Friday, October 24, 2014

Cloudy Skies

I mentioned in a previous post about sitting out on the deck one evening enjoying life and turning my gaze upwards. In a matter of a half hour, it seemed as if the skies changed three or four times. Because film is cheap these days, especially since my camera doesn't use any, I didn't mind snapping away and committing them to my computer's hard drive. I thought I might throw a few of them in a post to share to the world, or the two dozen people who read my blog for reasons I may never understand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Iowa Harvest

Even though farming in the 80's pushed me to pursue other avenues of livelihood and is why I became an engineer, I still miss it and dream of returning to the farm someday. Fall is my favorite time of the year mostly because the dreams of harvest become a reality. Whether or not the seeds were planted in good shape, whether or not we got adequate moisture, heat and sunshine, whether or not we missed hailstorms and late season winds, all matters not anymore. The cards have been dealt and all that is left to do is harvest the grains and see what hand you've been dealt.

To continue on the card analogy, this year the farmers in this region have been dealt a full house with ace's high. The crops are spectacular which makes harvesting slow. The only problem is that corn is as cheap as it every has been which is like everyone else being dealt nothing in their hands and folding early so there is nothing in the pot. At the end of the day, you rake in what chips you've won and keep on dreaming for that day when you've got the hand and everyone else at the table is thinking the same thing... but are wrong!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spring Is Now Over

As you can see from the photo of my new driveway, fall is underway here. We had the longest spring ever and summer never came in these parts. We had mild temperatures with moderate rainfall all 'summer' long when we normally get hot and dry conditions. People are harvesting the best corn crop ever seen and some people are cutting an unheard of 5th cutting of hay which is two more than normal. The soybeans also have good yields but because of a late in the 'summer' case of sudden death syndrome, their yields went from the best ever to still pretty good for our area.

All this wouldn't be so bad but unfortunately the moderate rains have continued into fall which is drawing out what is already going to be a long harvest. After getting done with landscaping, I was going to finish up the garage but I just haven't been able to get motivated. Part of it is just decompression from the completion of any huge project but part of it is the cold rainy weather this past week. The good part is that my newly planted landscape is receiving plenty of water without me having to spend quality time at the end of a garden hose.

Tomorrow I think I will work on cutting down a dead tree or two that never leafed out this spring since it is supposed to be sunny and cool, perfect tree cutting weather. Beyond that, the weekend is just a day away (as I write this) so I think I may write off this week and get back to my garage project next week. I never thought I would say this since fall is my favorite season followed closely by spring, but I miss(ed) summer.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Aspen Dental Scam

Like so many sectors of our economy, there is a business that is taking over the dental frontier. Several years ago I started hearing about a company called Aspen Dental that was building new dental offices in larger cities across the Midwest. The tout that the initial exam and x-rays as being free to get you in the door. Until recently, it didn't matter in our part of rural Iowa because there were no chains open within comfortable travel distances but that changed about a month ago when they opened up an office in our town.

Now I have a private dentist in a town 20 minutes away where I used to live that I like very much and have no intentions of leaving. But then I have dental insurance and my biannual cleanings are covered 100%. My mother-in-law is a recent immigrant and until she receives citizenship status, she had no insurance, especially dental insurance. So when she had a bad tooth ache, we thought we would take her to the new Aspen Dental here in town to get x-rayed and recommendations on what to do.

In order to set up a new appointment, you have to call their corporate office or go online and schedule it. We did the former and could be seen that very afternoon. I drove my mother-in-law to the office and promptly at her scheduled time, they escorted her and four other people all into the five chairs. After about 30 minutes, people started paying and leaving but the hygienists now free, just idly walked around and talked until the top of the hour when they escorted a new batch of people into the chairs. It was certainly different than I was used too but I didn't really have a problem with that. What I did have a problem with happened next.

When my mother-in-law came out and was escorted to the managers office to discuss her 'treatment plan' as the call it, I joined her to act as an interpreter. She has dentures on both upper and lower jaws and the tooth that was causing her problems was on the lower jaw and also the anchor for her dentures. The 'treatment plan' was that her gum around the tooth was infected and that the tooth needed to be pulled, along with the anchor tooth on the upper jaw that wasn't hurting her and then new dentures created for both. The sum for this treatment plan was staggering.

They wanted to schedule her for an appointment in two days to begin her treatment plan. When my mother-in-law asked for something to treat the infection, they gave her a prescription for Tylenol 3 which is a prescription pain killer and would definitely wouldn't do anything for the infection. That should have been my first clue.

