Hot Tubs, Money and Health

“Oh, okay. So I guess you came here in a Hot Tub Time Machine, too.” – Hot Tub Time Machine 2


A homemade cocoon for our first hot tub.  Notice the used insulation – true Alaska!

It was twenty years ago today . . . oh, wait, that’s Sergeant Pepper . . . in my case it was closer to nineteen years ago . . .

I had just been paid the biggest bonus that I’d ever gotten.  It had been a good year, and I managed a high profile project well – I’d saved the company several million dollars while bringing it in on time.  I had a great, supportive, guru boss (this is both good and bad) who had solid numbers to take to the higher-ups to support his case.  Awesome!

Also awesome was that, after taxes, the bonus could pay down approximately 1/3 of the credit card debt I had at that time.  I had been at the point in my life where I was trying to keep my head above water after a divorce, and credit cards had been a stop gap.  The Mrs. and I sat on the couch in the upstairs living room, as the Sun shined its last golden rays of the day into the room, providing a soft, mellow glow.  We argued about the merits of choosing to pay down the debt, versus other options.  We spent several hours discussing it.

So, The Mrs. and I sat, and made the momentous decision that . . . forget the debt, we’re getting a hot tub.

I know that this is probably not what your financial advisor would suggest you do, unless your financial planner was a twenty-eight year old with a short attention span who lived in his parent’s basement so he could save his money to buy even more weed.  It was a horrible, frivolous decision.  And it was one that I have never regretted.

Not only did we get a hot tub, we got the full-blown Sundance™ party hot tub – seats eight.  We even custom ordered it to match the same colors as our house.  When it arrived several weeks later we moved out of the house and into the tub.  I exaggerate.  We still went into the house for showers.

When we moved to Alaska, we took the hot tub with us.  I eventually encased it in an outer cocoon of plywood and insulation, so even when it was -55˚F outside, the tub didn’t freeze, and didn’t cause the meters at the power plant to spin at light speed.

Our house in Central Midwestia was a great place to hot tub, but if there’s a truly awesome place to hot tub, it’s Alaska.  The Mrs. and I would sit out in the tub for hours watching the aurora borealis write physics equations in the sky in particle, ions, and color.  The aurora would move and undulate, lasting (on a good night) hours as the rivers of light threaded through the sky.  We’ve had a hot tub at every house we’ve lived at, although we never used the one we had in Houston, since . . . it was Houston.

I think that buying that first hot tub was a good decision for two reasons:  we got out of debt, but we did it slowly, and with discipline.  That was good to teach us to live within our means and be frugal, unless I really, really needed those night-vision goggles.

But this isn’t a post about finance, that’s Wednesday’s topic.  Today’s is health . . . and, like apple cider vinegar, hot tubs appear to also be amazingly good for you under most circumstances:

Hot tubs appear to make the following things better:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Aurora Viewing* (Offer Void Outside Alaska)
  • Stress (lowers it)
  • Sleep (makes it better)
  • Blood Pressure (lowers it)
  • Migraine Frequency and Intensity (lowers it – I’ve never had one – it’s working!)

I think the other nice thing is that nobody has a laptop or an iPad™ or a Palm Pilot© in the tub – we’re forced to spend time with . . . us.  And that’s good for overall family life.

On the flip side, people mentioned these negative health consequences:

  • Infections from unsanitary hot tubs (In my experience this would be hard to do.)
  • Birth defects (I’ll abstain when pregnant.)
  • Lower sperm count (No comments here.)
  • Heart issues (But, isn’t that every darn thing??)
  • Chlorine over-exposure (see below)

I have had personal experiences with the chlorine, especially early on nineteen years ago when learning how to chemically treat the tub.  At one point, my hot tub had nearly the same chlorine gas content as last seen during trench warfare in France.

Most recently The Mrs. bought a swimming-pool sized chlorinator for the hot tub because there might be 50 hot tubs within 20 miles, Wal-Mart doesn’t stock any hot-tub sized chlorinators.

