Sunday, May 12, 2013

Beware of Michael Mackay

Michael R. Mackay and his wife Darla do business as "The HomeXchange" in the Cincinnati, OH area. I've recently had the unfortunate experience of conducting business with these folks.  I will cover the full details at a later time, so for now all I wish to bring attention to is the complete disregard Michael has for the contracts that he signs. I don't know if he is so careless with all of his contracts, but he certainly was with mine.

Michael and I signed a contract wherein he would lease my house. He would then be able to turn around and sublease the house to someone else, who hopefully would buy the house at the end of the contract period. Michael would profit both on the monthly rent, and on the final sale price of the house. I don't begrudge him this profit; he offered a service and I felt that service had value. The problem I have is with the way Michael conducts his business. Michael had 1 key obligation to me for the duration of the contract, and that was to pay me rent by the 1st of the month. That's it. Given our modern era of electronic banking and automatic payments, this should have been no problem. But as you'll see for yourself, it turned out to be a constant problem:

 Contract Due Date  Actual Date Paid  Business Days Late  Calendar Days Late 
Feb 1, 2011 Feb 22, 2011 15 21
Mar 1, 2011 Mar 8, 2011 5 7
Apr 1, 2011 Apr 5, 2011 2 4
May 1, 2011 May 6, 2011 5 5
Jun 1, 2011 Jun 13, 2011 8 12
Jul 1, 2011 Jul 8, 2011 4 7
Aug 1, 2011 Aug 5, 2011 4 4
Sep 1, 2011 Sep 13, 2011 7 12
Oct 1, 2011 Oct 7, 2011 5 6
Nov 1, 2011 Nov 9, 2011 6 8
Dec 1, 2011 Dec 19, 2011 12 18
Jan 1, 2012 Jan 17, 2012 10 16
Feb 1, 2012 Feb 2, 2012 1 1
Mar 1, 2012 Mar 14, 2012 10 13
Apr 1, 2012 Apr 20, 2012 15 19
May 1, 2012 Apr 20, 2012 0 0
Jun 1, 2012 Jun 6, 2012 3 5
Jul 1, 2012 Jul 5, 2012 3 4
Aug 1, 2012 Aug 6, 2012 5 5
Sep 1, 2012 Sep 7, 2012 5 6
Oct 1, 2012 Oct 9, 2012 6 8
Nov 1, 2012 Nov 13, 2012 8 12
Dec 1, 2012 Dec 17, 2012 10 16
Jan 1, 2013 Not Paid -- --


Some key points regarding the above:

  • The contract specifies that after 10 business days of no payment, the contract is in default. The red boxes above are the times he was late with his payment beyond this deadline. The yellow ones are basically right at the last possible moment, and I would need a lawyer to confirm whether or not those also constitute default. I will talk later about the reasons I allowed this to happen more than once, but in short there was a second contract in play.
  • The green box represents an actual on time payment. Note that it only happened once, and was largely because the previous month was so late he decided to pay two months at once.
  • The average is a little over 6 business days late.
  • Note that he was late from the very first month. He had sub-leasers in my house already, and I would later learn that he had collected a substantial down payment from them, but still he could not pay even the first month on time.
  • My contract with Michael was in no way related to when the sub-leasers would pay him. I would later learn that their payment was due on the 25th each month, and the Mackays were very diligent about making sure the payment was received. Even if they had ever been late, my contract did not care, so their behavior should have in no way affected Michael's ability to pay on time.
  • Michael still has not made the final payment, and it is 5 months overdue as I type this.

At the time we first met, Michael lived in a large, luxurious house and drove a big BMW. The amount that he owed me each month was probably less than his car payment, so this is not someone who is hurting for money.

Michael specifically hand wrote a clause into our contract such that there would be no penalty for late payment until the 10 day deadline. I wasn't too worried about it at the time, thinking it was more of a "in case of emergency" kind of thing. I have now come to understand he did this quite deliberately because he enjoys being late with his payment.

Michael and Darla conducted an interview of me and my wife initially, effectively to determine if we were trustworthy enough of doing business with them. This has turned out to be quite the farce, as they are the ones who have revealed themselves of being unworthy. Michael proudly includes his military service in his profile. I'm guessing he has been away for too long, as he has clearly forgotten the meaning of terms like duty and honor.

So if you are considering entering into a business relationship with Michael and Darla Mackay, either individually or through their "The HomeXchange" business, I strongly suggest that you run quickly the other way. In my experience, they do not honor the terms of their contracts. As shown above, not only are they routinely late with their payments, they didn't bother to make the final payment. I am now in the position of deciding if legal action will be worth it to get the remaining money. If you do not heed this warning and wish to do business with the Mackays anyway, make sure you have a lawyer review every single line of any contract before you sign. And do not take Michael's word on any matter. Make sure all claims are written down.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Treadmill Desk Review

I have a few days of walking under my belt now, so it's probably a good time to do a preliminary review of my LifeSpan TR1200-DT Treadmill Desk

Unboxing & Assembly

The set arrived in 2 large boxes, 1 for the treadmill base, and one with the desk parts.  I knew that the desk needed to be put together first, and I have limited space available, so I started with the desk box.  I carefully pulled out and set aside the legs, the cross beams, the desktop, and grabbed a bag of miscellaneous hardware.  Manufacturer Mistake #1: this bag contained a handy little note informing me that assembly instructions could be found... in the other box.  Diabolical bastards.  There is absolutely no reason to put the instructions in the other box.  The treadmill doesn't really need instructions; the desk does.  So I throw all of the packing materials into the box and carry it out to the garbage to clear room for the treadmill box, just so that I can get to the instruction manual.

