My Beef with Comcast

Wow, has it really been 6 months? I need to update more often. I know, I know, I feel like I say that (to myself at least) every time I update, but there really hasn’t been much happening to write about.

It seems to me that everywhere I look, someone is complaining about Comcast or Verizon and their terrible customer service. I know that “the squeaky wheel gets the most …” blah blah blah, but I’m curious what their ratio of satisfied to unsatisfied customers is. Because really, there are alternatives. Not so much for cable or phone, depending on where you are, but with mobile phones at least there’s really not a whole lot of reason to stick with your current provider if you’re unhappy, and yet somehow these companies remain in business – they must be keeping someone happy.

Now, part of the problem seems to be that people call support for stupid reasons. If your cable goes out at 2am, call support but don’t be too mad if it doesn’t get “fixed” for a couple of hours, because chances are they were doing maintenance while most of their area was asleep. It sucks for those of us that are online at 2am because of our schedules, but we’re statistically few. On the other hand, if it goes out every day at 2am, that’s a good reason to call and start complaining.

My interactions have been minimal. In the last year I have been the owner of a Comcast Account, I have called them twice. The first was a year ago, to set up my account and get online with my purchased modem. The second was today, when I called to upgrade my account to add TV service. Both occasions were relatively quick, I was given the information I needed to make an informed decision (combined with research earlier in the day), and so far I’m happy. They were a little pushy for a couple of addon services that I neither can afford nor have desire for, but their goal is to make money. The tech is coming out to get us set up for TV on Friday and I’ll update if that doesn’t go well.

Am I in the minority? Are there really so few of us that have positive interactions with these large, terrible companies? Really, my only major complaint in this situation is that I had to call to make the change. Comcast’s website knows that there is an active account at my address when I enter it in looking for deals, but then it just tells me there are no deals and that it can’t find my address in the system to make changes to the service. That, to me, is the epitome of frustrating.

In closing, Comcast, please fix your website’s backend so that people like myself don’t have to call to make changes to our service. Let the customer service team know that they did well on at least these two occasions. And if you want to reward me for giving you a good review, you can always lower my bill a few dollars a month. You really don’t have to though, for now I’m a satisfied customer and expect to stay happy until we move to a location that forces us to switch provider.

Changing Timezones

Changing timezone without moving anywhere. It’s a tough assignment, but I’ve been able to do it.

Since September 2010 I’ve been working for Rosetta Stone’s test lab on the second shift, generally working somewhere in the vicinity of 5pm-midnight. In the last few days I was asked if I would be interested in swapping positions with a member of the day shift team who needed to move for personal/family reasons.

I elected to think about it, and later accepted. As of yesterday (and everyone I work with is now aware of this, so I can tell the world in full), I am a member of day shift working “normal people” hours! I’m still officially part time, so there is no change in my 35 hour limit. The only change in pay has been a result of my regular company raise (also received that notice today!) so really all that changes for me is starting in the morning and finishing in the evening, and not the other way around..

Quotable Monday: Unemployment

“What is a danger is that we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high, people who have jobs see their incomes go up, businesses make big profits. But they’re learned to do more with less, and so they don’t hire.” — Barack Obama

This has been one of my chief concerns with improvements in technology and efficiency over the last few years. It is probably basic economics, but if you have a group of 10 people, each of whom is responsible for producing something for those 10 people, then they have a small balanced economy.

Say you have someone whose job is to provide and maintain housing, and someone whose job is to provide food, and someone who oversees medical needs. You can introduce currency to allow them to pay each other in a standard manner, but if they each have a job then it is a fair system.

Now, introduce another 10 people. That means there are now 2 people who can perform each job, but an extra 10 people that require the service provided. It remains balanced and in ratio.

Introduce more people, and in theory the ratios will stay in check. Until two things happen. Firstly, too many people get educated to do one job, which leaves a gap in areas with untrained workers and creates a surplus in workers for other areas. This means people have to settle for a job they don’t want, or aren’t trained for. Secondly, and this is the bigger problem, is that technology is discovered or new methods of doing work are implemented which now allow the job that was done by 5 people to be done by just 2. What are the other 3 people going to do? Unless they can find a niche business opportunity (and let’s face it, how many of those survive for any period of time?) then they are doomed to unemployment, which is what I fear is our problem today.

And so I cannot help but agree with our President. Those who have jobs will likely keep them, those who own companies will probably succeed. Those who are on the street with no opportunities on the horizon will likely be left there.

