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  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:36 pm on November 17, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bank, , creative googled-up solutions, , Eric Sink, , , Vault   

    The Vault 

    A friend of mine, a contractor, recently came to me with a strange problem. He did an excellent job renovating my apartment, and since then he got used to me delousing his Windows computer and coming up with creative googled-up solutions for just about anything. This one has me stumped though.

    Right now he is demolishing a location, previously occupied by a bank. It has a vault door in it that my friend needs to cart away.

    He wants to sell it. I mean, the thing looks valuable – but I have no idea of who would want something like that. Movie people? A restaurant? Eric Sink (his company has a product called Vault and he must be flush after Microsoft buying a chunk of his stuff). I wonder what would happen if we did place it on eBay. Well, in fact there are a few of them there, and people don’t seem to be buying.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:06 pm on May 31, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , bank, , , Blue Sun Corporations Blue Sun Corporation, , Cash Machine, , Chase Manhattan Bank, , communications, , , , , , , , phone, , , , , , Verizon Wireless, ,   

    Blue Sun Corporations 

    Blue Sun Corporation is and important, but not very noticeable part of the the brilliant, but so very canceled TV series Firefly. Their logo is everywhere you look, but they are oh so very evil. They conveniently provide all sorts of goods and services, but at the same time they run sinister human experiments, employ vicious killers and wallow in their crapulence in every imaginable way an evil corporation could.

    You can buy your very own Blue Sun t-shirt at Think Geek.

    In Manhattan there are two corporations that very much remind me of Blue Sun: Verizon and Chase. Every time I deal with them I feel that I am forced to do things that I don’t want to do and that I am getting a bad deal. The only reason everybody’s dealing with Chase and Verizon is because they are everywhere you look. In Manhattan you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Chase branch, and Verizon cellular signal reaches underground into some subway stations.

    Chase advertises its omnipresence with this sinister ad that could just as well be from an alien infection film.

    This kind of ubiquity allows these corporations to charge above market prices and have bad customer service.

    Why do I hate Chase? Well, they keep thinking of ways to make depositing money more difficult. First they changed their deposit slips. Am I the only one inconvenienced by that? No. Here somebody altered the little poster announcing the change.

    Now they started using cash machines that do not take envelopes, but scan your check. As you, me, and the people who plowed money into Riya, you can’t rely on computers to non-trivial optical recognition. I tried depositing 3 checks several times. The machine ate one of the checks (not giving me a receipt) and rejected the other two. I wasted a lot of time and cell phone minutes trying to report the issue (they did not even provide a courtesy customer service phone). I still haven’t seen the money from that check.

    Lying commission-driven customer service is another big problem. At Chase they constantly trying to sell you something. Once a customer rep tried to sell me a historically market out-performing mutual funds. He had this awesome “prospectus” with charts carefully selected to show crazy returns, but refused to give me a copy so I could research it.

    Verizon reps will routinely forget to tell you about contract extension that comes with any service change, even if you don’t have get a new phone. Then they will refuse to change anything in your contract. They will add expensive features you don’t ask for. Good luck trying to have your defective phone repaired – it’s an ordeal.

    Both Chase and Verizon are a bad value, but great convenience. I suspect that part of their penchant for name changing is not so much because they keep buying up competition, but because their customers don’t think very well of them at all. I was their customer when they were Chemical Bank and Bell Atlantic. They sucked back then too.

    The worst part of dealing with banks and communications companies is that they heavily penalize you for your mistakes, but there’s not much you can do to charge them for theirs.

    Chase stopped sending me Amazon credit card rewards for about a year. An hour of customer service phone calls and a month later I got my Amazon gift certificates. It’s free for them to mess with you: you have to do a lot of work to make sure that what you get from them actually comes through. Instead of digitally depositing the certificates, they send them on paper slips containing long strings of letters that you have to type in. It’s cheaper to splurge on the cost of printing and mailing in the hope that it will get lost. And if they stop sending them and you forget? Bonus. Also, there’s something called “float.”

    On the other hand, send your credit card payment late and you get a huge fee.

    Use a bit more minutes than are in your Verizon plan, and you’ll get a bill that will make your teeth grind. But on the other hand, they overcharge you and then sheepishly return the money (which just now happened to me), you don’t get to charge them a fine.

    I think there was this guy who charged his bank a fine for every mistake that they’ve made, but I can’t find a link.

    Anyway, to make the long story short, Verizon and Chase make me want to vomit in terror. I’ve been with them for years, but it’s time for a change.