This aircraft carrier sized chlorine-berg treats approximately 100 times the volume of water as the hot tub on its lowest setting.  The deceptive danger from this chlorinator is that as it sits and bobs in the tub, it’s releasing chlorine into the water, and not a whole lot comes out as gas, so the water doesn’t smell like chlorine.

I got into the tub for a bit after the chlorinator had been sitting in there for about 48 hours.  Pretty soon I felt like I was getting prickly heat (if you’ve never had it, it’s the feeling of pins and needles from when you go from cold to hot).  The way that you solve prickly heat is to . . . wait it out.  Seventeen minutes later, I determined it wasn’t prickly heat, but an actual chemical burn from the chlorine in the tub forming hydrochloric acid and eating my skin.  On the plus side?  I got a rad chemical peel of the type that New York women pay the big bucks for.

One website went as far as recommending no more than five minutes in a hot tub.  I regularly spend several hours in one, but not several hours at 104˚F.  More like 102˚F.  Meh.

So, a bad financial decision is sometimes a great life decision.  Maybe some Beatles in the tub tonight?


PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YOU HOLD DEAR TALK TO SOMEONE SANE BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY ADVICE HERE.  Can’t you tell by the stories that I’m not to be trusted on certain topics?

Umbrella Insurance, Teenagers, Driving, and No More Houston

“Lawyers. We’re like health insurance. Hope you never need it. But man-o-man, not havin’ it?” – Better Call Saul


Artist Conception of my wreck in Houston. Man, I want to drive a Monster Truck in traffic, just once!

It was a wet, hot, humid day in Houston.

But every day in Houston is like that.  One thing we noticed after we’d lived there, oh, two hours is that it’s always hot and humid out, like being forced to live in Rosie O’Donnell’s armpit, except Houston smells less like Cheetos™.

True story:  one spring day after we’d lived there for over a year I got up to mow the yard.  I was shocked to find that a northern dry wind had blown in during the night and the humidity was about 30%.  It was about 60˚F out at 8AM (that’s 7.431 PM in metric).  I was shocked because I had never seen a better day in Houston.  It was the perfect day to go to the park, or go do something outside.  The Mrs. especially hated Houston’s climate, probably exacerbated by her love of Alaska’s climate and the icewater that flows through her veins instead of blood.

I went inside, full of enthusiasm, and exclaimed to The Mrs., “Honey, we’ve got to go do something today, it’s beautiful outside!”

The Mrs., voice dripping with cynicism:  “I have only your word for that.”

But this wasn’t that day, it was six months later.  It was a hot, humid day, like almost every day.  And it was raining for the first time in about a month, a slow drizzle that started about an hour before I left the 35th floor of the shining office tower for the day.

Driving home meant Houston traffic.  And on this day, it was fairly light.  To get to the highway, I first had to merge onto the frontage road, which generally meant getting some speed up so that you didn’t commit the traffic foul of slowing everyone up, which I think condemns you to traffic hell, which is kinda like regular hell, but with more sitting and listening to Bob Segar, forever.

I looked in front of me, and there was only a Volvo getting ready to merge into traffic, but there was a gap larger than a Texan Prom Queen’s hair, meaning he just had to get going and he’d be merged without an issue.

I looked to the left to see if I’d have a similar gap.  I saw that I would have a great gap, if I was going just a little bit faster.

I hit the accelerator to get to merging speed.

The Volvo® was still there, so instead of merging speed, it was now ramming speed.

I hit the brakes, since surely there was enough road to stop.

There was on any other day but this one.  As I mentioned, it hadn’t rained in about a month.  I have no idea what builds up on the concrete roadway during that time – it might be snail snot? –  but when you add the right amount of water like on this misty, hot, drizzly day?  It was slicker than a Yankee banker covered in Teflon©.


