Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Shifting Paradigms

When I attempted to sell my 2/1 condo in spring of 2010, there came a point when my agent hinted that a significant price drop might get the job done. While we had some showings, the Home Buyer Tax Credit was going to expire soon.  When we initially discussed putting my place on the market, I explained that I knew I wasn't going to make any money off my place.

My goal was simply not to bring any money to the table to cover transaction costs or mortgage shortfall. Bonus if I actually walked away with a little something to add to the down payment fund.  I believed I communicated that and my realtor was fine with that goal.  The paradigm was Price It Right and It Will Sell.

My realtor couldn't tell me exactly how low we could price it so that I wouldn't have to bring money to the table over transaction costs and or sales price. In fact he could only give me a rough estimate and was reluctant to do any work to refine that estimate. Apparently a top seller who has been in the business for years couldn't crunch some numbers to give his client the information necessary to make the best decision possible.

He did argue that even if I had to bring a small amount of money to the table out of my down payment savings, it would be a good thing to be free of the condo and could quickly start saving again.  That would have also meant moving into Nightingale's cramped 1 bedroom condo in the south loop.

If he had said something like "if you lower your price to X and we get an offer around that amount, you'd end up bringing approximately $2K to the table," I might have actually considered it. But again he couldn't be bothered because I was being unreasonable not lowering my price enough to get the sale done.  Of course tweaking his commision was probably not an option either.

I never had to formally make that decision because no official offers came my way. The Paradigm switched overnight to Do Not Put Your Home on the Market If you Cannot Afford to Sell It.   My Realtor basically abandoned me when I couldn't lower my price any further. 

Nightingale moved in here and we rented her condo at a slight loss. Looking back, it was the right decision because we have more space here.

If I tried the same thing today, based on the comps, I'd probably have to bring more to the table. How much more? Again, impossible to say. Best guess is in 2010 I might have had to bring no less than a couple grand but no more than 10K to the table.  Today I'd probably be lucky to get away with only bringing 10K to the table.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Can't Run but can still Kick TSR Butt

I'm just itching to get a good long run in: In some ways this foot procedure was more impacting than last year's knee scope. I wasn't able to wear a normal shoe comfortably until Wednesday. Until then I had to wear this stupid shoe pictured below.  It wasn't designed to be walked on.  The velco straps would only allow me to tighted it so much and I couldn't wear it while driving.

From looking at it, the gaping hole in my foot looks as bad as it did a week ago.  If you know what to look for, however, you can see that there has been much improvement.  There hasn't been any scapping yet though.  Even though the doctor said I should leave the bandage off overnight to air dry, Nightingale override that idea.  Therefore I'm stuck with it stinging a little when I walk on it too much.

if the boot fits, wear it as long as you have to

Years of working in Tech Support pays off:  One of the very first "tricks" I learned as a Tech Support Engineer for the No-Name Software company was what we refer to as the Push Off.  The Push Off is a technique designed to get the customer to back off and go away for a while so you that you get some breathing room.  The idea is to ask for something that will require the customer to hang up because they have to option information they do not possess or permission they do not have autonomy to provide themselves.  In theory, you are supposed to use the time to fix their problem.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Different Stages of the Seller in Today's Housing Market

Those who are new to the Real Estate market — not involved on a day to day basis, following the market or stalking the Crib Chatter website — go through a learning curve when they decide to sell their home. They think I paid X and it’s 2,3, 5 years later, it must be worth Y. Or I changed out the light fixtures, it must be worth more.

Every owner thinks that their house is special and worth more than the one next door, across the street or down the block. This healthy belief gets even sillier when it’s clear the houses were built by the same builder and have the same general floor plan, number of bedrooms/bathrooms and the only real difference is the exterior paint.

What's really surprising is that even today owners thinks their place is worth X because the houses across the street sold for X +/- a few dollars last month, but fail to account for the fact that the other house had updated bathrooms and kitchens. During the Boom you could get away with this because "prices could only go up" and "buy now or be priced out forever" mentality.

If you bought in the last 5 years and didn’t do anything to the property (I’m NOT talking about renovators here)- why do you think you will get more than what you paid?

 It's really a quite simple formula:

Z = Price_Sale - Amount_You_Owe_Bank - Transaction_Costs

You want Z to be a positive number and to be as large as possible. You cannot do much about Amount_you_owe_Bank other than pay it down as quickly as possible. Transaction_Costs are pretty set too.  And you don't really know Price_Sale until you put your place out there and then its too late.  For many people Amount_You_Owe_Bank is higher than Price_Sale and they cannot afford to bring that much money to the table. 
The reality is that a lot of people are out there chasing the market. Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t know this or even truly realize how bad the current market is. Yeah they see headlines but unless you are buying or selling a place, you treat it the same way a person who doesn’t like sports treats a headline about the Cubs or the Bears.

So when someone tries to sell today, they go through a few stages.