A True One-Day Project

Do you hear about one-day projects? 24 hour turnarounds? Things to do in a weekend?

Have you ever looked at the instructions, and the expenses and decided that it is way too expensive, or that there is no way you could ever finish the job in the time suggested?

I know I have, on many occasions. So many things I could have accomplished if I had twice the time allotted. Or twice the money suggested.

This project is slightly misleading, because the most expensive part was actually the cheapest. On Saturday we took two trips to Harrisonburg, firstly for a wedding and the second for dinner. On the way out the second time, I noticed sitting in a driveway a large piece of furniture with a sign saying “Free You Haul!” This was to be the cornerstone of our Sunday activities.

We’ve been meaning to clean up “the green room” for a while, it is where a lot of our stuff is stored, it is also where my desktop is, and was a work room before we realized there was nowhere near enough space. We’ve also been looking for more storage options, because while bookshelves are good, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of our problem. This item, which turned out to be a buffet, seemed ideal.

And so that is how my Sunday morning started. We got in the truck and drove the mile or so to the place, were excited to find it still in situ, and loaded it. We drove home, unloaded, and assessed.

The two end doors were off, and needed to be reattached (we pulled them right back off again after we started actually planning..). There was putty or something along the top and the sides, which appears to be filling in a design, but it would have been too time consuming to take it all off and so we elected to sand it smooth and just paint it, like the rest.
This is what we started with. Two drawers, and three doors to a long combined shelf. According to the stencil on the back it is made of Walnut. It was light enough (until we painted it) and in relatively good condition. We presume it to be fairly old, as the center and right-hand doors don’t seem to fit quite right. We may never know!

Anyway, this is what we started with. We began by eating lunch. An excellent way to start, in my opinion! We then headed to Harrisonburg where we visited Walmart (Crash needed food) and then Home Depot where we purchased unto ourselves a quart of red paint ($14), a spray can of chalkboard paint ($5) and a roll of masking tape ($3). Total cost was approx. $24, including tax.

The first job was to sand down. There was a layer of varnish, easily taken care of. We also pushed back the layer of…whatever it was…to about where the fascia was showing through in most places.

Next Kelly painted the doors while I started painting the top surface. Crash hung out and supervised.

With one layer of paint on, we moved inside to start working on cleaning the room.

Two hours go by…

We came out to check how it was going. It was supposed to take around two hours to dry, and parts of it needed a second coat. While Kelly was working on that, I masked off the doors and broke out the chalkboard paint. Kelly wanted blackboard surfaces to write on so she could write lists of what was in the drawers and such, and be able to rub things off and such without having to completely relabel things, or be crossing things off on paper and being messy. She has suggested the same thing for a future kitchen, but the idea of chalk dust and food in the same vicinity makes me a little uneasy. This will, however, give me a chance to see how it works in practice (without the food!) and be able to make a more educated choice.

Now, the chalkboard paint is a spray on. It dries to a point of touch-up after 20 minutes (which we utilized), and after 24 hours is safe to draw on. Something to keep in mind if you are planning it for a child’s room, or similar. Don’t give them the chalk until the next day! For us, we didn’t have any chalk and so Kelly was planning to pick some up while at work, which meant it would be around 22 hours anyway.

Around this time we organized food. Two medium pizza’s from Dominos, please! Good times. I finished mine on Monday.

We touched up the doors and finished clearing a path in the green room to where we wanted to put the thing. The plan was to put it under the window (where we had storage boxes and such).

Crash approved.

Once the chalkboard paint was finished (another 20 minutes later), we reattached the handles and then reattached the doors.

We gave the other paint a few more minutes to dry while we checked clearance for moving it inside.

Now in place in it’s new home, it actually looks pretty good. The plan, for now, is to use it as an art/storage cabinet where it won’t be seen by a lot of people. If it moves to a more public location after we move then we may need to consider at least touching up in places that we rushed.

Looking at the photo time stamps, we took about 3.5 hours from arriving home with the supplies (we picked the thing up at about 11 in the morning, arrived home with paint and such at 2:45. We moved it into the house around 8:10-8:15).

Not bad, really..

Where Did Our Surplus Go?!

I just tweeted about this, but I want to elaborate a little.

For the last 6 months or so I’ve been using Mint to keep track of our finances. So far it has done a pretty good job! It does all kinds of useful and boring things to help monitor and control spending against income and requirements. I have budgets set up for our regular payments and some money that gets set aside for gas and other things.

