eMail to AOPA regarding why I am no longer a member

I have been a member of AOPA since around 2004 when I did my flight training.

They are a worthwhile organization that lobbies hard for general aviation pilots and they do a lot of education and outreach.

Over the years, the cost of membership has gone steadily up and this was fine with me, the increases were in keeping with inflation and growth of AOPA generally.

I honestly cannot recall if I was notified about the price increases in the past but I know I was not about the more recent, much more aggressive increases.

One thing that will lose my trust really quickly is people changing things materially on me without the transparency of notifying me. It was one reason why I disliked Comcast – the bill was different every month.

AOPA’s member retention services seem to focus on sending me a new email every 3 days offering me this great one-time deal which is that they’ll knock the price down (for that one renewal) to what I paid last year.

I’m still trying to figure out, do people really receive the same notification over and over and eventually just fall for it?

Anyway, my trust has been eroded and I sent them the below message in response to their latest missive.

I get one like this every 3 days

Does this really work? In the past 30 days you’ve sent me 12 exhortations offering me the EXACT. SAME. ONE TIME. “DEAL”.

I dropped my support for AOPA when, after many years of fairly reasonable price increases (5% in 2009, 13% in ’11, 9% in 2015) even a 20% hike in 2017 which was a bit galling but, whatever, fine.

But I got annoyed when, without any warning you hiked the price by a whopping 33% in 2019 and then proceeded as if nothing had happened. I have to guess many of the pilots are older people and they just don’t notice the increases.

AOPA does a *lot* of good work, but I do not trust anybody that is not transparent. When you are going to raise prices, let me know ahead of time and why (even “due to inflation”).

All I see is that you are now increasing the cost of membership because you can.

I am disappointed.

Regards,

Marc

I dunno, am I wrong here? Being petty? It’s only a $20 increase but it grates when a company seems like they can act with impunity.

Bright Side to Covid-19: Social Distancing is an Introvert’s Paradise

Obviously a pandemic like that being caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is nothing to make light of. However, that being said, the very effective “social distancing” that has been implemented in order to slow down the disease is, for me, a gift.

Home Depot
Well organized line to get in

I had to visit The Home Depot today in order to pick up some muriatic acid so I could balance my pool chemistry. For the first time in my life I needed to wait in a line to get in to the store. At first I balked as I *hate* waiting in lines.

But this looked different, the vibe was decidedly calm and patient. There were about 20 people ahead of me. This was out in the parking lot and, even though the temperature was in the high 80’s, we were comfortable as there were shade canopies set up and they were offering cold bottled water. Everybody was requested to stand one car park space apart (see the picture).
It was… comfortable, nobody breathing down my neck while I waited, imposing their impatience on me. In fact everybody was decidedly chill.

If the lines at amusement parks, concerts or other events were anything like this, I might even be tempted to go to some of them.

We also had to pick up some necessities from our local Publix (milk, some bread, etc.). The parking lot was pretty full so I was expecting it to be kind of a zoo inside. Again I was pleasantly surprised.
*Everybody* in the store was pretty chill, gave each other a wide berth and were basically pleasant all around.

Last week we picked up a big bag of cat food, the pet supply store requested us to call when we got there and someone came out and just put it into the back of my car for me. A bit decadent I admit but it appealed to my sensibilities. I’m not a “browser” I know what I want, I just want to get in, buy it and get out. So this is exactly my kind of shopping experience.

