights could never know.

(Yes, I know you can “customize” it to your regular stride length and that sort of thing to make it slightly more accurate but I’m certain that 90% of their owners never even bother.)

That said — I don’t think precise accuracy is the point or purpose of the device.

With the Fibit displaying that she only had about 1200 steps to go until she hit the 10k mark, guess what?

We went on a late evening walk.

At a time when, usually, we’d just be lounging on the couch waiting for the kids to fall asleep.

And, while the numbers are just that, numbers, and essentially meaningless…those tiny numbers got her (and me…and three kids) up and moving at a time when, well, frankly, it was couch potato time.

That’s where the FitBit excels.

And until the current fad of wearable technology wears off, that’s probably a good thing for our society.

Get up, and get moving.

– – – – – – – – –

PIAC Tangent
Hilariously, my kids refer to it as a “Fibbit”.

Somehow I’m pretty sure that their marketing department failed to test the final product name in a focus group of young children.

(Makes you wonder how/why the drug companies approved names like Latuda and Farxiga, doesn’t it? I find both names (and their commercials) hilarious.)

Sure, the FitBit isn’t geared towards that ageset anyway (though the wrist band does get small enough to fit my 6-year old) but I can just imagine people saying to their friends, “Oh, I walked over 14 miles yesterday…” with the group croaking “Fibbit! Fibbit!” in the background.

In Fitbit’s defense, they can always claim that the accuracy is just a “reasonable” guess…so, yeah, feel free to fib a little bit.

For real, though, like with solving money issues, the key is motivation and momentum.

The FitBit Charge HR delivers on both fronts…if you keep wearing it.

But NEVER in the shower.

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So today was Emmet’s toe’s appointment with the miniature guillotine I’d imagined would be used to chop his extra toe off.

Fortunately, it didn’t quite go down, err, come off like I’d thought it might. Or maybe it did? I dunno, but it was really cool.

Here’s the “after” picture.

Before pictures can be seen here and the fun and exciting backstory is here.

It all went down pretty quick. Doctor came in, drew on his foot a little with a sharpie, then injected novocaine in a couple of places around that pesky extra toe which resulted in some minimal tears. Then we nervously waited…

Any one remember that awesome waiting room post I had back in 2008? It wasn’t like that I all, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, the doctor came back in after a few minutes, and from my vantage point, I swear, he pulled the damn thing right off with a pair of giant tweezers with one abrupt tug and dropped it into a pickling jar.

I mean, it was quick and powerful. No nonsense.

The truth of it is, he used some fancy scissors down at the base (according to my wife) but I couldn’t see that behind his “tweezer” hand. I’ll keep on thinking the dude just yanked it off. Old school awesome.

Emmet didn’t make a sound. I mean, I know I would have shrieked — this kid is tough.

Moments later, the doctor stitched him up and, having seen stitches going in before, I’m always amazed at how it’s possible to just sew a person back together like they’re a ripped pair of pants. I dunno, it just seems like we’d “tear” but for whatever reason, we don’t. Crazy.

So now he’s got more traditional looking feet.

How about that?

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Toe-ing Away PartySo, tonight my family had a ‘toe’-ing away party for my infant son Emmet as, tomorrow, he’ll be having that, ahem, extra toe removed from his left foot.

The procedure has been planned for a few months now and the plan tomorrow is just to have the “extra” toe removed but not separate the two toes on each foot that are webbed together.

The extra pinky toe has to come off if he ever wants to wear shoes but the webbing issue is only cosmetic. Apparently there are tons of people with webbed feet walking among us. Who knew?

Anyway, both would be covered by health insurance but we’re not vain enough to put him through any unnecessary pain simply for the sake of what will likely just end up being ugly feet anyway…

Tonight, to celebrate his extra digit and give him support, we played tic-tac-toe, pin the bandaid on the toe, and painted our toe nails — it was a lot of fun as you can see in the picture below.

As for tomorrow, well, I’m a little apprehensive about it, honestly — it’s sure to hurt like hell – but also kind of excited for him too.

I mean, not that he’ll remember any of this but it’ll be nice for him to have semi-normal looking feet for his first summer. It is getting to be flip-flop season, afterall…

In related news, the test results for the syndrome that had me concerned that he could potentially turn out to be an evil swashbuckling tiny headed sloth creature that swims like Michael Phelps and loves Rocky Road ice cream turned out to be nothing to worry about at all.

