Archive for the 'Personal' Category

Fast police response

October 6th, 2008

The police, both here and in many (most? all?) other countries in the world, provide a short “emergency” phone number. The idea being that it will be easy to remember, work from all phones in all locations, and be fast to dial in case of a real emergency.

The police here in Israel also has such a number, 100.

Except, it would seem, sometimes they just don’t bother answering it.

Last Sunday (28 September 2008) I went with a friend to a restaurant in the Tel-Aviv north harbour area. On the way back to the car (around 22:45) we noticed a large group of kids around two bonfires which they started along the beach[1]. About 5 meters from there stands a large sign with warnings about prohibited activities, and starting fires is explicitly listed there.

Normally I wouldn’t exactly mind, but those kids were loud and annoying; and those fires were quite large, with one of them burning really close to nearby plants. Plus, I was in a, ahem, fitting mood. So I decided to do my civic duty, and call the police to report the fires and the kids.

I dialled 100 on my cellphone. And waited. One ring, two ring, three rings, four rings, nothing. At this point most automatic answering machines would assume nobody’s answering, and pick up. But this is an a police centre that should be manned non-stop around the clock, so I guess they don’t have answering machines[2]. I waited a bit more (1-2 rings) and still nothing. I was very surprised, and hang up.

My friend was also amazed that nobody picked up the phone. So he tried calling them himself, from his own cellphone. He waited for 13 rings. Nothing. Nobody answered.

Nobody tried to call us back to follow up later on, asking if there’s a problem and why we called the emergency police number. None of our cellphone numbers are blocked, so they could have seen these calls on their incoming call logs (if they bother keeping them).

Good things that it, while being something that should be reported to the police, wasn’t really an emergency.

  1. well, technically along the bank of the Yarkon river, which connects to the sea at this area.[back]
  2. And, when operating properly, they really shouldn’t need them, I agree.[back]

Gasoline of the beast

September 7th, 2008

It’s pretty much a nonsense post, but I found it amusing, so why not bother the rest of humanity with it, right?

Last night I passed by the gas station to fill out my car’s tank.

The price of gasoline here has climbed to exactly 6.66 ILS per liter, which is what the display at the pump showed[1].

I passed my credit card in the pump, and entered my ID number. (A few years ago most pumps started to ask for ID numbers when you operate them yourself with a credit card. I have a hard time imagining a crime wave of people stealing credit cards only to rush to fill the gas tanks of their cars, but apparently that was imminent, as I can’t figure out another reason for this).

After the ID number the pump asked for my car’s license plate number. This is more recent, less than a year I think. Not all pumps on all gas stations do it, but the number is growing. In this case I think it’s not for crime prevention (it doesn’t stop you from entering whatever number you want), but rather to save work for people who need receipts for tax deductions. Previously you had to go to a worker at the station, and ask for a manual receipt, even if you filled the tank on your own. Something which wastes time and is quite bothersome.

I don’t tax-deduct my gas, so I don’t need my car’s license plate number on the receipt. And I don’t see any reason to give any more personal information than I really have to. So as a rule I just press the number “6″ once, and go with it[2].

And something happened to the keypad. This is a pump in a station, near my house, which I use a lot. And the keypad is usually clunky and unresponsive. But this night, I just gently touched the key, and it fired multiple time. First time this happened, in years. The result license plate number? “666″.

  1. That’s 7 USD per gallon, with today’s exchange rate, just in case anyone is curious[back]
  2. I did mention that there’s no verification, right? “6″ is not a valid license plate number here, AFAIK[back]

Some basic math for waiters

October 8th, 2007

When a group of several people eat together at a restaurant (or bar, coffee shop, etc…) there are common ways to split the bill:

  • One person pays everything.
  • Split evenly.
  • Each pays for their own portion.

The exact values are of course a bit fluid on the last two options, since the numbers may be rounded. Currency is discrete rather than continuous, after all. Not only that, but it’s often simpler to divide up to the main coin and not the sub-coins[1].

The payment can be done by cash. In that case the people would usually just collect enough, pay with it, and divide the change between themselves when the change comes back. The work on properly dividing the charge is on the customers in these cases.

Sometimes, though, people pay with credit cards. Which means that many times the waiters will just receive a bunch[2] of cards, with simple instructions on how to divide the charge between them.

The common one is of course “Split it evenly”. And these are the cases where money is often rounded to higher coins, since apparently most waiters have a problem with fractions. I can recall maybe 1-2 cases, ever, where the individual charges weren’t rounded with one person paying the extra.

When things are not split evenly, well, that’s when the fun begins. And by “fun” I mean an all too common tragic comedy of errors.

The simple case is when the customers still calculate the amounts in advance. In this case the waiter receives exact instructions in the style of “Put 100 on this card, and 150 on that card”. Simple. Easy.

And they still sometimes manage to get it wrong:

  1. The bill comes back split evenly.
  2. The amounts are charged correctly, but on the wrong cards. In this example, the first card is charged 150, and the second 100.
  3. All of the cards are charged the same amount, which is one of the sub-amounts. So, for example, for this 250 bill either both cards will be charged 100, or both will be charged 150.
  4. Some of the cards may be charged correctly, and some will be charged an unrelated amount. This is because the complexity of the task got the waiter confused and he/she charged an amount due for another customer entirely.

I had all of these happen to me, as a customer in restaurants.

One time I had two of them happen in a series. The waitress made a mistake (#3 above), I alerted her, and she came back with a “correction” that included another type of mistake (#4 above). When there’s a charge, and a cancellation, as a customer you’re requested to sign on both. If you simply don’t sign on the charge, it creates all sorts of complications. So I ended up having to sign five times for my bill that day. What did I tell you? Fun!

It also happens, though, that the job of dividing the charge is placed on the waiter. Sometimes the customers know the difference between what they’re supposed to be billed for, but not the final amount.

In which cases someone has to do the calculation. It’s a simple enough calculation, you know the total, and you know the differences.

And the natural tendency would be to let the waiter do it. People just had a meal, are finishing up, and they need to pay the bill. Why would they want to do the work, as easy as it is, when there’s a waiter that will have to process the charges anyway and is being paid for it?

Makes sense.

Except it doesn’t. Because many waiters seem a bit deficient in the math department.

