Friday, July 30, 2010

Discover is Dead to Me

I understand that the financial environment has changed and creditors can't be as lenient as they used to be. However. Discover has just been evil to me for the first time ever, and it's bad enough that I won't be using them again for the forseeable future, if ever.

I've been making a lot of purchases recently: airfare to a funeral, mattress, lighting, shipping costs. I use Discover for every in-person expense unless the business doesn't take their card or I pay cash. (I have a MasterCard which is my online card and backup daily card.) I paid off the full balance at the end of June. I set up an automatic payment through my bank to pay at least a minimum, starting in August. I thought I'd covered July and the last time I checked, I had no payment due. Turns out I was wrong, and I missed my payment date by a week. Yeah, I screwed up, but it was an honest mistake and one they're fully equipped to ride out until I take care of it, which based on my history will not take more than a month.

In the past this has no big deal. You pay your outrageous $39 fee, get 20% or higher interest mounting up until it's paid off, and everyone's fine. I've never been more than a month late with a payment in 20 years, and I've never, ever been in default. I have never failed to pay all that I owe, but I have occassionally been a week or three late because I'm not good at keeping track of time. Discover has been a good card for me because they'll take a payment by phone the day the payment is due, and credit the payment that day. They give cash back and don't make me mess around with credits, miles, or whathave you that need to be exchanged for something, it's just cash. On occasion (not often) they'll waive a late fee, even. Their operators are generally helpful. But all of that is not enough to outweigh the latest transgression.

This time, Discover - with a single late payment 7 days overdue - cut off my credit. I called them, put through an automatic payment for the full amount due at the last payment, and spoke to an operator. The operator was not allowed to extend me any credit at all. Not even the $25 I needed to send some packages at the after hours Post Office drop.

Excuse me? I've used your card every week for the last 4 years and have a dozen years credit history with your company. You know (based on my credit report where the last time I checked my score was 798) that I will pay you. And you can't extend me a hundred dollars of credit until I sort out my 7 day late payment that I've already authorized????? Fuck you, Discover Card.

I'm heading up north for a vacation this weekend. And while I always carry two cards, sometimes I pare down and just carry one for a meal or jaunt somewhere. What if I'd been in need of gas or a meal 400 miles from home? What if I'd really had an emergency and needed a small portion of the $8400 of credit I should still have had available? You would have been no help. In fact, you shutting down my credit with no notice could have been way more horrible than me having to spend a half hour in a deserted parking lot with a mobile phone.

I've been an expert credit user for 20 years and I've never run up against this situtation. Did you warn me? I'd argue that you didn't. I try to skim all the "here are upcoming changes to your credit agreement" for at least the highlights and no where did I see "We shut down your credit if your payment is 7 days late". It's possible it was there, but it was not prominent and was mixed in with so many other changes that don't affect me that I didn't/couldn't see it. This one, however, is not a good way to do business. I understand that you don't want to hemorrhage money to someone who won't pay you. But there is nothing in my history with you that would suggest this to be the case. I would understand if you wanted me to call in and ask for an extension or something, and offer only a limited amount. But for me to call in and you to not offer me even $25? Fuck you. You knew you could trust me, but I can't trust you. This is not how credit cards work. You're dead to me, Discover card.

If it turns out that all credit cards now do this, I may be more lenient and go back to using them after a year, because they do have their good points, like not sending bills after the due date. But as I said, I haven't seen this policy being announced. And it could put someone in a rather dangerous situation where they're expecting to be able to pay for something important and can't, with no wiggle room. That's unacceptable.

UPDATE: Just got the bill for this month. My overdue amount was $188.56 which wasn't enough to even charge the full late fee - the fee was "only" $19. This is the month after I paid a $3000+ charge in full. Um. Whatever, assholes. I know Citi probably isn't any better but they haven't cut off my credit for no good cause and I already have their address in my bank bill pay system, so that's what I'm using now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Oh, and if the insane toaster videos don't sufficiently entertain you, Suzanne Brockmann's new (non-SEAL) book is out NOW. It's called Infamous and the link will let you read chapter one.