Here is the odd part, though. For March through May, we’ve so far had positive net income, almost $1300 worth. The fun part being I have no idea where it is, because while we have around that much in our accounts, most of that has come from income earned in June (and will be disappearing this week as we pay all our big bills).

I know it counts payments to the credit cards as null, because it sees it come out of the bank account and into the credit card account (same amount), but that still only accounts for about half of it.

Strange, very strange. More investigation required!

Field Trip!

It’s been about a month since the last writing, and much has happened since.

The trip to Boston went flawlessly, the trip back almost as much. One interstate on-ramp that didn’t look nearly as sharp as it was at the top, and a couple of instructions either from the GPS or the ones I had written down the night before that were interpreted too late and meant we had to detour a little. I was loathe to use the GPS entirely as I had mapped the route from our hotel room and found that the quickest way home had 3 tolls to pay. I changed a couple of things and found that by adding a few minutes (pocket change on our 10 hour journey) we would only pay 1. I feared if we used the GPS too much then it would lead us through the other two as well.

We had initially planned for Kelly and I to share driving, once we got out of New York (she wasn’t excited about driving through New England – I didn’t care), however we left later than we intended to and were into New Jersey right around dinner time when it was getting dark. I did get a 20 minute break right before Harrisburg, PA, before Kelly decided it was too dark and simply unsafe for her to be driving, so I took the wheel again right after Harrisburg. We eventually arrived home at around 1-1:30am.

The next week we headed for Mississippi to a friends wedding in Jackson. Another long drive! We ran into several large storms on the way down. The first happened while Kelly was driving and inspired a panic attack. We, like several others, pulled off to the side of the interstate to let it pass. At the earliest opportunity we switched seats again and I think I drove the remainder of the trip from there. As we were entering the city limits of Chattanooga, TN, the CD I had in started playing a track I had forgotten – Chattanooga Choo Choo. It was too awesome to not mention! The trip to Jackson went well, at least as well as a trip can go when you’re relying entirely on other people to decide when and where you need to be, and usually not providing good directions to get there 😉 I enjoyed myself, at least.

After Jackson we headed south to New Orleans where we spent a Sunday afternoon in the French Quarter. Staci, who had been there before, was more than happy to lead us around and show us things. I discovered trains (having correctly deduced that of the three rail lines, two were right for the trolleys going up and down but the third didn’t look right) and was able to photograph a New Orleans Public Belt maneuver going by. NOPB has to be one of the only shortline railroads to do business with 7 Class I railroads. The only that gets missed is Canadian Pacific (who don’t come nearly that far South). We had a good time walking around the area before eating (at IHOP of all places!), parting ways with Staci who caught a cab back to her hotel and driving back to our hostel for the night.

The trip home was also mostly uneventful. No storms to drive through, and all was well. Until Radford. We had stopped a few miles south in Wytheville, and in hindsight I vaguely recall noticing the vibration at 70mph had increased a little just before that point. Thinking nothing of it, we got back in the car and continued on. Just a few miles later I noticed loud noises and heavy vibration coming from the car. Thinking it was a flat tire I pulled over, put on hazards and walked around the car with a flashlight. All 4 tires were fine. “Weird,” I thought, and we got back in the car and started driving again. Less than a tenth of a mile and the noise was too much, I pulled over to give the wheels a closer look. I pulled in closer to the grass, just a few extra feet from the traffic going by at more than 100 feet per second. Starting with the front left (a lucky guess, apparently) I put my foot on the top, and shoved. You know, the wheels on a car aren’t supposed to have that much horizontal motion, and the first thought that went through my head was “Oh s**t, I hope it isn’t a wheel bearing..”

At this point I decided we were not going anywhere. I had taken a quick look and noticed we were missing two (out of 5) lug nuts. A closer inspection later would reveal that they hadn’t just fallen off, but the studs/bolts had been sheared off. We called the insurance company who kindly informed us that we had reimbursable roadside assistance coverage (great!) and worked with a nearby towing company to get us home. The cost to get us home was $800. And they wouldn’t take a check (Oh, dear). In all of this the lifesaver and the reason to be home that night was in the back seat – our friend Doreen volunteered the use of some of her savings (knowing it would be reimbursed) and worked with the parties concerned to get us to where we needed to be.