The latest time this happened to me was a couple of weeks ago. I was finishing a meal with a friend. We basically shared the dishes, so almost everything was supposed to be split evenly. The only difference was that I had an extra glass of some medium-pricey alcohol.

The waitress arrived, and saw the two credit cards on the tray with the bill. The dialog between me and the waitress went something like that:

Waitress: Should I split this up?
Me: Yes, but it’s 70 more on this card.
Waitress: Right. 70 on this card, and the rest on the other card.
Me: No. Split it between the cards, so that this card is charged by 70 more than the other card.
Waitress: Eh…
Waitress: Hmm….
Waiterss: I’m…. err… not….
Me: It’s simple. Just split evenly, add 35 to this card, and reduce the other 35 from the other card.
Waitress: Ah. Yes. OK, sure.

And this is the math lesson for today. If you want to divide a sum X between N people so that everyone pays the same except for one who pays an extra Y, this is what you do:

  1. Divide X by N. Let’s call that A for average. You already know how to do that. This A would be what you’d charge each card if you had to split evenly.
  2. Divide Y by N. Let’s call that B. This value is like the average of the differences. Mathematically it’s the exact same process as the previous step, so if you knew how to do it, you know how to do that.
  3. Everyone, except the person who has to pay more, pays A-B. You know how to do subtraction already. It’s the same thing you’d do if someone paid part by cash and part by credit card, and you’d have had to reduce the cash amount from the total to get the credit card charge.
  4. The person who has to pay more pays A + [(N-1)*B]. Basically all the B’s you reduced from the bills of the other people, you add to this one’s bill. You already know how to do addition too. It’s just like what you’d do if someone asked you to charge the tip on the card as well, telling you how much is the charge and how much is the tip. You already know how to do multiplication as well, it’s what you’d do if you got everyone else’s cards and they all told you they have to pay B.

That’s it. Easy. Simple steps. And these are all things that waiters are supposed to know how to do already.

Except sometimes they don’t.

In this case, for example, I was indeed charged 35 more. The other card? Charged exactly the amount of an even split.

Wait, wait, I know what you’re thinking. In this case it would mean that the total would come to 35 more than the real total, right? So the waitress, or at least the cash register computer, should notice something is off, right?


But they had a simple solution for that. You see, the final bill came back printed with three items:

  • Credit card charge : A
  • Credit card charge : A+35
  • Refund : -35

So the total was absolutely correct, making the waitress feel perfectly happy about it. No problem if it all adds up, after all.

Except that, of course, we didn’t get that refund. The bill did not come back with 35 cash, nor did one of the credit cards get a refund (which would have kind of defeated the whole purpose, but at least would have meant the amount of money passed from us to the restaurant would have been correct).

Our poor waitress didn’t quite see the problem. It all adds up after all, and the total is right. Luckily another waitress/supervisor did see the light immediately after a very brief explanation.

Waiters should learn a little basic math. Me, I should learn not to trust waiters to do even the most basic math. I think I learned my lesson. Now it’s their turn.

  1. OK, Poor terminology here. I mean that, for example, to split 25$ between to people you’d sometimes, often, see one charged 13$ and one 12$, rather than 12.5$ each.[back]
  2. 2 is also valid for “bunch”[back]

Paying exact change should be a good indicator of choice

August 22nd, 2007

I just don’t get the thought process of some people.

Some days ago I had to take a bus ride. This bus covered two areas (same city, and a different city it was going to), so had two different ticket prices based on the destination.

The cheaper ticket was 3.50 ILS, and the more expensive one was 4.60 ILS.

I needed to go to a station in the same city, and I had too many leftover small coins, so I prepared exact change. 8 coins, totalling 3.50 ILS.

I went on the bus, and gave the coins to the driver.

The driver then counted the money. He went over flipping the coins one by one. This was definitely counting. He saw exactly how much money I gave him. And again I remind you, there were only two different fares for this line.

After counting the money, he pushed a button on his register, and it printed a ticket. Or a sort of a ticket/receipt combo, since these new machines look pretty much like cash registers elsewhere. And are amazingly designed to print the actual fare, the worth of the ticket, at the very last, where you can’t see it when you take the ticket out.

Of course it’s possible to take a look at the ticket after pulling it out. But that requires doing so consciously and intentionally. If you just take the ticket out of the machine and put it in your pocket, you won’t see the value.

So I took the ticket, put it in my pocket, and went onward inside the bus to get my seat.

Suddenly the bus driver yelled at me. He asked me where I was travelling to.

Somewhat perplexed I told him what station I needed to get to, and that it’s inside the city.

He then started to complain, being quite indigent, that I should tell him things like that when I ask for my ticket, because he needs to know what fare to charge me.

Turns out that, after counting my 3.50 in exact change, he still assumed I wanted the 4.60 ticket, and that’s the one he issued me. So when I just went inside the bus without paying the reminder of the money, he was annoyed.

I went back, gave him the ticket, and got a new one. Somehow I refrained from apologizing for my inconsiderate behaviour…

Enough with the NIS already

January 3rd, 2007

The correct abbreviation for shekels, the New Israeli Shekel included, is ILS.

Yes, that’s ILS. Not NIS. Even if NIS seems like a much better acronym for New Israeli Shekel. NIS is neat, it fits, it makes sense, but it has the single disadvantage of not being correct.

ILS was the code for the old Israeli Shekel, and it still is the code for the New Israeli Shekel. Prices are in ILS, not in NIS.

No international bank will offer to exchange any currency for NIS, or will have a clue about the exchange rate. But they will be happy to exchange your ILS.

And the prices you see on those online stores? In ILS, not in NIS.

Please, please, please, stop putting NIS after every time you write to me a price of something in English. It drives me mad. I don’t care that most Israelis will understand what it means. I don’t even care (well, I’m saddened by it) that more Israelis will understand what you mean by NIS than what you mean by ILS. It’s just not the currency code.

This rant was intended as a public service for Israeli readers, and for myself. I expect anyone else on the world who has a reason to use Shekels will know that the currency code for Shekels is ILS and not NIS. It’s just most of the locals here who insist on sticking with this pesky NIS abomination. And as I wrote above, it drives me mad. Thank you for your attention.

