Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sometimes you just have to ask

Yesterday I had some charges reversed on my Verizon bill. $175 worth of charges. All I had to do was ask. I just called customer service, and was very pleasant to the woman who answered my call. I asked her to please upgrade my plan from 700 minutes to 1400 minutes and make it retroactive to last month to cancel the $175 worth of overage minutes Melinda and I racked up. And she did it. No yelling, no asking for a supervisor. I just asked nicely and she helped me. And this isn't the first time.

Last month I got a bill from AT&T because I canceled one month before the end of my two year contract. They billed me the entire cancellation amount for both phones: $350. I called their customer service and asked politely to have those charges removed. At first the lady said she could not do that since the contract was not up. I asked again. She removed them.

Last month I bounced a check. I'm fairly certain this was the first time in my life. Somehow I had the erroneous idea in my head that my savings account and checking account were linked for overdrafts. Not sure where I got that idea from, but it was false. So my $500 check to the tree removal service bounced while $10K sat in my money market account being useless. The bank bounced the check to my tree guy and charged me $30. I called customer service. I politely asked them to remove the $30 charge, which they did without complaint.

Earlier this year we were having a strange problem with our Chase Credit Card bills. We pay our entire balance every month, but the date that we pay it on was out of synch with their billing cycle or some such. I still don't understand it obviously. Anyway, three months in a row we were assessed charges of about $30. Melinda called customer service and after a long, but pleasant conversation all charges were credited back to us for a total of around $100. They also advised us to pay on the first of each month, which we now do.

Also, earlier this year I called the lender holding my mortgage note (Wells Fargo) and asked about a refinance. They were able to lower my rate with a no-cost refinance (not rolled into the loan, paid by the spread). My payment went down $200/month. I paid no closing costs. My loan principle remained constant. I just asked them to lower my rate and they did (glossing over the paperwork hassle part of course).

Grand total that's about $3055 of my money saved, just by asking nicely. So, don't just sit there reading this blog, go ask someone for some money, it works.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ecclesiastes 2:17

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after the wind.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Strategy Meeting

Today in a board room somewhere the following conversation occurred.

CEO: We've got a real problem, gentlemen. Sales are stagnant. Our employees are bored and unmotivated. Morale is at an all-time low.

VP of Sales: We need to reinvent ourselves. We need an invigorating campaign. What we need is some freshness, some newness.

Chief Strategy Officer: We should rework our mission statement and our motto.

Chief Marketing Officer: We need to totally reinvent ourselves.

CEO: Our workforce seems to be getting younger, and our corporate culture is out of touch with that generation. How can we motivate them.

VP of Sales: These young people like music. We should tell them that we think they are rock stars. They will be uplifted and productivity will increase.

Chief Marketing Officer: And we could change our logo to be a flaming guitar!

CEO: But how do we counterbalance our internal motivation campaign with our customers' desires?

Chief Strategy Officer: I've always been a fan of clever word play. We could change our motto to incorporate a catchy way to say that we are a technology firm, but also that we are hip by using sexual innuendo.

Chief Marketing Officer: I have our solution! We'll change our motto to "We do IT better".
CEO: What?
Chief Marketing Officer: "We do IT better"
CEO: it what?
Chief Marketing Officer: No, not 'it', IT. Get it?
CEO: Ohhhhh, that's brilliant.
Chief Marketing Officer: I know. And we can bold and italicize the font to make it obvious.
CEO: I love it.
VP of Sales: But what font will we use for 'IT'
Chief Marketing Officer: My God, you're right. I have absolutely no idea. This is critical to our fresh campaign. I say we bring in an outside branding consultant to nail down our font.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More ways to waste time

My blog has been neglected. No crappy poetry that could have used two more edits before being posted. No witty anecdotes about poop. Just the occasional twitter update in the gadget on the side. It's sad, I know. I've been diverted. I've been working crazy hours. I've been working on my novel. I've been tweeting on twitter. And now, there is quillpill. At this point its just an experiment that Eric talked me into trying. The approach I am taking with it right now is that it is a way for me to play with some elements of the back story of my novel. That way even when I am "quilling" I can still feel like I am working on my novel. Have a peek if you like.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The only winning move is not to play?

