Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hidden Fees and Taxes

We've become so accustomed to taxes and fees that they become hidden from view. In one case we just assume the retail price plus sales tax - while it is visible on the check it becomes hidden in the pricing decision.  The other case is when the taxes are embedded in the price (like gasoline).  Fees can be tricky, numerous and material to the overall price.  That is why the recent regulation on Airlines was to publish prices all inclusive of fees.

The worst offenders are the utility companies. Just take a look at your phone bill (wireline or wireless) and count the number of fees and taxes.  And do you know whether these fees and taxes are calculated on the gross receipts or on the net receipts (which would include any promotional discount you are receiving).  Who really audit's the tax and fee calculation?

I just did a quick calculation of the number and amount of taxes and fees I pay on my Cincinnati Bell Telephone bill.  There are no less than ten different line item fees and taxes (911 charge, Federal Access Charge, lifeline recovery surcharge, Relay/TDD Surcharge, Carrier Subscription, Admin Recovery Fee, Two Universal Service Fund Charges, State Tax, Federal Tax).

This added $11 to my $40 phone bill  (22% of my bill). 

So when some asks how much tax do you pay - remember to add in the hidden tax and fees.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Home Networking - REBOOT

It has been a week of troubleshooting my home network.  As more devices connect to the network the techology demands have turned the guys into internet grease monkeys (vs my Dad's generation of auto mechanics).  Adding DirectTV and Ellen's Nomad to the local area network (LAN) created the issue with my home network.  Luckily I have E.W. who is Mr. Tech Guru to talk to.  I've always said "you can be only as technical as your most technical friend" - otherwise you are subject to paying someone more technical than you - like the new service Cincinnati Bell offers ($14.99/mth for home technical support) or the Best Buy Geek Squad ($69.99 setup and six month support with purchase of a connectable device). 

The source of the problem was the HD/DVR 24 DirecTV receiver which said it was connected to the internet but refused to download content. I had the DirecTV technical rep stumped when his last resort statement was to instruct me to enable the DMZ of the Westell 6100 ADSL modem to get me off the phone. Hmmmmm that sounded dangerous since the manual said that it leaves you open to hackers.

My house from point to point can be as long as 112 ft, the bedrooms have never had wireless connections since my Linksys and Belkin routers only reached out 73ft.  In fact in the old router days, I had limited strength in the lower level areas with just a single router.  The novice in me thought, just put in another wireless router - which has worked but with challenges. Slowly I have tried to eliminate wireless access for some devices by stringing Cat 5 wire and introducing ethernet access ports in the newly remodeled rooms. 
E.W. was invaluable in describing my stupidity of chaining two wireless routers together (vs a router and a switch), adding that I should just break down and buy a new dual band Wireless N router.  Refusing to give into buying my way out of the problem, I instead disabled the DHCP on a old D-Link router to emulate a switch and kept the Linksys wireless 2.4Ghz G in place.  But the problem did not go away - the HD/DVR box could not download content.  UGH!!!!
So if in doubt - the best technical advice for any novice is to REBOOT!.  Turn off everything and one by one turn them all back on.  It's exactly what every technical telephone support rep tells you to first do.
So after hours of fiddling with routers, switches, DCHP, channels, IP Address, MAC address, DMZ stuff, reading router manuals and internet trouble reports - the final resolution was simple.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012


After Monday tennis doubles, B.J. and I sat down to relax and just share conversation.  As the subject matter shifted to and fro, I asked if B.J. was going to watch the UC Basketball game or the Republican Debate.  B.J. (who is in his mid-80's) said he had no desire to listen to the politicians.  We then proceeded to reflect on each of the final four - Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul.  Then it came out - "That Gingrich is a bit of a Scallywag".  I had to smile.   It reminded me of the many sayings and descriptive terms that Grandpa Wells would, at the right moment, reveal and those Dad would say, at the right moment.

I say at the right moment, because when I would ask either for a few more of these verbal jewels, they would just say - "I can't think of them off the top of my head - it needs to be the right description for the right picture, at the right time. 

The one I remember the most, from Grandpa, was when we were both watching  a TV news program and suddenly Gene Shalit (a movie critic) began to review the latest movie.  It must have been the first time Grandpa had seen Gene Shalit, when he blurted out "That boy looks like the north side of a horse headed south"!   I roared with laughter.

So I asked B.J. - what exactly is a scallywag?  He responded - well it's in the category of rascal. Well in looking it up in the dictionary,  B.J. was spot on - in fact the descriptive term for Gingrich may have been ironically accurate even in historical terms.

