Thursday, December 22, 2016

@Avis, @Budget and the Viking Billing Service Fraud Scam

So we got a letter the day before yesterday from Viking Billing Service alleging damage to a car we rented from Avis.  The paper had the logos for Viking Billing Service and for Budget (who owns Avis or something).  It did not provide too many details but we had rented a car from Avis earlier this year and it did have a large scratch on it when we picked it up, a detail noted by the agent who checked the car out to us.  This was 6 months and 2 days ago.

We contacted Avis by email and the next day, were contacted by Viking Billing Service.  Apparently Avis had just passed it off to them without even looking into it.

Viking cannot provide us with any details about the rental or the actual damage and asked us to call the Avis branch where we got the car.  My wife called and someone promised to get back to her. When they didn't, she called again today. She was told that records are only kept for six months so no records were available, there was nothing that could be provided.   (Again - the rental was 6 months and 2 days ago.)

So my wife called the place where the car was dropped off.  They offered to email her a confirmation, but it was simply the return receipt. Not a checkoff, not an inspection, just that little slip they give you when the car is turned in.  You know how it is these days - they don't look at the cars while you're there, they just have you park in a a row, give you a little slip and send you on your merry way.

So we were later able to determine that the damage report was filed one day after we returned the car, but we weren't able to determine where the report was filed from but my wife thinks it was filed by the place where we picked it up.  The damage report wasn't entered into the Avis system until November.  So far, no one has been willing to provide us with any documentation.

We talked to a lawyer who says that the rental car companies bundle up these claims and sell them to Viking Billing Service.

So Viking Billing Service has already paid Avis for the right to harass you for money (whether or not it's even true) so they're not going to be willing to help you if there's been an error.  And the person assigned gets paid on commission so their only goal is to get you to pay up.  And it's gotta suck to work there.... a 2.4 on Glassdoor? You gotta try really hard to be that bad.  That's worse than Zulily.

And Avis has already washed their hands of it, getting some money. So why should they care if they're sticking the wrong person with the bill?  (Or maybe they stick multiple people with the bill. Would not surprise me.)

We're fighting it.  We're not paying it.  The car was damaged when we got it and we did not damage it further.  And Avis refuses to provide any documentation relating to either our pick-up of the car or our return or the damage report itself.  (We're still hoping that we've still got the paperwork around here somewhere, but we haven't come up with it yet.)

This is fraud. Plain and simple.  Probably someone at Avis gets a kick-back from Viking.  This is Wells Fargo-style "screw the customer" fraud.

Worst case scenario, we'll call the credit card company we used to rent the car and send it to them, but we'll strongly encourage them not to pay it. The problem is, for the credit card company, it's such a small amount they'd probably just pay it because that's the cheapest solution.

We will also be contacting the Better Business Bureau, our state's insurance commissioner and the Attorney General in our state and the Minnesota Department of Commerce (who has fined them in the past for violations).  It would also be nice to find a lawyer who wants to take it on as a class-action lawsuit.

So I don't know if this is an Avis scam, a Budget scam or a Viking Billing Service scam, but it's a scam.  They intentionally wait hoping you'll have discarded paperwork or lost photos (if you took any yourself) and I wouldn't be surprised if they bill multiple people for the same damage. (Searching on Google, apparently this is a Hertz scam and a National Car Rental scam as well. Must be good business ripping people off.)

All I know is that Avis, Budget and Viking Billing Services are either rotten thieves or just incredibly careless, inept and callous -- and danged if they're going to get our money for damage committed by some other renter.  (Danged if they're ever going to get any of our money ever again - when I have a choice in who I rent with, it will never be them.)

Apparently this has been going on for years, must be profitable for Hertz, Avis, Budget, National Car Rental and Viking Billing Services.  Just check out Google.  Seriously, I think it's time for a class action lawsuit.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


I took my notebook with my today to just down some action items and wouldn't you know it, I started writing down other stuff, too.  I wish I had more time to unpack it, but it's getting late and I want to read (and Lori's going to ask about the loud typing on this keyboard).

In our Sunday school class we've been looking at the Articles of Faith (?) for the Nazarene Church - how they explain and interpret what they believe.  It was an interesting focus today on sin - sin in the world versus when we personally choose to sin, either by action or in the thoughts that we harbor or nurse. Also some interesting thoughts on accidents, mistakes and other things that would be sin if they were done intentionally.

We got into the thoughts of "It's All About Me" versus "It's Not About Me at All" - absolutizing and negating, pride/selfishness and self-rejection/rejection-of-God - I matter versus nothing matters. It was interesting that both represented a wrong focus.  I wish I could explain it better.

At first I was feeling "how is this not legalistic?" but the more I listened, the more I realized it was thoughtful, Scripture-based reasons (why) for the interpretations they had arrived at and not a list (how) of rules that you had to follow. I appreciated that the church also meets every four years to discuss the Articles to make sure they still represent their best most current understanding of Scripture.  There was also the analogy that we have to be careful, that if we focus too much on the Bible, it's like someone pointing at the moon and we focus on the hand pointing instead of what they're pointing at.

We also touched on systemic sin, when it's baked into the culture or process of a company, government or church, any time that by design (or neglect) a system comes to oppress, take advantage or exclude people.  His example was a clothing company that profited at the expense of its workers and their working conditions but all I could think of was Wells Fargo.

After Sunday school, we went to church and I had the revelation that it's been a long time since I've been on the outside looking in.  I've been really pretty involved in all the churches I've attended, well, practically my whole life - from Family of God to Silverdale to Bethel to Lake Avenue to Our Saviors - every time I've had volunteer, leadership or staff roles, some kind of input, some kind of behind-the-scenes type of service. So far at this church, I've been much more of a consumer (something I was once accused of at another church, laughably, guess they'd forgot that I'd served on the council and ran audio and actually led a few of the church services for all but the preaching), but yeah, at this church so far I've been a show up, participate, contribute money attender, but I haven't volunteered, I haven't served, I haven't given of my time.  I felt a little bit guilty, but I'm also a little bit in awe of how this church seems to have it altogether, lots of volunteers, polished videos, great graphic design, lots of volunteers (worth mentioning twice, seriously, wow).  I wondered if I would think differently if I did get more involved, did see more of behind-the-scenes, or if this church just really really has it all together.  The same idea I think that makes me think I wouldn't want to work for Disney.

I was also struck again by just amazement / awe / gratitude that we live in Southern California again. I love it here. It's just overwhelming in a good way to be here.  I think I'm risking not appreciating it, though, being so busy and not making time to really get out and experience the community.

So many Seattle - talked to a number of people today who are from Seattle or who had recently travelled there.  Turns out the music director grew up there.  Started the service by commenting on how today's weather was what you'd get for many weeks in a row.  True... gray and rainy. Didn't care for it.

I should stop for now. I have more things, but I've been typing for almost 20 minutes now. That's enough clicking and clacking.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So many wrongs @linkedin

I think this "no connection" screen on LinkedIn was designed to drive me crazy.  It's an error screen on the LinkedIn app on Android*, but it shows a cord.  Is that a phone cord or an ethernet cable? It's difficult to tell from the plugs.  No, wait, look at the break - that's definitely a coaxial cable.  And all the internets (or is that power?) seem to be leaking out of it, even though it's not connected to anything.  I has a sad.

*Yes, yes, you can technically run Android on tablets and Chromebooks, but they're typically wireless as well.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Making @Starbucks special again

I just unsubscribed from Starbucks' emails. I realized that their emails have made me less likely to go to Starbucks.  (Ironically, this week I was also approached by a recruiter to go work for Starbucks in their Email Marketing division but that's not why I unsubscribed.)

It's taken me awhile to get to it, but for some time now, the Starbucks emails have left me unsettled. Every email is trying to get me to visit more, to buy more. It's all about making a sale.

But that's not what Starbucks is - to me.  Starbucks is a treat, a reward, a special occasion.  Starbucks is the destination at the end of a walk with my daughter.  Starbucks is a mid-point between working in the office and working from home.

It was a Friday tradition when I worked in Pasadena and a Sunday afternoon tradition way back when I lived in Sherman Oaks and was single (coffee, scone, Hollywood Report and Variety and my feet up on the edge of the fountain).  The one in Monrovia that always had drawings from elementary students on the walls was where I met with several other men for a weekly Bible study years ago.  When I worked in Burbank, we used to enjoy walking to the one in the Disney Channel building.  In Tacoma, I had just discovered that Starbucks, a scone and a walk on the beach was a good way to center myself before heading into a frustrating job.  Speaking of, Starbucks and I were born in the most awesome city of Seattle. I even own a few shares and somewhere I have a few of the special Shareholder only cards they used to issue each year (the app has made cards a relic).   Our family still occasionally searches out the "Glenn" commercial on YouTube and sings-along.

