Saturday, December 4, 2010

First Batch of Work Photos

I promised to post some pictures from my recent absence from the blog. I have created a web album in Picasa for those, with captions.

The pictures are from the day that all the server racks and cooling system for the data center were delivered in July. The finish work on the 800 sq. ft. room had just been completed the day before, and this was the last time it would ever be empty. The data center has changed a LOT since then, with the addition of more than forty servers, networking equipment, radio gear, cooling, UPS, etc. I'm taking more pictures now as the room is getting the finishing touches put on. The in-between time wasn't terribly interesting, however the results I hope will be.

This was a HUGE undertaking for me, both personally and professionally. This is the single-most complicated technological system I've ever been responsible for, and it had to be done right as we were only going to get one shot at it. Given the three-plus years I have devoted to it, I think the data center and the building as a whole technological system turned out very well, and everyone seems happy with how the project has went.

It was also a struggle personally, as it took so much of my brain to keep up with the project, my personal life suffered greatly...as you all had surely guessed given my five-month absence. ESM is very glad to have me back, after being the "IT Widow" again. And, I'm very happy to also be back. It feels as though a thick blanket has been taken off of my head, and I can suddenly see and breathe again. I have to say it has been one of the nicest early Christmas presents I've ever gotten.

Anyway, enjoy the photos and rest assured I have more that I will be sharing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not Abandoned!

You thought I abandoned this, didn't you? C'mon, you can admit it. You thought it.

Well, I didn't. I've just been so busy with work I didn't have time to think about anything else.

But, I'm back now!

And I will be posting over the next little bit about everything that's been going on. Kitty troubles, pictures of the new building I have been working on, progress on my home theater...lots of stuff.

For now, let me give y'all the Readers Digest version:

We had some troubles with our kitteh famileh. Some members were not behaving themselves, and many changes have been made to accommodate them.

The building project I talked about in June is finally open and running. There are still a few minor issues to work out, but all-in-all it is working well. Pictures of the new datacenter are forthcoming.

We demoed our basement (with the help of my folks, thanks guys!) in preparation for rebuilding. One of the spaces planned, as you know, is for a home theater. There is also a space for my office, a rethink of the current laundry area, a new bathroom and possibly a second guest area. This is the eleventh iteration of the plan, so far. We'll see how much money we can scrape together as the project goes along. New plans will also be forthcoming.

It feels good to be writing again. It feels like everything in my personal life was put on hold for the last few months, while I devoted all my waking brain cycles to work. Sometimes it's just what has to be done, however I'm glad to be on THIS side of it for sure!

So, TTFN and I will continue gathering images and such to post in the next little bit.

--Sundown, Out.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Work Intruding

I just realized it's been almost a month since I've posted anything! Time flies, and all that crap.

I am working on a big project at work, that I'm sure you'll remember my mentioning. This has been taking most of my time lately, and causing very little to get done in my personal life, hence my absence from the blog.

I don't tend to talk about work much, as I try to keep that side of my life as separated from the personal side as possible. I'm not ashamed of what I do, far from it. However, I do have a strong sense of self-preservation. If I do not actively work at keeping the two sides of my life separate, my work life would very quickly take over everything. If that were to happen, my Everlasting SoulMate would decisively put that right, or my rear-end would be sleeping in the garage, which come to think of it would ALSO quickly put things right! So, rather than deal with that scenario, I try my best to keep a handle on things.

However, this particular project is big enough that it takes a lot of my brain cycles to keep up with. I work for a municipal government, in the I.T. department. My title, while important, has very little to do with my job, as I wear many hats in the organization. The hat that is on my noggin' most of the time lately is "Project Manager." You see, the municipality I work for is currently building a new police facility. The one they currently have is very old (30 years+) and way too small for the number of folks it is currently housing. As an I.T. project manager, I am in charge of making sure all the low-voltage infrastructure (read: cabling) and other technology going into the building meets our standards and is done per our plan for the project. Not a small job, when the building is over 50,000 sq. ft. and one of the new spaces in the building is the first true data center we've ever had.

Ever since I was hired, our facilities to house servers, networks and such for our various buildings have been glorified broom closets. Even when our city hall building was built eight years ago, the original data room for it ended up getting carved up to fill other needs. So, we were left with a room that was only adequate then and even with remodeling it several times, it is woefully undersized today, both in terms of space and in terms of power and cooling. A familiar story, if you happen to work in I.T.

The new data center going in the new police building is much larger, has significantly more rack space, has the proper infrastructure for cooling and power, and includes room to grow. And it has been one of my primary responsibilities since this project began two and a half years ago.

Was it easy to do? Absolutely not! I have had to fight tooth-and-nail at times to make sure this data center stayed in the project through the inevitable "value-engineering" that has been done to decrease the cost of the building. However, in the end it is finally coming to life.

My other primary responsibility has been to make sure the rest of the technology infrastructure going into the facility is up to the task. Our police department has always tried to remain on the leading edge of technology, and this facility is no exception. This will easily be the most complex technological project I've ever been involved with. To give a small example, there are over 80 surveillance cameras going in to this one building.

The project is nearing completion, and we're getting down to crunch-time on all the technology that is going in. This is both very exciting, and extremely stressful. See, I am not only responsible for the design of all this, I am the lead installer for all the network infrastructure equipment as well. So in the next few weeks, I will be installing the new network for the facility and going through testing and commissioning. ESM jokes that she will be an I.T. "widow" again for a bit until I am finished. However, she has lived through this with me before, so she knows what to expect.

I have been manager for two previous building projects in my current position. And, I am also working on the planning and designs for a fourth facility that just broke ground a month or two ago. Nothing like two buildings being built simultaneously to keep you hopping! That, on top of my normal workload, has been relentlessly trying to turn my brains to mush for over a year now.

As I have told people who have asked about my job lately, "At least I'm employed!" *grin*

The data center is not much more than an empty room right now, however I will be sure to post more pictures as it gets equipment installed and becomes more interesting to look at.