From the Free Dictionary:

scallywag [ˈskælɪˌwæg]
1. Informal a scamp; rascal
2. (Historical Terms) (after the US Civil War) a White Southerner who supported the Republican Party and its policy of Black emancipation. Scallywags were viewed as traitors by their fellow Southerners Also scalawag scallawag

Friday, January 20, 2012

No One Left Behind

The Marines have a saying - "Until they are home, no man left behind".  In the  U.S. Soldier' Creed - "I will never leave a fallen comrade".

We connect to others through friendship, culture, heritage, commonalities, teams, organizations, religion, and the list goes on.  Google calls these connections circles; Linkedin has groups; Historically, your primary circle was called a tribe. 

Yet these circles are just a small multiplication of self.  We are naturally attracted to some people more than to others - they become friends.  Each "circle" of  connection is seeing yourself.  When you meet someone new the conversation volleys about as you attempt to find commonality.  How comforting it is when you happen upon a location you both lived, or a person you both know, or an interest you both promote.  It is this "dance" that attempts to discover whether you see yourself in the other person.

But even with that commonality, it is the extension of the circle that expands "the self" in ways we can grow.  It is our various interconnected circles that remind us of our wholeness - connected not only to each other but to something bigger than the whole.

"Learn to look with an equal eye upon all beings, seeing the one Self in all" -  Srimad Bhagavatam

When we understand the circle of connection is everyone and is only one - then the saying becomes:

Until everyone is home, no one is left behind.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Medicine Cabinet

Mitt Romney has said he will release his tax returns in April (maybe) and Newt Gingrich will release his tomorrow.

We all suffer from curiousity of other peoples private affairs.  It is like the temptation of snooping in someone's bathroom medicine cabinet.  What business is it of ours to know any public figure's personal finances?  And why are we so curious?  The human condition is to compare ourselves with others -  whether it is about self esteem; the herd effect; finding juicy gossip, or relative happiness. I remember how curious I was to see the charitable deductions of Bill Clinton, or Al Gore during their presidential campaigns. 

The reality is that we, ourselves become polluted when we see the private data of others.  I remember Susan telling me the toughest part of being the Controller of the United Way was seeing all the payroll data (and the inherent inequities).  As Chair of Finance at our church I had to dig into the Stewardship data for collection purposes.  Luckily all the detail you tend to forget as you try to eliminate judgemental  thoughts about members. 

There are just some things you don't need to know, don't really want to know, and no better than to ask for.

So when will the candidates publically share what's in their medicine cabinet at home.  :)


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Winter Arrives

Three days ago the weather was so mild I commented that maybe North Carolina winter climate might be preferable.  Now with a light skift of snow on the ground and 20 degrees F it feels more like a Cincinnati January. 

Susan was concerned about the Fitch and Bella (our  outdoor black lab dogs) who have in/out access to the garage.  I told her it is rare that water bowl in the garage would freeze so not to worry.  Regardless she installed a light bulb to shine above the dog pad and plugged in an old space heater that we used with Nellie (our previous black lab dog).  My second argument was to describe the living arrangement of Rowdy (a hunting dog my Grandfather loved).  In the most bitter windchill days in Oklahoma, all that Rowdy had was his outdoor dog house with some straw or cedar chips.

Looking at the dogs playing with each other this morning - rolling in the snow and soaking in the warm rays of sunshine, it is clear they are comfortable outsisde in their winter undercoats. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Internet Black and Blue

Once again I have wasted hours dealing with the erratic performance of the Cincinnati Bell DSL network.  Starting Saturday night the packet loss was so great that launching Explorer was a endless loop with no response.  It takes the "Patience of Job" (as my mother always says) to deal with the first level, second level technical support before the incident gets escalated to the network technicians.  No less than four phone calls, three hours on the phone, a trip to the CBT retail store to swap out of the Westell 6100 modem, and sitting at home waiting for a technician call - all these events create extreme waste in customer time, and vendor time.  This problem was familiar - why won't CBT trust my analysis?

Now this evening, the internet is magically up and running with 4.35 meg download.  Who knows what happened in the black box and dark wire in the ground?  It remains a mystery to the customer. At least my endless boring blogs about the problems provide some audit trail of the challenges of CBT's DSL network.  Now

Historically, I have had two reasons for staying with Cincinnati Bell (in spite of all these difficulties) -(1) I hate Time Warner especially after their response on charging me the early termination fee on my 2 yr Guaranteed Fixed Price Contract and .... (2)  my loyalty to a past client and the friends that still work at Cincinnati Bell.  Oh there is one more reason -  (3) selfishly because I have access to the CBT hotspot from my office.

However these problems are now affecting the family.  With iphones, nomads, Direct TV DVR access, Macbooks, and Susan's desktop - when the internet goes down the household cry for technical support mandates 24 by 7 coverage -  and immediate problem resolution.  Thank goodness I have the Sprint  Wireless Data card backup to appease the outcry.