I bristle when people call Starbucks a restaurant, especially a fast-food restaurant. It's a café.  (If Mr. Schultz himself told me it was a restaurant, I'd politely disagree.)

Starbucks is special.

For instance, from this blog alone...

Its emails did not feel special. It was all about buying stuff, earning more stars.  It felt manipulative, generic and mass marketing. I think that really hit home when they emailed me to say that they wanted me to be one of the first to know that PSL was back.  (It's been a long time since I've had PSL - it was either not memorable or I didn't care for it.)  I figured there was no way that I was segmented into any sort of special list, that they probably just sent it to everyone.  (Also, apparently I have some stars that are expiring, like 2.3.  It seems like stars are really common now, and yet somehow I still have fractional stars. Too complicated.)
But I have a theory - I suspect that I will go to Starbucks a little more now, on my terms, because I want to.  Not because I was told to.  
But I have a theory - I suspect that I will go to Starbucks a little more now, on my terms, because I want to.  Not because I was told to.  If I earn a bunch of stars and get something for free, that's another way I'll be delighted.  If some of my stars expire like some cheap airline miles, I won't know about it and won't be sad that something is being taken away from me.

I am making Starbucks special again.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Stupid Hoaxes

I watched two videos today where people drilled into their iPhone 7s, claiming that was all it took to add a headphone jack to their phones.  Obviously, poorly done hoaxes, but apparently some people have fallen for it.  I kept waiting for them to validate how it worked or give specifics about where to drill and how deep to drill, but they never did.

Here's one plausible reason they could have used: you're drilling into a speaker. You'll destroy the speaker but expose the wiring to allow your headphones to make contact.  And here's a second plausible reason... but, please, please do not actually follow this advice.  But here's how my hoax would go:

Replace the Missing iPhone 7 Headphone Jack

When the iPhone 7 was released, Apple claimed they were making the courageous choice to eliminate the headphone jack in the name of progress.  A recent tear-down by Fixer Squad turned out Apple wasn't so courageous after all - the headphone jack still exists!

Why would Apple do this? The current theory is that next September Apple will unveil the iPhone 7s with the headphone jack. They'll announce that "the people have spoken and Apple listened."  But in reality, it will be the exact same phone with a modified case and a modest bump in memory (and a not-so-modest bump in price).

If you don't want to wait until September to enjoy your existing headphones and you're feeling brave, it is possible to fix your iPhone today.

You'll need a 3.5mm drill bit, a good ruler, a variable speed drill and masking tape. Optional: Vise and handheld vacuum (or a vacuum with a hose and wand.)

Start by measuring 3/4" on the drill bit.  Wrap a piece of masking tape around the drill bit so you'll know when you've reached the proper depth.  You'll be drilling through the case and the plastic plug that Apple has inserted into the headphone jack.

Turn the phone off entirely (very important!!!) and then secure the phone so that it can't move while drilling.  A vise works best, but if you don't have access to a vise, a few heavy books should hold the phone still you're drilling.  Don't use other heavy objects that aren't wide and flat - you don't want them to move or jump and crack your screen.  As a last resort, you could use masking tape to secure it to the edge of a table, but you'll need to be extra careful if you do that.

Look at the bottom of the phone with the screen facing up or away from you.  You'll see the Lightning port in center and a series of dots on either side.  The dots on the right are for the speaker, but the lots on the left are just for symmetry - they serve no purpose!!!

Line your drill carefully with the third dot.  Begin to drill slowly.  You'll see a small amount of metal and plastic come out.  This is natural.  Drill slowly - the headphone jack will guide you once you've broken through the outer casing.  Every 1/4" in or so, remove the drill bit and gently blow across the opening to remove drilled debris. If you've got a handheld vacuum, this will work well to make sure there's no plastic bits inside the headphone jack.

After you've drilled down 3/4" and cleaned out the debris, check to see if the headphones fit snugly into the jack.  If not, you may need to use the drill a little more - there may still be plastic from the plug inside the jack. Insert the jack and while drilling slowly, move the drill in a slight counter-clockwise direction to widen the opening ever so much.  Be careful not to overdo it - headphones that constantly fall out are worse than no headphones at all.

Once the headphones fit snugly, unplug the headphones and turn the phone on.

Wait until the phone has restarted and go into the Settings and tap on Sound.  Then plug in the headphones.  After about 2 seconds, you should see the Headphone settings appear on the menu when it recognizes them.  If you have the iOS upgrade, your iPhone may crash at this point. If so, simply power down the phone and restart and repeat the process.  We expect Apple will fix this bug before any new iPhone with a headphone jack is released.

That's all there is to it.

And remember, don't really actually do this. I'm kidding. This isn't real.

Monday, September 05, 2016

End of the Monthish (Aug. 2016)

Every month, I ignore the reminder to do an end-of-month blog.  Another month has come and gone and again I didn't do it.  Well, I'm doing one today, dang it.  Not quite the end of the month, but it's labor day, it's a little slower and I'm going to write something.  It won't necessarily be great, but it'll be something.  I wish I wrote more often, but I guess it's not been a strong enough aspiration.  It definitely helps with a decent year-end blog post when I have lots of posts to go back and look at. Anyhow, a few thoughts...

Today is my Grandma Marjorie's birthday.  Well, she has passed away, but today's the day we celebrated with her.  She will forever be linked to my career - in 2014, I was let go at World Vision the day before her birthday.  My parents, my brother and his family and my family all traveled to Yakima to celebrate with her.  It was a wonderful time.  I didn't think much about the job loss that weekend, or probably more accurately, didn't talk about it much.  She did find out anyhow near the end of the trip and wanted to know why I hadn't mentioned it and I told her that it wasn't important, that the weekend was about her.  In 2015 I had just landed in L.A., a consultant employed by a company in Seattle assigned to ExactTarget/Salesforce who in turn assigned me to Activision.  They were bringing me along on a trip for a day-long strategy session with Activision.  And of course, we all know how that turned out.  Anyhow, so I had just landed in L.A. and there was a message from Lori letting me know that mom and dad had called, grandma had passed away in her sleep.  We knew it was coming and I just remember sitting there near baggage claim talking to mom.  I think we were all happy for grandma - she had lived her life the way she wanted to.  Until a day or two before, she had still lived in the home she and my grandfather had purchased together, nearly a decade after she first saw it and decided she wanted to someday live there.  And she had still been driving and working and volunteering at church.  But a few days before, her health had really started to decline and she allowed herself to be checked into a hospice.  She hadn't let dad put too many personal effects out because she wasn't planning on staying long.  She worried about dying but I think dad let her know that it was ok and she accepted this and went peacefully in her sleep.  Marjorie was really cool - she was well-loved and always in a really positive mood.  Quite inspirational.  Lori notes that she came across some handwritten notes recently - grandma was really good at that - always hand-written notes.

So, yeah, that other thing... two years ago yesterday I got let go from World Vision.  At the time I thought it was cowardly.  Now I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that it was a blessing.  Things had run their course and it was time.  I had contributed while I was there and hopefully left things in a better place than before I had been there.  But we all knew it was time.  I had a few interviews and had been looking for somewhere new, but unsuccessfully.  Because they were the ones who pulled the trigger, I ended up with severance, pension and a few other things I wouldn't have necessarily gotten had I acted first (though it wasn't for a lack of trying).  Recently it's been on my mind a lot to write Toby and Scott a thank you note, but that's probably not beneficial to anyone.

The city of Burbank has signed off on the renovations so now we're back in compliance.  I've been painting the garage floor the last few days and today we should be able to move most of the stuff back in.  There's a little more finish work to happen tomorrow, but no more living under the cloud of construction and worries about whether our changes are going to be approved.  Next, some foundational work under the house, saving up for the master suite renovation/expansion and designing the Little Free Library I want to add to the front fence.

And... I think that's a fine place to stop for now.  Phew.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Splitting Large File with Headers (Mac)

I was given a 3.6 gb CSV data file (43 million rows x ~12 columns). I have an automation that's supposed to intake and process those files automatically, but the file was too large. What I needed were smaller files, each with the same header.

I had to do a number of Google searches to figure out how to do this, so I thought I would bring together everything I learned into a single post in case it would help someone else with a similar scenario.