  • Stage 1: My house/condo is worth so much more than everyone else’s on the block/in the building and I should get back every $1 I put into it;
  • Stage 2: Okay I may not make any money, but perhaps I can have something for a Down Payment on the next house;
  • Stage 3: Geez, at least let me sell for enough to break even;
  • Stage 4: Yikes, I have to bring how much to the table?

I knew the market was bad when I placed my condo on the market almost two years ago but thought skipping Stage 1 and going directly to Stage 2 would give me an edge. Unfortunately, I was already chasing the market but didn't even know it. The paradigm at the time was price it at or just below the comps and you would be fine. Unfortunately, that paradigm soon switched to if you cannot afford to sell your place (at whatever price necessary) then don't bother a realtor with putting your place on the market in the first place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

From Muscle car to Utility Vehicle

So Long Kellie
 So I wrote about our dilemma with the car situation a month ago.  My 1997 Mustang was falling apart system by system and was basically unsafe to drive.  While Nightingale had the option of using public transportation, it came with limitations.  When she worked late she still had to take a taxicab home, which is costly.  She also could not fit in a workout before or after work because it isn't easy to get to the gym on her way to or from work.

We had evaluated the pros and cons and were just waiting for something to tip the scale.  I even wrote a few Internet pundits I follow about my situation.  Here is what Tara Nicolle-Nelson of and Trent of had to say.

It finally came to a head shortly after that post when a snowstorm hit Chicago on Friday while she was at work. Since we knew snow was coming, I had the Trail Blazer and she took the El to work.  While it was nothing like the Stormaggedon of 2011, it did slow down the city such that traffic was crawling along.  That meant she would either have to spend a fortune on a cab or suffer two hours on the CTA to get home.  Nightingale basically said we had to get a second working vehicle immediately.

The follow week, her dad was in town helping her sister get ready for the move back to Michigan.  In between packing, he helped me research used cars.  I wanted the flexibility of something that could haul a lot of stuff since I have gotten use to Nightingale's Trail Blazer.  We also needed better fuel economy with my 25 mile daily commute to work (one way).  Several friends have Honda Elements and they give them good reviews. My research shows that they get at least as good of gas mileage as my mustang, though perhaps slightly better depending on year. Plus I kinda like the idea of throwing our bikes in the back and going to the forest preserves for a ride. Currently, it's a hassle to put the bikes in the Blazer or use the bike rack for the Mustang.

So mid week her dad (the FIL heretofore) was getting stir crazy and wanted to head home.  Translation: being in a house with two noisy and very young children wasn't his cup of tea.  At the beginning of the trip he said he would stay as long as he was needed.  After a few days he was already mentally packed to go.  Nightingale begged him to stay throughout the weekend to help us find the right Element.

Needs a name
I was fine with finding the cheapest one available.  Nightingale on the other hand felt that we should get one with the fewest miles possible.  No easy task since Element owners typically tack on the mileage -- I guess they feel they need to get their moneys worth and do the toss-the-bikes-in-the-back thing as often as possible.  Needless to say, Nightingale won out on this point too.  She felt that the less mileage and newer the vehicle, the longer it will last and the longer it will be before we need to put money in it for repairs.  For those keeping track at home, Nightingale 2, Icarus 0.
FIL managed to find two Elements that would fit the bill.  He had found one earlier in the week but it was gone by the time we decided to go look at it.  That did make me feel vindicated that my choice of an Element was a good one.  Unfortunately, the two he found were at dealerships that were difficult to get to and not conducive to going back and forth for comparison purposes.  We also had a house viewing scheduled for the middle of the day that we couldn't reschedule.  It made for a long day.

We went to the first car dealership and drove around the lot.  Instead of the red Element we were expecting, there was only a grey one.  While not a bad looking car, I just didn't have a good feeling and never stopped the car. Instead I had NG punched in the address in the GPS for the second car and headed out. 

On the way we made a pit stop at a tollbooth oasis in order to use the restroom, get some coffee and call the place to make sure the car was still there.  My FIL made the call and instead of just asking if the car was still there and getting off the phone, it sounded like he was becoming BFFs with the sales person.

We get there and drive around the parking lot.  The Element is there and it's the correct one. So we go inside and find Harvey.  Harvey, originally from the UK, is a young Indian guy who reminds me of some of the consultants I worked with at the No-Name Software Company.  Definitely not your typical used car salesman and in fact a rather sharp guy.  He takes us for a test drive and gives us a tour of the Honda Facility. 

We like what we see and decide to buy the car.  Then the negotiating began.  With the two previous cars I've purchased, I never felt like I got the best deal I could. So I really wanted to hold out for the best deal I could get.  I was ready to go to the mat over price, trade-in-value and even financing. 

