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Making Sense of Insurance Companies

April 08, 2005 16:20

The only time I've used my insurance in more than 10 years is when I get pulled over and need to show that I have it. Even that doesn't happen TOO often. So needless to say, my insurance company likes me and I rarely have any problems. Normally, I pay my bill once every three months, in January, April, July, and October. Actually, I officially pay it in January and July, but I split the payments so I make a half payment each of the 4 months. ANYWAY, a couple weeks ago I make the April payment in person, with cash, like I always do, and while I was there, I decided to mention that I had a new house now and therefore a new address and they can now switch my mailing and residence address to Denison. Of course, by moving to Grayson county, my insurance premium went down by about $40 a year, so it's all good.

Today, I get a bill in the mail from the insurance company for another half payment, due on the 5th of May. Naturally I call them up to find out what the deal is. Get this, when I moved to grayson county, the premium dropped instantly, so they made a prorated adjustment to my premium. However, the system that records my payments apparently runs a couple days behind the system that decides what I owe them. So while they recognize and even listed the fact that I made my payment, they still showed that I owed them the same payment, minus the discount for now living in a different county. I was told I could just throw that away. Maybe I'll call them in a couple weeks JUST to be sure. I'm actually supposed to be sent a $12 refund. And no, they can't just credit it on my account, they must mail me a check for an entire $12. Better than the $5 one they sent me once. I was actually able to talk them into once not sending me a check for 50 cents.

So while we're settling this issue, they ask me if I want to get renters insurance. Well, seeing how I actually own a house, renters insurance doesn't make much sense. And as of a few years ago, State Farm no longer writes new homeowners policies in Texas, due to all the black mold claims. Well, they MIGHT write me a policy in June if I have renters insurance with them. So we start talking numbers on that. Turns out, if I get the absolute minimum renters policy, which is like $10000 of coverage, easily more than covers what I own now, I get a 15% discount on my car insurance, and that discount just about equals the cost of the renters insurance. So now I have more insurance for the same money. Yay.

Another thing that makes no sense. So far, the insurance companies that write homeowners policies write it based not on the actual value of the house or what I paid for and put into it, but what it would cost to build it new. When I checked with Allstate a while ago, it turns out that in order to insure my $21000 house I would need to get a $123000 policy. Apparently, that is what it would cost if they had to build my house new today. I'm figuring $36000 will be the total invested in the house once I consider it done, and at that point I would be able to sell it in the $60-80k range, based on the going rate for houses in my area of similar size and good condition. Yet, even once my house is completely rennovated, it'll still be insured for at least $50000 more than it's worth, and I have no option to lower the coverage. This means, if my house burns down, or a tornado comes through and flattens it, I make a significant profit. While I would never entertain such notions, I can see where less scrupulous individuals might see this as a glorious fraud opportunity. Insurance, the only form of gambling where you win when bad things happen.

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What is Better?

April 07, 2005 14:00

I'm most certainly not perfect. I'm made a bunch of stupid mistakes in my life, and hard as I try not to, I'll probably make a few more. However, making mistakes and suffering the inevitable consequences of them has provided me with the priceless commodity of experience. Sometimes the experience is worth the pain involved in achieving it. Sticking your finger in an electrical socket is a cheap and easy way to learn the valuable lesson that electricity can be dangerous, and you'll learn to respect it in the future. Some mistakes are far more costly and in the end, the experience just confirms that the stupid mistake you made was in fact stupid, and you probably already knew that before you made it, which makes the mistake all the more stupid.

So, now being more or less grown up, I may not have all the answers to the world's problems, but I can recognize when someone is about to do something stupid, and I have the opportunity to speak up and attempt to prevent it, or at least give them the information to make a more informed decision. However, unsolicited advice is not always welcome, and in some cases can have an effect oppositite of that intended. And while I get to wag my finger after the fact and say "I told you so", a heck of a lot of good THAT does anyone.

So lets say I have a friend who is about to do something REALLY REALLY stupid. More importantly, anyone who can look at the situation objectively will agree with me. However, the friend is a grown person who should, and quite likely does know better and is hell bent on going forward with the stupid objective, believing everything will work out great, when all evidence, knowledge, statistics, and experience says it will backfire miserably. However, if I interfere and attempt to passively prevent it, it will at best severely hack off the people involved, and likely end the friendship. So those are my choices.