Experience: Moderate

Step 1: Split the file into multiple files, each 1,000,000 rows long.

split -l 1000000 filename.csv filename-

This will give you multiple files with filenames like filename-aa, filename-ab, filename-ac, etc.

Step 2: Move the large file (filename.csv) to another directory. You don't need it anymore, but you'll want to hang on to it until everything's as you want.

Step 3: Rename all the files as CSV files.

for i in *; do mv "$i" "$i.csv"; done

Step 4: Open filename-aa.csv with Excel. Copy the first row (the headers) into a new worksheet. Save as "header.csv" Close filename-aa.csv (don't save).

Step 5: Move filename-aa.csv to a different directory. We don't want to add the header to it a second time.

Step 6: Open header.csv with a text editor to make sure there's a "return" at the end of the row. (If you move to the last character in your header and press right-arrow, does it drop to a new line? If not, press return or enter and then save. If so, you're good.)

Step 7: Rename header.csv to header.txt - it will warn you, but it's ok.

Step 8: Add the header to all of the other files

for i in *.csv; do mv "$i" tmp; cat header.txt tmp > "$i"; done

Step 9: Move filename-aa.csv back into the directory

You should now have a bunch of files, each with a header and 1,000,000 rows.  (And a file called "tmp" that you can safely delete.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Before we moved back to L.A., we decided we'd just go to the church we had attended before we moved to Seattle a decade ago. I had worked there, we had friends who still attended. And, watching a video on their website, we saw that they had just completed a major overhaul of their children's building, including a sensory room for special needs children. That was exciting - Ben had attended the same church with us in Seattle from his birth and they grew with us, experienced his diagnosis with us, ultimately creating a special classroom for him and a few other special needs children. Well, not just a classroom, but a ministry, recruiting and training volunteers who just really loved our little guy and gave him a safe and enjoyable place to be since the church service wasn't appropriate (too loud for his sensory processing issues), the age-relevant class wasn't appropriate (with the expectations of orderly quiet behavior and learning) and the nursery wasn't appropriate (he was getting larger than the other children and their unpredictability and outbursts didn't help - probably the final straw was when a little girl got right in his face and screamed - he reacted poorly and I'm not exactly what transpired but the little girl cried and wouldn't you know it, her grandma was the volunteer in the nursery that day). So, finding a church that could welcome Ben with open arms was probably one of the bigger stressors for me when we committed to this move and the "are we doing the right thing?" worry would float into mind again.

At the point we were leaving 10 years ago, it was a struggle for the church - the Senior Pastor had clashed with the Elders one time too many and either decided to leave or was asked to leave. Some other great people had departed just before or just after him. There had been some great temporary pastors in the pulpit and just as we were leaving, one was being considered. Ten years later, he was still there, so when it was difficult to attend our local church in person, we started streaming this church instead of our typical standby (Saddleback). A week after we arrived, all of the children Rachel's age would be going to camp, so we registered her.

On our first Sunday back, we all got in the car, drove to the parking garage near the church, boarded the shuttle and rode to the church. We met a greeter who led us around, helped us get our children signed up and took us up to Ben's class. I briefly had a chance to say hi to another Pastor/coworker who was still there who remembered me and we got to chat briefly before I had to run to catch up with my family. At the room where we were to drop-off Ben, they seemed to hurry us through the process and so we figured they just had it handled, so we didn't get a chance to explain anything about him to them. Then the greeter led us to where Rachel's class met in a different building. We met the program leader and he welcomed us and Ben. Then we went to church.

After church, we went to collect Ben but first encountered an adult volunteer nursing an ice pack and learned that they had given Ben crayons and then tried to get one out of his mouth. Big mistake. Don't give Ben anything you're not prepared for him to put in his mouth. We didn't have a long time to talk to the leader of the program, but promised to email during the week.

That week, Lori did email a lengthy email, explained all about Ben, observed about the non-existent sensory room and more.

The next Sunday, we returned to the campus. I stayed with Ben during the entire service and guided him through everything from the singing, teaching and a craft project. The program leader talked to me briefly, said she had received Lori's note but that she hadn't responded.

Rachel went away to camp. We received updates by email and links to photo galleries.

And then it was Sunday again and it was our third Sunday. This time Lori stayed with Ben the entire service. Again the program leader acknowledged Lori's email but didn't actually address anything Lori had said.

At that point, we felt this wasn't the right church for us. We searched on Google and we asked in our neighborhood's Facebook page. Both pointed us to a different church with a thriving Special Needs Ministry.

So, every Sunday for the past six weeks we've gone to that church.

The first church we attended has made no effort to contact us - no updates from Jr. High ministry, no response to Lori's letter, nothing to acknowledge that we'd indicated that we were visitors or that we contributed financially. It's really weird, that complete lack of acknowledgement. I know it's a large church and that we presented some potentially challenging things to accommodate, but the complete radio silence isn't some grand conspiracy to keep quiet in the hopes that we'll go away, just something missing from that church where there's no effort made to welcome new visitors.

So now every Sunday, we've gone to this new church instead, a 25-minute drive that takes us right past that first church.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

How I'd change @amazonecho

I received an Amazon Echo for Father's Day because I had it on my Wishlist. Possibly because my wife received a Kindle Fire for Mother's Day? Hopefully Amazon appreciates us! :)

It is a fun toy, but I was surprised it doesn't do more. (I also keep forgetting it's called "Echo" because we just call her "Alexa.") Disclaimer: the link over there is tagged with this website's code. If you buy one, Amazon gives me a few pennies and when I have enough pennies I go to Starbucks.

So, a few things I wish it did.

The app as a two-way extension
The app is great for aiding in slightly more complex tasks (like changing Pandora stations). However, the app ought to also be able to serve as an extension. For instance, having timers or alarms also optionally alert on app.
"Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes"
"Ok, timer set for 10 minutes"
"Alexa, alert my app when the timer goes off."

Voice Recognition
She does recognize what we say, but it would be cool if it recognized who we were. I spend a lot of time at work, so others in the house use it. It would be cool if you could have it recognize who you were and respond accordingly. Then you could say stuff like "Alexa, alert my app when the timer goes off."

Right now, Alexa is the start of things. Play a song. Tell a joke. Set the thermostat to 72. It would also be nice if Alexa could be the output of things. For instance, it has IF-THIS-THEN-THAT integration, but it's all THIS. If you ask Alexa for THIS, then THAT happens. It would be nice if worked the other way as well. If THIS, then Alexa should do THAT. There are several possibilities - she could announce, play a tone, or simple blink the light ring ala blink(1) (another toy I like playing with).

I would be nice to be able to set up triggers so that it would alert if stock prices fell/rose to certain levels, if news stories about certain terms occurred, whatever.

Multiple Amazon Accounts?
The Echo is connected to my account because it's my toy. But most of the shopping is done from my wife's account (she's the Primary Prime account). I think we can connect the Echo to multiple accounts, but never figured out how.

This is a huge one. Again, would need to be able to recognize *WHO* was saying "Send an email" as well as "Alexa, do I have any new email?" Or "Alexa, alert me if I receive an email from in the next 30 minutes."

Send to My Phone
Can I send driving directions to my phone?

Control my Computer
I would love to have a Chrome App or Windows App installed and connected so that we can issue voice commands to the laptop that sits right next to the Echo. "Alexa, skip video" - "Alexa, next tab" - "Alexa, open Gmail and compose a message" - "Alexa, go back 30 seconds" - "Alexa, mute tab" - "Alexa, close tab" - "Alexa, lock computer in 30 minutes" - "Alexa, navigate to"

More Official Skills
Like Tile and Roku for sure.

Skills Directory
This is only semi-related, but there should be a directory of all available skills on the web, not just within the app. If that exists, it's not easy to find on

Spam Watch

Every time we register with a website, we use an email address unique to that website.  That allows us to see how our email address is shared (or stolen).

We are receiving spam as a result of registering with these sites.  Not a comprehensive list, but these sites have (or have previously had) inadequate security measures, or have shared our email address with someone who did.

If you're getting spam, it might be because you've registered with one of these sites. If you're thinking of registering with one of these sites, you might be wary of sharing your email address with them, in case they haven't improved their practices.

