Monday, February 18, 2008

Take Time Out For the Important Things

A few days ago, an email group I participate in had a discussion about taking time for the important things. I sent a reply to the group to add some things which hit me reading their messages. Now that I think it over, it wouldn't make a bad blog posting, either. So here it is:

Two years ago this past December my fire fighter brother-in-law died on his way to a fire call. His death is somewhat of a mystery because he wasn't killed when the truck he was driving crashed, but rather, he died and then the truck went out of control and crashed.

His death was totally unexpected. We all know fire fighters assume a bit of risk each time they respond to a call. But to "just die" like this was way out there.

He and my wife's sister just had a baby (6 months old when this all happened) and planned to build a house together on the property they just bought. My wife's sister is rather a strong woman so she completed many of their plans in the past couple years since his passing. Still, we all miss him terribly.

The hard part was, he didn't have a will drawn up. You'd think an Army vet and a fire fighter would automatically think to have one done up. But, I guess being just a shade above 30 he still thought he had time. Because of the lack of will, his wife had to hire 2 attorneys to run his estate through probate: 1 for her and 1 for his daughter from his first marriage. In the end, everything worked out OK, but had he done up a will it would have gone much smoother and faster. Dragging through court with the potential of dealing with a greedy ex-spouse is not a good way to mourn someone's passing.

Lesson #1: Get a will done up. Even if you don't have anything it'll be better for those left behind.

This past Thursday my sister and her husband lost their 9-year-old son. The boy woke up that morning around 4:30 complaining his head and neck hurt. Sis stayed with him a bit and got him to go back to sleep. He woke up a couple more times, and she gave him a little Tylenol. When my brother-in-law got up for work, the boy was still feeling poorly. Sis took his temperature twice, and it was around 93 degrees.

So, Sis got her other son ready and off to school with one of the neighbors and she called in sick to work so she could take the boy to the doctor. The flu is going around pretty hard here, so she logically thought he had the flu. She went back in the living room and found him not breathing and foaming at the mouth.

She called 9-1-1 and started CPR. The paramedics arrived, took over care and transported him to the hospital. The doctors took over from there and tried to restart his heart, but they were unsuccessful and he passed. The preliminary results from the autopsy indicated he died from a hemorrhage in the brain, likely caused by an aneurysm.

You can imagine what nervous wrecks we've been for the past week. Planning a funeral for your child is something we just shouldn't have to do. It was especially hard because there was no life insurance for the boy. My brother-in-law left the Army just last year and is working as an apprentice electrician. Of course, this was completely unexpected for them. They have health insurance, but not life insurance. Thankfully, our family was able to kick in and get the arrangements paid up for them.

Lesson #2: Plan for the worst and be glad if it doesn't happen. Get life insurance on your kids. Find a plan that can be cashed in when they're ready for college and you'll have a great investment.

The boy's dad doesn't need to regret not spending time with him. He is totally devoted to both his sons and it would be harder to find a better dad. He's a big kid himself most of the time and his kids love being with him.

For the longest, I didn't have the luxury of time. During my first marriage I worked like a dog trying to keep us afloat financially. I worked all day and did freelance work in the evenings. I missed out on watching goofy cartoons with my boys, playing video games with them, going on vacations together.

Now that I'm not with them all the time, I try to make the time we spend together, well, together. I purposely leave my days with them open. I play Xbox games with them even though they usually destroy me (there are too many buttons on those controllers). We play board games, card games and watch crazy shows together. I also save up money so we can take trips together. My wife helps a lot, too, because she is good at stashing money away for things we want to do.

Lesson #3: My lesson learned from my brother-in-law's passing is to take time for people. People are more important than things. This was reinforced 100-fold with my nephew's untimely death. People are important and among them kids are the most important.

Two Perspectives on Human-Implanted RFID

I ran into two articles on Business Week's web site. They are two in a series of articles which discuss implantable RFID chips in humans. The first was written by Scott Silverman, CEO of VeriChip, maker of the only FDA-approved RFID implant for humans.

As one might expect, Silverman attempts to ease concerns over using RFID by describing certain "misconceptions" about the implants and explaining how those "myths" are unsubstantiated. He does a very good job, but as one who stands to benefit greatly from additional use of those chips, I think we should be leery of his attempt to explain away those misconceptions so casually.

Medical information is private: Yes, I agree with his stance pointing out that the implant alone cannot be used to access anyone's private health records because it only provides a coded number pointing to the person's records. Health records are only as safe as the security surrounding them and chip or no chip the safety of those records are the same.

I also agree with Mr. Silverman in that I don't believe implanted RFID implants are hazardous to health. The implants have been used for many years in animals and there is scarce evidence they cause any health problems.

I disagree with Silverman's claim the chips can't be used to track someone. He is correct in explaining the chips in the implant have no GPS and do not continuously transmit their data like a beacon. Although it is true the implants only transmit their data when activated by a special reader, he fails to mention the fact that someone with just a little bit of technical prowess can make a device to activate the chip and get the data from it.

Although tracking an individual's movements might be impractical, reading the unique ID number could be used in a crime against the person with the implant. Currently, the unique ID number in the implant's chip only links to a health record stored in VeriChip's database. But, what happens in future if that implant's technology is linked to bank accounts or other databases. Like credit and debit cards with RFID chips in them, we have a scenario where those chips can be exploited to the detriment of those who have them.

The second article, titled "Human ID Chips Get Under My Skin" by David Holzman, outlines some of objections to this technology, many of which I have already commented on elsewhere in this blog. I won't go into details, but suggest reading the article. It's short and to the point. I found his comments to be a thoughtful counterpoint to Mr. Silverman's utopian ideals of how these implants can be used.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Congress and Baseball Hearings

With so many things going on, isn't there something more important our representatives in congress can do other than nit-pick about baseball players using performance-enhancing drugs? Certainly there must be something out there our representatives can deal with that will do the public much more good.

Is there some kind of constitutional precedent which makes these hearings necessary? I can't remember a clause in that historic document outlining the Federal Government's power to regulate professional sports leagues.

Oh, wait - this is another instance of Congress doing something other than wasting money, intruding into my life and raising my taxes ...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Tax Rebate Humbug

If the federal government can afford to give me a tax rebate, then it can afford not to take so much of my money in the first place.