The desk is not hard to put together.  The cross beams attach to the legs with a few screws.  The desktop then attaches to the legs with a couple of bolts… wait a minute, where are the bolts?  My hardware baggie is empty.  I *gasp* refer to the manual.  Sure enough, there is a list of parts, with a specific note indicating these items can be found in the hardware bag.  4 bolts, 4 nuts, nowhere to be found.  I can only assume they were still in the original box, perhaps taped to a piece of styrofoam and I simply overlooked them.  So I head down to the garbage, and carefully remove and inspect every item in there.  Styrofoam, cardboard, plastic wrap, tape.  No bolts.  I begin to wonder if they slipped another baggie into the treadmill box.  Back to the den, and inspect the contents as best as I can without actually removing the treadmill since I don't really have room to get it out of the box yet.  No bolts.  Curse words.  Lightning bolts.  The instruction manual provides the specs of those bolts, so I'm moments away from visiting my nearest hardware store, when out of sheer dumb luck I happen to notice something I had missed before.  The bolts were already installed on the legs.  I had to remove them in order to attach the desktop, then reinstall them.  Manufacturer Mistake #2: If the manual says the parts are in the bag, put them in the damn bag.

For some reason they want the legs at full height in order to attach the desktop.  Not sure why that made a difference, but it did increase the degree of difficulty a bit.  It would have been handy to have the help of a second person, but I was alone at the time, so I did what I could.  It's not the heaviest thing in the world, but it's not light either, and it was awkward to maneuver into position.  As I reattached *grumble* the bolts, I tried to judge the stability of the surface.  The legs by themselves provide a good, solid base.  There is only the slightest play side-to-side, and virtually none front-to-back.  As I attached the desktop, I noticed a not-insignificant amount of play front-to-back.  There is simply too much play between the bolts and the holes in the desktop.  I wouldn't call it unstable, but neither is it rock solid.  My computer equipment sits towards the back, so most of the time it leans slightly backwards.  When I lean on it to start typing, it rocks slightly forward.  There are a couple of gaps at the connection, and I intend to shove some shims in there which should address the problem, but it's disappointing that I need to.

After constructing the desk, all that remains is to slide the treadmill into position and connect a couple of cables.  There is no hard connection between the treadmill and the desk, so this theoretically helps to isolate any treadmill vibration from the desk.  I don't have anything to compare to, but it seems to work just fine.

Treadmill Features

The control panel is located at the front of the desk.  I would like it more if it was off to one side, but I can't say that it has really interfered with anything I've tried to do.  It has your basic start/stop/mode/speed up/speed down buttons.  The display offers elapsed time, a step counter, a calorie counter, distance, and speed.

When the unit is first powered on, it wants you to enter your weight.  This is no problem in and of itself, but it starts at the low end of the scale, and, well, I'm heavy.  It takes a while to get it up to the correct weight, even if I hold the button down.  All that does is require less beeping, it doesn't really go that much faster.  What's worse is that there is seemingly no memory.  I power the treadmill down at night, so each morning I turn it back on and have to re-enter my weight again.  Yes, these are 1st-world problems, but it's annoying nonetheless.

When you hit the Start button to begin walking, there is a 3,2,1 countdown, and then the treadmill slooooooowly begins to move.  There are 2 factors at play here.  One, there is a slow spool-up, probably in the interest of safety.  That's fine, but I'd like a faster curve.  It…….. is…….. quite……… distracting……….. to………. walk……… so………. slowly……….  But it does eventually get up to speed.  The other factor is that every time you start walking, the speed has been reset to the slowest speed of 0.4.  So your first steps of the day will be at 0.4.  Later, you've been trucking along at 1.3 and need to take a quick break? When you come back: 0.4.  I can understand not keeping the speed value through a shut down, but just after a pause?  Irritating.

Oh, and stopping the treadmill is the total opposite of starting it.  When you hit the stop button, it stops NOW.  There is no gentle wind-down, boom, the motor is off, you're done.  So you really need to step onto the side rails before telling it to stop.  I actually would like a longer wind-down period here.

I haven't watched the step counter over lengthy periods of time, but when I watch it for a few steps at a time, it seems accurate enough.  It's a nice feature that I didn't see mentioned on too many other treadmills.  I can't really comment on the accuracy of the distance measurement, but it is at least internally consistent.  If I walk for an hour at 1.1, then by golly the distance will be 1.1.  The calorie counter seems really high to me.  So far it says I'm averaging around 250 cals/hr, and my average speed is around 1.2.  My earlier readings on desk walking lead me to expect around 125 cals/hr, so either those numbers are off, or these numbers are off.  Or maybe I just burn more calories due to my size.  As far as weight loss expectations, I'm mentally keeping the lower number in mind.  If I start dropping pounds in a big way, then I might be inclined to believe the higher numbers more.

