Friday, 29 January 2010

Visa Surprises Again

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Having had a financial fellowship with Visa from way back when it went by the moniker Chargex,  I sometimes think I understand all of their devious schemes. But not so grasshopper.
Only once or twice in the past have I taken advantage of their low 24% per annum interest rates and not paid off in full at the end of the month or billing cycle.  Which reminds me  that the statement always is sent out rather late after the billing date; thus forcing you to mail out your payment immediately before you miss the payment date and incur penalties.  Not Visa’s fault of course, must be the post office hanging on to the outbound mail.

Anyways, for one of the monthly services I decided to get, the provider insisted on billing my Visa account by the month - with all the security guarantees that my number was safe with them - and I cheerily signed on board. After using the service for four years, I decided to go with a new company. Simple enough: give the old company a month’s notice (as per agreement), send them a letter, confirm the termination with an email and just to be super safe back it up with a personal phone call to the billing department.

No problem.
Except! Two months later the payments are still being charged to my Visa account. So I give the company a quick call, however it is too early to discuss the matter so I leave a message requesting somebody attend to the oversight and refund my overpayments.  To be on the safe side, I telephone Visa on their I-800 number figuring it will be an easy matter to have the recurring payments stopped while the misunderstanding is cleared up. Hmmm! Seems I am not allowed to summarily stop regular monthly payments under any circumstances, only the firm or service provider can terminate the agreement. If they choose for any reason not to do so, there is no other recourse for a Visa customer except to request a new card with a different account number. However, if the company keeps sending in the bill, Visa will happily accommodate them by transferring the bill to your new account number. You can of course close your account  and shred your card.
Possibly two things at work here. One, Visa salivates over all the monthly, ongoing bills being routed through their system. They get to skim 2 or 3 or 4 or more % right off the top with a pretty good idea of the income from this source alone each month.  Not their problem  to get into a free enterprise battle between you and one of their more worthy customers. Second, if you choose to call Visa to whine about your problems, they would rather you rip up your card so they never have to deal with you again.
Later I managed to contact the firm and they apologized for the oversight, agreeing to reverse the billing error right away.

THANKS FOR YOUR HELP VISA!                  Visa

 

Photo by Flickr user borman818 used under Creative Commons

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Our New Senators

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Unfortunately the new appointees to the Canadian senate did not have time for the facial photo-op, but chose to get down to business immediately!

 

 

I had high hopes of landing one of these positions.

I have spent the better part of a year learning to double talk, take all sides of a position, take naps at a moments notice, and follow the explicit directions of his Right Honourable Stephen Harper.

My oh my!

There goes the opportunity of a lifetime not to mention the benefits.

  • The grossly padded pension.
  • Cheap parliamentary cafeteria meals.
  • Living allowance.
  • Free first class flights.
  • No responsibility.
  • Minimal work time.

And the list goes on.

My resume must have gotten lost in the mail!!

Photo by Flickr user William Joyce used under Creative Commons

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Vancouver Ski Hills

Intrawest's Lenders Move to Sell Whistler Resort

And not only in time for the Olympics but during the games. I can see it on world wide television now!

Commentator #1:       Who is that guy in the middle of the downhill run?

Commentator #2:       You mean the fellow with the red mittens and a paddle in his hand?

Commentator #1:       He seems positively gleeful!

Commentator #2:       Well, that's  Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver bidding on the Whistler-

                                       Blackcomb ski resort.

Since Vancouver is already on the hook for the Olympic Village to the tune of a paltry $1 billion, another couple of billion or so to bail out and attain ownership of such a prestigious venue should just be considered chicken feed.  Besides Vancouver city hall has prior experience dealing with Fortress Investments – by now some of the principals must have grown to be good buddies – and Gordon Campbell would obviously be happy to allow a free enterprise city to go deeper in debt on behalf of the taxpayers. 

How much would it cost to run the Sky Train out that far?        

Monday, 18 January 2010

Beautification

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When did repairing a road become beautification? Repair, patch-up, fix, repave are the active verbs that come to mind.. Not that much has happened here by the looks of it. Guess the 2009 road revitalization season has come and gone; perchance funds for this project went elsewhere for emergencies; then again the purchase of Olympic tickets for city council and senior city staff could have been construed  as an emergency or dire necessity. So the information board remains resting forlornly on the verge, lacking a scheduled pickup or remaining, in case a sizable mil rate hike squeezes cash from residents for a 2010 restart (or picking up the sign is covered by next years budget).

