Kill A Watt EZ P4460 – DeLonghi SafeHeat radiator

When natural gas prices went through the roof I took a look at our heating system. We have a single central forced air system that supplies our entire house. This isn’t terribly unreasonable considering that we live in a single story ranch (no basement, no steps at all). But, even with a programmable electronic thermostat, I felt we could do much better energy-wise if I picked up some electric heaters and used them with timers in various rooms of the house.

I am looking at replacing the furnace / air conditioner now and will probably set up either two zones (with separate units) or set up a system that controls where the heat is being directed throughout the day so that we are not heating unused rooms unnecessarily.

I have this DeLonghi Safeheat radiator (rated for 1500W)in the master bedroom attached to an Intermatic Time-All (rated for 1750W). The timer will kick on an hour or so before we head to bed and it will turn off a couple of hours after we settle in. It again turns on an hour or so before we get up. The heater itself has its own thermostat so it won’t bother to turn on if the room is already warm enough. In this climate the morning temperature outdoors is just as likely to be 35 degrees as it is to be 50 degrees.

The DeLonghi has two switches, one supposedly rated for 600W, the other supposedly for 900W so you can have a low-med-high arrangement by using one, the other or both of them. Interestingly, when I had the unit hooked up to my Kill A Watt, I found that the 600 Watt switch was drawing about 700W and the 900W setting was drawing about 761W. So the tuning isn’t quite so fine as you might think. Also of note that both switches on consumed 1315W. Not really sure what that tells you.


Elapsed time: 1041 hrs (about 43 days)
Measured Minimum Consumption (Watts): 700
Measured Maximum Consumption (Watts): 1315
KWH: 123
Cost –
     Actual (for duration of test): $13.14
     Daily: $0.30
     Weekly: $2.11
     Monthly: $9.08
     Annual: $110.00 <– Take with a grain of salt. We only use the heater for about 5 months a year.

Refinancing a mortgage with SunTrust – Done

Continuing with my mortgage saga, I went in yesterday morning and *finally* got this done. There was one nasty surprise waiting for me there. ANOTHER copy of that dreaded 4506-T “Request for Transcript of Tax Return” form. As before it was completely blank. I asked the lawyer (he represents the lender, like I have a choice) if I can just remove it from the package. His response was that the package needs to be signed and initialed as-is or the mortgage can’t go through. So I said, “What if I fill in the values so this isn’t just a blank check to my entire IRS history?”. Again, he said he sympathized but no changes can be made or the mortgage has to wait.

I am Joe, ordinary citizen, and this is is typical of what we all face when borrowing from our lending institutions. For this transaction I had 34 documents on 75 pages of which all but 3 needed to be either initialed or signed.  The document letting me know that I have a right to my own lawyer was probably about number 20 in the pile…  Do the folks who legislate this crap really think it actually helps the lay person? It sure didn’t help any of the folks losing their houses to foreclosure. All I’m doing is signing away more and more rights. Even the stuff that I slowed down to read (I had to take a fair amount of the information on faith that the lawyer wasn’t trying to screw me over) was the kind of stuff that would take a good hour or so to really sink in or understand. And if I found any of it objectionable it’s not like I can NOT sign away all my rights if I want to complete the deal.

My credit rating is excellent, but that still gives me NOTHING in negotiating with these institutions. And I actually have a day job, so battling it out with them in court would be idiotically expensive and unproductive for me to say the least.

Anyway, I’m so glad it’s over. As with buying a car, you grit your teeth, hope you don’t get raped too badly and then try to recover from the disappointment, humiliation and dissatisfaction with the process and convince yourself that it wasn’t so bad so you will be able to bear it every time you make a payment without feeling you got taken to the cleaners.

Old Reminders Keep Appearing for Recurring Meetings

In Lotus Notes, a user has recurring meetings scheduled. When the reminder comes up, they acknowledge the dialog normally.

The next day, the recurring meeting will show up again along with any others that have accumulated.

In the forums and Lotus’ Technotes they indicate that you should get a handle to the user’s “CalendarSettings” profile (some refer to the “CalendarProfile” profile but you really need “CalendarSettings”) and reset the “lastAlarmDate” field to “Now”.

Using NotesPeek I could see that the user that I was dealing with had 3 CalendarSettings profiles. One for their current name, one for an early variation on their name with which they had begun their employ with us and one with the name of one of our Junior Administrators in it.

The correct profile (user’s current name) also matched the owner’s field name in the CalendarProfile but the “lastAlarmDate” field was already current. So this wasn’t going to help me. Figuring that the CalendarSettings document was likely damaged in some way, I created the following agent to blow away ALL of the calendarsettings profiles.

Get the user to exit Lotus Notes completely, then add the following agent to their mail file and run it. Don’t forget to remove it afterwards.