I've done both in the past, and neither one has a desireable result. In the past when I've strongly objected, it resulted in a pissed off friend, we didn't talk to each other for months, things resulted exactly as I said they would. Now, maybe the friend will listen to me the next time. And there's some merit in making the stupid mistakes when you're young and have time to recover, before you lose something priceless in the process. But what if there IS something important to lose if the wrong decision is made? A simple "hey, this might be a bad idea" isn't gonna cut it either, I'm going to have to point out every aspect of the decision, and probably make the friend feel like a total idiot for even thinking it in the first place. This won't make them happy. Should I do it anyway? Much as it is a problem, I hate seeing the outcome when I do nothing.

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The Economy of Timeshares

April 05, 2005 01:50

These are my observations and experiences with a timeshare company's effort to sell me a timeshare (and my subsequent refusal to accept their glamourous offer)

For those who aren't up to date on the concept, here's how it works (in theory). I get a free 3 day, two night stay at a resort condo at the lake. I'm also given my choice of one of several prize packages, one is a cruise, another a paid trip to Las Vegas, another a paid trip to Orlando, FL, and a couple others, valued (as they state) at around $1250 apiece. In exchange for these valuable prizes, all I have to do is give them 2-3 hours of my time to allow them to give me a sales pitch to sell me a timeshare. The stay and prize is free regardless if I say yes or no.

The timeshare they're attempting to sell me works as follows. Say I go on vacation for one week a year somewhere and take a few small 2-3 trips throughout the year. When you add in the value of the hotels, time spent eating out, etc, your annual vacation expenses add up significantly, and over a 30 year period, you've spent about $50000 vacationing with no return on your investment except some faded photographs. With a timeshare, I will (supposively) spend a great deal less because instead of blowing all my money on hotel rooms, I'm actually spending that money building equity in my own timeshare, which I then own.

The timeshare company builds some vacation condos and breaks the deed for each condo into 52 timeshares, one for each week of the year. Those 52 timeshares are then sold off at an average price of $12000 each. For each timeshare I purchase, I get to use my condo for one week of the year. My choice of week depends on which tier I purchase. The more expensive tiers allow more choices of weeks for those weeks more in demand (such as in the summer and over major holidays). I purchase my share of the deed for the agreed upon price and after paying it off, I own it forever. In addition to using my condo, I can also trade my week over RCI which allows for an exchage with other participating resorts, thereby allowing me to literally vacation anywhere in the world for just a small fee. There's also a small monthly maintenance fee of $54.

Now, during the presentation, I'm given a whirlwind tour of the facilities. The saleslady shows me the marina, and walks me through a showcase condo in mostly pristine shape. Everything looks delightful. Then we go through several dozen pages of information, and she scribbles out lots of numbers with some rather fuzzy math on how much of an advantage it would be to own one of these timeshares. Naturally, since I'm only there for the free stuff, I decline their generous offer. They proceed to the hard sell, of course. First, they pull out one of their top tier timeshares which they just HAPPENED to have there, and since it was one that someone upgraded from they can sell it to me much cheaper and it has better features than the ones they've been talking to me all day about. After declining that, they offer me a lower tiered one at a substancially discounted rate, that I could upgrade from later. After declining that, I get a 1 year, noncommital membership offer for only $750, that would lock in the deal and give me up to a year to decide if I wanted it. No monetary excuse is too small. If you WANT to buy something, they have an offer that will allow you to buy something. If you don't want to buy something, well, lots of people are suckers, what can I say.

Despite their best efforts, they eventually give up and move on to more gullible prospects. Did I say gullible? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself here. Before we jump to conclusions, I'll throw down some of my own fuzzy math and we'll see what makes the most sense.

The condo I stayed in, and the one they showed me were slightly different, but generally the same. They consisted of 2 bedrooms, two bathrooms, the master bath having a jacuzzi tub, a living room, dining room, and kitchen. It was about the size of my first two bedroom apartment, and on par with it in most respects. I'd estimate the area at about 850 sqft. The rooms and kitchen were fully furnished, and included amenities as you'd expect from your average 4 star hotel. Not too shabby (especially since I wasn't paying for it :). The appliances, fixtures, and construction quality were what you'd expect from your average apartment complex. Not top of the line, well used, but mostly functional. Now, were I to purchase or build a condo of similar size in the same geographic area, I would expect to pay about $50000, but not a lot more. Assuming every timeshare owner was able to haggle the salesmen down to $10000 per share, that means they are selling that condo for $520000. It's just SLIGHTLY possible that you're not getting a fair return on your investment.