My copy came in the mail today but I haven't read it yet. After work, I hit up the tanning salon (I'm trying to colorize my fish-belly-white self so I fry a little less when rafting this weekend.) Then I worked out at the gym because the trainer who was so nice as to carry a heavy thing for me expected me to show up. On the way back, I stopped to get cash to leave for the cleaners tomorrow who will be sweeping up all the styrofoam bits and realized that "Transformers" (the first one, live action) was playing on the inflatable outdoor screen on the lawn at the *very nice* neighborhood strip mall and I've been wanting to see it. So I got a 50 cent popcorn from the Claim Jumper guy (actually named Guy...), put my pants and shirt on over my workout gear, grabbed a picnic blanket and fleece jacket from the car and settled in. For HOURS AND HOURS. The little dog next to me got tired of exploring and fell asleep this movie took so long. Still, it was pretty good, even if I couldn't distinguish Decepticons from Autobots for most of the scenes. See what I mean?
probably optimus prime on inflatable screen in the dark

Following that, I hauled out the detritus of the new shoe shelf packaging (the heavy thing which was recently carried in, pictures in later post) to the recycling dumpster, packaged up some things to mail to friends, then made toast and had the idea that I should record the toast coming out of the bottom of the toaster. So I did that, and used the last bit of my June jam on that slice. Yadda, yadda, yadda, and it's 1am (for all the timestamp is an hour ago - the book is out on Tuesday, so I had to backdate it a smidge) and I've made and uploaded two toaster videos and still need to shower off this godawful Right Guard "Fresh" spray deodorant I used at the tanning place which gasses me every time I lift my arms.

And I was ready to sleep at 7pm. Now if the pattern holds, I won't be able to sleep a wink. At least I have my new book. (Infamous!)

Technology Win

I'm always annoyed when the crumb trays in toasters don't span the whole area I need to clean. This solves that problem because everything slides out the bottom. Here it is, my new toaster, in live action, toasting bread!

This one's for West. Everyone else, fast forward to the end around 17 seconds. (Ignore the comedy central ads playing in the background, if they're audible. You may need to beef up the brightness or contrast to actually see the toast at the end. Apparently proximity to Hollywood is not influencing my movie taking ability whatsoever.)

Ok, the glow works out better on the viewscreen than uploaded to YouTube. Here we are again, with the lights on this time and South Park playing in the background.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Precious

The light above my dining room table doesn't work.  It's actually a fan with a light, and the fan works, but the downlight, not so much.  July is a 3 paycheck month so I went out and got lighting.  The dining room light is here, but I need an electrician to also put in the pendants over the "bar" and recess a light over the kitchen sink before that story is complete.  So this is actually the story of my new bedroom chandelier.

A lighting store down the street (remember, I live in the contractor-retail section of town) had a big advertising sign drawing me in, thanks to the mattress store being nearby and me needing a new mattress.  I also need new lighting because mine's godawful and always has been, but it's pretty much the last thing to do in the design so I hadn't thought much about it yet.  But I do watch design shows on HGTV and I know what Candace Olsen can do with a sconce.  Really, though, their ad mentioned fans and I thought maybe I could fix mine, so I stopped in.  While  at the lighting store I saw a sparkly light.

This was not just any sparkly light, but a glittery, shiny, beautiful bouncy light. And it would not work at all as my dining table light.  Gloom!  Despair!  But I have seen the HGTV folks putting chandeliers in other rooms, and I couldn't walk away from this light.  So I bought it for my bedroom. My friend from Phoenix has an even more elaborate one in her bedroom (more inspiration) but she also has vaulted ceilings and an opera theme. This is the perfect scale for my place!  Since I have yet to pick a theme, I'll make sure it works. Even with the clearance + floor model discount though, it's still two orders of magnitude more expensive than my previous bedroom light.  But oh, so worth it.  I picked it up 2 hours ago, and it's already up, lit, and I'm telling you about it.   See for yourself. 

My precious, chandelier with layers of crystals in willow or bloom pattern

More pictures after the jump.

The Sky is Falling

After cleaning all those plums off the walk last week, I had to do it again.  I went out yesterday to carve a path through the pulp with my trusty 3-for-$1 paint scraper and removed 151 plums from the sidewalk.  You read that right.  That's a gross (a dozen dozen) plus 7.  Including the one that fell on my back while I was tending to its brethren.  Criminy!

