Tomorrow is the birth anniversary of Al Capone (1899) and Benjamin Franklin (1706).  The patent for cable cars was issued in 1871, the first nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus, was launched (1955), the cartoon Popeye debuted (1929),  the last Hawaiian queen, Liluokalani was deposed (1893) and the terrible nuclear accident where an American aircraft carrying nuclear bombs collided with it’s re-fueling aircraft spilling two bombs on the Palomares region of Spain (1966).

What a challenging two weeks I’ve had.  At least I’ve been dealing with this while business is fairly slow instead of the midst of a busy time in the summer.  I hate credit card processing companies.  Let me preface this with the very first credit card processing company I signed up for when I opened my first bed and breakfast in Florida.  The sales rep I met, signed a contract with and gave a $1,000 deposit opening my first credit card processing account was a retired Texas professional football player who’s name and face I recognized from watching football and the news.  When I didn’t receive a credit card machine and my phone calls to the processor weren’t returned I became angry and more aggressive on this.  Well the credit card processor told me that the ex-pro football player was an independent sales agent and they had no control over what he did.  Fast forward twelve years.  I have never had a credit card dispute since opening in Pittsburgh, my sales volume in Pittsburgh is very respectable and personally my credit score is in the 800’s.  In other words, I’m a prime candidate for the best rates around.  I have had Heartland processing my credit cards since opening here in Pittsburgh.  I’ve had very little problems with them and am generally happy with their service.  For the past year, I have been inundated with telemarketing calls claiming they could save me tons of money.  I was fairly slow in December and decided to pursue this and sent Blue Pay a copy of my current processor’s end of month report “for comparison”.  #1, never show your hand to insurance companies, credit card processors, contractors, etc.  Let them come up with an offer on their own.  So Blue Pay showed me how they were going to save me about $600 a year ($50 per month) and I agreed to go with them.  Credit card processors have to write a specific program for your terminal so everything meshes between you and their system and to ensure you are compliant with federal credit card security requirements.  Two weeks later, I get a phone call from Blue Pay around 5 pm saying the program was ready to download.  I went to my machine, got the process started with the tech and she said it would take about thirty minutes and when it was all loaded, a message would appear on the screen and I need to call in so the re-programing could be Initialized.  Thirty minutes later, the message was on the screen and I called the 800 number.  After ringing and some clicking sounds (the call was re-routed), the call went to voice mail and I left a message.  I waited fifteen minutes (they close at 6 pm EST)  I called them again and left a second voice mail.  At five minutes to six, I called the 800 number I was given to call, I called the programer I had on caller ID and I called my sales rep, all went to voice mail.  Everyone went home and I was unable to process credit cards.  Unbelievable.  So the next morning, the tech calls, couldn’t be nicer or more apologetic and we finish the programing.  This is Friday before Christmas (there will be no one in their offices for four days) so I was sure to get contact phone numbers in case I had problems over the long weekend.  So Friday night I had a problem with a guest’s credit card (the machine accepted the sale, but when I tried to recall the sale to close it out I couldn’t find the transaction in the machine).  I called the first number Blue Pay provided me and it rolled over to First Data, the company Blue Pay subcontracts to for machine technical support.  They couldn’t help me with the credit card itself.  So I called the second number I had and it went directly to First Data (the other number was forwarded to First Data).  The second rep I got, after I explained what I needed, first suggested I get the guest’s credit card and try again.   When I explained the guest had left (for the evening) and I just wanted him to find the info that I knew was in my machine and their system or retrieve the information so that I could re-process the charge.  He apologized and said he could only help me with terminal problems.  Over the weekend, I decided that even if Blue Pay was honest in their assessment of the fees I pay Heartland, for $50 a month to be able to reach a rep or tech 24/7 was worth it.  So Wednesday, I attempted to contact my sales rep from Blue Pay through voice mail and e-mail to cancel my account and never heard from him (he was on an extended holiday).  When I didn’t hear from Blue Pay on Wednesday, Thursday morning I called Heartland, my account was still active and they started the process of re-programing my terminal.  After repeated attempts to re-program my terminal (the final attempt was Friday morning-I had been up until 2 am Thursday night trying to get the terminal to accept Heartland’s program), Blue Pay had a piece of code in the processing machine that Heartland couldn’t overwrite.  I needed a new terminal, Heartland overnights them, but because this was now Friday and the holidays, I wouldn’t get it until Wednesday.  This is New Years Weekend AND the Steelers had their last home game of the season that Sunday.  I had to manually write down the credit card numbers over the weekend and then go to an on-line processing program Heartland has and for each transaction there was multiple forms I needed to fill out.  Now remember, I was sold out those four days with multiple rooms that needed cleaned, turned, guests needed checked in (my check-in process is at least 20 minutes, in addition to showing the Inn, their room, getting ID and credit card info, I can easily spend another twenty minutes giving “directions and recommendations”).  Also, each time we tried to re-program the terminal, it was a half hour download time and then at least a half hour trying to get the terminal to work.  Dee does most of the housekeeping work, but there’s things I need to help her with in addition to my Innkeeping and breakfast cook duties.  Busy time for me.

