Thursday, January 31, 2008

Check if I can make my own cheque

I needed to write a cheque but I left them at home so I stopped off at my bank's nearest branch hoping they can hook me up. Nope, TD Bank can't give me cheques. This customer service is not pleased as I stand there in silence. I should have walked away with my tail between my legs. But I'm intrigued. What is a cheque anyway? What are those funny numbers at the bottom? Do I command enough respect for answers? I give my best "maybe I'm a shabbily dressed millionaire" look and decide to go for broke. I ask "am I allowed to write my own cheque on a piece of paper?"Since my high school law teacher told me a cheque could be written on anything I was always interested to inquire.

"No," customer service responds, "definitely not." I can feel the anxiety in the room. We have ventured into unchartered questions territory. Customer service has decided to play it safe.
"Is there any information on a cheque that I cannot have to write on a piece of paper?"
"There's account information."
"Can I write down my account information?"
"There's numbers for the bank. It can't be done. Nope." Deny, deny, deny. I get the feeling I'm not leaving here with any cheques but I'm hoping for a more informed answer.
"Is there someone else I could speak to?"
"To get a more complete answer." Customer service turns to customer service 2.0 working behind them.
"Can someone write their cheque on a piece of paper?" CS-2.o pauses thoughtfully.
"No. There's the numbers at the bottom. It needs a serial number. Otherwise it would be an altered cheque, right?"

This is my least favourite customer service scenario. I'm dissatisfied because they're not experts, we've left the realm of their training and interests, and they're offering me no information. They're dissatisfied because I show no signs of leaving thus elevating the situation to DEFCON 2 and now they're focusing on coordinating a simple and consistent defense. "Nope. Impossible. Forbidden. Never been done. Can't happen." A united front. Wishing I had recorded the conversation I summarize for my listeners:
"So you're saying that I'm not allowed to write my own cheque?" Customer service fearlessly runs with the unequivocal by immediately responding:
"There has never been a time when that was possible."

There's lots of confusion about this issue on the web. Protest cheques (written on bricks or cows) are often mentioned. Bank cashiers, the frontline grunts, refuse to accept them and once the media buzz dies down the cheque probably ends up proudly on the creator's wall -so there's no helpful precedent-setting legal battle.

A cheque legally needs all of the information you would expect: account number, date, name. signature, etc. The numbers in bizzare font at the bottom are for the bank's machine processors and 'your security'.
The question is: does a cheque legally need the Magnetic Ink Character Recognition?

I'm confident that if you were willing to fight for a homemade cheque without magnetic ink then your bank would eventually accept it. But it would be an uphill battle and when you 'won' they would charge you a fee for processing a non-MICR cheque.

Did you know?
You're allowed to print your own cheques at home but you'll need Magnetic Ink and to conform to the new Canadian cheque writing standards. The new standards are locked in on September 2nd, 2008 -if cheques last that long; online banking hopes to save us all the trouble and will help all of our digital money vanish at once during the Great Collapse of 2033.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Morals in Children's Stories

Inspired by LFar's desire to write children's books I whipped up some of my own, complete with moral.

-Good and evil are relative. There are no villains in reality.
(A group of children go off to combat a horrible monster who has eaten their parents. They destroy the monster only to be threatened by the monster's tiny infants who swear that when they come of age they will have their revenge. The children discover that they are part of a feud that has lasted hundreds of years. Their parents, grand parents, great grand parents (and so on...) had all killed monsters and were killed by monsters. Are they the generation strong enough to stop the cycle of hate?)

-Everything dies.
(A child loses their pet and goes into depression. Their ghost pet returns with other ghost pets to explain one of my favourite excerpts of Chuang-Tzu's work. Where he is confronted for happily banging on a drum after the death of his wife and he remarks that nature teaches change is constant and he does not wail when the seasons change)

Chuang Tzu's wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condole
nces, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Hui Tzu. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing — this is going too far, isn't it?" Chuang Tzu said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter." "Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped.
(Chapter 18 of Chuang Tzu's Writings)

-You can be the change that you want to see in the world.