Then have them open Lotus Notes. They will see ALL their old reminders which they should just acknowledge. Also, some settings will need to be redone: they will go back to the week view of the calendar if they had changed it to some other view, etc.

But, compared with the annoyance of more and more accumulating meeting reminders, the reset is a minor issue.

Name:    Getcalendarsettings
Last Modification:    02/19/2009 04:05:54 PM
Comment:    [Not Assigned]
Shared Agent:    Yes
Type:    LotusScript
State:    Enabled
Trigger:    Manually From Actions Menu
Acts On:    None
LotusScript Code:
Option Public
Option Declare
Sub Initialize
    Dim sess As New notessession
    Dim coll As notesdocumentcollection
    Dim doc As NotesDocument
    Dim docdel As NotesDocument
    Set coll = sess.CurrentDatabase.GetProfileDocCollection(“Calendarsettings”)
    Set doc = coll.GetFirstDocument
    While Not doc Is Nothing
        Set docDel = doc   
        Set doc = coll.GetNextDocument(doc)
        If Not docDel Is Nothing Then
            Call docDel.Remove(True)
        End If
End Sub

Ticketmaster and Mondial Assistance

I’ve never been real comfortable with “Ticketmaster”. Whenever I use the site they have service fee upon service fee heaped upon the purchase. They’re kind of like the “Bank of America” of ticket sellers.

For example, last month I purchased tickets for a local play (Footloose) for myself, Michelle and 3 friends. The original ticket price was $15. Then Ticketmaster ladles on a $4.75 “Convenience Fee” per ticket (anybody know what the heck that really means?). Then there is the “Order Processing Charge” $3.65 (seems reasonable enough) and a “Ticketfast” charge of $1.75 (cost for them to allow me to print my own tickets).
This increases the final cost of the tickets by nearly 40% of the originally stated price.

So, recognizing and finally accepting that there really is no way to pay the advertised price for Ticketmaster tickets, and that they’ve got most venues around here locked up (does anybody know how to get tickets without going through Ticketmaster? I mean besides making an extra trip down to the venue to purchase them.). I picked up tickets for a show next month that were supposed to be $39.50 each. The “Convenience Fee” for these is $6.75 per ticket. Now they have a $2.00 “Total Building Facility Charge(s)” per ticket (?). I get a break on the Order Processing Charge as it is “only” $3.60 for the order, but they easily recoup that by increasing the “Ticketfast” charge to $2.50.
So my $39.50 tickets are now $51.30 each or 30% more than the advertised price.

“Fine”, I tell myself. Michelle will really enjoy the show and I really don’t have a lot of options.

This morning I get an email from Mondial Assistance thanking me for purchasing “Event Ticket Protector Insurance”.

Mondial Event Ticket Protector Insurance

At first I figured this was just a scam but then I saw that they had information that only Ticketmaster could have provided (date of the show, number of tickets). Further, when I checked on Ticketmaster’s site they *do* acknowledge the insurance scheme

 but pretty much tell you that you need to deal with it on your own.

I know that I did *not* intentionally elect to take any insurance – 15% ($6 insurance vs. supposed original cost of ticket) is WAY too expensive for such protection and the risk that I’m going to miss a 2 hour performance is not really all that great (vs., say, the risk of missing a vacation package that spans a week or so).

But what is galling is the fact that I saw no mention at all of this insurance on Ticketmaster’s site when making the purchase. If there *was* it was not obvious and the little note at the top of the page saying “You have 2:15 to complete this form or you’ve gotta start over” would definitely impact your ability to carefully inspect your options.

As it is I haven’t seen the charge applied against my credit card yet, but this *is* the weekend. I’ve got a note on my calendar to check on Tuesday and cancel it. It’s a small amount of money but , gee whiz, don’t you just hate being taken for a ride?

*** Update February 17, 2009 ***

To their credit, Mondial’s VP of Marketing Communications contacted me after reading this blog and offered to initiate a refund of the premium for me. I had this on my “to do” list for the afternoon but I felt this was a nice gesture.

In his message he noted that:

The scenario you described was quite alarming to us and I want you to know that I have looked into it. I can assure you that we do not automatically charge people for the insurance. This type of “opt out” marketing practice is not used on Ticketmaster’s website. Each ticket purchaser is given the option to purchase or not purchase insurance.

I cannot say for sure how the option was presented to me, but I know I would not have opted in. And Ticketmaster’s reputation, being what it is, would leave me comfortable in the assumption that they were implementing an “opt out” strategy. After all, they are already selling tickets for more than the face price in the first place.

I see that the initial charge for the insurance premium has been applied against my charge card. I have already received confirmation that the insurance has been canceled. I’ll post to confirm that the reversal of charge has been applied as well.

** Updated February 22, 2009 **

I want to note that the credit for Mondial Assistance’s insurance premium showed up on my credit card account a couple of days ago. So they were true to their word on canceling and reimbursing me for the insurance.

