Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hallowe'en (sour) Apples!

Tonight is Hallowe'en. You might be wondering why I have enough time to write a blog post when I should be answering the door for 100's of little ghosts and goblins. It's because I'm sitting in my room with the rest of the house lights turned off. Especially the porch light, which stays on the other 364 days of the year. Although I suppose to be technical, this year it's 365 other nights...

First, lets get a few things out of the way. Do kids today (good lord I'm old) realize how good they have it? It's above zero and there is no snow. There was not a costume I owned that didn't go over a full snowsuit and Sorels were the mandatory footwear for the FOOT OF SNOW we had to wade through. Oh, and there were no pillowcases and giant reusable bags for collecting candy in. No no no, we had these:

This meant that inevitably you had to return home several times (losing precious candy gathering time) to dump out your haul and start again.

Moving on. So, I was feeling a little guilty for not handing out candy yet again this year. This is my 7th Hallowe'en here in the North End. I missed my first one because I was working in Churchill, MB (where, as an interesting fact, they have volunteers circling town on snowmobiles keeping an eye out for any polar bears looking for a seasonal treat) but in 2007, look out world, I was prepared!

I laboured over my candy choices and when I finally felt I had the perfect variety I spent time putting together little perfect Hallowe'en themed ziploc bags full of candy. I was prepared.

What I was NOT prepared for was to be overwhelmingly disappointed.

Instead of adorable little kids (yes, me, I just referred to children as adorable. I'm unlikely to do that again so maybe mark this down) in costumes I got sullen teenagers in hoodies and masks from Dollarama holding open pillowcases. Generally not even a "Trick or treat!" or "Hallowe'en Apples!" just a doorbell ring. The small children who did (sort of) come to the door were usually under about a year old, fast asleep, being pushed in a stroller by their teenage mother who was not in a costume. Call it a hunch, but I don't think the candy was for the babies. The even cheekier ones would hold out a second bag "for the other kid, who's at home". Yeah. Right.

I seriously almost cried when it was all over, this was not the Hallowe'en I had dreamed of! Now, I am very aware that my neighbourhood has some economic constraints. A six year old in a mask from Dollarma (or no costume at all) will of course get candy. Hell, a 47 year old in a full costume will get candy - the trade off for spending my hard earned money on candy is getting to see the costumes; I have my own economic constraints too.

I decided to go and evaluate my block, perhaps I could be shamed back into giving out Hallowe'en candy for next year?

Not likely. For shits and giggles I counted how many houses on my block had the "I'm home vibe". FIVE. And one of those is borderline. I think maybe their sheets as drapes just didn't block out all of the light from their living room. 5/40. I suppose to be fair, one of those 40 is boarded, and another one is the abandoned one with the rear section of the house caving in, but that doesn't really make it much better.

So, while Hallowe'en only seems to get even more popular (how that's even possible I'm not sure) it seems as though at least my street has basically given up. This makes me feel less guilty but more sad.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A job (not) well done

As I've written before, it's nice to see the City finally (threaten to) start to hold Emterra accountable for not fulfilling their contract, all it took was rich folk not getting served properly. Please read that last sentence in the as-yet-to-be-developed "dripping with disdain" font.

The latest bee in my bonnet is the annual fall street cleaning. I have a corner lot and I spend an extraordinary amount of time keeping my curb clean throughout the summer, sweeping up the dirt and garbage, all for the sake of neighbourhood pride. Twice a year though, I don't have to do it. I look forward to the street cleaning in a way that normal people probably don't even think of. Not only will someone else haul away all the crap, but the street will actually be scrubbed down with water!

So imagine my disappointment when this is what I returned home to yesterday:

I was working from home yesterday so I know that there were no cars parked on the street, so what could the reason for this be? Laziness would be my guess. Now, I have emailed 311 to ask who does the street cleaning, the City or a subcontractor, but of course it could take up to 48 hours to have my email answered. There is also no guarantee that they will have an answer.

Could you get away with this level of completion at your job? "Yeah boss, I got it mostly done." This isn't a task that has different stages to it. There is no room for interpretation. Either the street is clean, or it isn't. And my street isn't.

