Saturday, March 29, 2008

Predatory Lending - New Tactics

They're back in my mailbox, but differently styled, and just misleading instead of borderline illegal.

Two came yesterday.
The first on was from Loan Management Services in Oakland, CA

Right at the top it displays an inflated estimated value of my house or what it was probably worth a year ago at the top of the real estate value. Then it goes on to say what my loan is (a public record), and then it asks if I'd like to discuss options for refinancing this loan.

The next one from United Capital Mortgage Solution starts out with Fed Lowers fund rate below 3.0% and says that that congress has approved increasing the loan limits from $417,000 to 729,00. Both of which are completely irrelevant. Then it goes on to say: You may meet the requirements to take part in a government backed 30 year fixed rate mortgage program.

This government program does not require a good credit score to quality and this program may allow you to obtain Cash Out of up to 95% of the value of your home. It goes on to say that I had an adjustable rate loan (I don't) and should call to refinance. This one at least has fine print which basically admits this product or service has not been approved or endorsed by any government agency. Which means all the stuff they told you doesn't apply to what they're proposing.

So it seems as if the tactic is to shove a bunch of true but completely irrelevant but nice sounding information into the promo letter.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Truck transmission

Well the brake trick didn't last long for my truck and it's getting harder and harder to get it into gear. Eventually it's going to strand me so I gave in an let my mechanic take a look at it. At first they were wondering if it's the clutch but I was pretty sure it wasn't as the clutch had been replaced not too long ago, so I wasn't surprised at all to hear that yes indeed it's the transmission. They found a used one for me for $850 and out the door is going to be in the neighborhood of $1900. (Ouch).

Unfortunately that's going to impact the agility budget, but the truck is for the house so I may bill the house for part of it.

What's interesting is that it's cheaper to just replace the transmission rather than take it apart and find out why there are metal filings in the transmission fluid (I trust these folks as this would be a great way to rip someone off) I am having them keep the old transmission so I can take it apart to learn more about how it works.


Unfortunately the place they got the transmission from had a $200 refundable core charge which means they want the old one back or I give them another $200. Fun as pulling a transmission apart would be, it's not worth that much.

I did call them back as the clutch felt really soft and Rodell told me that the clutch was replaced (appartently you get a clutch out of the deal too as it's like trying to change the oil without changing the filter) and the new clutches are super smooth and they feel totally effortless (and hence wrong), but that it's normal and as long as it's going into gear that's ok.

Just Spell It OUT Jodie

I don't usually make a habit of reading Parade Magazine but if it's waved under my nose I typically don't resist, because it takes less time just to read it than avoid it. (Make People Magazine look downright literary), and I freely admit to being the curious type.

So I read the Mar 16, 2008 interview with Jodie Foster. and I'm a little ticked off at how they presented her as not having found love (she's been in a long term relationship with Cydney Bernard for years and they have 2 kids) but at the same time realize that if Foster isn't going to tell Parade Magazine the whole truth then what are they going to say?

Given that John Hinkley tried to assassinate Reagan in her name, she pretty much has earned a right to her over paranoid privacy, but these days I don't think it serves her as then you get things like Parade Magazine (deliberately I believe) densely calling Bernard her "longtime friend." Foster has been in the "If they're not bright enough to figure it out." camp for a very long time and now is making it so obvious (your kids share your names!) that it's appalling that Parade takes the single, loveless Foster tack (which I find pretty offensive.)

Come all the way out Jodie, enough with coded acceptance speeches that you've been doing for years. Spell it out even to the dense. You don't have to discuss every detail, but just tell them the truth of who Bernard is for you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alameda Telecom on its way out

I hate being correct when I don't want to be.

10 years ago. Alameda Bureau of Electricity called me up doing a survey of whether I thought them going into the cable business was a good idea. I said I wasn't sure I wanted my city's very successful municipal power company getting mired in the risky cable business. This was during the dotcom boom and every thing looked rosy, but already there was this sneaky sense that this all couldn't go on forever.

But they did it anyway, and my household needed to get out of dialup hell and I wanted to support them as I was hoping that my caution was totally off base. The service has been great all this time. Unfortunately they've been losing an astounding amount of money and the electric company side of the business has had to loan them money.

