Monday, May 15, 2017

Zipcar's cancellation policy --occasional driving membership plan

I have been a Zipcar member since December of 2010.  Given I needed access to car, on average, once a month; I opted for Occasional Driving Membership plan.  In this schema, I paid a one time admin fee, and an annual fee.  Under this plan, I had the flexibility to rent as needed.

It worked well.

Life circumstances change, however. For us buying a hybrid car has made the convenience of being a member of car sharing program redundant.

I searched the Zipcar web site for membership cancellation information.  This is not mentioned under the "help".  But, type "cancellation" in the "Ask a question box", and you get

We're sorry to see you go!  To cancel your membership, please give us a call below.
Call 1-866-4ZIPCAR

I called today, and here is the scoop.  Two things should be in place for a full membership refund to occur:
  a.  No reservation should have been made, and used in the current membership year
  b.  Cancellation should occur less than 30 days after the membership renewal  date

So, I still enjoy carrying my Zipcar membership around, at least for a few more months!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: A Spooll of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

The story is about a big family. We start reading about the Whitshanks in the present time, and then reading their parents', and finally their grand parents' stories. Yet with all the background information, which I should say the author has done a pretty good job of keeping concise, by the end of the book, the reason for the characters' behaviors and actions is somewhat left to personal interpretation.
Of all the characters in the book, I found Denny's, the son of Red Whitshanks, the most interesting. The book starts and ends with him, so I thought of him as the book's protagonist. His rebellious streak, despite all the attention he received from almost every member of his family, especially his mother, perplexed me. And it looked like he was the most angry with his mother. I kept thinking why? None of the events, not even, his mother lying to him to get him see a counselor justified his anger towards her. We see youth that turn out bad, despite their parents hard work to provide, educate, and guide. So, I guess I wanted to see the author's point of view of why Denny turned out to be so angry in spite of all he had going for him.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Make it an Easy-clean bathroom

I have often appreciated the bare minimum condo developers provide in each room of the condo, leaving them to owners to customize.  It has become a tradition, and almost a hobby to get busy with a small size renovation project around this time each year.

This year, inspired by this houzz article, I decided to make some changes to the bathroom.

I was spending time scrubbing the grout, and trying to get the green spots that appeared recently on bathtub tiles.  I didn't think I could get the green off the tiles completely.  It made sense to remove and replace the tub surround tiles.  The green spots may have been due to the fact that the fan was not working properly, so I added cleaning the fan to the list.

The existing porcelain floor tiles, 12x12, gray, covered roughly 31sq/feet area, which meant a large area to clean grout. I decided to go with a larger tile, and darker color, but stick with porcelain, because they are less porous, harder, and less prone to stain.

For the longest time, I had searched online or popped in home decor and furnishing stores looking for a practical way to organize the toiletries, however nothing appealed. The most common, the shower caddies, all took up extra space, and if not cleaned regularly would best case look dirty, and worst case rust.  I was replacing the bathtub tile surround, so I could ask for a niche that is deep and wide enough to hold all items now sitting in the four corners of the bathtub.  Each week, cleaning under each item was time consuming. With the niche, I only had to swipe clean one surface.

The tub and vanity are in good shape, and easy to clean, so I left those out of the project plan.  But, I decide to get a new, chrome finish shower set.  I had brushed nickle spout, and control which despite scrubbing them clean with lemon juice the looked darkened, and old.

My wish-list was complete, so all I needed now was a good contractor to execute the project on time and within my budget.

I had had good working experience with Home Depot installers.  I used them for two previous flooring projects.  They had a project expert at the store.  He was so helpful, and knowledgeable.  I only had to tell him what I have in mind, and he would recommend the material.

I had second thoughts on going with Home Depot when I found out Home Depot has replaced the residence expert with a project center.   But being able to use Home Depot credit services and pay the cost of the project over 12 months period, interest free, lured me back in.

Not having the residence expert, I took to the internet, read through client feedback posted on each item on Home Depot web site, to make my selection.  Not having anyone to verify if the choices I've made fit their necessary purpose, I completed and paid for the order.  The total cost of material and labor came to $3700, a bit higher than I expected, but I was quite excited about my choices, and anxious to see the end result that I forgave myself for going over the budget.

I chose
  white mosaic mesh for the bathtub surround,
  porcelain glazed, matt finish 24x24 in beige for the floor
  and two piece delta control and hand shower in chrome finish, and a separate spout in chrome finish
The work started on the Monday and finished on Thursday, on time, as promised four days.  However, unlike past projects, this one faced a couple of bumps along the way.

Day 1: the demo took half a day, when the work was done, there was a layer of dust every where and there was a rather large chip on the engineered hardwood floor.  The demo guys didn't have floor and furniture protection sheets, and although I had called ahead of the project start day to inquire what I need to prepare the home, I was not made aware to get my own.