My airbag deployed, but I was fine, I have massive, bulging arms, so it was more likely the steering wheel would break than my sternum.

I jumped out of the car and went to the person in the Volvo, a guy of about 28.  Houston loves people who are 28, since they can work 14 hour days for months without end.  “I’m sorry! That was my fault! Are you okay?”

I know that my insurance company would rather beg to differ that it was my fault, but, really, if you’re rear ended?  It’s the idiot behind you who is at fault.

And this was my day to be that idiot.

“Are you okay?”

He was still a little stunned, the way everyone is after a wreck, which is exactly the way that Johnny Manziel must always feel.

“Yeah, I am.”

“I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”

After a wreck in Houston, unless one of you has been decapitated, you drive to a police substation and fill out an accident report.  We exchanged insurance information, and drove to fill out the report.

After filling out our information, I said, “I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

“Now that you mention it,” he said, “my neck is sore . . . .”  I’m not sure how much my face gave away, but he quickly stopped there, “No man, it’s fine.  I was just joking.”

Whew.  Fortunately for me, he really was fine, because I wasn’t insured well enough for him to be injured, and in that moment I knew it.

When I was just out of college, I kept all of my car insurance at the minimum required by law.  My theory was that if they sued me, they couldn’t take anything from me unless they wanted part of my debt.  The only time you’re really immune to lawsuits is when you have nothing worth taking.  But now I had actual cash in my bank account, and my only debt was part of my mortgage.

Not good.  If Mr. Volvo had really been injured?  Ouch.  I was lucky!

The next week I realized just how big my luck was.  My brother, John Wilder (don’t ask), has a son who was injured in a motorcycle accident where he wasn’t at fault.  He wasn’t hurt especially badly, but his medical bills had already surpassed $78,000 and they were suing the driver.

I called my insurance company and upped my coverage.  A lot.  So I was a little safer, right?

I moved out of Texas and into Upper Southeast Midwestia.  One night while drinking beer and burning a brush bonfire in my backyard, my next door neighbor (for whom my family must be a nightmare) and I were talking about our youthful misadventures.  He told a rather delightful story of how he and his friends were throwing dirt clods at one another.  No, it wasn’t last week, it was when he was nine.

(For the benefit of those who have never left the concrete of our big cities, a dirt clod is dried mud, much softer than a rock, but much harder than your life has ever been.)

Everyone was throwing clods at everyone, in what was a fairly common experience back before the Safety Moms clamped down.

One boy, my neighbor’s best friend, got hit.  He had to go to the hospital.  Guess who got sued?  My neighbor’s parents, because they owned a bank.  My neighbor confided in me that he had an umbrella policy that covered him for $1,000,000, mainly to cover him against the future misdeeds of his son.

The Boy probably won’t cause that kind of havoc, but I have to worry about Pugsley, who, in a good natured goof that no one would hold against him, might cause Canada to fall into a black hole.  Oops!

Okay, I called my insurance company and the next day I had a $2,000,000 umbrella policy.  It costs about $200 a year.  I did have to upgrade my homeowner’s insurance and my car insurance, but that’s fine.  I actually never calculated the percentage increase, because the peace of mind was so great.

Lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Minimum insurance is awesome, as long as you don’t own anything. Once you have a nest egg?  Insurance is cheap.
  2. The amount of coverage can be as much as, or more than your net worth. They have to go through State Farm® to get to you.
  3. I like oxygen. No real relationship to the topic, but I thought a third point would be more visually appealing.

It’s my personal opinion, for me (as my lawyer, Lazlo made me write, because he was assigned to me by my insurance company) that insurance makes sense if you have assets, drive, or have teenage sons and don’t want to be bankrupt because Laura-Lou and Cletus have a great lawyer.

On the bright side?  We don’t live in Houston anymore.

Making Less Than You’re Worth and Value Creation

“And so then Skeletor told Terminator he wanted a divorce, and apparently it’s all going to be finalized soon!” – South Park


As it’s a short post, here’s a link to the story about the vole above.