At my company, a couple of years ago they drank the “collaboration workspace” Kool-Aid and laid waste to the entire idea of privacy and permanence in favor of low-walled, noise encouraging, distraction provoking work areas.
They also introduced “hoteling” for our Consultants because: screw them.
You could not design a more miserable work environment for introverts if you tried. As someone who takes a while to learn new people’s names I can tell you that making sure that I cannot see a name tag or figure out where someone sits from day to day just doubles down on the awkwardness of working with these “temporary” workers. By temporary, you mean “months” and “years” at a time BTW.
The constant distraction of people making phone calls as they stroll up and down the aisles looking for a little privacy, to the myriad conversations going on in any language except English to the guy, and I kid you not, two cubes down who thinks it’s perfectly fine to use his speakerphone for everything from long-form conference calls, to retrieving voicemail, to just letting a call ring and ring and ring in case the recipient might answer it one day (who the hell doesn’t have voicemail these days anyway).
Anyway, I rant. The point is that today, with “social distancing”, that nonsense is completely out of the picture as I am now required to work from home.
My home office is awesome! I no longer have my concentration efforts shattered into an infinite number of small pieces as interruptions and distractions force me to start and restart my train of thought endlessly in a wasteland of extroversion.

As for having to stay at home generally, I *like* my home and have made it nicer to be at than ANY resort I have ever stayed at.
I have a full and comfortable gym. My office is spacious and practical. I have a heated pool that I can and do use any time I choose – with no rude people or their kids getting in my way. My media room is a nice place to enjoy TV or a good movie.

And I am never, ever bored.

I have had to put some hobbies on hold in the past as my interests are far ranging and there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. I could stay heads down on my personal projects for *years* without running out of things to do.

People who get bored mystify me.

In short, social distancing is custom-made for people like me. I enjoy the company of people in small amounts, I don’t enjoy the crush of strangers, especially the ill-mannered ones that seem to dominate public sphere when I’m out.

I’m comfortable with and thrive on being on my own or just with my wife.

I earnestly hope that some of what we are doing now will stick around after the current pandemic fades. Covid-19 is awful, but the unintended side effects have proven to be life enhancing. Let’s keep the good stuff!

I have become a one-issue voter – Universal Health Care

I emigrated from a country that has universal (more or less) health care. It’s not something that I though a lot about at the time as I was much younger.

When I saw my first few pay checks after things settled down I will admit to being absolutely astonished over how much of my earnings I actually got to keep. People in these United States who grouse about the amount of money that is claimed from them in the form of the many taxes listed on pay stubs have literally no.freaking.idea what high taxation means.

After a few years of this ongoing windfall, after some dealings with the horror-fest we call the American Health Insurance industry, it began to weigh more and more upon my consciousness that I was exactly one catastrophic accident or illness away from complete and utter financial ruin.

Here’s the thing about catastrophic anything. You don’t choose it. It “chooses” you. I don’t care how careful or pious a life you lead. Wonderful people develop debilitating illnesses. That inexperienced kid driving their dad’s sports car will over correct and smash into you just as easily as they could have smashed into the person driving 3 seconds behind you.

Of course nothing is ever perfect. Everything is a package deal. You love your job, but there are always things that could be improved. You love your spouse, but… well let’s not go there. But you get what I mean. I *love* America and what it has to offer and am one of the very few people on this planet who is fortunate (lucky?) enough to be able to live here and participate in the most amazing social, cultural and political experiments that the world has seen up until now.

However, with all the opportunity available to us as Americans, there are areas where significant improvements are still possible and needed. For me, at my stage in life and my perspective of formerly living in a country where – largely – health care is not a hulking specter but rather an every day availability, I recognize that we need to get off our collective asses and stop paying lip service to the idea that maybe it would be nice if the greatest country this world has ever seen wasn’t at the bottom of nearly every measure of health and wellness. Dammit, we should be the absolute longest-lived people on the planet! Infant mortality should not even be a concern for soon-to-be American mothers. U.S. Citizens absolutely should not need to travel abroad in order to be able to afford some kinds of major surgery (medical tourism).

There are plenty of proposals, emotions and political biases that are battling on the American health care landscape. And not one.single.one of them will be the perfect answer. We will never come up with a system that serves every American optimally all the time.

But you know what we deserve? A system that doesn’t view the patient as a nuisance to be attended to in order to extract every last possible penny from insurance, government and personal coffers.

And so, after years of voting on myriad important issues at the local, state and national levels – and regularly finding my vote completely overwhelmed by partisan politic slogan-based voting of others whose rationale can make sense of neither by logic, math nor morality – I have decided to toss my hat into the ring of single issue voters.