Not really hiding in plain sight

September 20th, 2006

I have nothing in general against traffic cops. Usually they do an important job. I have a friend who volunteers in the traffic police. And I had a few opportunities to talk to traffic cops, both on and off duty, who were fine people.

But sometimes…

Last night, driving back home, I saw a traffic police car near the lanes on the other direction. It was on a highway, with two lanes going in each direction, separated by a short fence.

The car was positioned in a way that made it look like an ambush position. There was a fence (some large standing metal fence, from construction work in the area) that reached to the roof of the car, hiding it from the road. From back on the lane you couldn’t see the car, nor from the side.

I could see it clearly, because I was driving from the other direction. Can’t have that one blocked, or the car won’t be able to rush forward into the road when they’ll catch someone doing something bad (which at these hours, on that road, would be pretty limited to driving too fast in an open and clear highway, but that’s beside the point).

So far it sounds fair enough, and pretty standard. The car is hidden so people won’t slow down especially because the cops are there, and there was probably a speed meter somewhere up the road.

Except for one small detail. The fence reached, as I wrote, to the roof of the car. But the car, as police cars do, had a flashing siren installed on top of it’s roof. Flashing blue and red lights. Which was higher than the fence.

Nobody coming through that highway could have seen the car, but the lights were visible from far away. Very visible.

Which struck me as totally stupid. What’s the point of hiding if you don’t hide completely? What sort of an ambush is this? And they had to want to hide, or they could have stood in some other place not obscured by that fence. It only went for a few meters.

It’s like 4 years old kids, who think that if they can’t see you then you can’t see them. It’s not uncommon to find kindergarten kids simply covering their eyes with something, and then assuming that you can’t see them.

Maybe these specific traffic cops, or whoever put them there, were that smart.

And then I thought of another possibility. It could be on purpose, an ironic gesture that appealed to their sense of humour. I could recognize that humour, because I shared it once myself.

I was once on a trip, with a group of people, and the guide was someone who annoyed me. So when we had to clear some area, I decided to check what impression did I give the guide. How stupid did she think I personally was. So I stood behind a large lamppost, which hid my face and most of by body, but my hands were very visible from the sides. And I waited.

Soon enough I found out. She told me, explicitly, that “Just because you can’t see me, doesn’t mean I can’t see you. Don’t be silly.”

Which left me, for some reason, very amused.

So maybe this was like that, with these specific cops wondering if people will notice, and really think they’re too stupid to know.

You don’t see the humour, right? Doesn’t strike your ironic streak? Well, there’s a reason for it. A good reason. Related to some minor detailed I omitted from my story. The group were my mates in kindergarten, the guide was our kindergarten teacher, and I was about 4-5 years old, though an intelligent smartass 4-5 years old.

My sense of humour improved (OK, OK, let’s settle for changed) since. But it’s possible these specific traffic cops weren’t as stupid as a 4 years old, but rather had the sophisticated humour of an intelligent 4 years old. Could be.

Not much of an improvement, though.

Vacation over

June 20th, 2006

Ugh, the school year ends tomorrow.

Bored schoolkids are going to start running around in the streets during the day, crowding street corners and making noise into late hours at night, and making much more of a nuisance of themselves than usual.

Not to mention crowding cinemas in the later show hours, making noise and chatting all the time while the movie is playing. This happens almost every time a bunch of younger kids are in a cinema, but when they’re not on vacation they tend to avoid the later hours since there’s school the next day.

Similar problem with restaurants, shopping areas, and anywhere else bored kids may pester their parents into taking them.

Though I guess the parents suffer the most, so I’ve nothing to complain about.

OK, rant over. May this be the worst that will happen over the next couple of months.

Offline online check-in

April 17th, 2006

I’m flying for a short business trip abroad soon. The airline, El-Al, has a new feature: allowing passengers to do some of the check-in procedure from home, through the Internet.

This has the advantage of possibly saving time if the airport is busy. And it is certainly expected to be busy now, since it’s a holiday season.

It also allows to select a meal type (if some special meal, such as vegetarian, gluten-free, etc, is required), and select the seat. Which probably isn’t that big a deal for people going through travel agent, as they can do that in advance as well. But I suppose people arranging flights by themselves, or whose travel agent is lazy, can use that.

It also has, for now, a separate station/line for luggage. So until this becomes popular, the lines may be shorter. An advantage which will quickly go away once it becomes more popular, and the lines will even out.

Though, still, some of the questions involved with the check-in will be spared, since they were already answered. This isn’t much on a personal basis, since filling it out on the web isn’t much quicker than talking to a person at the station. But it counts on a line, since you don’t also have to wait that time for all the people in front of you.

Actually, yes, the advantages are there, but aren’t that big. So for now, since it’s a relatively new service, they’re also offering some minor bonuses for people who use this service (A free cup coffee at one of the airport coffee-shops, and a 25$ discount for purchases over a 100$ in one of the duty-free shops). For them it has the advantage of reducing loads from their people at the check-in counter, so if they can save a salary it should be worth it.

I decided to take advantage, and try the new service.

The first screen asked for the last name, and the ticket number. In my case an electronic-ticket, also printed through their website. Or, more correctly, printed through their site by my company’s travel agent, and faxed to us. And yes, it’s always amusing to have a printed page containing underlined “click here” links. Somehow clicking on the paper doesn’t help.

That went well, and I reached a second screen. This one allowed changing the listed last name (Which I don’t quite get), allowed to enter a frequent-flier number for people who have them, asked for the phone number, and had a long list for meal types.

Really long list, compared to what I expected. I guess there are plenty of people with unusual requirements for their meals. Sadly enough there wasn’t an option to choose a non-kosher meal, but that’s not really a surprise given that El-Al is the official Israeli airline, and have to keep kosher. They did, however, have a few meals designated as extra-kosher and such.

And I tried to get to the next page. I was greeted with an animation letting me know that the check-in is in progress, and asking me to wait.

A message which was shortly replaced by another one, telling me that the online check-in failed, and asking me to call their office (with a phone number). The number was for support on the online check-in, so calling it an office wasn’t exactly right, but never mind.

