A Solution to the High Cost of US Health Insurance

A Solution to the High Cost of US Health Insurance

I’m an employer and have been providing health insurance for my employees since I started my company in 1996. The cost of providing that insurance has increased by 8% to 15% every year except one. That year I asked my insurance agent why the rate didn’t increase and he said, “I don’t know and I’m not going to ask.” Needless to say, health insurance rates in the US have increased at a rate far greater than inflation. As an employer, I have dealt with it by switching carriers, increasing deductibles and just accepting that the cost of running my business would increase.

The Problem

I haven’t covered my wife and children through my company health plan in many years because it’s just ridiculously expensive. They are all quite healthy so I have had them on high deductible ($6500 per year each) health insurance plans. Earlier this year Humana (the company from which I purchased coverage for my kids) notified me that they were not going to renew our plan and that I should go to the Healthcare Marketplace to find a new one. As it turned out, they were exiting the market entirely (at least where we live) so buying from them would no longer be an option. I went to the Affordable Care Act Healthcare Marketplace website to find that to get a plan with a $6500 per year deductible, I had but one choice: an HMO plan from Blue Cross/Blue Shield at rate 40% higher than what we had been paying. This was bad all the way around. It’s an HMO so my kids would not be able to continue to see their existing doctor. Only one company offering plans means there’s no competition to drive efficiency. And of course a 40% increase for a plan that is arguably worse, is just insult to injury. My wife’s insurance situation wasn’t considerably better.

I started adding things up. If I accepted the Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for my kids, when  factoring in the cost of my wife’s insurance and mine, we would be paying $1410 per month for our health insurance. What am I getting for that? Well, let’s look at my out of pocket maximums. At $6500 for each of my children and my wife plus $4000 for me, that’s $23,500 per year in potential exposure. In other words, if we all had something terrible happen that caused us each to hit our out of pocket maximums (very unlikely I will admit but it’s the risk nonetheless), we would end up paying out $23,500 in any given year in addition to $16,920 per year in premiums. The purpose of insurance is to avoid situations like this. When your risk is that high, what you have is only insurance by the strictest definition of the word. I figured there had to be another solution.

I’ve heard Senator Bernie Sanders (and others) talk about Medicare for All or Universal Healthcare. That’s not ideal because it allows the government to essentially dictate pricing and that’s not the free market that I think drives efficiency. However, even if I was a fan, Congress is so hopelessly divided that the odds of such a bill passing are nearly zero. I continued looking for solutions and I was quite surprised to have found one. However, before we get to that, why are health insurance costs getting out of control? The reason is that insurance companies are for-profit enterprises and thus the bigger spread between what they charge and what they pay out in claims, the more money they make. This puts their interests in direct conflict with yours and mine. Don’t get me wrong. I run a for-profit company. I’m all for free enterprise. However, medical care is a bit different. When your health is at stake, you’re not in a position to bargain. It’s like being mugged in a dark alley. The thief is pointing a gun at your head and telling you to hand over all your money. Are you really going to ask, “How about just $20?”

The Solution

As it turns out, affordable health coverage is actually available through something called a Health Share Plan. Health Share Plans are run by non-profit organizations called healthcare sharing ministries. They charge  the equivalent of a monthly premium and they have a yearly deductible though they don’t use these terms because technically, they are not insurance. They provide much of the same function as traditional for-profit insurance companies but by the letter of the law, they are not providing insurance. The one I chose comes from an organization called Liberty Health Share. The idea is that you pay into a pool and from that pool, eligible medical expenses incurred by members are paid. Your monthly payment is called your Monthly Shared Amount. It’s the amount you are essentially sharing with other members who need it. You are also responsible for paying a certain amount of your own medical expenses. This equivalent of an annual deductible is called your Annual Unshared Amount. It’s the amount you pay that isn’t shared by other members.