-- Sundown, Out

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Me 1, IRS 0

I have been fighting with the IRS for some time now, over our First-Time Home Buyer's Tax Credit. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last year and a half or so, Uncle Obama has been giving out a substantial tax credit for those folks who have recently purchased their first house, or haven't owned a house in a while and just purchased another one.

Now, those long-time readers of my blog might remember when we bought our house. Oh, about LAST AUGUST!

When we bought our house, we took the money out of our savings for the down payment, thinking we'd get it back in the tax credit. So, we filed a 1040X in early October, 2009 to amend our 2008 taxes and applied for the credit. A fairly normal procedure at that point in time...I even found instructions on realtor.com on how to fill out the 1040x and the one-page tax credit form.

Since there were a lot of folks taking advantage of the credit, the IRS said to wait at least 8-12 weeks for the paperwork to process. Okey-dokey, we should hear something by mid-January. The holidays ensued, and the allotted time came and went with no news.

I called the IRS around the first of February, to see what I could find out. To my great surprise, I got to speak to an actual person, who spoke fluent English, and was very friendly. Not something I expected from the IRS, certainly. She confirmed that they indeed received our paperwork, and further had sent us a letter in early January asking for more information before they could process the return. I replied that I had not received a letter, and asked where they had sent it. Sure enough, they sent it to the address of the house we used to rent. This was a problem.

While we lived in the rental house, all our important mail went to a locked box at a UPS Store. I did not want to have to change our address with everyone if/when we moved. So, when we DID move, I did not think to file a change of address. I also did not remember that the IRS does NOT want a mailing address on your tax filings, they want an actual physical address. So, when they sent the letter asking for more info, it went to the address on file with the IRS, the old house which no one lived at anymore. Needless to say, the letter has still never made it to us.

Now, those of you paying close attention might at this point notice the same flaw in logic I pointed out to the nice IRS lady. If I filed an amended return for the first-time home buyer credit, wouldn't that automatically mean I HAD A NEW ADDRESS?!? I even put the new address on all the forms I had to fill out! IRS lady agreed with me, and admitted that whoever entered the information into their system should have checked the address they had on file for me against the address on the form. However, she said, and I quote, "It depends on who entered the information and how diligently they do their job as to whether that gets done or not." Now that's the IRS I expected, the ones just wandering through their day with no regard to what happens as a result of them doing/not doing their jobs. I was surprised that one of their own would actually verbally admit to what I had always suspected but had no way to prove!

So, I asked the next obvious question. What additional information were they looking for? This time I got a much more governmental-like answer. IRS lady could not see the contents of the letter from her screen. She did not have access to see such things. Whew! My faith in the red-tape-laden bureaucracy was restored.

IRS lady said the best she could do for me was to "fix" my address in their database and make sure that a copy of the original letter was sent to the new address. I guess that's better than nothing. She then told me it could be up to two weeks before I saw the letter, but if I had not seen it by then to call back. Okey-dokey.

About two weeks later, an 8.5x11 white envelope from the IRS showed up in the mailbox. Great, now we'll finally unravel the mystery of the missing information from that simple one-page form. Well, not exactly...this was a letter saying that the IRS had disallowed the amended return for...wait for it...our LACK OF RESPONSE TO THEIR REQUEST FOR MORE INFORMATION! Classic. Our government hard at work, with one hand not talking to the other.

According to the letter, I had thirty days to dispute the disallowment and have the matter reviewed by a tax examiner. They also included a rather involved set of instructions on how to file the dispute and what other paperwork to include. I spent the better part of a day first understanding the procedure, and then gathering all the paperwork and writing the dispute letter. I faxed that to the IRS, made a PDF copy of everything for myself (CYA), and sat back to wait the two weeks I was told I must wait before calling the IRS to make sure the paperwork had been properly entered into their system.

Two weeks go by and it is now early March. I called and verified they had indeed received the dispute and were working diligently on it. Another IRS lady told me that they have, by law, up to thirty days to respond to my dispute and I should receive a call or a letter by then. More waiting.

Towards the end of March, I received two copies, in two separate envelopes mind you, of a letter saying they are working on my case but they will need until April 19th to respond to me. At this point, I am not surprised at the delay. Annoyed, yes...but not surprised.

Just before April 19th, I received two more letters, again in two separate envelopes, saying that they are indeed sorry but they must delay again until May 19th. At this point, my patience is wearing dangerously thin. However, I know if I call and annoy them, they will drag this out even longer. They are the government...they don't care; they don't have to. I do resolve to ESM that this has now become a matter of pride, and I WILL outlast these buggers and get my money, even if it is the last...thing...I...ever...do!

May 19th comes and goes. No letters in duplicate. No calls. No nothing. Hmmmm. So, on the 26th, I called the IRS once again. Again, I spoke to a lady who was very courteous, but a bit more abrupt than the last several. After she verified my identity, I explained my story in the Reader's Digest abridged form once again. I heard the keyboard in the background begin clicking furiously and she came back and said, "Yes sir, I see we have approved your amended return on the 24th and you should be receiving your tax credit check within two to four weeks." HUH?!? No further delays? No more red-tape forms? What happened to the information you allegedly needed back in January? I waited all this time for "oops, sorry"?!? Showing good sense, despite being taken aback by this sudden, positive turn of events, I did not ask any of those questions and simply thanked her for her time and hung up. I then broke out the happy dance! A little premature, I know...but I could not help myself! At last, forward progress! *grin*

So, today I go to our mailbox and find a hand-addressed envelope from the IRS containing a letter outlining the same information I got from my last phone call. And another envelope with A CHECK!!! YAY!!! Even better, the check contains the credit amount, plus back interest from when I filed the amended return back in October! So, even though it took nine months to get this sorted out, at least I got an extra 5% to show for it. Now I understand why the check got here so quick. They figured out how much interest they owed me and did not want to have to pay a penny more!

After having worked in government as long as I have, and after having lived through this incident, I have a few words of wisdom to pass along when dealing with governmental entities. As always, YMMV, so don't blame me if these don't work out so well for you.