(Loren Eiseley's starfish story. A stranger challenges a child, asking "why are you throwing the starfish back in the ocean? You can not possibly save them all. What difference does it make?" She responds with the classic "it made a difference to that one." Oh, and that stranger's name is Gandhi and he goes on to Free India. Inspiration on 'roids, right? This is a picture of Gandhi dunking on Adolf Hitler for the cover:)

-People will try to cause you pain because they're in pain.
(A story about robots that fill each other with water until they malfunction. So each robot is trying to dump their water into another robot so that they can function. One little robot realizes you don't have to dump out water on other robots. You can release it in other ways, like exercise and meditation. Only now, everyrobot dumps their water/frustrations on this poor little robot until she explains to them that we're all in this together.

-Think for yourself.
(A child always goes along with the crowd but before they do they ask themselves if what the crowd is doing is a good idea. Written in a very simple repetitive style)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Solutions to Small Talk

How does one improve their everyday conversations if they are bored of empty chatting? Starlee Kine proposes her method, "the Rundown", to replace small talk by pursuing the most interesting part of a conversation. (Part of This American Life (Episode 231)

Kine plays a recording where she chats with someone about breakfast and ends up having them describe their first sexual experience. She has four rules:

1. "Small talk is the conversation you are supposed to be having. The rundown is the conversation you want to have."
2. Why chew the fat when you can chew the meat?
3. If you can think it you can ask it.
4. Failsafe interesting question: How many virgins have you had sex with?

This was an interesting a lighthearted look on a topic that I love: communication. I've been having a string of wonderful conversations. I think Kine is right, you have to push the envelope with personal questions but there's always the risk that the person you're speaking with will not feel comfortable. I guess you can write them off a this point but I like to think that I contribute to someone's comfort level. Here's my advice on how to make someone feel comfortable in order to lead into a great conversation.

1. Remember. Deep down, we're all convinced that no one really cares what we say. It is an honour for someone to pay attention (especially to details), memorize our stories, and quote us. Starting a conversation by mentioning a tiny detail from a previous encounter is instantly endearing.

2. Asexual flirting. Regular flirting involves sexual innuendo and casual touching; I don't do these in my great conversations, fun games but too distracting. However, I do flirt constantly because I crush easily. I begin to imagine whoever I'm talking to and I in a really fun relationship. But I take that excited, (potentially sexual), and creative energy and transform it into enthusiasm to hear more about that person. Thus I hope to leave people knowing that I'm madly in love with them but in such a way that they're not anxiously thinking about drawing a line.

3. Match willingness. Show that you'll answer any question that you would dare ask (but don't ask questions for the sole purpose of answering them yourself)

4. Insecurities. Be open about your insecurities when they're touched upon. I like to explain to people that I'm not reacting to them but to my own fears and desires. It's usually a nice segue so that they can do the same. For instance, if I snap at someone for criticizing a decision I made I like to point out that my snapping happened only because their criticism echoes my own doubts about my choices. Like when my friend was talking about how I neglected to think of alternative ways to handle that lost dog. I snapped at her because I was embarassed by the outcome of that situation -she made a good point.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Off Limits

You knew I loved them. How could you do this to me?

There's something greater at stake here than you're happiness... my own.

It's a neat trick of human rearing that causes me to consider certain humans "off-limits". Once I hear that someone is married or in a relationship I find it difficult to have romantic and/or sexual interest in them. It's a fine behaviour to avoid conflict and contributes to a stable society. Why are we here? Not to rock the boat. It's interesting to observe behaviors in oneself that stop us from exerting our desires on the world. The only fault with reasonable repression is that it's not interesting. It lacks passion, conflict, and a breaking of routine that marks our fiction.

I've often thought that entertainment allows us to release our own private desire to transcend the norm. That's probably why I hate fiction that promotes itself as realistic. I don't want art to pacify me and make feel normal. I want it to make me feel small and empower me to take what I want. When I was young, I didn't understand the appeal of the "bad boy". I understand this popular image on two levels.

1. The bad boy scoffs at repression.
2. To love the bad boy makes someone feel special. In the hopes that the bad boy will open up to them and share the secret world that no one else understands.

What a reduction. I do love reducing the people I meet to their psychological patterns. I think one of the neatest insights about human psychology that I have had is that:

no one is as simple as others claim them to be, nor is anyone as complex as she or he thinks.