bjarvis: (Default)
Credit card companies are heavily into "big data," or what the rest of the planet has been calling statistics for generations: they analyze commercial activity to devise more ways of selling products, extracting more fees, getting rid of unprofitable customers, and spotting fraud.

And sometimes they spot fraud where there isn't any, and things go bad quickly.

Earlier today, the gov't of Canada attempted to charge my Citibank Amex card for my Canadian passport renewal. Citibank flagged it as potentially a fraudulent activity. The reasoning engine which scores transactions along the scale of legit to illegit is a black box and proprietary secret, but I'm hoping they simply presumed that I was unlikely to be in Canada at this moment and therefore this charge was probably incorrect. I'm hoping they didn't just decide somehow that the Government of Canada isn't a legitimate entity.

I contacted Amex to tell them this was indeed a legit transaction, but it's too late. I expect the passport office has already dropped my paperwork into an envelope and shipped it back to me with a form letter saying that they couldn't complete the transaction. And I'm going to have to mail back the entire package yet again --using a different credit card because I can't trust Amex not to screw it up again.

This evening, that same Amex card was blocked at our local service station. In anger & disgust, I went to a different service station, reasoning that perhaps it was just a telecom issue, but no, the next service station rejected the same card. Apparently, the black box reasons that not only could I not legitimately be in Canada, but I clearly can't also be in my own neighbourhood.

I finally purchased gasoline at the second station using a different credit card. And I had a few words with Citibank customer service when I got home.

I've had this credit card for 17 years, but at this moment, I have to honestly question whether I should keep this card. Citibank's fraud prevention has prevented a stack of transactions over the years. It works perfectly as long as I hold it in my hand and keep within a limited range of home. Once I get away from the Baltimore-Washington zone or the area around our campsite in West Virginia, it starts breaking down quickly. I've learned not to trust it for web purchases or telephone orders, but it didn't occur to me that it would also fail in mail order situations, especially when dealing with a government agency.

I'll have to think about this more in the morning when I'm a bit less pissed off.
bjarvis: (Default)
The trip home from Rehoboth Beach, DE, Sunday evening was a bit too eventful for my tastes.

While zipping along I95 southbound north of Aberdeen, MD, the battery light came on. A minute later, the engine light, oil light and others came on too, and the dash began beeping. As we pulled over onto an exit ramp, we lost power steering. As quickly as possible, we stopped on the shoulder of the ramp and killed the engine.

It's a 2006 Grand Caravan with 175,000 miles on it, so we were prepared for the worst, but after some consideration, we came to our own conclusion that the tensioner for the serpentine belt had broken. With such slackness in the belt, the alternator and other devices weren't functioning as they should.

AAA summoned us a tow truck and we were able to rent a Pacifica to get us and our equipment & luggage home while the PrincessMobile stayed at the garage.

Monday morning, our suspicions about the tensioner were confirmed. And this morning, Kent drove to Aberdeen to return the Pacifica and collect the PrincessMobile. The car repairs were about $320, the car rental $290. In all, it was better than going shopping for a new minivan.
bjarvis: (Default)
Shopping in San Francisco is harder than I'm used to.

I don't really like shopping, and I'm even less fond of spending money. Still, it must be done on occasion and I do need a light jacket as the evenings here can be cold. I'll likely need one as well for our September trip to London, so I might as well get the jacket now rather than just tough it out.

I'm typically a directed item shopper: I have a goal of picking up a particular item with a budget already in mind, I go acquire it, and then I go home. I don't like browsing for the sake of it, I'm not big on taking hours to do extensive comparison shopping, an item outside of my price range is immediately ignored, and I don't get side-tracked by accessories, extra items, or add-ons. Like a dental appointment, I go in, I get the damned thing done, and I get out again. Easy stuff, usually.

Many stores are relatively small, have a obvious single product line and are easily perused. Those are painless for me, although a little frustrating when I can't find the item I want as there is a lot of walking between those shops.

The large stores I'm used to on the east coast and in Canada are pretty easy: if you want men's wear, you go to the men's wear department. All the major labels and the store brands are there in the same area. I can peruse everything in a half-hour and without wearing the tread off my shoes.

And then there's San Francisco.

Its large stores aren't dividing by function or interest, but by brand & label. There is no men's wear area. If you want men's wear, you have to visit six to a dozen different areas on multiple floors. you visit the Burberry area on the 2nd floor to peruse their men's wear alongside women's wear, etc., the Ralph Lauren section on the first floor to look at their men's wear, etc.. A single store takes an extra half-hour just to walk to each separate section and riding a number of escalators.