One, read and listen carefully and follow all instructions to the letter. That takes away their ability to use that as an excuse and they can't really give you a hard time for following their rules. Two, patience-patience-patience. It will probably take longer than you expect, but they should eventually find their butts with both hands. Three, it doesn't generally pay to get irate with them. They can easily make your life much more difficult, and generally without any repercussions to them.

Following those simple tips brought this saga to a successful conclusion for me. Hopefully you won't ever have to use them, but if you do I hope they help you in some small way.

-- Sundown, Out.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Shameless Plug

I don't normally plug other sites here. However, in this case I will make an exception. My wife posted a story on her blog yesterday that, if you are here reading my blog, you owe it to yourself to check out. Enjoy! *grin*


And a picture of Treelo, just because I can!

The Pretty, Pretty Princess!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Little R & R

As I told you last time, I took a trip down to Rancho Almost-South-of-the-Border to see my parents. ESM couldn't join me, as she is working and taking good care of our little diabetic, Hubbard.

The drive down was good. Got to take the new Buick on it's first "road trip." Nice road car! It sure eats up the miles! When I left my driveway here, the outside air temperature showed as 38 degrees. Later that day, on a lonely two-lane blacktop in southern NM, the temp showed as 83 degrees. I think that is the first time in my life I saw a single-day temperature "flip-flop". *grin*

Had a great time down there. The weather cooperated for the most part, with only a couple of what I would call "windy" days. Temps hovered in the mid-eighties for the most part. And I took full advantage of that! The shorts and sandals definitely made an appearance!

I helped my folks out with several technology issues they were suffering from. The house they built is made from steel and has a fair amount of insulation, including a double-sided reflective layer. Between that and the low-E coated windows they used, they cause all sorts of havok with TV/wireless/cellular signals coming in. I helped them get their new HDTV set up, including installing a new HDTV antenna on an outside mast so they can watch TV again. With the changeover to digital TV, they have been having a devil of a time getting watchable TV. The new antenna and new LCD TV helps a lot! They actually have several decent digital channels down there, including the local educational station...which makes my mom very happy!

They are also having Internet provider troubles. They were using a point-to-multipoint wireless unit provided by a local ISP to get their Internet. The provider seems like they are running on a shoestring budget, and recently lost their primary backbone connection for their wireless customers. It took them over two WEEKS to get it fixed. This is not the first time my folks have had trouble with their provider, so my dad decided to try something different. Satellite doesn't work for them, as they run VoIP for phone service, so they decided to give 3G cellular a try. They went out and got a 3G USB device from a very well known provider whose name begins with "V" and immediately found that using it inside their black-hole of a house didn't work really well. So, after spending an afternoon working with it myself, including taking their laptop outside with the 3G card and making sure the signal wasn't too bad, they are going to opt for a cellular booster to get better signal inside. Should work, but is a little pricey. When it is up and running, they should have a much more reliable connection. Time will tell...

So, after rewiring their entertainment center, helping with the TV and cellular wireless woes, and fixing several other smaller techy type things, I did manage to get some time to relax as well! *grin* Got to ride the ATVs around a bit...one of my favorite things to do down there! Their property backs to BLM land, so there is plenty of space to ride around and have fun. There is also a great trail that goes up to the nearby mountains. Takes about an hour or so to go up, but the view is spectacular! I took some video this time, and I'll embed it at the bottom.

I am always very sorry to have to leave. It is so quiet and peaceful down there...when my dad isn't out shooting his shotgun, or I'm tear-assing around on the ATVs! *grin*

The only bad part of the whole trip was that ESM had caught my cold I had earlier in the month just before I left. I felt bad leaving her, however this was my only good opportunity for some R & R for the summer. She almost had to push me out the door to go. I hate leaving her when she is in distress like that. She thankfully survived and was on the mend when I got home.

We are now looking forward to a visit from ESM's parents sometime early next month. I have not seen them in a while, and they have not been here since we bought the new house or adopted "the boyz." I know ESM's mom is going to just fall in love with Leo. He has that effect on some people, especially the cat-people kind! I think we may have to frisk her, and check her luggage before she goes home...she may try to steal him away!

-- Sundown, Out

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Absence Update...Finally!

I have been remiss in not updating everyone. Things got very hectic around here, with multiple cat maladies, ESM going through finals week at school, and on top of it all I got sick. Not been a barrel of laughs around here lately.

First off, Hubbard is doing pretty good. He is back on his insulin at a lower dosage and is tolerating it well. We discontinued the medication for the pancreatitus for a bit, and now he is back on it also at a lower dosage. He continues to be our little "tank," just rumblin' right along.

Treelo ended up getting smacked in the eye (by Rocky, we suspect) right after we got Hubbard back on track, so we've been dealing with that too. She is ok, but we had to do eye ointment for her for a bit. She is doing better and there seems to be no permanent damage. Just more vet bills...

ESM got through finals week without killing any of us, for which I was grateful. It was touch-and-go there for a bit towards the end, however we all survived with only a few chew-marks on us. She is getting a bit burned out on school and decided to take the summer off from classes. I know the break will do her good. She really enjoys what she is studying, but the grind of working part-time, going to school part-time, and taking care of us full-time does weigh heavy on her. I will be glad to have her out into the yard this summer getting some "dirt" therapy.

I'm also just getting over a spring cold. I hate being sick when the weather is nice...

Gonna take a drive to the wilds of New Mexico to see my folks here very soon. I was going to take my uncle along with me to share the drive, but he wimped out on me last week. Oh well, he is recovering from shoulder surgery and going through the agony of physical therapy, so I can understand. Just would have been nice to have some company. ESM has to stay behind to take care of Hubbard, and work...which I know bums her out.

However, this is my last opportunity to take some vacation time before a big project at work kicks into overdrive. There will be no time off for me from when I get back until probably Thanksgiving. I'll fill you all in on that project as I get closer to completion.

You can tell spring is in the air, when the boys start sticking their heads out the window! *grin*

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Remission? Not Quite...

Well, remission may not have been the right word. When we took Hubbard in to the vet yesterday, his glucose was high again (320). They did a few more tests on him that had to go off to the lab, so we won't know the results until early next week. However, we're back to no one being sure what happened and looking like we'll be back to giving him insulin very soon.

