Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BMO cares

Last Thurday I discovered that my BMO Mastercard had been compromised.

I was buying gas at Esso using my Esso SpeedPass, which is linked to my Mastercard, and it was refused. I then tried to use my Mastercard and it was refused. I ended up paying cash.

When I arrived home there was a message from BMO Mastercard's Fraud department asking me to call them. I did, and was advised that there was a $1600 and an $1800 charge for The Source and Best Buy that triggered the lock on my card. I was advised to visit a local branch where they would take card of the forms I needed to sign, refuting those charges.

I walked up to a local branch that night, about 30 mins before closing time. Without going into too much detail about that experience, I spent about an hour there because the branches don't normally deal with Mastercard issues. Due to the postal strike it seems that they were put in that position without being notified. The staff at the branch were incredible in helping to resolve the issue with BMO over the phone.

The rep I spoke with on the phone, while at the branch, told me that I would receive my new card via courier in 2 business days. I should have received it on Monday. It is now Wednesday.

I called BMO Mastercard's customer service number. After a brief time on hold I was speaking with a rep who asked for my Mastercard number.

I told her the situation and said I could give my old number if that helped.

She immediately apologized and explained that due to a larger volume of requests for couriered cards, there was a backlog and that it may take an extra time to arrive. She offered to check on the status of mine, so I gave her the old card number.

After confirming some information to ensure that I was who I said I was, she advised me that my card had not yet been shipped. She apologized again and asked if I was travelling and in urgent need for the card. I explained that I have a recurring charge that was upcoming, but I could probably make arrangements to pay it another way if necessary. She thanked me and said if I could do that it would help a lot.

Then without even asking, she told me that my yearly $35 fee would be refunded for the inconvenience and I would also receive AirMiles for the charge I would not be able to apply to the card.

She also noted that I have been a customer for 9 years and thanked me for that.

To be honest, my biggest concern about not yet receiving the card was a fear that it had gotten lost, but I came away from this experience feeling like they actually cared.

Yeh, I could have gone off on a rant about how I shouldn't have been told 2 business days if it wasn't going to be 2 business days, but seriously, why bother? What would that accomplish? They made a decent attempt to compensate me for the inconvenience, and treated me like a person and not a number. I've been on the other end of the phone before, and I know that "shit happens". It was nice to see that the reps at BMO have the power to do little things like this without jumping through hoops.

Kudos to BMO.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Speed bumps (again) — Week 32 progress

I was head out for a weekend of camping on Friday, and obviously that meant being gone for the weekend so I couldn't really post an update.

But I did weight myself on Friday morning... and I was up a few pounds. Not sure why. Well... yeh, I guess I do know why. I tend to indulge a little more when I work out more. In part because I'm not hungry, but I also feel like I somehow deserve a little more because of the extra effort put forth. So basically, I lose out on any of the benefits of the extra work out.

So that's that.

The cycling has definitely increased. If the weather is nice, I ride to work and home again. That's anywhere between 37 and 40 kms per day. Awesome.

I didn't get a chance to ride my new bike until Sunday afternoon, after we returned from a (wet) weekend of camping. It's awesome. I love it. I'm still tweaking the handlebar height and seat height. It feels better all the time. My average speed on the new bike has increase 2-3 kph.

Even though I'm off work this week, I rode it to work to drop something off. Later in the afternoon I took it out again for a ride downtown to the Rideau Canal Locks. I shot this with my GPSr's built-in camera, so the quality kinda sucks.

Dcim6n4542657w07569823t3b33aab5h003536
I also started keeping a log of my cycling. I had to dig back a few weeks on what I entered for fitness @ Livestrong.com. So far, since I started riding in the spring, I've travelled 541.5 kms. :)

 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This is how you get my business

I decided this week that I need a new bike. My 18 year-old lime green CCM mountain bike has seen better days. While it's still quite functional, there are things that I fear may fail at an inopportune time at some point in the near future. Besides, I really need a bike with front shocks to ride on some of the crappy roads we have here in Ottawa.

I first found a bike that came in a 23" frame: the KHS Alite 150. The reviews were pretty good, it's a good looking bike, and the price wouldn't break the bank.

I discovered that there were at least three retailers in the Ottawa area that carried KHS bikes. One of them was Dinardo's Skis and Wheels. They listed all of their bike models on their web site, along with prices. I liked that.

