Consumer

Recall Fiasco

Several years ago, I replaced my old, decrepit, avocado-green dishwasher (GE, I think) with a Bosch.  I’ve been very happy with it — the stainless steel tub doesn’t stain or stink; it cleans the dishes spotlessly, without a lot of pre-scrubbing.

When teenagers are in charge of dishwashing, one needs a somewhat forgiving appliance.   Loading and unloading the dishwasher (one chore for Gamma, one for Delta) seems like an appropriate exchange for my feeding them on a daily basis.  I probably should make them take out the trash and mow the lawn too, but I’m sort of a softie like that. 

A couple of weeks ago,  we got a recall notice — something about a control panel that can overheat and pose a fire hazard.  The letter, of course, recommended in the strongest terms that we cease using the appliance until the repair was completed; I consented to only run the dishwasher when I was at home and awake, as a sort of compromise.

After all, it worked beautifully, and I do keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  Just in case.

So last Wednesday (concurrent with a viola lesson in the living room, trying to work, and numerous phone calls), this guy shows up from Sears to replace the offending part, shipped directly to me from Bosch.  The planned half-hour fix seemed to take an hour and a half, but he did finish up in time for us to make our evening dinner at church (with me leaving early for a school board meeting).

On Thursday, we had a lot going on — supper was sort of a snack-as-you-go thing.  Friday night, Alpha came home from UT specifically so that we could take her to dinner at Magic Wok, so there were no supper dishes.  On Saturday I did actually cook for everyone (and collect what seemed like a month’s worth of glasses, spoons and bowls from Gamma’s sickroom), so I fired up the Bosch with it’s newly-repaired controller.

At the end of the cycle, the dishes weren’t clean.  The dog does a better job.

I ran it a second time, paying closer attention: it’s broken.   Really broken.  Like, no soap is ever released to the wash cycle, the "time remaining" display doesn’t come on at all through the whole cycle, and it doesn’t dry the dishes at all.

My formerly-perfect dishwasher is really broken, thanks to the goober that Sears sent out to "fix" it.

Naturally, I’ve called and scheduled a do-over, and requested that they send someone other than the guy who broke it to start with.  At this point, the best they can do is Wednesday… even though they broke it.  I’m not happy.

I love the dishwasher, but have lost confidence in Sears’ repair service at this point.  They broke an appliance that wasn’t broken to begin with.

I lived with a broken HVAC system for nearly a year; that’s not so bad.  Utility bills tend to get attractively cheap when you’re not bothering with expensive luxuries like whole-house heating and cooling.  But what I can’t live without are my washer, refrigerator, and dishwasher, and hot water heaters.

Clothes dryer and sewing machine run a close second, but I can survive without them (briefly) if necessary.

I can’t believe that the Sears dude broke a working dishwasher — especially given his obsessive attention to detial in ensuring that he had everything he needed (dual signatures, maintenance authorization number, etc.) to get paid for the job.

Here’s hoping they send someone competent next time.

UT Changes

The University of Tennessee is grappling with extraordinary budget challenges, and the future looks grim.  A few changes may strengthen the university long-term, but most will negatively impact students, employees, and the state as a whole.

As outlined in this morning’s News-Sentinel, they’re looking at laying off 700 people.  They’re raising tuition by 9%.  For our family though, Peterson’s proposal to remove the tuition cap is the most damaging.  For clarification, a "full time" student is defined as one taking 12 semester hours; that’s three or four courses, in most cases.  However, one must take at least 15 hours per semester to graduate in four years — more than that in some majors.

A student taking 18 hours (like my two) would see a 50% increase in tuition even before the 9% increase.

Peterson’s rationale is that removing the tuition cap would be an "efficiency measure, aimed at discouraging students from registering for classes they may drop too late for other students to get enrolled."  However, a more logical way to accomplish that would be to charge students an additional fee — say $50 or $100 — for dropping any class after the add deadline (typically about a week and a half after classes begin).

It’s not just a few high-performing students who would bear the brunt of this change: 51% of all full-time undergraduate students took 15 or more hours in Fall 2007 (the most recent data publicly available).  Those 51% would see a minimum 25% increase, in addition to the 9% across-the-board increase.

I acknowledge that the highest-paid administrators have voluntarily taken a 5% pay cut, and applaud them for starting there.  However, the draconian changes proposed to tuition rates and the elimination of the most cost-effective instructors will cut too deeply into the university’s core mission.

That will, in turn, cut deeply into the State’s efforts to improve overall.

At the very least, the State needs to increase the lottery scholarship amount, commensurate with any tuition increase.   But the tuition cap should be left alone.

MSM Demise

Tribune Co. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today — the owners of eight major daily newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.

Last week, the Tennessean laid off 92 people.  The News-Sentinel has recently downsized, eliminating some sections and changing to a smaller format.

Close to home, Gatehouse Media, the parent company of the Oak Ridger, has seen their stock fall from $8.96 per share on Dec. 10 of last year, to 6.9 cents per share just now — less than one-hundredth of the value it represented one year ago.