Hubbard is still doing ok, although with his blood sugar high he is drinking and using his box like crazy! We'll be keeping a close eye on his condition today.

We have family in town this weekend and through the early part of the week, which is nice. My folks are here, and we all went out to brunch with my sister and her husband yesterday to "belatedly" celebrate ESM's birthday. We had a great time all being together, and the $8 bottomless Mimosas certainly didn't hurt! *grin*

We'll keep everyone up to date on Hub's test results when we get them next week. We have our fingers crossed that he is still ok beyond the elevated blood sugar.

I better cut this post off, the "Horde" is demanding breakfast...at the top of their lungs. *grin*

Friday, April 9, 2010

Good Hubbard News!

Hubbard is home! I picked him up from the vet this evening after work and he is home and doing good so far.

According to the emergency vet, his diabetes is apparently in remission and his pancreatitus is much better than it has been. That is why his blood sugar dropped like a rock; We gave him insulin when his body no longer needed it. Nobody is quite sure how or why it happens, only that it does happen occasionally.

So, he is off the insulin for now, and we are supposed to reduce his medication for the pancreatitus (which makes him happy, as it tastes terrible!). We also have an appointment with our family vet tomorrow to get his glucose tested again and make sure he is still doing ok. But for now, everything is right with the world once more!

My deepest thanks to everyone who wrote in and wished us well! I am overwhelmed how everyone responds in these kinds of situations. It is humbling for me to associate with such thoughtful and caring people.

I'll update everyone tomorrow after our trip to the vet on how our boy is doing.

I apologize for the poor cell phone pic, but I wanted to get this up quick.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hubbard is sick!

Just a quick note to say our 15-year old, grumpy mancat Hubbard is at the emergency vet. ESM rushed him in this afternoon after she got home from work and found several poops and large piddle spots on our bedroom carpet, and there was no sign of Hubbard. She finally found him down the hall in my office, huddled between my server and my workstation on the floor. He was cold to the touch, but still conscious. When she pulled him out, his back legs wouldn't work and he couldn't stand.

She grabbed a carrier and rushed him to the emergency vet, while simultaneously calling me at work and letting me know the situation. After running a quick blood glucose on him (he is diabetic after all) they found the issue. His blood sugar has been running high (high 200s-low 300s) for the last several months, but when they tested him it was all the way down at 26. Anything below 70 is very dangerous.

He was resting in the warming chamber when we left, and they had him on an IV and were trying to bring his sugar level up.

We are hopeful this is an insulin reaction, and something can be done for him. However, we are preparing one another for the worst. He has had a good long life, and if it is his time...I refuse to let him linger and suffer. I would very much like to bring him home, and let him go amongst his family and familiar surroundings. However, his comfort and well-being is paramount to any of our wishes.

On my way to the vet, I had a long talk with the big man upstairs, and asked him if he had to take our Hubbard, to please make it quick and painless. I also spoke to Ziggy, our beloved gray boy who departed last August, and asked him to be on the lookout for Hubbard and meet him at the Rainbow Bridge if he makes that journey in the next little bit.

We'll keep you all posted on his condition, and update when we get any more news.

Please find someone you love, be they four-legged and furry or two-legged, hug them and tell them how much you love them. And, we'd appreciate any good thoughts you can spare sent along to our Hubbard.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Final Chapter

I thought when they checked the Beemer out to me on Tuesday, I'd have it a day, maybe two. So, I resigned myself that I would just have to enjoy the little bit of driving time available, which was mostly back and forth to work.

So, as I pulled onto the highway to return to work that morning, there were no cars in the acceleration lane. I decided now was the time to see what a fully warmed-up, 3.5 liter BMW could do. I tromped down on the go-pedal and this thing took off faster than I expected. The traction control light was going crazy, trying the keep the rear wheels planted. I went from about 20, coming around the corner, to over 80 well before I needed to merge on the highway. Needless to say, I slowed down before merging...no need to get a ticket right away in this beast!

I took a real razzing at work when I drove up in the BMW, with comments like "Man, what are they paying those IT guys!?!" *grin*

When I went home that night, there was one spot on the journey where I could legally go from a standing stop up to 55mph, so I decided to see what the zero-to-60 time was like. As I started out, I let it get rolling slightly before tipping in the throttle, as I did not want to get the traction control humming again. By my reckoning, it was about 6 seconds. Not bad for a small, four-door sport sedan.

The stereo was wonderful, the instruments clear and easy to read, the seats were very comfy...I really could not find too many things I didn't like. However, I did notice one rather annoying thing. I wear glasses to drive, as my distance vision is such that I have trouble reading street signs until I'm too close to do anything about them! When I got my glasses, I got some that have magnetic "clip-on" sunglasses. I made sure the ones I got were polarized. That helps with sun glare, and works very well. However, when I had them on, I could not see the stereo display on the dash. I had to tip my head down and look over my glasses to see it. The auto climate control display was fine, I could see it very well however it was lower on the dash than the stereo display. The stereo one was at just the right angle that the polarization filtered it out, apparently. Certainly not a show-stopper, but disappointing nonetheless.

I drove it to work Wednesday...then Thursday...then Friday. I got the call from the sales manager on Friday afternoon saying the car wasn't ready yet, and they were thinking it would be Monday at the earliest. I told him I understood and that I would wait for his call the next week...but inside I was doing the happy dance! I had the Beemer for the weekend!

My parents came for a visit that weekend, so I got to chauffeur them around in the Beemer, and they were suitably impressed.

I got the call on Monday afternoon that the Buick was ready to be picked up. So, I left work a bit early to avoid the traffic. I picked up the Riv and said a tearful goodbye to my loaner. The sales manager handed me the invoice for the work as I was leaving and said he thought I would want a copy for my records. Almost $600...glad that was him and not me! The entire shifter linkage and the park-interlock solenoid had been replaced (the button now goes down all the time without incident!), and they put another cam position sensor on the car, thinking the first one was somehow faulty. On the drive home, the Riv behaved itself...no drama.

