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 (Amazon.com and Samsung are two that leap to mind) and why Vision Fitness now gets first dibs for my next fitness purchase.

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Posted under Fitness, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on February 13, 2009 at 8:24 am

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?

Posted under Opinions, Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on February 10, 2009 at 5:34 pm

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 🙁

Posted under Opinions

This post was written by Marc
on February 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Installing Ubuntu 8.10 on my X41 tablet

Tired with the slow performance of my tablet (such that I actually shy away from using it ’cause it’s just too danged slow), I’ve elected to install Linux on it. I kind of tossed a coin and decided on the Ubuntu flavor of Linux. I was driven mostly by the fact that it seems to have the most significant share of the Linux install base (at least according to Wikipedia) and I figured that implies that most problems I’m likely to encounter should already have been encountered and dealt with by other pioneers in this arena.

I can see that, if I get hooked, I’m very likely to also install Linux on my server in the back room as well.

While the novelty of a new operating system has an appeal to me, the freedom to uninstall and reinstall is also a tremendous draw as well. The last computer for which I received a *real* Windows install disk, and not a crappy “recovery CD” was with my NEC Computer that I purchased back in 1996. I really dislike paying for an operating system (even a “reduced cost” OEM version) and not getting an actual install disk with it. Having to completely wipe out my system and restore it to a state, potentially years old, is just silly.

Some Tips:

To make my Ubuntu files available to other computers on my local network I needed to follow these directions that I got from here.

Sharing folders via the Shared Folders application

To share folders using the Shared Folders application:

   1.      Press Applications ? Accessories ? Terminal to open a Terminal.
   2.      Type shares-admin and press Return to open Shared Folders.
   3.      Press the Unlock button and enter your password in the Password for (username): field.
   4.      Press the Authenticate button.
   5.      You may receive a message which says Sharing services are not installed. If this happens, ensure that the two checkboxes in the message box are checked and press Install services. Sharing service support will then be downloaded and installed; this may take a while.
   6.      Select the Shared Folders tab and press Add.
   7.      Select the location of the folder you wish to share by changing the Path option.
   8.      Choose Windows networks (SMB) from the Share through option.
   9.      Enter a name and comment for the shared folder.
  10.      If you would like people accessing the shared folder to be able to add, change and remove files in the folder, uncheck Read only. If you leave Read only checked, people will only be able to view files in the folder.
  11.      Press OK to make the shared folder available. Other people on the same network (LAN) as you should now be able to access the folder.

I tried using the user interface in the file browser to share a folder in my home directory that I titled “public” but this did not work immediately. So I followed the above steps and the ones below in one shot (unscientifically changed two variables at once).

I’m pretty sure that these steps below are what finally made the sharing work. I just “changed” the password to the one I was already using. Apparently the GUI forgets to do this?

Accessing shared folders via Windows

If you would like to access a shared folder hosted on an Ubuntu computer by using computers running Windows, you may have to perform some additional steps:

   1.      Press Applications ? Accessories ? Terminal to open a Terminal.
   2.      Type sudo smbpasswd -a username, replacing “username” with your own username. Press Return to run the command.
   3.      Enter your password when prompted with “[sudo] password for username:” and press Return again.
   4.      When prompted with “New SMB password:”, enter the password that you would like to use to access the shared folder and then press Return. You can leave the password blank, which will allow anyone to access the shared folder.
   5.      When prompted with “Retype new SMB password:”, enter the password that you just entered and then press Return.
   6.      You should now be able to connect to the shared folders on the Ubuntu computer.

More to come…

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on February 5, 2009 at 8:02 am

Vista messing with keystrokes

Anybody else have this issue?

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, Vista will interpret keystrokes to mean special things. i.e. I’ll be innocently typing an email and suddenly the “r” will initiate a “run” dialog. Or a “3” will invoke my Radmin application.

This is something that is consistent while it is happening, hitting the same key invokes the same action every time.

It’s *really* annoying when I’m in a rush.

The fix is to lock my system (Winkey + L) and then unlock it again and all is well.

The only thing that *may* be involved is that it might happen when I’ve used “Remote Desktop Connection” (RDC). Not necessarily *while* I’m using RDC, but if RDC has been used at all since the last reboot. For instance I was using RDC for a good hunk of today, it’s closed now but the keystroke issue just happened a few minutes ago…

But I’m curious if I’m the only one experiencing this.

Posted under Tech Stuff

This post was written by Marc
on February 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm

LendingTree.com

I’m on the market to refinance my home. I already had intentions of letting my current mortgage holder participate (my bank) but I wanted to get some other quotes too to ensure that I was getting a reasonable loan rate (and those closing costs!).

Anyway I signed up with lendingtree.com to get a few more quotes. “They’ll be competing for your business” is the way the jingle goes I think. Anyway, they *did* put me in touch with ONE lender who was very competitive. But I was a little surprised to only get the ONE. I live just North of Atlanta and there is a bank on pretty much any corner that doesn’t have a Starbucks or a church parked on it. So why only the one?

Just thought I’d through that out there.

Posted under Retail Experiences

This post was written by Marc
on February 1, 2009 at 7:23 pm