Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Got my Keys ... Got my Phobia

I have a phobia. It used to be secret, but hasn't been since I went around telling people about it and now am publishing it on the net.

It's about switching things off, especially my heater.

I have this secret fear that my heater is always on.

Before I leave the house, I always check that my heater is off.

Actually, usually I check my heater is off in the morning after I'm done using it, then I check as I leave my bedroom. Then I open my door again after I leave, and check again, in case it turned itself on after I left my room. Then I go upstairs and wander around, and I think I might have been mistaken, so I check my room again. Then later on, when I'm ready to leave the house, I race into my room again to check the heater isn't on. because you know, you wouldn't want to leave the heater on while you're out of the house all day. Think of all the electricity it may be guzzling!

I often do this several times, while I'm at the front door, after I've taken one step out. I then get to the bus stop or I'm on the train and I ring my Dad (who leaves home after me, usually) and ask him to please check my heater. This is the marvel of mobile phones.

But just last week I did a terrible thing.

I walked out the door and guess what?

I was all set to go, and Dad asked if I was ready, and I was, and I was happy and I ALMOST forgot I had a phobia!

I mean, I almost walked straight out of the house without worrying once about my heater!

How could I do such a thing?

Luckily I remembered my phobia just in time, and I got worried and dashed back inside and checked my heater. Then I felt better.

But then I got on the train and I kept worrying - how could I forget my phobia just like that? It's not normal. It's not right. One day I'll completely lose my phobia and I won't be me anymore. I'll be lost.

And then I'll really be scared.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Borders Books: Identity Theft and Indian Giving

Now, I enjoy a good bookstore - wide variety of products and discounts - and while Borders books has offered that to me, it's a pity that like many of those big corporations that gets popular for products, it falls down severely on the customer service side.

Like my experience with Panasonic and their idiocy about not advertising correctly what their stereo system will do, and then their lame compensation which actually puts me at a disadvantage. These big corporations can afford better than others to both be accurate and to do a little more to please the customer and keep them onside; it just seems that many have got so big for their boots they don't bother - and forget that pissing off one customer can cause a chain reaction that pisses off many. And it's a lot harder and more expensive to gain a customer - especially gaining back a lost customer - to maintain one.

My experience was with this year's Border's The Ultimate Kids' Collection Competition.

Now, I happen to like kids' stuff, so I thought, hey why not? Besides, the stuff I don't particularly "get" - the stuff that's a bit too twee and not nostalgic or in my category of fun - if I win it, I'd give it to my cousins' kids. Or the disabled children my sister babysits. Hey, I know lots of children who would get a kick out of a good story book, picture book, adventure book, whatever. I thought it would be fun. But if I won that gift edition of Pippi Longstocking - it was going straight to the poolroom!

The game is pretty easy in formula - there is a picture of a bookcase with 100 prizes lined up on it. You have to log in and say you'll accept marketing communications from Borders as part of the conditions. You get to click on a prize to see if you've won. You might win the prize you've clicked on. Alternatively you could win a coupon like "3 for two kids books" or you could possibly win the whole 100 books in one swoop. There's only 1 of the big swoop prizes to be given out, and 1 each of the individual prizes.

In order to play again and again, you have to each time enter a "friend's email address" - or what the conditions say has to be a "valid email address" (so they really don't care if that happens to be your worst enemy, not your friend).

Then you get another shot at guessing where a prize may be.

Sounds easy enough, and I played a lot.

One thing I did do though, which probably a lot of ordinarily email savvy people do nowadays, is one of the first emails I entered as a "valid email address" was one of my own alternate email addresses - hey, I am my own best friend!

I then logged in to that email address to see what happens.

Instead of sending an ordinary email from Borders saying "Your friend [my login name] has recommended that you play this game, here's the link" sort of message:


Identity Theft.

Basically, what does this look like, especially if you play this game a lot - which, by the way, Borders explicitly encourages you to do on its website (with its "Play again - hurry up - prizes will go fast - etc exhortations)

It makes you look like a spammer. Without your permission, or even your notification, and unless you send this to yourself near the beginning - you mightn't find out. If you had instead sent them to all friend's emails, you might have annoyed friends complaining, possibly even blocking you, if they don't like that stuff and they see you've sent it to a couple of their emails.

Anyhow, undeterred, I played on. However, I decided that this was really unsavoury, and after all, it did say "valid" not "working" email address, so why should I enter working email addresses if a whole lot of people may receive them and Borders would make me look like a spammer?

I decided then to enter valid, but not working, emails. They had a correct form - in fact, if you don't enter an email address with the valid form, the competition prompts you that it's not valid, please enter a valid email, so it seems if they accept it, it fits in with their definition of "valid".

