Saturday, February 27, 2010

Time for a New Faucet

My old kitchen faucet was leaking so I decided to replace it and upgrade while I was at it. You can see what was what and what is now in the before and after pictures.

Surprisingly, it didn't take too long, less than two hours. The job isn't technically done, though. I need another hand. The new faucet is only hand tight, as I couldn't hold it still and twist the wrench at the same time. The next time I have a visitor, even my poor old gray-haired mother, that person will be drafted to hold the faucet while I tighten it from underneath. Until then, I will be gentle.

The longest part of the job was removing the dry plumber's putty from where the old faucet was seated. After a while, I got impatient and used a razor blade. There are a few scratches here and there, but I figure a little abrasive cleanser ought to hide those.

I have to hide the hole where the old sprayer came up.  I guess that means a soap dispenser, so another trip to the home store is in my future.  

I don't know if I will call it my next project, but tile for the backsplash has been ordered. With prep and cutting, that will be a big job. My brother “Chuck” gave me a Christmas present of an indeterminate amount of help for household projects. Tile in the kitchen might be more than he bargained for, but we'll see. I certainly should have called him over for the sink.

National Public Radio

I don't know if it is significant or not, but the fine folks at Car Talk are no longer identifying themselves as being with National Public Radio.  At the end of the show or into a station break, they used to say “This is NPR, National Public Radio.”  Now, they say “This is NPR.”

A small change, to be sure, and probably meaningless but it's upsetting my internal sense of rhythm or timing or pickiness or something.  I wish they'd go back to the old way.

Update 3:20 pm

Peter Sagal is also saying just "NPR" when Wait Wait Don't Tell Me goes into a break.  I don't mind change but it's still messing with my head a bit.  And if somebody at NPR decided they need to be known as "NPR" for the same reasons Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to be "KFC," then I am going to ridicule them mercilessly.  But still listen.

Discover Card is Mean, Evil and Unethical

I've heard that if you believe that people are nice, the people you meet will turn out to be nice. I'd like to add to that saying. If you believe financial services companies are nice, you will pay for that belief.

I started my relationship (mental note: try not to anthropormorphise corporations - people, they ain't) with Discover Card in 1986. I worked at a radio station that carried the Minnesota Twins and 1986 was good year for them. I decided to attend a few games the next season. Having heard the commercials for the Twins ticket office a gazillion times, I knew that they only accepted Discover Card, so I applied for one. I attended a few games, the Twins won the World Series and a few other nice things happened in 1987. Life was good.

At first, Discover was my only credit card but others joined it. I began using it as a cash management tool. I always made a payment and only during periods of unemployment did I ever carry a balance. Over the past 24 years, I've charged over $78,000 dollars in purchases and paid only $140 in interest and fees.

Until December, 2009. We now live in the internet age, so to make a payment, I simply go to their web site, select a date and amount, and like financial liposuction, money magically jumps from my account to theirs. Like an idiot, I looked for a way to improve on relative perfection. I saw that Discover allowed a person to schedule automatic payments. OK, if I ever forgot to schedule a payment, WHICH BOTH GOOGLE AND QUICKEN AUTOMATICALLY REMIND ME TO DO EVERY MONTH, Discover would take care of it. I opted to have the minimum payment go automatically, which means I would have to schedule the remaining balance. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I did this in October, 2009, and received an e-mail stating that my first auto-payment would happen on December 20. Since the statement cycle date is the 20th, that seemed like perfect timing - the minimum monthly payment would show up on the last day of the cycle. In mid-December, I scheduled a payment of the remainder of the balance. Let's say my total payment was $500 and the minimum was $20. I entered $480 in the manual payment amount and got on with my life.

Until the next statement came, which showed that I hadn't made the minimum part of the payment. My $480 was there, just not the $20. Because of that, I was dinged over $10 in interest. Not happy. A forensic review was instigated.

From my perspective, two things went wrong. From Discover Card's perspective, two things went right. First, the minimum payment date. The e-mail said the payment would be processed on the 20th. But, as I discovered, the 20th is not the last day of the billing cycle, it's the first of the next. The minimum payment - the AUTOMATIC minimum payment for the cycle - was scheduled for the FOLLOWING cycle. Discover Card has rigged it so that if you use their help to make payments, you will always be one cycle behind, which allows them to charge you interest every month. That's evil. The web site says they are doing something wonderful for you while they are really using your gullibility or lack of attention to detail to maximize their financial grip on you.

