Financial Rants

For the love of …

I tried Cingular again today. Big mistake.

I used their on-line ordering service because I have my eye on the Motorola Razor V3.

It all went swimmingly until I checked on the order this evening ( after giving some time to allow the records to update ). The web site still wasn’t showing that it recognised my order. I phoned Cingular customer service to find that the order has been cancelled because Equifax are advising that I need to pay a $500 deposit in order to set the account up.


Why is it that I can get a landline, electricity, gas, cable TV and high-speed internet with the minimum amount of hassle (and pay the bills on time) but I can’t get a cell phone ?

I’m off to BofA tomorrow to discuss setting up a secured credit card which is specifically designed to build a credit history.

This is becoming tedious.


Doh !

Stupid cheap $999 LCD TV doesn’t even handle a PAL signal.

We now have our UK TV running off the step-up transformer with the cable box feeding into the composite input.

On the bright side, this means that we can still watch our region 2 DVDs and I have a 27″ LCD TV in the bedroom.

Every cloud…


Why did we pack this ?

When the container arrived, the door opened and out popped 5 Mexicans called Sancho. They were very efficient and put all the boxes in different rooms. It took a couple of hours and we were left with a house full of boxes wondering where everything was supposed to go. It's not due to a lack of room but down to a lack of creative design on our part.

We took a break from looking at all the boxes yesterday.

A quick survey of the computer parts that came out of the container revealed that we needed another trip to Fry's.

For some reason, the expensive PC I ordered a couple of years ago only came with a 230v power supply but the cheap little PC I hand-built came with a switchable one. Go figure.

I replaced the power supply with a 500w one which is definitely switchable and comes with detachable cables so that you only install the cables you need rather than the one nest of cables that usually comes with a power supply.

That and it glows in the dark under UV light.

I also bought a couple of 500w step-up transformers to allow us to use the stereo and DVD player in the living room. This is a short-term plan because the TV we brought over with us doesn't work completely. I knew this beforehand but chanced it anyway. Sam is telling me to get a plasma TV and I'm never one to refuse her every demand.


The calm before the storm

Today is furniture day. A 20ft container is due to arrive outside our house and eject its contents.

Our trusty inflatable bed that has served us so well for the past month was let down today. I played “The Last Post” in my head as it deflated, tears welling in my eyes. Goodbye old friend.

There was a short planning session this morning to work out where the larger pieces of furniture are going. The rest of the boxes are going to be stacked in some seemingly random fashion in the garage (that's gar-IJ and not gar-ARJ).

Yesterday was an all-hands meeting at work where most of the company gets together and the CEO presents the state of the union. One of the after-show events is to introduce new members of staff or those people who have changed positions. As I have changed country, I was required to give a short speech about who I was and recount a story that people wouldn't know about me. The story wasn't particularly inspired but my delivery was faintly reminiscent of Jerry Lewis in its professionalism. My favourite opening line in any comedy speech I do is one that I release into the public domain under the GPL (mainly because I'm sure I stole it from someone else).

It reads:

“Being asked to make this speech is like making love to the Queen Mother. It's a wonderful honour but nobody really wants to do it”

You should pause to let the laughter die down and then your success is assured.

Looking back on this, the Queen Mother died in March 2002 so it makes the above line a little creepy. I was thinking of changing it to reference Camilla but, then again, maybe not.

I won a Scalix bag on the basis of a clap-o-meter-style audience survey, so, my tip for this week is to make sure that you are all show and no substance and you'll go far.

Nothing of note for this week except for a confusing situation in Mervyn's. Mervyn's is a clothes store from which I purchased several casual shirts last week. The label on them said L for Large but, I believe, there must have been a faulty batch because, when I got them home, they certainly weren't as roomy as I had expected. I asked Sam if she could return them and swap them for a larger size. I made sure that I had kept the receipt so there was proof of purchase.

Sam did this yesterday.

The clerk behind the counter refused to do a straight swap for the shirts because Sam had no proof that she was me. Instead, she was more than happy to refund the money. Something to do with the fact I got the shirts at a sale price.