“No, John Wilder, I said I want to make less thank I’m worth,” said my friend, who I will call Spock.

I was surprised.  I took it as an axiom, a truthticle (John Wilder Definition:  A quantum truth particle), that the old adage was right – you want to get paid what you’re worth.

Spock continued, “Yeah, if I’m worth what I’m paid, I’m not a bargain.  If I’m worth more than I’m paid?  That’s the guy you keep around – he makes you money.”

And Spock was right, his argument as logical as his Vulcan blood is green.

If I go to work and don’t create more value than the amount I’m paid, unless I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Customer Hostility Division, I’m going to get fired.  This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s just that companies can’t survive hauling around with comatose employees that don’t make it money.

To put it simply:  If I don’t make (much) more money for the company than they pay me?  They’ll find a way to make sure I work for the competition.  And if someone (or a cool robot) can do the job for less than they’re paying me?  I’m probably going to be doing a lot more blogging in all the free time that I’ll have.  I will have been Terminated.

Not killed, though at one company I worked at:

HR told the story of a gentleman that worked there who was fired.  The HR Personbot2000™ told them that they were going to be terminated.  Having been a recent transplant (with correspondingly iffy English skills) from a country where the voters regularly re-elected the dictator with a 99.9% majority, the employee panicked, and barricaded himself in his office.  The standoff lasted until the Personbot2000® got another employee to translate to the fired employee that he wasn’t going to be killed, he just didn’t have a job there anymore.

No one in the world has been happier to find out he was “only” fired.

I digress.

One way to make sure that you’re creating value is to be where the value is created.  I know that sounds circular, but understand that more than just working hard is required to create value.  Another example:

I was living in Alaska, and loving it.  I had a great job, loved the weather, friends, and the family loved the place.  One day the phone at work rang.  It was an old boss.  Come to Houston, he said.  He wanted me to work on a project that would impact the lives of (literally) millions of consumers, and be the biggest project of my life so far.  We didn’t want to move, really, but the opportunity to work in the hottest (at the time) sector of the economy on a huge project was too much to turn down.  Plus it was hard to breathe with all the money they were forcing down my throat.  So we went.

In this instance, a small team was working on an investment of billions of dollars.  The revenue per employee was massive.  The team worked unconscionably long hours for years to put the project together and bring it to completion.  I can count multiple days where my savings to the company was over a million dollars.  And multiple days where I had to ignore huge problems to go work on even bigger problems.

Creating value was easy in such a target-rich environment, as was working 14 hour days and not exercising.  But the food was awesome and the houses were cheap because Houston is as hot as the surface of the Sun.

In the end?  The projects were finished.  And me, too.  I moved on to another economic sector, but my big lesson was:  If you want to find an easy way create value, go to where the big money is changing hands.

Makes logical sense, as Spock might have said . . .

Another short post – the notes for the second half of this post will show up in Monday’s post, since they are broader in nature, and provide a better understanding of the workings of the world economy and didn’t really fit well with the above stuff. But enough shop talk . . .

You Can’t Cheat the Scale

“Dad, before you blame the dryer, have you ever considered stepping on the bathroom scale?” – Frasier


Pugsley, after a particularly bad binge a decade or so ago . . .

One of the things that I do to keep myself motivated while exercising is to watch Youtube videos about people who’ve done amazing things.  I do this while I climb endless stairs to nowhere at the gym while the sweat runs down me like money through a government agency.

Now, keep in mind, there’s a component of survivor bias associated with these videos.  I have yet to see a video put together by someone who said:

“I started this diet at 245 pounds, and finished at 260 pounds plus now Nutrasystem® owns my spleen and just sold it to a Chinese billionaire to pay for all of the food I ate – I’m an utter failure.  Oh, and my wife left me for Mickey Rourke.”

