Tivoli services: $20k for two years

Tivoli is trying to get more experienced people into the IBM Software Services for Tivoli (ISST). They are currently running a “promotional” program to encourage people from Tivoli development into ISST. Their carrot is $20k for 2 years of service paid up front. The other carrot is that the compensation for ISST personnel is greater than that for regular developers: ISST averages 21% bonus paid quarterly, regular developers are up to 9% bonus paid yearly. The major downside is the amount of travel, up to 75%. Interestingly one benefit of the travel is that the job is not location dependent – they don’t care where you live. That would make moving to a gay-friendly state much easier as long as we lived close enough to the airport.

Unlike IBM Global Services’s (IGS) utilization target of 98%, ITTS’s utilization target is only 50% which gives more room for education, intellectual capital development, etc.

It would amount to no less than a $10k/year bonus for the next two years (which is damn good) and around 21%/year bonus on top of that. This is going to be a tough call. Have I mentioned that I am almost a perfect fit for one of the open qualifying positions? This is going to be a really though call. They’re only hiring 30 people and to get the bonus you have to transfer by March 31th.

Update 2006/02/10 – Modified entry to be public.

Fusion, not fission

This Saturday Benjamin and I went and bought a new car: a 2006 Ford Fusion. The entire car-buying experience (from loan to insurance to buying the car) was a very stressful and frustrating ordeal. Let me break it down:

Selecting a Car
Finding which car we wanted to buy was the no-brainer. We did our research and select four cars that meet our MPG and amenity criteria. They were the Ford Fusion. Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima — all of which were in our price range. On Monday, January the 16th we went and test-drive every vehicle except the Camry (which Benjamin took one long look at and said “nope, no way”). We made it clear to the salesmen that we were only test driving and would not be buying a car that day. The test drives were very pleasant as were the salesmen. In the end it came down to the two-door Honda Accord and the Ford Fusion. After some discussion and research we settled on the Ford Fusion.

Ownership
For a variety of reasons we wanted Benjamin to own the car and thus has to be on the loan. In order to facilitate this I was going to give him $12k (the maximum tax-free gift amount for 2006) for the down payment and he could finance the rest. We were hoping to have him as the only owner for reasons that I don’t want to go into at the moment.

Loan
Benjamin’s credit union was willing to give him the desired funds at 5.80% interest – the lowest of any of our financial institutions. That was too damn easy I swear.

Insurance
I called my insurance company about adding Benjamin to my policy. They stated that he would have to be on his own policy even if he lived with me. I thanked the woman, hung up, and went insurance shopping. I went to the HRC website and looked up which insurance companies scored the highest on workplace equality index. Nationwide insurance scored 100%. I found an agent in my area (just down the street), called him up and got a quote to match my existing coverage on both my house and my car. To do a 1-for-1 swap with my current insurance would save me $500 a year. Moreover they were willing to put Benjamin on the policy if both of our names were on the title (apparently Texas law requires the person on the title to insure the car). I received two quotes, one with Benjamin on my policy (+$800 a year) and one with him on his own policy (+$1600 a year). I went ahead and put the gears in motion to switch my coverage to Nationwide while we went back to figure out our loan.

Loan – revisited
Benjamin’s credit union would not allow me to be a co-signer on his loan because we didn’t have joint credit. We explained that we have a joint credit card (and savings/checking account) through my credit union but that wouldn’t work. Without my name on the loan we can’t have both of our names on the title and thus can’t have them on the same policy. I contacted my credit union and asked if we could get a joint loan with them. They said that wouldn’t be a problem although their lowest interest rate is 5.95%. That’s 0.15% higher but still better in the long run if we’re going to save $800 a year on insurance. We’re only financing for 3 years which yields a savings of ~$1400 over the life of the loan if you factor in the higher rate of separate insurance policies. I had wanted to have the loan completely taken care of when I went to talk with the dealership so I asked the loan officer when I could come in and fill out the paperwork. She asked what dealership we were planning on buying from. Turns out the credit union has a contract with most dealerships in town to have the dealership file the paperwork directly to the bank and “make it easier on the customer”. That means that the dealership has to run the credit report and other credit-type paperwork on behalf of the bank. The credit union’s contract with the dealership specifies that credit union customers can not go directly through the credit union that they must go through the dealership. WTF? Ok, fine – we’ll do it that way.

Car pricing
I dutifully went online and used a tool to calculate the dealer price of the vehicle that we wanted to purchase including all of the features as well. I did some calculations and decided the absolute maximum amount we would pay for the car including TTL. If the dealership wouldn’t sell me the car for this price, we wouldn’t be buying it — at least from that dealership. jeffford & jonobie had recently purchased a Mazda 3 and found out that IBM employees get a special pricing plan from Ford, the X-Plan. The X-Plan starts the price negotiations at supposedly the dealer’s price (although I don’t buy that for a minute) but the price is suppose to be significantly less than the MSRP. I did some research and did the appropriate steps to obtain my Ford X-Plan PIN that I would need to present to the dealership to obtain X-Plan pricing. By this point I think we were prepared for the war.

