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Monthly Archives: April 2011

RBC – Notice of Service Fee and Account Changes aka We’re Going to Screw You, and No, You’re Not Going to Get Kissed First

Published April 29, 2011 - 2 Comments

I just picked up my mail.  Oh look, an envelope from Royal Bank of Canada.  Perhaps they’ve discovered several thousand dollars that should have been paid to me over the years, and are attempting to make amends.  Let’s open it and find out!

“At RBC, we are committed to providing you with a wide range of products and services that offer you flexibility, convenience, value and choice.  That way, you can receive the best features and benefits to meet your needs.

Effective June 1, 2011, we are making changes to our service fees and accounts.  While in some cases we are increasing prices, in other instances we have been able to reduce them.  For a complete listing of service fee and account changes that may affect you, please see the enclosed brochure.”

I put my favourite part of that letter in italics, so it’s worth repeating… While in some cases we are increasing prices, in other instances we have been able to reduce them. Really?  You’ve been “able” to reduce them?  No kidding!  That’s mighty accommodating of you! I know that *I* certainly appreciate you digging into your own pocket to help me (the little guy) out.  Thank you!

But wait a second…  I’m looking at the brochure that you sent me, and I’m noticing something a little odd… you claim that While in some cases we are increasing prices, in other instances we have been able to reduce them.  I certainly see where you’ve increased them, but I’m having a hard time locating the ones that you’ve decreased.  Oh there’s one!  Email transfers were $1.50 and are now $1.00.  That’s nice.  I use these on a semi-regular basis, so I appreciate saving that $0.50.  But where are the other fees that are being decreased?  Do you seriously expect me to believe that you “have been able to decrease them” yet there is only a single banking fee that has gone down!?  By a whopping $0.50?  Whereas every other fee in your brochure is increasing, some of them by a substantial amount?

You are the Royal Bank of Canada, not some backroom loan shark!  You are the largest bank in Canada, with $726.2 billion in assetsYour net income for last year was $5.2 billion!  That’s pure profit.  $5.2 billion! You’re Q1 results for this year were a record $1.84 billion!  In just three months, you recorded $1.84 billion!  That’s not revenue.  That’s profit!  And somehow with all this fantastic growth, you have the nerve to send me a letter telling me that I will be paying more for nearly every service you offer me, with the exception of one, all the while trying to make it sound like you’re doing me a gigantic favour by being “able” to reduce that single service fee.  And let’s be honest for a moment, shall we?  The only reason that the interact email transfer fee is being lowered is because it was too high to begin with.  Emailing money to someone is incredibly convenient, but people felt that $1.50 was a little too steep for that “privilege”.  By lowering the fee, the expectation is that more people will take advantage of the service, more often, driving revenue upward.  And you’re absolutely right.  I have no doubt that this will be reflected in the end of year results.

I don’t even know where to go from here…

I give up!

Why The World Needs The Royal Wedding

Published April 29, 2011 - 4 Comments

The Happy Couple

This blog is probably one of the last places that you’d expect to see even a mention of The Royal Wedding.  Surprise!  It’s not that I consider myself a diehard Monarchist by any stretch, but I think that I have a different appreciation for The Royal Family than some of my friends.

I know that many people are sick and tired of hearing about the wedding, and can’t wait until it’s finally over with.  I understand that.  There has been nothing but nonstop wedding talk all over the media, and it’s only gotten worse as today approached.  I will be just as happy to not have to see it on every channel too.  But I offer this food for thought:

The world needs this wedding.

Yes, that’s right.  The world needs this wedding.  Why?  Hope.

Have you looked at what’s going on in the world today?  Wars.  Natural disasters.  Economic meltdown.  There is so much negative news that it’s easy to forget that Good still exists, and two people can meet and fall in Love.  Whatever your thoughts are on the Royal Family, the simple fact remains:  Today is a celebration of two young people’s Love for each other.

And that alone should give us a tiny measure of Hope for the future.

