Saturday, June 27, 2009

My $863 Refrigerator Repair

Four weeks ago, I found that the ice dispenser of my refrigerator had run out of ice. Here's my long story, but you can cut to the end for my conclusions from this experience.

My ice maker had stopped making ice once last year, so I went through my records and recalled the answer the helpful Kitchen Aid customer service people gave me. I tried the old solution to no avail - still no ice. Then I realized that though the refrigerator side was okay, my freezer had warmed up from its normal -5° to +30°!

I called the Kitchen Aid 800 number and was quickly told I needed a service call. They said Capital City Appliance Service in Columbus was my locally authorized service provider. I called them and they arranged a service visit for the next day. My service guy, Mike, told me I had a slow leak somewhere in the system. He recharged the freon, saying that would get my freezer cooling normally again, and said he'd need to return with a dye injector which would show where in the hundreds of feet of cooling system piping the leak was. He said that since my refrigerator (a 36" side-by-side built-in) was 11 years old, parts were still covered by Kitchen Aid's 12-year warranty, but I'd have to pay for labor (confirming what Kitchen Aid customer service told me over the phone). I paid $177 for that first visit for his hour's time plus the freon.

The next day, I got a call from Mike's office. A woman there told me it would cost me $800 for my refrigerator repair. I asked how much time it would take and she said it would be about 3 hours. Well, since parts were covered, I asked if that meant I would be paying almost $200 per hour for labor (given the charge for freon). After getting inadequate explanations to my questions about the seemingly unreasonable charge, I asked her to schedule the next service, but told her that I'd shop for a new refrigerator to consider replacing rather than repairing it and would call her back the next day.

I went to my local Home Depot and Lowe's hardware stores and saw regular refrigerators that might fit in my space, but no built-ins. (I was also surprised in this economy how hard it was to find anyone to ask for help on such a high-priced item!) I realized that with regular refrigerators, I would't be able to have custom cabinet panels on the doors, so it would't look good in my kitchen. I then went to the Great Indoors store and there found built-ins and sales help. Instead of the $1500-2500 for regular side-by-side refrigerators, a new Kitchen Aid built-in would cost over $5000 (confirming my recollection of what I paid for it when I bought it for my new house 11 years ago). In the context of $5000, an $800 repair didn't seem too bad.

I called Capital City back and after getting the same woman who couldn't explain why I was paying so much for labor, I asked to speak with a service manager. He explained they were required to charge according to a schedule of national standard service charges for types of repair. Further, I'd have to pay for a 2nd entire recharge of freon since federal regulations didn't permit them to reuse the freon they just put into my refrigerator until it had been cleaned. Before calling Capital City back, I had checked Angie's List and called Kitchen Aid again to see what alternatives I had, but found that although Capital City had many customers who were unhappy with their service, the alternative service company's ratings were even worse. So, I was stuck.

The service manager told me he advises customers to consider repair vs. replacement cost and expected refrigerator life. If the repair is more than 1/2 the replacement cost, he suggests buying a new one. He also told me that the expected life of a regular refrigerator is 10-12 years, but that of a built-in is 20 years, so my 11-year old unit still had plenty of life left. He said the work had a 90 day warranty and the parts warranty would run out with the 12-year warranty of my unit. When I expressed concern that inadequate repair of a slow leak may not show up until after the 90 day warranty had expired, he assured me that they would consider such instances on a case-by-case basis. I thanked him for his patience and explanations and told him to go ahead with the repair.

From there, things went smoothly. Mike came back to put in the dye injector (with a service charge of $77.55), and 3 weeks later, after the parts came in and my schedule permitted, found the expected slow leak. He replaced the parts, taking the predicted 3 hours. Mike had originally told me to empty my freezer, since everything would thaw during the repair. So in the intervening weeks, I've been trying to eat up my frozen foods (they had survived the few days of warming from -5° to +30°). I hadn't thought that all I needed to do was to put the frozen food into cooler chests during the repair, but I realized this once Mike came for the final repair.

So that's the story. My freezer's running fine again (so far) - I have ice! Mike confirmed that the leak wasn't anything I had caused; it was in a sealed part of the freezer. I was charged $785 for the final repair, less $122.60 I paid for the initial visit, so my total cost was $862.55 for 5 hours of labor and freon.


Most significantly, I've learned that I really don't need to keep much in my freezer. Fortunately, my side-by-size refrigerator doesn't hold all that much as it is, and one freezer bin is filled with coffee beans (since I've stopped drinking coffee, drinking tea instead). So I'll continue to eat up my frozen food and be more aware of what I put in there (which should be mainly for last-minute entertaining). I should also invite more friends over for coffee!

I'm concerned that the federal government and industry have created a situation where customers are stuck with unreasonable charges. I can understand regulators wanting to ensure that freon is properly recycled for reuse. But why can't we have our own freon put back into our own refrigerators? Also, while diagnostic-based charges may help prevent unscrupulous overcharging for repairs, what assurance do customers have against unreasonable "standard" charges? These may be examples of unintended consequences of government policies (far preferable to being examples of government-industry collusion to bilk customers); I'll have more to say about unintended consequences in a future blog.

Still, I'm happy that here in Columbus, I continue to be able to find service people who can help promptly and courteously (and, hopefully, competently).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Photo Editing Software: Photoshop & Lightroom

My friend K.S. Liu blogged on his experience with Adobe's Photoshop and Lightroom software. His blog is in Chinese (which I read using Google Translate), and I offered him my comments on the 2 programs. I'm repeating my comments here in my own blog (with some additions) for anyone interested.