* Accuweather
* Adobe
* CouponMom (at least twice!)
* Disney (Photo Pass)
* Dropbox
* eHeat
* Entertainment Book
* Google (Feedburner)
* Klout
* Larson Nissan (at least twice!)
* Lifehacker
* Lower My Bills
* MyGroceryDeals
* MySpace
* Paypal
* TD Ameritrade (at least twice!)
* Tumblr

Breaking up is hard to do

I cannot remember past moves being this challenging.  But this time our move has been really complex when it comes to the address.  Now, sure, we tried to maintain addresses in two states for a few months which was our own fault, but even now, getting everything untangled has been challenging and it feels like technology has worked against us.  Warning: this is a cautionary tale, but also a rant.

Google - there's disagreement amongst the various Google properties (most notably Google Maps vs Waze) about what our address actually is - whether there's an "N" (north) on the street name or not. This extends to the real estate sites as well. I find myself being inconsistent when giving our address, but the mail still gets here.

Amazon - your address will exist in multiple places in their database and updating in one place won't update it in others.  We had a large Subscribe & Save order take a tour of the country, and someone sent someone a gift off Rachel's wish list, only to have it returned after delivery was refused at our old address.  We still don't know who tried to send Rachel a gift.

UPS - the only reason we even knew about the attempted gift to Rachel was that it took UPS nearly two weeks to stop sending us updates for packages to our old address, even though we had updated our address.  Yes, we got emails for all the deliveries the new owners of our house got.

USPS - same deal - we got package tracking notifications for purchases by the new owners for over a week after changing the address.

Plus, we had a number of people change their records to our new address in California and continue to mail us, including local politicians wanting us to vote in Washington state and realtors wanting to help us sell our Washington home.  This isn't forwarded mail, this is mail printed with our new address.  The real kicker is the one from Washington State Department of Social Services.

But speaking of forwarded mail, we did receive ballots for the mid-July whatever from the King County Elections office (seriously - you get like 14-16 ballots a year in Washington state - there's "voice of the people" and then there's "shouldn't the representatives handle some of this stuff?").

AT&T - I've never seen this company as disjointed and disorganized as my current dealings with them.  They cover our wireless phones and internet, but they're so siloed it actually works against them to all share the same name.  They really need to get their act together or stop trying to pretend they're all one company.  So much trouble trying to get all the billing set up and going to the same place.  Every time I call them, I end up being told that whoever I'm talking to can't help me because they can't access whatever area of the business I'm trying to deal with and having to transfer me.

Comcast - until we moved, this was the best experience I'd ever had with the company.  We only had internet through them, but every step along the way - signing up, installation, extra installation after determining the old line had been destroyed by me with a shovel, customer service, pricing, speed and the complete lack of outages made my experience with Comcast great.  Until I was ready to end service because we were moving.  In the end, I probably had nine interactions (phone, chat, Twitter) and had to request cancelation three times because each previous request never got recorded anywhere in their system.  During that time, I got emails confirming the services the new owner had requested and continued billing, an absolute mess.

Washington State DOL (aka DMV) - they have a way to indicate that a vehicle has been moved out of state, but not a person.  No way to truly cancel services or indicate that that you won't need to renew stuff in future years, which means they'll waste money trying to get us to pay for renewals we don't need.

Of course, then there's all the flyers we get down here from realtors who want to help us sell this house.  We just bought it!  That's just lazy marketing or inefficient selection criteria when determining who to distribute the flyers to.  Especially from the realtor who just sold this house to us.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Email from the @FBI

So just got this email from the FBI.  Take that, Nigerian scammer spammers!

Federal Bureau Of Investigation Fraud Division
200 Mccarty Avenue Albany, NY 12209 New York
Anti-Terrorist and Fraud Crimes Division
FBI Delegated to Visit Nigeria for Investigation

Our Ref: FGB /0N8/AGENCY NO.856.

Dear Beneficiary:

The UNITED NATIONS have instructed us to visit Nigeria as FBI/UNITED NATIONS delegates to investigate fraudsters who are in the business of swindling Foreigners from various countries. Please be informed that during our investigation, we found out that there is a total amount sum of US$20million that has been duly assigned in your name as the beneficiary in the bank but these fraudsters were busy swindling you without any hope of receiving your fund.

These are the works of the fraudsters who needed to extort hard earned money from you in the name of transaction, Be informed that we have arrested some bank officials in respect of this delayed Overdue fund. Therefore, we sincerely implore you to forward all claim detailed information if possible support with documents you may have received in the prior of transaction for verification/evaluation. Upon the fulfilling of this obligations/requirement as stipulated in the deed of assignment with the payment authority to expedite action in carrying out the release of your funds.

We have a very limited time to stay in Nigeria, Your response is needed urgently as soon as you receive this message to expedite the completion of your transaction. The remaining criminals will be caught unaware and we don't want them to know this new development to avoid jeopardizing our investigation, All you need is to conceal anything that has to do with this exercise and cease from any illegal transaction to enable us get all the necessary information required.

I anticipate your swift response with the required information below.

(1) Your full names;
(2) Phone, fax and mobile #;
(3) Home address/ Country
(4) Profession, Age and Marital status.
(5) Identity card/passport

Await your swift response as soon as you receive this email to ensure you receive your fund that has been delayed by the fraudsters.

Best Regard,

Mr. James Brooks


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Nous Sommes Arrivés

Well, Ben and I are here. Lori and Rachel and Jan and the cats are still en route including suffering Portland - 18 miles in 80 minutes. Ben wandered around, found his room and sat in it for awhile but has now returned multiple times to our bedroom - apparently he likes the air mattress.

I still remember arriving in near Seattle. It's nice to be in a town people have heard of, but part of it felt like a bit of a failure as the plane was taking off - I looked down at all those houses and land and thought "We didn't make it" - but I think I also felt that when we left L.A.  Maybe this is another chance for us to try to make it.  Lots of good happened in the past 10 years - to name just a few... Ben (and great medical and educational support), some things with Rachel were identified and diagnosed, we saw my brother get married (and then add four boys to their clan), Lori got to know Grandma Marjorie and we all got to make some wonderful memories with her before she passed away, we met a lot of neat friends at church and for eight years, I was what a non-profit in Federal Way needed. And things I learned there helped me into the next few things that led us back to where we are now.

So, while I grapple with this transition (and the commute!), I'm excited for this next chapter and think it's going to be really great for all of us.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Life Goes On

I think one of the cruelest parts of any tragedy is how in an instant, your life stops, comes crashing to a halt, irrevocably and forever changed.

And yet everything else keeps on.

Cars keep moving, people continue about their mundane lives. Bills are due, clouds roll across the sky and people walk by with no idea of what has just happened and you wonder - "how can I move on from this. Do I want to move on from this?  Or is it possible for me to sit on this couch until the moving company comes and tips me off of it?"

Today was one of those days that defied reason - in an instant, I learned a piece of news that I couldn't unlearn. No time machine to go back and make changes, no wishing it wasn't so, no "this can't be real."  Sure, it's still entirely possible that I could wake up and this was nothing more than a bad dream, but I don't think that's the case.  But for me, it was in some ways, nothing more than news - mt life wasn't shattered, but it did knock me about a bit.  Yeah, I cried sitting on that couch.  And I'm crying now as I type this sitting on a different couch.

Rewind to last Saturday evening.  Returning from Date Night, my wife and I remembered a couple we had lost touch with.  I don't know if either of us looked for them on Facebook since Saturday, but I know one or both of us had unsuccessfully Googled them in the past month.

But it wasn't my world that stopped.  It was theirs.  I was merely a bystander, it had probably been close to twelve years since we saw them last but there, today, on all the news websites, it was undoubtedly him.  He didn't look like he'd aged a day.  And there was no coming back from this, a hopeless, finality.  The kind that makes you very carefully say "What the heck, God?" lest you use a different H word or the F word. It's not fair, it's not right and for once for me, it's not a statistic.  The story is not mine, I'm barely tangential, not even a footnote. But, these were people who were an extremely vital part of our early marriage - people we dined with, laughed with, studied the Bible with, celebrated holidays and birthdays with.  Their life was shattered and I hurt so much for them. Not guilt, but just really deep "not getting off this couch" hurt that I'm struggling to process and am angry that there's no logical explanation because what happened wasn't logical. It was stupid, selfish and cowardly. There's no justice, there's no way to make it right, and at the moment, it must feel quite helpless.

I can't help but imagine the crime scene, about the people arriving at her doorstep to confirm her identity and then break the news, of and her trying to figure out how to tell their children. I'm imagining family trying to rally and friends (like me) who'd lost touch trying to figure out just how (and if) it's at all possible to tell them they're loved and they're being prayed for. How to hurt with them without making it about me.  (I'm not entirely sure I've not failed on that last count, but this is part of my grieving process and you, my dear readers, are my therapists.)