Alas, thanks to the internet, there isn't as much haggling as there was the last two times I did this (2001 and 19 ninety-something.)  We already knew what the car retails for and what we could expect for our trade in (not very much).  What drove me crazy was that when Harvey came back with the value of the trade-in my FIL said "that's what you expected."  I was like, way to show our cards.

The long and short of it is this is the car I wanted and Nightingale was not going to get back into the Mustang-with-no-brakes so we negotiated a good interest rate for the financing and were ready to call it a night.  However the lady in the financing office was determined to sell us one of the add-on packages.  We didn't want or need it, but she was able to lower our interest rate to 2% so our payment stayed the same.  We figure she had an end of the month quota to met.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fri-enemy Mine: One Year Later

It was a year ago this week, that I received the call.  Heck, it might even have been a year ago to the day.  I just recall it was the week after we had all been out for the Krazy Guatemalan's birthday dinner.  I was at the office and my cell phone rang around noon.  It was So-Suede. Even before I answered the call, I knew it couldn't be good news.

Just like this except So-Suede isn't half as attractive as the guy on the right
 He called to tell me that there was a last minute opening at Old St Pat's on Oct 1 and that he and his FW (Future Wife) are going to take it.  They had just got engaged on Valentine's Day a few weeks before.  So-Suede said that he didn't want to put off his life any longer and a whole litany of other excuses.  I pointed out that our mutual friends might now have to choose a wedding.  He said that he would be fine whichever wedding anyone chose to go to, but that he was also asking KrazyGuatemalan and QK to be his groomsmen.

At KrazyGautemalan's birthday gathering there was no mention of this by anyone, though I think almost everyone if not everyone knew.  Especially since one mutual friend who use to be very sweet on me kept asking what day were getting married.  So-Suede said that he was still exploring all his options and hadn't really told anyone.  In the same phone call he also said that most everyone he talked to advised him to do what works best for him. 

This isn't the first time he has asked everyone to either pick Team So-Suede or Team Icarus, it's just the largest scale.  The Superbowl if you will.  What hurts is that none of our mutual friends call him on it.  They step back, look away, ignore it.

KrazyGautemalan was supposed to come get a dish washer from me that weekend. There was no phone call or email saying he had a change of plans.  You'd think a free dish washer would merit a text message.  I have not heard from him since his birthday party. No Instant Messenger, no emails, nothing in a year. We did get a obligatory invitation to his wedding along with a card congratulating us.

I'm not well liked or popular with a good portion of our mutual friends.  Some of it is deserved, some of it is inflated payback for God-knows-what.  It is what it is.  I do believe that if the situation were reversed and I got engaged 10 minutes after So-Suede, and had the audacity to pick the same day as he, there would be quite a few so called friends reading me the riot act.  Heck the Collective would have probably burned my house down.

One of the friends who have de-friended me asked me at the time if So-Suede knew what our date was.  He knew because he had a chance to help me secure the engagement ring in September.  He had recommended a jeweler to KrazyGautamalan and I asked for her contact info.  At the time I couldn't understand why it wasn't a matter of simply emailing or texting me the info. So-Suede wanted to make sure it was okay and took about two weeks to get the info to me.  I couldn't wait and went with my Polish Jewelry Shop instead.

So now the question is, what does he do for an encore?  Being the Exiled Pariah from the group, there is no more next game.  By design and by intent, I avoid all the churches I use to church hop.  We didn't recieve an invite to KrazyGautamalen's birthday celebration this year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gross Post: Another Foot Procedure

Pre-surgery Plantar Wart
 On Friday I decided to take care of an issue I've had with my foot since 2006.  Thanks to the gym at DePaul University, I contracted a plantar wart on my right foot.  At first it was just an annoying little callous, but it grew into a full fledged flaming virus that caused mild discomfort.  Kinda like the current batch of Republican presidential nominees.  I've tried treating it over the years but have never been able to fully cure it.

I went to this one Podiatry center where the doctors were fun but the staff was extremely incompetent.  I'd call for an appointment and they'd disconnect me.  Surprisingly, they have moved or gone out of business.  They did the freeze it with freon thing and since a big old bubble of blood pooled beneath the surface, we thought we had it.  Not so fast.  It didn't go away but other things that year kept me from going back until the office disappeared.

Next I went to a podiatrist who was a bit closer to my house but had the worst office hours ever unless you happen to be a housewife from the 1950s.  Just getting in to see him was tricky since the only day he had that matched my schedule was Saturday and I was usually doing marathon training those mornings.  Naturally his schedule was booked. Oh and apparently he was the Valedictorian of Podiatrist because he often went out of town to attend lectures at Podiatry Conventions. Yes, there are such things.

Now that I've got yet another insurance plan and its the start of a new year, I figured I'd get this addressed as quickly as possible rather than put it off to the end of the year.  I googled and found Dr Virani who is 5 minutes away from my office.  Actually he has three offices and wouldn't you know it, the next available appointment that worked for me was at the Villa Park office.  The choices were make an appointment now or wait a month, I opted to make the appointment.