I played on and won a lot of prizes. I mean, a lot.

It wasn't difficult because Borders seemed to choke the game for a while then suddenly give them out in spurts and I got in when they were given out in spurts.

I even won Pippi Longstocking!

Later, I received a phone call from a Borders spokesperson on a Monday before the comp ended - whom I will call Melanie Paris here. Melanie called from Melbourne and asked me to call her back. It was about the competition.

I did. Twice. She didn't answer the phone, but I left messages.

On the Tuesday afternoon I looked at the prize tally - suddenly it had gone up by a lot - coincidentally by the exact number of prizes I had won! It looked suspiciously like they had decided to strip me of my prizes and place them back in the prize pool before talking to me. I checked my email, they hadn't notified me either. So I decided I'd send my time that afternoon winning many of them back. And I did - not all but most of them. And as I suspected, they were the prizes I'd won before - I was winning back many of the same prizes.

On the Wednesday, I received a call from Melanie Paris, who wanted to talk. She sad she was concerned over the NUMBER of times I had entered and WON and that she wanted to investigate because she thought that the emails weren't valid and were bouncing. I pointed out valid wasn't the same as working, and a bouncing email wasn't indicative of whether either an email was either not working or not valid.

She just went on about some "investigation" and later on - that afternoon - Melanie Paris called and told me that they'd decided to strip away all the prizes except one token prize (the first book I'd won, which wasn't Pippi Longstocking) because they'd decided that "valid" meant "working valid email address.

It's such a pity they'd decided this and don't put it in the rules.

My guess is, they saw I'd won a whole lot of prizes, freaked a bit, and tried to come up with an excuse to take them away because they realised they'd mucked up - instead of getting it right in the first place.

So I asked Melanie Paris, what would I need to do to win a prize? Enter a working valid email address.

Funnily enough, the prizes went back in the prize pool last night. I knew exactly where every single prize was, and which prizes were already taken - as I'd won them all previously - yet although I played continuously for quite a while, I didn't win anything while the prize tally went down ... until I changed IP address, logged in under a different email and cleared the cookies on my browser. Possibly a coincidence, but rather suspicious. Could it be that they blocked me - thus it was not playing against the rules they were against, but just me, personally?

A summary of offences:

1. Borders steals your identity, sending spam-like emails as Borders promotions under your name and email identity, without your express permission
2. Borders changed the meaning of "valid" email address to mean "working" email address - to suit their needs
3. Borders didn't return my calls - but returned prizes to the pool without letting me know (on Tuesday). This also meant that I had no chance to ask them what they objected to in my playing before they were returned and no real possibility of asking how I could win them back in a manner they would approve of on Tuesday.
4. I "suspect" Borders blocked me from playing last night, after my books were returned ... for the second time
5. If Borders was really concerned that I had won so many prizes, and needed some prizes for the continuation of the game for the week, but it was clear I had played by the rules, then the obvious way to deal with it would ave been to negotiate with me more fairly. Taking away all the prizes I had won and giving back 1 isn't negotiation. Asking to negotiate with giving back some prizes would have been.
6. If Borders' real beef was that I had entered in non-working email addresses:
a) There should have been terms that set this out clearly
b) They could have installed a system that checked for this
c) They certainly could have notified me about this when I first started winning prizes. So I had a chance to change my style. But considering the fact they waited til the end of the game ... it obviously shows complete incompetence ... or that they didn't so much care about non-working addresses as the fact that they couldn't stand that someone had let all their prizes fall off their competition before the official closing date. Dumbasses!!!!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Meeting my Spiritual Animal

I'm reading an essay now - Spiritual Animals, Guardians, Guides and Others Places by R.J. Stewart (published in Psychology & the Spiritual Traditions, edited & introduced by R.J. Stewart Element Books, 1990)

Anyhow, I'm reading a bit about how I may meet my spiritual animal guide.

In fact, according to Stewart I don't go out and find my animal guide so much as I let my animal guide find ME. This could be a little scary to me, because if I'm just wandering around letting an animal find me, just say it turns out to be something like a pugnacious bulldog or ferocious lion? Shouldn't I be on guard?

Stewart says (my interpretation and summary):

Start off with a period of stillness and awareness. You intend to enter into a visualisation where you will meet an animal
The animal will be your companion and will lead you to a journey of power
The animal guide will choose you

(of course there is more to it than this - moving through worlds, feeling certain powers, you receive a gift from your companion)

I haven't tried this experiment. I have felt some strong affinity for some animals but I could say this has a lot to do with social/cultural elements or just because they're cute! I'm a big fan of monotremes for instance. On the other hand, is this the whole point of animal guides, that they can be attached to your emotional and cultural responses and are not supposed to be divorced from them?

