Saturday, April 30, 2016

Let's Hear it for PayPal

“We will take care of this.”

On February 19, two months and three days prior to this writing, I placed an online order, paying for it with PayPal. It was for two devices as the vendor was offering two for one; I get one, my wife gets one.

The first hint of trouble came with the confirming email. It was a typical confirmation in many ways …

Congratulations on placing your order with (vendor)!

The (device) has been a huge global success story and we know you will love your purchase.

If at any time you need to discuss your order status with us, please contact us at support@(vendor).com for a speedy response. Our Support staff operate 24/7 and we typically answer your email within a few hours

but it also had a hint of trouble …

Due to the massive global Xmas season demand for the (device) and reduced production due to factory holiday closure, your order may take 4 to 6 weeks to arrive. This is the absolute worst case scenario as we typically deliver much sooner.”

My order was placed 6 weeks after Christmas, and, one would suppose, even longer than that after the demand placed on production facilities for Christmas orders. “Geeze,” I thought, “in 6 weeks I’m liable to forget I placed this order.”

“No you won’t … I won’t.” This was my wife. Either I was thinking awfully loudly or she was reading my mind ( not an uncommon occurrence in our household ).

At the end of 6 weeks I had not forgotten and, for a week or so, had been disappointed nearly daily by the failure of our (device) to show up in our mail. I emailed customer service, asking for status.

I got an answer that essentially asked me to be more patient; they’d let me know when it ships ( the following week sometime ).

After a couple more weeks of hearing nothing, I sent another email requesting status. I got an immediate acknowledgement, but no actual response. I did the same thing later and got the same result.

Two months after placing the order I called PayPal. “I need some help with an online order I made and paid with your service,” I said.

“Tell me about it.”

I told Rachel the story. “So, two months ago, eh?” she said.

“Yes ma’m.”

“I am going to put you through to our dispute/claims team; please hold.”

Audrey came on the line. Interspersed between her questions and my answers she repeated things like, “PayPal will help you,” and “We’ll take care of you,” and “PayPal will take care of this.”

When she had all the information she thought she needed, she said the sweetest thing, “You need not do anything.” She explained that PayPal would contact the vendor, give him about 10 days to respond to the complaint, and would refund my purchase price if the vendor doesn’t respond. I hung up feeling hopeful.

I got two emails from PayPal, one within minutes ( “If we contact you for more information, please respond within the timeframe. If you do not respond within the timeframe, the case may be closed and decided in the seller's favor.” ) and one later the same day ( “This claim has been closed because your seller has issued you a refund of [full purchase price] USD.” )

My PayPal payment has been credited; I checked.

Go PayPal!

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, April 25, 2016

No Means No, Microsoft

It's a beautiful day, and I just can't stay cooped up.  I head to work early to enjoy all this sunlight.  When I get to work an hour early I start booting up the computers I use at work.  Everything is going swell; I'm even congratulated for upgrading to Windows 10.  Wait a minute....

What have you done to me Microsoft?!!!

I had to scratch my head at that one.  Not only did I not install Windows 10, I don't even have a copy to install.  With a full 57 minutes to fix my computer so I can do my job, I start doing research.  Turns out Microsoft has been silently downloading Windows 10 install files to people's computers via Windows Update without asking.  Then you accidentally hit Okay on a popup, and voila; you've been "upgraded".

A little more research, and I figure out how to downgrade back to Windows 7, AKA fix my computer so I can do my job.  I do the first time setup stuff... and it errors out.  Twenty minutes of troubleshooting later, and it still won't boot into Windows 10.  What an upgrade Microsoft.  You sure know what I want better than I do.

With 20 minutes left, and a big red whelp from where I've been banging my head against my desk, a thought occurred to me.  I can get to the EULA.  What happens if I say, "No"?  I know what happens with other operating systems; it just shuts down.  But I'm out of ideas.  So I try it.

"If you decline the license terms, you will exit the upgrade."

That's a risk I'm willing to take, Microsoft.  Sure enough, 20 minutes later my computer was back to the way I had left it before the weekend.  As for me and Microsoft; that's gonna take some time.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Still Another Retreat Experience

“I’ll just keep on talking.”

I was on retreat the weekend before last; it was my third annual retreat at the Jesuit retreat house.

“Third annual,” you may be thinking, “must be a good experience.” Yes, it is / was / and I’m sure will continue to be a good retreat experience.