Now, are they going to send someone back to complete the job properly? My guess would be no. Are they still going to pay whoever did this their full payment (particularly if this was a subcontractor)? My guess is probably. Will my complaint serve any purpose other than making someone in some City department think that there are bigger things in life to worry about it and would this stupid woman just shut up and go away?

I just think keeping the City accountable for all the little things will remind them that all of what they spend our tax dollars on is important. Over time, wasting dollars on things like this adds up to the things (like dodgy land swaps and over-budget buildings) that it is easy to catch them on.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's actually the commenters that I'm afraid of

The Winnipeg Sun ran a follow up piece today on the still unsolved triple shooting from two years ago here in the North End. I spoke to the reporter Joyanne yesterday for about 10 minutes, which turned into only this quote:
“In life you can’t be afraid of all the ‘what ifs?’ all the randoms,” said St. John’s resident Kali, who asked that her last name not be used. “There was a murder in River Heights the other day, is the rest of Lindsey Street supposed to be afraid? Or course, not.”
The reasons I asked that my last name not be used are many - after all, I am mostly anonymous on this blog too. The biggest reason that I asked that my last name not be used (and I specifically said this to the reporter as well) - well that would be the commenters trolls that flock to our local newspapers like I do to an estate sale.

I've generally stuck with my resolution to not read the comment section of newspapers, but every now and again I get sucked in. Today was such a day (probably because my name was out there for all the world to see). Imagine this, the first comment was from some guy who felt the need to criticize the picture a man was holding of his daughter WHO WAS SHOT.  Ah yes, because that's what this guy needs, yahoos commenting on his family because the picture he was showing of his daughter was the photo proof that the company provides. I think that this dumbass needs to realize that in a neighbourhood where temptation has led many of our youth astray, this gentleman has a daughter that has not only been shot, but has managed to keep her life on track and stay in school. This is a man whose family lives in public housing (or so I seem to recall that the girl lived in the Lord Selkirk Park housing developments at the time) perhaps he doesn't have the money to purchase overpriced prints. Heck, growing up in Charleswood my family often couldn't afford to buy the prints.

Also in the comments was of course someone judging me for leaving out my last name
Gee, Kali...if you're not afraid, why don't you use your last name in this media report? Could it be that you don't wnat the gangs and crackheads to kick your door in because they know where you live after your last name is published?
Nice double standard....
 Let me be clear, I didn't leave out my last name because of them, I left it out because of you and your kind sir. I can't imagine the gangs and crackheads coming after me because I don't think my neighbourhood is a horrible place to live and they want to change my opinion. I left it out because I don't want the newspaper commenters of this world who have nothing better to do with their time then troll the internet for people to bully.

The reason I was attracted to the idea of a blog in the first place was because I felt finally that I found some content that had substance on the internet. Of course there are many blogs that don't have any of that, but in the blogging world I feel like I find discussions by rational people or at least by crazy people who can generally spell and back up their arguments to some degree.

Now, back to the shooting.

This shooting is still unsolved. A triple shooting. My armchair policing initially presumed it was gang/drug related, as is most crime that happens here in the North End. That didn't worry me because I'm not tied in to that lifestyle. However, the fact that it is still unsolved makes me wonder a little bit more if it really was just a crazy gunman on a spree; I can't imagine some little gangbanger not bragging by now about his "accomplishments".  Those are the kind of randoms in life you can't predict. You can't not go to the movies in case someone decides to shoot up the theatre. You can't avoid the mall in case a gang decides to play out their gang war there. Life is filled with all sorts of horrible tragedies that if you try to avoid the idea of every bad thing that has ever happened you will be a prisoner with no life at all.

Of course, I'm not an idiot; I know that more crimes happen in my area than in other parts of town. Education, poverty, mental health and opportunity all play in to that. I do my best to make sure that I don't become a statistic, simple precautions, like perhaps not giving my full name for an article that is likely to have people I don't want knowing where I live exactly that - not all of the crazies live around here.

I wrote a blog post about this time last year, that to date is still one of my most read posts - it's how I was feeling this time last year when thinking about the shootings. Read it here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to play the system

A title like that and this post isn't even about the North End or even Winnipeg!