My world did need to go on, I needed to go pray with my daughter and get her to bed, the cats needed food and a clean catbox.  It may be surreal to hear that the president's been advised on the death of your friend or to read all the idiots ironically or seriously suggest "If only he'd been armed." and think "Nope, I'm not getting up off this couch."  But you know what else I heard as I prayed tonight?  Birds were singing.  Life does go on. It must. And somewhere in it, we must find hope.

I guess if anything, I need to end with two pleas.... one, please pray for this family.  Two, if someone comes to mind that you haven't thought of in awhile, please, for me, call them, write them, contact them. You never know when life will change and something you take for granted is no longer something you can get to someday. 
Don't want. Don't regret.

Cheers, B.  We love you, M.  (thanks, A, for the photo)

Friday, May 20, 2016

How Not to Unsub

I received a product recently and apparently it came with an overaggressive email campaign trying to sell me even more of them.

I finally had enough and clicked the Unsubscribe button.

First, extra advertising pushed down the navigation to where it covers part of the instructions.  You can still figure out what's going on, but it's sloppy and maybe not well tested.  (Yeah, I know the Jaguar/Land Rover integration is a huge deal, but still...)

Second, I don't know what kind of emails it was that I was receiving too many of, so how would I know which one I was getting too many of.  Easiest solution - check the box that says "Unsubscribe from all emails"

Third, making us type in our email address again.  That's a poor user experience.  It probably just strengthens our resolve and affirms our choice to just stop all of it right now.

Honorable mention: Hiding "News From Our Partners" in the middle of the deck. What is that? Emails from Jaguar/Land Rover (no thanks, Tesla or the bus, yo) or just anyone who wants to pay to have this company send me emails.

I bet if they were to look at their stats, they probably don't have too many people opting-down (leaving a few things unchecked) - that most of the people who complete this page hit that "Unsubscribe from all emails" checkbox.  Although if they didn't fix the checkboxes, it's in their best interest not to fill in the email address or they'll just lose people even quicker.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Day 111 - 57 days to L.A.

According a calendar I hadn't been looking at, I had gotten off on our days.  Apparently today is day 111.  Countdown is correct.

5. Ben went swimming

Thursday afternoon we finally made it to the pool.  It was just down the hall from our room but we'd never made it.  I knew we needed to get out of the hotel room (well, some of us. Rachel was happy to hide between the bed and the wall playing on her phone for as long as we'd let her).

The pool at the Embassy Suites is only 3'9" and that is awesome.

Ben and I went in the pool and he had a blast walking around and climbing on me. He was so happy he was giving me kisses because he was just so happy to be in the water.

We were in there for a long time.

It's on the second floor of the hotel above the lobby and is open to the outside.  It was still a rainy day, so it was nice to be able to be in the water but protected from the elements, and yet still feel connected to them.

The pool was not heated, but I got acclimated quicker than I thought I would.  Partway through someone from the hotel came in and asked how the water was.  I mentioned the temperature and they said they'd look into it.  I think it got a little warmer after that.

Lori was on the phone with real estate stuff (possibly with the contractor here) for much of it, so came in to see us from time to time but kept having to wander off and make calls. I also had gotten quarters from the front desk so I could do laundry (it's always nice returning home from vacation with most of the laundry clean) but somehow Lori ended up doing most of the laundry.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day 109 - 58 days to L.A.

4. We put an offer in on another house.

The next day (Thursday), we spent the morning collecting paperwork for their financial guy. When we had finally finished that, we needed to get out of the hotel. So piled into the Durango and started driving around the neighborhood we had wanted to buy in (but didn't find any suitable houses) and were happy to realize it wasn't as great in person as it was in Google Maps and the listings. It may be a hot neighborhood, but it didn't have the right charm or appeal. Just lots of really tiny Hollywood-hills style roads that were crazy.  It was like we were back in Seattle with a lot of rain.  That didn't help our mood (still on the plane as I type this, still hating the aisle seat) any, so we finally decided to head back into the center of town and hit up a restaurant we liked, one of the last places we ate at before we moved out of L.A. (Islands).

My favorite burger is no longer on the menu, but they made it for me anyhow. #offmenu #woot But on the way to the restaurant, our broker's automated system found a new match and sent it to us.

But - it wasn't just a match where the city and price matched, it was a house with a guest house. And it was well-appointed, having been refreshed by the owners who had already moved out. 

WHAT!?!?!?! We emailed our broker, he wrote back right away to say he'd contact the seller's agent. The seller said he was under instructions not to show the house before Sunday but our broker talked about how we'd be gone by then and the seller's agent said he'd make an exception. Our broker was tied up in meetings, so we met with the seller's agent to tour the house. Other than size (of course), it was perfect. Nice neighborhood full of nicely kept homes and this house looked really good inside.

Much of the mother-in-law apartment was clearly unpermitted, but still looked good. The price was also suspiciously low, so we point-blank called that out. He agreed that the sellers expected it to sell for more, but they also wanted a quick sale as they have already moved and were renting somewhere else (Burbank turned out to be too far for them to commute) and didn't want to keep paying for two places. So we said we were incredibly motivated to get it and he admitted that he hadn't told the sellers he was showing it to us.

We left, asked our broker what we'd need to pay to get it. He and the agent talked, got the price the sellers were hoping to get for it and we said "Ok, that's what we'll pay." It was far less than the other house and we wouldn't need to do a lot of work. (Soon we'd want to expand the master and add an en suite, but we'd make to in the short-term.)

The sun-dappled back yard.
It was raining the day we saw it,
can't wait to spend time in it
when it looks like this!
Since we'd been though the ringer with the first house on the financials, our broker was able to answer all the questions about our financials and satisfy everything.

They countered with with a few non-financial points - the length of the escrow, specifying the escrow and title companies, stuff like that. We accepted their counter, sent the wire instructions and 26 hours after the house was listed, we were escrow.

If that house had come up a few days earlier (usually homes list on Tuesday to show throughout the week before the Sunday open house) or a few days later, we would have missed it. But if that timing was a coincidence, a phrase one of my co-workers used to say often comes to mind: "Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous."

The other house had countered with stuff and we still had until Monday to respond and they made it clear we weren't the only offers they were countering. We let them know on Friday that we wouldn't be responding to their counter.

Tomorrow: Ben goes swimming.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Day 108 - 59 days to L.A.

3. We put an offer in on a house
for illustrative purposes only
(house shown here has more rooms and more land)

The next morning, we toured the two houses. One wasn't anything special and they wouldn't even let us see the guest house.  The other had some neat character, but it was going to need some serious work as much of it hadn't been touched in probably 30 or 40 years.  And it was expensive.  

But, we put an offer on it.  The seller made us jump through a million hoops - including proving to their financial guy that we would be able to buy the house, providing more documents than we had to provide to our lender.  

Between that process, the work that would need to be done and the price, we weren't quite feeling so confident about the process and wondered if we'd made a mistake.

So we put an offer in on another house.  But more on that tomorrow.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Day 107 - 60 Days to L.A.

2. Ben flew on a plane.

We hadn't taken Ben on a plane since he was 3-months old.  We weren't sure how it was going to go and we were a little scared.  We talked with him a lot about it before hand.  He mostly did OK, though there was a few points on the trip down where he screamed out in pain or frustration.  They were short-lived, but I still worried about what the other passengers would think.  He also would throw his head back into his seat a lot and I worried about the passenger behind me spilling his drink or just getting mad.

Flight attendants said things like "Inside voice!" and "Would it help if we got him some crayons?" but all they were doing was making it worse.  

I found that some good strong squeezing helped him calm down quickly.  There was a point where I was able to close my eyes and might have fallen asleep because I opened my eyes and he was laying over with his head on my lap. He wasn't sleeping, but it was at least a period where he was calm.

But, my worst fears weren't realized - we weren't escorted off the plane by U.S. Marshals in Portland.

After landing in L.A., we got in our rental - a Dodge Durango - really nice.  Actually, let me stop for a moment to declare Enterprise Car Rentals in Los Angeles a secret that everyone should know about.  First off, they have kiosks where you can handle most of the rental or confirmation process, including renting car seats if you forgot to bring one (yeah).  And then when you go out get your car, it's waiting under a shady cover and there's someone to help you get all checked out (I think they just keep a few of each class under the cover and then when you take one, they bring another one.)  It's awesome - the best experience by far. Followed by Thifty, Payless and Fox (and then everyone else probably) and then Hertz in Los Angeles as the woorst.  My two experiences with Hertz in 2000 and 2015 were identical - long, long, long lines. Hertz bad, Enterprise good.  So... yeah.... we put an offer on a house.

