Monday, July 28, 2008

AT&T U-verse Install Saga

Important Note: After reading this, be sure to check out this entry with current updates and reviews of the U-Verse service.

7/16: Place order to have AT&T U-verse TV, Internet, and Voice installed and activated in our new home. Instruct them to transfer our old telephone number to the new home. Appointment is made for the 25th.

7/17: Inform Time Warner Cable that we will no longer be in their merciless evil thrall. After several minutes of wheedling and making offer after offer to get us to stay put, they surrender. When we wrap up the call, though, they mention that they have not yet received a number transfer request from AT&T. We thank them and bid them good day.

7/18: Call AT&T to let them know that Time Warner has not yet gotten the number transfer request. They assure us everything will work its way through the system by the 25th.

7/25, 8:30AM: AT&T technician arrives to complete the 4-6 hour installation process, which we all agree will probably take substantially less, since we have a full structured wiring package and he won't need to run a bunch of CAT-5 cable as a result.

7/25, 11:30AM: We realize this will not matter, since AT&T apparently has forgotten to connect our house to the fiber network, and the technician has to stand around and wait for several hours until another AT&T tech. can come out and run fiber to the house. Regardless, the installation is completed Friday, although it takes nearly 10 hours to get it done. Everything appears to be working fine.

7/26, 9:00AM: Realize that although we have a dial tone, the phone line is not working correctly -- we are unable to receive call, or to make long distance calls. Spend 2+ hours playing phone tag and sitting on hold, to discover that the number transfer request was never submitted. It will take approximately 7-10 days to transfer tour old number to U-verse voice. However, the support person suggests we have a service technician come over and switch us to an analog line, which will enable us to get our old number again immediately, and then we would switch it over to a digital line in 7-10 days, once the transfer went into effect. We groan, as this will require yet another technican to visit, and at 8:00AM on a Sunday no less, and agree.

7/26, 11:15AM: Head upstairs to check email, and find that in addition to turning off our VoIP service, AT&T has somehow broken our connection to the internet as well. Spend 2+ hours playing phone tag and sitting on hold, escalating this problem to a level 2 technician who knows what he's talking about before getting him to acknowledge that yes, AT&T screwed up yet again. He sets up an appointment for another AT&T tech to come to my house on Sunday morning at 8:00AM, this one to be responsible for making sure the internet access problem is resolved. Meanwhile, I have no phone or internet service. I am told I will be credited for my first month of service on both of these, so that's nice. But still.

7/27, 8:30AM: Two AT&T service techs arrive within minutes of each other and get to work. Within an hour they have the wiring straightened out, and assure me that once AT&T Voice releases the number to them everything should begin working again.

7/27, 11:00AM: Turns out AT&T Voice doesn't operate on Sunday. Both techs spend hours trying to escalate this issue to get SOEMONE to release the number to them, to no avail. Much apologizing ensues, they depart and keep me informed of any status changes throughout the day. Regardless, I have no phone or internet access for yet another day. I also ge the number of a level 2 customer support center that will be able to more adequately compensate me for my time and trouble.

7/28, 10:00AM: AT&T service tech from yesterday arrives to hopefully resolve the situation.

7/28, 10:30AM: Following a lengthy chat with customer support, we are promised rather sizable discounts on our TV service costs for the next 6 months, as well as an ongoing discount on our internet service for as long as we maintain service with AT&T. And a $50 coupon for our next month's service. If nothing else, this ongoing inconvenience will save me a bit of cash.

7/28, 11:30AM: AT&T is able to restore internet access, but is unable to fix things with the phone. Apparently we will not be getting an analog line, but will instead have to wait until 8/1 to get a TEMPORARY digital number, after which we will get our old telephone number on 8/4. Needless to say, both of these events will apparently require the presence of an AT&T technician in our home. So, two more days where my wife will need to sit around waiting for a service visit. But AT&T also agrees to kick us $150 toward all the cell phone bills we will be racking up in the meantime. So that's nice.

Sigh. Updates as they occur.

Mood: Vaguely exasperated
Now Playing: The Hold Steady, "Stay Positive"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New House, Complete and Utter Exhaustion

The closing on the house went fine, although it took a little longer than I'd have preferred. For some ridiculous reason the buyers didn't seem to think that taking an hour or two off of work to close on their home purchase was a good idea, so even though we spent the entire morning signing forms, writing checks, submitting paperwork, etc. the entire loan funding process didn't complete until almost 5:00 in the afternoon.

