For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Funny video

I've long been a fan of Penn and Teller, but as someone who doesn't get any tv channels at all, I had no idea they had this show. (I also had no idea Penn had such a foul mouth! Language warning in effect.)

Check out this episode. It's great!

You may have to try a couple of times to get to it - I think it's been pretty busy.

Another reason I want a car again...

Today, we had another experience that reminded me of why I want to get away from using public transit and have a car again.

Aside from hanging around in filthy bus stops (street dirt, I can handle, but when you can't see through the windows as much from the spit as from the dirt, that's a whole new level) and dodging panhandlers, we witnessed another incident today.

The girls and I were about to transfer buses. I wasn't completely sure it would take us to where we were going, so I waited until everyone else got on before going to ask the driver if he stopped where we needed. One of the last people to get on in front of me was obviously agitated and sort of pushing herself ahead of people to get onto the bus. As she went past me, I heard her muttering something about "asshole" but I couldn't tell who it was directed at. I didn't think much of it until later.

The bus was pretty full, so the girls and I were in the front, and I found myself sitting in one of the sideways seats, facing another sideways seat, where they can be folded up to accommodate wheelchairs and the like. After a few stops, the people across from me left. Almost immediately, a very unhappy, hunted looking man moved from the back somewhere and sat across from me - followed closely by the woman I'd noticed earlier. She was highly agitated while talking to this guy, pushing and pulling at him, swearing, and loudly demanding that he "just give me my prescription." She would vacillate between angry and demanding, to begging and weeping. The guy was looking pretty desperate, saying things like "go away, Lady. Leave me alone." He soon got up to ask the bus driver to call security because "this lady" wouldn't leave him alone. She angrily and loudly swore at him, said "you're my room mate" and continued to demand her prescription "or I'm going to call my doctor." She seemed to think this guy was her room mate, but he seemed to have no idea who she was at all. The driver happened to be pulling up to a stop, so the guy got off before any call could be made.

She followed.

Looking out the window as we pulled away, wondering if I should be calling 911, I could see her pulling and smacking at this guy. He tried to push her away and get away, but she kept at him... and then I could no longer see them.

Everyone else on the bus was looking a bit wide eyed over this, and I noticed Youngest, sitting facing me, was looking rather alarmed. I said to her "that was kind of scary, wasn't it?" Her response.

"I'm just hoping there won't be another murder!"

WTF do you say to that? Especially since her observation was totally valid.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Lotto Protocol

I've found myself curiously reading about the scandal involving lotteries in Ontario. I find myself wondering how this sort of thing could happen, so I thought back to when I had jobs that included selling lottery tickets (though never in Ontario, the system is the same across Canada). I would've thought it extremely difficult, IMO, for a ticket seller to cheat on lotto winnings. I think, however, I can see where the breakdown happens.

This is what *should* be happening.

When a customer comes to me with a ticket to check, this is what I, the seller/checker, should be doing. In full view of the customer, I press the validate button on the terminal, then use the scanner to read the bar code. If it's a scratch ticket, I will then need to manually key in the last 4 digits, which are placed somewhat randomly under the scratch coating. In fact, if you have a scratch ticket, all you need are those last 4 numbers. I've had customers in a hurry scratch only those numbers, then get me to validate the ticket to see if it was a winner. Yes, some even have been.

Once scanned, the terminal then prints out a stub. Winner or not, it is written on the stub. I then take the ticket and the stub and show it to the customer, telling them if they won or not. If there are a number of tickets to check, I put the winning tickets and their stubs in one pile, non-winners and their stubs in the other, telling the customer of any wins (or not) as they are being checked. I then offer the stubs to the customer.

If I get a winning ticket under a certain amount (how much depends on the seller and how much cash they have on hand), I pay off the customer in either cash or tickets, depending on what the customer won or chooses. The winning ticket, and its stub, is then put together and set aside. With larger wins, the ticket and stub are given to the customer, who then has to call the Lottery Corp. to make arrangements for the payout themselves.

Loosing tickets, and their stubs, are returned to the customer and/or thrown out.

At the end of the day, when the terminal is shut down for the night, there are print outs that detail exactly how many tickets were sold, how many wins there were, and what payouts occurred. The winning stubs are tabulated and must correspond with that print out. The retailers get a portion of the sales, as well as a percentage of wins, so they *should* be very particular about this. I was rather taken aback at my last job when I found out they tossed the tickets and stubs for winnings under $10. Slack as it was, however, it makes no difference to the winning customer, as they've already had their payout processed.

This, I believe, is where the breakdown happens. Most customers never bother looking at the loosing stubs when I offer them, instead telling me to throw them out. When a customer wins, they can keep the original print out. A second copy, or a retailer copy, can be printed out for the retailer to keep with the winning ticket. I've never had a customer keep their winning ticket stub, though I've had some customers take their pile of validated tickets and stubs home with them. The vast majority, however, never look at their stubs. Since they have generally watched me checking the tickets, that's not usually a problem, but not all terminals are set up in full view of the customer as the ones I've worked at.