Since I was using Firefox as a browser, and not Internet Explorer, and there are still sites designed badly enough to only work in Explorer, I decided to open explorer and try again. Same error. But the screens along the way looked better. So the site is badly designed, but at least designed to be functional. Functional at the times when it is actually working, that is, which wasn’t the case here.

I called the number. A nice girl answered and asked how she can help me.

I detailed the problem to her. She asked for the flight details, to check for the flight times. The online check-in option is only valid at a specific time range before the flight, so they probably assume most problems are the result of people trying to do it too early. Though, frankly, if the error message for that is the general error I received, instead of a specific message explaining the problem, then the site is even worse designed than I thought.

After checking a little, and seeing that everything should be in order, she said that maybe they are having some temporary problems at their end, and that I should try again a little later. I pressed her for a more exact estimate, of how later is later enough (Not wanting to try later, and talk to them again being told that I did it too soon), and she said to try in about two hours.

Two and a half hours later (spares are important) I tried again. Same thing.

I called again, and this time it took a while before the call was answered. But the one answering was the exact same girl. Which could be chance, or could be an indication that they don’t have too many people there in the online check-in support department.

She even remembered me.

After explaining to her that the problem didn’t go away, she asked for more details, and said she’ll try to do the check-in from her own station, and will see how it goes.

She reached the page with the meal types and phones, put in everything, hit the button to go to the next page, and… after a few seconds I heard her say a very surprised “Oy”, followed by a still surprised statement of “It happened to me too!”.

It made me want to say something like “Of course it did, dear. There was nothing I could have done wrong until now to ruin it. It can’t be that I just can’t enter my phone number correctly, is it?” . But she was really nice, and it wasn’t her fault, so I didn’t.

She then put me on hold, while she went to check it out. This took quite a while.

After getting back, and apologizing for the delay, she said that she managed to do it on her station. I asked what’s the trick, and she told me that they really did had a problem at their end, which they now found and fixed. She also thanked me for reporting the problem to them. This, of course, make me suspect that the system is rarely used so far, or someone else would have stumbled upon it previously. It’s not like I was doing something very unique after all.

She then verified with me the seating arrangements. Actually, she quoted a seat number and asked me if that’s alright. It was quite apparent she’s not used to doing check-in with customers. Anyone who isn’t well familiar with the layout of the plane, and I’m not, won’t know what the seat number indicate. Seats numbers on plane are, sadly, not standard. So I just asked her the relevant details, and confirmed that everything is alright.

She then finished my online check-in, from her station, printed it, and faxed me the resulting boarding pass.

In this case they didn’t really save any manpower by having me do the online check-in. More like a phone-in check-in, actually.

So now I’ll go on a flight, with a do-it-yourself ticket that was faxed to me, and a do-it-yourself boarding pass that was also faxed to me. Life’s amusing sometimes…

In this series (El-Al online check-in):

  1. Offline online check-in
  2. How El-Al’s online check-in worked in real life

Happy birthday to me

March 15th, 2006

Just saying

Tentative apologies to an unknown driver

November 7th, 2005

On my way back home this evening, as I was standing at the traffic light in the junction into my city, the driver in the car next to me signed that she wanted to ask something. Usually that indicates someone asking for directions, as was indeed the case.

I turned off my radio, opened the window, and waited a few seconds (She didn’t open her own window beforehand, and it took her longer to do so than it took me). She asked how to get to a nearby city. From the junction we were at, the only two short ways run through my own city, so I quickly explained to her how to use the simplest route. She should have just taken left at the junction we were at (Going into the city, the other option being driving straight and joining back to the highway), then continued straight all the way until the road ended, then turned left again. And on that road there is a big crossroad taking her into the city she wanted to go.

It seemed simple enough, and it is. She thanked me, we both closed the car windows, and went on waiting for the traffic light to switch.

The traffic light switched, and with the way the cars were arranged she took the turn ahead of me. She also appeared in quite a hurray, while I was not, and was driving faster. All this to say, my care was somewhat behind her own car, and I couldn’t exactly follow what she was doing.

I kept driving on, and just as I passed (going straight ahead) the next turn, I noticed her car standing there at a traffic light, signalling to the left. Her left turn, the one she should have taken, the one I told her to take, was the one we were standing in, the one we both just already took. At this point she should have gone straight like I did, not turn left again. Turning left there was the connection back to the reverse direction on the highway we both came from.

I wanted to somehow sign to her that she should go on straight, but I was already past the traffic light at this point, with other cars driving behind me. Stopping would have been both illegal and highly dangerous. Not to mention turning back, which was even less of an option.

As far as I could see in my rear-view mirror, she turned left, back into the highway…

I can only hope she realized her mistake quickly enough. If she figured to drive on this road all the way until it ends, she was up for a very very long drive.

There are other ways to connect from there to where she wanted to go, but it’s a bit roundabout, and would have taken her more time. Assuming she’d gone off the highway at one of the first few exits, that is. Otherwise, she was in for quite a serious delay.

So lady, whoever you are, if it wasn’t a concious decision to turn back, but rather you misunderstood my instruction about the turn, my regrets for unintentionally sending you on the wrong direction…

Replacement car

September 1st, 2005

After the car accident my car was nicely smashed on both ends, and suffered from radiator damage. So doing anything with it beyond getting it to the garage (which I did) was certainly out of the question. Fixing all that damage took time, during which I was left without a car.

Getting stuck without a car isn’t much fun, let me tell you. I could, and did, borrow my mother’s car, but it’s not a perfect solution, since she does use her car occasionally. But this is why insurance policies have this great patent called a replacement car.

Or rather, this is why they claim to have it. The actual provision of the replacement car varies widely between insurers, and it pretty much never does what a sane person would expect it to mean. That is, it never does mean that you get a replacement car from when your car becomes unusable and up to the time you get your car working back again.

Instead there are all sorts of time limits, conditions, personal participation, and all sorts of fun stuff like that. Take for example my own policy, which isn’t at all bad compared to some of the stuff out there. First of all, it has this incomprehensible requirement for three days personal participation, meaning that at best I’d only receive the car for three days less than the time I’ll actually need it.