Regardless, the funding completed Monday evening, we received keys and a garage door opener for the new place, and we've spent the last couple of days pack-muling lots of random stuff over. We figure that we can hopeuflly save a few hundred bucks on moving expenses by getting as many boxes out of the place as possible and only using the movers to get the great big heavy stuff over (fridge, washer/dryers, piano, assorted furniture). Given how much extra cash we wound up out-of-pocket on Monday we could really use the extra cash now!

Anyway, lots to do, little time to do it in. With all the vacations I've been taking I can't really afford to be away from work anymore, so I've been coming into the office early, then leaving at about 3:00 to go and take care of house stuff. Basically it feels like I've got two full time jobs right now. Plus I'm trying to cram Tang Soo Do classes in when I can, as I'm supposed to test for 1st gup in a couple of weeks and I need to keep my edge. Gah.

We should actually be in the new house tomorrow night -- very exciting, of course. Got our new fridge delivered today, and we'll be getting AT&T U-Verse installed on Friday. Then on Tuesday our new family room furniture arrives.

Hopefully the next day I'll hit the Lotto so I can actually pay for all this crap.

Mood: Harried
Now Playing: Coldplay, "Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Home Stretch / TSD Nationals in Fast Forward

Well, we're down to about 30 hours and counting on the sale of our house, followed immediately by the purchase of the new place. The process continues to be anything but soothing, of course. Thanks to some oversights by our wonderful real estate agent and plenty of small individual fees that have added up to a far from inconsiderable total sum, we'll be out several thousand more dollars than we expected once the dust settles tomorrow. Personally, I think that if she had any class at all she'd trim a percentage point off her fee, but I just don't have the energy to push her on it right now.

This entire process will leave us almost completely broke for a few days, until some escrowed taxes and insurance fees that we are owed are refunded, which is a little crazy-making. But, hey, we're buying a house, and if there's anything I've learned after buying and selling each of my two previous homes it's that it's always gonna cost a lot more than you expected.

So, anyway, good vibes tomorrow morning are requested and appreciated. And if anyone has a money tree I could shake for a day or two, I'd be very grateful.


Yesterday my family and I attended the 13th Annual All Tang Soo Do Internationals in Arlington, TX. Our original plan had been to head there Thursday morning, attend training sessions, help ring coordinate and whatnot during the dan competitions on Friday, compete on Saturday, attend the banquet Saturday night, and then hit Six Flags with a bunch of friends on Sunday. Which really would have been great -- there are just so many terrific folks in our organization, people I look forward to getting together with whenever we have an event, people who present really excellent role models for my children to emulate. Good times are pretty much guaranteed.

Unfortunately, given the amount of stuff we need to do in preparation for closing tomorrow and the fairly significant lack of funds we're currently having to cope with we had to rethink that plan. A leisurely 4 day Tang Soo Do-oriented weekend was whittled down to a 36-hour flurry of activity overnight trip, with us driving up early Friday and returning immediately following the close of the gup tournament on Saturday.

Frankly, even doing this was a struggle -- we are very tight on time right now, and spent half of Friday running back and forth to our hotel room, juggling emails and phone calls to real estate agents and mortgage brokers for much of the afternoon. Plus we really can't afford to blow through a lot of cash right now. However, seeing as this Nationals was being held in our region, and good friends of mine are among the regional leadership, I felt that I would be letting them down if we didn't at least come up and show our support for the organization, both local and national. So we sucked it up and did what we could afford to do.

And I'm glad we did. While this event wasn't the experience I'd have preferred, it was still a terrific time and I'm proud to have done what I could to take part in it.

The dan competition was pretty fantastic, although in my opinion the judges may have been allowing the levels of contact to get a little too out of hand, resulting in a couple of fairly serious injuries to some folks from our dojang. My friend Daniel wound up with a knee injury (to a knee that was previously injured) that will likely require surgery and may result in a fairly lengthy recovery period. Another student, one of our kid ee dans, got a solid punch to the throat that pretty much laid her out and having a lot of difficulty breathing and left us all very concerned for the better part of an hour. Luckily, in that case at least, she recovered once she was able to rest and calm herself down back at the hotel, and she was playing in the pool and fine later that night. Still, no doubt a very frightening event for her and her parents.