Buying the car
Earlier in the week Benjamin and I contacted our sales person and made an appointment to come into the dealership at 3pm on Saturday afternoon. Benjamin had to work in the morning and wouldn’t get out until 1:15pm at the earliest. Shortly after he arrived home our sales person called and said that two separate couples had come in and were wanting to buy the car, could we come in sooner? We said yes (I’m wary the whole time thinking he’s just trying to catch us off guard) and leave for the dealership.

We drive up and don’t see the car in the lot next to the other Fusions. Unsure of where it might be we walked into the showroom and there it is! The car had been detailed and placed in the showroom which was very obviously why people were suddenly interested in it. The sales person set us down and asked what kind of payments we were wanting to make. I informed him that we wanted to negotiate the total cost of the vehicle, that I was on the X-Plan, provided him the paperwork, and set back. He went to go ask if his manager would sell the cost at X-Plan cost (since there were other buyers that presumably would pay more than X-Plan pricing for the car). His manager apparently agreed. The sales person then wanted to know how we were going to finance it and I said that I wanted to complete a buyer’s order with a finalized price before talking about financing. He dutifully filled out the buyer’s order, describing each line as it was filled out. Beyond the X-Plan price (which I truly believe to be negotiable even though they won’t tell you that) the only items that I believed to be negotiable totaled $100. The final price was ~$500 less than what I had decided to buy the vehicle for and instead of haggling over $100 I decided to just take it.

Aftermath
There isn’t much more to add – except that I had to argue with the finance manager why I didn’t want his extended warranty. When I mentioned that when Benjamin worked at CarMAX that he received more in commission for selling an extended warranty than he did for selling the car the man got on the defensive and said that Covert was a “family owned and operated” dealership and that they wouldn’t rip off their customers like CarMAX – the sleaziest dealership in the business (yeah, like I believe that).

Benjamin doesn’t like the names I’ve picked out for the car: either Cold or Fission. He does, however, absolutely love the car. I am very pleased with how well it drives, how quiet it is inside, and how happy it makes Benjamin — that in itself is worth the car’s weight in gold.

3M Half Marathon – like a run in the park

Benjamin and I ran the 3M Half Marathon yesterday morning. We completed all 13.1 miles in 2:26 (a pace of 11:13/M). The weather was beautiful and the course was great. We felt very good all throughout the race. At the end of the race we were both tired but not beat up and were very pleasantly surprised with our times. jonobie and jeffford both appeared to have a great run as well and finished faster than their expected times.

I think several things helped Benjamin and I have a great run:

  • We established our own pace. In the RunTex 20-miler we ran with jonobiewho’s pace is slightly slower than our own. While we really enjoyed her company I think this hurt us overall.
  • We kept our pace. In previous races we went out too fast and were just decimated at the end of the race. This race we did better about keeping ~10:00/M throughout the race which is our goal.
  • We stretched every two miles. Benjamin’s knees give him problems as do my ankles. Taking the time to stretch every two miles really helps in keeping the pain at bay.
  • We carb-loaded the night before. For past races we had eaten at Bear Rock Cafe the evening before the race. For the 3M we joined jeffford & jonobie at Johnny Carino’s for lots of bread and pasta.
  • I ate something along the way. At the RunTex 20-miler I learned just how important it is to have something to eat in the middle of the race. This time I brought along a Chocolate Chip Clif bar and ate half of it at the half-way point and the other half at around mile 10.
  • I had pseudo-fans. There were all kinds of people along the way cheering for various people. No one came out to cheer me on personally although that didn’t stop me from adopting fans. At one point there were two women who had signs for ‘Helen’. When we approached them I said “You can call me Helen” which got a laugh and lots of cheering encouragement. A bit later I saw Vanessa, a fellow IBMer, who had come out to cheer jonobie but cheered me on when she saw me. Finally, closer to the finish I saw another group of people holding signs to encourage ‘Kathleen’. I pulled my “You can call me Kathleen” line which got me cheering and encouragement (hey – the Kathleen people and Helen people didn’t know each other and it worked!).
  • The race was down-hill. While this one isn’t something we can actually control, I know it helped us. The 3M Half Marathon isn’t a loop but rather starts in north Austin and finished downtown – a not-insignificant decrease in elevation. The Freescale Marathon is also pseudo-linear and downhill which will help.

I’m not sure if Benjamin and I had another 13.1 miles in us on Sunday but we’re going to have to find it somewhere as the Freescale Marathon is coming up on February 19th.

Updating the peelinc.com and kence.org infrastructures

I talked Dad into getting two nice Dell PowerEdge servers to be the new DNS/web/mail servers for Peel, Inc. They’ll also power some of the kence.org infrastructure as well. They’re pretty sweet boxes (1×3.6GHz dual-core Intel, 2GB RAM, RAID5 disks, 2×10/100/1000 network cards). They will both be configured almost identical with the usual Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, BIND, SquirrelMail, Postfix, Dovecot, etc. One will go at the new sales office in Pflugerville and the other will be at the shop there in Littlefield. We have a business ADSL account in Pflugerville and are getting one in Littlefield (to replace the wireless connection they currently have). Both connections are 1.5/384 which is faster than my 144/144 IDSL connection at the house. The Pflugerville box will be the primary box (Master DNS, final SMTP destination, IMAP/POP server, etc) with the box in Littlefield being the backup (Slave DNS, SMTP backup, MySQL replica, etc). I’m in the process of setting the boxes up now and hope to move them in a couple of weeks after I get them finalized and tested.