The second sign was that they immediately printed off a bill showing the free services that my mother-in-law had just received along with a line item showing the future services and the staggering sum and inquiring how I wanted to pay for the procedures yet to happen. If I didn't have the money, they would be more than happy to sign me up for their own credit card which they would put the balance on for no interest for the next few months. The hairs on the back of my neck went up at all this and I politely said that I would be paying for the procedures AFTER they were completed two days from now. There were several charges that seemed superfluous on the bill that we questioned and each time, the manager immediately took them off when we questioned whether they were necessary and printed out a new bill. On the fourth bill, the sum was still staggering but quite a bit less than the initial bill. It still looked like a bill and like something requiring immediate payment but I just thanked them and we went out the door.

When I got home, I started doing some internet research, something I should have done beforehand, and found literally thousands of bad reviews of Aspen Dental of people having similar experiences. Most of the people said that Aspen Dental wanted to pull teeth that didn't need to be pulled so that they could make new dentures for them which evidently is their bread and butter part of the business. People were charged for unnecessary procedures and asked to pay for future services or sign up for credit cards. If people did the latter and then didn't use those services, they had very hard times getting their money reimbursed and then suffered the problem of having bad credit if they didn't pay their credit card bill. I realized at that point that my relationship with Aspen Dental via my mother-in-law was over. I was going to get her dental records and take her to my private dentist 20 miles away.

I showed up right at nine when their sign said they opened this past Wednesday. There was a young lady already standing outside the door so I surmised that they hadn't unlocked the door. Ten minutes go by and I finally went and checked the door myself just to make sure it was locked. I mentioned about how perhaps the door had been stuck and we didn't realize it but it was most definitely locked. So we waited some more. Fifteen minutes after the posted opening time, I knocked on the door and windows and peered inside but got no response. Twenty minutes into it, a UPS driver showed up trying to deliver packages but couldn't get in either so I decided to take action.

I called the phone number on the door but it leads me to the robotic operator at the corporate offices. All avenues for returning customers led me to the voice mail of the local managers office. So I fibbed and said I was a new customer which eventually led me to customer service at their corporate office. When I at last got a human, I'll call her Cheryl, I asked if she could tell me if the office in my town was still in business because it was now 25 minutes past opening and the door was still locked despite there being lots of cars behind the building. She said it was still open and that she would call them on a private line and see what the problem seemed to be. After ten minutes on hold Cheryl said she couldn't reach anyone which was very odd and that they should be open by now. She took my name and phone number and said she would call me back just as soon as she was able to reach someone and find out the problem.

I had now invested 40 minutes of my time waiting for an open office to unlock their door so I decided I would try one more thing. I walked around to the back of the building where I saw an employee entrance with a security camera above the door and a card swipe pad right next to the handle. I was pretty sure I would find another locked door as I reached out and turned the handle but much to my surprise the door opened right up.

As I opened the door, I could hear laughter on the other side and when I looked in, I saw about a dozen startled people all peering at me from a table in a room on the opposite side of the hallway from the door. A managerial looking fellow jumped up from the table asking me what I was doing and then a second later if he could help me. I told him that yes he could help me. I have been waiting for 40 minutes since their sign said they have been open and yet the door was still locked. When would he actually be open. The managerial guy took on a nasty tone and said that they were in the middle of a meeting and that they would be open when their meeting was done. With that he grabbed the door, closed it and I could hear a lock engage.

I was pretty miffed at this point and my phone range as I was walking around to the front of the building. I answered and it was their corporate office calling back to see if the door was still locked. Cheryl said that they were still trying to reach the office and that they should be open because their computer showed two appointments at nine o'clock. I told Cheryl of my encounter and what I had been told and she got very apologetic and said that she would take immediate action to pass this up the chain of command so that it wouldn't happen again. She took my information down so she could call me back in the future and we hung up.

I told the lady out front what had happened out back and she shook her head. She told me she was just trying to get her records after a bad experience on Friday and she didn't plan on every coming back. I told her I was also in the same boat. Just then after 45 minutes past nine when they advertised that they were open, one of the started people came and unlocked the door. No apologies were issued to either of us. When my turn came and I requested my mother-in-law's records, I wasn't surprised that they wouldn't give them to me even though I signed the form two days priors saying I was authorized to obtain them. My mother-in-law had to physically be present in order for me to obtain the records which I said kind of defeated the purpose of even having said form giving others permission to obtain her records.