I wound up missing almost all of the Masters competition Saturday morning, as if was fairly brief (not a lot of kodanjas competing this year) and I had to get us checked out of the hotel and packed up in the car before the gup competitions began. Frustrating -- I found out afterward that one of the masters had performed form that features two fans, and I've heard that this form when done correctly is simply astonishing to watch. So, big disappointment there.

At least I managed to watch Master Redfield do his form with the kwan dao -- a very large Chinese battle axe/pole arm. It's a big, heavy weapon -- even the tournament version, with one of those thin metal blades instead of a heavy steel blade, weighs in excess of 6 or 7 pounds, and "real" ones start at around 14 or 15 pounds. This may not sound like much, but try sringing a 5 pound sledge for a couple of minutes and you'll quickly realize just how heavy 5 pounds is. Then, add huge sweeping movements, spins, kick, somersaults, and so forth to the mix, all while keeping this big heavy stick positioned correctly, and I think you'll get the idea.

As for the gup portion of the tournament, given how busy we've been, none of us have had much time to really train in the past three weeks, so we all tried to enter the tournament with our expectations lowered. Ordinarily, I train a minimum of 5 times a week leading up to a tournament, trying to work on my form, tweaking and polishing it to the point I feel it represents my absolute best effort. Or just running through sparring drills, working on combinations, trying to come up with some new stuff I haven't used in sparring before and see how well it works on its feet. But this time around that was just not possible.

Add to this the fact that both Christine and Trevor just received their red belts last month, and have only been able to attend a few classes since then, and they had every reason to be nervous. Both of them accepted the challenge with some really solid grace though -- both Christine and Trevor competed with bassai, a form they only learned 3 weeks ago. Trevor managed to grab a medal for his efforts -- I know he made some fairly significant mistakes, so happily he was in a small grid and got a medal (bronze) anyhow. He also sucked it up and sparred, and got a nice silver medal for that as well.

Christine did a great job with hers -- only one small error that I spotted. She actually tied for third, in a group of 6 or 7 red belt "senior" women (35 or older), but once the low and the high scores were added back in she lost to a 2nd gup woman by .1 point. Frustrating, since she got a seriously low-ball score from one judge (.4 lower that her next lowest score) and when it was added back in to break the tie that's what really screwed her out of 3rd. But, well, what can you do? Master Riley once told us that if you haven't been "robbed" at a Tang Soo Do tournament, you just haven't been to enough tournaments yet. It happens. It's frustrating. But you learn and you move on. I hope this doesn't completely put her off competing moving forward. I doubt she'll even want to spar competitively, but I think she has tremendous capability in forms and could do well if she keeps trying.

Miranda, unfortunately, came away from this one empty-handed, which shook her up a bit. For some reason, they combined all of the boys and girls in her age/rank group into one grid, which pushed the number of competitors for those three medals up to 9-10. I didn't see her form, but judging by the scores she mush have made a couple of mistakes -- she wasn't upset by that, though. In fact, right after she went, they need a volunteer to perform along with the final competitor (Kayleigh, an other student from our dojang and the only other student that tests with me) and Miranda immediately got up and did her form again. In fact, she even said she did a better job the second time around. Oh well.

Sparring, though, really annoyed/upset her. She only got to spar once, had to spar Kayleigh, lost by a close score, and Kayleigh even told her right after the match that the judges weren't calling half of her points. That happens -- again, if you compete, you're gonna get robbed from time to time -- but it's a bit tough for a 9 year old to process. Honestly, I don't understand why they made such a large sparring group for the kids when they had enough boy sand girls to keep them in sex-based grids and still have 4 or 5 competitors in each. I have a hard time believing they were running short of medals or something. Just seemed like a random decision that caused a bunch of kids some heartache.