He looked at my foot and listened to me describe the history.  We agreed that laser blasting it was the way to go.  As luck would have it, he did have an opening the following Friday.  Like my knee scope last year, this was simply an outpatient procedure.  In fact, it should have been less involved because there would be no anaesthesia involved.  However, everyone at the Surgical Center was treated it like it was major open heart surgery. [Warning: gross picture coming after the jump!!!]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Minimal Obligation Weekend

This was an unusual weekend in that we spent a large part of it at home.  Doing nothing.  We didn't have to hustle to get anything done before going out for the evening or hurry up and get to the SIL's before the kids go to bed.  The vast majority of the weekend was spent sitting on the sofa, petting the cats and enjoying the lack of obligations.  Nightingale caught up on phone calls and I read my book for book club. I also worked on blog posts and site design.

That's not to say we didn't have anything going on.  On Friday during lunch I went to a nearby Surgical Center and took care of a planters wart that has been on my right foot for ages.  I'll go into that story in more detail later this week as it's not for the feint of heart.  Suffice it to say that the need to stay off my feet meshed well with our lack of over committed weekend.

Friday evening we joined Mr Lumpy and gang for quiz night.  It was a semi-last minute thing as I've put the word out to many friends that I'm usually free on Friday evenings since Nightingale works late.  As it would happen they needed a couple more players for the quiz night at the IAHC.  Like the majority of the quiz teams I've been in, we were one question away from taking home prize money.  After the quiz, we ended up going to a nearby Polish Sports Bar (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) and having some pirogi and non-polish beers.

Also got word that our parking spot would be going away at the end of the month.  Hopefully the remainder of winter is as mild as it has been and parking isn't as big of an issue.  The lack of easy access parking is one of the driving factors that is pushing us to look for a house.

On Saturday we met with a CPA to figure out our taxes.  While we could probably figure them out ourselves, we decided it might be better to pay a professional to do them for us this year and steer us in the right direction for years to come if we both become reluctant landlords in the future.

Saturday night we met some friends for dinner and drinks.  There was some drama beforehand which I'm not aloud to write about.  We met Sabrina and her boyfriend Mr Massage at a new restro called Fountainhead.  I'm using the real name because I'm also going to be brutally honest.  It is a very trendy, hip place with a great beer selection.  I wish I could comment on the food but after waiting over two hours for a table, and being told we were only two groups away from seatingdom, we finally gave up and went to Celtic Crown instead.

The four of us were joined by another mutual friend who came into the city to introduce us to her new fellow. 
Our friend Montana69 was teasing me about moving to the suburbs and I almost said "that will happen when the Pope approves birth control" but held my tongue considering the new guy's belief system. 

It's never any easy position to be in, the new guy who is dating someone and brought to meet her friends. I certainly wasn't going to put him on the defensive right away.  It's important that people who are philosophically at opposites can still be civil to one another and partake in group activities with mutual friends.  Perhaps if our politicans and religious leaders could do the same the divide in this country over certain hot potato items wouldn't be so extreme or at least so vulgar.

Site Design:  very minor but I did get the masthead to stretch across the entire page.  I also bought the domain and set up the redirect in case this blogging thing ever takes off.  It's fun to watch my pagehit increase on google analytics and the adsense $$ roll in when people click on the ads (hint, hint).  However, it does require a lot of work to persuade, coax or even guilt people to visit.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Weddings ceremony not as expensive as you think

First, there is hype for something. Then, there's pushback to the hype, in which the thing that got excessively built up gets torn down. Then, there's anti-anti, in which people tired of both the hyping and the tearing-down gather to talk about something else.

Today the overblown/over-blown-away institution is Valentine's Day, but weddings are actually the classic case. They get totally out of control, yes ... but then the "I got married in a burlap sack and served canned beans and it was the best wedding ever" gets out of control, too.

Carolyn Hax – February 10, 2012 11:48 AM

Distance Drea and I were discussing wedding planning the other day.  She's engaged and has been picking my brain about all things wedding related.  I'm trying to be helpful without making her wedding a do-over for ours.  Things will go not-according-to-plan, that's part of weddings like cake and drunk relatives.  Most people wouldn't have it any other way.

Many weddings come with some type of ceremony involving a religious institution.  We made the decision to have a catholic ceremony at a catholic church.  As soon as we committed to that, it seemed like we kept running into that couple that did the "burlap sack and canned beans" thing and held their ceremony in the subway. 

The cost of the church, the pre-cana and the tips for the priest and the organist came to about 2% of the total cost of the wedding. To put that in perspective, let’s say we argued and begged and pleaded and wheeled and dealed and got the church et al to go halves…we would have only save $200. Nothing to sneeze at but nothing to get worked up about either.

