Archive for January, 2012

Life’s a Scream

Imagine if you will that you have a roommate. At 6pm each evening, your roommate begins to scream and cry at the top of his or her lungs. You try to comfort the roommate, but no matter what you do, the screaming and crying continues well into the night before the roommate falls into an exhausted sleep for a few hours. When he or she wakes up, the roommate may very well throw up onto your hair, and then act as if he or she has done nothing wrong. Now imagine that you are not legally allowed to leave home without taking the roommate with you. Welcome to my world. I wrote about this topic previously, but with the sound of crying ringing in my ears, it has proven difficult to think up with new and exciting ideas.

My beautiful daughter, The Little Miss, is 2 months old and is otherwise healthy, but apparently has very hard feelings about evenings. As a parent, our options were at first limited to trying to soothe the baby, feeding her, or changing her diaper. None of these proved effective. Lather, rinse, repeat, endure. My wife (who displays the patience of a saint) has stood and bounced so much that she will soon be able to dunk a basketball from a standing position (She primarily deals with the Little Miss while I wrangle the 20-month old boy).

After a week or so of noise pollution, we began to experiment – after all, she’s our baby (note: we talked to our doctor before trying these out). First, we added some formula to the mix that was designed for babies with sensitive stomachs. That worked! For two days. Then the screaming resumed. My hair didn’t just turn gray; it began to leap from my head to escape.

We thought that perhaps the baby was having a reaction to milk, so we eliminated milk completely and tried soy formula. That worked! We had a normal, happy baby again. For two days. Then, on the second night, we happened to notice the Little Miss screaming at a pitch we had not heard before. It sounded as if someone was clipping off her toes with a pair of scissors. Upon further investigation, it appeared that the introduction of soy formula caused some issues for my daughter with, um, well, downward movement (if you get my drift). Not to be graphic, but there was lots of screaming and lots of grunting for minimal production.

We talked to the doctor again and decided to add some prune juice to the formula. One teaspoon per bottle had little to no impact, but two teaspoons per bottle worked! We then rediscovered just how cute and wonderful our baby could be her face wasn’t twisted into an angry grimace. We got to enjoy sitcoms again – for four days before the screaming came back. It seemed as if The Little Miss’ body was adjusting to and then overcoming each remedy to revert to its preferred position of unhappy.

In desperation, we jacked up the amount of prune juice to a tablespoon per bottle (with the doctor’s permission), but that didn’t seem to help. Then, one night while I was holding her and rocking her, she spit up onto my arm and the liquid burned a little. Aha! We immediately stopped with the prune juice (thinking that fruit juice likely has at least some acid in it) and I ran out into the night to buy some gripe water, which is supposed to help with these things (as well as cook dinner and darn socks if you read the advertisements).

Guess what? That WORKED! We haven’t had to give her gripe water since, and she’s been a perfectly happy little baby. Every day we expect her to return to unhappy form, but she hasn’t. It seems that perhaps she had grown out of her problems. Day has followed day and our daughter remains calm and happy – complete with goos and gahs, little gurgles and smiles. We can eat dinner as a family without one of us doing laps around the house while carrying her. The dog is willing to come back inside. Life is good.

That is, it was until last night. Lather, rinse, repeat, endure.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 20 Jan 2012 No Comments

Fees Suck

I hate fees. Fees are the leeches of commerce. They are designed to be tacked on at the end, as an unpleasant surprise, after a price has been negotiated and agreed upon for a good or service. The fees are usually, but not always, designed to be small enough that even though the consumer didn’t count on them as part of the transaction, he or she will not walk away. It’s the financial equivalent of, as the saying goes, being nibbled to death by ducks.

For example, I recently bought a computer game through a website. The game was to be downloaded through the internet, so there was no postage due. When I went to check out, there was a $2.00 convenience fee listed on my bill. I was faced with a decision: Do I cancel the whole thing over two bucks? I didn’t (as they knew I wouldn’t), but shouldn’t that cost have just been worked into the price of the product? Who exactly is that fee convenient for, anyway?

This is similar to the ATM fees that some banks charge. You find yourself in a situation that calls for cash (an increasingly rare situation these days) and track down a bank machine. Just before it spits out the dough, however, the machine throws a fee at you – sometimes up to 3 or more dollars. Now, do you cancel the whole thing and venture back into the cold to find an ATM with no fees (or, perish the thought, go wait in line and cash a check at your bank)? I know I don’t. I pay the fee and go spend that cash. This is because I am a rube, and the bank machine people know it.

Anyone who has bought something advertised on TV is likely familiar with “shipping and handling” charges. Shipping I understand – I’m not driving to your location to pick up the product so I’m willing to pay you to send it to me. But, handling? What is handling, exactly? Handling is a scam. You know it’s a scam because the TV sales people are often willing to send you an extra one of whatever they are selling, as long as you pay the shipping and handling. From a common sense standpoint, why would anyone do that unless the handling charge was ridiculously inflated?

It’s sneaky. What’s also sneaky is that you don’t hear about the people that come up with these fees. If dreaming up fees was honorable, you would hear about Joe Schmoe, the multi-millionaire who invented handling fees. Yet, these anonymous evil geniuses peck at you for just a little bit each time, and in the big picture it adds up to quite a bit for them. And sometimes, when just a little bit won’t do, they go for more.

When I was in college, back in the Ye Olde 1990’s, I had a tuition waiver from the National Guard. To me, when I signed up, that sounded like free college – an exciting concept. Yet, when the bill showed up, the waived tuition was less than $1,000. However, the required fees, just under the tuition on the bill, were much, much more than that. There was no explanation provided for what the tuition paid for and what the fees paid for – it seemed like just more tuition under a different name. Nobody said anything about fees when I signed up for the Guard – “Sign here, son, and we’ll waive the most affordable piece of your college costs.” (Note: I don’t regret serving in the Guard – it was great for me in almost every way – but I remember being annoyed at what felt like a bait and switch at the time)

There have been efforts to fight back against fees. In 1994, the band Pearl Jam fought against TicketMaster’s high fees. Customers who wanted to buy tickets were being dinged for all kinds of high convenience-type fees, and the band was so grumpy about it that they canceled one of their tours. But, who do you think won in the long run? The fees did, of course. According to Wikipedia (which I know is shaky), Pearl Jam returned to the TicketMaster fold in 1998. Last I checked, consumers are still paying good-sized fees when they buy tickets.

The efforts as of late have been a bit more successful. Bank of America recently got shouted down for trying out the idea of charging people to have a debit card.

Also, the news reported that Verizon floated the idea of implementing a fee on people who wanted to pay their bills without giving the company direct access to their bank accounts. Imagine Verizon’s surprise when people objected. The company then backed off of the idea (This is the same company that lumps all of their fees on a line item on their paper bills with no explanation of said fees. The paper bill directed me to their website, which as far as I can tell also does not contain any explanation. The message? Just shut up and pay. And I do.).

There is little doubt in my mind that these companies will find ways to make up the lost income, but it is nice to win one against the fee mongers every once in a while. It’s the same sort of satisfaction you get from slapping a mosquito.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 06 Jan 2012 No Comments