We actually had a similar issue in the senior men's division sparring. We had a group of 7 guys, 35 or older. Of those we had 4 guys who would fit comfortably in the "heavyweight" grid (myself included) and 3 who would be solid middleweights. Then, in the men's division (18-34) there were a total of 3 guys, 2 middleweights and 1 heavyweight. Now, given those numbers, I would have expected the tournament coordinators to do one or more of the following: a) group the 18-34s into a single group (leaving the 1 heavyweight -- my friend Rich -- at something of a disadvantage, but that happens sometimes. At least he's young!) b) divide the senior men into a middleweight group and a heavyweight group c) combine the men and senior men and divide us all into 1 middleweight and 1 heavyweight group (again harsh on the older guys, but at least we'd be fairly well matched size wise).

However, none of these things occurred. Instead, they divided the 3 18-34 guys into a middleweight and a heavyweight group (a two person grid and a one person grid) and kept all 7 of the seniors in a single grid. It was, to my thinking and that of the other seniors, very weird. So, basically, the two middleweight men would fight for a gold and a silver, the heavyweigh man would fight and get a gold regardless of outcome, and the seven seniors would fight over a gold, silver, and bronze with 4 guys going home empty handed. Very odd choices. Regardless, I did well, grabbing a silver in the sparring. Good fights with two guys (I got the buy on the first round, so advanced to the second round automatically -- nice to be on the good end of the buy for a change). The match for gold was great, too -- solid fighting, with a final score of 2-1. In fact, I'm fairly certain it would have been a tie had a side kick I threw been visible to more of the judges -- the ring coordinator even said he was certain it landed, but he just couldn't get evnough confirmation to allow the point. I'm fine with it -- it was a great match, my opponent (Robert, from New Braunfels) sparred very well, with good speed and technique, and did the same. We were gentlemen all, and I'm proud to have taken second in this group.

But best of all, for me, was the forms tournament. Competing against 7 other men, with Chil Sung Sahm Rho -- a form that presents me with a lot of challenges. Again, my expectations were low -- I'd barely worked on it for 3 weeks due to all the scheduling issues I've had lately, and as a result some problems I used to have but had resolved were resurfacing. Suddenly, I was stepping with the wrong foot at times, preparing incorrectly at other times. It was mess last week.

But yesterday, when I stepped in the ring, something just ... clicked. there are a couple of moves that are key to making Sahm Rho look good -- the biggest one being this pair of really tricky double-inside/outside blocks, followed by a side kick with then finished with a retreating double knife hand block. Very odd transitions, requiring a lot of practice and balance to pull off. And they're done about 2 feet away from the judges, so if you mess them up, it's gonna be obvious. Conversely, if you do them well,they're going to be seen clearly.

And, well, I managed to do them very well yesterday. Grabbed the gold, and with some great scores as well. The first time I've ever competed where I received all scores in the 8's -- lowest was 8.2, if I recall (it's a bit fuzzy -- I was kind of freaking out and trying not to show it). Got a hardy round of applause from the other competitors, and lot of compliments as well. Best of all for me, though, was that I'd managed to do this with a Chil Sung form, the forms which consistently vex me. In a fairly large group of competitors. And at Nationals, no less! Definitely a proud moment, and something I'll savor for a while to come.

So, now it's on to the closing, and the packing, and the moving, and the unpacking. And then two weeks later it's my 1st gup test.


Mood: Frazzled
Now Playing: Nothing

Saturday, July 05, 2008

And ... Exhale

An agreement has been reached. An amendment has been mutually agreed to and signed. We're out a little more cash at closing, but not so much as to make it worth fighting over and honestly their items are valid and they're being entirely reasonable. Some leaks that need fixing. Some cracks that need filling. Some windows that need reglazing. Some screens that need replacing. But all in all, minor stuff.

I could probably fix a lot of this stuff myself and save a few hundred bucks overall, but with such a small amount of time available before closing and so much else that needs to be done, it's simply not worth it.

Anyway, the agreement is complete. We're selling and buying houses in 16 days. Holy crap! Anyway, time to drink some champagne.

Mood: Elated, exhausted
Now Playing: Nothing

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Moving Forward, Standing Still

Deep breaths.

Remain calm.

This will all be over soon.

The prospective home owner came by with his boss (who is a civil engineer) and the buyer's agent to look over the foundation today and things went well. Thankfully, we seem to have been able to settle their concerns about the state of our house's foundation by burying them in copious amounts of paperwork, inspection reports, and warranty certificates. It appears that we are moving forward, and that they will finally be hitting us with a list of items they'd like to be addressed and/or corrected prior to closing.