But remember, you're not supposed to think of it that way. You're "buying your vacation", not buying a condo. You're saving money down the road on vacations you've yet to take. You're putting up money now, so you can save money later. This is a wise investment. $12000 vs $50000 over 30 years. Who can argue with that fuzzy math! The ultimate problem is the maintenance fee. That $54 that slips through the cracks during negotiation. The one number that isn't set in stone. "But it's only gone up $5 over the last 30 years, so you can rely on it!". Irregardless, that's $650 a year you're spending that's NOT going into the equity on your "vacation" but into their coffers. The simple fact of the matter is that $650 for a week will go a long way toward covering your hotel expenses, which is all this "vacation" actually implies. And yes, money spent on a hotel is not building equity for you, but neither are the maintenance fees. The only difference is, with a timeshare, you're rewarding them for their ingenuity by giving them an extra $10000, with the added benefit of having far less flexibility over when and where you can take your vacation. Feeling gullible yet?

So are they just pocketing all that extra money, laughing their way to the bank at the expense of their gullible customers? Only partially. First off, that free stay and the prize costs them. They can't really reneg on those agreements should they stumble on someone smart enough to see through the fog, or broke enough to diligently decline, for if they did, people wouldn't jump at the opportunities. Granted, it doesn't likely cost them $1250 each. Those trips are available only during off-peak months when demand (and therefore cost) is low, and it's expected that many people won't easily be able to take advantage of them, and therefore a significant percentage won't. Think about all those retail rebates you never sent in, yet considered a savings off the purchase price anyway. We are credit oriented consumers. We've been conditioned to not consider the total cost of what we purchase, only what we have to pay for it right now. The rest we can take care of later. And so the timeshare salesman works his magic. And certainly earns a healthy commission. In the end, out of that $10000 sale, they've probably spent $5000 for marketing and sales, and $1000 for cost. Still, a 400% profit isn't bad. Well, not for them anyway.

Of course, they pitch to you that you can sell it if you don't want it. Of course, they won't be the ones selling it for you. They don't make huge profits that way. You could try selling it for the same price they are, but lets face it, if they were able to scheme you into paying for it in the first place, they're probably better salesmen than you are. You'll probably be forced to sell it for what it's worth. And that's about what they're listed for all over the internet. 10-20% of their original purchase value. And although you can pick up one of those timeshares really cheap that way, you're STILL paying that $54 a month.

So who in their right mind would ever want one of these things? It would work well for a few people. Those who purchase and use country club memberships would find the amenities to their liking, as you can use them all the time for free, even if you're not actually staying there at the time. Since you can get 3 free nights in a row during the week, if you travel to places that have resorts owned by the same company, you can stay virtually all week for free. For some people this fits perfectly. Most people however work Monday through friday, 8-5, and don't have the time or desire to visit country clubs frequently. Yet these are the people who have enough money to buy into these things, and so they do. In droves. And the internet is littered with people attempting to sell off their regretful purchases for a fraction of what they paid.

So if you can stomach a sales pitch when you're an attentive audience, maybe you too can get a free weekend. Just leave your checkbook at home.

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Lessons to be learned from Terri Schiavo

March 30, 2005 00:37

Pray that I never have to make these decisions. Also that nobody has to make them about me. In response to about the only thing I've heard about in the news for the last week, I have a few comments.

First, if you haven't already, get a living will. If you don't want to go to that much trouble because you think you're too young to die, or something equally silly, at the very least write your intentions down somewhere and sign it. It might not be much, but it'll hold up in court just nicely.

Secondly, realize what is happening when you say "I do." Marriage isn't just a legally binding excuse to have a person of the opposite sex hang around all the time for the rest of your life. You are giving another person the right to ruin you financially, to expect and demand sexual favors whenever he/she pleases. More importantly, you're giving this person the right to speak for you when you're unable to speak for yourself. If you can sift through all the moral, legal, ethical and financial mess that this issue has brought up, you'll realize that in the end, without some other evidence to her desires, Michael Schiavo has the exclusive right to make the decision whether Terri lives or dies under these circumstances. Even if she never mentioned her desires to anyone, husband included, he still has that right. Ultimately, it defers to the wedding license. She gave him permission to make that decision when she married him.

So is this a bad law? Until fairly recently, it was actually much worse. For a long time, various states had laws on the books that allowed a husband to kill his wife under certain circumstances, typically involving adultry. In some cases, it was legally impossible to rape your wife. Most of these laws have been overturned recently, but how did they exist for so long unopposed? Probably because marriage tended to be a more permanant thing. When you got married, it was forever. Divorce was an all but unheard of thing. And maybe, just maybe, when you knew it was going to be forever, you made damn sure you got the right one. You married someone you could trust with your life, especially when applied literally. So perhaps today with over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, we shouldn't be so quick to allow the spouse to be the ultimate arbiter in cases where the other spouse's life is on the line.