The other thing that went wrong was that the automatic payment never happened. Not on the 20th, not in the week or so after, either. They intentionally skipped the payment in order to allow the interest charges to pile up another month. My guess is the first minimum payment would have happened on January 20 and most people would've blamed themselves for miscalculating when the payments would start. Bastards. Unethical bastards.

Well, that's what you get for trusting a big nameless, faceless corporation (Discover Card CEO: David Nelms. Bastard). Discover Card has been my primary card for 24 years and they screwed me over like I was just a guy on the street. Which is what I really am. I should know better.

In all fairness, I am not their best customer. I pay my balance every month - unless they “help” - so I don't pay $39 late fees or 19% interest. Intentionally. No, they only make money off of me by taking a 2.1% fee from the businesses I patronize. So, $78,000 over 24 years, that's $1600. Not much for saving me from hundreds of extra trips to the cash machine or having to carry a checkbook. Still, they make 2.1% on every transaction and last year I put almost $6000 on my Discover Card. They made $126 off me last year and stood to make that much indefinitely. That's not a bad return on the service delivered. It's getting greedy that turns people evil and unethical.

So what's my recourse? No longer giving them the 2.1% on my $6000? That's a no brainer. I'll keep the card but just stop using it. But there's a twist. Discover has a cash back program. They credit your account 1/4 of 1% of the balance every month. I haven't been paying much attention to that part of my statement so it grew to several hundred dollars. They only let you cash out $50 of that credit at a time, and wouldn't you know it, I am $4 from the next $50 multiple. I'm going to have to continue using the card until the 0.25% rebate gives me that even $50 then I'm outa there. The card will sit in a drawer until my righteous umbrage goes away. Years, maybe forever.

But, of course, there's more. Discover is one of two cards I carry, so I'm able to not only deprive Discover of the fees they would've gotten from me on the usual charges but I get to give them to another company. Ha. And $6000 in routine purchases last year? It would have been much more this year, what with new appliances and more work on the house. Ha ha. You wanted $10 interest; you lost hundreds in fees. Over the the next few years, you lost maybe several thousands of dollars. That's what you get for being mean, evil and unethical. But you got that $10.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Home Improvement - Fan Timer

For once, on a Saturday, I actually did some home improvement rather than just think about it. I swapped out a standard toggle switch for the fan in my upstairs bathroom with a fancy timer switch. Here, take a look.

I'm a big believer in removing the steam from a bathroom as quickly as possible after a shower has ended. Well, technically, BEFORE the shower starts, by flipping the switch before running the water, but you get the idea.

The fan in the bathroom when I bought the house was a very noisy one, so I replaced it with a whisper-quite model shortly after I moved in. It's been wonderful to hear only a little whir when I run the fan rather than a jet engine-like growl.

As exciting as a quiet fan is, I realized that I often leave the house for the day while the fan is still doing its business. When I return 10, 12, 14 hours later, it's still running, pushing heated or cooled air out of the building long after the morning shower's steam has left. It's also wasting 30 watts of electricity per hour. A timer switch was called for.

I don't like your typical timer switches, those with dials or sliders, and especially those that tick while they work. I looked around and finally found the one I liked - this electronic beauty with six presets. The best part is that once I select a time, one minute in the photo above, all I have to do the next time is hit the lower button and it will use that time as the "On" interval. Sloth - I love it! And less than $30 in parts; less than an hour to install. Much of that hour was trudging from upstairs to the basement to flip the breaker a few times.

I also upgraded the switch plate from plastic to metal. In my recent painting adventures (What? I haven't blogged about them yet?) I discovered many of the cheap plastic face plates in the house have cracks. I guess someone over-tightened each of them one too many times. Most were cracked before I got to them in case you're wondering. Nonetheless, the metal faceplate will hold up much better, no doubt.

Tomorrow, if it's not snowing too badly at 9:00, I go shopping for parts for my next project. I don't know what that project will be - it depends what I find at the home store that fits my designs. Hint: I've been shopping for tile for the backsplash for 16 months - I probably won't be coming back with tile. And no paint - definitely no paint.