The other two retailers web sites referred you to the KHS web site for details, and they didn't list prices.

Being a somewhat smart shopper, I sent the other two emails on Tuesday morning asking if they had the bike with a 23" frame in stock, and how much they were selling it for.

On Wednesday, just over 24 hours later, I received one reply. They told me that they didn't have that model in stock, advised me that they had hybrid bikes in stock with a 23" frame and suggested I call the store. I still haden't heard from the other one.

I sent Dinardo's an email Wednesday morning asking if they had the KHS Alite 150 with a 23" frame in stock.

Within a few hours, I received a reply from Frank Dinardo. He told me it wasn't in stock, but if I ordered today I could have it by the weekend. In addition, he told me it was available in black for the 2011 model, or red in 2009 model.

I sent off a reply asking if their 15-30% sale would still apply if I ordered today but didn't pick up until Monday since we were going away for the weekend. I said I could drop by after work.

Once again, I got a reply within hours. Frank told me that the sale was for in stock merchandise only, but he also included special pricing for the 2009 and the 2011, if I dropped by today to pay and place the order.

That is how you gain a customer.

We drove out to the store in Bell's Corners after work to have a look and chat.

The staff were really helpful. I explained that I had an email exchange with Frank earlier and one of the employees said that Frank had mentioned it. We talked a bit about what my primary use would be. He explained that for the KHS Alite 150, he doesn't like to recommend it for anyone over 160lbs. My wife asked him what the alternatives would be. He showed me a 2010 Jamis Allegro 1X. I guess you would call this a hybrid. Jamis calls this a "Cross-training" bike. For my use, which is mostly street and bike paths, he recommended it over the KHS Alite 150.

I had never really considered a hybrid style bike. The frame, even though it was a 21" was certainly large enough. It's actually a closer match to my 22" CCM frame than the KHS Alite. The tires are narrower than a mountain bike, but wider than a racing bike. I'm not sure what the wheel size is, but they do look pretty large as well.

He asked me if I wanted to take it for a test ride. He pumped up the tires, handed me a helmet and let me take it outside. I liked it. It felt good. It felt a lot like my old bike, size-wise. It felt large.

The regular price of this bike was over $700, but it was on sale for $549. It was a bit more than I had planned on spending on the Alite 150, but all things considered, if I could make this last half as long as my last bike, I'd be happy. Plus, I genuinely felt like I was getting good service.

That was enough for me. I picked out a carrier, a saddle bag, bottle holder, and handlebar extensions. He took the time to explain a few things about the disc brakes, some basic maintenance to keep it in good running condition, and said I should bring it back in 2-8 weeks for a free warranty inspection because cables, etc. will stretch from usage and adjustments might need to be made. After paying, he took the bike to the back room to install the accessories for me and make a few adjustments.

While we were waiting, Frank appeared and introduced himself. We chatted about the bike, and cycling in general. Seems like a nice guy. It was a little after 6:00pm when I got the bike and was on my way.

I have to say that my overall experience was a really good one. I was impressed with the email communication and professionalism in the store. They clearly wanted my business and they got it.

How good is the bike? I can't really say yet since I haven't ridden it for more than the test ride at the store. I won't have much time to ride it before the weekend, but I'm off work all next week so I'm definitely going to take it out often.

Img_8347

Incidentally, I did get a reply from the second store I emailed yesterday. The reply arrived earlier this evening, after I got home. They told me that they didn't have the KHS Alite 150 in stock, but recommended another very similar model, same style, different brand, and it was on sale. The price was a little more than I paid for my Jamis. I guess it didn't really matter in the end since the price compared to KHS at Dinardo's was quite different, but to their credit they did reply with useful information. Unfortunately for them, not as quick as Dinardo's.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Accelerating — Week 31 progress & other stuff

My weigh-in on Thursday was 225 lbs, but Friday was about 225½ lbs. My Birthday was on on Thursday, so I over indulged a little. :)

That was a 5 lbs loss for less than a week. That's the most I've ever lost in a single week. The cycling to work and home no doubt made the difference. I did it three days last week and I plan on doing it again this week if the weather cooperates.