The problem is, this is one case. The only reason this is even an issue is that it's being challenged. For 15 years, she lay there. This isn't the first time they've removed the feeding tube. The people involved get the media riled up. That gets the politians riled up. Someone has to do something or it might cost us votes. And before, the tube gets reinserted, and everyone jumps on the next crisis of the moment. The dire issues, so important at the time, that should have been resolved, never got resolved. Time goes on, the legal system slowly churns, the same decisions are made all over again, and a few years later, the tube gets pulled again. The public outcry decends upon the case like a jack-in-the-box. We should err on the side of life. Fine, it sounds good. But we've already done that. Why didn't anyone get those critically important questions answered the last time we went through this? Because we're a reactionary society. We wait until the situation is dire, and THEN we jump on it with all fervor. During the offseason, Michael and Terri's parents are the only ones involved, and nothing else happens.

Was he the perfect husband? Probably not. There are rumors of possible broken bones. Was that caused by abuse or was it a result of improper therapy? Is Michael just trying to get rid of her so he can move on with his life? All perfectly good questions. They were all asked the last time around. Yet, in spite of years to get answers to them, nobody has. Perhaps the real reason lies in the fact that it doesn't matter what the answers to those questions are. He's still her husband. He and he alone gets to make the decision to pull that feeding tube. If you don't like that, then talk to your representatives and get some laws changed. But tread carefully, for while you'll remove the ability of your spouse to end prolonged life support against your will, you'll also remove the ability for him or her to free you from that same ailment should you wish that. You might someday be in the position to order a risky lifesaving operation on a spouse, but would now be forbidden to do so. So if that is your intent, be careful. Chances are, once this has ended, things won't change. Memories are surprisingly short term.

But if you haven't already, get a living will. Save someone you love the pain of making the ultimate choice for you.

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Why you shouldn't embed images from other sites

February 10, 2005 19:24

Common net ettiquite demands, if you're going to use someone else's image on your site, copy it to your site first, and use it from there. The alternative is to link to the image. However, embedding images is bad for a number of reasons. First off, every hit on your page will result in a hit on my site. This uses my bandwidth for your pages. Secondly, images aren't always constant, and the site you're imagejacking might move images around from time to time, and this could result in dead images on your page, resulting in broken layout, which as we all know, just makes your site look bad.

And third, something like this could happen to you:

This Picture:

Becomes this picture:

On this page.

This picture:

Becomes this picture:

On this page.

The Top Referers page now lists the top 40 sites embedding images from my site. They might be worth checking out in the near future. :)

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Site Tweaks

January 09, 2005 22:15

I THINK I have everything fixed from the crash last week. There was one remaining nagging problem that kept crashing the server, but I caught that yesterday and it seems to have been stable since. For the time being, voting on captures is not available, but I think everything else is fixed.

I also modified the code for the referer page so it scans into a previous weeks' logs if the logs recently rotated. This will keep a more consistant total on various sites. I've also incorporated all the old captures into the captures page so you can now view captures all the way back to August of 2002. I had captures available before that, but I nuked them all accidently one day.

The major crisis in my life is about to come to a head. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll tell you about it later. I'm also going to get back to work on the house again. I was planning to go work on it last week, but had several work related problems that prevented it, and with the server screwed up all week, well... just didn't have the time.

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Crash!

January 05, 2005 22:12

The server died yesterday. Really died. Like, "We can't reboot it, so we'll give you a replacement free of charge" kinda died. Hard drive failure. Anyways. It wasn't as much of a crisis as it could have been. I happened to have a very recent backup, they replaced the server in a timely fashion, and if I wasn't on the road for several hours while it happened, the downtime would have been a lot less significant.

Although I'll probably be tweaking the configuration over the next couple days to get everything working properly, everything should be fully operational at this point.

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Server Updates

December 15, 2004 02:07

I'm going to spend part of tomorrow morning cutting random wires to see what happens. In other words, I'm going to take a perfectly working set of programs and make a major change, and as always, I expect that absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong. Right.

For those who care, the change in question is a modification to all the programs that access the cam database. Currently, each program accesses the file directly. Reading, writing, appending and all that enjoyable stuff. It's all done directly by the individual programs. This sounds like a perfectly acceptable option, and certainly has been for now. But things are changing, and so therefore shall the programs.

