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May 16, 2010


I think I've aimed my side mirrors in the "traditional" sense since I got my driver's license. That is, they point so you can just see the side of the car. Although over time I've pushed them out a little bit more. But recently I decided I would try the other method of setting my mirrors so the sides cover the blind spots and there is continuous coverage through all three mirrors.

At first it was a bit tricky as I constantly caught sight of cars in my peripheral vision and it was disconcerting, but now I've adapted and have found there are both advantages and disadvantages. First off, it is a great help in displaying the blind spots and making lane changing easier. I think thats the only advantage though. For me I've found a couple disadvantages. My car came with tint on the 3 rear windows so I've come to rely on the side mirrors to help with visibility while backing up, especially at night. In dark conditions that blind spot behind me just got a whole lot bigger. The other disadvantage I've noticed is that I can no longer look behind and beside me. This is useful when merging, changing from a slower to faster lane or monitoring turn signals of cars behind.

I'm not sure which alignment I'll end up sticking with, for now it's easier to leave them set as is. Ideally there is a case for both positions. I know there are some cars which will move mirrors between two positions depending on the circumstance. For example, when equipped a certain way, my car can be had with a feature that tips the mirrors in and down when in reverse. I would guess at some point someone has come up with a feature to flip the mirrors out when you put on a turn signal while in motion. The blind spot monitoring systems might also be an idea, although the one car I tried with it, never seemed to work.

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May 06, 2010

Banking Fun

At the end of March I received notice of changes to service fees that applied to my bank account. At first it didn't look too bad, a transaction that incurred a $5 fee would now be free, similarly with a transaction that cost $1. But the fee changes tip from favourable to unfavourable as you progress further into the document. It seems it was ordered that way on purpose. As I digested the information it became clear that transactions I never undertake were the ones being reduced and the ones I encounter regularly month after month were increasing. On the back of a $1.5B quarterly profit at the bank I was a bit upset that they felt the need to increase fees to recover "increased costs". It was only a couple bucks a month, but I hate being charged for something like that when the bank is already making profit off me. So now I was on a quest to rid myself of these new charges.

I started by searching other banks for more suitable accounts. TD bank had the only other account that was comparable to what I currently use. But I searched beyond that and I found that there were other accounts that would be superior to my current account. All the major banks have a similar offering. A chequing account paying 0% interest and offering 10-15 debits/month for ~$4. Similarly, all the banks waive the monthly fee if you maintain a minimum balance for the entire month in the $1000-1500 range. Oddly, most of the banks hide the fact that you can get the fee waived. The two exceptions I found were credit unions, which tend to have a similar account but waive fees if you have a significant amount of money borrowed or invested with them and the Royal Bank which waives the fee if you hold several different accounts with them. My current account at Royal pays ~0% interest and incurs 1 or 2 service fee charges per year. The change to no service charges easily overwhelmed any interest I would forgo.

Staying with Royal seemed like the best choice as I should have no trouble qualifying for their fee rebate since I already hold 6 different accounts with Royal. Reading the finer details, I need an investment account and a Visa account to qualify, great, I have both already. Digging deeper yet, I notice that their definition of investment account isn't very clear and their definition of Visa card is limited to a specific list of cards. So I send off an email (one of the handy features at Royal online banking) and in a short period I got a bit of an answer that vaguely indicated that neither of my two investment accounts qualified and nor did my Visa card.

Ok, fine, so I called in to the investment branch and determined that I could open a new account for a minimum investment of $500 and it would be manageable via online banking and I could hold investments such as ones I held in my other accounts. Great, thats fine lets proceed. Well not so fast, even with my 6 accounts, including two investment accounts, apparently they still need to treat me like a brand new customer. By the way, this type of investment account is one of the only accounts you can't seem to open online at Royal. So the service rep on the phone goes through confirming all my details and then starts into the "investor profile". I ask if they can use the one on my other investment accounts, but no, they have to fill it out again. The rep dutifully reads every question and all the multiple choice answers for the lengthy questionnaire and as we come to the final result, poof, the system suggests I open another one of the non-qualifying investment accounts I already have. The rep subtly suggests I change my last answer and so I do and voila the system complies and lets her open the qualifying account I want. Great, but wait, now they need a bunch of identification to prove it's me again. Oh well, after a long phone call I have that requirement ready to go.

Now to just get a qualifying Visa card. I call up the Royal Visa center and talk to a helpful rep who quickly confirms there really is only one choice of card to get, a no fee gold card with a bunch of extra features. We proceed through the application in short order and I hang up satisfied with another requirement taken care of.

Several days later my new investment account shows up in my online banking. By several weeks later I'm wondering where my new Visa card is. The rep said it would be here in mere days, I didn't quite believe that, so I waited the weeks. Now I was worried so I emailed again and sure enough, after some back and forth I determined that the rep had indicated I wanted to apply for the card on my account, but never put through an application. Some more back and forth to determine what to do now. I was under the impression that my existing Visa account would be changed to the new card, but apparently that can't happen and instead I just need to apply for a new account. So this time I just applied online and a week later, new account is online and another half week later, card in hand.

Finally, now I've got the 2 requirements complete for the "MultiProduct Rebate" with my 8 accounts in tow. I login to my online banking and make the account change. This is one of the smoothest and easiest things to do. Other than the type of account and its features, nothing else changes, not the account number, the bank card, cheques, etc., to the point where I still need to select "Savings" on all ATMs and terminals to access my new chequing account. Hopefully it all works out and the automatic qualification just works and the fee rebate kicks in. I'll add something more if it doesn't. UPDATE: Yep the fee gets charged and immediately credited back. Although if I didn't carry a balance, who knows if this would create an overdraft.

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May 01, 2010

Weak Validation

I recently bumped into a wonderfully weak validation system again that reminded me of all the trouble it causes. It's a system that tries to identify you by asking questions only you should know. The questions however are only based on data that can be obtained in your credit report. It becomes a random set of 5 questions generated by their system in specific ways. The questions are presented as a multiple choice with 5 answers each I believe. They usually do a good job of creating incorrect answers that fit the same pattern as the correct answer and will add in a 'None of the above' sometimes as well, as both a correct and incorrect answer. I have noticed questions where there is obviously only one correct answer though. The first trouble is that even with a fairly good set of answer creation algorithms, it is not that difficult to guess correctly, especially if someone knows anything about you. The next trouble spot is the data the questions are based on. Generally the data in your credit report is put there by someone else and usually you don't look at it at all or very infrequently. From what I've seen the data often has errors in it. In addition, the organization name that may get inserted into the report may not match up with the trade name a consumer deals with. You might have noticed this on a credit card statement also. This is probably why the questions have been formatted as multiple choice. Finally, the questions also deal with the order of entries on the credit report. As I've noticed these are fairly random and unpredictable. A consumer would have a hard time answering these questions correctly without having the exact same credit report the questions are based on in front of them.

In my most recent experience I believe I answered 2 out of the 5 questions wrong as I either didn't know the correct answer or the correct answer was not present in the list (at least from my view, not my credit report view). My application was stopped at that point. So that brings me to the next flaw. I simply hit the back button in my web browser and up pops a new set of 5 questions, this time I can correctly answer or at least correctly guess for all of them and my application completes successfully.

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