Jack McElroy of the Sentinel opines that it’s not a lack of readership or faith in the traditional media that is driving the woes, but rather a significant change in their real revenue source:

the problems the newspaper business is facing are due primarily to changes in advertising, especially classified ads, which lend themselves to online searching. Ads pay the bills at newspapers, and when there are fewer ads or they are selling for lower prices, it’s harder to pay the bills.

 

It costs more to print the dead-wood edition than it used to, and it costs more to deliver it.  The online edition is far cheaper to produce and distribute (and for people like me, brings the added value of not having to pick it up after being strewn all over the kitchen table or living room, then hauled out to the recycle box).

Competition from sites like eBay, Craigslist, CarSoup and others are probably part of the issue, but for some, credibility remains an issue.  When local papers lust for the sensationalism of a tabloid, credibility flies out the window.

Many online newspapers allow reader comments at the end of stories, but this requires vigilance in moderating such comments, as people can and do vent with impunity.  The Sentinel does a decent job of moderating, as evidenced by the many "comment removed by site staff" entries that appear daily.  Unfortunately, the Oak Ridger does not.

It pains me to enjoy the apparent demise of my local paper, but there is hope: with the audacity of youth and sweat equity, one locally-owned, locally-operated newspaper is prepared to weather the storm.

I’ve said before and still believe, Oak Ridgers are intelligent enough to read more than one newspaper.  But only if both are worth reading.

When Stuff Doesn’t Work…

Electronic gadgets are one of the rare indulgences of our household, and we usually don’t have any problems with them.

Several years ago, we bought a digital video recorder.  It’s sort of like TiVo, except there’s no monthly subscription fee.  It records anything on TV to a hefty internal hard drive; programs can then be edited (i.e., commercials deleted) and burned to DVD.  It’s not the easiest thing to use, but we figured it out.

Now though, I’m having trouble burning a DVD from the HDD.  Surfing about the magnificent internet (the world at my fingertips is SO cool), I’ve found dozens of AV forums where people all over the world are having similar issues.  Unfortunately, none have a workable solution — there’s just  a lot of grousing about it.

I’ve upgraded the firmware, but that didn’t make a whit of difference.  I went to the company’s website and submitted a trouble ticket via e-mail, but haven’t heard anything from them.  Then, I scoured the website further, only to find that this company — LiteOn — has discontinued all of their A/V products.  So, I called the (not toll free) phone number listed, only to be given a toll-free number… except that the recording at the beginning says that support is $1.49 per minute, charged to a Visa card.

Forget that idea.

So… it looks like I may be purchasing a replacement DVD-RW drive and taking the thing apart for transplant surgery.  I’ve surfed around to see if there are better products available, but TiVo seems to have the market cornered, and I refuse to sign on to their subscription service.

The HDD still works fine, so recording stuff to watch later isn’t the problem.  But, if I could burn it to a DVD, I have some cool software that lets me import it into iTunes and watch it on my iPod.

Anyone out there have a better idea?

It could be worse…

The whole gasoline supply/pricing issue remains tumultuous, but I finally filled up this morning for the first time since before the run on the pumps just before Ike hit Houston.

My west-end Weigels apparently is able to keep half a week’s supply on hand.  Trucks arrive on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and the price is $3.39, just like it was last Wednesday.

All in all, I’d rather have affordable fuel available half the time, than price-gouging every day.  Either way, I’ll drive less, but this way hurts less.

*  *  *  *  *
It could be worse, for sure.  My sister in Houston reports this morning that she still doesn’t have power at her house, and that her kids won’t be back in school until at least Monday.  Apparently, the eye of the hurricane passed right over her house; there are still downed power lines across the playground at my nephews’ school.

Hard to fill a gas tank if the station has now power, I guess.  And it’s a lot hotter in Houston than it is here — they still need air conditioning.

Maybe now,  they will think about moving to Oak Ridge.  I’d like that.

Gas boycott, day 4

Most stations around Oak Ridge are still out of gas; the few who do have any seem to only have premium, at something approaching $5.30/gal.

No thanks.

After shuttling Beta around on Saturday, to work, and then back to school in Knoxville, I’d used up about half of the gas I had in my car.  The one I DID NOT fill up when everybody hit the panic button last Friday.  So, I figure I have two or three gallons left.  I’m saving it… because I don’t plan to fill up again until this little self-inflicted crisis is over.

Today, my best and favorite client needed me on the East end of town.  After ascertaining that business attire was not required, I made the decision to take my bike.  That’s bicycle, not motorcycle.  I scavenged up a little nylon backpack-thingy that I brought home from some conference, and stuck a notebook and my purse inside.  Also a bottle of water, which was a very good thing.

It was a lovely day for a ride; the upside of the Turnpike construction is that there’s a nice row of barrels between me and the cars.  It was 7 miles each way, so I got a little exercise, saved half a gallon of gas, and feel pretty good about it.

Very good, actually.