I was talking to a friend, Travis, about my experience, about retreats in general there ( he was interested in possibly going but had a reservation or two ) and thought it worthwhile to post the things we spoke of. ( For thoughts on my first experience there, click here. )

Both last year’s retreat and this year’s inspired me to reflections about my life and real change. That which I conceived last year has occurred; it’s too early to tell about this year’s, but I believe it’s happening.

Last year’s retreat master ( the priest who delivers the conferences ), Fr S, was old school, and made frequent unflattering remarks about how things are now in the Catholic Church. This year’s, Fr O, was the opposite; he seemed to embrace virtually all of the changes and would take some of them further. Night and day. Both philosophically and theologically I am sure I have much more in common with Fr O than with Fr S. But, and this is the point, I enjoyed both retreats, listened carefully to both of them, prayerfully considered what they said, and took from each constructive change for my life.

Both retreat masters are Jesuit priests. Fr O told us that he and Fr S are friends. He elaborated on that during one conference, “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for me and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him.” Pregnant pause. “And we pretty much spend our life that way, doing nothing for each other.”

It is a prayer-filled weekend. In ways going there is like my stepping back in time.

I said prayers with the retreatants that I had not said since grade school. The Angelus, the Rosary, the Before-Meals prayer of my youth. I don’t dislike these prayers; I just have not prayed them.

Benediction is offered daily and includes the Blessed Sacrament; not many parishes offer Benediction today and fewer include the Blessed Sacrament. ( Travis, a self-professed liturgical nerd, told me this. ) It’s been a long time since I attended Benediction, though not as far back as grade school.

At the end of each conference, Fr O led us in a short meditation on the topic of the conference and concluded, “Let us pray for the man in this room who, right now, is struggling the most with … “ the topic of this conference. On the last day, he urged us to, “As you’re packing, pray for the man who, next weekend, is going to have the room you are in.” And, “Pray for the man who, next weekend, is going to be in the chair you are sitting in right now.”

The weekend should be relaxing. All the retreat masters have urged attending to our sleep needs. Fr O said, “If you’re fighting sleep here, now in the conference, stop fighting and take your rest. I’m Irish and I’ll just keep on talking.” He followed that by continuing to talk.

There is plenty of time. Travis told me he needs alone time when on a retreat; seventy-some men, even with the silence, gave him significant pause. I assured him there is both adequate space on the campus and time in the schedule to be alone. The Jesuits realize the retreat happens between conferences, and provide plenty of time for it to happen. There is a nice time between consecutive conferences, more than enough to spend some “away from it all” in one’s room ( which is private ) or walking the many trails on the campus. There are thirty to ninety minutes between a meal and the first group activity afterward.

It’s a marvelous experience for me and opportunity for you.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rice Budget?

My diet has changed quite a bit in the last couple of months.  First I went back to counting calories, then I gave up meat.  So many more vegetables, and then there's the fruit smoothies.  One thing that has not changed is the amount of rice I eat.

I never actually leave the house thinking of the yummy rice I'll be eating today.  And I never buy rice to eat at home.  But I eat out one meal almost every day at places like Little Tokyo and Chipotle, and it almost always contains a lot of rice.

Yesterday I was really looking forward to trying some prepackaged curry, but it definitely needed filler.  Of course my go to will be rice.  And why not pick it up from Little Tokyo?  So I got some rice and steamed vegetables for $4.75.  It was all delicious.  I've been thrilled with these prepackaged indian main courses in general, and will be eating much more in the future.

But I got to thinking.  A burrito from Chipotle would cost about as much to make on my own as it would to buy from them.  But steamed rice and vegetables?  Maybe a dollar.  A rice cooker could make both, and pay for itself in less than a week.

Now you may be thinking, 'Wouldn't it be even cheaper to use the stove you already have?'  Nope.  Because I wouldn't do that.  I'd plan on making it, then run behind, or give up because I'm lazy.  I may have ridiculous limitations, but at least I know what they are.

*** Update ***

Never mind.  Chipotle sells a side of rice for a dollar.  Chipotle is awesome.  Problem solved.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Another Adventure in Tech Support

“I haven’t heard from Betty all day; I’m disappointed.”

As I reported earlier,  our year has gotten off to a rocky start and Ellie has recently been texting her California sister quite regularly about what’s going on.