It's exhausting & frustrating for me, although I'm sure it makes perfect sense for those guys whose wardrobe is exclusively composed on one particular label. If you wear only Armani, shopping is a breeze.
bjarvis: (Default)
...although my long absence from social media may have lead you to think otherwise.

I've been incredibly busy through November & December. I've been spending most of this week simply recharging my batteries. Is it even possible to have a negative energy level? If so, I had it. I'm back into positive territory but still have a way to go.

There hasn't been any great burden in the past 60 days, just a stack of little things. It's the proverbial nibbling to death by ducks, death by a thousand papercuts, and other similar imagery.

I don't suffer from SAD per se: it's not the length of the day which gets me down, the fewer daylight hours, the longer nights. Rather, winter implies the holiday season which further implies obligatory social events, all of which chip away huge chunks of my introverted self. It's the end of the calendar year so I have a tonne of end-of-year work commitments. The fall/winter season also has extra square dance classes and events on top of the usual cycle of club nights, all of which have their own time commitments (well, at least if one is to do them right).

New Year's can't come soon enough so I can get back to a normal cycle of routine and rest.

While I'm going to miss one of my major goals for 2013 and haven't yet found the time this week to even file the papers in my overflowing "in" tray, there have been some successes. The gym work was new as of July and has been going very, very well. My financial situation, generally healthy, has improved significantly, achieving my goals of starting a savings account and paying off all credit card debt. On the whole, life is stable. Now if I can just get a good night's sleep this next week...
bjarvis: (Default)
Just before xmas, I saw a good deal on a laptop on eBay. I especially love shopping on bidding sites where auction deadlines land on major holidays or weekends: there are many fewer competing bidders so I have a better chance to slip in at the last minute to grab a good deal.

Indeed, I won that auction: $330 for a new Asus X501A laptop. The listed delivery date was Dec 29 but I was sure that date would be missed because of the holiday. Sure enough, it finally arrived Jan 4, but we were already on the road to North Carolina so I didn't get to collect it until this morning.

It's the wrong machine. It's an X401U model with a CPU less than half the speed of the advertised model. It also has a different OS.

I've since been back in contact with the vendor who has issued the expected mea culpa and I'm shipping the machine back to him for the correct model. I'm a bit annoyed by the delay but if my existing netbook wasn't still running adequately, I wouldn't have gone the online route and would have sought immediate shopping satisfaction at a local store.

Exactly what kind of rating the vendor is going to get will determine on how quickly I get the correct machine.
bjarvis: (Default)
Today is payday. Well, it's actually tomorrow but since that's a Saturday, my pay was deposited today. TGIF indeed!

This pay was larger than usual since I've maxed out on all my deductions and a tonne of office expense reimbursements have come through. In a flurry of bill-paying, I'm delighted to report that all of my credit cards have a zero balance.

I had my cards wiped out about two years ago but that was shot the moment our furnace died. And just when I was within a hair of wiping out that balance, my car needed a lot of expensive work. And just when that was nearly paid off, we went to the IAGSDC convention. And just when that was almost zeroed, it was time for our trailer lot lease at the campground. And so on. Many times the balance has been less than $100 --nearly paid off but not quite-- and something nasty happened. Today, nothing nasty has happened.

I plan to keep my cards as clean as humanly possible --I will be using my debit card & cash more regularly-- so we can focus the extra spare cash to the credit balances of [profile] cuyahogarvr and [profile] kent4str.

In other character-building resolutions, I've opened a personal savings account. While we have a joint savings account for household expenses into which windfall sums have occasionally been deposited for emergencies, I thought it wise to open my own account and make automatic transfers from each paycheck against rainy days, toys and all things chocolate. For example, new laptop is in my near future, and possibly more weight-lifting equipment.

I do need to transfer more money to my Canadian bank account: if I increase my balance there, I'll qualify for no-fee checking, saving another $5/month in expenses.
bjarvis: (Default)
As most of you have already figured out, I'm a man of simple pleasures: good friends, chocolate... come to think of it, that's really all I need for a decent life.

Every now and again, I treat myself to a special indulgence: shopping at Best Buy. Not to acquire yet more toys (although that can be fun too, albeit cheaper elsewhere) but to freak out the sales critters.