Whatever the set up, the clerk *must* offer the stubs and tickets to the customer, win or loose. This is part of the lottery procedure. If the clerk does not offer you the ticket and stub, they should be. I can see how, with most customers not bothering to look and saying to throw them out, a lot of clerks would stop offering. Unethical clerks might take advantage of that trust. If the terminal is not easily visible, I can see how someone can have a loosing stub on the side that they can switch.

So what can a customer do to prevent this? Well, the easiest thing is to check your numbers before having them verified at the terminal. I don't buy lottery tickets often, but when I do, I check the numbers online. Major newspapers print them out. Also, every morning when opening the lottery terminal, winning numbers for various draws are printed out and put on display at the kiosk where people can get slips to choose their own numbers.

Any jackpot lotto wins that have happened are also printed out when the terminal is opened, stating how much was won, how many winners there are, and what province the winning ticket has been sold in. This printout is kept by the terminal itself until the next day, when it's replaced by a new one. You can also ask for a print out of the winning numbers to be made and given to you. Any numbers printed out by the terminal are official numbers.

I can make mistakes when checking my numbers, so I will still take my lottery tickets and have them double checked at a terminal. Sometimes, I've been surprised and found I've missed a $2 win or something. Mostly, though, they're non-winners, and since I've already checked them, I usually tell the clerk to toss them, too. I tend to buy my tickets at the same places, so there's also a familiarity with the clerk or owner.

The thing to remember is that there is a very specific procedure that sellers are supposed to follow that ensures this sort of fraud doesn't happen. The average customer, however, probably has no idea what that is. Why would they?

So the next time you want to check your tickets, you can keep this in mind.

If possible, check the numbers yourself, either online at the lottery website or at the kiosk (newspapers and online news sites are good too, but sometimes they make mistakes. Official numbers are at the lottery corp. website, or the terminal printouts). Then take the ticket to the terminal to have it verified.

The terminal should be mostly visible (obviously, you won't always be able to see behind the counter completely). The printer and scanner is usually right next to the terminal and, watching the clerk, you should be able to see that the clerk is validating your ticket and removing the printout from the printer, not from someplace else.

The clerk should inform you of the win or loss and offer you the ticket and stub back.

Go ahead and take the loosing ticket and printout. It doesn't hurt to double check and throw them out later, or even just glance at them at the counter, then ask the clerk to throw them out. Most lotto kiosks will have a garbage can in it you can use, too. I, personally, would've preferred my customers did take their stubs. You wouldn't believe how quickly the garbage cans behind the counter fills up with loosing tickets and their stubs.

Or, you can take my favorite route. Buy/validate your tickets from the same business(es) as much as possible. When we do buy them, I like to buy them from the convenience store in our building. Why? Because I've gotten to know the owner a bit and I really like her. If we ever won a jackpot, I would love for her to get a percentage of those winnings!

My daughter is silly

(and so am I!)

Eldest accompanied me to a business meeting, and while waiting for it to begin, we sat in the hall, having an energy drink. As we were reading the ingredients list on the can, we noticed the bit where it read "0 sugars, 1 carb"

We both pretty much had the same image of the one, lonely little carb floating around in the can, saying "drink me! drink me!" in a tiny, high pitched voice.

Then Eldest, choking back laughter, tells me that her visual image of this lonely little carb was something like a sperm, wiggling around - then demonstrated by sticking out her finger and wiggling it past my face.

That was it for me! I could hardly stop laughing all night! Every now and then, one of us would look at the other, then stick out a wiggling finger. Or, with wide-eyed sympathy, whisper "just one, lonely little carb..."

Everyone else at the meeting must've thought we were quite the jovial pair! LOL

What a hoot!

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the train

The family and I were on the train when a young woman came on. Very friendly looking, well dressed, wearing a hijab. I am assuming she was Iranian (as an ethnicity, not citizenship). The reason? She was passing around pages to passengers that turned out to be a petition. It was directed at the PM. Most of the page was filled with "whereas" and "wherefores," and other legalese babblegab about Iran and how much we (Canada) needs to improve things. It took me a while to figure out what the petition was for. The very last line had it.

It was a petition to have an Iranian terrorist organization removed from Canada's list of terrorist organizations.

When I first started reading the bafflegab, I honestly couldn't tell one way or the other if the petition was in support or against something. One line could be taken one way, another differently. What removing this organization (the name of which I can't find now, and I've been looking at the GoC website, among other places) would do to meet the conditions mentioned previously, I can't figure out, other than perhaps placating Iran.

We didn't sign it, but I couldn't help but noticing how many people did - in particular the group of young Asian women who hadn't spoken a word of English the entire time we sat beside them. I'm hoping they could speak/read English, but for the (very short) length of time they looked at the pages before signing, I'm not so sure if they understood what they were signing - or if they simply skimmed and signed anyways. The legalese was difficult enough to plow through for someone who's first language is English. How much more difficult for someone for whom English is not their primary language?

