Thursday, August 28, 2008


It seems such things happen when you least expect it. Fortunately, I was ready with basic first aid. My dog, a small terrier mix, got bit by a snake last week. I was cutting tree saplings/suckers out of an english ivy bed and the dog was in the ivy, also. He let out a yelp, jumped straight up about two feet, and then ran, eventually circling back to me. I could not find any wound on his legs or body, but 20 minutes later his snout and neck were swollen. He was in a lot of pain and lethargic. I could see a puncture wound in his muzzle and reddish/brown liquid oozing out.

I figure worse case it was a copperhead and best case just a bull snake. I have never seen a rattlesnake on this property. Since I could not identify the type of snake, it escaped in the ivy, I assumed the vet would not be able to give an anti-venom. I checked the internet for dog snake bites and found that vets do not typically give anti-venom for copperheads, anyway (because the mortality rate is low).

I gave him 25 mg of Benadryl with peanut butter ( 1 mg per lb body weight). That helped immediately, swelling did go down and his head perked up. He curled up next to me and we took a nap. He was significantly better a couple of hours later.

The next day the puncture wounds on his muzzle were much more visible and I noticed that he had a bruised sore spot inside of his upper lip. I took him to the vet and received a weeks worth of tablets of prednisolone, clindamycin (antibiotic) and neomycin ointment (topical treatment for the puncture wounds). The vet thought it was most likely a copperhead and a defensive strike (less venom) - since it didn't kill him! He also said he never gives anti-venom because it can cause reactions that are more harmful than good. The best treatment is Benadryl followed by antibiotics - good stuff to know.

In my internet research I came upon an informative list of things to do and not to do when a pet is snake bitten:

Remain calm. Do everything possible to keep your pet calm and quiet. Excitement and activity cause the venom to be circulated more rapidly through the victims system. Obviously, the calmer and quieter you are the calmer and quieter the victim also will be.

Call a veterinarian. Tell the vet what medications you have on hand: antibiotics, prednisone, Benadryl, etc.

Administer Benadryl. The proper dosage is 1mg/pound.

Clean the wound with an antibacterial solution. Be gentle, the bite site will be extremely painful.

Administer a broad-spectrum antibiotic. For a 20 lb dog, administer approximately 250mg of amoxicillin.

Loosen or remove the victim's collar. If the bite is the head or neck area, the extreme swelling (which occurs quickly) could cause strangulation from the collar.

Encourage the victim to take fluids.

Keep the victim warm if he/she appears to be in shock.

The "don'ts" listed below represent the most recent advice and thinking.

Don't apply ice. The most recent thinking on the use of ice for snakebites is that while ice will aid in controlling swelling, it also slows circulation of the body's chemical defenses to the affected area. Additionally, applied incorrectly, ice can further damage the already traumatized tissue.

Don't cut a "X" across the puncture wound and attempt to suck out the venom. The cut further damages the injured tissue. Additionally, while venom is not harmful if digested, its absorption via the membranes in the mouth may envenommate the person trying to suck the venom from the wound.

Don't apply a tourniquet unless you are experienced in the use of this highly risky procedure.

This list did help as I had considered applying ice to help reduce the swelling. And I was fortunate to have small 25 mg tablets of Benadryl on hand that could be cut up and fed to the dog with peanut butter. Even with the peanut butter, one of his favorites, I had to coax him into eating it. He would not take any water. Something he usually laps up after a little peanut butter.

Later in the evening, I gave him another ½ dose of Benadryl to help him with the pain and keep the swelling down over night. By morning, he was much better, swelling reduced, and he actually ate his cup of dog food. It’s amazing how resilient dogs are!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Did your pay raise beat inflation?

In 2008 the average pay raise in the USA was 3.7%. That was 1.8% over the projected rate of inflation. So the effective pay rate increase was (3.7-1.8) = 1.9%. Unfortunately, those projections for inflation were low.

In reality, the actual inflation rate, year to date, is up 5.6% from its level a year ago. And that is the government’s calculation of the inflation number -which always seems lower than the effective rate.

Just out of curiosity I checked my budget expenses in MS Money and calculated my own inflationary rate for gas and food. For the year to date, I have spent a whopping 34% more on gas and another 30% more on groceries compared to last years expenses.

What can we expect for pay raises in 2009?

According to this Wall Street Journal article
merit increases for next year are expected to average around 3.7%. Given these numbers, it seems there is no correlation between the average pay increase and inflation. The old cost of living adjustment, COLA, has long given way to performance only raises, which has conveniently ended any ties to inflation. A raise is only a raise when it exceeds the rate of inflation. Anything less and you are losing ground.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My New Money Market Account is paying 4.76% APY!

Drawn by their pledge to beat the money market rates of the top 5% of competitive institutions and of course the 4.76% APY introductory rate, I opened an account with Everbank. I searched and read everything I could find about the bank until I felt comfortable sending the initial deposit. It's one thing to mail a check to Fidelity Funds or Vanguard, institutions that have been around forever, and quite another to send a check to a fairly new, unfamiliar entity, like Everbank.

