Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RONA MS Bike Tour

When I first heard of the RONA MS Bike Tour a few years ago, I thought it would be a pretty cool experience. I was riding my bicycle fairly regularly -- at least 20kms every weekend -- and was fairly sure I could do the entire 150km (75km per day) trip with more preparation.

A few local geocachers put together a team to make the trip this year and I'm seriously considering joining them. During the trip, they plan to find a few geocaches along the way, if there are any.

Granted, I didn't do nearly as much cycling this past summer, but I did do a fair bit of hiking while geocaching, and I've started snow shoeing this winter, so it's not like I've become a total couch potato.

My reason for wanting to do it is somewhat selfish, in a way. I mean, it is for a really good cause, but a good part of my reason for wanting to do it is to motivate me to get in better shape. This could give me something to work for during the 6 months of preparation for the trip. You'd think that just being healthier would be enough motivation!

I guess I need more. And this might be the answer.

I talked it over with my wife this evening and she's cool with it. Although, at first she kind gave me a "Yeh right.. you sure you can do this?" kind of look.

I'm giving it some serious thought anyway. I think I have a little doubt in the back of my mind that I can do it and that's what's keeping me from just going for it. I don't want to commit to anything if I'm not going to go through with it, you know?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Credit Card Fraud

At the end of December, while I was taking some Christmas vacation time, I received a call from Visa regarding some suspect activity on my card. The end result is that there were three charges totaling almost $400 from two different gambling web sites. Needless to say, I was rather shocked. Particularly because I rarely use my Visa card for anything -- maybe once or twice a year, tops. How they got my number, I'll never know.

Anyway, the card was canceled and they were sending me a new card, along with an affidavit to sign stating that the charges were not mine. I received the affidavit, signed it and faxed it back to them. Last week I received a statement for the new card. I'm still waiting for the new card. A 4-week wait isn't normal, I'm sure.

I called the number for the Fraud Claims that was on the letter I received and spoke with a rep who took down my info. She said she would transfer me to someone in their Fraud Claims dept (I think). After a rather lengthy wait on hold (but she did come back twice to see if I still wanted to hold), I was put through to the other rep. She told me that the new card was sent on January 17th. To be safe, they were going to cancel it and send me another. Jan 17th doesn't really seem that long ago. I thought the first replacement would have been sent earlier than that, which is why I called today. Maybe I should have waited a little longer. I guess if it was still too early to hit the panic button, she would have said something.

So, I now await my second replacement. In retrospect, I probably should have just cancelled it since I don't use it often.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Coming soon to a constellation near you!

For the last few years, my wife and I haven't really celebrated Valentine's Day. It was pretty much a mutual decision not to buy each other anything.

Last week, I got an email from Name A Star Live. They provide a service that allow you to name a star, somewhere in the universe. They offer various different packages from very basic print-your-own certificates, all the way up to packages that include printed (and/or framed) certificates, charts, and software, and even a free LIVE viewing of your star using THE SLOOH Observatory, in the Canary Islands.

I thought that would be a cool thing to get my wife, even though, like I said, we don't usually get each other anything.

I logged on to their web site from work this morning to place an order for their Deluxe Gift Set. According to their web site, it includes:
  • Star name registered by Space Services, Inc— the world leader in public participation space missions.
  • Star Certificate showing the new star name, the date of registration, the star's telescopic coordinates and the message you dedicate to the recipient (8.5"x11"). Also available framed.
  • Launch Certificate — certifying that your star name and personal message was launched into Earth orbit on board our next satellite. Available for download after the launch occurs.
  • Astronomical star chart — showing the precise location of the star you named (8.5"x11").
  • Astronomy software — Virtual Planetarium™ is a software suite that includes a library of stunning astronomy imagery — new Hubble, Spitzer and Mars images; information about the sky, the solar system and the latest space events; and space weather reports about sun spots, auroras and more.
  • View your star LIVE with SLOOH — an online, robotically controlled telescope.
  • Astronomy e-book— What's Up 2006 - 365 Days of Skywatching — a daily guide to the night sky for 2006.

All for around $50.

(I just noticied the e-book was for 2006. I wonder if I'll get an updated one for 2007?)

I went through the entire process right up until the last step, when it told me that the transaction was declined, My first thought was "Crap, my MasterCard has been compromised!" I then tried to log onto the credit card's web site and it notified me that there was a problem, and to call them. Panic set in.

Anyway, as it turned out, my browser had cached my CC number and was using the old number to try and log in. I rectified that and logged in without any problems. I tried again during lunch to place the order, and again it was declined. It gave me a phone number to call for assistance with placing the order, so I called them up.

A nice lady (Carol?) answered the phone, I explained what the problem was, and she asked me if I lived outside the U.S. I told her I was in Canada. She kindly explained that sometimes it will do that for orders outside the U.S., and offered to take my order over the phone. I told her that would be fine. She then asked me if I had called them on their 800 number. I answered "No". Surprisingly, she asked me for my phone number so she could call me back to process the order so I wasn't paying long distance charges.

A few minutes later, she called, and we went through the entire order process. (I named my wife's star after my wife's name) She even advised me that sometimes there is a short delay when it gets processed through customs. I told her that it wasn't surprising.

Anyway, I thought the experience was worth mentioning because it was a good example of excellent customer service. Sure, I should have been able to order through their web site, but the rest of the experience more than made up for the small inconvenience. Kudos to Space Services Incorporated.

Once the package arrives, I'll let you know what it's like. :)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

There's no such thing as a smart thief

And these young folks prove that.

A few university thieves stole a licence plate as part of a frosh week scavenger hunt and the stupidly posted the picture in the internet. The original owner of the licence plate found the picture online just over a year later.