Which leads me to the point of the blog.  What backup do you use for the internet?  A trip to the library, the office at work, your iphone data plan, hotspots at the internet cafes,  a wireless data card, a friend's house.  The internet is becoming like electricty - when it goes out all productivity stops.

So I am black and blue - from the Internet Black(out) and Blues.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

2 Fer

Yesterday Ellen asked me to cook breakfast for her and a friend (after a sleepover).  I discovered no eggs in the refrigerator - ugh!.  Just down the road is the Terrace Park UDF (United Dairy Farmer) convenient store.  As I approached the eggs the "sale" sign said 2 dozen for $3.00.  Decisions, Decisions.

Now convenience comes at a price - a dozen eggs was $1.98 and consequently two dozen would be $3.96 at retail.  Was it worth the stocking double the quantity needed in inventory for the $0.96 savings from the already outrageous convenient store price?  Without data (or an iphone) it is a spur of the moment judgement call.

The average price of a dozen eggs in Cincinnati is $1.21 and the national average is $1.61.  Therefore convenience store premium (before sale) is $0.77 and after sale is $0.29 (but requires purchasing double the quantity - so double the premium to $0.58 or $3.00 less 2 times $1.21).  Oh - for apples to apples comparison this is Grade A Large (I wonder if there is any other grade than A?).  So the breakeven variables include your time, the gas and mileage to Kroger, the opportunity loss of the extra cash outlay, space requirements, and quality. All these variables the mind is processing in the background in approaching this seemingly trivia purchasing decision.

I began to wonder what percentage savings will incent you to buy double the volume of inventory.  Naturally it depends on the perishablility, and "weeks of supply"/consumption pattern of the goods.  But assuming a normal consumption pattern with low probability of perishability or obsolecence - what price savings incents an individual to buy double the quantity?  UDF  has determined that saving $0.96 (24.2%) on eggs will incent you to buy double the eggs. 

What if they said - Save 25% when you buy two dozen?  Would you buy?  I doubt it.  But when they say buy two  dozen for $3.00 it seems like a good deal. What about two for the price of one?  Or buy one get one free?  That seems like a no brainer - unless the retailer has artificially increased the retail price for the quantity of one to disguise the savings.  Or it could be obsolete inventory or close to expiration and the retailer is trying to avoid writing off the inventory.

As consumers we face all kinds of discounting and "sale" incentive decisions.  Complexity with quality, quantity, convenience, usability, substitutablity, and cash outlay makes optimal purchasing decisions difficult.

Maybe I should add a last criteria to the decision - materiality.  Most would say - who cares about  a $0.29 to $0.77 cent non optimal decision. It's not worth the time to even blog about   :)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Longing for Home

Friday's Mens Fellowship is studying "Prodigal God" by Tim Keller and chapter six - Redefining Hope talks about our longing for home.  As he mentions "Home is a powerful and elusive concept".

We all talked about the definition of "home".  How going back to a childhood home long since moved from was disappointing.  Moving constantly causes less connection to a physical place as home. Mental images of home are sometimes just a fantasy.

I've blogged about home many times (both the physical and mental place with songs) - 10/24/10 Home Again, 10/25/10 John Denver - Back Home Again, 11/16/10 There's no place like Kansas, 12/17/10 It's Home, and 6/7/11 Home Head or Heart

"The strong feelings that surround it [home] reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves.  Yet it seems no real place or family actually satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them" says Keller.

C.S. Lewis calls it spiritual homesickness. In his sermon "The Weight of Glory" he states - "These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers."

Heaven is the home we long for (case in point - the Heaven Board).  Yet we are frustrated by the "conflicts of heart" in this physical world and the "inevitable entropy of time" pitted against with the human physical desire for eternal life. 

Longing for home is the hope of spiritual completeness.  As Keller concludes - "We will come, and the father will meet us and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast."  The joy of arriving home.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Long Journey - Back

The start of this new year was a good day from my long journey back - from back aches.

For 16 days, I have been popping pills, laying in bed, and gingerly attempting to recover from a muscle pull.   My attempt in mid December to pull a 440lb drum of  Nanocleanse up 18 inches to the higher shipping dock was the error. 

The real error was forgetting my age.  Pain can be a powerful way to remind you to change behaviors (and 16 days of it has permanently etched it's lesson in my memory).  It also creates a real feeling  of compassion (the actual simulation of their pain) to others who mention they are having back pains.

It is interesting how little anything means when your health is suffering.  You would think 16 days of an opportunity to read, "relax", be waited upon, watch TV, etc. would be like the ultimate vacation.  But with constant pain (or drugs impairing your mind), there is really no vacation at all.

It's good to be "BACK" from "vacation"  :)