This is not because it’s easier (in some ways it is nicer to only have to care about the one position of a candidate) but because each candidate in each race will comprise myriad positions on a myriad of issues – some of which I may agree with, many of which I won’t – but they come as a package.

So now, Universal Health Care is my primary issue of concern. I think our country and our citizenry is deserving something other than this current travesty of inefficient and patch-worked pieces.

So… what are we going to call the Baby Boom that inevitably follows the Coronavirus Home Quarantines?

Every time people are prevented from doing what they normally do and have to find their own entertainment at home (blackouts being a prime example of this), 9 months later we inevitably have a bump in births because… well.. people.

So, I am calling it now, we will definitely see not only a bump but a veritable “hump” in the birth rate come November/December 2020.

The only real question, given the unprecedented and global nature of the the stay-at-home quarantines, is HOW big.

With absolutely zero scientific data behind it, I am going to go out on a limb and predict that, not only will the increase in birth rate overcome the tragic increase in the base death rate due to Covid-19, but I suspect that people will be eager enough to end up with a net increase in the world population by the end of 2020 over and above what we naturally would see with normal population growth.

Whether this is a good thing remains to be seen, but I expect that it will be a hopeful thing for those involved…

Intune – Send Custom Notifications – but not to too many people

I’ve been wrestling back and forth with Microsoft on this for the past few weeks. I’m able to use Intune’s “Send Custom Notifications” feature to send messages to a very small number of people.

But, recently, I wanted to notify just under a couple of hundred of my users that the version of iOS they are running will no longer be supported by my system. I thought this notification feature would be a neat way to reach out directly to them so they knew that I meant *them* specifically and not *them* generically as tends to happen with email communication of this sort.

So I sent my notification to a tiny number of people (me especially) to ensure that the message being sent looks good for the target folks on the mobile platform. Works fine.

Sent the identical message to a single group of 171 people (again, including me) and… nothing.
The next day I sent it again after confirming that, not only did none of my half dozen test mobile devices receive it, but NOBODY received it. And… again… nothing. This time I verified that the resulting Intune notification (bell at the top in Intune) confirmed “Success”.
Sent another notification to just myself and a coworker and…. works just fine.

Well… crap. So I sent off an email instead to the users to give them their warning and opened a ticket with Microsoft regarding this.

Basically Microsoft is telling me that I must have missed the dozen or so notifications across my devices, as did all of my users. They took pains to explain to me how end users sometimes don’t notice notifications when they come up and that must be the situation… on both days.

Long and short it turns out that there is no real auditing or logging of this feature so Microsoft cannot tell the notification disposition beyond the original “Success” which apparently only means Intune has acknowledged that I’ve submitted the request.

I wanted to put this warning out to you. Not only should you not be using this feature for time-sensitive information, but also there appears to be a threshold number of people – certainly in my case – to whom it can be sent before it will give up the ghost and just not do anything.

Be absolutely certain to include yourself and some sympathetic coworkers on ANY Intune Custom notification that you send out if you want to have any assurance that it actually made it to your audience.

In my opinion Microsoft needs to update this feature so it:

  1. Logs all sent messages,
  2. Provides a disposition for the message as to whether or not a device has acknowledged receiving it.

I don’t imagine there is a lot more I could ask for. The end user is welcome to ignore the message after delivery. At that point my goal has been achieved.

I would be interested to know if there are any other folks who have run up against this issue.

So my Tesla Model X has a Little Known Bug

Back in early December (2019) I noticed that the regen on my Tesla was not what it should be.

Basically, after overnighting in my garage on a 63 degree F morning, it would take about 25 minutes of my 40+ minute commute before I had full regeneration restored.

On a cooler 37 degree night, I ended up preheating the car for *54* minutes (miscalculated departure time) and, for that 32 minute drive I NEVER regained my full regen.