So later my mother-in-law showed up and they gave her the records but I didn't go inside that time in case they recognize me and give her a hard time. As I write this she is at my private dentist with my wife and I'm sure probably getting a lot better service and I'm guessing probably some antibiotics for the infected gum and options that don't involve extracting two teeth and building an entire new set of dentures for her. They were also probably open as advertised and not laughing it up in the back while people waited for them to sometime open up the doors.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Putting 10 Pounds of $%&* Into a 5 Pound Bag

Being a Do It Yourself kind of guy, I guess I have a lot of tools. Being someone who likes to take care of things that I spend lots of money on, I also like to park my vehicles inside a garage out of the weather, especially when I have an attached garage. There in lies the problem. How to you fit two vehicles and all your stuff into a garage and have room to access said tools and vehicles easily. This is my fourth or fifth garage that I've done over the years and each time I get a little bit better at organizing and arranging stuff. This time, I ditched some things and tried some new things that I think will work pretty good.

Above is a picture showing my new and improved bicycle system. We don't ride our bicycles very often these days but I imagine when both girls are a bit bigger, they will get more use. Until then, I need a way to store them where they are accessible but out of the way. Two garages ago, I bought some bike hooks that hang single bikes up parallel to the road. It didn't take up much floor space but took up lots of wall space. As we got more bicycles, it became a problem. When I first moved into this house, I bought hooks that allowed you to hook one tire into it and stored the bikes vertical to the wall. This used up less wall space but more floor space. This time around, I looked up to the ceiling. All the bikes can be raised and lowered individually by rope and pulley. The wall behind can still be used to store some tools and the floor underneath is also free. As you can see, I store my snow blower, hose reel, air compressor and numerous kids bikes, scooters and strollers. I really love how much better this area of the garage now functions.

This corner is still a work in process but it too is much improved. Before this was where my workbench and cabinet storage was. My problem with it was that when the vehicle was parked inside the garage like it was when I took this picture, it really limited the amount of space to actually do work at the bench. So I moved the workbench to the other wall and this wall became my work in process area. The table is the one I built and wrote about on this blog last winter. It can be moved out to the middle of the floor when building larger projects and is a nice solid surface that I can walk around and clamp all the way around. When not being used for that, I push it up against the wall and as you can see, it is a horizontal storage system for my current projects. Actually right now it is storing stuff that doesn't yet have a home.

In the corner is my scrap wood storage area. I can store a couple full sheets of plywood, an assortment of two-by material and scraps of hardwood from past projects. It comes in handy though I may move it sometime in the future to a rack built between the open garage door and the ceiling. I did that two garages ago and it worked well though I have to pull the car out to access the rack with a step ladder from time to time.

Finally I decided it was time to get rid of the old screw-a-2x4-to-the-wall-with-a-bunch-of-nails-to-hang-tools method. It wasn't very efficient and hard to change up if necessary. While walking through the home improvement store, I saw that you could buy a sheet of pegboard for $7 and the hooks for about the same price so I switched to the pegboard system. I bought two sheets and put one above this table and the other between my workbench and cabinets. I't still in the process of finding things to hang up on it so they look a bit under utilized right now but I assure you that will change.

Finally this mess is my new workbench. It is about 75% longer than my last work bench and I added two more overhead cabinets to the three I already own. Gone (actually recycled) was my old stand alone workbench that was completely open and didn't have a lot of room underneath to store things. This time around I had several things that I wanted to accomplish with this bench that my last bench didn't do. The first thing is that I wanted to build this bench around my large tools. So if you look closely to the left side of the bench, you can see that I built it around my tablesaw (it slides out when needed) and I built two large bays on the bottom to hold my planer and router table when not in used. The tall center bay hidden behind my chair holds my mortising jig when not in use. The two upper bays on the left side and all four bays on the right side will hold pullout drawers on full extension drawer slides which are whats in the two cardboard boxes on the left side of my bench. The one-by material on the floor is what I'm going to build the drawers with along with the sheet of plywood seen in the corner of the first picture. These drawers will replace the huge metal shelving unit that I nabbed from the scrap heap at work a decade ago. It had many deep bins but I was forever loosing things in the back recesses of them because they didn't pull out and they were always full of sawdust and dirt. One of my goals this time around was to reduce the open areas that can get filled with all the sawdust I create. All the openings underneath the workbench will be fully enclosed when I'm done and all the cabinetry will allow for dust free storage as well. Up above the cabinets I use that for stuff that I occasionally need and want within arms reach (if I stretch) without needing to go get a ladder. Because I had quite a bit of stuff that I use even less often but really don't want to get rid of just yet, I built the long shelf up near the ceiling for those things.

Right now I am doing some finish work on the garage door which we replaced and which I will do a post on later. I rewired it and have to do some touch up painting before I can grab pictures of it. Then I will get started on the workbench drawers next and hopefully get the workbench project wrapped up. Soon I promised to make some built in shelves for my parent's house and I need to get my tool organized before then.