Given that said closing is supposed to occur in exactly 18 days, and that there is a Federal holiday this weekend, after which we'll be on vacation for 8 days, this list cannot come soon enough. We want to have the chance to work with them to either fix issues or come up with a dollar amount we can kick to them at closing to make this all just go away, but we're awfully tight on time.

I think we'll be fine -- they seem reasonable, if typically skittish as first-time buyers tend to be. I get the impression that their agent is helping to keep their expectations for a "gently used 16 year old house" reasonable, so that's good. We've taken good care of this place, but of course there are repairs and improvements that should be made -- that's home ownership for you, especially when you're buying an older home at a good price. It's crazy to think that you're going to get a new-construction quality, move in ready place for the price per square foot they're paying. Regardless, while I want their first home buying experience to be a good and rewarding one, I'm not going to go broke ensuring they're happy. We'll hammer out something that meets at least half of each sides desires and then, hopefully, things will come to a nice conclusion.

This week has been one of those times when I truly thank God for finding Tang Soo Do. I've trained every night this week, and that 90 or so minutes each night has been the only part of my days (and nights for that matter, considering how little sleep I've been getting) where I managed to stop worrying and fretting over this damn process and just escape. While the stress levels have been extraordinary that time training has been a perfect break where I could get out of my head and just do something self-contained. So even though the worries tended to return within a few minutes of walking off the mat, that time spent not thinking about them made it so much easier to keep them under control when they returned.

Now, I wouldn't consider my performance this week all that great -- I've been unfocused, and a bit dense at times. But still -- the benefits were immense.

Mood: Pretty freakin' exhausted
Now Playing: Coldplay, "Viva la Vida"

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Making Diamonds

It's been a real pressure-cooker of a week, let me tell you. Two weeks back Christine and I headed out to Napa and San Francisco for a long-overdue vacation, just the two of us. Work has been crazy, and we've had lots of generalized stress what with our house being on the market for over three months, but generating little to no interest. The kids are out of school, which of course upends every last bit of structure and scheduling we strive so hard to put in place during the school year. Plus. we haven't gone away for a vacation just the two of us in, ages -- not for more than a day or two tops in at least 5 years, not for a week since before the kids were born.

So, while we were in San Francisco (following three nights in Napa -- nice, but it is in my opinion very overrated -- next time around we'd just stay in SF and do a day trip to the wineries or Calistoga) we were discussing our house, and how it's really looking like we'll be staying put. Not really a big deal, to us -- we really like our house. We were just hoping we could flip it for a decent price, and get into a newer community where we would have access to a pool and/or clubhouse for the kids. But since it looked like that wouldn't be happening, we started planning a re-finance, followed by a nice low-interest home improvement loan to redo the kitchen, maybe put down some nice hardwood floors in the bedrooms, replace the carpet on the stairs and in the game room, and maybe put in a deck and spa in the yard. Then, just stay put for a few more years.

Honestly, we were totally fine with this. After showing the house for three months, we were pretty fed up with not having any of our pictures on the walls, of having to have the place ready to be shown at the drop of a hat every single day, of just not feeling like we were in our house anymore. We started counting down the days until the contract expired.

And then, of course, people started viewing the place. In droves. In 5 days, 11 different people came in. That all happened while we were in San Francisco. We arrived home last Monday, and then on Tuesday found out that we had an offer pending. A perfectly reasonable offer, within a few thousand of our low-end target price. A good deal for the buyer, but one that would make us a healthy chunk of change to move over into a new house.

The problem, of course, being that we didn't have a new house in mind. And the buyers wanted to close by the end of July. So, panic. We tell our agent that we don't kno what to do, that none of the houses she's been showing us are within our price range, and that we don't know what we can really expect as far as bargaining power to drive down prices to what we can afford int his market. The market here is in a certain amount of turmoil, and a lot of people can't really afford to drop prices significantly because they are trapped in an adjustable rate mortgage and they don't have enough equity.

So, we kind of flip out, but then realize that some of our requirements for the specific location of the new house have changed (we're keeping our kids in their current elementary school, regardless of where we move, rather than trying to get them into the new elementary school that is opening nearby) and that enables us to cast a slightly larger net. Our agent, who has, I must say, been mostly useless in this process, finally comes through. It just so happens she has a couple of new listings we might be interested in. We hop in the car, still trying to decide what to do about the offer on our place, and go see ...