Lots of questions come to mind; like why are they able to pay such high money market rates? Their website clearly states that they don’t engage in the subprime mortgage market, but what about other speculative markets? Where are they physically located? Are the deposits FDIC insured, etc. Obviously, the current financial crisis has made me more cautious and that is usually a good thing.

I completed the application on line, printed it out, signed and mailed it in with a check. The 4.76% APY rate is for the first three months and then the rate reduces to 3.51% APY, which is still a very competitive rate and beats my Vanguard prime money market rate. APY stands for annual percentage yield and includes the effects of intra-year compounding. Not to be confused with APR, which is the annual percentage return, and is the straight rate over one year with no compounding. Unless you plan to skim the interest rate payment out of your account each month, you will automatically have this payment added to your investment and enjoy the higher APY rate.

The Everbank pledge money market account looks to be a good parking spot for some of my emergency cash funds. I always keep a couple of years expenses in a steady, easily accessible cash account. Check writing privileges at Everbank (allowing 3 per month) should give me quick access to the cash. I would prefer to ladder some of this money in CDs, but money market rates are beating CD rates, right now, so I have not been buying any new Certificate of Deposits. Fortunately, Everbank has a very informative web page that lists all of their rates for their products - that should make it easier for me to keep an eye on any rate changes that may come along.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Speed Mentoring - almost as fun as speed dating!

This past week I participated in a speed mentoring session at my place of employment. What's speed mentoring? Well, it's very similar to the format used for speed dating. There were about 40 of us that signed up to be mentees. We were divided into groups of eight and then five distinguished mentors from the company rotated around to each of the groups for 10 minutes of Q&A.

I signed up because 1) I thought it sounded interesting and maybe even fun, 2) the lure of a free lunch and 3) visibility or exposure to upper management is key to career advancement at this company. After all these years, I think I actually know how to play this career game! When I first hired in, I was naive and stubborn to think that hard work and first-rate engineering would do all the talking for me. LOL

The mentoring sessions were very quick paced and informative. Any question could be tossed out. Based on the questions that were posed, I would say that most people were interested in the direction of the company more so than they were in the direction of their individual career.

I started with questions about the technical career ladder. I wanted to know why it seemed more like a step ladder than the escalator that is the program management career ladder. The response was fairly typical - that the company is trying to balance these paths, so that they are more parallel. The mentor mentioned that at least nine people had made director level in the technical career path. No numbers were given for the program director level, but it is several magnitudes greater. The takeaway is that progress is being made. I wanted to keep pushing and ask if a metric had been established so that we could measure this progress, but I refrained. ;)

As the sessions progressed, the questions centered more on the company direction. I steered clear from those questions that illicit the usual company line. I wanted to dig a little deeper to get actual numbers or data that substantiated what the company is saying they are doing and what they are really doing behind the scenes. For instance, we hear a lot about more money being spent on internal research in an effort to bring in new business. My question is how serious is the company about this? How much more are they spending? 1%, 10%, 50%? The Director of Strategic Planning would only say that the budget for business development is more than last year! C'mon now, we're engineers, we want numbers, evidence, not just words.

One other observation from the experience stayed with me. It seems that many employees feel like they are in the dark about what is going on in the company. For instance, one mentor mentioned an intranet web address for finding more info on telecommuting policies. No one in the group was aware that the company even had a policy! Many times I have heard people say they didn't know this or that and they are frustrated that the information is not made available.

Is communication that much of problem between management and employees? When I look back, I recognize that communication is much better now than ever before. There are so many more ways to get the info out and the company is trying to speak to us. But alas, it's an endless pit. The more info that goes out, the more we crave. Sessions like this mentoring event go a long ways to getting the two sides together so that each becomes more comfortable talking with the other.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Beatin’ the heat and saving money

Strangely enough, in the midst of this long dry stretch of hot weather, I have increased my thermostat setting for reasons of comfort not economics. It really is hot with each day exceeding 100 degrees and only “cooling off” in the evenings to the 80’s. How is it possible to reduce the A/C in times like this? Well, today while mowing my yard in sunny 103 degree weather, I wondered the same thing. How is that I have become so acclimated to these hot temperatures that it doesn’t bother me to spend 1 ½ hours mowing in the heat of the afternoon?

After some reflection over what is different now than in the past, I attribute this higher tolerance to walking my dog. Every day, no matter what the weather, I walk with my dog for at least 40 minutes and sometimes up to an hour. I occasionally miss a day or two in a row, so I am not fanatical about this, but even so the miles really do add up quickly. Would you believe that by the middle of this month I expect to complete two million steps for the year? That’s 1000 miles on foot.

How does this relate to personal finance. Well, first of all, I have increased my home thermostat by one degree. It was just too cool in the house – I would sometimes feel a chill! I don’t have the evidence to back this up, yet, but I have read that setting a thermostat one degree warmer in the summer will save 5% on the utility bill.

When discussing my walking routine with people, one of the comments or excuses that I hear most as to why they don’t walk is - weather. “It’s too hot, too windy, too cold, etc”. I always respond that that is one of the reasons I enjoy walking so much. I want to experience the outdoors, the breeze, the weather, the stars, the full moon and everything else about it. Its not like I am camping out there, its only for a short time and if the weather is bad, when you return you will have a new appreciation for your comfortable home environment.