Last week my bike started making a weird grinding sound when I was pedalling, but only when I started pedalling — putting more force on the pedals. I figured it was either coming from the crankset or the rear axel. Perhaps a broken bearing? I made an unsuccessful attempt to disassemble the crankset yesterday, but I gave it another go this afternoon and was successful. The bearings were fine. I cleaned it all out, greased it up and reassembled it. Unfortunately, the gridinging continued when I took it for a test ride.

I then decided that it had to be the rear axel. I took it apart, cleaned it, greased it, and reassembled it. One of the bearing casings was inside the hyperglide and I couldn't remove it. I hoped that poking enough grease into it would suffice.

I took my bike for another test ride and the grinding continued.

I was stumped.

Knowing that it wasn't the crankset or the rear axel, I felt confident enough that I could at least continue to ride my bike without too much fear of someting going wrong. I put away all my tools and decided to take it out for a longer test ride.

About 20 minutes into the ride, the grinding stopped. I decided to continue riding. In fact, I rode just over 46 kms. 2 hrs and 20 minutes later I was back home and my bike was still silent.

I don't know what the problem was, but it seems to be gone, at least for now.

I am long overdue for a new bike, but I'm having difficulty finding a 22" XL frame. A 21" frame may do, if the seat post can go high enough, but I have yet to find one that feels right. I'd really like a bike with front shocks, since my current ride has no shocks. My bike is about 18 years old. :)

Here's my dusty ride after this afternoon's outing.

Dcim13n4545043w07559953t3b294501h005311-1
BTW... the geek in me did in fact record the ride to work one day last week, but it's a pretty shaky video. I'm not sure if I'll post it or not.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The ride home yesterday and day 2

Cycling home yesterday afternoon was busier, traffic-wise, but the overall ride was good.

I picked a slightly different route than the one I took into work, so there was less fast traffic and less potholes. I was happy to see that Byron Ave no longer has construction and most of that road is a downhill coast. :) This allowed me to skip nearly all of the pothole-ridden Scott Street without much effort.

Riding through the downtown core was a little scarier, but not enough to make me want to change that part of the route. I heard that the city is putting bike lanes on Laurier, or maybe they've already done that. I might take that route one day and see.

This morning I cycled into work again. I rode most of the same route that I took home last night. I skipped Byron since it would likely be a long, gradual uphill ride, and rode on Wellington & Richmond, again skipping Scott Street.

The geek in me is thinking of putting a video camera on my bike and filming the entire ride to work and home again, just for fun. The only thing I'm a little worried about is how the crappy roads will affect the camera.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Weekday cycling

The weather forecast for this week looks pretty good. Last night I decided that I would cycle in to work this morning. I've done the route before on the weekend, but never during rush hour.

Aside from nearly getting clipped by a cabbie as he drove past me too close, it was much better than I expected. The downtown core was a piece of cake.

According to my GPSr, the route was 19.4kms and it took me just a little over an hour. That's better than my weekend test runs that took me about an hour and a quarter.

The worst part of it all was getting all my shit together to take with me, and then carrying it all in a backpack. I felt like I was packing for a vacation. It might not be as bad if I do this again tomorrow since most of it is ready to go already. I should really pick up saddle bags for my bike if I'm going to do this more often.

I'm looking forward to the ride home. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a lot more traffic after 5:00pm than there was between 7AM and 8AM.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It never hurts to ask

During the making of Samantha's video, I searched the web for music to use. I know from experience that YouTube can be pretty strict when it comes to enforcing copyright. In 2007 I created a video for our other cat, Quincy, and posted it on YouTube. Warner Music made a claim and YouTube stripped out the audio from the video. :(

They seem to be a little more relaxed now and add restrictions on where the "offending" video can be played, add a copyright notice, and prevent you from making any advertising money from them. I think that's a good solution. I wish they had done that with my other video.

This time I decided to look for something royalty-free and avoid the whole mess.

I couldn't find anything I liked, until I came across Joseph Akin's web site. While his music isn't free, I was instantly drawn to "Masterpeace". It was exactly what I was looking for. I thought about taking a chance and just using it, but I really didn't want to end up in the same situation as before. What were the chances of getting permission? I had nothing to lose. I found a contact email address and sent off a request with a brief explanation.

What I received later in the evening was not only permission to use it, but a recommendation of another song that he composed that he thought might be more suitable. He even sent along the MP3.

I had a smile from ear to ear. He didn't ask for anything other than the credit I said I would add to the video, and to let him know when the video was done. I immediately sent off a thank-you email.