This morning? I counted 13 new plums on the walk.  I went out later to get those off too because they were particularly juicy and I had to haul something in from the car and thought I might be using my wheeled dolly.  The something is a cabinet I bought for my shoes and the unwieldy, oblong flat-pack weighs a ton;  I had more difficulty getting it into the car than many other things I've hauled over the years.  The heavy duty dolly at UPS didn't seem thrilled with it, so I thought my little folding one might not do so well through an obstacle course, or at all, really.   I was lucky and my trainer from the gym (such a sweet guy) helped me carry it - after I got the plum juice off the sidewalk after my workout.   I really thought they'd all be gone by now, or that I'd at least cleared out some reasonable quantity of them.   Next time we have a mild spring with lots of rain, I might need to get a bigger ladder and some fruit picking tools with some reach to them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Huh.  I was in need of food, and leftovers were pretty much all there was unless I wanted canned food or cereal.  I nixed the leftover pizza because I had it for dinner last night and lunch today.  Pulled carelessly out of the freezer two containers yielded deliciousness.  One was half a pork tamale from the farmer's market vendor I ate with hoisin because I have no BBQ sauce.  The other was a hotdish (once I microwaved it) that I wish I'd written down how I made it because it was delicious, especially since I was expecting frozen leftover hamburger helper.

Here's what was in it:
  • egg noodles
  • stewed tomatoes
  • fresh shitake and oyster mushrooms
  • ground meat, probably buffalo
  • cauliflower
  • kale (not much in the frozen servings as it doesn't reheat well)
  • maybe some celery 

I have only vague memories of making it, which is why I'm pretty sure they were stewed tomatoes and not just canned plum toms.  I probably topped the original with frozen shredded cheese (mozarella and TJ's parmesan), but I didn't bother today.  Sometimes I can cook! I could even serve that to guests. If I could remember how to make it, and ask people to come over.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


In my Health Care plan's list of eligible expenses for Medical Spending Reimbursement, it lists "Laser eye surgery". Yet I just got a rejection from the company saying "Lasik" isn't covered. Perhaps if I re-submit and call it "laser eye surgery"? Seriously? Do I need to fight this fight to get my own money back for something they say they cover?  It's that or figure out some really expensive medical need in the next couple months.

Here's the relevant section of the list:
  • Hospital bills
  • Hypnosis for treatment of an illness
  • Laboratory fees
  • Laetrile by prescription
  • Laser surgery for the eyes
  • Lead-base paint removal (for children with lead poisoning)
  • Life fee to retirement home for medical care
  • Lip-reading lessons

What part of Lasik=Laser Eye surgery are they not getting? I may have to poke my newly surgerized eye out with a stick.

UPDATE 21July2010 9:20
After 14 minutes and 22 seconds on the phone with Tiffany, who knew that (a) LASIK is "Laser Eye Surgery" and (b) that they cover it, she and her manager unearthed my fax, made sure the form was filled out correctly, and will reprocess the claim and cut me a check.  Whew!  Now I don't have to manufacture a new, expensive medical issue or fight with the bureaucrats to get my money back.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Plum Tuckered

My weekend started out energetically enough. I came home friday and stripped more plums off the landscaping. They were a little too close to overripe so instead of cleaning them and putting them in the fridge for the next day, I just went ahead and made more jam. I got fully half the plums off one tree and the other three trees offered up the other half (some of which got tossed out in the quality control process).
plum closeup with a purple leaf

Then Saturday and Sunday were somewhat lost to sloth. Biologically determined sloth, but sloth nonetheless. I still got stuff done because my mattress got delivered yesterday, so I reset the bed, and my organizer came today so things got done with or without my cooperation. Then I slept on the couch. I'm rousing myself long enough to post this before heading back to the new bed.

It's a little hard to see the difference in the pictures, but the airbed was oversized for the frame and somewhat blobby and formless. The mattress fits the frame and room better and makes the room look bigger by not being so overstuffed looking. Partly it's because the airbed was a queen, and the mattress is a Full XL (length of queen/king, width of full).

old aerobed
new mattress

See? Hard to tell a difference in the photo. You'll have to come visit.

More satisfying is plum jam. Plums stripped from the landscaping (which a neighbor asked the management company about and it's not poisoned to kill bugs or whatnot) were turned into jam with the addition of lots of sugar and some pectin. There were two efforts, 2 weeks apart. The first batch I tried to gather from plums poised to fall on my sidewalk, but still missed plenty having only a 2 step stepstool. The second batch was from 4 trees around the complex because I couldn't reach many more plums on my tree even with the 3 step ladder and by then plenty had already fallen off. I think the remainder will be gone within the week.