Second, the duration for getting it is determined by an estimation of an assessor of the time it would take to repair the damage. Any relation to the actual repair time is just optional. If the estimate is that it would take actual six days’ labour to do the repairs, it doesn’t matter if there are parts that need to be ordered and shipped, or if the garage actually have some other things to do beyond this one repair. The replacement car is only allotted for the estimate of the repair time (minus those three days, naturally) by a fully stocked and dedicated garage. Not very realistic, is it?

Not to mention that any duration before the car enters the garage doesn’t count, even though I’m without a car at the time. My accident was on Friday noon, meaning that the insurance company and the garage were already closed for the weekend. Sunday morning the insurance company was open, but I still couldn’t get the car to the garage before speaking with the insurance company, going over the details, and getting their approval for a repair. At which time it was impossible for me to get the car physically to the garage, since I wouldn’t have had a good way to actually get back home, or to work. So the car only entered the garage on Monday morning, and all this time I had to do without a replacement car.

All in all, for being two whole weeks without a car, I received just three days of replacement car. Hardly seems worth the trouble, is it?

But after considering we decided that releasing my mother’s car for even three days would be a good idea, so I went to pick the replacement up. The car was of course not delivered to me, I had to be pick up from a rental agency. Well, nothing to it, just have to go, sign a few papers, and get the car.

So I went there early on the morning, to be able to get the car and drive to work early. I was the first client there. Heck, I was there before the employees arrived, and had to wait a little. OK, I admit, that wasn’t just me wanting to be up and about, but the hour in which I could get a ride to the rental station…

Eventually some nice employees arrived to the desk, and I approached to start my quick rental process. No such luck. Oh, they were very willing to help, but the car wasn’t there. As a part of the procedure they take the cars to a wash. So the car was being washed, and I had to wait until it would get back. And it’s not as if I had an option. Like I said, I was there first, and the car really wasn’t there. They parked the cars someplace else, so it wasn’t possible to get them to give me the car unwashed, even if they would have agreed. Which they wouldn’t have, since they have procedures.

So I waited. At least the waiting time wasn’t entirely wasted (and not just because I’m always carrying an emergency book). The wait proved to be an educating experience, so I can’t really complain. They had a new worker, you see, and one of the older hands was showing him the ropes. Or more specifically, at that time he was showing him some of the computer systems. Computer systems which were password protected, both the computer itself, and some of their programs. Good to know they pay attention to security.

At least, the ones making procedures pay attention to security. The others are probably a little unclear on the concept. The guy giving the new employee initiation sure was. How do I know that? Because I heard all of the passwords except one, since the guy was explaining things out loud, including the exact strings needed to be typed at the password request screens.

“Ah,” you’d say, “but at least he didn’t say one of them out loud, did he? So it’s not all bad, right?” Wrong. The reason he didn’t say it was because he didn’t have to, it was written on a piece of paper that was stuck to the computer’s monitor. All he did was tell the new guy to type in what’s on the paper. Had I wanted to, I could have easily reached there and read the paper. And the paper stays there when they leave the office at night, or for the weekend.

Fast forward about 40-45 minutes, and the car finally arrived. With the car there, I could finally go on with the paperwork. I started to go over the details, and at some point the guy at the counter asked for my credit card number. I asked why, since everything had to be paid by the insurance company, and was told that it’s not for payment but as a collateral. They needed to reserve 2,500 ILS. That’s a nice sum, but I have the money, so I didn’t see any problem with it, and presented my credit card.

A little typing into the computer, and the guy had a concerned look on his face. He picked up the phone and called what sounded like a support centre for their credit card processing company, trying to get help about a problem he had in getting the card details through. Eventually he turned to me and told me that the card was not approved for making this deposit.

This was surprising, since like I said I have the money, and the card’s limit is much above that sum. I asked for a phone, and called the support line of my credit card’s company. I explained the problem, and was asked to provide my ID number to confirm my identity (Because anyone getting my credit card details would find it so very hard to get my ID number, oh, yes, for sure). Once this was done the person at the other end of the line did some checking, and informed me that the collateral deposit was not approved because the entered expiration date of the card was wrong. Turns out the guy at the rental agency had some trouble distinguishing between an 8 and a 6, and tried to type in the wrong year. Time to get new eyeglass, buddy.

I told that to the rental guy (minus the eyeglasses remark, I decided to let him figure that out on his own), who made a second attempt, which was successful. Then he and another women working there said how absurd it is, and that they don’t understand why the credit card processing company didn’t tell them exactly what the problem was instead of merely saying it wasn’t approved.

I tried to explain, I really did. How this is meant to prevent crimes and false withdraws, so that someone who managed to get only partial card details will not be able to gain access to the money. So if not all of the details match, they can’t tell to the one making the attempt what is wrong, because that would be akin to telling thieves and fraudsters exactly what it is they need to fix.

But to no avail. Neither of them was able to understand the problem. The guy even told me that the centre knew he was from the rental company and legit, so had no reason to hide that from him. Ignoring the fact that an employee of a car rental company (I’m sure their employee screening is terrific, amazing, and no bad person could slip through the cracks ever. Maybe just slow ones.) can be involved on some crimes on his spare time, I asked how are they supposed to know he’s calling from the agency. Of course, listening to his previous conversation with them I had an idea at to what he was going to say, but wanted him to actually say it.

He did. He pointed to another paper stuck to his desk, right next to the phone of the processing centre, and told me that this is the rental agency’s client number, and that he tells it to the processing centre on each call. Which is true, he did tell it to them. And he expected me to agree that this indeed indicate that they should know he was legit. Boy, was he surprised. I told him that it’s very nice, that he’s completely right, and… that oh, BTW, I both saw this number, and heard him tell it to the processing centre on the phone, so now I could call them myself, give the number, and they could be certain I’m working for the rental company, right?

He didn’t have much to say to that, but still refused to understand it’s a good thing he wasn’t told the exact problem. If anything, maybe it was even too easy for me to find that out, since all I needed was a relatively easily obtained ID number. But every little thing counts, and it would block some people, so I guess overall that’s a good thing.

With that over, everything went smoothly, and we reached the car inspection part. This is the part when the renter, in this case me, goes with an employee of the rental company and generally inspect the car. Every obvious damage found is then written down on the rental agreement. This is because new damages at the return time are charged to the renter, and listing everything beforehand spares the arguments of whether the defects are new or old.