Coverage through Liberty Health Share pays for each members annual physical/well-check as well as preventative measures such as vaccinations. You are responsible for paying your Annual Unshared Amount and after that (depending on the plan you choose), Liberty pays for the rest. I cover my family on the most expensive plan Liberty offers (that also provides the greatest benefit) which provides up to $1 million per incident in coverage. An incident is everything connected with a particular healthcare event. For example, you fall inside your home, breaking your leg. There’s no one home so you call for an ambulance that then takes you to the hospital. You require an operation so you’re in the hospital for a few days. Over the next month or two you have a few follow up appointments before your cast comes off and you’re right as rain again. All of that would be considered a single incident. A million in coverage will take care of just about anything you can imagine including a heart transplant.

Over the past two decades, I’ve found information on coverage from commercial insurance companies to be confusing at best. Liberty on the other hand, provides a simple and clear document called their Sharing Guidelines that explains exactly what is covered and what is not. It explains what requires pre-approval and what does not. The reason for pre-approval is mostly to give Liberty the opportunity to make sure that the procedure really is necessary. You’d be amazed at how many doctors admit they conduct unnecessary tests and procedures to cover themselves for liability reasons. The entire document is 30 pages. You can read it in a half an hour or less.

Commercial insurance plans are typically either an HMO or a PPO. In the case of an HMO, the healthcare company has doctors as employees and you are limited to choose amongst those. A PPO is similar except the doctors are not employees connected with the insurance company but must be part of the insurance companies’ network. If you have doctor you like and trust, you will only be able to realistically see them if they are a member of your insurance companies’ network. Not so with Liberty as they have no network. You can see any doctor you like. You can go to any health care facility you like. You can even go overseas for health care as long as the cost is not greater than it would be here in the US and the invoice is provided in English. You’re also automatically covered by them no matter where you go in the world. That is not typically the case with commercial medical insurance policies.

Liberty provides you with a card that is quite similar to the ones provided with commercial insurance plans and you use it the same way. We have only been to the doctor a few times since signing up with Liberty but each doctor knew who Liberty was and was quite happy to bill them directly. Liberty will then negotiate with the provider to reduce the bill as much as possible, typically 35% to 65% according to Liberty. I’ve been told that health care providers in general like working with Liberty because they know how much they will be paid up front and are typically paid within 30 days, a time frame unheard of with commercial insurance carriers. What if your doctor won’t bill Liberty? In that case you pay cash and submit the bill to Liberty through their web portal for reimbursement. I’m told that having to do this is the rare exception.

If Liberty concludes that a medical expense you have incurred doesn’t meet their guidelines, they will tell you so but they make a point to also tell you that you should call them to discuss it. They claim that most situations can be cleared up with a phone call. If the phone call isn’t enough they have two other levels you can go through in an attempt to work things out with them and they openly encourage this. In researching Liberty I did find a handful of people complaining (via the Better Business Bureau) about bills that were not paid. However, in every case the member either clearly did not understand how Liberty works or Liberty had already responded to the complaint, explained what the issue was and was reaching out to the member to resolve it.

Cost

Liberty’s pricing is very straight-forward and simple. They have pricing for individuals, couples and families. As a reminder, I would have been paying $1410 per month for a $6500 deductible plan for my wife and children and a $4000 deductible plan for myself through my work. That’s $23,500 per year in risk exposure. My risk exposure with Liberty is only my Annual Unshared Amount which for my entire family is $1500. That’s it. There’s some additional risk as well which I’ll get to in a bit. Instead of $1410 per month, the cost to cover my entire family for Liberty’s most expensive plan is $449. That’s a savings of $961 per month or $11,532 per year for a plan that reduces my risk exposure by $22,000 per year. When I say I found this to be as unbelievable as you may find it now, I’m not kidding. I don’t think I completely believed it myself until a friend of mine who has spent his entire life in the insurance business reviewed their sharing guidelines then called them and asked a lot of questions then became convinced himself to switch.

Their pricing is very affordable. For example, for a single person under 30 on their most expensive plan (Liberty Complete), the monthly cost is only $149 and the Annual Unshared Amount is only $500. For someone working full-time for minimum wage, nothing is really affordable but $149 per month can be managed and they have other plans for as little as $107 per month. For a couple under 30, the price is only $249 and for a family, $399 no matter how many children you have. If there’s only one parent on the plan, they give you a $50 per month single parent discount. When you reach 30, prices got up $50 across the board. At 65, they go up again $25 for a single person and $50 for couples and families. Like I said, their pricing is very reasonable.

