Friday, July 22, 2011

Taxes ???

I haven't posted in a while, I know. Haven't done much in the last three weeks. Barb's been having a lot of work done on her eyes which requires a bunch of eye drops in between doctor visits. I know how hard it is to put drops in your own eyes and with 4 different kinds of drops rotated on a 2 hour basis, I would really be negligent if I went running off to LaPaz and left her to fend for herself. Besides, I have been neglecting my poker playing for the last couple of months - this way I have an excuse to play for 6 to 8 hours a day without ever leaving the comforts of home.
No story for this picture - just fits the topic.
Ever seen this before ? Yeah, I have been audited again. As a small business person I get audited quite a bit, the 3/5th rule only applies to me, not the IRS. It's like playing poker, kinda fun if you know the game. I started my first business when I was still in college. As an accounting major my professors and I had a great time the first time I was audited, most of them were CPA's and lawyers. At any rate I don't mind going up against the brainwashed but this year I am at a logistic disadvantage so it makes it hard to fight back. The audit is about revenue. My books reflect total revenue and the IRS wants to be able to add up 1099's and come up with total revenue. As anyone can see this will lead to double taxing the part of my revenue steam that isn't covered by a 1099 or some other government approved document and they wonder why people don't claim cash they receive for services. I guess those 10,000 new IRS agents that they hired for enforcement of  the new health care law don't have anything better to do. We'll see what happens.

I did take Barb to La Paz earlier in the week on a day trip - she was worried about someone taking my tools. I think she feels a little better now knowing that the local folks are very respectful of our property.
My sand pile is getting a little low.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Medical Vacations.

I am not the brightest bulb in the box - that's why I write about building, it's about all I know. But I can report on facts, if I know the facts.

I have been involved in a couple of medical issues here in Ecuador related to old age. One is the treatment of type 2 diabetes and the most recent is eye problems requiring laser surgery - which is related to the first problem. Because of these issues I am familiar with the procedures and prices of medical treatment in the U.S., and I am now familiar with the procedures and prices for the exact same medical treatment in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Barb has done a little post on her blog, always politically correct. I'll give you the scoop because I ain't afraid of telling the truth and if it hurts someone's feelings - come talk to me, I'm sure we can work it out.

Here are the facts :
          Last week, Barb had a blood vessel break in her eye, clouding her vision in that eye. She went to the eye doctor here in Ecuador, who said he didn't think it was still bleeding but would like to make sure, so he prescribed some medication to help break up the blood clot in the eye and scheduled her for a eye scan the next day. Cost $25 for the doc and $20 for the prescription.
           The next day Barb went in for the scan. They dilated her eyes, injected dye in her blood and did the eye scan. The doc said he wanted to give the eye more time to clear, to keep using the eye drops and to come in next week so they could monitor the progress. If it hadn't cleared enough they would help it along with a shot in the eye.
Cost $80.
Up until this point the process was to get the eyes clear enough to make an accurate diagnosis and recommend a course of treatment.
          Barb went in the next week (today) and her eyes were clear enough to recommend laser treatment - they call it laser surgery in the U.S. to get more money from the insurance company. They gave her a shot in both eyes to further clear the floaters for laser treatment next week. I have to mention that this treatment is being coordinated with the doctor who manages Barb's diabetes and is being discussed with Barb and me so everyone is on board. Cost - we prepaid for the first laser treatment $250.

Now we get to the same procedure in the U.S.. We got there a little different way, it was supposed to be a  preventative measure, a one shot deal and they called it laser surgery. The doc in the U.S. cauterized a couple of blood vessels that she thought might cause problems in the future. It took months to get the eye scan done and an appointment set up for the laser procedure. There was no coordination between anyone. Each appointment with the doc before the laser thing and after was $1200 a pop and the actual laser work cost $10,000. It is the exact same thing they are doing here, same equipment, same education, same technical expertise. The difference is they are actually going to fix the problem here, for less than the price of 3 minutes with the doc in the U.S..