I wondered recently about the nature of opinions. Maybe the right word here is not opinion. The correct word may be advice. In any case, I was considering the situation where someone explains a situation they are facing in life and either implicitly or explicitly ask you to comment. In the implicit form they relate their situation in a manner that your passive reception of their narrative is not sufficient. Some sort of response is required. In the explicit form they directly ask for advice on what to do in the situation described.

What I realized this week is that when that request for comment is made (implicit or explicit) the requester is often asking for you to tell them what you would do if you were them and faced with the situation. But this is foolishness of the highest order for two reasons: 1) It is impossible to answer since the person asked is NOT, in fact, the person asking 2) The person asking already knows the answer to their inquiry when formed this way since they ARE, in fact, themselves currently faced with that exact situation. Phrased another way they are asking you to read their mind and tell them their own opinion so that they can feel reassured about the choice they have already made by having someone echo it back to them.

Since the only possible answer I can give them to their inquiry is to tell them what I would do in that situation, it seems I can only disappoint. This I think may be the reason why I am the "King of NO", "Slayer of Dreams", "Destroyer of Fancies" and "Potentate of Parade Peeing". Here are my options, as I seem them, when placed in this situation:

1) Say nothing.
2) Tell the truth as I would if I were faced with it.
3) Try to guess what they would do and tell them that.
4) Say something reassuring and evasive.

And my evaluation of each option:

1) This never satisfies they requester. They want an answer. Silence pretty much never flies. And most of the time silence itself is interpreted as an answer of sorts, always assumed to be negative. In effect, if you aren't with them you are against them.
2) Not at all what they wanted. Most of the time is upsetting.
3) I find this kind of mental gymnastics tiring and not at all in line with my character. It has the feel of dishonesty and the stink of manipulation. I hate this approach.
4) This is a variation of #1 where you trick them into thinking you said something when you actually said nothing of any consequence. This fails for the same reason #1 fails, but less often. And I hate it for the same reason as I hate #3.

At the end of the day, this means I ride the #2 train all the way home. Apropos for me in so many ways.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Three Laws of Buying

The 3 laws help us to focus on what is important, and avoid a great deal of confusion. They come in the form of questions designed to help us navigate past treacherous pitfalls that could prevent us from achieving buyer’s bliss. These pitfalls are many and varied, but the most insidious come to us in the guise of honest questions such as: “Can I afford this?”, “Do I need it?”, “What is the opportunity cost of this purchase?”, or “Is there a better way to spend or invest this money?”. Don’t let these wolves in sheep’s clothing stand between you and purchased happiness. If you want it, that is enough. You only need to walk yourselves through the 3 laws. They will help to guide you towards acquiring it. With each law you are looking for a way to get an answer of yes to the question. If at any point you achieve a yes, then you need not proceed to the next law. You should then immediately go out and acquire your desired item using the method indicated by the law from which you garnered a yes.

Law I: Do I have enough cash on hand?
This law is so simple, yet too many people blow right past it too hastily. Remember not to get caught up in questions like, “What will happen in an emergency if I spend the money from the emergency fund?”, or “My husband will kill me if I take money out of the vacation fund without telling him.” Listen folks, you have to live for today. Emergencies, vacations and the like can be handled when they arrive, why worry about them right now? This law keeps you on track in this area and is very simple to follow. Check the accounts at your bank, the change jar at home, under the sofa cushions, the ashtray in the car, etc… Then just count up all the money you find, if the amount is greater than or equal to the price of your desired item, then you can answer Yes to Law I.

This second part of Law I is a bit more complicated, but well worth your time. The principle here is that many things that we accumulate over time can be converted into cash in a relatively short period of time. This includes things like retirement accounts (401(K)s, IRAs, Stocks, Bonds, and mutual fund holdings), Educational accounts, and Equity in your home. Who knows if you will live to retirement or not anyway? All you know is that there is something you want right now which you do not yet possess. The goal then is to take possession of it. Let’s not allow those nasty questions we mentioned earlier cause us to stumble. Turn those useless, non-pleasure generating items into cash and BUY! If you have any of these types of things, and can convert them to enough cash to acquire your desired item, then you can answer yes to Law I.

