Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Morning Sing-a-Long: Sentimental Edition

I heard a wonderful cover of Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady" on the radio this morning. Some Googling makes me think it was recorded by a couple of Wilco members under the alias of The Autumn Defense. I found a video clip that captured a performance, but sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Let's get caught up on the continuing storylines:

Minivan Meltdown

The STBX's minivan, which broke down on Christmas Eve, got fixed finally, with work being wrapped up on January 6. The PCM arrived and was installed. After some additional testing, they found out that some wiring needed repair, which would require some additional work. The final total: $1079.97.

If the cost and waiting for the repair was bad enough, what really left me angry was the location of the wiring issue. It was in the vicinity of the transmission mount. It turns out that in 2006, we had to have the transmission rebuilt at another Dodge dealership, which has since gone out of business, so it wouldn't surprise me if that the wiring issue was a holdover from that repair job.

I made arrangements with STBX to ride up to the north side to pay for and pick up the van. I tried talking with the service manager about my experiences and how a combination of bad past experiences and the delay in getting a part had all but convinced me to never buy a Chrysler product for the rest of my life. Moreover with STBX out of a job and no bailout for her, I asked if he could look over the work order and see if he could find some way to come down on the price. He said he couldn't.

I paid at the cashier desk, having no other recourse but to register my protest in the check's memo line.

... but that wouldn't be the end of my story. I helped STBX load the kids up in the van and then headed out. I turned onto the street that fronts the dealership and then within seconds I got a call from STBX on my cell phone. She said that there was something wrong with the dashboard, with the most noticeable issue being that the gear selector display was a solid orange line, with no way to tell whether it was in drive, reverse, or park.

I doubled back and went into the service area, getting the attention of the service rep, giving him a stern look, and telling him, "IT'S NOT DONE." I then explained the situation, and they quickly got the van back in the garage. After another 20 minutes of waiting, it turned out that the problem was a fuse.

Upon leaving the second time, STBX had a false alarm, complaining that she couldn't get the heat to work, but that was just because the push button that toggles the blower had been switched off, most likely by me back on Christmas Eve, when I was trying to diagnose why the van wouldn't start.

At this point I could care less whether Kokomo, IN, has to close down, Chrysler as a company needs to die so that the valuable parts can be sold off to the highest bidders. I don't want any more of my tax dollars being spent to bail out a bad financial decision by a private equity group.

Health Insurance Bait-and-Switch

I work for a small company which has outsourced its payroll and benefits to a company that specializes in this stuff. As you might recall from my Christmas post, I had been rushed to complete the paperwork for my health plan because they were no longer going to be offering the plan I was on.

On New Year's Eve, I got a memo from our office manager:
I just got a call from (the guy at the HR services company). He told me that if you signed up for (new plan) you are going back to (old plan). They met negotiations with (old plan) and are continuing their coverage. If you have any questions, please feel free to give him a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

The premium listing was attached, and it turned out that my montly premiums were about to increase from $577.10 to $720.00 for the same coverage.

I was not amused, and neither was the President of our company. She got back with the HR services company to figure out what was going on. It turned out that because so few people signed up for the new plan, the new plan backed out, forcing the HR services company to offer the old plan, with its elevated rates.

They gave me the option to either switch to the other plan or stay with the old plan but change deductibles. Because my kids couldn't stay with their pediatrician on the other plan, I bit the bullet and stayed with the old plan but downgraded to a high deductible.

Personal Finances

Between those two things, I was not in a good space for the new year. I have made some adjustments to my spending habits to really cut back so that I can replenish my savings from the hit of the repair work. Being without a car forced me to plan ahead more for groceries, and I've been dining in both for myself and when I have the kids. I've also started cooking dishses that will leave me leftovers to take with me to work.

STBX applied for unemployment benefits after losing her job last month and this week started stressing out because she hasn't received a check yet. Given the horror stories about the state's agency responsible for this stuff, I'm not surprised.

She has been filling out her weekly reports with the agency, which requires her to list three jobs she has applied for. Based on what she's told me, she usually has to scramble toward the end of the weekly deadline to file the applications. Here is what she wrote in an IM to me on January 3.

6:10:03 PM STBX: i really just want people to give me money for taking care of my kids for the next 2 years but i really don't have anyone lining up to do that so i am back to reality

Yesterday, she said she was looking into signing up for WIC.


Work has served as a refuge from the money setbacks. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been taking some initiative on getting some long-standing code issues straightened out. I've been doing these on the weekends mostly, after I've completed my existing coding tasks. Some of the benefits realized:

  • A user statistics reporting job that has better code structure and runs about twice as fast as the older script.

  • An improvement to a text processing algorithm that resulted in more accurate analysis and ran about twice as fast.

  • A reorganization of our RSS feed generation code that stripped out a major inefficiency and reduced the load on our servers.

My boss has been happy with the results along with the cumulative efforts I put in the past year. During my annual compensation review last week, he said that I was being given a raise at the higher end of the scale, which made my day.
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