According to the Chron's Chip Johnson and other sources the writing is pretty clear that the cable side of the business will have to be sold, which is fine. I didn't particularly want to choose Comcast as a cable provider when a local one was available, but if suddenly we become Comcast customers for some reason that seems ok. I just hope they don't offer me the Discovery channel as I would never leave the house then.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

On Writing

It's funny the categories that one makes in ones head. I write. I have no problem with writing, I'm a liberal studies undergrad (English, History Theatre, Math) so you could say that I've been trained as a writer. And friends who are real writers say they like my writing (a huge compliment that always takes me by surprise). But I don't see myself as a Writer, nor have I ever aspired to that lofty goal. And yet here I am. Writing.

For me writing has been a means to an end (my apologies to the real writers for the cliche). I want to tell a story or an anecdote or express an idea and writing is the most natural way for me - probably because I spent a lot of time alone as a kid (my siblings are older than me and were out of the house while I was young.) I would tell myself these long narratives as a way to cope. This has left me a little weird about spending significant amounts of time by myself, but that's another blog entry.

I see myself now as more of a chronicler that a writer.

While I love to read fiction, I'm rather poor at creating it. I'm much more the write (mis)adventure stories. Also, as a way to keep myself motivated to train my dogs, I write about my dog training and one of my dog's has obliged by having some very challenging behavior problems, so the Training Diary has developed a following (probably from sympathetic souls) - something I never anticipated. I put the Diary online so I could get at it from anywhere, and so if I had a question for a trainer, I could easily point them to the Diary, and yes of course I use it to share silly dog stories with friends. These days, people do come up to me at agility trials commenting about an entry and of course I get email too. It still happily surprises me that people read it and I hope it always surprises me.

But this was about writing wasn't it? I think one thing I'm noticing is that I'm starting to really enjoy it. I'm sitting in the parking lot of Sugarbowl and its windy and chilly outside and what am I doing? Writing this. Ostensibly I'm waiting for it to warm up and be less icy and that's mostly true, but when I got here and noticed the conditions, I was thrilled to pull a notebook out and start scribbling instead. But the slopes are starting to call and hopefully I will stay mostly on my feet/skis today.

Automotive Mysteries

My truck is acting strangely and it's taken me months to even figure out a work around to the problem and I don't understand the solution at all.

For months my truck has been sometimes difficult to shift into first when it's sitting still. I tried a whole bevvy of supersticious things like: trying other gears (fine if it would let me), holding the gearshift against the gear (rarely would work, double (and more) clutching, and changing the transmission lubricant.

A couple of days back I by accident found a solution and I really don't get it and need to spend some quality time with my mechanic. The plus side is that it may well be cheaper than a transmission rebuild to fix.

If it won't go in gear, I press on the brake pedal and 9 of 10 times it will then allow me to smoothly shift into first. Say what? How could brakes have anything to do with a transmission? That question will surely be answered by my mechanic, but I just save myself a bunch of money by knowing what fixes it rather than pay them to puzzle it out. It's probably some hydraulic problem and stepping on the brake increases the pressure enough, though I have no problem with the brakes so it's something deeper down.

Odd. I suppose chanting might help.


Now stepping on the brake is no longer working. It pretty much has to be in motion. To the shop it goes today.

Hillary Should Concede

Much as I hate to write this, given that the Republicans are deliberately crossing party lines to vote for Hillary as they see her as a more defeatable candidate, and given that Obama is in the delegate lead, I think it's time for Senator Clinton to bow out honorably rather than keep attacking Obama. As long as it was a positive campaign I certainly didn't mind that it continue but this negative slamming of each other just is not serving us at all, and the republicans are loving it.