After we got our rental car, we drove by the four houses and immediately eliminated two of them.  The remaining two weren't super-great, but they were the only choices we believed we had out of all the properties for sale in Los Angeles.  One was at the end of a sketchy drive next to commuter rail lines (and in a number of years will also have a high-speed train as well - if they don't tear down the house to put it in), the other was in a neighborhood we also didn't like.  For the two that were left, one was in an OK neighborhood and one was in a neighborhood we really liked.  

The next morning, we put an offer in on a house.  (Watch for the next post.) 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Day 106 - 61 days to L.A.

(yesterday...) So much for capturing the transition in real-time - it's been a long time since my last post. As I write this, I'm sitting on a plane heading back to Seattle from my latest trip to L.A.  That means I can't check to see what I had actually talked about in the last blog post, but here's a bunch of stuff that's happened recently.  So, I'm just going to write a series of posts and schedule them for the next few weeks.  But first off, let me say that I absolutely hate sitting on the aisle. I also don't like the very back row on the right side of the plane - you're across from one of the bathrooms and you get to see the worst of humanity - all the people who do not close the lavatory door when they're done. You probably didn't notice, but the numbering doesn't line up.  We have a departure date now, sooner than the end of June date we had used previously as our countdown.

1. We sold a house.
It's done. We're half a month away from being renters again. That's weird.  The house is sold as-of the end of April and we're renting it back until mid-June.  Our buyer is a friend and a teacher at the local elementary school. Her boys have been over here for birthday parties before and we hope that they enjoy the house for many, many, many years to come.  I'm leaving them plans for a shed and for additional cabinetry and changes in the kitchen we never had a chance to make.  We had the yard cleaned-up, we installed granite in the kitchen and all three bathrooms, along with new sinks.  Stainless appliances in the kitchen.  We were getting all kinds of work done in order to list it and then our friend said she'd found a new lender and was again interested in our house.  An earlier attempt to see if we could sell to her didn't work out.  We've had a number of things to correct from the inspection, but most of those are done.  The only remaining items are pretty much mine to do and hopefully will be done this week.  Had hoped to work on a major one today but couldn't find a tool I needed.  I bought a replacement but now Lori's not feeling well so I need to wait to work on it.

Next: Ben flew on a plane. 

Saturday, April 09, 2016

A few things that happened

Ben went swimming.
The pool at the Embassy Suites is only 3'9" and that is awesome. Ben and I went in the pool and he had a blast walking around and climbing on me. He was so happy he was giving me kisses. We were in there for a long time.

We saw some old friends, met some new friends
Lori arranged for us to spend time with friends on Thursday and Friday. We hadn't seen them much at all in the past 10 years, but it didn't feel like it when we met with them. Both were awesome times we really needed - Rachel had new friends to play with and Ben was well-behaved and Lori and I got to spend some wonderful time relaxing and eating and hanging out. (Though on Friday I wasn't able to be as engaged because I was coordinating the escrow payment wire transfer.)

Ben flew on a plane again.
The second flight went a lot better. We got the last row at the back of the plane and we introduced Ben to the flight attendant who was hanging out at the back of the plane. Turns out she has a teenager with autism and her other job was working with special-needs children. Ben did really well. No head-banging, no yelling or fussing. During the first flight it was difficult to get him to eat anything, but during the second flight, we kept him eating and drinking the entire time and we really suspected that it was his ears on the first flight.

(delayed, this was written in 2016 but only got posted in 2018)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How Not to Cold Call

Got this gem this morning...
"I'm trying to reach the person who manages [your company]'s SEM / Paid Search. I have several contacts on file but was hoping you could point me in the right direction so I can spare your colleagues' inboxes from similar emails in the future."
So... if I tell you who to specifically pester, you promise not to pester all my co-workers the way you're currently pestering me? What made me the lucky winner, or do you tell everyone they're getting your special attention?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

You won't believe what these simple memes are capable of.

We were talking recently about why anyone would post something so silly - what's the point?

My wife had a theory - this is all about harvesting data about people.

When you interact with something on Facebook, you're sending signals. Signals about what you like, signals about what you're interested in, signals about what you're likely to interact with in the future.

In simplest terms, it might set you up to see more of these in the future.  Or then present them to your friends and friends of friends as things they might be interested in.

In more nefarious terms, it could...

...dictate the kind of content you see in "the people who liked this may also like"

...soften you up for later clicking "like" on things (which gives them even more access to information about you)

...lead you to places with fake "like"s and "share"s designed to install virii on your computer

And even...

...learn more about who you are for the purposes of identity theft or identity appropriation.  It is true that people can only learn as much about you as you allow through your Security Settings on Social Media, but that's far more than they'd know if they didn't know you existed.  They may not have enough about you to steal your identity, or you may not have anything they want to steal.  But, you may be the friend or relative of a larger target.  As you engage with things, people are scraping that information - and the graph of who you know and who your friends know and that can all lead to social engineering.

If you get an email or chat request from someone you don't know or a name you barely recognize, but you recognize other recipients as part of your small social circle or the relative of a friend, you're going to trust it more. They know details about people that you know, they know the kinds of things you engage in or are motivated by, they know how to talk in a language you understand.  Suddenly, that nephew's wife stuck in New York after a business trip because they got mugged is someone you're happy to wire money to.

So... harmless?  No.  Think carefully about anything you interact with.  And if it seems silly, skip it. Let someone else be the target.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Day 58: 124 days to L.A.

We are in the home stretch as far as the home renovations go.  The granite and new sinks were installed today in the kitchen and bathrooms. Last night in anticipation of today's granite installation Lori painted the rest (save behind the refrigerator) of the kitchen.

Tomorrow the plumbing is supposed to be all reconnected. After that, smaller stuff like installing the microwave and dishwasher and a few other odds and ends.  Then, it's down to:

(a) yardwork (I did some this afternoon)

(b) staging (this will be a continuous process)

(c) paring, sorting, trashing, donating, packing - figuring out what we really want to take with us and what it's time to say farewell to.

I'm happy that we're almost to this stage.  Being without sinks the past few days has been a bit frustrating and living in a constant state of clutter has been a nightmare.  When I say clutter I mean boxes, mail, stuff from cabinets stacked on tables, my bags packed (or now unpacked) from the trip, delivered stuff still in boxes waiting to be put away (when there's a place to put them away), low priority mail, and on and on.

We've done our budget and can confirm that we actually can afford to live in California.  We need to do our pre-approval paperwork and our disclosure paperwork for this house,

But yeah, looking forward to being able to get things put back into cupboards and off of tables.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 53: 129 Days to L.A.

...which is a funny thing to write from Santa Monica, which is where I am at the moment.

Let's get the part where I repeat myself out of the way. Busy. Crazy. Blink. Breathe.

Ok... so... where were we?  Last update, Sunday the 14th.  Since then, the painters came in and primed and painted the walls in the dining room, living room, foyer, upper and lower halls and all three bathrooms... I finished both hutches and moved them into position... Lori started re-arranging things in the kitchen and loading that hutch. More stuff thrown out in the garage, more stuff packed, more stuff readied for Goodwill.  On Friday, the new refrigerator and stove were installed and the new dishwasher and microwave stashed in the dining room. The ice maker was the wrong one but the delivery guy refused our refusal - he was supposed to take it back but wouldn't. So now we have to go through Home Depot to get it replaced and hopefully someone out to install the new one so I don't have to do it.

On Saturday morning I re-hung the curtains in the living room and installed a new curtain rod in the living room minutes before my parents and brother's family arrived for a Jeff/Jim/James birthday party.  (On Saturday I got all the laundry caught up and on Sunday I filled the other hutch with clean laundry... only temporarily, mind you.)

On Sunday afternoon, I headed to SeaTac and flew down to L.A. and this week, I'm in Santa Monica for three days while Lori holds down the fort. I'm riding about 3 miles each way to work today and tomorrow (on Wednesday I'll make the hotel drive me the 2 miles to work and catch Lyft from there to the airport at the end of the day).  On Thursday morning the contractor and his crew will drop by and remove all the counters in the kitchen and all three bathrooms and install the microwave and dishwasher.  He says he'll try to make sure we have a working sink in the kitchen. Lori says we'll be eating a lot of Subway those few days - anything where there's no cleanup or even paper plates to toss.  On Saturday they'll return with some slabs of granite for the kitchen and bathroom and by Sunday, all that will be left in the house are (a) touch-ups; (b) uncluttering/packing; (c) more curtains to hang; (d) the yard.  I'm sure I'm oversimplifying.  Oh, and then selling the house, buying a new house, negotiating rent back, planning, packing, moving, and starting the new chapter.