Er…hello !!

Bureaucracies Home Life

Fanfares all round

Today was another DMV day.

Sam wants to get some driving lessons to build up her confidence driving on the wrong side of the road. In order to do this, she has to get her permit. This means passing the written test.

She’s been revising for the past few days and took her test this morning. Another tense time in the Kelly household and much nervousness.

The DMV was quiet compared to Tuesday. Our queue shuffling only took a couple of minutes.

We did find out an interesting piece of information. After telling the clerk that we had forgotten our denial notice from the Social Security Administration, he told us that we didn’t need it anyway and all Sam had to do was to sign in one of the boxes. He did an inquiry (pronounced in-kwirry rather than in-kwirey) and it revealed that Sam *can* get a Social Security number. We’re off to the Social Security office next week then to see what they have to say about it.

Sam cautiously approached the test area, took her test and then walked slowly to the window to have it marked. You could almost hear the theme tune from Countdown as the tension built up. The clerk marked the paper and wished Sam congratulations !! She got 3 wrong like I did. It wasn’t the same question sheet so she was answering questions that she’d not seen before.

Fanfares all round because this means she’s another step closer to independence.

Tomorrow is the company picnic so it’s time to dust off my shorts and give my legs the annual exposure.


Fantastic news !!!!

Our landlord came round yesterday to pick up some mail and gave us the best news I've had since the BBC decided to remake Doctor Who.


We don't have to go to Mountain View anymore.

This country has the capability of disappointing and amazing me in equal portions.

The grass is green. The birds are singing. Everything is alright with the world.


The eagle has landed

I got a call today to say that the container has arrived in Oakland and it should be with us on Friday 22nd July. US Customs wants to x-ray the container before they release it. This is a minor delay (and one that will cost us $180) but, given recent events in London, I can appreciate the level of paranoia that needs to be implemented.

This kicks the whole house into panic because we have eight days to decide where exactly to put everything. I also have to go out and purchase a couple of step-up transformers to power the stereo and UK TV and also to see exactly how to wire a US plug for all my computer equipment. Before we left, I checked that most of it would run off 110v so I'm just going to cut the UK wire off the 6-gang sockets and replace it with a heavy gauge US wire so I don't have to worry about UK to US plug adaptors.

I'm praying that, when it all plugs together, it doesn't all disappear in a puff of blue smoke.

Actually, that's a lie. I hope it all disappears into a puff of blue smoke and then I can go to Fry's and buy new stuff.


Exam pressure

Today was DMV day.

For a California driver's license, I need vision, written and driving tests.

I scheduled an appointment at 9:50 but I turned up 30 minutes before so that I could get some time to look at the driver's handbook.

All of the US organisations that I've needed to go to have worked on a queue system where you check in and take a number and sit down then they call you at an unspecified time.

The DMV is not different except the queue is much longer which meant that my 30 minutes were taken up with shuffling in line with my fellow Californians (and a girl from Utah who got a speeding ticket).

( I was also disappointed that there was no real-life equivalent to Patty and Selma Bouvier from the Simpsons )

Filling in the application form wasn't a problem. I had all my documentation so that went smoothly up to the point where the clerk had to go off and get his supervisor.

She looked at the screen, muttered something to the clerk, tapped a few buttons and turned to me saying “They have put a stop on your license in Massacheusetts you must have a common name”.

“That would be difficult to have happen seeing as I've never been there”, I reply.

“Just kidding”, says the supervisor.

I smile weakly.

I don't understand the humour of government offices. A person in the DMV can tell me that they've stopped my license in Massacheusetts and I'm expected to laugh but if I go into the same office and pretend that I have a loaded gun, the police will be all over me before I can say “Just kidding”.

My vision test consisted of reading some letters from a sight chart behind the clerk. There were three boards with five rows of letters each, the idea being that you read the middle one with both eyes uncovered, the left one with the left eye covered and the right one with the right eye covered. However, all the rows of letters are exactly the same height and width. Not much of a vision test then.