You’re probably wondering how soon it will be before they raise prices. I wondered that as well. It turns out that they have never raised prices though according to the Liberty rep I spoke to, they did lower them once. When you’ve stopped laughing, read on. I asked them what would have to happen for them to raise prices? The rep said that they have a certain percentage of buffer they require between what they take in and what they pay out. If they ever have less than that percentage, the Board of Directors meets to decide if rates need to be raised temporarily or permanently. So far, they have only lowered rates, not raised them.

Liberty has 140,000 members across the country. Their membership has doubled over the last two years. It looks like they pay out about $12 million a month in claims. Based upon their rates, I don’t see them needing to raise their rates anytime soon. Members receive a monthly newsletter that spells this all out.

Never Heard of Them?

You’re probably wondering why you have never heard of them. I had never heard of Liberty or health share plans prior to about 6 months ago. That’s because they are a nonprofit organization that spends very little on marketing instead choosing to rely upon word-of-mouth so they can presumably keep rates as low as possible. However, Liberty has been providing this service since 1990 and formally as Liberty Health Share since 2012. There are several health share plan organizations that have been in business as long as Liberty. I chose Liberty because of all of them, they are the most transparent in my humble opinion.

What about the Affordable Care Act?

Health Share Plans are specifically exempt from the Affordable Care Act. That means if you are covered by one, you are considered to be insured in the eyes of the IRS. You just have to include a special, one page IRS form with your tax return to avoid the penalty.

Nothing’s Perfect

Like me I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s the catch? Well, nothing is perfect and Liberty is no exception. First, their prescription drug plan is not great. You can probably get as good or better a deal on prescription drugs at Costco or your local grocery store pharmacy. I’ve done some research and found that a lot of prescription drugs have generics that are quite reasonably priced. What about something expensive? For example, if you were diagnosed with Hepatitis C, the drugs would set you back something like $4000. That’s a lot to be sure. However, you have to look at how much you are saving per year with Liberty. In my case, I save almost 3 times that every year in premiums alone. It’s just important to understand that there is no maximum out-of-pocket limit for prescription drugs. So if you’re HIV-positive for example, it’s not going to work for you.

Liberty, like all the other health share plan providers, started inside a church. They are Christian organizations that believe people should help each other in their time of need. I can’t speak for the other providers, but despite Liberty’s Christian origins, they will sell coverage to anyone regardless of faith, age, gender, race, marital status or sexual orientation. Having said that they do not recognize same sex couples as married and thus require them to buy individual plans rather than a couple’s plan. That means they will be collectively spending $50 per month more but on the other hand, they will have each have an Annual Unshared Amount of only $500 compared to $1000 for a couple. I personally would prefer them to be secular as what they provide is not religious in any way but regardless, they started as a Christian organization. That they will provide coverage to anyone regardless of faith works for me. They don’t require you to go to church for example nor evangelize at all really but they do expect you to be the kind of person that generally takes care of yourself. They do not cover the cost of an abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk. I’m guessing that if your commercial insurance covers the cost of an abortion, it’s simply because that’s less than what it would cost them to pay for a delivery. Read through their sharing guidelines. I find them to be quite reasonable.

If you aren’t taking decent care of yourself physically, they will assign you a health coach who will meet with you by phone once a month to help you get back on track.  For example, if you’re overweight (according to their very reasonable guidelines), you’ll need to lose weight. They charge $80 per month for the health coach. Once you reach your agreed upon goal, the $80 per month charge ends. You can drink but you can’t abuse alcohol. If you need a liver transplant because you have abused alcohol your entire life, I would not count on them to cover that. You cannot smoke. If you’re a smoker, you must agree to quit smoking within 3 months. It goes without saying that you can’t abuse drugs either.

When you sign up, nothing but accidents, acute illness or injury are covered for the first 60 days. After that, pre-existing conditions are not covered for the first 12 months. They are covered up to $50,000 for the next 12 months and after that they are not considered pre-existing anymore.