Yet people complain about the cost of the church more than anything else. They won't blink at spending an extra two grand on chair covers or an extra $500 on full length tablecloths.

Back in the day when I church hopped, I probably could have had my pick of parishes. Or not.  Each one has its own unique rules for who can get married and when.  I suppose I could be wrong about this, but as far as I know, at least one party has to be Catholic.  While they would prefer both people be catholic (and opposite gender, they insist on that one), I don't know of any church that outright refuses to perform a catholic ceremony as long as one party is a catholic in good standing.

Usually they want you to be a member in good standing for at least a year, which loosely translated means don't sign up a Sunday in May, and come in the following Tuesday asking if the church is available the first Saturday in June.  They'd like you to be a member for at least a year before you book your wedding and then you still have to fit on their calendar which can be filled up a good year in advance, especially churches that don't perform weddings during Advent or Lent.

In 2008, before engagements and weddings were even in the picture, I had the good sense to become a member of the church I was confirmed at, St Vincent de Paul.  Nightingale and I got engaged on Halloween 2010, and when I contacted St Vincent, the first opening they had was late November of 2011 (I don't recall if they had anything earlier because we knew we'd need at least a year to plan and save money). 

In the end went with Polska Misja Duszpasterska w Chicago aka Holy Trinity Polish Mission.  Besides being available and open to non member catholics, it is conveniently located near the expressway and has a huge parking lot -- two things St Vincent's lacks.  It was also important to me to pay homage to my Polish roots because if Poles like me don't, places like Holy Trinity aren't gonna be around.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It pays to have options

I use to be the unreliable one:  I had asked Mr Lumpy and SHB#1 if they were up for a few miles on Sunday.  Both said they were with different agendas in mind.  In the meantime, Distance Drea had posted on her FB that she missed her run Saturday because of wedding planning things so she really needed to run Sunday.  I invited her to join us even though she doesn't believe in the group run thing.  She'll run with us, but she prefers to have her headphones on rather than engage in runner chit-chat. 
SHB#1 replied to my email but didn't reply all.  She's just like that with email sometimes.  Back in the day, she use to reply to emails without including the history hours or even days after you sent the intital email, so you'd get a random email with a generic subject line with a line of text that reads "can't do it, I have to work late." 
As it would happen, SHB#1 and Distance Drea would miss out on the run for various reasons.  Luckily Mr Lumpy did show up.  Not that I couldn't run on my own.  iIt just helps to have others so that you are obligated to show up.  Sunday's run was pretty good considering I hadn't really run in at least a week. My calf was tweaky but I'm associating that with an injury that is on the mend instead of a problem that will set me back.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Prelude of things to come

Not a particularly exciting weekend but a very quick one. Friday night Nightingale worked late so when she got home, we just watched some stuff we DVR'd and went to bed relatively early. We didn't set the alarm though somehow I managed to wake up at 730 for good. I had some energy and started cleaning and organizing the house until Nightingale had the good sense to get me to stop.

Too cold to sit outside today, but in the summer this is probably packed
In the early afternoon, we went to Arlington Heights to watch the Marquette basketball game at Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant and Pub at the invitation of my friend EM. Not a fan of basketball, especially college basketball though I will get involved in March Madness Brackets when given the chance.

Downtown Arlington Heights is actually a nice little blend of modern buildings with quaint old style shops. It’s as if someone took a small town’s historic downtown and transplanted the stores and shops to new buildings. I spent a small amount of time there when I dated the leader of the Polish Happy Hour in 2005 because Kasia lived in AH. I was pleased to see that the Tapas Restaurant we had our first date at was still there. I was also extremely confident that we wouldn’t run into Kasia and if we did, she wouldn’t even remember who I was.

EM was a little upset that her boyfriend didn't arrive until close to the end of the game but he smoothed talked her. After the game, we went to California Pizza Kitchen for some more food and drinks and then headed home. EM decided she will have a South Side Irish Parade party at her apartment since she lives in Evergreen Park.

We came home and watched the Bridesmaids DVD that SHB#2 bought for us. We don't go to movies much and rarely even watch a movie at home. Probably because the subset of time that our schedules actually overlap is so precious that we are doing other things like running errands or Social Maintenance. We also have accumulated so much on the DVR that it is a blessing we don’t have cable.

While we thought Bridesmaids was entertaining enough to watch at home, we are really pleased we didn’t invest in a date night to see it on the big screen. We believe that the movie was hyped as the female version of The Hangover and while it was funny, it never lived up to the hype. We never got to really know any of the lesser bridesmaids well enough to care about them.

On Sunday I went for my first run in a week and then a few open houses. I'll talk more about those tomorrow. The run was good though I didn't test my new shoes because I knew I would either do six miles or no miles and you generally want to start with 3-4 miles the first time you break in a pair of new running shoes. Unless you're my friend Eric who committed the cardinal sin of buying a new pair of shoes at the Marathon Expo and then ran the New York Marathon the next day.