I occasionally go computer shopping with clients, advising them on what to buy by matching their requirements with off-the-shelf systems and ensuring they're not taken to the cleaners by savvy staffers. A few months ago, Tracie and I were shopping for a new laptop for her accounting practice. Settling on a suitable model & price wasn't a problem but the sales person kept trying to up-sell us on an extended warranty which we categorically rejected.

"But it would cover your computer parts & labor against practically anything which could happen to it for the next two years for only $250!" he would explain ernestly.

Tracie and I just smirked at each other. "The computer you're selling isn't worth that much," I said. Tracie added in her most polite church lady tone: "Son, I bill $300 per hour. In the time it would take me to open a claim for the warranty and ship the dead machine back to you, I'd have grossed enough income to buy two more. This computer --and every other one you've shown me today-- are disposable. If and when this computer dies, I'll pitch it like an empty candy wrapper and buy a new one."

The poor sales guy just stood there, boggling at the concept. I'm sure the cost of the computer was an entire week's salary for him, but them's the breaks. The computer is... disposable?! Yup.

Today's adventure at Best Buy was to buy something so I could throw it away.

To be more precise, I recently had two fibre cards and a disk controller card shipped to me for installation in two servers for my employer. The snag is that the mounting brackets on these cards are the full-height 4.75" versions instead of the low profile 3" brackets. In effect, the electronics fit but the card mounting bracket doesn't. I could ship them back for replacement but that incurs time on my part, delays to our deployment schedule and costs in shipping as well as possible restocking.

My cheaper solution was to simply replace the mounting brackets with low profile versions. The only snag is finding low profile brackets. I then had a clever idea...

I dutifully went to my local Best Buy because it's just 1.5 miles down the road and selected what I needed off the shelf. The sales guy came around to ensure I found everything I needed. I indicated I had exactly what I wanted, showing him the no-name 100baseT cards I pulled off the shelf. He then tried to argue for getting gigabit ethernet cards, pointing out some brand name cards nearby.

"Nope," I replied. "I have what I need."

"But these other cards will be faster if your network gets upgraded!"

"Doesn't matter. I'm not actually buying network cards."

"Huh?"

"I just want the mounting bracket of them to rescue vastly more expensive hardware I already have in hand. I'm throwing away the network cards afterwards."

"Come again?"

"I'm keeping the mounting brackets and throwing away the network cards."

"You're buying these... then throwing them away?"

"You got it."

He stared blankly for a full 15 seconds before he escorted me to the cash register and rang up the sale. I don't think he really believed me, but that's ok. I got the equipment I needed, my servers will get upgraded on schedule, I saved the firm a pile of cash and I got a cheap thrill causing yet another sales guy great confusion.

Like I said, I'm a man of simple pleasures.
bjarvis: (Default)
This is the time of year which manages to press all my angst buttons repeatedly. For the record, I'm not a fan of xmas.

My workload in December more than doubles because many office colleagues going to be pushing to finish projects before the end of the calendar year. Worse, I know everyone of them won't be in the office the last two weeks of the month having vanished for the holidays & traveling to warm places around the globe. (These will be the same people who are resentful when they return and find the long list if tasks they left stuck to the fridge on their way out aren't finished because many others were gone at the same time.)

All of this I could handle.

December and the end of the calendar year is a surprise to all of them every year. It's like they wake up out of a post-double latte coma with 334 days of the year gone and panic about getting it all done in the last 31. A little planning would help, but hey, that's just crazy talk.

This too I can handle. I'm paid to deal with this stuff so I bitch about it on social media ('cuz it's cheaper than therapy) and plow on through my to-do list. I'll pretend it's nice to feel wanted, suck it up and do it.

The part I can't get cheery about though is xmas itself. The annual paper cut of the soul used to begin in early December, then US Thanksgiving, then Halloween, then Canadian Thanksgiving and soon it will start on July 4. In another 10 years, xmas will be like the US election cycle: it begins the day after the prior one ends. And people will wonder why I'm bitter 24x7 instead of just waking hours.

Today has been the most exhausting day I've had in weeks. My heavy, soul-crushing burden? Shopping. Not even in a mall, just online shopping.

I hate shopping. I hate spending money. I hate guessing what people might like/want. I hate dedicating enormous amounts of my brain to remembering what I gave in prior years, examining, comparing & remembering candidate presents this year, panicking about getting things shipped in time, becoming disappointed vendors are out of stock and so on.