All of this is my understanding of how Liberty works. Before signing up you should throughly research their offerings yourself.

A Better Solution

Health Share plans are not perfect but for the overwhelming majority of people, they provide a far more affordable alternative than just about any commercial health insurance. If they were scaled up even larger, for example if they have several million members, the economies of scale would likely provide even greater value. In my humble opinion, Health Share plans are a better solution than the commercial insurance provided through the Healthcare Marketplace or even through most employer-based programs, at least for dependent coverage. The US Government could still provide income-based assistance to help offset the monthly cost for the poorest among us for a fraction of what the cost of the Affordable Care Act today. For those for whom a Health Share Plan would not make financial sense (such as those who are HIV-positive), early eligibility for Medicare should be provided. However, if 10’s of millions of Americans were covered by nonprofit Health Share Plans, it’s certainly possible that even those with expensive, chronic conditions could be covered.

I’m currently exploring ways to scale up Health Share Plans so that more Americans can be covered by them and they can be even more efficient. However, you don’t have to wait for that to happen in order to save money. You can do your own research and choose to sign up with one like Liberty today.

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Uber is leaving Austin and your city might be next

Uber is leaving Austin and your city might be next

So it appears there’s a huge dearth of critical thinking in Austin, Texas. There was a vote today on proposition 1 which was attempting to repeal the Austin City Council’s requirement that ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft do extensive background checks on their drivers.

On the surface this might seem ok. After all, if Uber does more background checks, Uber passengers will be safer, right? Wrong. Uber drivers collectively conduct 1 million trips every day around the world. If Uber had 100 assaults each day it would be an epidemic that would put them out of business and yet your odds of being attached would then be 1 in 10,000. You are almost certainly far more likely to die in a car accident while riding in an Uber car than to be attacked by an Uber driver. For example, your odds of dying in a car accident are about 1 in 100. It should be needless to say that using Uber is very safe. Nothing is completely safe of course. People die in their sleep every year by being strangled to death by their sheets but that doesn’t keep us awake at night.

Let’s say you are a violent person out there looking for the best way to find your next victim. You could choose to simply find people who are home alone, break-in and assault them. If you’re smart, you’ll wear a mask and gloves so you leave little or no evidence behind. Instead, you decide to use Uber to find your next victim. Never mind the fact that everything about your transaction (your name, address, photos of your driver’s license and insurance as well as detailed photos of your car, the passengers name and address, as well as when you accepted the trip, when and where it started, the destination, the time it began and more) will all be tucked securely away on a server of which you have no access. The evidence supporting the victim’s claim that they were assaulted by you will be overwhelming. You’d have to be the stupidest person in the world to think that attacking your passenger is a good idea.

So the city council first wasted tax payer dollars coming up with this ridiculous idea in the first place then Uber has had to waste their time and money trying to fight it. Finally, the ignorant voters, only a tiny percentage of which bothered to vote, came out against the proposition. Worst of all is that the people already have a choice. If you think Uber is dangerous don’t use it.

Now Uber and Lyft will abandon the Austin market all because some ignorant city council members couldn’t be bothered to do a little critical thinking before wasting taxpayer dollars to stifle a valuable service. For those that think Uber is bluffing, they have already announced they are pulling out of Austin effective Monday morning and they have done this before in other cities. If it’s happening in a high-tech city like Austin, Texas with an very educated population, it can happen where you live as well.

Folks, we need more critical thinking. We all need to use common sense, do a little more research and spend a little more time considering our decisions before just reacting to every little headline that comes along. We should all know by now that the media is NOT aligned with our best interests. Their job is to create juicy headlines so you’ll see the ads that make them money. The next time you are outraged by a headline on Facebook or Twitter, spend an extra minute or so to determine if it makes any sense before clicking that Share button. You’ll be the better for it and you’ll be providing a valuable service by not spreading the news equivalent of cow manure.