After the open houses we stopped for lunch then got some groceries and invited my mom over for dinner. We ended up watching the two hour season finale? Of Downton Abbey, a show I can take or leave at this point.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gearing up to Run Again...Soon

Somehow I managed to strain or sprain (never learned the difference) my lower left calf muscle from running on a treadmill (aka "Dreadmill) in the gym the other week. I wasn't even trying to supplement my running, this was strictly to warm up before doing some weight work. A PT friend of mine once told me that you should get your heart rate up before lifting weights in order to increase calorie burn.  Unfortunately, I must have had bad form or something.

When I tried to go for a run outside on Tuesdays, about half a mile in, my lower calf started hurting again.  I tried stretching the muscle and some walk-run alternating to see if it would go away. It didn't, so rather than force it and make the injury worse, I simply turned around and walked the mile back to my car.  I'm not training for anything and the calories I might have burned aren't worth the potential damage I could have caused by sticking with it.

Yesterday was one of the few snows Chicago has received this winter.  My commute home took almost as long as it did during the snowstorm two weeks earlier,yet we had less snowfall overall.  Some people just don't know how to drive in snow.  Others are driving vehicles that just aren't designed for slippery weather.  Neither of the two previous groups seem to have ever taken a driver's ed class in their life.

On Tuesday I bought new running shoes.  Even with the limited mileage I racked up since my knee scope, I finally managed to pass the 300-500 mile threshold that runners religiously change out their shoes.  Most running stores have people who fawn over you and help you pick out a pair of shoes. The ritual goes as follows: they examine the wear pattern of your current shoes; they watch you run in your current shoes; they bring out three pairs that should do the trick. 

Of course a brand new pair of shoes are gonna feel great compared to the weathered and beaten pair you are wearing.  So you play the Shoe Lottery Game: Will the pair I pick be the most expensive or the least? Trick question, they are all within $5 of each other.

I went to Dick's Sporting Goods and didn't experience any of that.  They are a sporting goods store, not a shoe store.  There was a sales person who did help but he wasn't there to sell shoes so much as simply stock the aisles.  He said a few things which made me think he had a ballpark idea of what he was talking about but he also said somethings that made me think, WTF.  He said that the shoes he recommended would be good for quarter mile to 3 miles runs and as you upgrade to five miles and beyond, you wouldn't have to come back and get a different style of shoe.  Apparently he hasn't met very many marathoners.

Still, based on selection available, my shoe size, and comfort, I did go with the Asics Gel-Kayano 18, the second most  expensive pair of shoes, the ones he recommended.  It bugs me that I spent so much on these shoes ($150 after a $10 off DSG card) so I can only hope that with the mileage I'm logging these days, this shoe lasts well into Summer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chicago polorized over red light camera

Yep, speeding cameras are coming to Chicago this summer and we got our shorts in a bunch about them. Rumblings of this first appeared on last fall when the State was looking into the cameras and have only increased since Governor “Haven’t Been Indicted Yet” Quinn approved them last week.

As with any message board discussion, all the finer points pretty much get presented and discussed to death on all the various threads, with all the usual manners and finesse the anonymity of the internet bring and this issue is no exception.

There's a major ideological division going on over the cameras. Some people are in the if you don't speed, you will not get a ticket Camp while others are in you cannot fool me; this is more about revenue than safety Camp.

My take is that if the collective We that makeup society could police ourselves enough to not drive all bat shit crazy and not bend or break the rules of the road, we wouldn’t need these cameras in the first place. Obviously, we can’t.

Even when the Don’t Speed Camp begrudgingly acknowledges the Revenue over Safety Camp, they do so with a resounding: SO WHAT.

The So What are these cameras are the technical details are weighted to maximize violations. Kinda like the House winning more often in Vegas than the average Joe.

From The Expired Meter, no clue where he got it from
The Parking Ticket Geek posted on his blog The Expired Meter a list of the 79 locations of red light camera intersections which qualify for speed camera status by their 1/8 mile proximity to a school or park. Based on the map, it will be difficult to get from one part of town to another without encountering a speed camera.

You can tell by some of the comments on EB – if not the actual commenter’s avatar tags – are by people who have lived in the city a long time. They know firsthand how the city has a track record of making poor decisions under false pretenses or alternative agendas...parking meter lease deal anyone?

I’m smart enough, old enough, and cynical enough to know that this isn’t being done exclusively for my “safety and security” a war cry we have heard since 9/11 and will always hear.

Some people have used this as a platform to complain about everything from Union pensions to the war on drugs. Others feel the cameras are the wrong way to go and we should hire more cops to issue these speeding tickets. I disagree. Cops should go after the heavier law breakers especially if there is a feasible technological solution that works as well.

A year ago, I was almost exclusively using the El so something like this wouldn't have concerned me too much. The driving I do on weekends is relatively minimal.