But for now, I'm tired.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Day 45: 137 days to L.A.

It's been a busy couple of days (what's new?) but glad to actually have made some progress.

On Friday, I moved some of the new furniture closer to where it needs to ultimately end up.
I completed the paperwork that the Relocation Consultant needed from me and introduced her to our two (three?) realtors. That also starts the process that gets us an extra chunk of cash.

On Saturday I did some more priming of the giant wall in the living room and then Lori and I had a talk about where we were with the finances. We realized that with one of the two big medical things resolved and with the extra money that comes as part of the relocation package, we could get the painting done afterall. We contacted the painter and described our adjusted needs and he wrote back and told us when he could be here.

Today I took a bunch of boxes to Goodwill, and filled another box with coats for the next run.  I also strengthened the front-steps by adding an extra 2x4 the length of each step underneath the step. If there's time I'll do a little bit more on the edges of the step, but already they feel sturdier.  I also did some cleaning in the garage and added some more to the trash can for this week.

I'm about ready to sit down in our room and take a hard look at the stuff in the drawers.  Do I want this in California? Does this mean something? Does it have value? Or is it clutter? How long has it sat in this drawer? If someone else threw it away, would I even notice? Is there a way to honor it without keeping the physical item? Does it need to get moved to the garage to join others like it? (like all the nails and screws that have, over time, ended up in a bin in my dresser)  I really want to live leaner.

Tossed out a couple of license plates tonight, too.  Two from Califorina, two from Washington.  (Don't worry, I cut them all in half and threw half of each one in the trash and the other half in recycling.)   I hope next time around we get better plates - no more donkeys or grumbling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Day 41: 141 Days to L.A.

Hope to be brief tonight - really seriously intend to be in bed by midnight tonight. Was up way too long last night writing that really long post.

Nothing much move-related happened today.  At least that I'm aware of. Lori and I didn't have good sleep last night, so she spent some of the day catching up on that. I worked all day, with only a brief stop for lunch and then worked some more this evening.  I made sure to get everything I wanted to get done, save this blog post (now) and reading (not happening) much earlier in the evening so I didn't end up at 10:30 with a long list of things.  Did get a few more things for staging, some new cabinet knobs and valances.

Rachel's sick and will be staying home tomorrow, looks like.  Still trying to get my new work computer set-up.  I got better access today, but still can't access the corporate network.  I find it hard to believe it's nearly Thursday already. This week is just flying by.  I guess that's good...?

I need to find the motivation to get more done, but I think that starts with feeling more rested. And doing a better job of consulting my to do list and then actually using it and checking stuff off and postponing stuff that I shouldn't be worrying about.  Ok, six minutes to midnight.  Time to sign off.

Day 40ish: 142 Days to L.A.

So I'm feeling a little anxious tonight about the move.  Specifically, finding a house, the right a house, a house we can afford, a house that will work for a us, a house that won't be a really awful commute. Instead of focusing on that, I'm going to talk about three other things.

First, Lori continues to recover. Most of her incisions are looking pretty good (as much as incisions can) and she's been feeling better, but still lacking in energy. She's, as she put it, champing at the bit to get back to work, but is being wise and not trying to tackle much right now. The house is looking better now that I'm not trying to keep the dishes caught up but she wants to get back to painting and decluttering.

Second, I had a chance to get some stuff done today.  I broke down some boxes and reorganized some stuff in the garage and crawl space.  I feel like it made a dent in those two areas. Donation boxes are better packed and ready to go and if the weather takes a turn for the better I'll be able to start leaving items out on the curb again. I've already been able to find new homes for a few items.

Third, let's talk August 2014 to present because if you really look at it, it's a little insane. Impossible. Humbling. Astonishing. Supernatural? Divine?

  • July - I realize I miss doing email marketing. I post in a group on LinkedIn wondering if anyone needs any help. Someone responds right away and I find some extra work getting to do email again.
  • August - got the outside of the house painted because the HOA said we needed to do it (or they'd hire someone to do it and send us the bill).  
  • September - Job got eliminated. It was no secret that my new boss and I weren't getting along, it was no secret that there was no longer a good fit for me within the organization, nowhere else to move within the organization and things were pretty miserable. I had been looking for work unsuccessfully.  They probably could have just laid me off, it was an at-will employer. But they give me two weeks' severance for every year of service, plus an extra month, plus there was a vested retirement account.  Day after job got eliminated, went to my grandmother's for her 95th birthday. My parents, my brother and his family and my whole family in town celebrating her birthday, including a party for her at her church. Wonderful weekend, took my mind off of everything.
  • October - looking for work without a lot of success. Change all my online resumes to indicate that I'm looking for work.  Some guy calls me, says I've actually been on his radar for some time, could he send me a few job listings because he thinks he has several that will be a good match.  A few phone calls, a trip to Seattle, a 30 minute phone call and a quick conversation with a few people and I'm here by a consulting form and immediately subcontracted to another company, ExactTarget.  I had experience with them previous, having had a large participatory role in the RFP that selected them as a vendor to replace our old email vendor... but by then I was leading the team, so I didn't have very much hands-on production experience. They give me keys to their office and I participate in long-distance training, some from home and some from an office at the consulting firm in Seattle.  (I get to work in Seattle!!!!!! In an office!!!! With the Space Needle behind me and reflected off my computer monitor as I work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • November - I show up at the ExactTarget in Bellevue. ExactTarget has just been purchased by Salesforce, and things have been shaken up.  Between the time ExactTarget charged Teleion with finding a contractor and the time I arrive, Salesforce has installed a new leader in the office who hired a full-time employee for the same role I was to fill. He honors the contract and says he'll do what he can to find work for me for the next six months.  I'm being paid by my former employer, the consulting firm and the side gig, so we replace the 26 year old heater and have a heat pump installed, and a gas line and replace the ancient hot water heater with a new one. I begin shadowing a team on a few clients, including Activision. The engagement is a struggle, everyone will admit that.  I drive 60-90 minutes each way every single day in the what was probably the tamest fall and winter in all the years we've lived here. I realize that I don't want to drive that long-term and that if I want another high paying job in this or a related field, that commute is a requirement, or we need to try to find a new place to live in the crazy Seattle real estate market.
  • December - I begin to have a minor but visible role with Activision, helping to pick up the slack with Campaign Management because in January the Campaign Manager is going on a three-week trip that had been planned months earlier.  I ask a lot of questions because I'm curious and context is important to me. I learn a lot from the current team.
  • January - They pull me aside and tell me that they're going to temporarily have me continue to be the Campaign Manager even after the real CM returns. I have a crazy week where I'm doing the CM work for her three clients and also helping to onboard a new client, working with their agency and doing hands on production work in the system.  That was 10-11 hour days with a 90 minute drive on each end. They shift all the other positions to San Francisco but don't have any extra CMs. With so many new people on the team (at Salesforce, Activision and the creative agency), it's decided that a face-to-face is a good idea and I'm invited to come along. As soon as I land in L.A., I have a voicemail from Lori. I call her back and learn my grandmother has passed away. It's somewhat expected and now means I think of grandma every time I'm there.  I meet the rest of the team at a Salesforce office in Santa Monica (on Third Street!) for an afternoon planning session. The next day we go to the Activision offices for a day of planning, discussion and learning more about the plans and objectives for the next year.  A few days later we have an absolutely wonderful memorial service for my grandmother. I knew she was awesome, but I did not know the depth of care she had for others.  She worked until she was 94 at an insurance agency (a day or two a week) because she had fun hanging out with the people there and she volunteered in her church answering phones and greeting people in the office (a day or two a week) and I got to hear some neat stories from people who came up to just tell me personally how Marjorie had been there for them at a time when they reached out to the church in a moment of darkness. And you should have seen all the photos over the decades that she had. Mom and dad made this amazing display covering multiple tables. I heard one person gasp in astonishment, a picture of them and family members from many years earlier, a photo they hadn't realized had even been taken.  Grandma rocked. 
  • March, April - they extend my contract a week or two at a time, never really telling me when it's going to end and not telling Activision either. I begin to work on documenting everything and training a replacement CM. She's a no-nonsense by the book type of person and I know she's going to be a bad fit. Fortunately, she also has moral objections to the violence of the Call of Duty video game and gets herself partially transferred off.  So I begin the training a second time with another CM.  I break the news to Activision (that my time is limited) because no one else is and I don't think that's fair to them considering the relationship we've established.
  • May - Activision calls and says they don't want to lose me. To be more specific about what they said would make me sound like I'm full of myself and full of something else. But they were very encouraging. I begin interviewing with Expedia for a possible role with Teleion at Salesforce at Expedia to help them with their ExactTarget implementation. I meet with a number of Expedia individuals. I'm back in the Seattle office at that point, so I'm ducking into the cell phone room for calls with Activision, calls with Salesforce continuing to train my replacements, and running back to Bellevue for interviews with Expedia.  One time I found myself crossing I90 while carefully eating a Mod Pizza because I literally had no time between meetings. Finally Salesforce says they want me for the Expedia role and that Expedia likes me and then springs it on me that it's still not permanent - they still want me to be a contractor, they're still not willing to make the investment. I announce that I'm taking the role with Activision. They call back and try to get me to take the Expedia role, try offering me a full-time role, etc., but at this point, Activision's done nothing but make me feel valued and wanted while Salesforce has gone out of their way to try to avoid any sort of ownership.  So Teleion says that they have no more work for me so would I please turn in the laptop and key to their office?   Two weeks of unpaid vacation end out May.
  • June-November - hit the ground running with Activision, from a plastic chair under a canopy in our backyard for a summer that was absolutely gorgeous on a new MacBook Pro (the laptop I had purchased in September wasn't powerful enough for Photoshop).  Also take ownership of an Xbox One because, well, working for a video game company, I ought to own a modern console, right?  I'm still not directly working for Activision, it's a six-month gig where I'm hired by a company in Arizona, but I'm having a blast, the work is fun, we're working through some of the previous issues and we're seeing a lot of success, unraveling a lot of mysteries, fixing issues and getting things into a really great shape.  Some great new additions at the creative agency get me some terrific new partners who don't have any memory of the former world. A trip or two to L.A. in there.
  • October - the BETA for the new game goes well, including the stuff we did for email
  • November - negotiations, job offer, realization of relocation, negotiations, waiting, counters, acceptance, signing, down to L.A. for orientation.  And the new game launched.
  • December - a much smoother December 2015 compared to December 2014.  I recommend Alicia Lawver for a job with the firm whose newsletter I started working on back at the start of this odyssey.  I haven't seen Alicia in many years (despite her living just a few miles away) but now working with her over email each month. That's fun.
  • January - a busier January 2016 compared to January 2015.  Lori's surgery.
  • February - here we are.  What a blast!  If you've been reading my blog at all, you know what's next - Lori continues to recover, we operate in this weird energy-saving space, people bring us meals, not a lot happens outside of the basics... House lists in April, house-hunting trip in April, hopefully an offer here, an offer there. Packing, decluttering, purging, waiting. And then, it's back to the golden state.  And Expedia announces they're replacing ExactTarget.
What a truly amazing nineteen months. I could not have pulled this off myself.  Without even realizing it, I found myself time and time again in opportunities where I could work hard and where I knew enough to be useful, helpful and in demand.  I had a chance to shine, but I wasn't the one controlling the spotlight.  I'm kind of awed and humbled by that.  Truly feel like it's one of those things where I can say "I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and fortunately, I knew (or learned really quickly) what to do to be successful."