I’m going to be phasing things onto the new boxes after I get them installed. The first thing to go will be the DNS and web. Followed by mail a few weeks later (the trickier of the two). I’m moving to virtual mail hosting with a MySQL database backend for both Postfix and Dovecot to make administration easier. A big plus will be the ability for users to change their passwords which has plagued me for years now.

After the migration I’ll still have daneel.kence.org set up as a relay for a while although he will eventually be phased out. After consolidating some hardware I’ll be creating a new non-peelinc-web server box to host at the Pflugerville office to replace mcguvnor.kence.org although that’s a couple of months away at the earliest. I’m looking forward to getting the old space heaters out of my office at the house – sure to lower my electric bills in the summer!

Just a little matter of market reference points

Someone asked today if I had figured out where the money came from and I responded in the negative. They recommended I contact my 2nd-line manager (that’s IBM speak for my manager’s manager) and see what they knew.

Come to find out:

Me: [detailed question about end-of-year random base pay adjustment]
2nd Line: The money is yours. There was small, not well-known bucket of funds that was allocated to each director at the end of the year. Each director looked at the market reference point of high-potential and strong performers and used it to make some adjustments. When [my director] looked at his organization, he saw your market reference point below average and implemented the adjustment to get your salary more competitive, kind of a random out of cycle circumstance, but I would say that we spent the money in the right place.
Me: That’s essentially the kind of information I was looking for. I just started to get a little concerned when no one seemed to know what I was talking about <laugh> Thanks!
2nd Line: No problem. Sorry we didn’t let you know all this sooner, and again, as I said before, thanks for all the hard work you are doing.

Now we know – lets have a round of applause for market reference points!

Soy update – Benjamin shows some leg

Ok, so maybe he didn’t show some leg, but Benjamin got an amazing discount on the soy candles. He called It’s A Soy today (yes, that’s actually the name of the business – how bizarre is that) and the $30/table candles we obtained for $20 a table! They even offered to ship them via UPS to us for a flat rate of $15 instead of per-pound. We were able to get all the candles needed sent to us for under $300! That’s my man!

Where did the money come from?

My last paycheck in December was slightly higher than I was expecting. I really didn’t pay that much attention mostly because, due to a variety of reasons, the last paycheck of the year can be higher or lower than the previous 23. Besides, higher is better and I wasn’t complaining.

During the first week of January I was checking to confirm that Benjamin was listed as a beneficiary for some employer-provided benefits. While poking around the HR site I noticed that I had received a base salary adjustment on December 16th and it was titled “Adjustment”. For those of you who don’t work at IBM let me say that this is unusual – most salary adjustments happen in the middle of the year and are clearly labeled with “Promotional Increase” or “Merit Increase”. This end-of-the-year adjustment was just bizzare. After doing my confused-but-happy Engineer’s Dance I made a note to ask my manager about it during our monthly one-on-one meetings and didn’t think more about it.

Fast forward to today.

At the end of the one-on-one with my manager I asked her what the adjustment was for. She said that while she’d love to take credit for it, she had nothing to do with it nor had my previous manager (I had a total of 3 managers last year) mentioned anything about it. She concluded by recommending that I call the Employee Service Center (ESC) to make sure that it wasn’t a mistake and that they wouldn’t want the money back later. At this point I was confused but not particularly worried.

I called the ESC and explained to the helpful service representative what had happened and they forwarded me onto Payroll. I explained to Payroll what had happened and they forwarded me onto HR Solutions. I explained to HR Solutions what happened and was placed on hold for several minutes. After a while the very friendly guy said that the system that would tell him the information is down and that the only thing he was able to discover was that some manager had to have put in the request for the adjustment. He said that he was unable to make outbound calls from the ESC but that he would put a note in my file so that if I wanted to call back tomorrow or later in the week the next person I contacted would know to pick up where he left off. I thanked him and decided to try a more direct approach.

I IM’d my previous manager and asked him if he knew anything about it. He said that he couldn’t take credit for it either although he did know that some of these “adjustments” were made during the December timeframe for members of his team but that “[they were] communicated to management and the adjustments were provided for good reasons”. He reassured me that he guessed it wasn’t a mistake but that “someone may have dropped the ball” in letting me know what was going on.

That brings us up to the here and now. I’m both pleased, pissed, and paranoid all at the same time. I’m pleased that there’s a possibility that the adjustment was intentional. I’m a little pissed that if it was intentional somehow I slipped through the cracks for notification of why I got it. Finally, I’m paranoid that my elation at having been financially “hugged” for my work last year was all just someone fat-fingering the wrong employee number and that not only will my nice little “hug” be taken away but that they’ll want their last two “hugs” back too!