These days I commute to the suburbs for work. They drive differently in the suburbs than in the city. Much differently. And I think these are the people who are going to get caught the most.

  • People who live in the city but work in the suburbs
  • People who live in the suburbs but their work brings them to the city

In the burbs, the yellow lights and turn arrows last a lot longer than the 2-3 seconds they do in the city.
In a lot of suburbs, there are sensors that can extend the light/arrow a few seconds longer to keep traffic flowing.  Imagine how that switch in paradigm is gonna affect those two sets of people.

Sidenote:  I’ve found myself in the left turn queue 8 – 10 cars back and watching the light turn green and it’s a good 5 seconds before the first car wakes up and realizes he can go. In the city that would prevent everyone from being able to legally turn though it wouldn’t stop the first three cars from trying.

Follow Mysteries of Life on Twitter (@MysteriesOLife), or  Facebook 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hang in until the end in Olympics Trials and Super Bowl

It otherwise counts as a long training run:  I was watching the Olympic Marathon trials a few weeks ago and some interesting things came to mind.  I seem to recall they use to hold the trials for men and women on separate days.  Now it seems they hold them on the same day with a 15 minute delay between waves.This makes sense from a televising point of view because it's easier and more cost effective for a crew to shoot for an extra hour than to set up and break down twice.  It could also be a benefit to the crew because they might prefer an extra day off with family.  It also benefits the athletes too because they get the same weather so there's no "oh you had better conditions than we did".

What I did notice about the race that I never realized before is that many of the runners bow out after 20 miles.  To take a DNF (Did Not Finish) It makes sense if you think about it.  Only the top 3 make the team (i don't know if they have an "alternate" system) and the difference between the front runners and the rest of the pack is somewhat insurmountable by the final miles.

I did notice that the fourth place person didn't quit even when it was obvious that he wasn't going to be able to overtake the runner in front of him.  That makes sense too.  He and she, respectively, have an additional incentive to stick with it.  While slim, one of the first three runners might have an injury that takes them out of the race.  By sticking with it, the fourth place person keeps hope alive.
What about the 5th, 6th and 10th place person?  Shouldn't they stick in just in case #3 goes down and they can edge out #4?  Sure, but that scenario is infinitely slimmer than the previous one.
It's also more of a character builder because the distance between qualifying and 4th is less than the distance between qualifying and DNF.

I was reminded of this 4th place runner the other day when I posted about how tough it was to increase my readership.  I was beginning to feel like the runners in the DNF group.  It would be easier to just quit trying to get anyone to read my blog on a consistent basis. 

DZ from Crib Chatter was giving me grief about a few of last week's posts.  Apparently I'm cutting and pasting too much.  Pretty easy for an anonymous person who doesn't even log a comment on this site to say.  Yet he/she is right.  I do need to get back to what this blog is about: writing about my adventures navigating the Mysteries of Life and if I happen to be witty or informative that's a bonus.  [increasing readership and revenue wouldn't hurt -- Nightingale does want a new house.]

We use to watch it just for the commercials.  During the Super Bowl I checked my Facebook account and wasn't surprised to see all the real time updates and status comments.  What did surprise me was that in between the dozens of Super Bowl related posts, one or two friends would actually post about something unrelated to football.

It's perfectly understandable that not everyone is into the big game though I've always thought that the SB was an equalizer.  If you aren't into football or sports, you can certainly appreciate the commercials. 

 While this has occurred ever year that I've been on Facebook, this year it seemed more noticable. I think that's because the few non-Super Bowl posts had something in common: these friends weren't choosing to post about something besides the SB; these people had no clue that something else was consuming everyone's attention because they were just too caught up in their own world, just like any other day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

And now for Something a Little Different

This weekend deviated from the normal routine. Nightingale generally works late on Fridays. This will be the status quo until she gets a new job after she passes her boards whenever she gets around to taking them. And most Fridays I simply come home, feed the cats and watch TV.

 This Friday however I stopped by a hospital to visit my uncle who had heart surgery on Tuesday. This meant that I didn’t get home until after 9pm.  Unfortunately, we were supposed to stop feeding our cat (Austin) so that he could fast before a vet visit. Since cats cannot be trusted to fast on their own, this meant being home in order to feed them and then removing the food so that neither could eat after 9pm. 

This still could have worked if Nightingale had come home since this was the first Friday in forever that her shift ended before 8pm, but felt the pull of guilt from her sister (Sister-In-Law to me) moving back to Michigan, so she went over there after work and neither of us was home in time to feed the cats before beginning his fast.  

That wasn't the worst because we could simple reschedule Austin's appointment.  However Maggie, our other cat, needed to have her heart rate checked.  We've been feeding her special medicine which we ran out of Thursday.  Nightingale was supposed to pick up the replacement medicine but forgot on Thursday (her day off) and neither of us could get it Friday.  We thought missing one day wouldn't be the worse thing but the Vet pointed out -- something Nightingale already knew -- that without being on the medication consistently, we cannot accurately determine if the medicine is working or not.