Once I successfully passed that test (making sure that Z was pronounced ZED and not ZEE), I had to join another queue to get my thumbprint and picture taken. Surprisingly for a government document, the clerk encouraged me to smile. She handed me a long strip of 36 multiple choice questions and I had to go and stand in the test area to fill in the answers. There is nobody standing by the test area to make sure that people don't cheat so it's possible to sit in the waiting area and look up the answers in the handbook before you even get to the test area.

Being British, I didn't cheat.

It's a slightly intense moment to go through having never been through a written driving test before but I knew that I could have three attempts at passing before I had to leave.

The pass mark for new applications is 30 out of 36. I scored 33 which was a bloody miracle seeing as I fell asleep in front of the web page with the handbook last night.

The most surprising answer I got wrong was:

While all of the following are dangerous to do while driving, which is also illegal ?
– Listening to music through a set of dual headphones.
– Adjusting your outside mirrors.
– Reading a road map.

The answer is listening to music. “Sorry that I crashed through the intersection, officer. I was following route 80 on this map here until I got to the staples and, before I knew it, I was in the back of this guy's truck”. “That's OK citizen. You can go about your daily business as long as you weren't listening to music at the time.”

There was no question that said “You are about to make a left turn whilst speaking to your friend on your cell phone. Do you: a) Put the phone down so that you can put both hands on the wheel and maintain full control of your vehicle, b) Ensure that your bluetooth headset is in place so that you can put both hands on the wheel and maintain full control of your vehicle or c) take both hands off the wheel so that you can text your friend an amusing comment ?”. There should be because I've seen a worrying number of people doing this.

From what I can see, you can be reading a map and getting directions from your friend on your cellphone as long as you're not listening to your iPod at the same time.

If only everyone was as perfect as me (or is that I ?)


Accidental tourist

Nothing much to report this week (apart from the obvious shock at the bombings in London).

The girls need an outlet for a lot of their energy so Sam has signed them up for a couple of summer classes. They will be doing an intensive swimming class over the course of 4 weeks. She also wanted to sign them up for ballet/dancing or tae kwando but it seems there is not much call for that in these parts so those classes have been cancelled. Instead, they are going to be doing soccer (that's football to you and I).

Yesterday, after trawling the streets for a decent mall, we ended up closer to downtown San Francisco than I expected so I decided to take everybody to the Golden Gate bridge. I've never crossed it but I've parked at the view point on the west side and looked over the bay. It's an impressive site and can look spectacular when then fog rolls down the hills on the east side and under the structure. Sam has never seen it other than in pictures so we've ticked another tourist attraction off the list. We got to the other side after making appreciative oohs and aahs whilst crossing only to have Joanna ask from the back seat “When are we going to cross the Golden Gate bridge ?”

A good trivia question to ask most people is “What is the name of the stretch of water that the Golden Gate bridge spans ?”.

As we crossed the bridge we were looking out to the Pacific ocean to see if the Tokyo Express had arrived yet. They haven't reported in since midnight UTC on July 8th. The tracking web site doesn't show any more hurricanes so I'm hoping that they are still moving. I'm trying to locate a site that shows port activity in Oakland. One I found would indicate that the ship will arrive on July 10th.

According to the US agent for Robinsons, it will take up to 10 days for customs to clear the container and then we take possession of the rest of our belongings. This is a scary though. We only have 10 days to work out where everything will go. The spacious 2-car garage we have is going to fill up suddenly with unused furniture and/or cardboard boxes.

On Tuesday, I go to the DMV to apply for my license. As has been my pattern of study since my O levels, I have left my revision until the last moment. I think I will be burning the midnight oil at both ends on Monday cramming.


Turn left! Turn left !

The good news is that the Tokyo Express has now gone through the Panama Canal and is heading up the west coast of Central America.

The bad news is that it seems to be heading straight into a hurricane called Dora.

What scares me now is that I wasn't present to see the packers put all my computer stuff in bubble wrap before it was packed.

I hope they used bubble wrap…