In the end, I did use the song that he recommended — Spirit Touch — for the video.

Thanks again to Joseph for allowing me to use his music.

 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bumpy — Week 29 and 30 progress

I didn't post an update on my weight loss progress last week. It was a good one too.

That makes this Week 29 and 30 progress. :)

Last week I weight in at 229.2 lbs. My new lowest-to-date.

This week wasn't so good. I gained a little back, putting me at 230 lbs.

That's what happens when I skip a few workouts.

It'll stop... eventually

I realized on Monday that this is the first time in 18 years that we haven't had a pet in our home. It is also the first time in over 30 years that I haven't had some kind of pet.

We adopted Sam in 1993, the same year we got married. We picked her, and her "brother" Quincy, at the Ottawa Humane Society. I'll be honest and say that she wasn't my first pick. I had seen a solid grey kitten but it turned out that she had ear mites. They said they would give us the drops for them, but because we were getting two kittens, we'd have to buy more to treat the other cat at the same time as a preventative measure. I continued my search and noticed a black and white kitten. She stuck out a little more because she was a little larger than the other kittens. In the end, she was smaller than most cats and I couldn't have chosen a better cat. Or maybe she chose me; that's how it works with cats, isn't it?

We picked the names for Samantha and Quincy while we sat in the car at the Blair Animal Hospital, when we took them for their first visit to get a checkup. I don't remember why I chose "Samantha". Perhaps because it could be shortened.

I had other cats when I was growing up and none lived as long as Sam. We had a famiy dog, Peanut, who also lived to around 18 years old.

I took a break from surfing the web on Monday night and got up to get a cup of water. Without even thinking, I glanced over to where she would normally be lying on the floor, waiting for that familiar little "Mrrr?" as she would get up to follow me. Her floor space was empty.

"Oh yeh... right."

In the kitchen, as I finished filling my cup, I looked down at my feet so I wouldn't step on her if she was sitting behind me, waiting to ask for food.

I then instinctively looked to where her bowls used to sit, to see if she still had food, and they weren't there.

I heard noises, again, later as I was sitting at my computer. Not imaginary noises. I'm sure it's just the house settling, but the first thing I assumed was that it was Sam hopping off the couch or the automan, or playing with a toy... and then I remembered. It gave me goose bumps.

The other evenings this week were more of the same.

I keep replaying Sunday's events in my head. It's like a bad dream. She has a problem with her foot. They'll fix it. We'll pay a big vet bill. We'll all go home. That's how it was supposed play out.

We had canned food and an unopened bag of dry food that we bought from PetSmart a week or two ago. Sandra called them on Monday and they let us return it. I went to the Humane Society web site on Tuesday morning and made a donation.

For such a tiny furball, she sure left a big hole in our home.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Samantha (1993-2011)

On Sunday morning Sandra noticed that Sam was walking funny. She said it was if her left rear foot was "inverted", like she was walking on the top of her foot.

I went downstairs and found Sam lying on the kitchen floor. She looked up at me and meowed as if to say "feed me". She didn't appear to be in any pain or discomfort. Her back leg look ok. I got out a bag of cat treats and tossed one in front of her. She got up and limped awkwardly to eat it, just as Sandra described.

At first I thought maybe there's some kind of paralysis on her rear leg. Then I thought that perhaps she had an accident during the night and broke her foot. Regardless, it was painful to watch, despite the fact that she didn't appear to be in any pain. She even hobbled off to the living room and hopped up onto the couch.

We decided to take her to the Alta Vista Animal Hospital Emergency Care.

We woke up Kyle and Kaitlyn and told them we were taking Sam to the vet. They gave her a hug and Kyle loaded her into the carrier.

Sam really dislikes being in the carrier, and being a house cat, the outside stresses her out. She panted for at least half the ride to the animal hospital, which we had never seen her do, and she meowed the entire time — that was normal for her.

The vet was actually more concerned with Sam's breathing, even though this was the first time we had seen her like this. After the assessment, examination, a mild sedative, and chest x-rays, it turned out that the problem she had with her foot (he called it "knuckling") was due to a blood clot in her leg, which was caused by a heart murmur that she had been diagnosed with years ago. The labored breathing was caused by fluid in her lungs, as shown on the x-rays. All of this was leading to eventual congestive heart failure.