Even when the decision is made to repave sections - which is scheduled to close up lanes as long as possible and bottle neck traffic - the new smoothen surface lasts approximately a month before a contract to replace gas lines or water or sewer etc. ends up leaving a bumpy patchwork quilt to bounce over.
Other spots along this main artery have been planted in the median under the rapid transit, overhead guide way. Simply anchor a 4 ft tree to the pit run gravel, used as a road under base, with some rebar. Toss on 6 inches of soil.  Cover that with bark mulch. And then send a crew each and every day - except weekends, of course -  to water the trees and somehow attempt to force them to survive in a barren wasteland. Strange they haven’t considered planters hanging down from the elevated, concrete train bed. If I can find a contact number or email address maybe I’ll suggest it to city staff. On the other hand planting fake trees would save a pot full of money and who would know. Especially during the morning and evening rush hours, I doubt frustrated commuters are oohing and ahing the landscape. Chances are most would be surprised to discover anything has been planted in their hurry to get to the office or arrive home before midnight.

Anyways, I surmise a city employee with a newly minted Doctorate in City, Urban, Community and Regional Planning: attended numerous high-end seminars, travelled at municipality expense throughout Europe and received taxpayer support for education upgrading in order to spend the better part of a year preparing a report for city council recommending that the word repair be stricken from all future written proposals and contracts in favour of the expression ‘beautification’.

Friday, 15 January 2010

After Hours Drivel

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Maybe the best approach for NBC would be to cut its losses and start all over again: replace all three late evening or early morning gab fests with reality series based on soap opera and talk show addicts. Even better and more interesting would be reruns of the best of K-Tel  infomercials.
Let’s recap. Jay was 42 when he was handed the reins to the Tonight Show in 1992, not yet middle aged; however, he always appeared much older and of course he represented the leading edge of the Boomers. So they followed along.  Ten years or so later, NBC decides Jay - now 52 -  may be getting a bit long in the tooth. Not only that, the audience is moving along the age spectrum and could be hitting the sack at 11 PM with the television turned off and the lights out. So how is NBC going to capture a younger demographic?
Brilliant notion! Move Leno to 10 PM  and we’ll catch the old fogies before they succumb to the sandman. Give the 11:35 slot to Conan sometime in 2009 when he is only 47 years old. Wait a minute. Isn’t that 5 years older than Jay was when he was given the Tonight Show?  Yes, the perfect age to entice a younger group to waste an hour a day  watching a steady stream of movie stars etc. pushing films, Cds or whatever. I suppose the executive in charge at NBC felt goofy Conan with the weird hairdo would appeal to the target audience - not sure what they were looking for, possibly insomniacs who eat a lot and take pills. Someone whose main shtick is pulling his hips with invisible strings could be just the answer for the grade school crowd or the grand children of the Boomers.
Now Jimmy Fallon (who I have yet to watch), age 35,  might have been a better choice, especially as the long time host of the Tonight Show - Johnny Carson - was only 37 when he began his 30 year stint as the king of late night. At least Jimmy can probably get through the afternoon shoots without a nap!
Just as I went to post , I came across this NYT article which shows how NBC plans to make everybody happy, in particular, Conan who may be paid $30 million not to work for 6 months before he moves to Foxland.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Puente del Progreso

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On a somewhat excruciating tour bus trip (maybe more on that later) from Vallarta to San Sebastián del Oeste in December, one of the unexpected highlights was crossing the new bridge and the much upgraded road into the small town. While in good shape the narrowness of the highway together with an almost total lack of shoulders makes for some interesting views down into the gorge. Not long before the crossing our monotone voiced guide - who seemingly had not required a breath in 90 minutes - droned on the difficulties of the trip only 4 scant years earlier focusing on the steep descent to the river and the chugging climb back up the other side.
After travelling through a couple of older, typical Mexican country towns, getting used to historic or simpler architecture,  it comes as a surprise when a totally modernistic structure draws into view. Rather than or a blocky cementitious or steel monstrosity, a smoothly, arched minimalist structure spans the 420 feet across the 490 foot ravine. And most remarkably does not in any way look out of place; the bridge flows effortlessly into the surrounding landscape.
One of the pleasant side stops of the tour was in sight of the bridge - Hacienda San Sebastian - a short talk on the wonders of producing Tequila from agave plants and the chance to savour some of the product. So tasty - I had to purchase a bottle!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Another Rover not Roving!