Law II: Can I borrow enough to pay for it?
This is in some ways similar to Law I, but in some ways it is much easier. This is getting someone else to pay for your purchase. Isn’t that incredible? What a wonderful country we live in that other people are willing to give us their money so that we can have the things we want right now, rather than waiting until we have earned enough cash by working for it. Hear me now people, and be very wary of this one. There are many Nay-Sayers out in the world today screaming about interest rates, borrowing against future income, and the opportunity cost of borrowing. Please follow these instructions carefully when anyone approaches you with such heresy: 1) Place you fingers in your ears 2) Yell as loud as you can over and over again, “I can’t hear you!” 3) Walk away. This should keep you out of trouble, and lead you into happiness. All you have to do then to answer yes to this Law is accept an offer. I know that sounds too easy, but it is true. Thousands of people in this wonderful, generous nation of ours are dying to give you THEIR money right now, all you have to do is say yes. You’ll get offers in the mail, fill them out and send them back. You’ll get offers via email, reply to them. You’ll get calls on the phone, by all means please say yes to those representatives to whatever they offer. And also remember to always check the box on all applications that says they can share your personal information with anyone they want, this will ensure you an endless supply of such offers for the rest of your life.

Law III: Can I make the government pay for it?
This last law is a product of the great strides our country has made towards becoming a socialist nation. We can be thankful that our elected and appointed representatives alike have been hard at work advancing the desires of the majority of Americans to convert from an inefficient and unfair system of capitalism, to a more loving and kind socialist system. We’re not there yet folks, so please keep voting for big gov and we’ll get there soon enough. Anyway, this third law is in some ways the most powerful of all 3 laws. This is because it has the potential of making other people pay for your stuff without you ever having to pay it back. Imagine the purchasing power if you can tap into the income of 300 million fat-cat, overstuffed, greedily rich, capitalist pig American taxpayers. Bring out the gravy honey, cuz the turkey is done. Listen, if you have debts that you incurred from your use of Law II, you should immediately file bankruptcy. I don’t care how much (or little) you owe, or even whether you have enough money to pay for it. If you can get other people to pay for your debts, you should. I don’t have the time or energy to list out all of the other money buffets that are out there. Just take a little time, contact state and federal agencies. Look around on the Internet. The time taken will be worth your while. See if there are any government programs you can qualify for. Who cares if you need it. If you CAN get it, you should. Even if you don’t qualify immediately, perhaps you can modify something about your life to qualify. For example if a certain program has an income cap, try working less hours, or even part-time. If you can sneak in just below the cap it may be worth your while. Finally, don’t forget that a fraudulent tax filing is a great way to get the government to send you some extra cash every spring.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why did you do that?

The LA Fitness in downtown Bellevue is in a small galleria-style shopping center built on top of an underground parking garage. When I work out I have to take a ticket on the way into the parking lot and have it validated at the gym front desk when I scan my ID card. They have this little stamp machine that you insert the parking card into, push down on, and it stamps your parking ticket. A few days ago I spaced and did not stamp my parking ticket. On the way out of the garage I was in the unmanned lane where you just feed your stamped ticket into the machine and drive out. When I got to the machine and pulled my ticket out of my pocket I realized it had not been stamped. So I backed up my car (luckily no one was behind me) and got into the other lane where the attendant was working. Here is how that conversation went.

Him: What happened over there?
Me: When I got up to the machine I realized I had forgotten to stamp my ticket when I worked out at LA Fitness today.
Him: You are a member there?
Me: Yes. Normally I stamp my ticket at the front desk, but I forgot this time. Can you let me through anyway?
Him: You forgot to stamp your ticket?
Me: Yes.
Him: Why did you do that?
Me: (after a moment of stunned silence). I don't have an answer for that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


A conversation with a rotating stair machine set to program "aerobic", lvl 14, 20 minutes, while holding a medicine ball. (referred to henceforth as 1420B).