Back when she was diagnosed with a heart murmur, it was explained to me that this day could eventually come, but today this was totally unexpected, which makes it more difficult.

Two options were explained to us. The first was treatment which would have been extremely expensive with about a 50/50 chance of recovery, and yet there would always be a chance of more blood clots in her future with potentially worse results. From what I recall, the existing blood clot in her leg would also remain because the repair could do more damage than leaving it. The second option was euthanasia.

Given all of the facts, the decision was pretty clear.

Saying final goodbyes to pets is not new to us. We'd had to make this decision four times in the past. It's never been easy, but for Sam it was really difficult.

Up until a few years ago, Sam had always been the quiet one. Timid and shy. She was always wary of our kids and anyone else who came over. A few years ago, we believe that she lost her hearing. As strange as it sounds, this was probably one of the best things to happen. Without hearing, she was a calmer cat. She didn't startle.

She opened up a lot to Kyle and Kaitlyn. She let them hold her. She actually seemed like a much happier cat. She started approaching them for attention. She hung out in the den with Kyle and I while we used the computer. I have to admit that I was actually a little jealous of Kyle because she would willingly sleep on his lap as he used the computer. She didn't like my lap.

She also became very vocal. She'd often wander around at night talking to herself and anyone who would listen. Thankfully, this happened for only a few minutes at a time.

No matter where she was snoozing at night, which was usually on the floor near the den closet, when I got ready for bed she'd wake up and follow me to the kitchen and ask for food. She sensed it. I'd pour a little bit of dry food in the bowl, add a little water to it, she'd be content until morning.

By the time I was in bed, she'd start meowing in the dark in the living room. Perhaps she was saying good night, like they did on The Waltons.

It's almost sad to think of how much attention she missed out on in her life because she was so timid and shy for most of it. For the last 4 or 5 years of her life, there was certainly no shortage of attention and she enjoyed every minute of it.

Tonight, for the first time in 18 years, our home has no pets.

I keep expecting to see Sam sleeping on the floor when I turn around. Or as I walk into the kitchen to get a drink, she'll meow at me for food.

All there is is silence, and it's eerie.

Rest in peace, Sammy.

Img_2296

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mid-life crisis?

Yesterday Groupon had a really good deal on a Chironex Tuxedo 250 Maxi Scooter. $4200 value for $2500. My wife and I had been looking at electric scooters a few weeks ago for short trip errands, etc. and they're pretty close to $2000, although you don't need a licence or insurance to drive one unlike this Chironex one.

Anyway, that's not really the point.

I don't have my Class M licence to drive a motorcycle, but if I did it would have been extremely tempting to take advantage of the deal.

That got me thinking seriously about getting my Class M licence. I joked that I'm having a mid-life crisis, but I've always thought about one day getting it, and picking up a second-hand motorcycle to use for a commute to work or just go out for a ride in countryside on a sunny day. I'm not looking for a "crotch rocket" or some big-ass cruiser — just a decent sized, nice-looking, street bike. I know my limitations.

I've never driven a motorcycle. But 25 years ago or so a friend of mine had a bike and we used to go out for rides, with me on the back. I loved it. Seeing the road whizzing past. Feeling the wind. Freedom? It's hard to describe.

I am also well aware of the dangers of riding a motorcycle. We got in an accident once when a car turned left into a laneway in front of us. We couldn't stop or swerve out of the way, and ended up hitting the front left corner of the car, catapulting both of us over the hood of the car. Miraculously, I landed on my feet beside the car after hitting my knee on the handlebars. My friend landed on his back beside the car. Aside from a few scrapes and bruises, we walked away from it. I know not everyone is that lucky.

I dug around the web and found an old version of the "Official MTO Motorcycle Handbook" that someone had made into a PDF. I read through it and was surprised that I knew almost all of the correct answers to the sample questions in the book. Some I knew because my friend had told me them 25 years ago, and some are basic common sense.

I decided to order the current (and hardcopy) version of the book from the Service Ontario Publications web site yesterday.

If I do decide to get my M1, I also plan on taking an approved course. I took drivers ed for my car licence, so there's no reason why I wouldn't do the same for a motorcycle licence. (aside from cheaper insurance rates)

We'll see how it pans out. :)

(P.S. I still think those electric scooters and pretty cool...)