Saturday, September 19, 2020

paypal scam/security issue: you could be billed by merchants you've terminated your agreement with!

Paypal users:

Turns out some sellers add themselves as pre-approved billers and don't/can't remove themselves when you cancel your membership/billing agreement. You have to remove it yourself, or they could charge your paypal in the future without any advance warning. Your only clue would be a notification that the money has already been deducted from your paypal, and at that point you cannot decline/reverse the transaction by yourself.

To prevent that, remove unwanted billers from the following link:
When I checked today, I had a couple of merchants on the list who I have not used in years, and am personally aware of merchants who have fraudulently charged people I know in the last couple of days. 
Paypal refuses to entertain any complaints regarding merchants if they're on the list - their argument is that you have agreed to be billed by the merchant, so any problems are now between you and the merchant. Paypal has also said that the agreement can only be ended if agreed by the user AND the merchant, which leaves the feature wide open for abuse.

The feature of being able to view pre-approved billers is new to paypal even though having pre-approved billers is an old thing. it could be that paypal added the feature in response to complaints, but their handling remains poor. Please take care of yourselves by removing billers from the list, or you might be faced with a lengthy fight to get your money back! If the balance was deducted from paypal itself you're out of luck. If it was deducted from your credit card you still have hope as you can raise a dispute there.

ps: special shout out to past users of Shaw academy (www.shawacademy.com), as they recently did this (deduct money from people who had canceled their memberships over a year ago)

Monday, September 14, 2020

problems and solutions

some problems become easier to solve by merely by thinking of the solution.

others need you to actually grab your tools, get over your fears and get your hands dirty while getting nowhere, and then dig in and remind yourself the biggest failure is to never have tried.

- kris, trying to solve two different problems on the same day

Monday, August 24, 2020

38... sorry, 37

you know you're old when you need to subtract your birth year from the current year to get your age.
-kris, not many years ago

 

you know you're old when you subtract your birth year from the current year to get your age, and get it wrong.
-kris, 15th august 2020

That's right. It happened. Luckily for me, I realized it before I posted my age anywhere... or wrote this blog post.

It's been an interesting year, for sure.

Last year, on my birthday, I had just passed my UK driving test (oh yeah!), and was preparing for my motorcycle test. My parents were over for a 3 month visit. We were doing one vacation every month.

Things seemed to be going rather nicely. Everything was "on track" - I was checking things off my (imaginary) checklist, and so was Shruti.

In the 12 months since then, things have changed.

Work got busier, our vacations changed from hopping on to a flight/train/bus to hopping onto our newly purchased motorcycle (and usually, taking the motorcycle on and off a ferry).

I discovered the joy of running. And for the first time in my life, I was able to run 5K without limping past the finish line with my legs on fire. I was able to run 5K thrice a week, during my lunch breaks, chatting with my running buddies while we ran. I could probably have run 5k every day if I wanted to, but I didn't.

Shruti got her first full time permanent job in the UK. A big relief (and step forward) for the both of us.

We about a month of dealing with living in a house with both of us working from office 5 days a week.

And then, COVID-19 happened.

Beyond the obvious canceled vacations (and postponed visit to see our family back in India), and the expected cabin fever/work from home etc that everyone we know had (/has?) to deal with, we got to experience more time together than we usually would. For the first time since we met each other, we've been within 12 feet of each other almost 24 * 7. We got to watch each other work, share our ups and downs in ways we never imagined we would.

We also realized that if we take away the social aspect of eating/drinking, it stops being fun. And so, we embarked on a health trip of sorts. No significant exercise, but just eating healthy. Eating clean.

I lost 8kg in 4 months (that's over 10% my body weight). I'm now lighter than I was 20 years ago. The last time I weighed this much, I was an acne-riddled teenager, who hadn't had my first shave yet.

And for the first time, this feels sustainable. Almost.

It feels amazing to be able to use my body the way nature intended it to. And while I'm not in perfect shape, it doesn't seem like i'm very far from it (yes, i know, there's no such thing as "perfect" anything, but let's just say I have an idealized image of what I would like to be).

On the other hand, it's also been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I've tried to ride the rollercoaster the best I can, trying to reach for greater heights, and avoiding the murky depths of no return. So far, so good - but there are times when it feels like it's just sheer luck that keeps me from doing things I'd regret.

I have tried to learn from this year. I have tried to learn differently from this year.

I have tried solving problems as a partnership.

I have tried not "fixing" situations, but working cooperatively to find sustainable solutions for everyone involved.

It's hard to say that it's working - things always seem good until they're falling apart. In fact, things seem better than good until everything flips and it's suddenly a complete disaster.

But I'm learning to see things differently. And I'm also learning that it's not enough to see things differently, but to also try to see things alike. And work together towards that ideal.