Most recently, they had spoken on the phone about a facility for their brother. This was the subject of some controversy, our visit to the facility changed our minds about the controversy and we shared our new thoughts with Betty in California.  Ellie had expected to hear from Betty the next day, after Betty had had some time to digest our input. But the day came and went without a word.
“I haven’t heard from Betty all day; I’m disappointed, Ellie said.
Ellie and Betty were playing the smartphone game Words with Friends, which has a chat capability; Betty sent a message over the line. “So, did I say something to offend you? I’ve texted you half a dozen, a dozen times and you’re not responding.” Ellie read this aloud.

“What the heck?” Ellie asked, as if I’d know something.

“I dunno.”

Ellie phoned Betty. Betty had been texting Ellie throughout the day and was perplexed that Ellie was not responding. Ellie had gotten none of the texts.

Betty was able to text me; Ellie was able to text her. Betty’s husband’s phone could text Ellie. It was only Betty’s phone that was not getting through to Ellie’s.

After Mass the next day, we visited our carrier’s local store. The young woman thought perhaps providing a new SIM card would do the trick. Nope; made no difference. She then got very busy with fingers flying all over in Settings, she said something about “blocking,” and said that a full phone reset was the next step. As we didn’t have a memory card, the flying fingers started a backup of all Ellie’s photos ( of which there are many ) to Photos in the cloud. “That will take a while because you have not done that and you have a lot of photos,” she said. “When the synching is complete, perform a reset. Or come back and we can do it for you.”

While a full reset was unappealing in the extreme, being without texting during this time was even less appealing. So, returning home, I called our carrier’s tech support. She had me turn Ellie’s phone off, she disconnected it from its cell tower, and had me turn the phone on again. This reconnected the phone, but had no impact on the phone’s ability to receive text messages from Betty. She connected me to their tech people.

I told the story. “I think I know what’s happening,” he said, with little hesitation. I followed his instructions. "Please open Messaging, make sure you’re on the main Messaging window, tap the Menu, tap Settings, tap Spam Filter. Is it ON?”

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“Tap it. Tap Add to Spam Numbers.” There is was, big as life:

Somehow, after the last message Friday, Ellie had identified Betty’s phone number as a source of spam, blocking text messages from that number. I deleted Betty’s number, called her to send a test text, and it came right away. Problem solved.

I told the tech on the phone that I felt a little like the guy who couldn’t get his computer to start and then realized it was not plugged in. He said this is very common, very easy to accidentally do, he’s done it, not to feel bad. I thanked him and hung up. Betty’s subsequent barrage of smiley faces told me she was laughing at me/us harder than the tech guy.

Then I realized how foolish it is to be able to so easily, inadvertently and unknowingly block a text message sender. I also realized how foolish it is that I had to contact our carrier three times to get this simple problem resolved. No way I should have had to make three calls for such a simple item.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Does This Thing Work? Fitbit

I have been back using MyFitnessPal for three weeks, and have been more successful that I could have hoped for.  Entering food is easy, but I've always hemmed and hawed when it came time to adding the exercise.  Sometimes I've even had to pull out Google maps to figure out how far I'd traveled.

Surely in this modern age, we have the technology to simplify that.  Right?  Well, I've tried several phone apps, and have been far from satisfied.  The ones that tracked my actual movement with GPS often got confused.  If I walked under an awning, for example, it would lose my position, and think I ran across the street for a moment.  If I crossed a bridge, it thought I ran down the side of the cliff, crossed at the bottom, and then scaled the other side.

Simple pedometer apps didn't fair much better.  It was really a sensitivity issue, and maybe I could have adjusted that.  Who knows.

I haven't actually checked, but it seems that Fitbit is the leading name in this field right now.  And I do love gadgets, so I bought one.  I've been using it for a week, and I think it's time to assess if this thing works.  I think the answer is, sort of.

It probably did a great job with the distance.  I say probably, because it often said about 2 miles more than the distance I know I walked.  But I think it's probably fair to say that I walked around the house and office and such for an additional two miles.  I just don't know for sure.

Calories is another matter.  For example, one day it said I walked 8 miles, which is about right, but that I burned 15,000 calories through exercise.  An adult of my size should burn about 100 calories per mile.  But I did go up several flights of stairs, and did 60 pushups.  That, and I'm one of those people who jimmies his legs.  Does it see all this, and report it accurately?  Do I burn way more calories than I think?  I really have no way of knowing.

It does work with MyFitnessPal, and automatically imports my exercise.  I would say that it does simplify things quite a bit.  Not completely though.  I still have to check every day so that I can lower it manually when the number is way higher than I expect.  I'm sure I can give a more through review in the coming months.

I can say for sure, that it is an accurate watch.