Randi Rhodes thinks that she knows what Clinton is thinking. That McCain is a one term president but Obama is a two term president, so she has a better chance of eventually being president if she were to run against McCain even if she were to lose the first time. If that was even remotely what she is thinking that would be remarkably short sighted as we need a Democrat as president Right Now. 4 more years of a Republican administration is going to come at a terrible cost of both lives and money.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Skiing Progress

I'm starting to "get" skiing. Or more specifically, my muscles are getting it. The memory of how to make a proper turn is starting to sink into my muscle memory (ref1, ref2). I'm starting to think of the turn as a whole process rather than over thinking each part of the turn (though I still have to do that some.) No longer do I feel I'm strapped to these unwieldy things whose operation is a mystery to me and that I have to think about every move I make with them or else they will turn on me and throw me to the ground. They do still throw me to the ground from time to time, but I usually understand what I did wrong, and also I haven't fallen when exiting a chairlift in a long time. (Unfortunately, that was also my only chance at being in a Warren Miller film - Yes, I've seen many of them.)

I spent the day on Sugarbowl's Jerome Hill going down the Trailblazer run (over and over again) I'm almost to the point where itn's getting a little dull, but not yet. Then I'll have to go looking for steeper blue square terrain of which there's no shortage of. Next season I hope to be able to start learning black diamond.

My right turns are still awkward but getting less so, but it is my left leg that does get fatigued quicker and I have to stop to rest on the way down the run. As one might guess, the less I'm fatigued, the better my form is. I did a fairly short day today as I wanted the form to have more time to set in rather than having me struggle with poor form when tired. It's tempting to just do half days, but the best skiing conditions span the mornings and afternoon (10-3 or so).

With the climbing season coming up I do need to spend more time actually climbing up the snow, but I think I'll squeeze in one or two times more this season. I will be at Shasta in a couple of weeks, but I really should be snowshoeing then.

The nice thing about learning to ski is that I'm not overcome with wistfulness when I see skiers fly past me on Shasta as I now know what's involved. I will be able to comfortably ski mountaineer one day - just not yet.

I'll have to plan with my trainer Bryce about how to increase quad endurance for long climb and ski days. Probably lots of squats - oh boy. The best exercise is still without a doubt walking around in ski boots, carrying ski equipment. I was thrilled to realize that my heart was hammering away and I wasn't out of breath at all. (I'll credit Indoor Cycling for that)

The only bummer is that I seem to have reinjured the muscle pull near my ribcage (base of the lat). Hopefully it won't take long to improve.

While skiing, I still use my poles a lot to keep me on my feet and the avoid stupid pratfalls. This makes me think that I might not enjoy snowboarding that much as they don't use poles. I'll stick with skiing for now as there's plenty to learn and it's more useful for mountaineering.

Dying from Treatable Illnesses

Someone I know (but not well) just passed away from Bacterial Meningitis caused by a Strep infection and I'm feeling pretty angry about it and this is by far the best place to vent rather than make the living feel worse than they already are.

The problem with Strep is that we have some familiarity with it but it has a dark side that can be very nasty and deadly if not recognized and treated early and aggressively (ref1, ref2, ref3). I think of it like driving a car. As an analogy, we are very familiar with driving, but to stay sane, have to retain some denial of how very dangerous it can be (and I just drove 300 miles yesterday), but that analogy doesn't hold really is that while most of us drive, if asked, we know about the danger, and that probably isn't true about Strep infections.

This is all very much on my mind as ironically I was listening to a Discover Magazine's Vital Signs podcast of someone nearly losing a leg to a Strep infection resulting from a stupid scratch on her foot and the medical staff disagreeing on how to treat it. It was very much a parable in don't take infections lightly and if you think it's Strep treat it immediately and aggressively.

The person I knew had been battling a sinus infection (page down on the ref. to "eliminate infection") for several weeks. Now while I know him casually, I don't know his health status, his attitude to getting medical attention (how long he'll just "put up with it"), how his body responds to large doses of pennicillin (Strep responses well to it according to the podcast) or the skill and patience of his doctor, and most importantly what strain of Strep it was (group A or B - see the numbered refs above). Sinus infections are common and it's easy to just think of them as a nuisance and they mostly are, but ones that hang on I think (though I'm no doctor so what do I know? Just enough to make me dangerous.) is a red or at least a yellow flag. More than a week is certainly long enough to get a culture to see what you're dealing with and I don't know if that was done (and I'm not going to ask as it's beside the point for us as it won't bring him back, and a kind loving person is no longer in this world and we're worse off because of it.)