Also, after maybe 15 years of "make every moment count", and frantic madness of trying to squeeze the most I can into every day of my life (only to despair when the unsustainability of it all comes back to bite me), I've started treating my life as a journey, not a series of destinations.

I once believed (and publicly stated) "life is too short for reruns". I don't believe so any more. Life is not too short for reruns. Life is too short to waste it doing things you don't enjoy.

Life is too short to waste it trying to be happy within the constraints I've assumed I need to live within.

Life is long enough to make every moment count. Even if it's not on the bucket list.

Life is more than a bucket list. Life does not even need a bucket list. Life just needs you to be mindful of what is fulfilling (not necessarily happiness-generating), and what is not.

Oh, and age is not even a number.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

unlocked

two weeks ago, when we took the plunge and decided to venture out of home for a 3 day ride/vacation, thanks to the governments of UK and Ireland deciding it was safe to do so, and bnbs and campsites opening up to take guests, we were finally out of our home for the first time in 4 months, down to the day (11 march - 11 july).

we didn't decide on our trip until literally 36 hours before our departure time: we read all the guidelines, news, statistics, thought long and hard about the precautions we could take, etc.

and then, we hopped on to our trusty motorcycle and enjoyed the ride. sanitizer every where, frequent hand washing (in public washrooms, which aren't really known for being perfectly clean, and in these times, gave a feeling similar to navigating a minefield!). i joked at one point that we're probably the cleanest we've ever been on a ride.

while we were riding back, we told each other: precautions notwithstanding, we'll stay away from everyone for the next two weeks. just one of us doing groceries, once a week, wearing a mask, etc.

that was not to be.

by the time the weekend had neared, our friends were making plans to meet up. we wanted to stay away from people to minimize risk, and thought it shouldn't be difficult. staying 2 metres apart in a park spread over thousands of acres, right?

and then there were other friends planning to meet up. the cafes were open. people were making plans to consume some good ol' alcohol in each others' homes.

and every time we accepted an invitation, we told ourselves: we'll take precautions.

sure, we didn't do silly things like sharing food/drink.

but you can't play exploding kittens without touching each others' cards. and we were probably a foot apart at the cafe. literally shoulder to shoulder with the windows closed in the car we pooled in.

and so, here's the tally over two weeks:

meeting in open spaces maintaining more than 1 metre distance: ~19 adults + a few kids (we did gather closer for a few seconds for photos)

meeting in closed spaces maintaining 1 metre distance: 3 adults

meeting in closed spaces not maintaining 1 metre distance: 13 adults

meeting in close proximity: 6 adults

restaurants/cafes visited: 4 (3 on vacation, 1 after)

oh, and we have collectively made over 5 grocery store visits in 2 weeks after the return from vacation + at least as many during our vacation itself (it's surprising how quickly these add up!) + visits to other shops + 2 ferry rides.

when you add these up, the numbers are mind boggling! we're up from meeting 1 person in an open space at over 1 metre distance over a two week period, to 41 people, most in higher risk situations over the next two weeks!

i just hope whatever analysis fed into the decisions to reduce restrictions and the test-and-trace programs that have been recently kicked off do their job in case the number of covid-19 cases increase.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

life after a pandemic

the last few months have involved more than a few revelations, as far as my relationship with "life" is concerned. it started with re-evaluating the obvious stuff: work, private open spaces, friends, food, health, my couch (oh yeah, I'm sure a lot of people feel very differently about their sitting arrangements now). but beyond the obvious stuff, there's a lot more that I've had the opportunity and time to evaluate.

my marriage, for example. being with the same person 24x7 has changed us. we have covered in 3 months what we would have been lucky to cover in 3 years in more ordinary circumstances.

but the biggest revelation of all, one that I think I have observed for the first time today, is that travel has something to it that cannot be explained by anything else. I used to think it was just about new experiences, a break from the normal, pushing myself, planning (just kidding, my travel does not involve anything more than very superficial planning), or maybe just time with my two wheels... but no, it's not any of those. because travel is not the only way to experience anything I could think of. and in these 3+ months that I couldn't travel (in the way I would like to), I think I gave all of the alternatives a shot. and they all worked, up to a point. but then they didn't.