In this world of instant 24/7 news and social media that can spread a story at nearly the speed of light, it takes an extra level of vigilance and critical thinking to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Update (5/11/16): In 2015 The Austin Police Department received 7 reports of alleged sexual assaults committed by Uber/Lyft drivers. What percentage of all fares does this represent? I’ve read there are about 5000 Uber/Lfyt drivers. Let’s assume the average driver handles only 2 fares a day to account for the many drivers that only occasionally drive. That’s 3.65 million fares a year. Divide the 7 assaults by 3.65 million and you get just under two millionths of one percent. That’s a microscopic number. This does not seem like a problem worth solving with tax payer dollars. Note that almost all if not all of those reports were made by young, drunk women. While these women certainly deserve to be able to get home without being assaulted, this problem is actually too small to be worth addressing with tax payer dollars. I don’t wish to be insensitive but we wouldn’t be willing to spend $7 million dollars to stop 7 alleged assaults, right? That means there must be a cost-benefit analysis there’s just no way the cost-benefit analysis works here. Uber knows this. They know that in a few months the Uber users will pitch a fit, the City Council will make the background checks optional and Uber will return.

Geeking out on the Nest Protect

Geeking out on the Nest Protect

I really love smart home stuff. When we built our house two years ago here in Austin, Texas I had the builder install a Nest Thermostat. The best thing about it is the motion sensor which can tell when the house is empty and set the AC to come on at a higher temperature which saves money. This past weekend I installed 8 Nest Protect smoke/carbon monoxide alarms, replacing the dumb First Alert alarms that came with the house.

Had I known I was going to write this blog post, I would have taken more pictures during the setup and installation process but I have described it very well below.

Benefits

There are many great reasons to buy the Nest Protect. The most important of all reasons is that if you are away from home when a fire starts, your phone will alert you of this fact which could mean the difference between a small fire and your house burning to the ground. It’s unfortunate that insurance companies haven’t yet caught up to this new technology and offer a discount for homeowners that install them. Apparently the Protect can also tell the difference between burnt toast and a real fire though I haven’t had a real world test of that yet. When we occasionally do burn things on the stove, our old smoke alarms would go off filling the house with that ear-shattering sound that can only be silenced by furiously waving a magazine at the smoke alarm until it no longer senses smoke. With the Protect, you just take your phone out of your pocket and tap a button to silence it. I’m actually looking forward to our first toast burn.

The Nest Protect has other helpful features as well. It checks itself many times a day and the app will tell you the results. If the backup battery needs to be replaced, the app will tell you rather than waiting for the battery to die and waking you up at 2AM wondering why your house is making a loud chirping sound. Each Protect has a light on it which can be set to come on when you walk underneath them. This makes for a handy night light especially in living rooms and kitchens. Don’t try to test this feature with the lights on. I almost called Nest to complain it wasn’t working when I realized that the Protect must have a light sensor so that the pathway feature doesn’t come on unnecessarily. If you have a Nest thermostat, when the Protect detects smoke, it will tell the Nest Thermostat to shut off your AC so that it doesn’t blow smoke and potentially hot embers through your house.

One a month, the Nest Protect will automatically test the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. You can’t tell it what day to do this but you can tell it a range of hours. It defaults to between 11AM and 4PM.

The Nest Protect’s motion sensor can work with your Nest Thermostat as well such that if it doesn’t detect anyone walking under or near any one of them for an hour, it can set your Thermostat to “away” saving you money on your AC. Nest has recently added a geo-fencing feature to their app as well so it can tell when any of your phones (and thus you) are home or not and immediately switch the AC to away when no one is home. At this point, my AC really has no excuse to be on when we are away from home.

If there’s a downside to the Nest Protect, it’s the price. The alarms I was replacing cost between $15 and $30 new on Amazon. The Nest Protect is $99: each. When you need 8 of them, that’s a lot of dough. What I have told myself is that if it saved our lives or just kept a small fire from becoming a huge one, it would be worth it. There’s value in the secure feeling you get from knowing you are doing your best to protect your family.

Buying

Before you buy them, determine if your smoke alarms are wired into your house or run on a battery. This is different from them having a backup battery. They will have one of those but they may also be wired into your house, receiving their power from the house itself. This is important to know up front because Nest sells two different models, one that runs on a battery and one that is wired meaning that it uses the wires in your house for power.