First off, there is currently no easy way to lock the database. Most of the time this is unnecessary, but there are a couple critical sections where it could be useful. Secondly, I'm going to be accessing multiple databases of cams. The cams exclusive to this site will be merged with cams from other sites that don't communicate with my server for activation, etc. Since all of these will be handled differently, I'm going to keep them separated. What the server can provide is a single interface to seamlessly access all the different databases. I COULD do this from a library call without going through a server, but hey, humor me here. :)

With the database accessed via a server, I can have clients on systems other than the main server access the database directly. I've yet to have an application which requires this, but I can forsee possibilities for it. The server can also keep currently active cams in memory, so functions that currently pass through the entire database to search for active cams can have their profile reduced. As the total number of cams climbs into the thousands, this will become more important.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know, tomorrow, things might be screwy. Now you know why. Of course, I might still be sleeping at the time it all goes wrong, in which case, I take no responsibility. I've changed nothing yet. Really. :)

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Server Issues

December 04, 2004 14:00

Server crashed today and booting it back up required some disk checking and some other manual intervention on the part of my hosting provider to get it functional again. That is why the site was down for two hours today.

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Future Planning

November 02, 2004 16:21

Due to some unexpected expenditures, I'm suddenly going to have a lot less money available in the near future. I've had enough money set aside to work on the house to get it livable AND get the majority of the construction done so I could move in and wouldn't have to trip over myself trying to work on the house at the same time. Certainly it'll be a couple years before I'm completely done with everything, but the utility room addition, and bedroom furnishings and all the major adjustments to the house, like foundation levelling, I wanted to get done before getting settled down there. Once that was done, I planned to get another job and work an obscene amount of hours and throw a $1000 or so each month into additional house renovations. This way I'd have enough money for both the house and funding the site and other things.

However, because of this sudden loss of money I'm going to have to make some adjustments. First of all, I was planning to tear down most of the kitchen when I redid the utility room, since I'd already be doing all that work, an additional 23x12 room wouldn't be too much of an improvision. The walls, floor, ceiling and roof all need to be replaced or significantly fixed up. That.... doesnt' leave a whole lot. Might as well tear it down and build it at the same time I build the utility room and that way it would all be one structure, and more solid than if built separately. But now since I don't have the money, I'm going to delay upgrading the kitchen until sometime next year. I won't be able to build any of the counters or do any plumbing work in there until then. I'm going to just get some cheap appliances and that'll hold me over until we get a chance to fix it and do it right.

Secondly, the backyard was going to have a nice deck, some type of flower garden, a storage building, and eventually a garage. While I don't plan to build the garage for at least a year or so, to keep the backyard available for another planned activity, the deck and garden I wanted to get done earlier. The garden at least needs to be partially planned out and planted this fall. I'll probably do part of the garden and forgo the deck for now.

I COULD put off the utility room for the time being, but that's a critical room since I need to rewire the house and have someplace to install the AC and heat. I could likely get through the winter without any more than a window unit, by the time summer hits, I'm definitely going to want the AC unit in there. Therefore this will still be a high priority expense.

The upstairs bedrooms have no functional closet space. However, since they're all fairly large, I'll be building armoires, cabinets, shelves, and builtin dresser drawers to utilize wallspace and minimalize the need for additional furniture in the rooms. This will likely cost $250-500 per room depending on what quality of wood I use.

The upstairs bathroom will likely cost about $1000 to fully fix up, paint, drywall, floor, and putting in all the fixtures. That's going to be the only functional bathroom until the addition is completed, and even then, the downstairs bathroom will likely only be a 1/2 bath for the immediate future as I'm not going to put a tub/shower down there until later.

Although the bedrooms will get painted and carpeted soon, I won't likely do the same to any other rooms. I'll fix the floor in the dining room and leave it as is. The walls will need to be torn down and redrywalled, after fixing all the electrical wiring, but painting and additional cosmetic work will likely be put off for a while.

I currently have internet service at the house, although the upstream is pretty low. It's enough for one cam during the construction process, but there is no way I'll be able to run my original contingent of cams off of it, along with the lights. There are broadband options available that have better upstream, but I won't be able to afford it now, and I'm not even going to bother putting cams at the new place. I'll instead keep lamps and cams set up elsewhere and push to get other people's cams and lamps online. I'll have a cam set up for certain events, but otherwise I'll have to keep them off so I have enough bandwidth available for work.

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