So our vet is mad at us for being the kind of parent that my SIL despises.   And you'd think we'd learn our lesson and rush right out after the vet appointment to get the medication, but nope.  We automatically drove to SIL's house to help them pack the final truckload for their move to Michigan.

Saturday evening Nightingale went out with some of our mutual friends for Girls Night Out.  The spouses of these ladies and I have yet to establish Guys Night Out but we are working toward that end.  In the mean time, one of my Polish Peeps invited me to join him and his crew at Stereo the former Jedynka Niteclub in Little Warsaw

Jedynka, as most Poles still refer to it, was a little kept secret.  A combination of neighborhood dive and Euroclub.  It's a very good thing that I don't speak fluent Polish and didn't discover the club in my younger days.  When my friend has these Euro Nights, they are usually late nights that involve heavy drinking and dancing until we close the place down. 

Since we both had late nights, Sunday was sleep in and diner for late breakfast.  When I was single one of the things I longed for was someone to have breakfast with at a nearby diner while we ignored each other and read the Sunday paper.  Now I'm living the dream. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

You can bet I just rushed out to answer this one

A short time ago I ordered something through Groupon. It wasn't the typical 80% off a massage at a place you can never get an appointment to, or $50 for $25 off at a trendy restaurant where you'll spend $50 before you even see a menu.
No the latest from Groupon is the buy a discount from us that works on another discount site.

I ordered a Metrokane Electric Houdini Corkscrew. We go through a lot of wine in this household and it seemed like a good deal. unfortunately, after I purchased the groupon, I experienced problems with the partner site. Problems you would not anticipate checking for before signing up for said Groupon, so there was little opportunity to vette it.

I looked at the discussion board and after seeing that no one else was experiencing a problem, I posted my question and editoral.


Icarus, Dec-09 11:14 am (CST):

First, it is kinda a ripoff to be charged $6 for each one on multiple orders -- it comes in the same Freaking box! Not Groupon's fault, I know. However, the Redtag website isn't working properly. I cannot add shipping info or check out. And their contact us page appears to be broken too. Can you help?


Then I got the following response:

Lori F, Dec-10 02:35 pm (CST):

Hi Icarus,

Thanks for your post! I can assist you directly with this request. Sorry for any confusion. Please follow the instructions as listed on the Groupon:

1. Pull up Groupon with our mobile app (or print it out).

2. Visit direct page that corresponds to the color as specified on your Groupon and select 'Buy Now':


3. In the shopping cart, enter the redemption code located in the center of your Groupon into the 'Do you have a coupon code?' field, select 'Apply' and proceed through checkout. Please allow 12 days for delivery of your goods from the date you redeem.

4. Enjoy!

You'll want to use your redemption code, which is: CRSLP2JF

Hope this helps! Please let me know if I can help with anything else.


Lori F.

Groupon Customer Support

Yeah they're never this cute either

Yeah, not even in the ballpark.  They must use software that matches something you said with frequent problems and solutions because no human could possibly be that far off, even with a language barrier. 

The issue itself was resolved, probably by more people writing in and complaining, though it didn't make it past the moderation part of the community comments the last time  I checked.  I did however get another email from Groupon asking me to rate their service. 

From: Groupon Support []

Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 3:12 PM

To: Icarus

Subject: Request #6267864: How would you rate the support you received?

## Reply above this line ##

Hello Icarus,

We'd love to hear what you think of our customer service. If you feel the issue has not been resolved, please simply reply to this email and disregard the link below.

If the issue has been resolved, please take a moment to let us know how Lori did by clicking either link below:

How would you rate the support you received?

Good, I'm satisfied
Bad, I'm unsatisfied

Below is a reminder of what your conversation was about.


Groupon Customer Service Quality Team

Being a former Support Engineer myself, I provided a healthy dose of How to Improve and Please Kiss my ass.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's hard to pimp out a blog

So last week I played around with expanding my readership.

First I created a post that was sure to interest the Chatterati on Crib Chatter. And it did increase the page hit count. I even got a few of them to click through the ads to help the car-buying fund. Unfortunately, I don't think that trick will work too often and it can be exhausting writing something that draws that crowd in.

Twitter was essentially useless because most of the people and robots that follow me, follow so many others that even if they did see my Tweet, they probably didn't bother to click the tiny URL that came with it.

I also created a FB page and invited at least 30 friends to "like" it. About a third did, which is a pretty good return rate although it also reminds me that many just people won't bother doing anything that doesn't bring them an immediate benefit.  It also stands to reason that many of the people didn't see the invite or realize what it was in the first place.

The following post went from 5 hits to upwards of 150 all because it had pictures relevant to something posted on Everyblock.  Alas, no new subscribers or commenters.