I wanted to buy them locally so that in case there was a problem, I could just return them. This turned out to be more difficult than I had ever thought. I needed 8 alarms and most places I called only had a couple of them in stock. I ended up buy 3 of them at my local Best Buy (which had plenty of battery models but only 3 wired ones) and then driving 25 miles to a Home Depot in Dripping Springs to get the other 5 I needed.

If you’re not in a hurry, it might be worth just ordering them from Amazon. They sell both the wired and battery-powered versions.

Installing

I’m no electrician though I have installed some timer switches and 3 ceiling fans in our house. Having said that, I’m confident that anyone could install a Nest Protect alarm. It’s easy. Take them out of their boxes then install the Nest app on your phone and it will walk you through the setup process. It’s easier to set up them all up at once so if you’re planning to replace a bunch of them, do yourself a favor and do it all in one go. Nest provides an installation video on their site. I highly recommend watching this before you even purchase the Nest Protect. If the installation looks like something you don’t want to do, you can hire someone to do it for you. Nest can even refer you to a local installer.

The app has you identify each unit via a QR code on the back which you scan with your phone’s camera. It asks you to identify your WIFI network and enter the password. You only have to do this last part once. After that, the setup process copies this information from a Protect you have already set up to the next one. That was pretty smart. As you go along, you choose a location name from a pre-defined list for each Protect. You then write that location name on the back of the unit to help you install the right one in the right place. By choosing a location name, the Nest Protects can alert you by voice of any problems with a particular Protect unit. In my case, I had two in the living room and two in kid’s rooms. Fortunately, you can add a custom label. For example, for the kid’s rooms I added their names as the custom labels.

Once they are all set up, it’s time to actually install them. If you have wired smoke alarms like I do, you’ll need to go to your fuse box and find the switch for your smoke alarms. Hopefully your house was built with a dedicated circuit for the smoke alarms. Mine was but not all are. Turn off that switch so you don’t electrocute yourself. For extra safety you can buy a circuit tester for a few dollars at your local hardware store. It’s got two prongs (black and red) which you just touch simultaneously to the back and red exposes wires. If the light on the tester comes on, you’ve got a hot wire so you didn’t flip the right fuse switch.

The first thing you need to do is remove the old smoke alarm. Most twist off. Then you’ll need to unplug them from the wires in the ceiling (if they are wired like mine). This is harder than it sounds. It requires a bit of force and you’re doing this while perched precariously on a ladder so be careful. Next you need to remove the mounting plate for your old alarm. There’s usually two screws holding it in. Here’s where I’m going to save you a lot of time unless you’re smarter than me. It took installing 4 of them before I realized that I didn’t need to completely remove these screws! Just loosen them a bit and you should be able to rotate the mounting plate enough to remove it. Nest provides their own so you can just slip the new one on and tighten the two screws. The Nest-provided mounting plate is smooth on one side and has ridges on the other. The plate needs to be installed with the ridged side facing the ceiling or wall.

The Protect comes with its own connector which needs to be wired into your existing wiring. Your old one has to be removed first but this is easy because there are just little wire connector caps that you unscrew to disconnect the old connector from your wiring. The new Protect connector connects the same way. Then you plug the new connector into your Protect, push your Protect up against the new mounting bracket you have installed and turn the Protect clockwise until its locked into the mounting bracket. The first one will take you 15 minutes. The rest will take 5 minutes each.

Testing 1, 2, 3…

The final step is to test them. You can do this by pressing the big button in the middle of the Protect. The Protect will then speak, telling you to press the button a second time to test. At this point the Protect will give you 10 seconds to move away as the test is understandably loud but also short in duration. It will test all of your Protects at once so there’s no need to repeat this for each one. That’s it. You’re done.