 

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We Relish… Relish! Umm… Not So Sure About That…

Published April 27, 2011 - 4 Comments

I understand that I might lose a couple of readers with this one, but I can not in good conscience, let this go un-addressed.  It’s not a negative review… it’s simply a little more realistic than some of the ones that I’ve read on the subject.

When Relish opened up across the street at the old Reggie’s location, I was quite excited to try it out.  People raved about the gourmet burgers in Fredericton and Oromocto, and at one point I had almost driven to Fredericton to see what all the fuss was about.  Almost.  But when the Saint John location opened, there was no need to go for a drive.  It was only a matter of time before I would step across the street and put Relish to the test.

Hmmm…

Before I was able to place my order, the girl asked me for my name.  I tried to explain that I hadn’t pre-ordered this, but then I remembered someone telling me that Relish likes to make a spectacle when your meal is ready by calling out “We Relish Stephen…”  Ugh.  I can really do without the theatrics.  I just want to get my meal and eat.  So I ordered The Great One, which consists of cheddar cheese, bacon, and roasted garlic mayonnaise served on a nice patty and bun.  I opted for the fries and a bottled water (they serve Pop Shoppe and Pepsi).  The grand total?  (I wish I had my receipt still, so I’m going by memory) Over $14.  I don’t remember how close it was to $15, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say $14.  That was after-tax.

I knew walking in there that I was not getting out without opening up my wallet for some serious change, and that’s fine.  I completely accept the fact that Relish is not McDonalds, and I applaud them for bringing gourmet burgers to this part of the country.  If you don’t want to pay that kind of money, there are more than enough fast food places that will serve you a combo for half that price.  But the big question as I opened the box after returning to work…  was my meal actually worth $14?

There is no denying that the burger I ate was far superior to McDonalds or any other fast food chain.  It had a nice taste, although I was expecting it to be bigger.  I had been told that eating at Relish was like eating a real meal.  If I finished it, I wouldn’t be left hungry.  I’m disappointed to say, that was not the case.  The burger was good, but not as filling as I had hoped.  The fries were rather plain and far fewer than I expected.  Considering that fries are the “cheap filler” of any combo, I was certainly expecting there to be more of them.  Relish uses the thick cut fries, and they were good, but nothing special.  Because of the extra care they put into creating unique burgers, I would have liked to have seen something a little more special with their fries.  For those who like such things, I was offered the opportunity to upgrade (for a price)  to sweet potato fries, but I’m not a fan.  Oh, I see that Relish makes poutine, and I am curious about that.  The type of fries they served me would be perfect for poutine.  But how’s their gravy?

I know that a lot of people rave over Relish, and I hate knock on them, because I do think that there is a market for gourmet burgers in this city.  It’s also nice to see something new open in the city core that draws people (although I was the only person in there that day).  Relish isn’t bad by any means, but it’s hard for me to get excited about spending $14 on a burger and fries combo that left me wanting more… especially when I could just as easily have swung through the drive-thru at Swiss Chalet and gotten a quarter chicken meal combo for less money that would have kept the hunger away longer than Relish did with their offering.

Welcome Back, Mr. Treadmill. It’s Been a Long Time. How’ve You Been?

Published April 26, 2011 - 16 Comments

I recently moved things around in the house again.  My bedroom is now shared with the washer/dryer, but that’s fine.  It makes for a nice cozy little room.  And let’s be honest… I spend far more time elsewhere in the house.  The living room, office, kitchen… my bedroom doesn’t need to be all that big. 