If I had a very nice echidna or platypus leading the way in my life ... well I could see that. On the other hand, I'm quite keen on turtles too. Gosh, can't one have an animal guide for every mood?

Choose your own Middle, Climax and Ending!

Remember those Choose your own Adventure Books?

You were the master of your own destiny. You started the story, and then when you got to a certain point, you would be told to choose what step you wanted to take next, and then you'd be redirected to another page. That way, the story had multiple possibilities and you could keep CHOOSING YOUR OWN ADVENTURE!

While I've been unemployed, I've decided to come up with a whole new concept in books - the CHOOSE YOUR OWN MIDDLE, CLIMAX AND ENDING book.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and for an uninspired and somewhat lazy writer as myself, this seems to be the perfect sort of book.

I have ideas! I have inspiration!

It just seems that everytime I do, I get about 500 words into writing the first chapter of a book and I forget what the inspiration was. And anyway, what the heck were the characters going to do and why was it interesting and where were they going anyway?

But I've got PLENTY of starts to short stories. I've just never written a middle, climax or end.

My books will allow the reader to choose what the middle, climax and end will be! You don't even need to be redirected to a page! That's sort of lame CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE style, which while it gives you multiple possibilities, does mathematically limit the number of possibilities of stories you can create.


My books will give you INFINITE POSSIBILITIES by giving you the beginning - and leaving the rest completely open! No barriers! No redirection! No bossing you around and telling you what to do or where to go or how you have to end it. It's YOUR BOOK - you can make it whatever you want it to be!

I think it'll be a hit.

No need to thank me - except through royalties.

No Bookings

Why is it once you've found someplace good to eat and it becomes popular, they try to suck the goodness out of it?

It's like celebrities, the popularity goes to their head, and they seem to think they are popular just because they exist, not popular because of particular things about them.

For instance, Mr Coffee and I have tried various places which may have not had the greatest ambience, but they did one dish fairly well and they had a good cheap lunchtime special. They let you choose from a number of their dishes, plus one of their sweet flavoured teas. So it got popular around lunchtime, and it's one high quality Chinese dish wasn't bad either!

Then they decided to cook worse and use lower quality food.

Then the more popular dishes on their lunchtime special menu started disappearing or you had to pay "extra" to get them - for instance, the duck.

Then you couldn't get some of the nicer teas.

The final straw was when they wouldn't serve any of the flavoured sweet teas at all - all you could get was the plain regular Chinese tea - or what Mr Coffee calls "brown dishwater"

We walked out without bothering to order.

At another restaurant, their very nice handmade noodles were really good value at $6 a bowl - and some of their other dishes weren't bad either. Despite the fact the place looked crummy and their service wasn't really good. Then it crept up to $7, then $8, then $9 ....

I have just recently enjoyed eating at a nice Thai restaurant. It's really popular - people queue in the street to get in. The food is pretty good and I have preferred it over another Thai restaurant mainly becuase it's a little cheaper and you can actually make bookings.

The other Thai restaurant, while the food is delicious, doesn't allow bookings and is a tad more expensive.

Then I rang the first Thai place just now and asked to book, a week in advance. "No weekend lunchtime bookings!" they cried. This was new to me, only a couple of months back I'd booked a weekend lunchtime.

I hope this one doesn't start changing all its ways just because it's popular. Please no.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Chocolate and Orange

Recently Mr Coffee and I found ourselves in a cafe called the Citrus Cafe in Newtown. Or Citrus Espresso Bar. Either way, it is a good place for cakes and coffee and also hot chocolate which is a favourite of mine.

(recently we bought about ten or so bars of Lindt chocolate especially for making hot chocolate so we know what we like)

I like the colours in this place. Yes I am a big fan of green and purple and this place wasn't green and purple. It was chocolate and orange with trimmings of jaffa red. But it was a very cosy chocolate and orange place and just right for drinking chocolate in and eating chocolatey cakes in, I think.

It had yummy colours.

And if you get a booth it's even more cosy.

Now we've been there a couple of times we've tried a few of their cakes - the blueberry cheesecake, lemon meringue pie, cookies and cream cheesecake and the bon vivant.

The bon vivant would all up have to be my favourite. It is nice and chocolate-y without being so rich you feel like throwing up or bursting.

This place has the advantage or disadvantage of being on King St Newtown which means Mr Coffee and I trot past a few secondhand bookstores in order to get to it.

This can be a lot of fun but also a rich temptation. We have arrived there quite a bit poorer for the experience and bags heavier. i think that could explain why we haven't tried any main meals yet, just the cakes and sweet drinks.

However a book feeds the soul so to heck with the main meals!

I feel good with my purchases.