I've also been cleaning plums off the sidewalk because they leave a purple mush gauntlet that's not possible to get through without staining something. Yesterday's effort was done just before mattress delivery, making it my third cleaning. I went out this morning to go to my tan and thought there must be at least a dozen more plums that fell overnight. They were still pretty whole so I took the paint scraper out and scraped 33 newly fallen plums off the sidewalk. That's 3 shy of 3 dozen!! That's both a lot of plums for 1 day, and bad estimation skills on my part.

Here are pictures from the two jam making efforts. The first effort ended with me realizing that it wasn't setting up and wasn't boiling hot enough then dumping in a fair amount of pectin then accidentally scorching it a bit. It still tastes fine, but it's pretty solid and the first whiff from the open bottle smells a tad scorched. The second batch got boiled hotter with the skins in it, and had more natural pectin, so I added a very little more right at the end and managed not to scorch it.

I did squeeze in a meyer lemon, as well, but that's the sum total of ingredients: plums, sugar, pectin, lemon. Plus heat and elbow grease turns plums into this:
canned jam

For more pictures (including an opportunistic shot of the new toaster)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Special Eye 5 week Update

The vision is normalizing.  Five weeks after quick but mentally traumatic LASIK eye surgery, things seem to be improving according to the doc.  The thought of the surgery isn't as raw, and my left eye double-vision seems to have finally disappeared. I can go outside without sunglasses for small amounts of time. (Actually, it's about 6 weeks now, by the time I got around to writing this, but I've been composing this in my head for a while. Yeah, it's still a bit rough and could be organized better, but it's good enough for gov't work.)

I used the anti-inflammatory eye drops for 2 weeks, the anti-biotic eye drops for 1 week and occasional use.  I'm still using a variety of tear-mimic, saline, or re-wetting (dry eye combating) drops every day, but not as often as I was at even 4 weeks. Here's what I've learned.
  • Pred Forte, the anti-inflammatory, leaves white residue on the eyelashes that can reflect light into the eyes, making it look like there are weird visual effects.  But those go away after cleaning the eyelashes, thankfully, although I touched my eyelashes as little as possible the first week. My eye doc says that it's better to wean off it than go cold turkey.  I used this 4X/day for the first week and 2X/day the second week, and once in a while if my eyes seem itchy.
  • Anti-biotic eyedrops sting and burn.  I've had 2 or 3 brands and they all do.  Best way to deal with them is to put in some other drop first, blink that out of the way for a minute or so, then put in the anti-biotic drop.  I used these 4X/day for the first week and whenever I got paranoid that I'd damaged or otherwise touched my eye like when I hit my eyeball with a ziplock bag last week.
  • Blink makes a sample container that is annoyingly hard to squeeze. It's too squat to get a good squeeze on it.  The drops will wet the eyes like tears, but the effect is short term and not worth the struggle.
  • The Dollar Store eye drops work just as well as Blink and are easier to use and cheaper.
  • The "individual use" containers have about 5-8 drops per eye in them, which is usually too many.  I mostly use one or two drops per eye at a time.  These can be smuggled easily onto airplanes, but I otherwise recommend larger bottles.  (To avoid contaminating larger bottles, don't touch the tip to anything but the lid, but if you do, squeeze out a drop or two to clean out the tip before allowing the bottle to expand and suck in again.)
  • All varieties of "natural tear" or just plain preserved saline drops are good for rinsing eyes during or after showering. I had an old half-full bottle of saline that I plopped in the shower next to the shampoo just in case I got soapy or icky water in my eyes. (Do not put Lasiked eyes under shower water.  If you just get a little in from dripping or your wet face, it's ok, but I flushed mine with saline anyway, just to be safe.)
  • GenTeal makes re-wetting drops that seem to offer the best healing, and I give them credit for getting rid of the double vision.  But they are very strange to use.  Vision will be jacked up for about 10-15 minutes after using these drops, with fine/near vision not working great at all, but for the 2-3 hours after that, it's better than ever.  Then, my eyes started to feel sticky. This could only be relieved by more drops (either GenTeal or natural-tears type) but the stickiness is getting less as time goes on.  So if you need to drive 15 minutes home, use the saline/tears kind.  If you need to drive to San Diego, put in the GenTeal and wait 15 minutes.  (Fun fact: GenTeal is made by Novartis, who bought out the Necco Factory, of conversation hearts fame, a block from where I used to live then work. )
  • I have used Systane in the past for re-wetting, but not since the Lasik, so I can't say if it's better or worse than GenTeal, but GenTeal "feels" like it's working better so I stocked up on that. (I got mild-moderate and moderate-severe strengths both.)
Still on most days I think "oh, my contacts are starting to dry out, I should take them out before bed."   This was constant for the first month and only just started to become an intermittent thought. It was what triggered me to write this tonight, though.

