Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ten Years Ago...

(Aaron, age 3 days).

February 27, 1997

This is what I wrote, when I finally got home from a long, unplanned night in the hospital: http://aaron.orel.ws/aaron1.html
If you've never seen a C-Section performed, here is one word to help you picture it: ALIEN. "What does it look like, honey?" "Oh, Sigourney Weaver is going to show up any second now to fight 'em off, otherwise you look great!"

February 26, 1997. We went to the hospital for a non-stress test. This is a test which is performed on women who are beyond the expected delivery date. Basically, they hook up a monitor to check whether the baby is in distress or if there are any signs of contractions -- anything which could cause the doctors to induce labor.

Lori's mother had wanted to go for this test, but this time I said I would go. Call it a premonition.

I arrived at 11am, Lori had already arrived and they had started early with her. I found the room, it was hot and muggy and Lori was very uncomfortable, trying to find a way to sit without losing the monitor and without sweating too much.

A few minutes later, Lori began experiencing great pain. This appeared to be more than just a bad sitting position. The nurse came in, cancelled the sonogram that was to follow the non-stress test, and sent us down to the delivery area to see if the contractions were part of labor.

They were. By the time we got downstairs, the contractions were two minutes apart. So much for our breathing exercises, this was off the scale. By 2pm, Lori was at 8 centimeters and the baby was showing signs of distress. We avoided an emergency C when things calmed down for a while, but after the baby's hearts rate dropped again, we initiated the
scene from Alien.

Aaron's purple head was raised from Lori's belly at 3:08 pm on February 26, 1997. Mother, baby and father are all well, if a little tired. Sigourney Weaver hasn't shown up yet; I don't think we'll need her.

Aaron Samuel Orel, born 3:08pm, February 26, 1997.
weight 7 lbs, 1 oz., length 20.5 inches

December 10, 2006.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Local thaw

Last month, when I wrote a post called "Global Cooking," our local area was in the middle of an astoundingly mild beginning to the winter. Eventually, we would reach 37 consecutive days of above-average temperatures, including 31 consecutive days at least 7 degrees above normal, 11 consecutive days without a freeze, and 6 days with a high or low at least 20 degrees above normal (2 with both). On January 5th, the high temperature was 52 and the low was 44; that would be an average day on April 14th.

Of course, that weather was due in no small measure to the effects of El Niño, and when El Niño subsided, inevitably so did the heat wave. Here, the warm weather finally ended in mid-January, and the cold arrived on January 28th. For the past 23 days, temperatures have been below normal, including one particularly bitter day when the high temperature was just 6 degrees (forcing a cancellation of ski school because it was too cold!).

Inevitably, this has led to some caustic remarks from people wondering what happened to "Global Warming." As if a single cold spell (or heat wave, for that matter), is the true indicator.

So, here's a little data:
1. January, despite the cold 2nd half, was globally the warmest January on record, by a rather wide margin. Global surface temperatures for the month were 1.53 degrees above normal, fully a quarter degree above the prior record.
2. Despite the 23 consecutive days of below normal temperatures, the winter up here in southeast Michigan is still averaging 1.7 degrees above normal.

That said, it's nice to be above freezing for the first time in more than 3 weeks.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Discography charity fundraising update

In November 2005, I established an associates account with amazon, going primarily from my discography page. Any amazon.com sales generated by people navigating to amazon from my site generates commissions, that amazon eventually sends my way.

As I noted at that time, anything that comes my way from amazon.com will be turned over to charity, on a quarterly basis, doubled by a match from me. All selected charities will be from the set of charities documented at http://bruce.orel.ws/charities.html.

During Q4 2006, a total of 105 items were sold by amazon off links from the site. Total commissions for the quarter were $153.16, the highest of any quarter so far. With rounding, this quarter's donation+match is $300.00.

I have selected 3 organizations as recipients of this quarter's donations:
1) Hungry For Music. Hungry for Music (HFM) began as an annual homless benefit concert on April 15, 1992. HFM's primary mission is to aid in cultivating the self-esteem of disadvantaged children through music education.
2) The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic's mission is to sustain Louisiana's musicians in mind, body and spirit by developing access to primary care and preventative health services and by addressing the health care needs of the musicians and their families.
3) Special Olympics. Special Olympics, founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for individuals with mental retardation, thus giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

During the 2006 calendar year, a total of 368 items were sold at Amazon via links from bruce.orel.ws. These sales resulted in total donations of $785. A listing of the results by quarter is available at http://bruce.orel.ws/donations.html

If you buy things at amazon (doesn't have to be Bruce stuff), please consider going through one of the links off http://bruce.orel.ws/discography.html, or the left panel link on any page within the sub-site "The Songs of the Seeger Sessions". Or, if you're viewing the blog, just click to amazon logo above. You'll get the same prices as ever, and a percentage will end up with one of the charities. If you have any recommendations for the next recipient, please contact me at matt@orel.ws.

Thanks to everyone who has participated!
Results for Q1 2007, along with the next recipient, will be announced in approximately 4 months.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

You're supposed to say "damn"!!

As a loose rule, we try to exhibit some self-discipline with language around the kids. This has side benefits beyond the specifics of certain words -- including, of course, that what we say to the kids is bound to be repeated in situations where we might rather not have them repeated.