Vision Fitness – On the ball

I have a Vision Fitness T9200 Basic Treadmill with the simple console on it that I picked up almost exactly two years ago. Amazingly, I actually do use it regularly during the winter and on inclement days during the summer, preferring to run outside when I can but I *am* a fair weather runner. Can’t see the point in being miserable when I have a perfectly comfortable alternative sitting in my gym.

Anyway, almost exactly two weeks before my warranty was to expire the 1,5,8 and 9 number keys on the panel stopped working. I use these a *lot* so this was a problem for me.

I visited the Vision Fitness website and sent them a note through their “Request Technical Support” panel. This apparently didn’t actually do anything, so when I didn’t hear back from them after a week I elected to call them directly (1-800-335-4348). I explained what was going on and the fellow I reached asked for model and serial number information then told me they’d ship out a new front panel and that it should reach me by the next Wednesday.

Everything was so casual I wasn’t super confident that he was going to follow through but I still had time on my warranty so I decided to see what would happen.

On Wednesday when I got home from work, there was a package waiting for me. On Thursday morning I took apart the console of my treadmill and replaced the panel. Everything now works perfectly! They even included the UPS return label so all I need to do now is pack the old unit (which will be easy given the packing materials they used) and call UPS for a pickup.

Absolutely simple. Great customer service with no fuss. Just make sure that you phone them rather than bothering with the online support request form.

This kind of customer service is important and why I am such a die-hard fan of some manufacturers and retailers ( and Samsung are two that leap to mind) and why Vision Fitness now gets first dibs for my next fitness purchase.

Replacing Simple Console FaceplateReplacing Simple Console FaceplateReplacing Simple Console FaceplateReplacing Simple Console Faceplate

Refinancing a mortgage with SunTrust

*** Update September 9, 2010 ***

Heh, it was just pointed out to me that I never actually included the *amount* I was refinancing… that would make the numbers below a lot more useful if you want to compare your situation. I was refinancing $125,000.

*** End Update September 9, 2010 ***

You would think that something as straightforward as a mortgage refinance would be difficult to cock up. Heck, they (mortgage brokers in general) been doling out mortgages for years without even checking if folks can pay them back.

So, back in early January I contacted my mortgage company (SunTrust) and dealt with George Connolly to get a good faith estimate for my refi. I also contacted Lending Tree and they put me in touch with exactly one person so that ended up being the extent of my “competitive bidding”.

It eventually came down to two identical mortgage offers at 4.5% for 15 years with a difference in the closing costs boiling down to a discount that I would get for working for my current employer if I went with SunTrust.

Ultimately, I chose the SunTrust option, partly because they were a bit less expensive on the closing costs, but also because I had other business with them.

Things didn’t bode well when I received my “official” package from them that had a “Good Faith Estimate” for closing costs fully $1,000 higher than what we’d agreed upon. George assured me that they would be working off of the Excel spreadsheet version.

Also of concern was the fact that the $350 appraisal fee was not listed on the Good Faith estimate originally and George used appraisal fee and application fee interchangeably.

I suppose I should have bailed at that point, but now that I was into the process for $350 (appraisal paid up front) I was kind of committed.

Originally we were supposed to close the deal February 3. According to George 2-3 weeks is all this normally takes at the outside. Come February 2 I got a call from him that the folks holding my Home Equity Line of Credit still had not made a decision regarding “subordination”. This, I am told, is where they agree that it will not be a problem for them to be 2nd in line for my house should I default. Since this is already the case with my existing mortgage it should be a no brainer.

I was told that the subordination folks are really backed up as so many folks are trying to refinance , taking advantage of the good rates now.

So we pushed off the close until February 10, 2009 (today). I got a call from George yesterday evening that the subordination decision *still* hadn’t been received.

I called the subordination group myself today and found that the paperwork had not even been faxed to them until nearly 4 pm on the 4th of February. As of today they’re only just dealing with requests received from the 2nd of February.

I am *pissed*. Not only was the subordination stuff not even *initiated* by the time of my first attempt at closing but they didn’t even come clean until I told them I knew exactly what had happened.

At this point I’ll be VERY lucky if this thing can close for Friday – that also assumes that I can find time out of my work day to make my way to the lawyer’s office to do the closing. Time I had already arranged for… twice … to make it to the earlier closing appointments.

I’ve had to pass on a great hardwood flooring estimate (with a closeout price on a flooring we were really happy with) because I did not have the refi in hand. I’m so glad I did not go forward immediately or I’d now be in trouble.

As it is, I purchased some furniture expecting the refi would be settled by the time the credit card statement came due. But, since things are all bolluxed up I can expect to see the proceeds of my refi *maybe* a week from Thursday (3 day recession period plus weekend and bank holiday Monday). Two and a half weeks after the originally expected close date.