The eye doc here says it will probably take 3 laser treatments to get the situation under control and he will keep an eye on Barb with regularly scheduled appointments for as long as she lives here and continue to coordinate with everyone involved. Regular appointment $25.

If we still lived in the U.S. and knew about this, we would be doing the medical vacation thing. Barb is a retired college professor, so she has the best insurance money can buy but her medical costs here are way less than her co-pay would be in the U.S. In addition to all that, the eye drops to clear her eyes are $17, in the U.S. the same eye drops are $70 - that was in 2009, they are probably much higher now.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Footers and Mud Slabs.

I have mentioned soil compaction before, in connection with foundations for general construction. I will touch on it again because it is important. There are a lot of rules about compaction; the idea is you don't want whatever you are building to fall down, droop, sag, crack or otherwise become unsafe or hazardous. You can build a great structure with all the best workmanship and materials but if the foundation isn't any good, you've wasted your time and money. I am an advocate of building codes but I don't believe general rules should be applied without understanding the principles involved. This is where I get in trouble with engineers and building officials - their applying of general rules without understanding the mechanics. There is no place on earth where that is more prevalent than Ecuador. They have no clue except to apply general rules - no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I am getting away from the point -- that being a good solid foundation for building.

The International Building Code for Earthquake Resistant Housing is the prevalent code here in the Sierra region of Ecuador and it calls for excavation of 3 feet and backfilling with suitable material to grade. Now this is for a one or two story single family dwelling. Folks around here have been building houses set right on top of the ground for hundreds of years. There is an old adobe house on my property in La Paz that has been there for at least 150 years and the walls are still standing even without a roof since the last generation lived there. The point is that sometimes it is better not to do anything rather than monkey with something you know nothing about. Nuclear and Proctor density tests for soil compaction are not practical for most home sites and will cause a lot more problems than just digging a footer (to below frost levels), drop some gravel, put in your steel and pour the footer. The general rule for width and depth of concrete are, twice the width of the foundation and 8 inches thick for blocks, 12 inches for a poured stem wall. Two #4 rebars with cross ties every 12 to 16 inches. I used to carry around a pocket penetrometer when I put in footers and have only found a few instances where compaction was less than a ton per square foot when you skin the trench. If you dig past the footer level and backfill, you have problems. I get a little nuts about foundations because I have seen some real disasters masked by soil tests and professional recommendations. I certainly won't build on an iffy foundation.

The soil in La Paz is very tight after you get past the first few inches of high levels of organic matter - which is why they can get away with pouring a slab right on top of the ground. By my estimation at this level the soil will bear an easy 2000lbs. per square foot. My footers will be 12 inches below this level, to a point where the soil changes to a higher clay content and about 2500lbs per square foot carrying capacity - 10 times the load I will be putting on it - I'll be able to sleep at night.

That was a long piece with no pictures. Did I ever mention I was old, hardheaded and opinionated ?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rain, rain.

I got to La Paz on Wednesday this week and it rained all day, hard. Thursday started out nice, then it started to rain harder and it rained all night. The driveway got washed out, some new ravines appeared and there was a whole bunch of water coming off the southern hillside. I did manage to get started on the meter socket mounting place but I left Friday afternoon when it looked like more rain. I thought this was the dry season - by my estimation we got 3 to 4 inches of rain in two days.
Using welded wire instead of rebar - no load.

Using tie wire every 16 inches to hold it all together.
A couple of notes on items you probably noticed. When you lay blocks you always lay them with the wide end up, to give a wider area for the mortar. In Ecuador they make the blocks with a solid bottom; if you want the web holes, you have to knock them out. I've tried different ways of doing this but the easiest way is to use a regular claw hammer to knock out the hole and the claw part to square it off. It takes less than a minute and I'll take the solid bottom over open cells any day. The other thing is - what is the rebar doing ? I just like to tie stuff into a slab. I only want to do it once. Did I ever mention I was old and hard headed ?