Don't bother suggesting I just bake cookies or send homemade crafts. Just don't. Most of my clan lives in Canada... have you tried getting cookies shipped across the border? There are 100,000 bureaucrats and trigger-happy homeland security people on both sides of the border who have made it their lives' work to stop this from happening with small-scale weapons and complaints to the World Trade Organization, the EPA, Environment Canada, Revenue Canada and a bunch of agencies you don't want to know about. Cookies = Guantanamo, and I'm too fair-skinned to deal with the tropical sun.

Despite the best efforts of the universe and my aversion to this seasonal wretchedness, I did manage to order presents online for five nieces; I should be able to get the nephew's present ordered tomorrow by phone during business hours.

Which just leaves the impossible present: something for the parents. Seriously, what do you get for the people who already have hoarding issues? Hell, getting them anything is like giving a crack pipe to an addict.

Maybe I'll send them cookies. Or just say I did and claim some gov't somewhere stopped them. It's not like I'm swearing to anything with my hand on the bible.

The part which truly has me soaking in a particularly unsoothing bubble-bath of despair is the sad realization that I ll have to do this all over again next year, possibly as soon as Labor Day. It'll never end. I mean, you can only fake your own death so many times before folks start to get a teensy bit suspicious.
bjarvis: (Default)
The good folks at the Office of the Comptroller of Maryland, Compliance Programs, Business Nexus Unit, have sent me an interesting letter.

Apparently, they've been told of a purchase for $739.96 made on 5/26/08 by me at Ira Wood & Sons of Owensboro, KY. Maryland believes I owe them $44.40 for our 6% sales tax on that purchase.

The snag is that I have no idea what they're talking about. The firm sells home furnishings, according to their web site. I've never heard of them before. I have no record in my credit card statements or checkbook for any purchase remotely that large 60 days before or after 5/26/08. In short, it would seem there's either an error in processing somewhere, fraudulent accounting or I've been purchasing stuff in my sleep while simultaneously erasing my own paper trail.

I've left telephone messages with both the vendor and the tax office asking for more information.
bjarvis: (Default)
As of yesterday, we now have Verizon FiOS television. There's a slew of HD channels but our television is an old CRT model so we're not exactly getting the full effect currently. If our expenses are under control, we might use the spring tax returns to upgrade the tv but it's not an urgent expense.

Just this hour, I've canceled our old Dish Network service. It was great while it lasted, but $50/month savings is too good to pass up. They're sending us a box to ship back our decoder & remotes. Happily, they're not requiring me to go up on the roof to remove the satellite dish.

One side effect of the new television service is that our package upgrade included a speed increase for our Internet access, from 15Mbps download/5Mbps upload to 25/25. My speed tests show an improvement closer to 30Mbps download but truthfully, the services we use aren't typically feeding data at such a high speed so we're not seeing an end-point performance improvement. I suppose if we were downloading movies regularly or using some online backup service we'd feel the change but that's not our typical usage. I should try re-imaging some remote server using locally stored ISO files to see if it's any easier than it was before... :-)

[profile] kent4str and [profile] cuyahogarvr are cleaning out our storage locker as I type this. Some things will come home, others will be stored in the in-laws' basement for a while until we decide their ultimate fate. Savings: $192.50/month.

This morning, somewhat unexpectedly, our electrical utility PEPCO installed a smart meter. If there hadn't been a five minute power outage resetting most appliance clocks, we'd never have noticed. I have a concern on this point though: I've heard a great number of horror stories about peoples' electrical bills jumping dramatically after the installation of smart meters. Is it that they're finally being billed accurately after years of under-billing, or is there a bug in some models of meters or the systems used to read them? Don't know. We'll have to watch this carefully.

Now to dig into switching electrical and gas providers...
bjarvis: (Honda Civic)
I collected my car from the garage Monday afternoon. Finally, it drives, sounds & smells like it should. And considering how much it cost, it damn well better!

Alternator $315.25
Alternator bracket $85.65
Alternator bolt $5
Manifold converter assembly $793.24 (inc. $128.05 labor)
Oxygen sensor (front) $114.91 (inc. $29.55 labor)
Oxygen sensor (back) $119.79 (inc. $29.25 labor)

In all, parts cost me $1,246.69, Labor $187.15, shop supplies $39.99 and sales tax $77.20 for a total of $1,551.03.