One of the advantages of moving rooms is that it opened up space for my sorely-neglected treadmill to be set up again.  I bought that treadmill last year, and in pure Stephen-fashion, I haven’t exactly been a faithful user.  So today I pulled myself out of bed, and threw on my sneakers and went for a 20 min walk.  I wasn’t exactly a stress-walk, but you have to start somewhere.  I watched an episode of The Sports Show With Norm MacDonald, so it was far from a boring tread.  (I’ll say “tread” rather than “workout” because, let’s be honest, there wasn’t much of a workout… although yeah, I did sweat a little… or as the ladies like to say, I glistened)

They say that you should reward yourself to stay motivated, so after I was done, I immediately ate the remaining 3 pieces of Twix that had somehow been forgotten last night, and polished them off with a glass of Coke… effectively nullifying (and then some!) any calories that I might have lost on my 20 min tread.  

But at least I can look my doctor in the eye on Friday when she asks me if I’ve started to exercise after our last meeting.  “Oh yes, Lisa…  I’ve gotten back on the treadmill”

Hidden Danger at Mint.com?

Published April 24, 2011 - 6 Comments

I wrote a post a while ago about a new (in Canada) service called Mint.com, which took all your financial information from different sources and combined it into one easy to view site.  It’s been extremely helpful for me to be able to view all my different accounts, and track my spending across different areas.  Mint.com automatically begins to create a budget for me based on my spending habits, and alerts me when I have gone beyond my normal spending.  It shows me my net worth, and has actually become a bit of a game for me, as I check it frequently to see how close I am to breaking even.  (Currently around $ -3000, but I include the mortgage for the house that I don’t live in, so as soon as my name is off that house, my net worth will skyrocket).

I’m a huge fan of Mint.com, so it was quite a surprise to see an article titled Hidden Danger at Mint.com in my latest copy of Money Sense magazine.  They warn that “by disclosing your passwords to such sites, you might be nullifying an important agreement with your bank that covers you in case of fraud.  Ouch.  To be honest, that never occurred to me.  I suppose that it makes sense on some level.  Of course Mint.com takes a different approach, reminding users that they use bank-quality security measures.  And really, are the banks really taking as good care of your information as they could?  Too many stories of lost laptops, or pages and pages of customer data being faxed to the wrong person.  I think I’ll take my chances with Mint.com.

I did think that the end quote from a Toronto lawyer was interesting: “If there is fraud on your account, even if it’s not related to Mint or another aggregator site, there is still a potential that the bank will deny you fraud protection.”  Can’t say that I agree with that, but I’ve never felt that the banks have had my best interests in mind.  They seem to be doing quite well, though.  RBC (my bank) posted record profits again in Q1 of this year.  It’s nice to know that the pain I feel every time I see my service charge fees is going to a good cause.

Back to the issue of Mint.com and what it means for me, I’m disappointed that the banks would take this approach with the company, but it will not change my use of the service.  For me, the positives outweigh the potential negatives, but when I read the article, I felt that I should make note of it here, because of my previous post championing the service.  I’ll let you decide whether the bank’s bullying is enough to change your mind.

 

A Little Blogging Etiquette

Published April 23, 2011 - 5 Comments

Maybe it should be titled “My Blogging Pet Peeves” rather than “Etiquette”… although you can argue that there is some cross-over between the two.  I’ve noticed a few things lately about some blogs and bloggers, and I’ve bit my tongue long enough.  It’s time to rant.