For the record, English is the second language for my husband, and was not my primary language until I started school, so I'm not saying that English being a second or third language means that a person is less capable of understanding it - just that if your *primary* language is something else, misunderstandings are extremely easy. English is not a very logical language at the best of times. It's even less logical when couched in legalese terminology.

I couldn't help but wonder if any of the other passengers that signed actually understood what it was they were signing. Very few took the time to really read the petition. But they signed it anyways.

It makes me wonder just how valid petitions really are.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Check it out

For anyone who's concerned about climate change and global warming, I would consider this documentary to be a must see. It's 1 1/4 hours long, but worth every minute. It's the first time I've seen all of these pieces of scientifically based information all in one place.

Update: The video is now here.

Fun site

You're visual DNA

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stuff it!

I want a car!

Excuse my momentary lapse into whining. It's been a long day, and it's only half done.

When we moved here, we got rid of our car. It was a good decision, and while I miss it, I don't regret it. We have access to public transit now, and overall it's a very good system. One of the better ones of the various cities we've lived in, but then we live close to downtown, so we've got plenty of choices available to us. A brisk walk gets us to a train station that takes us to most places we need to go. We've got a bus stop practically outside the door to our building that takes us to most other places we need to go. It's cheaper by far, and we never have to worry about parking, insurance and the price of gas.

But I'm starting to really want a car again!

Just to use today as an example of why. I needed to pick up some new filters, etc. for Dh's CPAP. Because the company's office hours are pretty much the same as Dh's, there's no chance of him getting the stuff he needs. I wonder how we'd work it out if I were working out of home full time, too? :-P

The office I need to get to is in the south side of the city. We live in the north side of the city. It's been about 6 months since I've been to this place, so while the girls and I went downtown, I checked the map to verify which bus we needed to transfer to - and what I was finding didn't make any sense. I was *sure* we'd taken a particular route, but according to the map, there was only 1 route going past there during our time frame, and that wasn't it. I called to verify the address (turned out I had an old one), but that didn't change anything. The transit map still said we needed to take a different bus route. The stop was close by, though, so it wasn't any more inconvenient than the other choice, but I still found it odd. We take this alternate route to our location and...

... sure enough, at the stop I could see that the other route I'd remembered (along with almost a half dozen others) did go past this place. No problem. Time spent: about 45 minutes.

The girls and I go into the office, get what we need (took all of 10 minutes), then head to the return bus stop, which was right in front of the building. We had to run for it, with Eldest slipping on some ice and landing on hard along the way, but we did catch a bus right away and Eldest was unhurt.

When we got downtown, we crossed the street to the bus stop that would take us home, though we were going to bypass home to go to the grocery store. The bus at this time of day is supposed to be running every 15 minutes.

It wasn't.

At least 20 minutes later, with no sign of our bus anywhere, we give up and go below ground to the train station (and you just know that, 2 minutes after we left, our bus would've arrived... *L*). It meant more of a walk by taking the train, but we were soon at the grocery store.

Because we didn't have time to stop at home first, we didn't bring our own bags, nor did we have our folding cart that we take with us (even though it's broken). That means we had things like a big bag of flour, a sack of rice, 4L's of milk, and all those other heavy things to carry. We manage to get them to be bus stop, in spite of the fact that the bagger did a rather crappy job and even tore one of the bags all down one side. We had to pause part way, put our bags down on the ground and re-pack some of them. Good thing I'd asked for double bags. :-P So there we are, waiting at the bus stop again for another 20 minutes or so.

Finally, we get home, over 3 hours after we'd left, to do things that took a total of less than an hour.

As for tonight, I'm looking at another 2 hours on the bus total to go someplace that, by car, might take only 10 minutes. Why so long? Well, first I have to go downtown. Then I'll need to run the gauntlet of panhandlers to reach another stop across the street. There's one particular panhandler that seems to have staked that corner out for herself. If the first bus is on time, I've only got a minute to wait for my connection. If not, I've got 10-15 minutes to the next bus. I then take the second bus to a transit centre, where I wait for yet a third bus. Total time, just under an hour.

The trip home, however, will be longer. The return to the transit center is unchanged, and my connection to downtown is usually already there. Once I get downtown, though, I'm dropped off in a different spot. The gauntlet of panhandlers is much bigger by this stop, and I usually get hit up for money several times before reaching my next stop half a block up. Because of the timings of the route, I'll be waiting there for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

All that to get to a place that I could probably walk to in less time, though not while wearing business dress.

It's basically getting to the point were getting a car is a necessity, and transit is not as reliable as it could be. The Suzuki's and Gore's of the world who keep preaching for us peasants to take public transit from the comfort of their jets and diesel coaches can just stuff it up their ears. They're not the ones lugging bags of groceries to and from bus stops, or standing outside with their kids in -20C weather for 45 minutes, waiting for a bus or cab than never comes, or taking 3 hours to do something that should only take 1.

Me; I want a car.