On the good side, I'm confident I'll get another five years of reliable use out of this car. As expensive as the maintenance has been this summer, it's still cheaper than buying a replacement car.
bjarvis: (Default)
I collected my car from the garage this afternoon. Finally, it drives, sounds & smells like it should. And considering how much it cost, it damn well better!

Alternator $315.25
Alternator bracket $85.65
Alternator bolt $5
Manifold converter assembly $793.24 (inc. $128.05 labor)
Oxygen sensor (front) $114.91 (inc. $29.55 labor)
Oxygen sensor (back) $119.79 (inc. $29.25 labor)

In all, parts cost me $1,246.69, Labor $187.15, shop supplies $39.99 and sales tax $77.20 for a total of $1,551.03.

On the good side, I'm confident I'll get another five years of reliable use out of this car. As expensive as the maintenance has been this summer, it's still cheaper than buying a replacement car.
bjarvis: (Default)
My saga of car maintenance continues...

After the timing belt replacement last month, I noticed my car was distinctly louder than it should be. Indeed, much louder than any car should be without the custom look-at-me!-look-at-me! hyper-bass I-have-a-small-dick-and-must-compensate mufflers. After discussing this back at the shop that same day, I was informed that the exhaust system near the manifold was corroding and a hole had developed: the entire system would have to be replaced. Having just dropped $1k that month for a timing belt and water pump, I opted to hold off for a short while to let my bank account recover slightly.

Yesterday morning, I bit the bullet and took my Civic back to the shop for the exhaust work. Initial estimate: $1100.

Yesterday afternoon, they called me to say the exhaust work was complete but now that the engine was quiet enough, they could hear something else not quite right in the proximity of the timing belt which had been replaced last month and asked if they could keep the car another day to investigate to ensure their prior work was solid. I like people who are willing to admit a mistake or seek improvement and I didn't need the car so I agreed.

This afternoon, I got another call: the sound wasn't anything to do with the timing belt or such. It was the alternator. More specifically, a bold & bracket attached to the alternator had corroded --did I mention the car is 10 years old?-- and allowed the alternator to slip a few degrees out of alignment, thus causing excess wear & tear on its bearings. If they could hold onto the car another day, they're over-nighting a replacement alternator, bracket & bolt to replace the dying one and, because I've been a good customer and exceedingly patient through this ordeal, they're waiving labor costs. Still, my bill this visit will top $1550.

sigh I didn't really need to eat anyway.
bjarvis: (Default)
Last June, I started catching up on a lot of neglected car maintenance. This past week, I finished the second half: replacing the timing belt and water pump (long overdue), along with the normal oil change.

As expected, it wasn't cheap:
Parts: $460.89
Labor: 447.40
Shop Supplies: 39.99

With taxes, it came to $978.33. Ouch.

Still, if one is to believe the owner's manual, the timing belt replacement is some 60,000 miles overdue so I was really pushing the envelope and a failure while driving could cause catastrophic damage as well as severe inconvenience.
bjarvis: (Default)
Last week, Standard & Poors downgraded the US' credit rating from AAA to AA+. There has been much wringing of hands about how S&P got it wrong, how they had a $2 trillion math error and such. Math errors aside, I think they got it right.

S&P downgraded the US because of its political unwillingness to address its deficit and debt issues, not its theoretical ability or inability to pay. The US has the financial ability to maintain its accumulated debt. Please remember though that the months-long political farce on the debt ceiling issue wasn't even about the future: it was about whether Congress was going to allow itself to borrow the money to cover the spending Congress itself previously authorized. If ever there was a demonstration of administrative immaturity, incompetence and childishness, this was it.

Credit worthiness is about the likelihood of a lender being repaid the money they lent. In my lifetime, there was never any question the US would pay its legal obligations. That doubt has now been introduced, gone mainstream and even made into a political platform within the very institutions which are supposed to safeguard that credit worthiness. How could the US not be downgraded at least a notch?

In my humble opinion, the US doesn't have a spending problem: it has an income problem. We're already paying the lowest income taxes since the 1950s, especially if one is very wealthy: religious fervor in reducing taxes even lower and thus creating an even larger deficit isn't the answer. Signing ideological pledges to avert a primary run-off demonstrates a further lack of maturity.

I'm optimistic in an odd way though: this latest circus demonstrates clearly that the US is not a reliable trading partner and that it's time for a major shake-up on how we do international trade & finance. Since World War II, the US has been the big gorilla at the international table; these days, not only has the gorilla been decidedly disinterested in anything but grooming itself, it's actively flinging its feces at others. Change is necessary.