Results were negative for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS) so instead of being potentially “sick” (or evil, or swashbuckling, or tiny-headed) for the rest of his life, he’ll just be “that” guy with the cosmetically altered (meaning beautiful) feet that tells the story all too often about how he used to have eleven toes.

Or was it nine toes?

It’s complicated.

Either way, he’ll always be a little mutant to me.

And I’ve got the pictures to prove it!

Polydactyly and Webbed Feet on an infant

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So, again, since it’s been so long since I’ve updated things around here, I should probably mention that there are no longer two kids in the family… now there are three!

Moments after he was born, I called my mom with the news…

“Mom and baby are doing fine except that he has 11 toes. Well, actually, he only has nine. Um, it’s complicated.”

I kinda wished I could’ve broken that news to my dad — he’d have found it both fascinating and hilarious.

So, an extra “digit” or polydactyly, as the doctors like to refer to it as, is pretty obviously a birth defect — something the doctors in the delivery room nonchalantly pointed out as if it were no big deal.

But hearing “birth defect” merely seconds after birth totally gets your head spinning with thoughts that, the baby might have a second head, a tail, or even gills behind their ears or something.

I didn’t even get to the point where I was imagining John Merrick — who was actually named “Joe” Merrick.

And while news may get out that I nearly fainted in the delivery room this time, it was NOT this unexpected turn of events that made me queasy. It was the claustrophobic get-up they made me wear… No, seriously, it’s not easy to breath with a plastic bag strapped to your face…

So, anyway, my little guy has an extra toe (with a toe nail, even!) on his left foot.

That makes 11 toes.

His pointer and middle toes on both feet are fused together. The doctors called this “webbed feet”.

Having never actually seen webbed feet on a human, I was more expecting them to look like a duck’s feet. It’s not nearly as cool as that would have been and, honestly, I’m not sure it’ll make him a better swimmer a few years down the road. Maybe.

So, to sum it all up, he has 11 toes total but two pairs are fused together.

That makes 9 toes.

Weird, right?

So the nurses in the hospital played it down like it wasn’t a big deal — “We see extra digits and webbed feet all the time…”

In my head, I kinda called BS on that.

I mean, I’d heard of webbed feet and was aware of the 6-fingered man from the Princess Bride movie that Inigo Montoya wanted to face so badly but…I’d never actually SEEN someone with webbed feet or and extra toe or finger.

Apparently, they’re walking among us. Creepy, huh?

Then I got to thinking, what was I going to tell the kids?

“Hi guys, your new brother is a mutant.”

“Yes, just like the ninja turtles…”

“No, he’s not a ninja. Or a turtle.”

“No, we can’t get a turtle.”

In reality, the nurses did what they could to put us at ease claiming that it wasn’t a “big deal” but it still kinda simmered in the depths of my mind — is this going to be a problem?

I mean, they don’t call it a “defect” for nothing, right?

And then came the news that I kinda knew was coming…

Yep, they wanted to do some genetic testing to see if it was a “sign” of something far more damning than never being able to model strappy sandals.

You know, they always call it a high risk pregnancy if the mother is over 35. And by high risk, they mean like you have a one in 600k chance of having an issue. I don’t know about you, but 1 in 600k doesn’t sound too high risk to me.

I felt that way with all of my kids — which is why, besides the first one when we were naive and stupid, we didn’t have any of the invasive pre-natal testing done. Amniocentesis is the common one as well as the CVS test.

And while I’m certainly not a fan of rolling the dice and hoping for the best while ignoring modern science and medicine, the results of the amnio on my first child provided less than assuring results and far, far too late to do anything about it should it actually have reported something concrete.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, I didn’t feel the testing really ruled anything out — or in. The whole thing seemed nearly pointless and, actually, I think it caused us even more needless concern.

Just what a pregnant woman needs, right? More to worry about.

Even still, this time, with mom being over 40 now and all the talk about it potentially being something we genetically passed on kinda makes you feel like crap, you know, what have we done? What should we have done? What could we have done?

(For the record, an amnio wouldn’t have helped us in this case…)

Primarily, they were testing for Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome, which is often abbreviated as SLOS and makes me think my baby is going to turn into Sloth from the Goonies.

Yes, everything in my life has a corresponding reference originating from an 80’s movie.

One of the other “physical traits” of the disorder — besides messed up feet or hands — is a small head. Ever seen the waiting room scene in Beetlejuice?

Holy crap. I need to sit down.

My baby is going to turn into a evil swashbuckling tiny headed sloth creature that swims like Michael Phelps and loves Rocky Road ice cream.