I had told ESM I would not let her drive an unreliable car, so I took the Riv to work on Tuesday. I drove along my commute that morning occasionally glancing at the "Check Engine" light. And everything was fine...until about twenty minutes into my thirty minute commute. Hello Mister Check Engine Light! GRRR!!

So, I got to work, went in and immediately called the sales manager at BMW...again. I was told he had the day off, however there was another manager that was familiar with the situation and would I like to speak with him? I said yes, please. When he came on, I briefly recapped the situation, adding that the check engine light was on...again. I could hear his face drop over the phone. He said that he wanted the car back as quickly as I could get it to him, as he wanted to get it back to the GM dealer ASAP. They spent money to fix it, and exactly as I would, they wanted their money's worth! I spoke with my boss, who apparently loves a good, ironic car story, and got permission to leave a little early for lunch and take the Riv back again.

The substitute sales manager was waiting for me. He said he had spoken with the original sales manager and that they would get the Riv back to me as soon as they could. He then asked if I needed a ride. I did need to get back to work, and smelling another loaner like a shark smelling blood, I said yes. He replied that all their normal loaners were out, but he would see what he could do. So, I sat down in the "lounge" to wait. After about twenty minutes, he came back with an extended test-drive agreement for me to sign, and they sent me off with a used pre-owned silver BMW 2006 325xi from their inventory. Certainly not a bad ride, but when you were expecting maybe a 5-series, it was a bit of a letdown!

The four-wheel-drive of that car was excellent, however the 2.5-liter engine was definitely not in the same class as the 335 I drove first. The only other equipment in the silver one that the black 335 didn't have was seat heaters. The Riv has those as well, and boy will they spoil you in a hurry! It is SOOO nice to go out, get in, turn the seat heater on, and have your backside nice and toasty before you even get out of the driveway. Luxury!

That was Tuesday. On FRIDAY, which means it has now been two weeks since we signed the papers on the Riv, I got the call that it was ready. The original sales manager told me that GM, after performing many ancient, dark rituals on the car, finally exorcised what they thought was the demon. The wiring from the engine management computer to the sensor had a break in it somewhere, but one that would only intermittently show up. So they replaced all the wiring to the sensor. They had then driven the car repeatedly, and not had any issues with it.

Wanting to surprise ESM, I left a message on the home phone that I was going to be late coming home from work...with a generic "IT troubles" excuse. I went to the BMW dealer and picked up the car. The sales manager and I shook hands, again, and he said he was very confident they had solved the mystery, and then grinned and said he looked forward to NOT seeing me again for a bit! I thanked him for all he had done for us, and it sounds cheesy I know, told him that he had definitely earned a customer for as long as I lived in Denver. He thanked me and waved as I drove off in the Riv.

ESM and I drove the CRAP out of the Riv that weekend! We wanted to make sure the problems did not return. I am very happy to report that as of today, the "Check Engine" light has stayed off for more than two weeks! *knock wood* Now that doesn't mean the car doesn't have a few minor issues I still need to fix...the one ignition key is still a bit dodgy, the power antenna somehow got bent while GM had the car so it won't go up and down very far, just little things like that.

Overall we are very happy with the car. ESM loves the supercharged 3.8-liter V-6 under the hood, and I've seen her dip her toes into that power several times! She tells me that after driving the Riv for two weeks, she will never again allow me to purchase her a car without all of the following:

* A sunroof
* Seat heaters
* CD player
* Automatic transmission
* Cool looks

Well, I guess I better start saving for her next car now... *grin*

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Part 2

I put on the bottom of the last post this would go up on Saturday…I don’t know why I typed Saturday when I meant Friday! Anyway, here is part 2.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, but with a definite chill in the air after having snowed lightly overnight. ESM and I got ready, and I drove the Buick back to the dealership, with Susan following behind in the Mazda, just in case.

Now, I have to make something clear to you, dear readers. We have not been dealing with your ordinary, run of the mill car dealership. No...this, my friends, is a BMW dealership. The place looks for all the world like a high-end spa. Fine furniture, modern decor, a twelve-foot long fireplace made from stainless steel with the flames seeming to emanate from a bed of ground glass. And liberally spread around are cars that can easily run into the six-figures.

And the dealership does not employ your ordinary car salesmen-types, these are non-commissioned “sales associates”, wearing expensive suits, who make the same money whether they sell a $5,000 car or a $50,000 car. This all makes for a somewhat different car-buying experience.

You may now be asking yourselves, if this is such a hoity-toity outfit, what are they doing with a 12-year old Buick Riviera that sells for less than half of any of the other used pre-owned cars on their lot? A good question. One which I asked the sales manager about, during one of our early visits. His response...this was such a unique car, given the low miles (69,000 and change), the single previous owner of the car and the (allegedly) excellent shape the car was in. He said they felt the car would sell very well given the price (around $5,000). I really couldn't argue with that logic.

So, I pull up to the service entrance, the garage door rolls up in front of me, and I pull into what has to be the nicest inside service bay I have ever seen. Remember how I said it had snowed lightly overnight? Well, all the cars coming in for service had a little bit of slush on them. There was a guy, riding one of those Zamboni-like concrete cleaning machines, going up and down the service bay cleaning up the drips from all the cars. Constantly. Heaven forbid someone step out of their Beemer into a little puddle of muddy water!

A very courteous attendant met me as I got out, and I explained that I was there to see Andrew, and that the sales manager had set up the appointment. She told me she would go let Andrew know, and handed me a clipboard with a quick form to fill out with my contact info. By the time I had finished, a gentleman in a smart green sweater-vest and khakis walked up and introduced himself as Andrew, the head of the service department! He said he would take the car back immediately, get it on their diagnostic computer and find out what the error code was. I explained about the shifter button not working as well, and he said they would be happy to take a quick look at that too.