The US can't cut its budget to prosperity: if it is very, very lucky, additional cuts may only cause a mild recession. Closing tax loopholes and possibly higher rates on extreme incomes will help balance the budget; economic growth can close the gap too. Personally, I'm OK with letting the Bush tax cuts expire, even though I've profited from it over the years they've been in place. I'm willing to give up my mortgage tax credit too --or at least capping it. All I ask is that any expense cutting be done evenly: no blanket exclusions for the military or supposed non-entitlement programs.

If we're unwilling to deal with this in a sane & balanced approach, there are two other options: stay the course which leads to death by a thousand paper cuts, or allow inflation to rise to whittle away at the pile of debt. The inflation option is discussed in market circles every 15 years or so, usually by conspiracy theorists and wingnuts. It's the economic equivalent of destroying the country in order to save it, but as we rule out saner choices with Norquist loyalty oaths and Jesus-told-me-no-new-taxes faith-based pseudo-economics, using this kind of napalm becomes the last option on the table.
bjarvis: (Honda Civic)
I love my Honda Civic but money has been short for a while as I've been trying to catch up on a series of large expenses --a campground annual lease, a new furnace, a wedding, etc.. All of that neglected regular maintenance has been hovering over my head, slowly ratcheting up the fear that eventually something would break and I'd be marooned out in the wilderness somewhere.

While my immediate cash supply isn't any better than it was months ago, at least there is only one known major upcoming expense --our Atlanta IAGSDC convention at the end of the month. Because of a confluence of external factors, I resolved that I would catch up on the bulk of the neglected routine car maintenance this week.

I just collected my Civic back from NTB.
  • Oil change $10 (had a coupon)
  • Oil disposal $3
  • Four new tires @$74 each $296
  • Tire disposal $12
  • Maryland tire recycling fee $3.20
  • Basic tire service $52
  • Wheel alignment $115
  • Coolant flush & exchange $110
  • Serpentine belt (AC & alternator) $55
  • Serpentine belt (power steering) $50
  • Tune-up $80
  • New sparkplugs & install $71
  • Front brake pads $150
  • Brake rotors $150
  • Rear brake maint $30
  • Brake fluid exchange $60
  • Transmission fluid exchange $145
  • Labor $296

Adding in taxes, I paid $1,792.56.

Ouch. That's $250 more than our monthly mortgage payment. :-(

Worse, this doesn't include the replacement of the timing belt, the water pump and the air bag cartridges, all of which are very overdue and still pending.

On the brief drive from the shop to home, the only noticeable difference in performance was the vastly improved feel of the brakes --they're no longer mushy and soft. I hope the other minor improvements will become obvious as I drive to the data center tonight; a slight increase in fuel performance would be nice although I was averaging about 37 mpg prior to the work anyway.

I'm consoling myself by focusing on how much more reliable the Civic will be, how I've extended its working life a little bit and how much more confident I can be while using it on extended road trips. It's not helping yet, but it's all I have currently.
bjarvis: (Honda Civic)
I love my Honda Civic but money has been short for a while as I've been trying to catch up on a series of large expenses --a campground annual lease, a new furnace, a wedding, etc.. All of that neglected regular maintenance has been hovering over my head, slowly ratcheting up the fear that eventually something would break and I'd be marooned out in the wilderness somewhere.

While my immediate cash supply isn't any better than it was months ago, at least there is only one known major upcoming expense --our Atlanta IAGSDC convention at the end of the month. Because of a confluence of external factors, I resolved that I would catch up on the bulk of the neglected routine car maintenance this week.

I just collected my Civic back from NTB.
  • Oil change $10 (had a coupon)
  • Oil disposal $3
  • Four new tires @$74 each $296
  • Tire disposal $12
  • Maryland tire recycling fee $3.20
  • Basic tire service $52
  • Wheel alignment $115
  • Coolant flush & exchange $110
  • Serpentine belt (AC & alternator) $55
  • Serpentine belt (power steering) $50
  • Tune-up $80
  • New sparkplugs & install $71
  • Front brake pads $150
  • Brake rotors $150
  • Rear brake maint $30
  • Brake fluid exchange $60
  • Transmission fluid exchange $145
  • Labor $296

Adding in taxes, I paid $1,792.56.