    It’s interesting to note that I’ve worked for both Chase (briefly as a consultant) and for Newscorp. What’s interesting about it? Well, Newscorp owns New York Post which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. The “Manhattan” part of Chase Manhattan Bank (as Chase used to be known) comes from The Manhattan company, founded by none other than Aaron Burr. Because I currently work at the World Trade Center, I frequently walk past Hamilton’s grave in Trinity churchyard.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:12 pm on January 16, 2006 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bank, , Cash register, cashier, , Coins of the United States, Coinstar, Commerce Bank, crummy drugstore chain, , , economist, Eliot Spitzer, Health-o-Meter physician, high real estate costs, John Galt, , Ku Klux Klan, local bank, , , , , Pound sterling, Reade, Springfield mall, , United States dollar, , , , worse real estate hogs   

    The Real Estate Hogs and The Coin Counting Robot 

    Remember that The Simpsons episode where Starbucks swallows every store in Springfield mall?

    “… Bart, while walking through the Springfield Mall, passing several Starbucks, goes into a store called “In and Out Piercing”.
    Employee: Can I help you?
    Bart: I’d like to get my ear pierced.
    Employee: Well, better make it quick, kiddo. In five minutes this place is
    becoming a Starbucks.
    Bart gets his ear pierced, and has a diamond-shaped clear stone inserted into the new hole. As he leaves the store, it, like all of the other stores above and around it, is transformed into Starbucks.”

    New York City was one of the last markets that Starbucks entered, mostly because of high real estate costs. But besides Starbucks, there are two types of businesses that swallow an enormous portion of commercial space in NYC: drugstores and banks. Whenever you see a sizable store for rent, it’s almost inevitable that it will become a drugstore or a bank.

    The drugstore business is not particularly profitable, but one chain, Duane Reade, seems to be opening store after store. In my neighborhood there are two Duane Reades one block from each other, and several other equally lame pharmacies. There’s an interesting article called The Mystery of Duane Reade which among other things, addresses a question just as interesting as “Who is John Galt.” Unlike Galt, Duane Reade is not really a person. The crummy drugstore chain derives it’s name from the first store that was located on the corner of Duane St. and Reade St. in Manhattan.

    Banks are even worse real estate hogs, and are popping up even faster than Duane Reade and Starbucks. There are two stores that went out of business recently in my neighborhood, and both are being replaced by banks. There’s a bank across the street from where I live, and one or two on almost every block. Yet there are no supermarkets bigger than a tiny little Pioneer in a 20 block radius.

    The stiff competition is forcing banks to offer new services to attract customers. Commerce Bank, for instance, offers a service called “Penny Arcade.” They basically have change-counting Coinstar machines without the fee. All you have to do is get the receipt from the machine, and the cashier will exchange it for paper money.

    During the last major cleaning fit that I had, I took my overflowing coin bowl and dumped it into a canvas bag. I weighted it on my Health-o-Meter physician’s scale which is exact to within 1/4 lb. The scale read 29 1/2 lb.

    Here’s what 29 1/2 lb of coins in a Strand bag look like:

    I dragged the heavy money bag to the bank, and proceeded to empty it out, handful by handful into the Coinstar machine. I had to suffer loud and annoying cartoon voice aimed at kids and overall felt like a dork, but I got rid of all the change and cashed in my printed receipt. As I was curious of the how exact the coin count was, I asked the cashier for a copy of the receipt. She had to do it by hand for some reason, but here it is:

    To calculate how much this should theoretically weight, I need to do a little bit of math. A dollar coin weights in at 8.100g, quarter at 5.670 g, dime at 2.268 g, nickel at 5.000 g and penny at 2.500 g (according to the US Mint)

    This gives us: 5 * 8.100g + 358 * 5.670 g + 987 * 2.268 g + 659 * 5.000 g + 1928 * 2.500 g = 12.423876 kg

    12.423876 kg = 27.3899581 lb.

    That’s about 2.1 lb difference from my original weight. The machine rejected a Chinese coin, two Boston subway tokens and a few coins with gunk on them. The bag probably weights at most 1/2 lb. So it seems that the coin-counting automaton cheated me out of a pound of coins. That’s about 9 bucks by my calculations.

    [Update] I’m told that pre-1982 pennies weight 3.1 grams instead of 2.5, so my calculation is a bit off.

    Of course, my experiment is far from exact. It depends on the number of factors, such as the possibility of my scale being not as precise as I think or the possibility that coins lose some weight after being in circulation. But somehow I highly suspect that the Coinstar machines are undercounting. Wall Street Journal journalist ran an experiment with a remeasured amount of money. I can’t find the original article, but this quote about $87.26 seems to be floating around a lot:

    “For consistency, we began with equal piles of $87.26 worth of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters that we had gotten from a local bank in coin envelopes.

    Talk about a tough economy. The machines at both Commerce Bank and Coinstar gave us less back than we put in — Commerce Bank missed by a whopping $7.02, while Coinstar was off by 57 cents.”

    Where is Eliot Spitzer when you need him?

    Ad:


    Health-O-Meter Physician’s Balance Beam Scale: a must have weapon in the battle of the bulge.

    A “rogue” (read “somewhat sloppy, but very interesting”) economist tries to answer tough questions, such as: What do schoolteachers and Sumo wrestlers have in common? How is Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? Where have all the criminals gone?

     
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