This may have come off a little more negative than I intended.  The controls are user-friendly, and the treadmill does what it is supposed to do just fine.  There are 2 instances where, if it simply stored a value, the annoyance factor would be reduced tremendously.

The treadmill is reasonably quiet during operation.  I've had no complaints from the apartment neighbors or the wife.  I tend to wear headphones anyway, so I really don't hear it at all.  Even without the headphones, there is not much noise; certainly not enough to be a distraction.  The sound of me walking is more than the treadmill itself makes.

LIfeSpan advertises a large walking surface, and they aren't kidding.  I haven't accidentally kicked the side rails while walking.  More than enough room front-to-back, too.  They could easily chop a foot of length off, maybe two.  That said, if you consider the space required by my desk chair, the overall footprint of this treadmill isn't much longer than what I used before.

Desk Features

The desk surface could use another 6 inches of width of so.  Right now I have a monitor, a docking station for my laptop, iPad stand, iPhone stand, keyboard and mouse, and a large cup of water.  The back corner of the laptop dock is hanging off the edge by a couple of inches.  I could shift everything over a bit, but then my primary monitor wouldn't be centered.  Eventually I would like to purchase a Mac mini and a second monitor, at which point it would probably be a good idea to get one of those swing arms that holds the monitors up in the air.  Doing that would alleviate any space issues I currently have, but alas it's not in the budget for a while.

The front edge of the desk has a firm cushion.  I had seen a user review video of a woman using this desk, and she was actually leaning on it putting her forearms on this cushion.  To me that seemed like the desk was too high.  I was expecting to basically hold my arms in the air all day over the keyboard.  I also had an issue last year sitting at tables that were hitting lower on my arm closer to my elbow.  This resulted in tingling in my fingers, and I'd rather not go through that again.  But then when I was getting the desk height adjusted, I found that it actually was pretty comfortable to rest my arms on these cushions.  It's not like I'm typing at chin level or anything, but the desk surface is maybe 2 or 3 inches higher than my elbows.  The height of the cushion actually matches pretty well with my keyboard.  If I start noticing tingling in my fingers again, then I will drop the height pretty quickly, but so far so good.

The desk has a cable pass-thru hole towards the back, but I'm not sure it's really worth it.  There is a tray under the desk that I guess is supposed to be some kind of cable organizer, but for me it was mostly just in the way.  I dropped a plug through expecting it to hit the floor, when instead it clanked on this tray.  So I had to feel around for the plug and fish it out to get it where it needed to go.  I don't know if the intention is to put the power strip there, but mine wouldn't fit anyway.  Either way, the cables are long enough that the ones that don't need to go very far hang off the back and loop back up.  From an organization and appearance standpoint, it's not really doing much.

Cable lengths are a problem with a desktop this high.  You basically need about 2 more feet that the manufacturers didn't plan for.  I guess if LifeSpan was going to do anything for cable management, what might have been more useful is some kind of tray or something on the back of the highest cross beam for the legs.  This would be a decent spot to place a power strip, and would have most likely eliminated any cable length issues.  In the absence of that, the smaller desk here actually provided an opportunity.  It is over a foot narrower than my regular desk, and the width at the feet is even narrower still.  This left plenty of room for me to slide in one of my IKEA EXPEDIT shelves.  I have it laying on its side, so it is 2 cubes high.  I moved the power strip onto one of the shelves, which allowed all of the power cords to reach just fine.  It's also where I relocated my network drives, as I was a little leery about putting them on the desk.  My laptop has an SSD, so I'm not too terribly worried about movement there, but the NAS's have regular hard drives, so I'd rather have them on an absolutely-not-moving surface.



I do have a few minor complaints, but taken as a whole, there is nothing that I regret about this purchase so far.  Everything seems well made for the price.  I can't yet speak to the long-term durability of either the treadmill or the desk, but I haven't seen any red flags that give me cause for concern.

As I write this, the purchase price is still $1299 with free shipping.  This is noted as a sale price, with a list price of $1999.  I have no idea how long the sale price will last, or what the regular price will be, but if they can keep it under $1500, then I suspect they will sell a lot of these to those of us without corporate budgets to dip into.  The warranty is listed as lifetime for the frame, 3 years for motor and parts, and 1 year labor.  One thing to note is that they claim a limit of 3 hours/day (manual actually says 4) of usage, though it isn't clear if this applies only to commercial usage.  Either way, this seems to be a ridiculous limitation.  I'm only supposed to walk at my desk for 3 or 4 hours a day?  What am I doing for the rest of the day?  The welcome letter at the front of the manual says that people sit for 11 hours a day.  In my opinion, if there is going to be a daily usage limit, it should be no less than 8 hours.  I guess we'll find out how much an issue that might be if I ever need warranty service.

Overall, I'm satisfied with the purchase, and would happily recommend it to anyone thinking about a treadmill desk purchase.

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