Ouch. That's $250 more than our monthly mortgage payment. :-(

Worse, this doesn't include the replacement of the timing belt, the water pump and the air bag cartridges, all of which are very overdue and still pending.

On the brief drive from the shop to home, the only noticeable difference in performance was the vastly improved feel of the brakes --they're no longer mushy and soft. I hope the other minor improvements will become obvious as I drive to the data center tonight; a slight increase in fuel performance would be nice although I was averaging about 37 mpg prior to the work anyway.

I'm consoling myself by focusing on how much more reliable the Civic will be, how I've extended its working life a little bit and how much more confident I can be while using it on extended road trips. It's not helping yet, but it's all I have currently.
bjarvis: (money)
Today's theme --besides heavy rain-- has been all about economic activity. More precisely, economic activity about me.

The day began with a dental cleaning. Let's face it: when your day begins with a dental appointment, it can't go anywhere but up. $90 billed to my dental plan... we'll see how much gets covered and how much gets kicked back to me.

At lunchtime, I drove out to the local mall to do some shopping at JC Penney. I love their Stafford brand oxford-style button-down collar shirts: they're flexible business casual and are very serviceable for slogging around home when they're too ratty for the office. I've noted that many of my shirts have slid into ratty territory lately; I haven't worked routinely in a formal office in two years so there was no pressure to replace the shirts and I swore I wouldn't buy myself any new clothes until my credit cards were fully paid off.

I didn't quite make my goal, thanks to a replaced furnace late last year. Still, I should be able to wipe out my remaining balance with my next paycheck. As well, the shirts I wanted were on sale --$14 each instead of $36-- and I wanted something decent for our upcoming convention trip to CALLERLAB in Las Vegas later this month, especially since I'm a panelist this year.

I also bought a new belt. It's stunningly hard to find a belt that is (a) black, (b) non-chrome buckle, (c) fits a 32" waist and (d) is more than 1/2" wide. Again, I got it on sale for $22 although it was still more than I really wanted to spend. My day-to-day jeans belt however is showing its age and may not last much longer so I'll sleep better having a backup in inventory.

While I did break with my original plan, at least I paid for it all with cash rather than adding to my credit card balance. I just won't eat for a while. :-)

Damn, I just remembered: I also need new laces for my dress shoes. I'll worry about that later.

On the way home, I stopped at my preferred barber shop for a quick trim. How quick? I wasn't in the chair more than four minutes. My 'do isn't especially sophisticated or complicated, but I appreciate the speed in which I can get in & out of the shop, especially when there are other tasks to get done today.
bjarvis: (money)
Today's theme --besides heavy rain-- has been all about economic activity. More precisely, economic activity about me.

The day began with a dental cleaning. Let's face it: when your day begins with a dental appointment, it can't go anywhere but up. $90 billed to my dental plan... we'll see how much gets covered and how much gets kicked back to me.

At lunchtime, I drove out to the local mall to do some shopping at JC Penney. I love their Stafford brand oxford-style button-down collar shirts: they're flexible business casual and are very serviceable for slogging around home when they're too ratty for the office. I've noted that many of my shirts have slid into ratty territory lately; I haven't worked routinely in a formal office in two years so there was no pressure to replace the shirts and I swore I wouldn't buy myself any new clothes until my credit cards were fully paid off.

I didn't quite make my goal, thanks to a replaced furnace late last year. Still, I should be able to wipe out my remaining balance with my next paycheck. As well, the shirts I wanted were on sale --$14 each instead of $36-- and I wanted something decent for our upcoming convention trip to CALLERLAB in Las Vegas later this month, especially since I'm a panelist this year.

I also bought a new belt. It's stunningly hard to find a belt that is (a) black, (b) non-chrome buckle, (c) fits a 32" waist and (d) is more than 1/2" wide. Again, I got it on sale for $22 although it was still more than I really wanted to spend. My day-to-day jeans belt however is showing its age and may not last much longer so I'll sleep better having a backup in inventory.

While I did break with my original plan, at least I paid for it all with cash rather than adding to my credit card balance. I just won't eat for a while. :-)

Damn, I just remembered: I also need new laces for my dress shoes. I'll worry about that later.

On the way home, I stopped at my preferred barber shop for a quick trim. How quick? I wasn't in the chair more than four minutes. My 'do isn't especially sophisticated or complicated, but I appreciate the speed in which I can get in & out of the shop, especially when there are other tasks to get done today.

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