Monday, February 20, 2006

Lightening Struck Twice?

One always thinks of white collar crime affecting..."others." It has hit us recently. Not once but twice this month.

Just before going out of state we were notified that one of our credit cards had been "compromised" and would be closed. Not a problem. OK, it seemed like a problem at the moment but it's the "right thing." And we had other credit cards to take with us. That IS one reason one maintains more than one credit card after all.

One of those "spare credit cards" that went with us got used. Once. The first time in nearly two months. Tonight, about 48 hours later someone has tried to use that credit card to book an $850 vacation expense on our very infrequently used credit card. Fortunately we were notified immediately by the credit card company and when we called back to confirm that it was fraudulent use that credit card has been closed as well.

Credit card fraud is becoming much more common. We have not had any loss due to either of these incidents. I thanked one credit card company when our card was denied when we attempted to use it before arriving home from our trip. They saw a pattern that was concerning and blocked access to the card. When we called in and confirmed that we had the cards and had used them at the places where the charges showed up, they released the block on the card. They were (and are) looking out for us.

When shopping online we always use temporary account numbers supplied through the credit card company: a one time number that can not be "used" elsewhere. When using the card in person I keep the card upside down so unscrupulous individuals can't "memorize" the number of the face of the card. That will not protect us from "inside jobs," of course. Fortunately, for us, the credit card companies are very vigilant for fraud and have done an excellent job protecting us.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Technology Failed Us & Travel Thoughts

We are back from my business trip to Miami, FL. Finally. We flew down in early February to meet with family/relatives as well as to visit our building lot in north western Florida to attempt to judge whether it was an acceptable location for a snowbird house.

We traveled much more than we ever anticipated (2,465 miles) which was at least partially offset by being able to drive a familiar vehicle: a 2006 PT Cruiser (Turbo Touring Edition).
The vehicle averaged about 27 mpg or about 10% better than our non-turbo 2001 PT Cruiser (Limited Edition). A few travel observations follow:

1. The PT Cruiser greatly enhanced our travels.

2. The center of Florida is a HUGE vegetable and fruit garden! Avon Park
actually tempted(s) us.

Orange Trees

3. Tampa/Clearwater are absolutely gorgeous, however, are W-A-Y too crowded.

4. Miami is a great spot to visit but would be a horrible place to live, IMO.

5. Miami's Bayside Park has a very comfortable tourist spot on the north end that is VERY reminiscent of Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market and appears directly patterned after Boston's fabled attractions.

6. Miami to Maine is really not a two day drive, especially starting the first day after Noon.

7. The Everglades appear to me to be over rated - it's a huge swamp. A tired-looking huge swamp. Though I grant that it has very interesting fauna.

8. It appears that there are NO native palm trees in Florida. If they are not "planted" you simply don't see them. Palmettos are a very different thing - they are even growing on our building lot.

9. Northwest Florida may not be as warm and tropical as Miami, Punta Gorda, Tampa or even Avon Park, but our property has a really good "home" feeling to it.

10. We saw one of Jean's uncles, an aunt, two cousins, one first cousin-once-removed (a cousin's son), 3 cousins-twice removed (cousin's grandchildren), one sibling & brother-in-law, two nieces in our travels and last of all, our daughter in college.

Finally, I noted in the title that technology failed us. Our GPS did not "accept" the detailed street level maps of southern Florida that I thought I had installed on it. We had nothing. I tried to change it on the road from the laptop without any success. If Jean had not been able to get down to AAA in the Greater Miami area we would have been in trouble for our trip home.

We did not find that we used a mini-DVD player - we preferred to just talk with each other. We never used the DVD/CD player on the laptop and didn't use the radio on the car except for travel notices on the interstate traveling home and a rare time of trying to tune in news/weather which was not very successful.

We had internet access twice - we were not going to pay $11/day for internet access with our vacation going way over budget with our driving the rental car home after flying down (long story and it's bedtime). I tried to connect to work email and was unsuccessful - my password appears to have expired and I need to log onto the company's intranet to update it and I didn't have my work laptop to access the company's VPN.

The only tech items that got regular use were our cell phones. We used them frequently.

More later. I hope. It's bedtime already and tomorrow's my first day back to work.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Praise God!

We live in a world where evil people try at every turn to steal from all of us. This past week though the incompetence of workers at the Boston Globe thousands of names and credit card numbers were put in the public domain on the streets of Boston. They have lost hundreds of subscribers following that miscue.

Last night after Sabbath had ended, yea, even as bedtime approached, I was trying to complete an online transaction using a temporary account number created by security software provided by our credit card company. The message I got was that this credit card was not enrolled. I should go to the company's website and enroll.