I contacted Tesla to have them take a look-see, after all, not a couple of weeks earlier they had replaced my Battery Coolant Heater (coincidence?).

Regardless, in spite of what seems like an obvious connection between a battery coolant heater and my battery heater not activating properly, Tesla came back and initially informed me basically that “battery packs are big and can be slow to warm up” and, when that didn’t work they then let me know that there is a firmware bug that is preventing the battery heater from activating.

Below is the transcript of my conversation with Tesla. I’m still waiting for the “future firmware update”.

Basically I’m seeing that Tesla Model X (Premium car) has now become so niche that it basically is not getting much attention at all. And I frankly believe that Tesla service is so overwhelmed that they can’t spend the time on customers such as myself, the earlier adopters who helped to fund the whole enterprise, to ensure that our vehicles are running correctly.

Color me disappointed. I can’t wait to see where I end up on the list of HW 3 upgrade recipients.

Tesla’s explanation of my Regen issue

UP Express Toronto is Low Key Excellent

I recently had the opportunity to try the UP Express in Toronto.

“UP” stands for “Union (Station) Pearson (International Airport)” and was apparently conceived as a premium service to shuttle people from the airport through the city of Toronto via a couple of stops taking you as far as Union Station in the heart of the city.

Fortunately the “premium“ aspect of pricing this service was recognized to be a bad idea and this service is now premium in every way except for the price which is extraordinarily reasonable.

On a recent visit to Toronto, Michelle and I took the UP Express one way from the airport to the Bloor station at a cost of CAD $5.65 each. The trip from Pearson’s Terminal 1 takes about 17 minutes.

After flying in to Pearson Terminal 3 coming in from the States, it is simply a matter of taking the terminal shuttle train over to Terminal 1 (a single stop, don’t ask about Terminal 2), making the short walk to the UP Express train station, boarding the train, and shortly there after being deposited at the Bloor station.

They have a great little mobile app with which you can sort out purchasing and activating tickets. Basically, you can purchase your tickets ahead of time and, just before boarding the train, activate as many as needed for the trip and, simple as that, you are on your way.

I originally purchased tickets to the wrong station (Weston), don’t ask why I thought I needed to be there instead of Bloor, and had to phone their customer service. This was an unexpectedly pleasant experience where in there was no hassle whatsoever at getting those tickets refunded so that I could purchase the correct ones.

Since I was not intending to rent a car on this trip and was staying with family, this worked out very well for everybody. Saving them a trip to the airport and saving us the hassle and expense of taxi or Uber. From the Bloor station we were picked up by our hosts, but we could just have easily have taken the TTC or GO trains to get where we needed to go.

The UP Express trains were clean, quiet and uncrowded (at least for our visit).

I would easily use this service again. 



Sears Home Services

*Update February 13, 2020*
A representative reached out to me by phone and asked me to send some confirming documentation and she’d get that to the billing folks.
Three days later, she again reached out to me by phone and left a voicemail confirming that the matter had been resolved.
Hearing back from somebody in this day and age AT ALL is unbelievable and I have to give Sears Home Services props for that. I’m adding a “The Good” category to this post for their efforts in resolving this issue with me.
*End Update February 13, 2020*

I was initially pleased as they showed up on time and, even though they couldn’t find a definite source of the issue with my relatively new clothes dryer, they took it apart and put it back together again and, since then the issue I contacted them about has not recurred (was happening daily).

We paid them by credit card when they were here.

A month later I get a bill from them saying they were not able to process our payment (they were, according to my credit card company) and that I needed to remit payment.
My beef with them is that there is no earthly way to reach them for a billing dispute.
They want me to sit down and write them a letter (this is the 21st century isn’t it?) and then maybe they’ll consider if that has merit and let me know.

I need to decide if it’s easier to just dispute the original transaction and then pay them again or to sink into the 18th century and pull out a quill, blotter and wax seal and send them a missive via messenger.

So points for solving my problem. Major demerits for sending me an errant bill and then providing no means by which to follow up with them.