Of course, the car rental employees make a great show of looking everywhere, but are often a little shy of actually noticing all the details. A problem they don’t seem to be having when you return the car, when they notice right about everything. Several years ago I worked at a company who rented (well, leased, if you want to be a stickler for details) a few cars for employees. At the time when several people were let go, and the cars were returned, the agency wanted compensation for the damages of a few scratches on some of the cars. Scratches that were there from day one. When taking the cars nobody bothered writing that down since they were only small scratches. Eventually the company had to pay, though, since there were indeed scratches, and they really weren’t listed in the agreement.

We started the inspection by noticing some large scratches, which the women assigned to this duly noted. Then we kept going around the car, and noticed three more places with small scratches, and a place were a plastic pane was also slightly scratched. I told her to write it down. She replied that there’s no need because they are only small scratches. Being both experienced, and a great believer in the nature of men, I told her to write it down anyway. I insisted. And instead of listing all the exact defect, she was so taken aback that she instead wrote down something like “scratches all around the car”. Thereby essentially granting me a license to scratch the car as much as I like while being able to claim it’s prior damage. No complaints on my end. I did not, however, take advantage of the opportunity when using the car.

We then went on to inspect the inside of the car, where I again insisted on her listing a large stain on the back seat (No, I don’t know what it was, I didn’t want to know, and I had nothing to do with the back seat in general and that stain in particular), and a plastic pane that was somewhat loose. She looked quite annoyed over listing those needless details, so I told her the story. And mentioned that it might even have been with the same company (which it was). This mollified her, though in any case it’s not like she could have objected.

With that we finally signed all the papers, and I went out with my brand new used shiny scratched car. Which I happily drove for three days.

In this series (Chain reaction car accident):

  1. Chain reaction car accident
  2. Replacement car

Chain reaction car accident

August 27th, 2005

This is now getting to be about two weeks old, but I figure better late than never. I just decided to wait a while before posting the story online, to make sure there aren’t any complications raised by the insurance company of the driver responsible for the accident. But as it seems they’ll pay the car damages, and there also aren’t any new interesting details, I can go ahead with the story.

When the accident occurred I (I, as in the car I was driving) was standing at a traffic light. There were about 5-8 cars in front of me, and already 2-3 (at least) standing behind me. Busy street. The light turned green, and cars started to move.

What usually happens is that the first car starts to move, and the other cars starts off sequentially. As one car moves, the car behind it releases the breaks and get ready to move, then starts to slowly move itself as the car behind it readies itself, and so on. Or actually, now that we have automatic cars, the drivers of a few cars behind the car moving are releasing the breaks, with the first one starting to slowly push the gas pedal to move. A simple dynamic of moving a long line of cars.

But in this case it happened a little differently. In this case while the driver in front of me eased on the brakes, as did I, the driver behind me decided, for whatever reason, to hit the gas and start moving. Never mind that my car was still standing, that the car in front of me was still standing, and that the car in front of it was just starting to move a bit. She hit the gas, and drove the car.

Front side of my car after the crash
And what is the result when one car moves forward, and the car standing in front of it doesn’t? That’s right. Bang. The first time I knew something was wrong was when I felt a strong bang from behind. The second was when I felt a strong bang from the front. You see, my feet was off the brake pedal, so when that car slammed into mine, it pushed mine forward. And in front of mine was standing another car.

The car in front of me, well, it was pushed forward as well. Into the car in front of it. But there the chain ended, since it only got a small bump (I think it was driving already at the time, though I’m not sure), and wasn’t pushed hard enough to hit the car in front of it as well. A nice little 4 car chain reaction accident.

The man driving the car in front of me started yelling straight away. Going over and over saying “what happened?” and “what have you done?”. The women from the car that crashed into me looked stunned and started crying. Somebody, I don’t remember who, made the sensible suggestion that we’ll go to the side, since we were blocking traffic. Since we were indeed blocking traffic, and as this was, as I said, a busy and crowded street, we entered our cars, and moved them (all were working, thankfully) to a parking position on the side.

After parking the car, I started looking for paper. I knew I needed to take all the insurance and personal details of the cars on both ends, so something to write the details on would be needed. Luckily I has some unneeded pages of notes with me, so those were co-opted for the effort. And since I always carry a pen, I was ready to go.

Just a couple of minutes to jot down everyone details, and I could go home, right? Well, wrong. It was a long long event.

First I tried to go to the driver of the car that crashed into me, since they were responsible, and their details were the ones it was most important that I’ll get. As I approached I noticed two women, one young, and one somewhat older. I went to the older one, assuming it was a mother and daughter pair, and told her I want to exchange insurance details. She said to go speak with the other one, since she’s just her friend, and wasn’t driving the car.

The other, younger, women was busy talking on her cellphone, and crying at the same time. I tried to get her attention, but to no avail. So I figured I’ll get the details of the car I got pushed into first, and then return to her.

Rear side of my car after the crash
So I turned around, and saw someone looking at my car and copying the license plate number. I approached him and asked if he’s the driver of the car I crashed into, and he replied that he’s not, he’s the driver of the car that it got pushed into, the first in line. He wasn’t interested in getting any of my insurance details, and I wasn’t interested in his. Our cars didn’t touch, and none of our cars was the one starting the accident, so there was no point to it.

I went on, to the guy driving the car that my own was pushed into. He was there with his wife, and there were a couple of his friends with him standing to the side and inspecting the car. His wife was a little shocked over the accident, so he already called an ambulance to evacuate her, this despite no apparent physical injury at all, and no pain.

He was also quite hysterical himself, shouting at everyone around, going over and over asking what happened, what car started it, and who everyone is. He also yelled at the first in line a lot over the duration, asking how could he have possibly been hit, and what was he doing there. I had to tell him which car I drove about three times, since each time after asking the question he seemed to zone off and go yell at someone else without hearing the reply.

It went like that for the insurance details as well. I went over holding my car registration and insurance details, and told him we need to exchange details. So he shouted at me “Where are you? I want your insurance details! Give me your insurance details already!”. I said fine, and suggested we’ll go to the side to one of the cars, and copy the details. I showed him I was holding my papers, and asked him for his own, since he wasn’t holding them. Then, instead of following me, or leading me, or having anything else to do with me, he just turned around and started to yell in general, or at his friend, or the other driver.