I've been trying to exercise my eyes with the bead-on-a-string exercises and looking at Magic Eye images.   These practice control of focal distance.  My close vision is working better but I really can't focus at armpit distance yet, and that close, my left eye still gets a grey hole in the center.  I'm hoping if I exercise my peepers, it'll keep the muscles strong.  I keep pulling my reading back from my eyes because my muscle memory is to read with things 8" from my face, but I can see clearly to several feet away, so I keep moving books or computer screens and things close then away, just to make sure I practice using the various distances.

My eye appointment early last week (~1 month at 5 weeks due to holiday) showed my left eye vision correction improved without having the double vision in the way.  My vision is testing around 20/20.  My corneas and lenses look healthy and are mostly healed.  I can rub my eyes now if i need to but have only done it once.  Whenever I catch myself about to rub them, I just put in more eyedrops and the desire to rub goes away.  I noticed today at LACMA, when wandering through the 12' high rusted steel "ribbon" rooms, that I do get some aura still around bright lights when it's dark - the light coming over the top edge really came over the edge - but it's not as intense as the first week.  Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Otherwise known as "Men Who Hate Women" by Swede Steig Larsson.  My review, one of millions out there: 3 of 5 stars or a solid C.  Readable but there were not-insignificant problems. A Boston friend, also a reader, gave me the set with the ok to pass them on when I'm done and a hint to read it for Salander which bore out. If you'd like to try them, sing out and I'll send them to you once I figure out if I'm reading the next 2 installments.

Oftentimes my 3 star reviews mean "readable but doesn't really stand out in any way".  In this case, it's an average of 1 and 4 stars, rounded up because it ended better than it started, made some points (if clumsily) that I can get behind, and I'm allowing slack for it being a translation from the Swedish.

The short version is that it's a mystery in a mystery with some story at the end and infodump up the wazoo on the front end making it easy to put down for two thirds of the book.  There are characters you want to like doing dumb enough things that it would be easy to give up on them, but they do better things too.  There's really nasty violence that I felt was more than the story required, in order to make the point that ignoring and excusing violence is bad and violence poisons lives. The message of how journalists need to investigate, not just fluff those they're reporting on couldn't be more important.  We're introduced to Mikael, a writer/publisher who tries to walk that walk, and Salander, an odd young woman with a penchant for unearthing secrets.  When they work together, the story works, but until then it's a chore emeshed with wallbanging obstacles.  I have the feeling that my desire to start the next book has more to do with the gruesome allure of rubbernecking at a trainwreck than wanting to read it for enjoyment or worthier feeling.

The long version is after the jump.  If you're concerned about spoilers, skip the paragraph starting and ending with the word "spoiler".  BTW, I generally don't consider anything in the first 20% of a book as a spoiler, especially if it's easy to predict.

Radio Silence Revoked

Well, after the big trip, I've been scrambling at work with the still-hamstrung computer and vegging out at home.   The skim coat:

The wedding was beautiful and calm and relaxed.  Open bar did help, especially for the folks less enamored of the ski-lift trip to the ceremony, as did having a small group of close friends and family who were all cordial.  My friend's brother managed to make the ceremony before going overseas to work, I managed to get there after stopping with the family to say goodbye to my grandma, and all in all it was a good trip.  Not easy, but good.

I considered trying to arrange for something for the July 4th holiday, then decided to give myself a free pass to take it easy.  I read.  I lounged by the pool and lightly burned my back, but not so much that I couldn't do anything with it.  I picked plums off the tree shadowing the walkway and made jam out of them.  I cleaned the walkway of smooshed plums. 

This week was alright, but made easier by having nearly a week on east coast time. I've been tired at night and wake up in the morning so it's going ok.