Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas traditions

So what's a blog without Christmas traditions.  I was thinking, what would Christmas be without traditions?  So here is a list of things that we try to do every year.

  • We try to give things to a family who is in need.  Or we go in with another family.
  • A bunch of my neighbors and our family goes Christmas caroling.  We usually sing to the older couples, the sick, the widows, or older single women.
  • Christmas eve, we read the story of the birth of Jesus Christ from the Bible.
  • The kids get to open up one present.  The present they get to open is a pair of home made flannel pajamas.  They put their new pajamas on and go to bed.
  • Christmas morning, I make my kids go into the kitchen.  I usually make a killer breakfast.  We eat breakfast before opening up presents.  The kids really hate me for this.  This is a tradition that started with my family.
  • After breakfast I make the kids go downstairs and line up in front of the door.  It is youngest to oldest (shortest to tallest).  The youngest is in front.  This is a tradition my parents started when I was a kid.
  • After photos, the kids check out their stockings.
  • After stockings, the kids get to see their Santa gifts.
  • After Santa gifts, the kids get to open their own presents.  Since Christmas is being funded by cash this year, it means there will be few presents under the tree.  I am totally OK with that.
  • We spend the rest of the day hanging out and the kids play with their new shiny toys.
That's it. My parents or mother-in-law (my father-in-law passed away five years ago) usually comes to our house.  Or my mother-in-law may spend the night with us.  This year my mother-in-law will be spending the night with us.

One week from today is Christmas

One week from today is Christmas.  Yes, the big day.  The day in which we try to remember why we celebrate the day.  Yes, one week from today, I will probably be up (it is actually very early in the morning as I write) putting out Santa gifts.  And in just a few short hours, Christmas will be over in all of about two seconds.  Literally.  Two seconds.  Why?  Because for the first time in my married life, Christmas has been funded by cash and not the likes of VISA, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover.  And it is being done a la cheap.  Well, sort of.  Cheaper than is has been done in probably a decade or more.

I'm looking forward to the excitement on kids faces as it quickly turns to disappointment.  NOT!  I think my younger kids will be fine.  It is my older kids that I'm afraid may be disappointed.  They have been warned that Christmas is going to suck be scaled back substantially this year and to not expect much.  I tried to talk my wife into giving each kid like $50, but she didn't go for it.  She likes buying the gifts for the kid.  She considers cash a cop out.  I beg to differ, but the "do I gift or give cash" debate isn't one I wanted to get into this year.  So lame gifts it will be.

So what do I want for Christmas?  Stuff I can't possibly afford.  A Canon 5D Mark II camera ($2,700 for the body only) for starters.  Or a 2010 Mustang GT ($30k) with a 3.73 rear end and a manual transmission.  That car hauls some serious .... serious .....  OK, it accelerates quickly and is FUN to drive hard.  A lot more fun than my boring and reliable Camry.  The 30MPG the Camry gets is a lot better than the 15MPG I would get if I had a Mustang GT.  Or the Camry is just a bit over 1/2 the cost of the Mustang.  I just need to keep telling myself that.  Maybe some day I'll actually believe it.  I don't like hearing it, but I can always hope and dream.  (Note to self...   I can't believe I'm actually complaining about owning a Toyota Camry.  It really is a nice car.  But the mid-life crisis part of me REALLY wants something fun to drive.  And the Camry just doesn't have the acceleration oomph that I crave...)  Or I'd like a new widescreen monitor (24") for the home PC.  The 17" is nice, but it is just kind of small, especially when I work on a 28" screen every day at work.

So Christmas is going to suck be the best I've ever had.  The best part?  I won't be paying on this year's Christmas next year.  Yea!

Can you see what I see?

One of the coolest military weapons are the Predator drones that the US flies over countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  The drone is a small aircraft that is used by the US military to fly reconnaissance over an area.  You can get real data on where you're flying.  They are cheap.  The pilot is far away and safe.  So if one gets shot down, no big deal.  No pilot to go and rescue.  You would think that the video feed between the drone and the person flying the drone would be encrypted, safe, and secure.  Well, guess what?  It isn't.  Yup.  It is in the clear.  Kind of like using a telnet or ftp connection across a network.  Not very secure.  Here's the link to the full story:

Funny thing is that I never heard this story in the US.  The US media either ignored it or covered it up.  Nothing like showing Osama the video of where we're flying so he can stay well away from those areas.  Reminds me of WWII when the British had German Enigma machines and the Brits knew exactly what Germany was going to do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bank of America - Their attempt to change terms without an opt-out

About a month or possibly more ago (I'm getting older, so I don't remember details) my wife and I got a lovely letter from Bank of America informing us that the interest rate on our debt consolidation loan was going to float with the prime rate.  It had been fixed at a particular interest rate.  The really neat thing about this letter is that there was not opt-out option.  So we were forced to accept the terms.  We called.  We complained.  But the answer was that's the way it is.

Today we get a new letter from Bank of America.  It says the following:

Dear (insert our name here):

We recently notified you in October (I guess that's when we got our fun letter) of a change to your Account Agreement describing how the annual percentage rate on your account would be calculated using a variable rate formula tied to the U.S. prime rate.  After careful consideration (and a lot of ticked off customers), we have decided not to implement this change.  As a result, your account will retain its current annual percentage rate and remain unchanged.

We started this loan several years ago with MBNA.  MBNA was acquired by Bank of America.  Many years ago MBNA tried to change our interest rate from a fixed to a variable, but there was an opt-out clause.  We decided to opt-out.  And things were good.  So when we get this change in terms even after we had opted out, it really left a sour taste in our mouths.  It did not seem like they could legally change our rate like they did since we had previously opted out of going variable.  I thought about complaining to the Consumer Protection Agency and others, but it just fell by the wayside.  I don't know who complained or what was said.  But to whomever helped change Bank of America's heart, thank you.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I know the banks have suffered incredible losses in the last couple of years.  However, the banks have helped create the mess they are currently in by giving out easy money.  We have never been late on our payment.  And it is frustrating as a customer for the banks to ignore a customer's past history and literally mess with you like we're an unlimited resource ready to be tapped out by fees and interest rate hikes.  Mr Banker, I'm not the problem.  I pay my bills on time.  Go hose those that aren't paying their bills on time.  Soak them with the punitive rates and fees, not me.

One last word...  I have a long, long, long memory.  If you look at the cars I drive, you will notice that my cars are imports, except for my larger vehicles.  Why?  Because when I was a kid, I can remember all the crummy cars that came out of Detroit.  There isn't a single American car that my parents had that I liked or even worked properly.  Not a one.  And so for the last 20 years I've avoided American cars like the plague.

Mr. Banker, I have a long memory.  If you want me to continue to do business with you, you had better treat me right.  If not, I will take my business elsewhere.  There is one bank (Chase) that I will never do business with ever again.  Bank of America, do you wish to join that club as well?