Strange. It is the ONLY card that we actually HAVE enrolled in the program so it made no sense. I briefly thought that perhaps, as has occurred in the past, they had upgraded the security software requiring all of us to re-enroll. Indeed, when I arrived at the appropriate website the interface was completely new. I dutifully followed the procedure, logged in and tried to complete the transaction only to find that...I got the same message that the card was not enrolled.

Doubly strange as I had just registered it. One more time, with fervor. Same result. (Those who do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results...). I finally, after an irritable outburst in the general direction of my undeserving wife who questioned my increasingly irrational behavior, called the credit card company.

After working through the menues and getting a customer service representatives I was told that my credit card was "compromised". [Insert more irrational behavior at this point]

I was passed off to a senior representative with a very soothing voice who I told that I just wanted to be sure that my trying to register the account for the new security software in a bumbling fashion was not the cause of the "lock out." It was not. The fraud unit had identified that someone who should not have our credit card number actually had it. She would not tell me HOW they got it (i.e. - criminal activity vs. company malfeance or incompetence a la Boston Globe) but intimated that it is usually criminal activity which results in these breaches of security.

We reviewed all the charges and were able to account for all of the charges that had been made. Whew! We will be using a different credit card until a replacement arrives - thankfully we have a back up card.

Also thankfully the companies fraud unit identified this activity and closed the account immediately before huge charges were run up. In fact, I mentioned that I usually get an email if there is any suggestion of different activity - such as charges on vacation, etc. The senior representative said that they would have called me in the morning (today) but that this activity had just occurred in the past few hours.

Also thankfully the Lord will forgive my inappropriate behavior. My wife...we'll see. Hopefully.

It appears that 'all's well that ends well.'

Now You See It, Now You Don't!

One of my two posts from two days ago is gone. Poof! Gone. With it went the two comments left by Sherpa. Blogger can do some funny things at times. So below this post you will see my response to Sherpa's comments, without his original comments OR one of my two posts that one of his comments pointed toward. All this by way of explanation.

The original post was a comment about my Dell 600m laptop which has recently gotten a new battery ($98 with free shipping from the Dell website - a bargain as they tried to sell me the same item in a "medical" oriented brochure which was mailed to my former employer, who forwarded it to me: the special price for medical professionals who don't take the time to search Dell's support website is ... $140 + shipping!) as well as a new, faster (though smaller) hard drive.

Our family has been revelling in the faster start up times for our Windows computer by using the technique taught to us by Sherpa: Hibernate (Start>Turn Off>Shift-H).

When this procedure was used on the laptop, which gets disconnected from AC power and stored out of the way when not in use, the next time I went to use it, the computer would not turn on and flashed its orange-red battery light at me. Flipping the laptop over and pressing the battery's "meter" revealed NO friendly green LEDs indicating the battery was completely discharged.

The computer responded immediately to being plugged into an AC outlet and is now fully recharged and ready for whatever life throws at it. We hope!

A couple more "tweaks" were needed for it to connect to wireless internet. We had thought, when it would NOT connect to Google's website (its IE homepage), that a brown out had reset our wireless router to default and would have to be reprogrammed. However, I went in and emptied temporary internet files and cookies after which I set the Tools>Advanced>Empty Temporary Internet Files When Browser Is Shut Down to "YES" and the computer is now functioning in a more normal fashion.

There are times when I really DO appreciate Bill Gates: every time I do or , etc., I am very greatful for standardized software. The shortcut keys that I learned to use at work to spare my wrists, work very nicely for my computer at home!

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Sound of Silence...

While Mossflower was visiting her sister in Canada, I was asked to drive her car into the garage to keep it out of the elements. No, I do not have a special talent for driving cars into the garage. The garage can accomodate a total of three cars as long as two are in tandem and two are side-by-side.

Getting into the car was not a major problem - we had a back up key available. Getting it started - let's just say it "grumbled" a bit before actually succeeding in sustaining ignition on all four cylinders. Once it was running smoothly I backed it out into the street and pulled up into the garage to pull it all the way forward in front of Jean's PT Cruiser (she has since "graduated" to a new Town & Country Touring minivan). When I put on the brakes to avoid going through the garage door at the back end of the garage, I heard sounds that were never intended to be heard in a motor vehicle. Metal on metal in full quadriphonic sound.

Jean called Canada to clear the necessary mechanical work and we took it down to the local Chrysler dealer who replaced:
1. Both front rotors
2. Both sets of pads for the front disc brakes
3. Both rear drums (cracked)
4. Both sets of brake shoes for the rear brakes.

About $700 (US) later the car drives (actually, brakes) better than it ever has, according to a very grateful Mossflower. The service manager pointed out that it will need a couple of new tires before it can be inspected this spring. At least there is time to save a bit for that repair.