This brings me to a general peeve I have about real estate and mortgages. Why does everything have to be so convoluted? Don’t these people do this stuff EVERY SINGLE DAY as part of their job? How can they all be so bad at it? Is there anybody out there who HASN’T had to scramble like a madman at the last minute EVERY time they have bought a piece of property?

Heck, over and above my current situation, apparently I’m the only one who’s ever read the initial paperwork that they send out to be signed.  One of the forms, 4506-T “Request for Transcript of Tax Return” they sent pretty much blank and instructed me to sign it and send it back. They were miffed when I pointed out that the form itself even says “DO NOT SIGN this form if a third party requires you to complete form 4506, and lines 6 and 9 are blank.”. Essentially you are just giving out blanket access to ALL your tax information. Then they insisted Michelle had to sign it when I added her name to the form in accordance with the instructions ON THE FORM that she needed to be there if I file a joint return. The form even stipulates that only the one signature is required… *sigh*.

Geez. Anyway, I’ve got a call in to George’s manager, Barry Butler.I’ve asked him to expedite this refi. But nobody’s accountable for anything. I called him at 4 pm, it’s now 5:30 so I suppose it’s a safe bet that he’s not going to bother returning my call either.

Thankfully I don’t spend more than I’ve got so, with some creative juggling I should be able to cover the shortfall without having to cash out any assets that will lead to irretrievable losses (I think). But this whole situation could very well have impacted my credit rating (by carrying a balance on my card) and has definitely wasted time and effort on my part, both in chasing around the loan entities to figure out what is happening and in trying to secure a reputable contractor and a reasonable deal for the renovations we’re about to embark upon.

What do you think, should the folks who stand to gain from this refi (closing costs out the whazoo) be culpable for ANYTHING?

BTW, my closing costs for reference:
801.  Loan Origination Fee            $937.50
804.  Application fee                 $350.00
808.  Tax Service Fee                 $78.00
809.  Processing                      $300.00
810.  GA Residential Per Loan Fee     $6.50
811.  Flood Cert                      $11.50
1103.  Title Exam                     $125.00
1105.  Document Review                $275.00
1107.  Attorney’s Fees                $199.00
1108.  Title Insurance  (lender)      $250.00
1201.  Recording Fees                 $50.00
1203.  GA Intangible  Tax             $375.00
1304.  Other (discount for employer)  $(250.00)
Total Estimated Closing Costs         $2,707.50

Note this doesn’t include the appraisal fee of $350
So I’m paying $3,057.50 (if this is even the final real tally) for the privilege of having my refi mismanaged.

** Update Feb 11, 2009 **

To his credit, Barry *did* call me later yesterday evening and left me his email address. So I sent off a note to him and George outlining my concerns. There is little they can do to right this SNAFU ’cause it seems that they have little or no pull with the Line of Credit folks but we’ll see if they at least can keep the rest of the process on track and maybe see to it that my closing costs don’t inflate when I’m in the lawyer’s office.

** Update Feb 15, 2009 **

I exchanged several emails with George on Friday. I cannot tell whether the Home Equity folks gave a decision on the subordination or not. But I *do* know that nothing happened.
Man, it’s just so nice to know that your lender really doesn’t give a crap.
I’ve spent the last hour or so researching Credit Unions but those seem to be quite the mixed bag. Generally, their published mortgage rates are pretty high, they don’t seem to have much in the way of connectivity (I like to pull my financial information down to my computer) and, of course they seem pretty limited on locations where you can withdraw your money. Anybody out there with a credit union that they can speak for?

Loose lips can get you arrested or, why you shouldn’t talk to the police

I can’t say that I’m the paranoid type, but this seems like good, common sense information that can help you protect your own interests. Professor Duane’s video has the most useful information for how to protect yourself in your interactions with law enforcement, while Officer Bruch’s information is more background to support Professor Duane’s contentions.

One refrain we hear, especially since 9/11 is that law enforcement needs to be made easier so that criminals can be caught more easily and more quickly.

Think for a minute, however, that some aspects of law enforcement – especially those that pertain to information gathering – really need to be, and to remain, difficult. That difficulty actually provides protection to you as a citizen from abuses that can be visited upon you by malicious, overzealous or just plain incompetent people within the investigation agencies.

The requirement to get a judge (and other third parties) to agree that there is just cause before your personal records are subpoenaed or that your phone conversations or email correspondence is monitored prevents your rights from being arbitrarily trampled upon by individuals. I suppose you can’t do much if there are systemic rights abuse issues, but that kind of situation may be correctable.

I never want to see the day when my data can be mined for potential threats and action taken against me because information gathered about me, for no other reason than that it’s available out there, can be distilled into a profile that is then used against me… oh… wait…  please, we need to fix this 🙁