I still can't explain it. but all lack of rationalisation notwithstanding, I will sleep in a strange (hopefully well sanitized) bed tonight, exhausted, but fulfilled. a feeling I have missed for these months.

a feeling I've felt every time I've travelled. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

good

as i get ready to fall asleep, my mind inevitably finds things to mull over. tonight it was "how was my weekend?"

well, my weekend was good. but not in my usual sense of "good" - in one phrase: i did nothing.

well, technically i didn't "do nothing". i slept in (both days!), we saw a movie (horror, for a change - thanks to shruti noting it's a genre we have both avoided in the 5+ years we've known each other) and countless episodes of family guy (only a handful of seasons left!). i read stuff online (didn't touch my kindle though), took vicki for a spin (got stuck in traffic, didn't expect that!), ate (mostly) healthy, baked a wee cake, did our week's grocery shopping. and slept even more.

spent a lot of time thinking, talking about non mundane stuff, getting cosy, and just generally being together... but not doing anything particularly memorable.

perhaps having a good weekend is not about what we do, but what we feel.

and i feel rested and recharged.

and good.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

learning to drive: beyond handling the car

having gotten my theory in place, and myself behind the wheel once, it was time to actually learn how to drive.

driving is not about making the car do what you want it to do, driving is about knowing what you want the car to do.
 - kris, just now

so far i had learned how to start off, stop, and follow the road (i.e. steer). beyond this, the only bit left when it comes to handling the car is to change gears. the rest of my driving lessons were basically about what to do, and when. that's the fun bit!

at this point, the skills to learn aren't that many, and the practice required is far more. which means although i am over 50 hours from getting my driving license in this story, the stuff i had to learn isn't really that much!

I had already learned to follow the road. As long as there are no lines/paths I have to cross, that's the simple bit. Just follow the road!

actually, it's not that simple. a bit of safety and anticipation first:

while driving, you keep glancing in the rearview (no need to look at the side mirrors when driving in a straight line, following the road), and make sure the vehicle behind isn't too close. if it is, lightly tap the brakes so your brake lights flash without slowing the car down. that should remind the driver behind to keep space. stay at least a car length behind the vehicle in front when moving dead slow, half a car length behind when stopping for any reason (easy guesstimate is, you should see the tyres of the vehicle ahead, and a bit of road). when moving at normal speeds on dry roads, the distance to be maintained is two seconds: look at a fixed object by the side of the road, and when the vehicle ahead passes it, start saying to yourself "only a fool breaks the two second rule" at a normal speaking pace. if you pass the object before you finish saying it, you're too close. slow down, making sure the vehicle behind you is far enough as well - if not, tap your brakes until they give room. brake lightly when letting go of the accelerator so that the vehicle behind has a visible cue that you're slowing down.

if a pedestrian has their feet on the road or even one foot off the kerb, or is standing at the kerb at a zebra crossing, you have to stop for them. if someone looks like they might cross, be prepared for them to step on the road without warning. when approaching a traffic light that's green, prepare for it to turn amber/red. preparation involves checking your rearview for vehicles too close, and signalling to them with your brake lights if they are.

if you do have to stop for pedestrians/traffic lights, you first let up on the accelerator and press the brake. when the engine gets near stalling, clutch in all the way and shift down, releasing the clutch immediately. at higher speeds you may need to shift down to 2nd/3rd, let go of the clutch while braking, and eventually clutch again before coming to a complete stop. when stopped, the brake should be held down all the way. the moment you stop, shift to neutral and start counting to 3. if stopped for more than 3 seconds, engage the parking brake, and let go of the foot brake - this is to avoid dazzling drivers behind you. if the vehicle behind is still at a distance and approaching, it may be fine to lightly tap the foot brake to alert them that you've stopped.

one the light has changed or the pedestrian has crossed (and if there is more than one lane, the pedestrian needs to cross all the way across - if there is an island in the centre, you can start when the pedestrian reaches the island safely), it's time to get going again: shift back to 1st gear, find the biting point, and check all around the way you would when moving off from parked (except for the signalling bit), starting from over your left shoulder, and ending with over your right shoulder - your eyes should be back on the road ahead before you start moving. brake off, and get rolling! don't spend too long on the clutch - in most cases a second or at most two.

The next bit is about T junctions: turning left or turning right.

in most T junctions (when approaching from the leg of the T) the leg of the T will have either: a solid line, a double dashed line, a single dashed line (all painted on the road), and optionally a stop sign (a red octagon) or a give way sign (in an inverted triangle) by the left of the junction.

a solid line or a stop sign (or both) mean you HAVE to stop before entering the junction - doesn't matter if it seems clear on approach. you stop before the solid line, taking the usual precautions - rearview etc.

a double or single dashed line means you have to give way to traffic going along the road you want to turn into. Same for the give way sign. double dashed lines mean visibility is reduced at the junction and you need to be extra cautious. either way, you have to slow down, till not more than 2nd gear, and prepare to stop (again, usual stopping precautions).