I've mentioned before that I'm a bit of a fan of customer loyalty programs. I like to think that I am one of the small percentage that actually come out ahead. Although, if the rumoured changes come about that will allow merchants to tack on the cost of the Visa transaction to the consumer that might all change. They do that in Europe a lot but as far as I'm aware it is currently not allowed here in Canada. I have noticed though that discount airline Allegiant has started offering a discount for those that pay by debit rather than credit, so officially it's not an extra charge to pay by credit card, but it also won't allow you to get the rock bottom price.

Alright, so first to get some bragging out of the way and to lend some credibility to where I'm coming from. Over the years I have taken the following free* flights: First on Airmiles (the kind you get at Safeway and Shell): I have gotten 5 tickets to NYC, 4 to Las Vegas, and also gone to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Montreal. With Aeroplan (the Air Canada rewards program) I have gone to the UK, Nicaragua and business class to Argentina. I also still have enough Aeroplan points to take 8 flights within North America (or less flights to more far flung destinations, but I'm pretty sure I have enough to go anywhere in the world, twice).

Here are some very general tips and tricks that have served me the best (and later two awesome new promos that you should seriously consider). First, when it comes to Airmiles, the only way you'll ever get enough to leave your driveway is if you use the bonus offers that Safeway frequently has. Stock up on things you love. One of the best is the buy X boxes of cereal get XX bonus miles. Cereal keeps for ages and this promo also only happens when the cereal is on sale to begin with. Try to partner this with one of their "spend $100 get 100 (or sometimes even better, 250) bonus Airmiles events. Sometimes stores are having this as an unadvertised promotion. Let your fingers do the walking and call them first.

Also, with Airmiles, and this is a trick I haven't tried personally but have been told it works: when they have that coupon in the flyer chances are the "same" coupon got sent out in the weekly Safeway Club Card email. However, I'm told they tend to have different PLU numbers, so if you go the self checkout route you can self scan both coupons and get it twice. Worth a shot. The other big Airmiles trick is to know your zones. All of Ontario is considered one zone, so they presumably base their required amount of miles on a Toronto departure - as a Winnipegger, if you are wanting to redeem for a few people it is well worth the drive to depart from Thunder Bay instead. To put this in perspective, from Winnipeg to NYC in high season you would need 2950 Airmiles per person. From Thunder Bay? 1400. Less than half. The gas for the 8 hour drive pays for itself even with one person but definitely worth it for 2 or more. Have the BMO Airmiles Mastercard? You'll need even fewer.

Now, on to Aeroplan, my favourite program.

I pay the $120/yr for my Visa card. I know many people who say they would never pay for their credit card, but for me it's well worth it. Most premium credit cards, mine being the CIBC Infinite Aerogold Card, offer various bonus coverage - read the fine print to compare. I get up to 2 weeks at a time of travel health coverage, baggage insurance, purchase protection and others. The feature I use the most is probably the CDW (Collision Damage Waiver) insurance for rental cars. I once curbed a rental car and the rental place wanted to charge me $175 for the scuff on the rim; my card covered it for me. The other ones? Well, I haven't used them yet, but like any insurance, you hope to never need to. I print out their little brochures and take them with me when I travel so I have it handy for what I'm covered for. With some of the trip coverage if my flight ever gets delayed by XX hours (I don't remember exactly how many) they will even cover entertainment expenses!

I also pay my credit card off in full every month, the only reason I use it is just to get the points. And boy oh boy, am I obsessive about the points. About the only thing I don't put on the card are garage sale shopping and my Hydro bill (because stupid Hydro won't take Visa). So, every year, based on my spending, I earn at least one free* flight within North America. You could even argue it isn't free because I paid $120 for the card. Fine, I can fly to anywhere in the continental US/Canada for $120 plus the "*". What is the * you ask? Well, if you've ever redeemed for a "free" flight you'll know that you still get dinged for the taxes and fees, I find usually $100-200 for a North American flight. Pro tip on how to keep that number low? If you are flying to Europe, route yourself through the States, the taxes and fees are much less.