It may seem like a harmless prank, but replacing a licence plate costs money, regardless of how it disappears. I would imagine that his plate was not the only one stolen that night. He's lucky enough to have found who did it (although they have yet to be tracked down). Other victims of plate thefts that night aren't so fortunate.

"Geosquid" is a member of our local Geocaching community and broke this story a few days before it became public. Geosquid's blog and original post about this can be found here.

The Ottawa Sun ran an article about it in today's newspaper.

Update: The owner of the licence plate met with a few of the people responsible for taking the licence plate on Monday evening and they paid him the $100. Although I'm sure all the unwanted publicity played a large part in coming forward, it's nice to see a happy ending come to this story. :)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

For all INTENTS and purposes

I was going to write a rant about the misuse of "for all intents and purposes", but it seems that it's been done. Quite a few times actually.

Anyway, it's a peeve of mine. I'm not perfect, but it really bugs me when I hear people say "for all intensive purposes". Really. Think about what you're saying for a minute. What purposes are "intensive"?

Here's a list of other malapropisms.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Perfect Kraft Dinner

Kraft Foods Inc.Image via WikipediaFirst of all, I have to say that I'm a little pissed at Kraft. They used to have the microwave cooking instructions printed on the box, but now they tell you to visit kraftdinner.com to get them. Yeh, it's not rocket science, but if you don't make it often enough and forget, you have to waste your time going there to get them. I suspect that it's a ploy to get you to their web site. What a pain in the ass.

One of the biggest problems with making KD is trying to avoid gritty lumps of cheese powder in your KD. The other problem is soupy KD. Making it in the microwave solves the soupy problem because you don't need to drain the cooked macaroni. But the powdery chunk dilemma may still haunt you.

A couple of years ago, I figured out how to make perfect KD 99.9% of the time. The key is to get the butter (or margarine) melted in with the milk, and pre-mix the cheese powder before pouring it into the bowl of macaroni.

While I was making KD for my kids this evening, I decided I'd write it up and post it here on my blog. (Ok, I'm bored...)

I'm sure you could easily come up with different ways to accomplish the same thing, but here's how I do it, and it doesn't take any more time than not pre-mixing the cheese powder. This is basically a slightly modified method of how Kraft tells you to do it:
  1. Boil around 3 cups of water in a kettle.
  2. Pour the dry macaroni from the box into a microwave-safe bowl.
  3. Using a glass measuring cup, measure and pour 1 & 3/4 cups of boiled water into the bowl over the macaroni.
  4. Using a large spoon, stir the macaroni around so it's not all stuck together, place the bowl in the microwave and turn it on high for 9 minutes (time may vary depending on your microwave)
  5. Get a bowl that you're going to eat from and sit the glass measuring cup in the bowl.
  6. Pour boiled water into the bowl around the measuring cup so the measuring cup is sitting in the hot water. (the reason I use the same bowl that I'll be eating from is to save having to clean another dish) :)
  7. Pour 1/4 cup of milk into the measuring cup.
  8. Put 3 tbl spoons of butter or margarine into the measuring cup. At this point, the milk will start to get warm, along with the butter, and begin to melt.
  9. Check the microwave to see how much time is left. If it's 6 minutes, stop it, stir the macaroni around to make sure it's not stuck together, and turn it back on.
  10. Using a fork, begin stirring the butter & milk mix in the measuring cup. It should be getting fairly soupy by now. You don't want any chunks of butter or margarine.
  11. Keep stirring the butter mix until there's 3 minutes left on the microwave. At the 3 minute mark, stop it again, stir the macaroni, and turn it back on.
  12. The butter and milk should be all creamy by now. Pour the KD cheese mix into the measuring cup and stir it up, making sure to break up any powdery chunks. If you're done before the microwave is finished, take the measuring cup out of the bowl and pour the water out of the bowl into the sink.
  13. Now that the macaroni is done, take the bowl out and stir the macaroni around to break it up. It's probably like one solid mass right now. Once the mass is broken up, pour the pre-mixed cheese mix into the bowl and stir until all the macaroni noodles are covered in the cheese mix.
There you go! Perfect KD. No powdery cheese mix chunks, and no KD soup!

Note to visitors: This page seems to be the main source of traffic for my blog. Please leave a comment telling me why you came here and how you found it. Did you search for the microwave instructions because you couldn't find it on Kraft's web site? Did you get here from another web page? Let me know! :)

NHL All-Star game

We watched the NHL All-Star game last night. The West beat the East 12-9. I was rooting for the East.

It was definitely better than the Young Stars game that we watched the night before. Although neither game had any checking or pretty much any physical contact at all, last night's game was played with a little more competitiveness which made it more enjoyable. It doesn't beat the real deal though! Not even close.

The new uniforms don't seem to be as bad as I thought they'd be. I read so many negative comments about them, leading up to the game. It looks like the players (most of them?) seem to like them as well.

Once they've updated all the team jerseys, I hope the overall look of the Ottawa Senators jersey doesn't change from what they have now. I like the white and the red jerseys as they are now. I guess it doesn't matter too much since I doubt I'll run out and get a new one, even if the look did change.

How well do you know Canada?

This quiz is geared more toward Canadians, but feel free to try it out even if you're from elsewhere in the world.

I am saddened to say that I only scored 12/20. After seeing the correct answers, I realized that I should have gone with my first hunches. For four or five of the ones I got wrong I would have gotten right, had I not second-guessed my hunches.

Live Free or Die Hard

I've always loved the Die Hard movies, and it looks like a new one is on its way. I think the young guy in the car with him at the end of the trailer is the Mac guy.