  • Comments!  I generally try to reply to most comments that people leave, even the negative ones.  Sometimes it’s not always practical.  I have a core group of readers who leave comments on a regular basis, and sometimes I will just pick one or two and reply to those.  I don’t think they feel neglected if I don’t reply to every single comment.  But if there is a new reader who comments, I make damn sure that I reply to that and thank them.  If someone has taken the time to read my post and write me a comment, then I think they deserve to be acknowledged.  A blog is more than a regular website.  It’s essentially a mico-community where readers can interact with the writer, and even among themselves.  Without comments, a blog isn’t a blog at all.  So it amazes me when I come across a small blog and leave a comment, only to have it go unacknowledged.  I understand that someone might not have the time or desire to respond to a particular comment, so I won’t give up on a blog immediately.  I tend to use the same rule of thumb with blogs that I do with Twitter… three strikes and you’re out.  If I leave three comments and receive no reply at all… then I guess that person is really not interested in acknowledging my existence.  I think that it’s a little sad, though.  I’m not looking to strike up a life-long friendship… but if you’re going to engage in social networks of any kind, and you’re not social… well… there are PLENTY of great blogs and bloggers out there who ARE.  The ones who don’t recognize that me leaving a comment on their blog is only trying to help them… well… they’re on their own.
  • Donation buttons.  If I get annoyed that people don’t reply to my comments, then I sure as hell shake my head in disbelief when someone receives a PayPal donation, and doesn’t take 30 seconds to write a quick thank you.  This has only happened to me once, and I hope that it was a mistake or isolated incident, but it still rubbed me the wrong way.  I’ve received a couple of small donations from friends who found something of value in my blog, and I was extremely grateful to them, and made sure that they knew it.  I’ve left a few donations on blogs that I felt were worth it.  Nothing big, but I think that someone who receives a couple of dollars from a total stranger who loves reading their work…  It probably makes their day.  I like to imagine the look on the face of that blogger in Belgium who received some euros from a blogger in Canada who loves his HappySad cartoon.  He wrote me a great thank you note.  It made both of us feel good.  But sadly that’s not always the case…  if someone handed you money, or held the door open for you, or allowed you to go in front of them in line… or ANYTHING… wouldn’t you say “thank you”?

When I sat down to write this, I had intended to make the list a little longer, but I got a little carried away with those two points.  I’ll throw it up on the blog as-is.  I’m sure that not everyone agrees with me, especially with the first point.  That’s ok.  This is how I view blogging… it’s not the rule.  Thankfully, there are a ton of great blogs out there, and extremely friendly, gracious bloggers behind them.  I just had something that I wanted to get off my chest, and…   *breathe*  I feel a little better now, thanks!

Tax Time!

Published April 22, 2011 - 5 Comments

If you live in Canada, you have until the end of the month to file your income tax forms.  And if you’re anything like me, you’ve been dragging your heels because… let’s face it… it’s not generally a pleasant experience.

There was a time when I didn’t mind filing my taxes.  That’s because I used to get a refund.  Everyone loves getting money back.  And then a couple of years ago something changed – namely my marriage status.  And for some reason I went from receiving a small refund, to owing substantial amounts back to the government.  I guess not being able to claim my children as dependents has a pretty major effect on the bottom line when it comes to taxes.

You know what else has a major effect?  Support payments!

This year I decided to try Ufile’s online tax preparation service, and one of the questions it asked me was whether I paid support payments.  Without a concrete separation agreement with my ex, in the past I’ve selected “no”.  This year I decided to select “yes”.  Although we lack an official document, no one can deny that we have a working arrangement whereby I continue to pay the mortgage in lieu of child support.  It essentially comes out to the same, and until she is able to take the house over in her name, we’re making the best of a situation that is not necessarily ideal.

So I figured that I would go back and calculate the amount of the mortgage payments that I paid over the course of 2010, and declare that as my support payment.  I do not live in that house.  Whether I pay her, and she pays the bank.. or I pay the bank directly… it is my money that keeps the roof over her (and my children’s) head.  I had been under the impression that child support payments were declared for tax purposes as a formality only… that they did not have an impact on the end result.  Not according to Ufile!  When I completed the forms, I sat there staring at the computer screen.  Ufile informed me that I  had a refund of over $2000.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any sort of refund.  Out of curiosity I changed the support payment to zero and re-calculated.  I was expecting there to be a difference.  I wasn’t expecting there to be a $3200 difference!  Ufile now informed me that I owed $1200.  That’s a considerable difference!  So of course I put the support payment back in!

I figured that it was a good idea to inform my ex that I claimed that amount on my taxes, because I imagine that they will be interested in seeing a similar offsetting amount when she files.  It just occurred to me… I sent her an email…  what if she already filed?  Nah… she’s a procrastinator too.  That’s one of the areas  where we were compatible.