It was weird to work on my taxes this past weekend, W2s from the employer who laid me off (because the severance took me into 2015), the consulting firm in Seattle, the firm in Arizona, Activision and the 1099 from the company whose email I've been working on.  Packed a lot in to the year. Maybe once we get to California I'll have a chance to put my feet up and relax. Sure, I have my feet up right now, but I also have less than 5 hours until it's time to get up.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Day 39: 143 Days to L.A.

Another late night for me.  Besides this blog post, I still need to prepare the children's medicine for the next two days -- (Four cups, four lids, two straws... measured pre-mixed medicine+water with scale, make more of the pre-mix, two powders with two measuring cups, three liquids - dropper and two syringes, juice, mix well, clean up all the measuring cups, syringes, table) -- and clean catboxes (no, Apple, not hatboxes), and then set schedule my coffee for the morning.

Lori's making great progress - she's really reduced her pain medication and she's finding that she can do about 90 minutes of activity at a time before needing a rest or a nap.  She got up this morning and did a lot of getting the kids out of the door and ready for school.  It was kinda cool, all of us being up together at the same time, first Lori, Rachel and I, and then after she left, Lori, Ben and I.

Today was a good step forward - I had my first phone call with the Relocation Specialist who's helping with the move.  She said the call typically takes up to an hour, but we pounded it out in half an hour. I think that we didn't need her help in finding a realtor here or in L.A. saved a bunch of time. We talked about the house-hunting trip, the move, the pack & load, shipping the car, flights, hotels, rental cars, temporary housing, any costs we might be on the hook for, all the things we can expense, the timing of things, the impacts to the children, requirements (like max 500 miles a day for any driving we want to be reimbursed for during the move - which turns Lori's two-day trip into a three-day trip) and how they can help us ship Lori's mom car at the same low rates they get and on and on. I think during the negotiation phase, they undersold (or I underappreciated) just what an amazing relocation package this is. I know it was a long-shot, but I had wondered if they could just park my car at LAX in long-term. Sadly, that's a no-go - an adult has to sign for it.  (Any friends out there want to sign for it and drive it to LAX and leave it in long-term?)

The biggest takeaway is that it costs about $1/pound to ship things from Seattle to L.A.  The company pays for a set amount, but anything over that is on us and she said from her experience a house our size (she had already looked up sq footage and # of rooms before the call..weird.) was almost twice what they pay for.   Our move up here was almost 1/3 of what she thinks we'll take back down.

Threw away the rug that used to be in the dining room.  I'm a little sad to see it go, but I think it was time.  It's gotten old, faded, worn and it was just rolled up in the garage.  So now all that stuff just looks like dollar signs and it becomes much easier to part with it.  That will be the test now... "How must does it weigh?"  Is it worth that many dollars to ship?  Do we use it?  Would it be better to replace with a new one later? Would we miss it? (Can it fit in the trunk of my car and get a free ride down?) Considering our new house will undoubtedly be several hundred square feet smaller, will there be room for it?  (Not counting the several hundred square feet of storage that's not counted in this house's official square footage.)

Time to get ruthless.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Day 38: 144 Days to L.A.

It feels like we're getting closer to "normal" around here.  Not like yesterday, but like normal for us. We all went to church together this morning. In Ben's classroom, they have these large (2.5'x4'?) metal trays bolted to the wall and then lots of flat magnets that can go on them.  (The really weak kind that are less likely to be swallowed and not be injurious if they are.)  Anyhow, I've never know Ben to really play with them in class.  There was a similar setup in the waiting area of a place he went to years ago for therapy and I do remember him messing with them a little bit there.  Apparently, though, while playing today, he announced "This is fun."  Ben doesn't talk much, but sometimes a full sentence pops out and it's mind-blowing.  I wish I had been there for that.  Two weeks go he apparently gave another caregiver a spontaneous hug.

We had left-over pork and veggies for lunch from the wonderful meal Lori's mom brought over last night.  In the afternoon Gilda brought over pizza which we enjoyed at dinner time and Lori and Gilda got to spend some nice time chatting (I was hanging with Ben).  Rachel got all her responsibilities done, we watched an episode of Dr. Who, and then Ben and I went for a walk.  We worked on walking without holding hands (and not running off) and stopping and looking and holding hands when crossing the street.  It went really well.

I also got some contracting work done and I picked the top 7 mugs I want to keep in the kitchen. The herd was thinned out not too long ago, so we'll keep most of the ones I didn't put back in the cabinet but maybe 1 or 2 will get donated.  There, that was my contribution to the impending move.

Oh, also did my taxes. It was super-easy and super-quick with H&R Block.  There's still a few things to go back and double-check, but even with 4 W2s and a 1099, still took nearly no time at all. A few surprises, but at least one of them was pleasant.

Did not get into bed by 11 like I'd wanted to, but as soon as I'm done here, will do a little reading before turning the light off.  Also tried to count my calories but there were too many of them and I lost track.  I'm over tonight but not by nearly as much.  Starting to slowly get back to normalcy.  I'm 25-30 pounds less than when we move here, but over 20 pounds above my lowest, which was within 3 pounds of my goal.  Weight loss is hard.