Turning left at a T junction

About 6 car lengths ahead of the junction, you start your observations: rearview (for vehicles too close), left mirror (for cyclists/motorcyclists following closely). if all looks safe, signal left, and then look over your left shoulder (all the way behind - chin over shoulder), left mirror, road ahead, road to your left, road to your right. when looking over your shoulder and in the left mirror, look out for motorcycles and cyclists. give them room, slow down, and let them pass/stop. by the time you're at the junction, the car should be at the left side of the lane (so somewhere between the parking position and the driving position), so start moving left if clear before stopping at the junction. it's fine to stop at a junction that does not say stop/have a solid line if unsure.

next, you have to make sure it's clear before you move. first, check the road you intend to turn into (ie the left of the T) - if there's no room for the car to fit there entirely, do not enter the junction - wait at the line. then, check the road from which vehicles are approaching the road you intend to turn into (ie to your right). you can only turn in if it's clear - the vehicle approaching should not have to slow down or anyhow change its path because you are turning. if in doubt, wait - however, waiting when it's clear or the vehicle is too far will get you a minor fault in your test, and two minors get you a major (which is a fail) - so it's fine when learning, but you need to get good enough at estimating distances and speeds before you give your test. the simple rule is:

"if you can walk across, you can drive across"

obviously this depends on you at least being able to judge how fast you can walk across a road, but hopefully you have more experience of walking across :D

there are a lot of other things you need to watch out for when turning into a road:

pedestrians - any pedestrian with a foot off the kerb gets right of way. once you stop, you can expect waiting pedestrians to begin to cross. even if they don't, they might cross at any time. if they start to cross, stop immediately. pedestrians could be crossing either the leg of the T or the arm of the T you're turning into - or anywhere, really. pedestrians on the road have right of way.

parked cars/other obstacles on your side of the road: they obscure your view. if from your current position, if things look clear, you need to perform the "moving off" sequence (biting point, left shoulder, all 3 mirrors, right shoulder), move a bit, look again. as soon as you see any reason to stop, stop immediately. this is called "peep and creep". if there are a lot of vehicles passing by, you might have to repeat this multiple times (stop, biting point, check all around, start each time) until you have a clear view.

parked cars/other obstacles on the opposite side of the road: they force oncoming vehicles to cross over on to your side of the road (if it's a 2 lane or narrow residential road). similarly, parked cars on the right side of your road would block cars turning into it - if a car has already started to turn, you shouldn't move until they stop, leaving enough room for your car.

basically if anything is in your path, stop. if anything is going to move into your path, stop. if you can't see if anything is in your path or going to move into your path, peep and creep. your actions should not cause anyone to slow down or do anything to avoid you.

Turning right at a T junction

Turning right is same as turning left, except that you signal a little earlier (10 car lengths in stead of 6), mirror your checks (ie obviously check right when you would be checking left for a left turn), and you have to make sure you are clear on both sides - no vehicles approaching from the right (ie the path you intend to cross) or the left (ie the path you intend to join). Again, peep and creep/stop as soon as you see something in your path. Can be quite time consuming, but that's how you do it. Also, you should be positioned toward the right of the lane (but not touching/crossing the lane marker) before entering the junction.

More turning stuff

If there is more than one lane in the junction, you need to stick to your lane. More on lanes later, but basically when turning from a single lane road onto a wider one, you're turning into the leftmost lane, unless prohibited (leftmost is a bus lane, etc).

Sometimes, when turning, if you have "peeped and creeped" far enough, oncoming vehicles may slow down or stop to let you go. this still means you have to check both sides and for pedestrians, and that your exit from the junction is clear. Some drivers may flash their lights at you as a signal to go ahead. this is not an official signal, and hence is a hint, but cannot be used in itself as an indication that it's safe to proceed.

Approaching vehicles may have their turn indicators on, and that may indicate it is safe for you to turn (eg a car approaching from the right or left and signalling left). However, you are not allowed to act upon those signals unless you have seen those signals off before they were turned on - this is to eliminate the possibility that they have forgotten the signal on. Also, you should be able to notice them slowing down as they approach the junction. If they don't seem to be slowing down, ignore the signal and wait for them to pass.

phew! that was again a lot to cover in two hours - but at the end of it, I had a bonus: my instructor asked me drive home! he's obviously a very skilled instructor, as he literally had a hand on the steering, feet on his pedals, and eyes on his mirrors all the way! He was probably doing more of the driving than I did, but I felt amazing to be able to drive home on open roads. 4 hours down, I was grinning to myself as I parked and got off!

Speaking of parking - before opening the door, you need to look all around. Especially behind. I once got "doored" while cycling to work, and I will never forget it - extremely dangerous! The "Dutch reach" is no mandatory but helps - you reach the door lock with your opposite arm, forcing you to turn around while doing so.

paypal scam/security issue: you could be billed by merchants you've terminated your agreement with!

Paypal users: Turns out some sellers add themselves as pre-approved billers and don't/can't remove themselves when you cancel your m...