ALSO, that Friday before NYE, my CPA does what he does every year.  After reviewing my books, he has me call ADP (my payroll processor) and assign personal use of company vehicle, health care payments and a pay check for myself (I still don’t draw a pay from the company, this amount is for tax purposes for the company and myself-totally legal and above the board).  I entered Dee’s payroll Sunday night as always and called in Monday for the the items that need charged to me.  I was aware Monday was New Years Eve and made it abundantly clear the these adjustments to me HAD to be for pay period ending December 30, 2012.  It could not be in 2013’s payroll.  After a lengthy conversation with the clerk, I let her make the entries.  I wasn’t comfortable after hanging up, so I called back and asked for a supervisor.  The very nice lady I was talking to needed to know what I needed a supervisor for so she could direct the call.  I explained my concerns and she assured me it was not problem, she could handle it.  We went through the process and again I emphasized the charges HAD to hit in 2012.  When I got the reports and paychecks from ADP the next day, my check was dated 1/2/13!!!!!!!!!!  So I call ADP again and I think we finally have it straightened out.  BUT, ADP ran the first payroll from the first clerk I spoke with, then when I spoke with the second clerk, she needed to delete that first run and do a new one.  Then when I spoke with them for the third time, they had to delete the second run and do a third.  I have receive five sets of payroll (three initiating and two deleting), two sets of end of year reports and three letters notifying me that they were taking money out of or replacing money in my account.  I’ve had to figure out from my bank statements showing what was taken out of my account  in January by ADP on my own.  ADP was totally useless in this.  Not totally the clerk’s fault, you need to see ADP’s reports to understand how you can not have an intelligent conversation over the phone with an ADP representative if you don’t see how the number the pages.  There’s close to twenty pages for the report for each pay period.  Some are listed “This Page Has Been Deliberately Left Blank”.  Others are reminders you might need to order supplies, some are alerts that this was the End of Month Report, etc.  These pages are identified  by Period Covered, Check Date, Run Week, Qtr Page on the bottom of each page (the rest of the human race would use PAGE NUMBERS).  And Page does not mean page number.  Of these twenty odd pages, some have no Page description, there’s multiple Page 1’s throughout.  There’s no way you can talk to an ADP clerk and say “On Page 6, it says you deducted $75 for FICA, why’s that?”  Add to that, I assume that the ADP clerk is looking at a computer screen that doesn’t mimic the printed page I am looking at.  The same information is probably in their computer, but that probably is not image to image identical, how can you talk intelligently?  Dealing with ADP for the last six years, I have found their staff to be very professional, courteous and a genuine desire to make things right.  BUT ADP’s system is so cumbersome that it is not functional.  The system is a breeze to work with when things are smooth, but an unbelievable nightmare when a problem arises.  I don’t blame the first clerk or the nice lady for making a mistake.  I blame ADP for having a system that is so cumbersome that it can be useless when their clients need help.

Wow, thanks for listening.  I feel better, not so much that I vented (it did help), but last night I finally got my bank account balanced between Blue Pay, ADP and Heartland’s challenges.  I do still have an end of year report I need to finish for my CPA so he’s prepared to come and do my year end audit this week, that’s today’s project.  Hopefully I can get back to stripping the wainscoting in Oleander’s bathroom tomorrow.

After five years and about $500M dollars, the new Clairton Coke Works came on line this past November.  Much to the relief of the small city of Clairton and the Mon Valley in general.  This year, Allegheny County seems able to be in compliance with the current federally mandated soot limit for the first time ever.  (We have for years achieved past levels set by the EPA, but they kept increasing the stringency of the rules and so we were credited with complying past levels and promised to “do better”).  J  The Clairton Coke Works, I believe it is the largest in the United States, was a major component in this increase in air quality.  The reduction in the number of coal fire power plants or the increased efficiency of the air scrubbing equipment is the second biggest factor.

Speaking of coal, in eastern Mississippi, Mississippi Power Company ( a subsidiary of mega power group Southern Company) is working on a $2.6B coal to gas fired power plant that supposedly will emit much less carbon pollution than any other coal fired plant.  Although the plant is already a half a billion dollars over original budget, the technologies coming out of this plant should help other coal fired plants be more compliant to federal standards.  Southern Company (you may be more familiar with another of their subsidiaries Georgia Power) says the reason for this huge expense is diversification.  Five years ago, 70% of their power came from coal fired plants and 11% came from natural gas.  Today, 35% comes from coal and 47% comes from natural gas.  With the life of power plants ranging in the decades, planning on not having “all your eggs in one basket” does seem to be a wise option.  Southern is also adding two nuclear power plants to their mix (out of four currently under construction in the US).

Did you know most free apps aren’t free?  Take the wildly popular (not as popular as it was a year ago, but still huge), in the program, they track your location and sell that information to third parties.  This is not nefarious, like big brother checking up on you or that they are going to sent a “hit squad” to “take you out”.  I imagine it’s generally sold to say Chilli’s and if your location is near one of their stores, you get an ad sent to your smart phone.  Some of the “cookies” are more nefarious.  (A cookie is a program planted in your computer, smart phone, etc that keeps info stored.  It’s like when you go back to a site you’ve been to before and start filling out a form, and with the first few keystrokes the site prompts you with what your typing in-like your name or address).  Sometime they take your address book or even pictures you have stored on your computer/smart phone/etc.  Of the 2,254 app users interviewed by the Pew Research Center, 54% chose not to install an app for privacy reasons and 30% chose to uninstall apps for this reason.  There’s currently a push in certain circles for more transparency in what these apps are placing on you device.  (To be fair, they do tell you, but who ever reads all that fine print when you “Agree to Terms and Conditions”.  The push is pull the description of these cookies out of the Terms and Conditions and make them readily apparent when selecting to download the app.


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