This went like that for 4-5 times, actually. Interspaced by me deciding to leave him to check the crying girl again, in case she finished her phone call. A call to her boyfriend, to whom she was telling about the accident, and crying. Meanwhile the hysterical guy also managed to ask me, several times again, what car started it and who the driver was, each time breaking contact the moment I pointed them out to him, and going to do something else. It was quite outlandish.

Eventually I just went to the crying girl, stood in front of her, and stayed there. After a while she got the hint, and finished the call. Although I think it has more to do with the boyfriend leaving to come over, and less with me bothering her.

She had no idea what details she needed to take and copy from the papers. I pointed out the main highlights for her, and told her to just copy everything. Better to have details she doesn’t need, than not have details she does. First I copied the details from her own papers, though, since she went off again talking to her friend, or over the phone again.

When she returned to copy my details, it turned out she didn’t have a pen with her, so I lent her my own. As I mentioned before, I always carry a pen, having been through plenty of past situations where it would have been good to have one.

I then went on to the hysterical guy again. By this time the ambulance arrived, and they were taking the wife in. I asked one of the paramedics if everything was alright with her, but he didn’t provide any details. I also asked him if there’s a reason to get myself examined given that I feel fine, and if there are any quick tests to see if there was a damage due to the crash. To which he replied that he can’t say and that if I think I want to then I can go to a hospital to get myself examined. I guess they get crash courses on non-committal speaking, and not giving any sort of medical advice, for fear of later lawsuits by people who won’t take it as a rough opinion but as a final medical opinion.

I went to hysterical guy again. After again yelling at me to give him my insurance details and then promptly turning around and going to the ambulance, I decided enough is enough, and this time stayed after him. At long last I eventually managed to hold his attention for enough time, and he took out his car insurance papers. We went to one of the cars, and I started jotting down the numbers and details. I showed him my own papers, but he went off away again.

I tracked him down, returned his paper to him, and he again yelled at me to give him my details. His friend was nearby now, so luckily he just asked him to take the details for him, to which the friend obliged. The friend, by the way, was taking pictures of the cars with a cellphone camera. It seemed obvious that he had no experience with it, since he took multiple pictures, and seemed unable to recall them on the display again.

In any case, the friend proved quite capable of copying details, though again was unsure what details he needs to copy. During the time hysterical guy came over, twice, to tell me to give him his insurance paper back. Each time I reminded him that I already did, and he walked away.

Oh, he and his friend had neither paper nor pen. I agreed to lend my pen again, but could not offer them another paper (I had another page, but the other side was something I could not give to another person). They must have came up with one after rummaging a little in the car, however.

Eventually I had all the details I needed, and things seemed to settle down a little. We noticed that my car had water running under it, which is a worrying sign since it could indicate radiator damage, meaning that driving the car would be unwise. On the other hand, the air conditioner of that car also leaks a lot of water after usage, so I assumed that was the problem, and that I could try to move the car.

In the meantime, the boyfriend of the crying girl arrived. She already gave her details to everyone, so they decided they could drive away. Hysterical guy said that they can’t leave, because he called an ambulance and the police, and it’s an accident with casualties. Which sounds absurd given that everyone seemed physically fine, but once an ambulance has been called then officially there are casualties, and the police needs to come to take details and write a report (All of which I wasn’t sure of at the time, but called a friend more in the know to ask).

The boyfriend replied that he doesn’t know anything about that, that he doesn’t see any casualties, and that in any case they gave all the details so waiting around won’t help anyone. Instead of replying calmly, or giving the explanation I gave above regarding the procedure, hysterical guy just started yelling abuse at him. The phrases were the likes of “Who the heck are you?! Who do you think you are?! You can’t just come here and decide to go! You’re nobody! You’ll wait for the police!” and so on. This obviously did not achieve the desired effect of having everyone waiting. And since I arrived to see them wanting to go, and hear the abuse, I tried to calm things down a little by pointing out that they did leave details, and there really is nothing much to contribute by keeping them there.

In any case the boyfriend was having none of it, and just entered the car, and started to drive. Other than standing in front of the car there wasn’t much anyone could have done, and nobody did that.

After they left, hysterical guy kept switching between yelling that he’ll press charges with the police over a hit-and-run-accident, and yelling at me that I released them to go which is against the law and it’s all my fault. His friend managed to calm him down a bit, and both of us tried to explain that he can’t call it a hit-and-run when she’s obviously gave all her details, and only drove afterwards.

Seeing that they went, and that the police didn’t arrive yet, he decided to go away himself since staying would be futile. So they entered the car, and drove.

At which point I decided going away myself would be a good idea. I entered my car, started the engine, and then noticed a police squad arriving. Great timing. I turned the car off, and went to greet the policeman that got out of it.

He asked me if I’m from the accident reported there. I told him that I was, but that I wasn’t the one who called the police, and wasn’t the one who caused the accident. I gave him the highlights of the story, explaining that everyone else have left. I felt that giving him a detailed report, and have him file an official report, would be pretty pointless given that I’m the only one there, and asked him if he’s interested in the details. He conversed with his dispatch, and told me that he sees no point to it himself. So we said a nice goodbye, and they drove away.

At which point I entered my own car, and finally started to drive back. Fearing the possibility of engine damage, or radiator damage, I turned off everything, and drove without air conditioning.

Guess what? There was radiator damage, though probably not total. The car heated up over the way, and I had to stop down at the side of the road to let the engine cool. Still, it was a slow climb in temperature, and I stopped before the engine temperature gauge redlined, so once it cooled I started it again and repeated. It took just three stops like this, and I managed to get the car home.

Our insurance agency was already closed, it being late Friday noon (Weekend in Israel is Fri-Sat, not Sat-Sun), so there was nothing else to do that day.

[Update: I wrote carburattor instead of radiator. Me idiot. Fixed now.]

In this series (Chain reaction car accident):

  1. Chain reaction car accident
  2. Replacement car

Street names

July 7th, 2005

I read a discussion recently about several streets with names which happen to be identical to those of some famous people, and it reminded me of a little family-related issue.