Elianna can be particularly open. Last week when I picked her up at MyGym, she went in to her "jump!" bit, in which I hold out my hands so she can use them as leverage to jump. About that time, she also realized she could use me as a hinge and, instead of jumping up and down, swing herself to kick me... sometimes right where it hurts most. So I held out my hands, and when she aimed for me I pulled back. "Jump! Jump!" And, to anyone who would listen, "I'm going to kick my daddy's p***s!!" (see that? self-discipline in a blog.)

On Wednesday I was stuck at home, too much snow to get out. All the schools canceled. Early afternoon, she asked me to read the attached picture to her. It's a postcard came with a calendar of weird cat pictures and captions that Lori got for her. So I read, "I don't know why I'm so mad at that tulip, but I am." She laughed. "YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO SAY 'DAMN'!!"

I can hardly wait for them to be teenagers.

Friday, February 02, 2007

American Express fubar

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a seeming snafu with the GM Card, in which cardmembers such as myself received trivial credits for something called "SHEA CLASS ACTION LIT. SETTLEMENT AWARD." It turned out that that was the result of a class action lawsuit against GM Card for slow process of payments, but most cardholders hadn't been informed of the settlement until they got their pennies.

Not recalling how I'd been damaged, I suppose the nickel credit was welcome. Sure, I've now received comments from bloggers who received more than a full dollar, and I almost feel deprived.

But where the GM Card thing was mostly a curiosity to me, I'm now in a more serious situation: The repeated failure of American Express to process payments.

I pay my American Express bill by scheduling the electronic payment in advance; I've been doing this for several years. In November, my payment was due on November 30. Using the olnine system, I logged in on November 22nd to schedule my payment for November 29th. Last thing I did before leaving for Thanksgiving holiday. Wrote down the confirmation number in my register, and took off.

In early December, I checked my bank account, and noticed there hadn't been a withdrawal. Checked American Express, and the payment wasn't recorded. I called Amex to find out what was taking so long, and they told me about my October payment. My November payment, it seemed, didn't exist. I gave them the confirmation number, and they promised an "investigation" and that there would be no late fees. I called my bank, but they had no record of Amex trying to make a withdrawal. So, I logged back in and paid the bill -- for the second time, this time by immediate payment.

End of December. By this time, I'd received a letter of "apology" from American Express, which noted that their investigation turned up nothing at all. It was time to schedule my December payment; I scheduled it for December 29.

In early January, I checked American Express, and... same thing! No payment processed! No record of it at all. So I called American Express again, gave them the latest confirmation number, and did an immediate payment, once again with the "promise" of no late fees.

January 23: I logged in to check the account and schedule a payment. It has to be fixed by now. First thing I noticed was a "Periodic FINANCE CHARGE" for $24.77 on January 10. SO MUCH FOR "NO LATE FEES!!" I immediately called American Express and demanded the item be removed, and of course got agreement. I made the agent stay on the line as I scheduled my payment, so he could see the confirmation number himself.

By January 25, the fee refund still didn't show on the account, so time for yet another call. This time, the agent told me that management had not "approved" the refund yet, with some explanation as to how items get approved and this one was temporarily stuck and it'd take a day or two. By now, I had Amex's "Terms and Conditions" in hand, including: "OUR LIABILITY FOR IMPROPER TRANSACTIONS OR PAYMENTS: If a transaction is not completed as you have directed or if we do not complete a transfer to or from your account on time in the correct amount, we will be liable for your losses or damages." Time to make the agent do an override. ok, so I had my money back... but...

I needed to update my scheduling for the payment, which I did on January 27, and scheduled for January 29. I printed out the confirmation page from American Express. Sure enough, January 30, and the payment is gone, like I never scheduled it. On the phone again. Just put me through the a manager, I asked; the manager knew enough to funnel me to "interactive services."

For the first time, I spoke to someone who was aware of the problem. But I told American Express two months ago that this was happening!! I manage IT systems. If I allowed a bug of this magnitude to remain in a system I run, for this length of time, I should expect to be an ex-IT manager. So, I got the explanation that Amex was aware of the problem, and that it was a high priority to fix (ok, so why weren't the other agents aware of it? Because most callers didn 't record confirmation numbers, and Amex assumed it was "user error" or worse, was the basic explanation... as if Amex doesn't keep backup tapes!! Some investigation!). She took my information, my confirmation numbers, my phone number, and put me through to someone who could notate my account to prevent further finance charges. Of course, that person had never heard of the issue before.

So, to summarize: 3 straight months, failure to process a scheduled payment. One finance charge (since refunded). Probably a 2nd finance charge, at least (we'll see if that happens). Many phone calls to American Express. And no end in sight to the root problem.

Oh, yeah, and if I had to guess, I'd say the folks at Shea, or somewhere else, are going to end up doing some talking to American Express.

I've looked around the internet, and not seen this issue mentioned anywhere. But I know repeatable errors enough to understand I'm not the only one -- even without the person in interactive services confirming it. I can only wonder how many others are having payments fail to process, are getting stuck with underserved late fees, and even paying those fees.

I was amused by the GM Card thing. Amex... I'm not amused by this. Fix it.