So, we had the testing done (just a blood test) and are still awaiting the results. I’ll update on that when the results come in.

He’s also visited a cosmetic surgeon (with all kinds of boob job pamphlets in the waiting room) to attempt to spare his future career as a flip-flop spokesman and model.

The truth of it is, I’m not that worried about the results of the test.

He doesn’t have a small head. He has no problem eating. He makes the same noises my other kids used to make. He squirms around the same way. He cries the amount. He makes eye contact and smiles.

Really, to me, he appears to be a standard baby.

And as offensive as some overly sensitive folks might think saying this sort of thing is, well, he doesn’t look “off”, if you know what I mean. There’s life behind those eyes and, for me, that’s the best indicator out there.

It might not be an exact science, but you really can read a person by their eyes even when they’re so dirt brown like mine that the pubils almost disappear…

So the boob doctor will be removing the 11th (or 9th, depending on how you count) toe on May 15. Emmet, the baby’s name, will be just over 4 months old.

We’ve opted to NOT have the connected toes split apart since that’s like a million percent cosmetic. Still covered by insurance but certainly not necessary.

And, before you ask if we could just leave the extra toe in place too, unfortunately, it’s not lined up quite right to be an extra pinky toe (other wise, I’d consider it) so finding shoes for him would be downright impossible.

For that reason, it’s gotta go.

No worries — I’ll share pictures!

At one point early last month I mentioned in passing that we’d dropped our dental insurance.

So, was it good idea? Well, let’s look at the numbers for 2010…

Had I enrolled in the dental plan offered by my primary employer, I’d have had $38.41 withdrawn from my paycheck.

I’m on a bi-weekly pay schedule so if you multiply that by 26, the total in dental expenses for the year would be $998.66.

(I think we pay more than that per month for health insurance — but that’s another story…)

The $998 value is a bit deceptive, though…

Dental insurance doesn’t cover everything — not sure if that’s the norm or if the insurance we’re offered just sucks but in years past (when I was carrying dental insurance), I’d still have to pay for things like fillings, root canals, and crowns out of pocket.

Perhaps I wasn’t paying the full percentage but, still, the grand total dental expenses definitely exceeded the insurance premiums coming directly out of my paycheck.

For the sake of simplicity, though, let’s just pretend the $998.66 premium covered everything.

Now, I didn’t carry dental insurance at all in 2010. I still went to the dentist twice per year — I’m pretty sure I even had a cavity filled. My wife still went on a regular schedule as well.

We never turned down a service — it was just like it’s always been except the bill came directly to us.

Total damagage for the year? $490.00

So using the unrealistically conservative $998.66 value, we saved over $500 by droping dental insurance.

Definitely a wise move.

Now, once Duncan and Duncan II are old enough to be going to the dentist, well, we might need to re-evaluate the numbers.

Coverage for the entire family (using 2011’s numbers) would set me back $1530.10 per year and still not cover many of the, what I’d consider, basic procedures.

I dunno — still seems like a raw deal.

With the “savings” we’ll have by skipping coverage each year, we should easily be afford to pay for braces should they need them…

Money for nothing...and the checks for free...As we stumble into another election season here in the US, the fact that the senior citizens are generally the largest voting block (and dictate who actually wins) is really starting to scare the crap out of me.

Whether it’s my parents, my friend’s parents, or even the interactions I’ve had with the dinosaurs that attend our imaginary government meetings (the meetings aren’t imaginary, the government is — it’s complicated), I can’t help but notice how differently they see things and how, well, out of touch they are with how things work these days — simply because they don’t need to stay in touch with how things work.

The first thing I think they’ve lost touch with is this whole healthcare issue that has been in the news for the past few months. Yeah, yeah, I know they’re all over the whole medicare side of things (for their own reasons) but they can’t understand why the “younger” set is by-and-large upset with the wacky costs associated with health insurance.

In my own situation, I’d consider myself pretty well off. My wife and I both have full time jobs and both offer health insurance. It sounds like a pretty cushy situation but we’re still paying around $15000 per year for insurance — and this isn’t for some special elite plan. I don’t think the average senior realizes that it’s that high of a number — it wasn’t during their working days.

Yep — using an average household income of $50,233 (2007 numbers), healthcare is costing us nearly 30% of our PRE-TAX income. You can’t deny the percentages — the average American household wasn’t blowing 30% of their pre-tax income in the 1970’s and 1980’s unless, of course, they were a really unhealthy family.