No, those videos don’t get made.  And is it just me that I think that Mickey Rourke might smell like dried leather and day-old potato salad?  Unrefrigerated potato salad.

So, I watch these videos.  At ten weeks in, sometimes motivation is about as high as a Baptist teetotaler on temperance Tuesday, especially after having climbed over nine vertical miles.  A quote from one of the videos struck me – it was Penn Jillette (I’ve talked about him earlier, here) talking about his weight loss.  And his comment wasn’t the point he was trying to make, it was just an aside:  “I don’t know how much I weighed.  No one weighs themselves at their heaviest.”  This really made me pay attention.  And think.  Wow.  That is a really profound truth.

Why is that so profound?

My theory is that our brains create reality distortion fields that allow us to ignore certain things, or mark them as insignificant.  Then it hit me.  I can ignore or get used to the way I might look in a mirror, but I cannot ignore the actual weight shown on the scale.  I can’t hide from it, I can’t explain it away.

The second data point was that Penn posted his weight to his friends as he, quite single mindedly, proceeded to lose the weight equivalent of a fifth grader.  Penn posts to his friends, I post to Batman.

I wrestled when I was in high school, and one of the rituals was weighing in.  To be able to compete, you have to be at or under the weight that you’re planning on wrestling at.  They weighed us in on a balance scale, like you used to see in the doctor’s office.  If the weights balanced, you passed.  One of the junior varsity wrestlers (I’ll call him “Steve,” because his name is “Steve”) was just barely over on the weight, as close as I’d ever seen.  One of the other wrestlers noticed that Steve was chewing gum (helps you spit, so you can lose weight that way, too).

“Hey, Steve, take out your gum.”  Steve took out his gum and stepped back on the scale.  With the gum still in his hand.

Some kind soul convinced Steve that perhaps the gum weighed just as much in his hand as in his mouth, and he threw it away . . . and made weight.

Numbers on a scale can’t be cheated.  They’re objective.  They’re real.  And saying “The extra weight is really muscle” only works if you’re Vin Diesel.  Or Chad Kerosene.

My weight is a fact, and as a fact, it’s the number one way to destroy the pretty little lies that my brain cooks up to tell me everything’s fine the way it is.  John Wilder’s Brain:  “You don’t want to be hungry.  You don’t want to work hard.  You like pie.”  Mostly true.  I rather enjoy working hard, but really do like pie.

Eliminating Variation

I’ve tried to pick a day and time to minimize fluctuations and also the opportunity for me to tell myself more lies.  In past weight loss iterations, I’ve picked the low weight of the week, and just recorded that in my spreadsheet, but now, I’m all about first thing Friday morning.

I’ve noticed the following things make my weight vary.  By vary, of course, I mean be higher:

  1. Carb Intake. I’ve noticed that the amount of carbohydrates that I eat impact how much I weigh.  I’m certain that ties back directly to the amount of water my body can get rid of if I’m not trying to digest carbohydrates.
  2. Work Outs. If I’ve not been able to work out, again, there’s a lot of water that remains in the system.
  3. Recent Food Intake.  Duh.
  4. Phase of the Moon. Sometimes you step up on the scale and . . . huh?  How did that happen?  This (for me) is a pleasant surprise about half the time.

And how are things going?  Pretty well.  I’ve (consciously) varied from diet and exercise during Spring Break (wooo, party!) and for Pugsley’s birthday party.  That really points out the impact of carbs on my system.  They have no real positive effect, and I find my energy, motivation, and even mood are better when I’ve been avoiding carbs.  As part of a systems approach (more on that soon!) carbs are something I’m leaving out.

Every Thursday, I have the folks at the gym take a picture.  I’m planning on having The Boy stitch them together to a time-lapse when I’m where I want to be.  As it is, the improvement is noticeable.  And it has to be.

I’m thinking that Mickey Rourke is sniffing around The Mrs.

But she’s sure to smell him first.