We went through the doors into the building and right inside, across from the CONCIERGE DESK (if I'm lyin', I'm dyin'!), were several chairs. So we sat down to wait. After we had sat there for a bit, the attendant who met me at the car came by us. She suddenly stopped, looked at us funny, then smiled and said, "You don't have to wait here. You can go out in the showroom and wait there...the chairs are much more comfortable and we'll come find you!" She graciously walked with us out to the showroom, asking if they could get us water or coffee... I felt like such a bumpkin! In my defense, I'm not used to car dealers like this! These people are SERIOUS about making sure you are comfortable. I guess that comes from the clientele they cater to. *grin*

After waiting about thirty minutes, Andrew came back and said the error code was for the cam position sensor...again. He couldn't understand why this was happening after they replaced it, but obviously there must be something else wrong. He said the shifter button problem was a result of the linkage just being "worn out," and that the linkages are a common problem on those cars. He said he wanted to confer with the sales manager who had been helping us first, but he wanted to keep the car and take it to a GM dealership, to make sure the job was done with all the right tools and equipment. Sounds like a good plan.

We then met with the sales manager, and said we had thought further about our decision to return the car and that we really wanted to see what was wrong before we went to the trouble to reverse the sale. He was relieved, and said he would do everything in his power to make sure we were happy with the Buick and all the issues we found were repaired to our satisfaction.

Now at this point, I found myself a little out of my comfort zone as far as car buying is concerned. A dealer saying he doesn't care what it takes, that he just wants us to be happy? WTF? So, feeling a bit overwhelmed, I told him I appreciated all he was doing for us, but I knew they must be close to losing money on this deal. He shrugged his shoulders and said with a smile of utter sincerity, "Most deals we make money, sometimes we don't." At this point I begin looking around for the 'Candid Camera' crew to jump out and Allen Funt to say "Gotcha!"

After Andrew and the sales manager spoke briefly, they came back and said they were indeed going to keep the car for a few days and take it to GM to be fixed. In the meantime, they would give us a loaner to drive until they could get the Buick back. A loaner? Really? I asked ESM to make sure we only wrote them a check for $5,000... This just kept getting weirder and weirder.

So, what do you suppose they checked out to us as a loaner, in a BMW dealership? Can you say, 'B M W'? I knew you could! They gave us a 2008 black four-door 335i, with just over 16,000 miles on the odometer. Now, I've driven some nice cars in my day, but this was the first time I'd driven a BMW. Three words: what...a...car!!! ESM and I discussed who should have the loaner...and somewhat to my surprise, she said I should have it. She explained that she did not feel comfortable parking it in the school parking lot at night when she went to class, and felt it would be safer if I parked it at my work instead. Given the $40,000+ replacement cost and, of course, always wanting to be the gentleman, I was happy to oblige! So, ESM took the Mazda and returned home, and I took the BMW and went on to work.

Next time, this roller-coaster ride of a story continues. See you on Sunday!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Continuing Saga of Our New Car - Part 1

Well, the car-buying experience did not go quite as planned. We did eventually get the car, we just took a somewhat circuitous route to get there.

When we took the car out for the final test drive before we agreed to purchase it, the "Check Engine" light came on. I pointed it out to the sales manager we were working with, and he said they would put it into their shop and see what was wrong. We offered to put down a deposit to secure the car, with the provision that the repairs went forward as planned. This was the Saturday before Presidents Day, so that Monday was a holiday. We heard back on Tuesday that the error code showed the cam position sensor was faulty. The sales manager said they would simply replace the sensor. They called back on Wednesday and said the car was ready. Due to our schedules being full, we set a date for Saturday morning to sign the papers and buy the car.

We showed up at the dealer bright and early on Saturday, signed the paperwork, wrote them a check for the difference and drove our new baby home. The drive home was uneventful, other than remembering how different a true American car is to drive, compared to my Mazda.

Since we still had my wife's old car in the garage, I parked the Buick in the driveway behind it. That evening, I went out to swap cars around as the forecast called for snow, and I did not want it to snow on the new car. So, I went out, put my key in the ignition, and it wouldn't turn. I messed with it for a few seconds, and got it to turn and start the car. Then I went to shift it into reverse to back out of the driveway. The shifter knob would not go down. I couldn't get the car out of park. So, again, I messed with it for a few minutes and could not get it to work. Frustrated, I shut it off and went inside to ponder my next move.

This particular car has a center console-mounted shifter with the release button on top. After spending some time online looking at diagrams on how to unhook the shift linkage and manually put the car in reverse, I decided to go give it one last try before breaking out the tools. However, this time I took ESM's set of keys (the one with the key fob remote) instead of mine. I put the key in the ignition, did not have any trouble starting it, and as if by magic the car shifted into gear with no drama. I became convinced at that point that the different keys were the issue. You see, GM cars of that era had the anti-theft keys with the small electrical contacts on them. So, I assumed it must be a problem with that key not registering with the car correctly. Easy enough, I'll ask the dealer to replace my key. I finished swapping the cars around and went off to bed.

The next morning (Sunday), we took the car on some errands we needed to run, and during our outing the "Check Engine" light came on again! When we purchased the car, they dealer we bought it from gave us a 30-day, 1,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 48-hour, no-questions-asked return policy. ESM and I were now pondering the prospect of returning the car and finding something else. After some discussion, we decided it was better to first call the dealer on Monday and see what they would do before we made any further decision. It had to wait until Monday, as Colorado is one of those backward places where someone still thinks that letting car dealers be open on Sunday will somehow lead to the complete breakdown of our society.

ESM and I decided to switch cars temporarily, as her commute to school was much farther than mine to work, and I did not like the idea of her being possibly stranded on the other side of town, at night. So, I drove the new car to work on Monday. As I walked out to the garage that morning, a new thought occurred to me. They had filled the car with gas before we took it. Did they maybe not tighten down the gas cap? That can cause the "Check Engine" to come on sometimes. It couldn't hurt to make sure. So I did that, and sure enough, the light went off when I started it. YAY! Maybe that's all it was.

It was not. Not by a long shot.

When I took the car out at noon to grab a bite of lunch, the light came back on again, and re-seating the gas cap did not help this time. So, I called the sales manager at the dealer...again...and told them the light was on...again. He apologized profusely, and asked me to bring the car back to them the next day and they would "make it right." I then asked about the 48-hour return and if the time limit would reset after the repairs were made? He reassured me and said not to worry about the 48-hour time limit...they would take the car back at any point if they couldn't fix these issues to our satisfaction. Oh-kay... He then made an appointment for me to meet with a shop technician named Andrew at 9am the next day. I arranged with my boss to have some time off to take the car back the next morning, and went back to work.