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Barely finished the post on the Mars Rover when I went for a jaunt and discovered the original Rover camping out on a pole, protesting the futility of it all. Sad place to come to a final rest, so far from the coast of Wales. But easy to understand the tears after over 40 years searching for Number 6 and it all comes to naught. Over the years he has shrunk to the size of a basketball and hardly represents a threat to anyone. Of course nobody seems to know whether he was originally filled with air or some type of  malevolent energy or how he operated independently. (Let’s ignore the episode with the guide wires visible.)  Must have been a long lonely trip to this side of the world - guessing via the polar route - although I can’t recall if Rover and the rest of the spheres could fly. Undulating along the sand or skimming across the water were how I remembered them. Totally missed the 2009 remake of “The Prisoner” - the reviews do seem mixed - because I forgot to email myself a reminder. However, my interest was piqued enough to think about reviewing the original series. Maybe I’ll even invite Rover up to sit on the balcony so he can peer through the glass doors at the boob tube, and together we can reminisce over the strange goings on at Portmeirion.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Used H1N1 Vaccine

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What would persuade some faceless bureaucrat in Ottawa to lend  5 million doses of swine flu - yes I know I’m being insensitive to the hog population - to Mexico, instead of a straight sale or donation? Now whenever I lend anything to anybody - concrete items as opposed to abstract things such as ‘money’ - they have a tendency to be returned in slightly less than pristine condition. In particular, my car leaving with a full tank and arriving back with a ¼ full dose, so as to speak.
So as my imagination runs wild, I can visualize the long line-ups of Mexicans receiving their Canadian made flu shot together with toiletry devices to collect all the various, bodily fluid discharges. Then these liquids and solids will be secreted to a  clandestine jungle laboratory where ex-cocaine technicians can squeeze out the constituents of the  once pure vaccine, strain it through some cheese cloth and repackage it for return to Canada, just in time for our fall flu epidemic.
Since I was reluctant to obtain my protection last fall and forwent the opportunity, I might even be more averse next season to allow a plunger-full of loaned medical solution to be injected throughout my body. Even worse, the manufacture of replacement vaccine could be sourced out to an far eastern country. Then we could look forward to shipments  fortified with additional protein in the form of melamine. At the first stages of a flu outbreak, the initial symptom will be an irresistible urge to eat the kitchen cabinets and then a desire to down a bottle of Tequila.
Send the vaccine to Mexico along with an invoice. When the check comes back send a purchase order to GlaxoSmithKline. Easy!

Photo by Flickr user cj.sveningsson used under Creative Commons

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Rover not Roving!

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And not far from Rover exists a trans-dimensional quicksand pit into which NASA pours buckets of money. Wonder what the budget for a stuck-in-the-sand, spinning-its-wheels interplanetary dune buggy will be for the current period?  How many scientists, engineers, support staff devoted to the singular cause of devising a long distance scheme to push Rover on its way? If I remember correctly, Homer Simpson had a tow truck which could free the spindly, spider vehicle from the clutches of Dune in a matter of seconds for the price of a couple of Duff beer!
Seems to me NASA should have taken advantage of the ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program. By this time, the US government would have provided bags of untraceable cash to fund a couple more kiddie cars and the accompanying transport rockets to Mars. Maybe NASA management should head to Wall Street to gain needed expertise in joining the trough at the end of the money printing conveyor belt. So much easier than producing budgets and going cap-in-hand to Congress.
On the other hand, it could be the guys in charge are all ex-dealership mechanics - possibly rejects from Saturn - who are instilling tried and true ways of repair. Don’t diagnose the problem: just proceed to replace parts, readjust computer input and thoughtfully scratch heads until something begins to work again or all the money has been extracted out of the sucker - oops, customer -  or in this case taxpayer.
By the way, are all those close-up, Technicolor, intensely detailed videos all taken from the surface of Mars?