... pretty much the perfect house. Priced to sell, and right in the near-top end of our budget. Less than a year old. Fully warranted. Gorgeous. Walking distance to a pool. Plenty of trees. It's even partially painted inside in colors we love. We realize that this might be it, and -- after fretting and hemming and hawing and just generally freaking out for about 45 minutes -- decide to accept the offer on our place (with a slight counter offer, but nothing drastic) and make a good offer on the new place (slightly below asking, but not much).

Keep in mind, this all happened, beginning to end, in about 3 hours. We've been home from San Francisco for all of 22 hours total, and everything is turned completely upside-down. In good ways, mind you, but still. Clearly, whatever relaxation and serenity was gained on our fabulous trip has flown.

Since then, offers have been accepted all around, inspections on both properties have been done, contracts signed, paper exchanged, and money spent. The inspection on the place we're buying was nearly flawless -- the place is a gem, well built, in great shape, with solid quality throughout. In fact, he seemed almost worried we'd think we wasn't doing a good job -- that we'd figure if he didn't give us a laundry list of problems we'd feel like he hadn't been thorough enough. After walking me through the list of things he'd checked and showing me what he found, though, I felt fine. Looks like our house was built by a solid and professional general contractor who actually wanted to build a quality home. And we're getting it for a freakin' STEAL -- built less than a year ago, but selling for a solid 20% or so lower than the price of exactly the same house, currently under construction on spec 2 blocks away. I'm becoming convinced that it is built on an Indian Burial Ground or Pet Sematary. But on the up side I like spooky stuff and this way I'll never have to pay for a new puppy ....

We've hit a snag on selling our place, though -- probably a non-issue, but still a worry point. The previous owners of our house has some foundation repairs done -- which are warranted for the lifetime of the house and the warranty would of course pass to the new owners at sale. However, a corner of our patio (poured concrete -- nothing fancy) cracked near the foundation and has dropped a bit (3-4 inches or so, maybe a bit more). This happened during last winter, and we were worried that the foundation might have settled so we had a foundation inspector from the repair company come out and check it before putting the house on the market.

The inspector said that actually the foundation was solid as a rock -- no sign of any settling at all. instead, it looked like some of the heavy rains we'd had in the past year got under the patio corner and caused some subsidence, allowing that corner of the patio concrete to settle a bit. Not terribly attractive, but in no way an indication of problems with the home. So, whew. Well, anyway, the guy who inspected our house for the buyers saw the patio problem and told them "look, I'm not a foundation inspector -- you need to have the foundation repair folks come out and check that and get a report from them." And of course they want that -- perfectly reasonable. they'd be crazy not to get assurances on the state of the foundation before proceeding. Their agent, of course, is talking tough and being a bit reactionary, but, well, that's his job.

I'm not worried, really -- after all, we just had the inspector out 3 months ago, things are fine, and we're not seeing ANY problems inside the house that would indicate settling (splits in the walls, for example). But still, it adds a bit of new stress to the pot. And we don't really know what else their inspector found -- this is obviously their Number 1 issue and they won't bother discussing any minor stuff until after they clear this hurdle. When the inspector comes out, I'm sure he'll tell them what he told us -- no sign of any settling of the foundation whatsoever, the warranty is in place for the life of the house should any settling ever occur in the future, and the support system they put in place to fix the problem in the first place is in fact stronger than the rest of the unaffected foundation and could probably survive and hurricane, tornado, plague of locusts, thermonuclear device, and so forth. Hopefully we'll be able to get an inspector out today -- if not, it might have to wait until Thursday, which would suck. We're targeting a closing on both the sale and the new house buy for less than 3 weeks from now, so any time lost is a big deal.

So, yeah, these days I'm feeling quite a bit like Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Quoting Ferris, "Pardon my French, but Cameron is so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond." In our case, I'm hoping the diamond will come in about 3 weeks or so, but you get the idea.

Anyhow, good thoughts please -- I could use the soothing energies, folks.

Mood: Anxious
Now Playing: Thomas, Newman, "Wall-E: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"