The crazy part in my own personal situation is that I haven’t been to a doctor in over a decade. Do the math… Yep, I should have an extra 6-figures in my pocket. It’s highway robbery. It really is.

Now I’m not saying that a government plan is the best option (even though I am Canadian and do, in theory, support such an idea) or even a solution, I just think that there’s a HUGE segment of the voting population that are completely unaware of what the younger folks are paying, not for services, but for just-in-case insurance. It’s not right.

The next thing is the whole concept of a 401k plan. I’ve heard two or three people over the past couple of months someone say along the lines of, “Yeah, well you don’t need pensions because people your age have 401ks…”

I don’t know about you but there are an awful lot of companies out there that don’t even offer 401k plans — I’m pretty sure that most of my friends have nothing of the sort. And even if they do, good luck finding a company that *still* offers a match — sometimes I even have to laugh that employers call it a “benefit”.

Using my own 401k as a real life example : I’ve been contributing to it pretty heavily for a dozen years to receive the largest possible employer match (from when they were *still* offering a match). You know, basically making the most of it that I possibly could.

My total balance right now is right around $79000. Fourteen thousand of that is from my employer — or a little over $1000 per year over my 12 years of contributing.

You can throw phrases like “compound interest” or “tax deferred” in there all you like, there is NO WAY that anyone can claim that $1000 per year over a 25-30 year career (if you’re lucky) is going to be enough to “retire” on.

AsparagusThe fact is — employers aren’t going to take care of their “former” workforce like they used to and calling a 401k plan a “retirement” plan similar to a pension is, well, like comparing apples to asparagus. One tastes like crap.

That’s right Mom, I still don’t like asparagus. I think, at this point, it’s safe to say that I never will.

So, from my employer’s contributions to my 401k, I might end up with a $200 check each month for a few years once I retire… And don’t forget — I’m at that unfortunate age where I won’t be getting any social security checks on top of it all either… Ouch.

And on the subject of fixed incomes and social security checks, what is up with the seniors getting all upset about not getting a “raise” in 2010

Are they as out of touch as Wall Street?

Maybe my job sucks but I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone — I haven’t gotten a raise since 2003. It might even be as far back as 2001 but plain and simple, right now, I’m certainly not expecting a token raise anytime soon, you know, just because…

Really, everyone’s cost-of-living has gone up (I personally haven’t noticed) but those still lucky enough to be part of the workforce aren’t seeing the “adjustments” that the seniors have come to expect. It’s messed up — the seniors need to get in touch with reality on this one.

Again, like the 401k/pension thing, that isn’t how things work anymore — people don’t get token raises just because…

But in the end, it’s really funny to me as I can’t deny that I’ve jumped the bandwagon before and said stuff like, “Yeah, the bratty Gen Y’s out there just expect everything to be handed to them…” but now I’m seeing first hand that AARP members are just as expectant of handouts.

Weird how perspectives change… or fail to change… Seems that every generation can fall into that often mocked me-me-me category indicating that one thing is for certain — we’re not all in this together.

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Keeping a keen eye on the baby while still at the hospital...This post is about how much it costs to have a baby.

Put simply, I like real world examples…

For any programmers out there, the classic “Hello World!” example on page one of every compter geek book is the most useless example of anything ever created.

Now, I know I’ve read a similar posts to this on other sites but I’ve never actually seen real numbers.

Just meaningless guesses really…

Like, this may be a huge tangent but remember that time that I had that plumbing problem where my whole house smelled like Starbucks coffee?

Well, I researched the crap out of that on the internet trying to get a ballpark figure of how much it might cost to get fixed…

I found a lot of advice, yeah, but every single place I found tip-toed around an actual number…

“Anywhere between $300 and $1500” just doesn’t cut it — way too wide of a window.

I couldn’t find anyone that actually flat out said what they were charged for the same, apparently very common, type of project. No one.

Trying to fill the void, somewhat, I posted exactly what it cost me.

Sure, for some, it could be higher or lower, but that’s exactly what it cost me. A starting point for anyone in that situation…

So here’s a real world example of how much it costs to have a baby — not to take care of a baby, but just to “have” one:

Costs of having a baby

I’m sure some out there will find this very informing. I know I would have…

Sadly this is just the “explanation of benefits” from the insurance company but once the more detailed hospital bill arrives, well, I’ll post that too.

Seriously, had I known that “Nursery R&B” were costing us nearly $1k per night, I probably would have insisted that we be able to take him home the first day…

What a rip off — the room wasn’t anywhere near nice enough to cost that much. ;0)

Can You Dig It?


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