I will be watching my mailbox closely over the next few weeks!

HappySad Turns 5 Years Old!

Published April 21, 2011 - 5 Comments

Speaking of blogs that are 5 years old, I see that one of my favourite cartoons just celebrated that milestone too!  I mentioned HappySad in an older post.  I identify with it waaaaay too much… not sure what that says about me…  🙂     I even donated a few dollars to the artist from the PayPal button in his blog.  That’s how much I love his stuff.

It’s not too hard to figure out why…

Bloggers! How Committed Are You to Your Blog?

Published April 21, 2011 - 11 Comments

I was recently reading a blog about, of all things, stitching.  It’s not normally the kind of topic that you’d associate with me, but there is a bit of a personal connection with the author of the blog, so I like to check back periodically and admire the work posted there.  Well, this blogger recently announced a major milestone on the blog:  the 300th post!

It’s taken 5 years to reach 300 posts, with periodic lulls in activity during that time.  For me it’s less about the 300 posts, and more about the 5 years.  This blog, WhatAboutStephen has been in existence 2.5 years.  That’s a lifetime in blog-years!  (Haha.. I like the sound of that.. blog-years)  Even still, that’s only half the time that the stitching blog has been in existence.  It’s hard to imagine what WaS will look like in 5 years.  I’m sure that the other blogger had no clue that their blog would still be active after 5 years.  Not only active, but I’d say that it attracts a pretty loyal group of fellow stitching bloggers.

How many times have I gone to a blog that has no new content on it in weeks, months, or even years?  How many of my own blogs are rotting in the virtual graveyard even now?  It’s so hard to maintain the creative passion on a consistent basis.  There are days when I wonder whether I still want to write here.  I imagine that every single blogger goes through that from time to time. Too many succumb to those feelings.  So when I see that a small stitching blog has reached a significant milestone such as its 300th post, it gives me a little more energy to invest in my own blogs.  And that’s really what it is… an investment.

How committed are you to the success of your blog?

uTorrent 3.0 beta Adds Viewable Downloading to BitTorrent Experience

Published April 20, 2011 - 2 Comments

I’ve been a big fan of BitTorrent for a long time.  Since first being introduced to it a few years ago, I’ve tried a handful of BitTorrent clients.  The hands-down winner has been uTorrent, billed as a very tiny BitTorrent client.  uTorrent delivers on this promise.  Not only is it extremely small compared to others in its field, its pure simplicity makes it a joy to use.  When I made the jump to Apple last year I was worried that I was going to have to go looking for a new way to download my favourite torrents.  Not so!  There’s even a version of the software designed for Apple’s OS X (although, in all honesty, I prefer the look and feel of the Windows version).

uTorrent 3.0 beta is now available for download, and it comes with one very noticeable enhancement – the ability to view torrents as they are downloaded.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to check a movie partway to see that it’s actually in English, or not a copy someone recorded with an unsteady camera in the theatre?  Sure would!  Now with uTorrent 3.0 you can do just that.  Well, that’s the claim anyway.  The only drawback to uTorrent 3.0 is that it is currently only available for Windows.  I probably shouldn’t say the “only” drawback, because this is beta software, not the final version.  I’m sure that the uTorrent team is hard at work to correct bugs, and implement changes, as they encounter them.  Still, it’s pretty exciting stuff if it works as well as they claim.  I almost wish that I had a Windows machine at home to try it on.  Almost.

If you’re a little leery of installing beta software, and looking for an excellent BitTorrent client that is stable as a rock, then try their download page for Windows/Macintosh solutions.  And yes, for the Linux enthusiasts there is even a version for you.  Be warned, though, it’s classified as an alpha version, but I can tell you from personal experience that I used it on my old laptop and encountered no problems with it whatsoever.

I’d love to hear from any Windows users who install uTorrent 3.0 beta how well the viewable download feature works.

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