1420B: Back again with that medicine ball, eh? Didn't I whoop your ass last time?
me: Pipe down, I just beat you on 30 minutes.
1420B: Sans ball, hero.
me: Whatever, it's still a W.
1420B: Depends on what word it begins.
me: Well, I'm going all the way today.
1420B: Only setting me for 20 minutes? Why not 30?
me: 20 minutes with the ball is harder than 30 without, so this is a step up.
1420B: mmm.
me: I'm feeling good. Two minutes in, nice pace. I've got this.
1420B: 3 minutes, nice. Just have to do that 5 more times.
1420B : 4 minutes in. Only have to do that 4 more times. Think you can do that?
1420B : 5 minutes in. You sure you can do what you just did 3 more times?
me: shut it.
1420B: Hey, what's that on the horizon? Is that another 7 dot bar? So soon? Oh, and look, he has a twin.
1420B: Uh oh. The ball is down. Hands are on the rails. Can he even finish?
1420B: What was that? You say something? Or was that just a desperate gasp for air?
me: well, at least I finished.
1420B: If that's what you want to call it.
me: I'll be back. You're going down.
1420B: Bring it punk. You know where to find me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

All because

A song that I have had on CD for a long time has recently made its way into my mind and stayed there to bother me. Maybe bother is the wrong word since it has such a negative connotation. It has caused me to reflect on the happiness, or lack thereof, I have had at various points in my life over the last twelve years. That is roughly the span of time between now and when I became a follower of the Way. During those intervening years I have had wondrous "mountain-top" experiences of the sweet fellowship with our Creator-God available to His adopted children. I have also experienced the dark, lonely valleys one strays into when they run out from his presence into the murky night of worldliness. The instant fix of perpetual perfection I had hoped for when calling upon His name did not come. Instead I found myself in the midst of a violent war. A war which had actually been raging all along, I simply lacked the eyes to see it. Moreover, this war which previously had staged its battles beyond the borders of my being began to skirmish in my very heart. And now I daily struggle with the temptations of this world and the allure of sin to my still-not-yet-perfect heart. God did something though. He reached in and crushed a part of my being. A dark part. A seed of rebellion and of delight in sin. The part of me that had previously been able to break the law with abandon and revel in its pleasures. That part of me is gone now, irrevocably. Therefore, though I may and often do still sin its attendant pleasures have abandoned me. In their place I find only sorrow, heartache, and separation from my heart's true joy. It is this change, this breaking, this destruction of my God-hating, sin-loving heart, that has left me no choice in the matter. Though I may live in sin for even long periods of time, my heart finds no rest there. No peace. No contentment. He has ruined me to its touch. And so, in one graceful, powerful stroke he long ago won the war which rages still in my being.

And that is what these simple words from the Tree 63 song "All Because" reminded me of recently.

They tell me to abandon you
To make my dreams come true
So what am i supposed to do
If I only dream of you?

You covered up my sin
You covered up my silence
You covered up my shame
Made me new again

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More fun times at the Dee Arr

"You will feel some cold and some pressure." A true, but insufficient warning. Let me come back to that. I want to go back two years to the previous record holder for most unpleasant maneuver performed on my body by a stranger. I pulled a groin muscle working out and went to the doctor to have myself checked for possible herniation. Prior to that examination my only exposure to hernia inquiry had been the perfunctory "turn & cough" ball cradling from high school sports. This doctor stepped it up a notch or ten, however, by actually finding a way to have his fingers enter my body through my groin. Before this rather unpleasant intrusion I was not even aware that the male anatomy provided such an ingress. I am fairly certain that in addition to determining that I had only strained and not herniated those muscles he also checked both of my kidneys through the same avenue for good measure. That event had been, until today, the single most unpleasant experience involving a doctor, or anyone for that matter, handling my body.

Today that record was broken. No, smashed. At the end of a long and rather pleasant physical examination my doctor asked me to lay on my left side and bring my knees to my chest. With my gown untied at the back by this point this left the rear end of my person clearly exposed for his next move. "You will feel some cold and some pressure", he said before entering. This was, I feel in retrospect, an inappropriately terse warning. I'm a big fan of brevity and so it packs an extra wallop when I say that a clear case could be made here for a bit more verbosity. Here is my proposal for a slightly longer, but immensely more helpful, preface: "You will feel some cold and some pressure. You will also feel a strong and seemingly irresistible urge to shit on my hand. I say seemingly because it can and should, in fact, be resisted."