A Problem with an Inconvenient Solution

Because the location list Nest provides is pre-defined, you can end up with multiple Protects that have the same name. I have two in the living room and I have two kid’s rooms for example. As I mentioned, they provide a custom label so you can distinguish between two with the same pre-defined location name. The problem is, you don’t define these custom labels while setting up your Protect. I don’t remember that being an option. The result is that I got them all installed only to then discover that I couldn’t tell which Protect was the one on the left side of the living room versus the right. I couldn’t tell which Nest was in my son’s room versus my daughters. The Nest app simply listed the Protects by their pre-defined location names.

After searching in vane for a button in the app I could press that would test a specified alarm or just turn the light on for a moment, anything to identify a specific Protect, I called Nest to find out what the solution was. The only solution offered turned out to be wrong. They suggested I press the button on one of the living room and kid’s room alarms then look at the alarm history in the app to see if that one shows that it was tested. That seemed easy enough but they said I’d have to wait a day before the app would show that it had been tested. Unfortunately, there was nothing in this suggestion that turned out to be true. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, when you test one alarm, you test them all. Also, the test history in the Nest app updates immediately. So this was a useless suggestion. The only real way to determine which Protect is which is to compare the serial number on the back of the unit to the one listed for that Protect in the Nest app. The setup process really should have addressed this because it would have been easy to do before I got out the ladder and installed them all.

Attention Nesters!

To the fine folks at Nest who I’m hoping will read this post, you really need to have a room at your company offices that you use to educate your engineers and support staff. Every one of them should, at least once a year, be required to go into this room, remove 4 typical alarms (installed on the ceiling, not sitting on a desk) and then install Protects and go through the entire setup process. That will greatly help them understand the situations the customers face.  You should also sell at cost each of your employees as many Nest products as they need for their home. Every Nest employee should be intimately familiar with the installation and use of your products. I run a software development tools company, Xojo, Inc., and we use our software to write our software. We hire customers as engineers. This results in our staff knowing quite well what our customers go through and ultimately creates a better user experience.

An Excellent Home Upgrade

I’ve only had the Protects installed for two days but I already think they are an excellent home upgrade. I’m installing a Rachio smart sprinkler controller soon as well. It’s my understanding that it can be set up to work with Nest so that if there’s a fire, my sprinklers will automatically come on. That’s pretty cool. I’m also anxiously awaiting the release of the Yale Linus smart lock which is supposed to work with the Nest app as well. I’ll be installing those as soon as they are available.

The Internet is a wonderful thing

In approximately 1987, I saw a band called Beatnik Beatch at a club in Laguna Beach, California. I thought they were awesome and after they finished, I told them they should have a record contract. It turned out they did and I went and picked up their album at Tower Records.

Sometime later, my friend Jim and I were up in Los Angeles. While we were shopping, someone broke into my car in broad daylight and stole the CDs I had in my car (since they were in a nice carrying case). Jim’s CDs, which were scattered all over the floor, were untouched. Unfortunately, the Beatnik Beatch CD was among those that were taken. I wasn’t able to find it again.

I recently decided to search for it and discovered that I could once again buy it! It arrived today and I’m listening to it now. I’m so happy. You may not appreciate the music but I’m happy to have something back that has been lost to me for 20 or so years.

Working remotely

At work we have been going through the process of making it possible to work from anywhere. For example, we have a phone system now that allows me to answer my direct line via the internet from anywhere in the world. In fact, I can actually answer my phone (and make calls) via a software version of my phone right on my laptop. Pretty slick.

So, for the next couple of days we (me, Jeannie and the kids) are in Killeen, Texas at Jeannie’s parents house for a visit. Normally, I would have to take time off to do this but instead, I can now work from here because I’ve got everything I need to do so. I can answer my office phone, I can do my work on my laptop and I can hold meetings via video conference. Jeannie and I have been talking about spending next summer in California. There’s really no reason I can’t work from there.

And apparently, Girls Gone Wild is visiting Killeen this week.

I’m an iPhone user now

After being a Palm/Treo user for years, I switched to the iPhone recently and I love it. In fact, I writing this post on it now.

You probably know I’m a big Mac fan so why did I wait a year to switch? Well, I use my phone for a lot of things and the original iPhone couldn’t do everything I needed it to do. But it does now so I’m as happy as pigs in…