Many years ago, during the building of the city of Tel-Aviv, one of the streets was named after a family member of mine, several generations back. Doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things, but the family members at the time were pretty happy about it.

Years went by, and at some point the street signs were ruined. When the city came to repair the signs, they discovered they’re not sure as to the exact name of the street, just about the last name of the person it was named after. So someone tried to dig up some information, and get the name. And they made a mistake, deciding that the street was after some other mildly-famous artist, or architect, with a similar name.

The new name got put on the sign, the family of that person was notified that the sign of the street named after him got repaired (I think there was a larger renovation work, and the street was officially re-opened, so it was an event), and that was that. Naturally nobody bothered to notify my family.

A long time later some family member was in the area, and decided to take the opportunity to take a look at the street. And discovered that the name is wrong. After some discussions the family members who cared about this filed a complaint with the city, asking that it would be corrected.

The city claimed that they’re not sure about who it should be named after. They agreed that the claim has merit, and that it’s possible they made a mistake, but were not willing to go as far as to actually set it back. Besides, they will then need to notify the people who cared about that other person that they’re losing the street named after him, and they didn’t want to do that. They city didn’t want the headache of getting in an argument between two families, and decided that the simplest course will be retaining the status quo.

And so the street retains the new name to this very day…

Disclaimer: This is based on the stories and arguments that I heard during several family meetings years ago. Considering the time passed, and that I didn’t find the topic all that exciting to begin with, my memory of the exact details is a bit hazy, and they may differ a bit. What’s unmodified is that the street was named after a family member, there were some repairs, the street got renamed after someone else with a similar name, and when it was discovered the city refused to change it back.

One eyed for the day

July 4th, 2005

I woke up this morning with pain, and redness, in my left eye. Originally I thought maybe it was some small and meaningless foreign body, and tried to wash the eye a few times, but that didn’t seem to help.

I went to see an eye doctor (A very good one, who also happens to be my father , so we’re in good relations), who found a few abrasions on the cornea. The shape fits something that sprayed into the eye, rather then the more likely cases of accidental brush against the pillow, or the blanket. Which is odd, since nothing sprayed into my eyes yesterday evening, or when I woke up today.

In any case, I got some antibiotic ointment, and the eye was bandaged. Bandaging eyes in this cases is done to help keep it closed. The abrasions on the cornea are like an open wound, and blinking the eyelid over it is like brushing against a skin wound, not something that assists healing. The ointment helps if whatever caused the abrasion was infected, but that’s not the main purpose. It is to grease the abrasion, so whenever eyelid flickers occur they will cause less damage, and so that airborne infections won’t reach the abrasion when the eye is open.

According to the law in Israel, it’s legal to drive a car if one eye can see 6/12 (That’s like 20/40 as usually measured in America. What matters is the ratio, and this means that from a distance of 6 meter you can see what an average person would from a distance of 12 meters, that is, double the distance). So if one eye is blind, and the other lets you see half as well as an average person, you can drive a car. So said the legislatures, and who am I to argue?

Let me tell you, though, that’s very hard. And my open eye has a better visual acuity than 6/12. What I mainly lost was the depth perception, since using a single eye makes it impossible to sense depth. It’s only possible to approximate, and deduce. There are plenty of visual cues that can be used, based on size, shadows, and so on. But it’s not at all the same as looking at something and just knowing it’s distance from something else. When the brain cannot superimpose two slightly different images, it can’t convert the differences to distance.

So the very short drive home from the clinic was difficult. I drove extra carefully, and extra slow, keeping excessive distance from every other car. Actually, if everyone drove like that all the time, we’d have a lot less traffic accidents. But driving like that because you have to, that doesn’t improve things. I certainly had no intention of taking a longer drive to work in this condition. And the fact that it’s entirely legitimate for everyone to drive like that is crazy. Once they get used to not having real depth perception, I assume drivers will drive just as fast and close as other drivers. That’s dangerous.

It’s also amazing how much different things look. My unbandaged eye sees perfectly well, so I’m not getting pictures which are worse than what I usually see. But everything feel different. Even 2D flat images, like from the computer monitor, books, and television, which I can see and read clearly, feel less… substantial, or realistic, I’m not sure what the exact term would be. Very annoying.

But luckily the thing should heal quickly, and either tomorrow, or the day after, I should be back to using two eyes. In the land of the blind the one eyed man may be king (assuming nobody dethrones him once the electricity goes out at night, but let’s not argue with a classic quote), but in the land of the two eyed men he has some obvious disadvantages…

Free invitations

June 26th, 2005

The invitation, that the Rav-Chen cinema wrote they’ll send me, finally arrived. Together with a printed copy of the same reply they attached to their answer email

Not too surprisingly, that double invitation to the cinema has a few limitations:

  • Only valid on Sunday through Wednesday (For those of you that have Sunday as a part of the weekend, this is like Mon-Thu)
  • Not valid during holidays, or holiday eves
  • Not valid for movies on the first two weeks they are shown

Which together basically say just one thing, that it’s valid in all cases where they are absolutely sure the cinema will have spare empty seats, so it will not cost them anything to have me there.

Not that I’m in a position to complain, considering I didn’t really suffer any damage, so the compensation at all is nice. But it is somewhat irking, to get a “gift” that bothers to emphasise so much how little it was worth. The invitation paper also have the look of something torn from a big notebook, with plenty of prepared forms (They even come numbered, though I do think having a 9000+ number does not mean they actually sent more than nine thousand of those), with a blank space to pen in the name, and an area to mark with a pen whether it’s a single, or double, invitation. I guess they send enough of those to justify the design work.

Funny, considering they still didn’t finish to design a much simpler form that can be used to list camera deposits…

Anyway, the time limit on the thing is for about one month. Which isn’t a lot, given the rate in which I see movies. Still, given the cost I’m sure I’ll manage to find something.

Now I just want to see that they really do improve their act, and make the whole procedure more professional. That’s basically what I wanted, and what they partially said they’ll do

One thing that I did see, before a movie I went to a few days ago, is that they showed a warning. The warning stated that anyone caught inside the cinema with a camera will be considered to be making a copy of the film, and so the camera will be impounded. I’d really want to see them explain to a judge in court how a turned-off stills camera was being used to film the movie, and what gave them the right to steal impound it.