Day 2: building the niche, installing the waterproof drywall, and tiles, however when it was time to install the tiles I was made aware of the possibility of some of the meshes, especially in the corners, not being completely aligned with one another.  Bottom line, what I picked was not meant for large surface, such as tub surround.  There was no choice but to take the tiles back to the store and get new ones, subway tiles as recommended by the installer, this perceived inconvenience shed $500 off the project cost :)

Day 3: install the faucet, control and head shower, install the floor tiles except for the rough-in of a hand shower and control won't work if there is a spout.  So, the only way to make progress in project is to use my old shower head and control, but apparently the demo guys have got rid of the old set.  So, the installers promise to buy a set.  What seemed as a set back, saved another $300 off the project cost :)

Day 4: grout, baseboards, towel bar, shower curtain bar, a full contractor came to finish up
I went with the gray non-sanded grout.  This color, and type grout worked well with both the floor and the bathroom tiles.  I used the floor tile for baseboard.  The guys also helped with installing a towel bar, and shower curtain rod.

The end result:

Lessons learned: Talk to an expert when picking material, ensure and don't leave it to the installer to bring the proper protection for your floor and furniture.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Visiting London / three nights / 2016

Best thing we ever did was to order Oyster card online, which arrived before our departure.  With 15GBP credit on the card, it made our transfer from Heathrow to our hotel cheap, and effortless.   During our time in London, we tapped the card upon entering and exiting the train station, depending on distance traveled, the fare was deducted.  We only topped up a couple of times during our stay. To get to the airport, we bought tickets on Gatwick express, 19.9 GBP. The Gatwick express leaves Victoria train station every 15 minutes, and travels to Gatwick non-stop.

On arrival to our hotel we were surprised to find out that the Holiday Inn London - Kensington Forum charges 30.75GBP for early check-in.  The fee entitled us to eat-in at the all-you-can-eat-buffet breakfast.  The hotel was in great location: close to the Metro's Gloucester station, in a not too crowded, clean, upscale neighborhood,  nice restaurants, and cafes close by, and branches of two major supermarket chain, Tesco and Waitrose, within walking distance.  The average nightly fee was C$211/night.  From our hotel room we could see "The Eye".

The  Eye was the first place we went to.  We spent an hour in line to get the ticket, we spent almost half of hour sight seeing money to buy the express tickets, then waited another hour to get on the famous Ferris wheel.  The wheel took us on a 30 minutes spin above London, where we snapped a few out of focus pictures, right.  When it was all over, we wondered if it was worth it, and the answer was NO!

But going on the Hop on Off tour which included a cruise of Thames river from the Tower of London to London Eye was well worth it.  We cruised around the city passing important buildings, churches, and colleges while listening to the rich history of them: Churchill Arms and the very ordinary looking palace of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Kensington, the St. Pauls Cathedral and Westminister Abbey, Peter Pan and Lady Diane Memorial fountain in Hyde Park, the Paddington neighborhood, and the station where trains take travelers to Paris in under 2 hours, the London School of Economics, Royal Albert Hall, the house where Beatles lived, the house where the Prime Minister lives, Number 10 Downing street, The Houses of Parliament, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Squares, and I am sure I am forgetting a whole bunch.

And of course, you can't be visiting a new city and not try their cuisine.  This was not an easy task, as with the globalization and immigration there was fusion every where we looked.  On my list there were a place that boasted to serve the best English breakfast, another that was renowned for its tea, and one that was down to earth but served very delicious fish and chips, all these had addresses in East End London.  I was surprised to find out that the neighborhood is not suited for non-Londoners, so we skipped them, and ended up eating in not so very exciting places, like Prezzo, Spaghetti House, Pret A Manger, Burger King, and Paul.

Similar to food, finding shopping authentic to London was difficult.  Walking down Oxford Street we were surprised by how every where you go you see the big brand names, and how absent the local design is from major shopping streets.  But, we had to see the Selfridges and so we went, and although in the series the restaurants are all on the main floor,  we were told there is a not too expensive restaurant on the roof top.  We had lunch there, Fish and Chips --mediocre.

Getting out of London provides the opportunity to see the roads, and high ways, and experience the culture of transportation, an essential element of growth and prosperity.  And internet makes it possible for visitors to book tickets in advance to save time.  We bought our tickets to Bath on National Express web site, and found Victoria Bus Station, and although there is a myriad of bus companies that operate between Victoria Bus Station and Bath's, we spot the National Express bus.  It's a long trip, better suited for overnight stay, but it can be done in one day.  Bath is on UNESCO's list of heritage cities, so it's expected to feel ancient, the Roman Bath and the Bath Spa are the two main attractions of this city.  It's said that the mineral water pools of Bath have healing powers.

We did manage to go to one museum during our stay.  There was no fee to get in but the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit , which was the main motivation for our trip, had a nominal fee of 10 GBP.  This was to introduce a different side of Leonardo Da Vinci, not the painter of the famous Mona Lisa Smile, but the innovator of many equipment and machines.

I think visiting London and surroundings could be educational and fun!

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

I am on such emotional high right now, and it has been a couple of days since I flipped the last page of The Goldfinch. I can't stop thinking about the plot, the characters, the language, the prose, and the places mentioned in this book. And that's only scratching the surface. Theodore Decker's story has touched my soul. I was not just reading his story, I was living it. 