Long story short, we got home in one piece. After talking with the tow truck driver at the rest area near Roanoke (both Kelly and Doreen needed to use the facilities) it was determined it was my fault, having borked the tire rotation done 3 days and 2,000 miles earlier. The upside being I now know how to get it right? The repair to the car itself was only $80, including a brief overview of what will be needed for inspection later in a couple of months. The receipt for the towing has been forwarded to the insurance company for review.

And this weekend we traveled again, not nearly as far. Our friend (who was in Boston) was moved to Winchester for intensive rehabilitation and a van full went up to visit (Her husband invited us if we took him, and so me, Kelly, Kelly’s brother Matt and his girlfriend Anna, and their parents Randy and Tammy elected to take the trip). While there is certainly some ways to go, she is doing so much better in just a few weeks. We had been in talking to her, and the nurses came and kicked us out to prepare her for dinner. Stepping outside all I could think was “Wow!” – me, the ever under-estimating, was surprised at how well she is doing. Her vision in her right eye is working (though not perfect, she was able to see things better than before), she seems to have either more energy or more willpower to use it (or both), and she is actually interacting in a way that is much more like a ‘normal’ person. I know when family and friends visit, there is a tendency to sugarcoat the responses fed back to the masses who are watching for news and hoping and praying based on it. One thing that I’ve noticed is that when she has a bad day, it is also fed back to the group. But it’s one thing to read the reports, it’s another to actually see the results for yourself. I can imagine how disturbing it might be if someone is expecting to see their bubbly energetic friend laying down and not seeming quite themselves, but having seen her just a week after her stroke I can only say the improvement over the 4 weeks since is amazing, uplifting and very optimistic.

In other news, I am waiting to hear about two job applications I have in within Rosetta Stone for full time, day shift positions. Expecting announcements early this week, but family and Facebook will likely be the first to know, posted here shortly afterwards. Today I am inspecting, double checking, looking again and triple checking an envelope to be sent to the USCIS processing center in Vermont which will contain my paperwork for becoming an unconditional Permanent Resident of the United States. Initially, when I came I was a non-immigrant (the K-1 fiance visa is considered non-immigrant). After filing the paperwork correctly (we took long enough!) I was issued a work permit pending processing of my residency application. Once that came through I was granted Permanent Residence, conditional on marriage to Kelly. That card expires next month and so the next step is filing to remove the conditional status. No, I’m not going to be a citizen, I’m not even eligible for citizenship yet. I suspect I will take it at some point when it is possible, so long as I can retain my New Zealand citizenship. We’ll need to review our options before that time depending on various factors, but that is still a year or few away.

Mixed Feelings

Is it acceptable to be excited in the face of fear and sadness? I have all three emotions flowing up and down although very simultaneously.

Just under a week ago a very good personal and family friend had some very serious medical issues while on vacation. Her husband and mom raced up to be with her in the hospital (from here in VA to Boston, MA) – a 10 hour drive. We’ve been hearing mostly positive reports about what the doctors are doing and finding in their search for what went wrong and what they can do to fix it.

And so, I am sad. Sad my friend is in hospital, happy she is doing well but wish she was closer to home. It’s weird – we don’t often see each other, until recently maybe once a month. But she’s presently 10 hours drive away, not like I can just go for a random visit.

Earlier this week, her mom came back down in order to help organize a few things. This weekend she is trading places with her son-in-law – he’s returning home for work next week while she stays with her daughter to keep an eye on things. I believe the plan is for her to come with her daughter when the time comes to transport her closer to home.

But I am worried and slightly afraid. I am more than confident in his ability to function as a normal human being (well, as close to normal as he gets ;-)), but I can only imagine how hard it must be to have someone you love so much be so far away, unwell, and there’s nothing can be done about it except to keep on doing what you’re doing, as in-vain as it feels.

I am also excited. As a result of the above fear, as well as the fact that he would otherwise be the only driver for 10 hours (or more), plans are being finalized (tonight, in fact) for Kelly and I to travel with the mom to Boston by train, and help bring back the husband in the car that was left up there.

Excited, very excited. This will be the first time I’ve taken the train anywhere of great distance in the US. We’ll get to experience Amtrak first-hand. There is even a small amount of hope that I’ll get to see one of the heritage units Amtrak painted up for their 40th anniversary. I also greatly enjoy driving, and while I plan to share the wheel I would have minimal problem with driving the whole way alone. Also excited that in the space of a week I’ll have at least driven through if not set foot on the ground of at least 10 states, and have been within 250 driving miles of the Canadian border as well as seeing the Gulf of Mexico.

And on top of all that I get to actually DO something to help two very close friends in their time of need.