As I went to go home that night, with ESMs keys, which had worked fine previously, the problem with the shifter knob returned. I could not get it out of park...again. Grand, now I'm going to be stuck at work. As I was not completely enthralled with that idea, I began futzing about with the shifter knob. I was pressing it in different ways, towards the sides, in the middle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle...then, as I had both thumbs pressing down hard on the button, it suddenly went down and I was able to shift! Ok, think...if it won't come out of reverse for some reason, I need a plan. I put the car into reverse, and because the parking lot was empty by now, I backed straight back across the aisle into another parking spot, just in case. However, you don't need the button to shift from reverse into drive, typical of most automatics. So, I was able to shift into drive, take the car home and get it into the garage.

I came into the house, fuming...called the sales manager and told him I had had enough and in all good conscience I could not keep a car that had all this wrong with it. To his credit, the sales manager was very calm and said he was disappointed, but could certainly understand my frustration. He explained he came in to work at 10am the next morning, and I should come see him then and we would sign the paperwork to reverse the sale.

As soon as I hung up the phone, ESM and I began discussing what our next move was. Did we want to start car shopping again? What was going to be our approach this time? We went online and started looking again, but all we were finding was four-door grocery-getters in our price range. ESM had told me as we started looking the first time, she did NOT want another boring car! She wanted something sporty, stylish, exciting. These four-door sedans were definitely NOT exciting.

The more we talked about the issue, the more one point began to stand out above everything else...we just really liked the Buick. We had a very hard time thinking about giving it up, and starting over again. After much debate (and stomping of feet and gnashing of teeth), we decided to keep the appointment with Andrew the technician at 9am and see what was wrong before we gave the car back...

Don't miss the next, topsy-turvy installment of our continuing story on Saturday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New(ish) Car

As of this morning, we are the proud owners of a healthy, happy 12-year-old Buick Riviera.

I'll get a longer post with some pictures up when the weather is a little better here. Lots of snow and overcast means flat light and bad pics.

ESM is very happy with the car, and I'm glad we were able to replace hers quickly.

Stay inside and stay warm this weekend!

-- Sundown, Out

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Must Be Close...

Seems like every spring, my father and I are affected by the same bug. We get a far-off twinkle in our eyes, our mouths get dry, and we must feel the newness of vehicles that are not ours yet. Yep, we both are victims of the "new car bug." I have found as I get older, I am better about resisting the vernal urge to go look at cars. Plus, the Interwebs have provided a much less costly alternative, in that I can browse thousands of cars online and never have to set foot on a car lot and be subject to all the other intoxicating stimuli. Must. Drive. Cars!

However, this year (and not by choice), is one of those rare exceptions. The time has come for us to replace ESM's aging Saturn. We actually leased the car new in 1999, and it served us well. When it came time to turn it back in, ESM's parents needed a reliable car so we purchased it out of the lease and sold it to them for the same price. Win-win...they got a good car for a decent price that they knew had decent care, and we didn't have to pay the lease over-mileage fee we were looking at.

They drove the car for several years, and had decent luck with it. Then my mother-in-law needed to go in for double knee-replacement surgery. The Saturn was a manual shift. No way that was going to work. So we traded them straight across for an automatic-equipped mid-nineties Ford Taurus with low miles and got the Saturn back.

With our lifestyle changes in the last few years, unfortunately the poor little Saturn hasn't gotten the care it should have at times, and is now in dire need of some repairs that are necessary for it to pass our state's air quality emissions test so it can be re-licensed. However, the cost of those repairs is way beyond what the book value of the car is at this point. That violates one of the prime car-ownership rules my father drilled into me as a young man. "When the repairs cost more than the car is worth, usually the wiser money goes into a new(er) car."

So, that means only one thing. Spring car shopping.

I began the search with simple criteria. Budget: $7,000. Mileage: Under 60,000 IAAP (If At All Possible). Front-wheel drive, for better snow performance. Then ESM added one more...automatic transmission. Good, we have our criteria.

As we began looking online, there were cars out there that met our criteria. Good, that's hurdle #2 over. However, as ESM began looking at what cars were coming back, she added another criteria. This one is proving to be a little more of a challenge. She did not want some boring, 4-door grocery-getter. DO NOT WANT! So now I needed to add words like "exciting" or "unique" to the list. That makes things a bit 'arder!

However, we did look at a car last night that may fit the bill. We are planning on looking some more today, but if nothing pans out, we're going back to look at this one again. It's a 1998 Supercharged Buick Riviera. A sleek two-door coupe, with all the options available in that year (sunroof, heated leather seats, auto climate control, [mouth getting dry]), plus less than 70,000 on the odo, and the price is WELL under our budget. Sounds like a recipe for a decent deal. We both drove it, and I must say... What. A. Car.

Whoa there fella! Can't go writing checks yet! Let's check the Interwebs and see what '98 Rivs are all about. It IS an American car, after all. Found no big quality or reliability issues...an oddity for GM. A few mechanical things are mentioned, but nothing that is terribly expensive. Mileage is not great, but not much worse than my Mazda 5. However, Premium fuel only...that one'll hurt.

We are headed back out today to one dealership we found that had at least four cars on the lot we want to see. Just want to make sure we aren't jumping on the first thing we find. But, if nothing there is interesting...headed back to give the Riv another look in the daylight. I'll keep you posted.

-- Sundown, Out

Thursday, January 28, 2010

(Not so) Quick Update

Sorry for the delay...things have been a bit stormy around here lately. Between all the crises, I just haven't had time to sit down and write for a bit.

We took Leo and Rocky in for their follow-up FIV/FeLV tests (the shelter tested them not too long before we adopted them). Unfortunately, we got some not good news. Leo is FIV positive. Not what we wanted to hear, after all our troubles with Ziggy.