Edit: Finally did manage to reach them via chat (Chat on main page of their website does not work, but after searching for my order, the chat on THAT panel did work). They assured me that I can just ignore the bill.

Here is a chat that I had. If they are true to their word then it does reinstate the faith I had in Sears Home Services. Mind you I could probably do with out the upsell at the end there…

Turns out “Plug In EV” Plan is better for us

If you’ll recall, back in September (2018) I switched us *from* the Plug In EV plan *to* the Smart Usage Plan.

Welp, that was not the way to go. Besides Georgia Power’s ability to charge whatever they like, whenever they like (read the above article), it’s extraordinarily difficult to figure out in advance what your peak usage is going to be. Georgia Power only offers a daily electrical consumption summary if you remain on their hyper costly legacy plan. Despite having the very same smart meter and, ostensibly, the ability to report the total number of kWhs that were consumed over the past 24 hours.
I shouldn’t think it would be terribly difficult to report back to you what consumption was during what time frames (since the charges vary by time of day on the plans in question) and surely the meter can show your peak consumption spike for that period as well. I understand you are charged (penalized really) based on a peak that lasts 30 minutes or more. But I have no way of measuring or monitoring that.

So, for my case, it seems that we have a base load of energy consumption (not unexpected) that would include all the electrical bits and pieces that run constantly throughout the day – furnace fan motor, fridge, lights, computers, etc. – that I have no means to measure. Then, despite my extended efforts to schedule things like pool pumps, car charging, air conditioning, oven / stove use, clothes dryer use, etc. I still managed to hit significant peaks that lead to my bills being far greater than I was/would have been paying under the Plug In EV plan.

Fortunately, to Georgia Power’s credit, it’s not terribly difficult to switch back again which I did after reviewing the past few bills.

My December bill showed as 1,280 kWh consumed with a peak consumption of 13.4 (!) kW for a total of $189.43.
My November bill showed as 1,344 kWh consumed With a peak consumption of 9 kW for a total of $155.78.

Similarly my December bill from LAST year showed as 1,620 kWh consumed (686 kWh Super Off Peak and 0 on peak) for a total of $157.06.
My November bill from last year showed as 1,715 kWh (771 Super Off Peak, 10 kWh On Peak) for a total of $164.25

Part of the lower consumption during the past few months was that I was able to charge my car at work more often recently. Regardless, I had already reduced my car charging consumption to around 3.5 kW. This was done on the car charging page where I can limit the amperage draw. This was part of my strategy to avoid hitting the onerous peak consumption penalty.

Just grossly speaking, it seems that I could take my total consumption for the December and November bills from this year and divide them into the cost to get an average of 13.16 cents a kWh.
Doing likewise for the same months from 2018 yields about 9.63 cents a kWh or about a 40% increase in my per kWh rate.

I understand that this is not super accurate, were I to look at ONLY my November bill the average per kWh rate would be somewhat more reasonable (maybe 20 % more costly).
I guess, at core, my issue is that it is much more impactful on our day-to-day living to try to avoid the Smart Usage peak use penalty and I am chafing because Georgia Power appears to be withholding a very effective tool (daily consumption email) that might make it feasible to try to keep going down this path.

The fact remains that, for me, the increase was significant enough that I decided to fall back to the Plug In EV plan.

YMMV

Clarifying Delta’s “Full Trip” Upgrade

In checking the Delta Airlines app for some details on an upcoming trip I saw that they offered an upgrade to First Class for 7,400 points per person for Full Trip.

After doing a bit of research I saw that others had upgrade offers that specified each segment.

Since both going and return segments were listed on the same page I was not sure if this really was a “Full Trip” upgrade – which could understandably be interpreted to mean the return trip since I have only a single segment each way.

Anyway, to clarify for anybody else also wondering about this, Delta’s use of Full Trip just means all the segments within the one here-to-there trip.

It’s obvious in retrospect, as many things are. But it was ambiguous to me up front.
If you’re reading this, hopefully it’s no longer ambiguous to you.