It is not just the story that is extraordinary. Although to come up with such a plot, placing a 13 year old ALONE in the world, whose view of the world is so dark, and rightly so; and then inviting colorful, vastly different from one another: bourgeois, artists, drug and art mafias, alcoholics, and junkies in and out of his life, and engineering events in very well chosen cities is nothing but genius. But also the words used to describe the events, places and characters; the vocabulary the characters choose is nothing short of amazing. 

I think aspiring writers should read this book at least once. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Work from home -no more!

Is working from home an individual's or a corporate's privilege?  It's hard to say?  On one end, an individual benefits from the freedom, flexibility, and convenience it provides, and on the other end, corporation benefits from saving on the cost of maintaining office spaces,

I recall when I started in the software business, there was no limitation on where a company could hire talent. Having a physical presence in all geographical locations was impossible and  Internet made work from anywhere possible. When interviewing, I regarded the availability of work from  home option as an option not an alternative.  The idea of working and living in the same space didn't appeal to me.  Without face to face discussion with my colleagues I felt at a disadvantage.  Yet, it was still nice to be able to work from home when there is an errand to run, a doctor's or dentist's appointment to attend, and the weather was bad.

Recently, company policies shifted to forbid working from home altogether.  Those who live within 80km of the office had one month, while those living further have 6 months to adjust their schedule to the new policy.  Everyone has to be on site 5 days a week during the core business hours.

It was hard to imagine work-life balance without the ability to work from home.  These two terms have become tightly coupled.  Now the errands, and/or appointments should be made on weekends or personal days.  And when sick or snowed in, one should just take a day.

So, I thought, my life will take a turn for the worse, I'd be behind on both work and chores at home.  In reality something else happened.  I find myself more focused at work, because I know at the end of the day, there is no more an option of taking work home.  And when at home, I am no longer split between checking on work, and getting house chores done.  This separation of the two most prominent entities of my life has been good for both.

Having said the above, I am one of the few lucky ones with just a bit over 10 hours of commute each week.  There are colleagues who spend 20+ hours per week to get to and from work.  Spending these many hours driving, or taking public transit takes a percent of the energy that should have otherwise been spent on work.  And in the long run, makes us more tired, weak, and overall less productive.  If we are encouraged to show up in the office everyday, to collaborate, innovate, and work side by side to improve productivity, we are getting the opposite effect.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Home cure for the dry cough

If you have suffered from a dry cough spell, you'd know they are not fun! This hateful condition starts with a ticklish feeling in the membrane of the throat, which one badly wants to reach and scratch, however, that's not practical so what happens instead?  The lungs contract, air is sucked out of them, and long stretch of cough starts, followed by gasping for air in between, and wiping down the tears rolling down the face.  This usually lasts a good few minutes!  After it's over, with the sense of relief and elation, one is left with tight muscles around the neck and shoulder.  But the tightness is a piece of cake compared to having to cough pointlessly repeatedly. It's not fun for the person going through this, and annoying for the people around her.

I just had to step away from writing this, because I got one of these!  As a result of this being too personal, I have been looking for a home cure for it.  I found a list, as it is the norm, on how this information are put together on the web sites, but only two resonated.  I tried both, and to my delight, they are both effective.

They are:
1. Honey:
 A spoon full of honey, goes straight there, and it feels like it coats the membrane.  After a few minutes the area feels soothed and relaxed.

2. Saline
Gargling with salt water solution for a few minutes, and then rinsing with regular water keeps the area clean, as well as helps with the discomfort.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Buying the right laptop 2016

There!  It's September and marketing folks prefix or append "back to school" to products in order to make their purchase necessary at this time of the year.  One product that is very relevant these days is a Laptop. 

I have a Dell INSPIRON 15. It takes up a large space. Carrying it is similar to weight lifting. Once powered on, irrelevant processes run, advertising Dell software and services. Despite a 64bit AMD processor it doesn't scale. And it has a loud fan.
I am thinking of retiring the old dude!

"It's all about the specs!"  The Best buy representative said. "When shopping for a new laptop it is best to compare specs of the laptops in one's price range."

I have a $1000 budget. My ideal spec would be:
> Intel processor, preferably i5 or i7,
> No less than 8GB of RAM,
> Less than 1.5kg
> No less than 8 hours of battery life
> A quiet keyboard
> Doesn't heat
> Equipped with USB, (preferably 3.1), HDMI, and Ethernet ports
> Not bloated with pre-installed useless software

ASUS X540L comes with two Intel i7 cores, 8GB of RAM, less than 2kg, USB 3.0 and is $749.99 CAD on Best Buy's "back to school" sale.

I bought and trialed run it yesterday, and I am returning it today.
On this computer there is no visual aide to indicate Caps Lock is on! Typing is a painful task of many backspace/erase keystrokes, e.g. the page up/down keys are not co-located with the arrows.  It comes pre-installed with crapware.
The only thing this laptop has going for it, is its sharp display. Pity, I cannot keep the NVIDIA graphic card!

I will trial run a Lenovo next!  Meanwhile, my old dude is staying.