Okay, so other tips and tricks for Aeroplan. First, definitely if doing online shopping sign in to their eStore first (via the Aeroplan homepage). They often run promotions like 5 or 10x the Aeroplan purchases. If it's something you just want eventually and don't need it p.d.q. then wait and buy it during the promo. You could potentially earn 1000's of bonus miles. I once bought something off eBay during a 10x the point event and got 4,000 bonus points! Pro tip: they changed how you accumulate using eBay and you no longer get points for things in your "watch list", be sure to unwatch the item before you bid.

Second, using the CIBC Aerogold as an example, pre-pay for things you buy by buying gift cards at supermarkets. The CIBC Aerogold card gives you 1.5x the points at grocery stores. So, if I know I'm about to go drop a few hundred bucks at Home Depot, I stop at Safeway first and buy the gift cards there.

Here's my new thing: Visa and Safeway are having a promotion in November that every time you spend $200 in a single transaction you will get a $20 credit back on your Visa, up to 4 credits or $80. You just need to register your card. I've read the fine print and it doesn't seem to say that this isn't applicable on the purchase of gift cards; so if you're like me and you maybe buy $200 of groceries in the entire month, worry not, just stock up on gift cards either for yourself for future purchases or for unimaginative Christmas gifts! If I stockpile Home Depot cards it would be like getting $800 worth of stuff for $720 and I would get 1200 points instead of $800.

Second awesome promotion I came across the other day: Get a fancypants Amex. Yes, the yearly fee in mindblowing ($499!) but do the math. For $499 you get 50,000 Aeroplan points. That is enough for two round trip tickets within North America. Even by the time you pay the taxes and fees on your tickets you are still flying anywhere you want for less than about $350pp. On that flight the cardholder gets access to the Air Canada lounges, where being the good Winnipegger that they are, if they are flying with a friend they will go in and stock up on free food to their friend waiting in the regular part of the airport. Other options? Well, with this Amex you get one free short-haul (from Winnipeg this basically means to Toronto/Ottawa/Regina/Saskatoon/Minneapolis) companion ticket. So, you redeem 15,000 of your 50,000 points, you and a friend go to the center of the universe for a weekend getaway and you still have 35,000 points left - enough to go  anywhere in North America or, if you wait until you've got another 5,000 points ($4000 of spending if you don't get any bonuses) you can go to Mexico, the Caribbean or Central America. Cancel the card when it comes up for renewal next year.

You're welcome.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest...

...and that forest is in the North End, does it make a sound? Nope, but it sure does if it's in South Winnipeg.

And if that forest isn't a forest, but poor garbage service, it makes a sound within 10 days.
"The department made it clear there would be some kinks that would have to be worked out the first little while. It's not unreasonable to give them a reasonable amount of time to work out the kinks. After that, there are penalties that should be implemented on the contractor," Katz said  ... If problems such as missed collections persist, the city could take work away from the company, she added. - From the Winnipeg Free Press
Now, I wrote a post back in August, specifically about the NEW garbage service, for which I know some of my neighbours are still having trouble with theirs (well over the one month grace period). I have also been questioning, literally for years, asking someone to get back to me about the specifics of the contracts that the City has for garbage pickup. In fact, I am still waiting on a response from Councillor Eadie to an email I sent months ago.

What specifically have I been asking? I've asked what the penalties are for the contractor not fulfilling the contract. For example, when I, on many many MANY occasions have called in bulky waste to be picked up, only to have it continue to sit there and then follow up with 311 only to be told that that case has been marked as "closed" (or completed). I've questioned why we are paying a contractor who gets paid per piece* (or rather, ticket, which contains up to 6 bulky items) who fraudulently claims they have done the work. *To be fair, I've not actually been able to verify that this is how their contract is set up, however it has been expressed verbally to me that the system runs along those lines.

Can you imagine the uproar if you tried any of this cr@p at your job? "Oh hey boss, I know I'm supposed to have this report in today, I'll get to it within a few days, I'm just running behind" and a few days later "what do you mean all the pages of the report are blank? I totally completed it, file closed. What's that, do it again and you'll give me the same wage to do what I already got paid to do, but didn't?" Sign me up to work for the City please!

This type of garbage nonsense has been going on in our Neighbourhood for years, but hey, the rest of Winnipeg goes 10 days with poor service and the Mayor is calling for action. He must not be friends with the owner of Emterra.