However, looking on the bright side, trying to find the silver lining and trying like mad to make lemonade...at least it was not FeLV too. That would have been much worse. FIV is certainly not a death sentence, and many cats live long, healthy lives with the disease. We just have to be more vigilant in watching him for any signs of getting sick, as he won't be able to fight off stuff as well as he should.

Rocky seems to be fine and in good shape (in fact, his shape is getting rounder by the day!!!). He tested negative for both, even though he and Leo play and wrestle together on a regular basis. We'll hope that stays that way!

We've been working extra hard trying to get Hubbard's insulin levels under control. They raised him from two units to three, but I think it will take four or five to really put it to bed, so to speak.

They also made us continue to give him the steroid for the pancreatitus. I know he is feeling some better, given how hard he fights both of us to NOT TAKE THAT DARN PILL!!! We have finally found a delivery method that works. ESM has been crushing the pill and mixing it in with some chicken broth. She then draws that concoction into one of the liquid syringes we got for giving him liquid medicine, and squirts it down his gullet! He still fights a bit, but not nearly as hard as when we were trying to use the pill gun with him. Thank goodness!

Hubbard has also taken to wetting down the carpet in front of our master bedroom door lately as well. I know it is because his insulin is still not right, and he is still drinking quite a lot. He is rapidly ruining the carpet there (not that the carpet was in great shape to begin with!). So, between ESM and I, plus my mom, we came up with a workaround for now. We put down a length of that thick plastic carpet protector and old towels that ESM washes very regularly. At least now when he does it, we can clean it up easily. I just hope we can get his insulin dialed in quickly, so he doesn't have to go so much! Poor guy!

The basement has mostly sat for a bit, other than my ESM's little "stress release" the other day. She had been having a particularly bad day with lots of annoyances, however falling down the stairs in our house was really the last straw. She went down in the basement, picked up one of the small sledge hammers we have, and wailed the living bejeezus out of one of the walls. Looks a bit like swiss cheese now. Luckily, we are planning to demo ALL the walls...so no real harm done. She seems to be recovering from her fall, and I am very pleased for that.

ESM did go down today and take down some more studs as well. She likes tearing things apart, pushing trees over, etc. sometimes. I can't really blame her. It does relieve stress, but apparently not like putting large holes in walls does. *grin*

--Sundown, Out

Sunday, January 10, 2010

And So, It Begins...

Well, I've been thinking about it for years, been planning for months, and now progress has begun on my most ambitious project to date. The building of my home theater!

During our recent house-purchasing adventure, one of the criteria in selecting a suitable domicile was that it have room somewhere that could be converted to a theater. This house had ample room in the basement, and it wasn't being utilized very well as it was. So ESM and I decided that was an opportunity to remodel the whole basement space into something that worked better overall.

I have been in the planning stages since we moved in, and have done several plans, some of which I have shared here. We have more-or-less decided on a design, after a dozen or so iterations. Follow the link to my Picasa album I have dedicated to the basement remodel, including my theater. I have a copy of the current plan there.

Yesterday, we began demolition of the old basement space in preparation for the remodel. We demoed about a third of the basement walls in about six hours. Not too bad for just the two of us. The furring walls are still up, but they are coming down next. I am planning to build/rebuild furring walls all the way around the outside of the basement and insulate them. Right now only part of the walls are built, the rest of the basement is the bare concrete foundation walls.

When I am all done, the plan is for a 13.5' by 10.5' theater room with a 95" by 40" Cinemascope-aspect (2.35/1), acoustically transparent screen with the front speakers in a small space behind it. I have the projector picked out, unless something better comes along between now and when I buy it! *grin* I will be using a Panasonic PT-AE4000U 1080p LCD projector. It has all the features I want, including an innovative lens zoom memory function which allows the unit to detect Cinemascope aspect media and zoom out to fill the full screen. Very cool device.

I will keep up with my progress here, and I will also be starting a post on avsforum.com to keep up as well.

EDIT: I somehow forgot the best story from the demo! I think I was distracted by helping ESM with Mr. Hubbard and his various maladies.

Before continuing, and given the current nanny-state country we seem to live in, I feel I must warn you. This story is not suitable for younger viewers, those with heart conditions, weak stomachs, or anyone who is easily upset by general weirdness. May also be NSFW. YMMV. Burma Shave.

Still here? Read on!

Part of the demo included taking down a thirty-someodd-year-old fiberboard tile ceiling. You know, like the ones in everyone's grandma's basement. Of course, when those were put up, they interlocked together and were then stapled up to supports on the joists. Makes them a pretty sturdy ceiling.

So here I am, up on the step-ladder pulling down these tiles. As I took down two in one corner, I noticed something laying up in the ceiling. When I reached in and pulled it out, I found I had discovered someone's "special" hiding place. It was a hardcore porn mag with a copyright date of 1978. Now, this was NOT Playboy, or Penthouse, or even Hustler. This was one of those you had to send away for from the back of certain magazines and came mailed in a plain brown envelope. The price on the cover read $7.50, which would be about $25 today!

ESM and I had quite a good laugh about our "find," briefly discussed various habits of teenage boys, both then and now, then started back to work. As I pulled down on the next set of ceiling tiles, something large and rather heavy fell out, hit me on the head and tumbled to the floor! I uttered several loud obscenities as I caught myself so I didn't fall off the step-ladder. When I looked down, it was a brown paper bag which had ripped partially open on landing on the concrete.

Y'all can see where this is going, can't ya...

It was a bag full of, shall we say, "used marital aids"...both male and female versions, along with other bits of pleasure paraphernalia. We were both glad we were wearing gloves, masks and safety glasses at that point!

Well, I guess we now know what THAT room was for! We did take a couple of digital pics, to document the moment for posterity. There was also some discussion of putting them back in the ceiling when we finished the space, as a sort of time-capsule for the next generation. However, the thought of storing such items, especially in a used state, for any length of time made us both oogy-feeling. So, we ultimately decided to get rid of them and press on.

It was lucky I was not seriously hurt, as I'm not sure how exactly I would have worded the "Cause of Injury" part of the accident claim form for insurance. "Hit in the head by falling dildos," just doesn't seem like something they would pay out for.

-- Sundown, Out