Adobe offers several programs under the Photoshop name. Their most comprehensive product, which started as Photoshop, is now known as CS (for "Creative Suite"), now in version 4 (CS4). It's aimed at professional photographers. At the other end, the most elementary product is called Elements (now in version 7) and provides some basic photo editing tools for casual picture takers with tools much easier to use than those in CS.

I learned to use the old Photoshop (and now CS - I have the previous version, CS3) and it had become my photo editing program of choice. I tried Elements years ago (it was quite inexpensive - sometimes bundled for free with other stuff), but it just didn't have all the tools I needed to touch up my photos to my satisfaction.
My niece's husband, Gian, introduced me to Lightroom several months ago (now in version 2: LR2), and I've become a huge fan.

Once you learn them, CS and LR are very powerful. Alas, both CS and LR require some study before you can use them effectively, though LR, being simpler, takes less study. (I like Scott Kelby's books, but some may not like his CS approach which focuses on memorizing keyboard shortcuts and doesn't tell you how to access the commands via the menus).

LR provides a "left-to-right, top-to-bottom" workflow that helps me quickly edit the hundreds of photos I take at an event. The tools work very well with a touchpad or mouse. It lets me correct a photo and then apply the same correction to all the other photos I've taken under the same conditions, thus saving lots of time. I find I can now get the photos done quickly enough that I'll get them done the same evening and onto my smugmug and facebook webpages for everyone to enjoy.

I still use CS for about 5% of my photos requiring specific touch-ups that I can't do with LR tools. However, CS really requires a pen tablet to work efficiently; using a mouse with CS is quite tedious. I like my IBM ThinkPad PC for this work, where I can select areas directly with a pen on the screen. LR and CS are well integrated - they send the photo to and from each other, keeping a smooth workflow.

Photoshop Creative Suite (CS4) is quite expensive - about $700 at retail. Lightroom (LR2) is about $300. They're available with big academic discounts, if you know someone connected with a school or university. Because they're so expensive, they're also pirated (but reportedly riddled with viruses). Also, Photoshop has gotten more diligent about checking valid registrations before allowing downloads of patches to their programs (though such patches aren't frequent or required). I'm happy, though, to pay for software that works well - as these products do, and I've bought LR licences for family and friends.

The only thing the Photoshop programs don't do well is making panoramic photos. I still use my old Panorama Maker program on my PC to stitch together my panoramic photos (the older version, no longer offered, is better than the one they currently have, since it lets me align adjoining photos manually when the program hasn't matched them properly). For those really interested in panoramic photos, look into Gigapan. K.S. did and bought it, creating some beautiful and amazingly detailed photos (alas, zooming into the detail is provided only on online).

Since I usually take 100s photos at an event, editing my photos is a lot of work. But it's worth all the work to be able to share the photos with family and friends. A picture, as Confucius said, is worth 10,000 words (not the mere 1,000 words many misquote him for), so I get say a lot with all my photos!

My Orchids

I've been lucky growing plants my whole life - at least with those that need watering only once a month. So imagine my delight when my orchid plants re-bloomed this year!

My story begins a few years ago, when Mom came to New Albany for a visit. To help brighten up her room, I bought a blooming orchid plant at Home Depot. It had a nice stalk with about 8 blossoms, which lasted not only the 2 weeks of her visit, but on for another 4 months! The little tag on the plant said it was the easiest type of orchid to grow: phalaenopsis or "moth" orchid. I spoke to neighbors who had similar orchids, and they confirmed that they re-bloom every year. I didn't know how to care for them and cut off the blossom stalk after the blossoms fell off - only to see when visiting friends that I should have left the bare stem there. I dunked the plant into water when it had dried out (once every 1-2 weeks) and bought orchid plant food to add to the water every month or so. Sure enough, several months later, I was rewarded with a new, short flowering stalk and a couple of blossoms.

I became more adventuresome and bought another couple of phalaenopsis at Whole Foods (which, I found, has very good prices on orchids in November and December). I also bought a few bare-rooted orchid plants at the Franklin Park Conservatory's orchid sale after their orchid show for a few dollars each. I don't have any bright growing places for plants in my house and only a couple of ficus benjamina and a ponytail palm which have thrived through my benign neglect (my watering scheme is to drown them once a month, whether they need it or not). Well, my orchids weren't as tolerant.

I transplanted the orchids when I saw (through their clear plastic pots) that the pots were growing algae. I gave them new bark/peat medium in their transparent plastic pots. I put them in a plastic tray with pebbles on the bottom, which I would water to help provide a little humidity. Also, seeing how happy they were when they came back after being plant-sat at Tally & Midge's home during a couple of my multi-week trips away from home, I finallly put them among other plants (a braided Chinese money plant, and a Jerusalem cherry - from a cutting from a plant originally raised by Thomas Jefferson!). I think I over-watered them last fall and a few of the plants died.

The good news is that one phalaenopsis and a more difficult to grow odontoglossum are now re-blooming! I had even killed off a new bulb of the odontoglossum, but it has bounced back and has given me a spray of 5 buds, 3 now open with a delightful rose-like scent.

I've learned to dunk them in water only once every 6-8 weeks and not to let their pot bottoms get too wet from standing in the water around the pebbles. I think they also like being in with the bigger green plants. The sun from my north facing kitchen window appears to be enough (the money tree and Jerusalem cherry appear to be quite happy and are growing much taller and bushier). While the temperature varied widely during the winter (I turned down the thermostat to 50° when I was away on trips; while I was home, it would get up to the low 70s), the plants all survived.

My orchids: Testaments to the tenacity and beauty of life!