Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Did you know that January was Clean Up Your Computer Month? I certainly didn’t. Whoever set January aside for that task clearly did so in 1972. Today, with multi-terabit disk drives and Microsoft applications, a month is not nearly enough time - Clean Up Your Computer Quarter would be more appropriate. Or in my case, since I’ve been trying to get this done since about 1972, I think I’ll simply designate 2009 as Clean Up Your Computer Year and resolve not to simply solve the problem as I have in the past, by buying a faster computer with more and bigger hard drives.
Still with the clean-up theme, January is also Get Organized Month. Ah, yes. Start the New Year off with a clean slate. Resolve to be better organized and not miss as many dentist appointments. Have more free time to partake in Family Fit Lifestyle Month, and be sure to keep January 14 open as National Clean-Off-Your-Desk Day as well as Organize Your Home Day. (See comments regarding Clean Up Your Computer Month above.)
Lest you think the entire month will be spent in a real-life version of some bad TV reality show, January is also designated as California’s Dried Plum Digestive Health Month, Oatmeal Month, and Resolve to Eat Breakfast Month. Starting the day with all those prunes and that fibre in your diet means even if you don’t get your computer, desk and house all cleaned up in a month, your innards certainly will be, and I’m sure you’ll feel better for it.
I’m also hoping that the global economy pays attention as January is Financial Wellness Month. After 2008, my financial wellness is on life support, so I’m looking forward to an uptick in January and being able to at least crawl, if not leap, out of bed fiscally speaking before February (Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month) rolls around.
For business folks, January 7-11 is National Thank Your Customers Week, followed ten days later on January 17 by Get To Know Your Customers Day. Perhaps part of the problem businesses claim to be trying to solve could be addressed by simply reversing these two events. Then at least they’d know who they were thanking. But then again, I’m not a marketing whiz, so what do I know.
And you have to wonder who picked the coldest month of the year for National Cut Your Energy Costs Day (January 10). Let’s see, it’s 20-below and the wind is howling but I’m still going to turn off my furnace because it’s Cut Your Energy Costs Day? I don’t think so. At least if it was July you could set the air conditioner a couple of degrees higher and still feel good about saving energy without the risk of freezing to death.
Yep, lots to look forward to in January, so best to get the celebrations out of the way tonight so you can get to work changing your life tomorrow.
Happy New Year!
Monday, December 29, 2008
Yesterday morning we lost power almost as soon as the storm hit. With wind speeds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour (10-11 on the Beaufort Scale), it wasn’t surprising that a tree (or several) took down power lines somewhere on the grid. My immediate worry was whether it was a Hydro-owned line or the secondary feeder line on our property which would be our responsibility to fix. A quick trip down the road and I was relieved to confirm that it wasn’t my problem, but with the flying debris, the roar of the wind, and the sound of trees cracking and falling all around, I decided that outside was not the place to be. In fact I would sooner be standing in the middle of a golf course holding a 1-iron overhead in an electrical storm (they say not even God can hit a 1-iron) than be outside yesterday.
So the afternoon and evening were spent indoors, listening to flying tree branches banging off the walls and the roof, worrying that one of those branches would come through the front window or one of several 100-foot pines would come down on the house.
Late in the evening the wind finally died down and relative silence returned with, fortunately, no catastrophe having occurred.
Still no power this morning, so the generator got cranked up for coffee and the damage assessment began. While there was no damage to the house or the vehicles this time, we did lose about a dozen trees around the house including a couple of large spruce, a big cedar and some smaller balsam fir. Most snapped like matchsticks a few feet off the ground, but a couple were torn out right at the roots.
The sound of chainsaws near and far signalled the start of the cleanup which will likely continue for two or three days. A lot of work, but at least we have our power back!
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
When all is quiet and peaceful and a white mantle covers the land, it’s easy to believe.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Monday, December 22, 2008
There is no doubt that certain odors can trigger memories long forgotten – or at least not recently recalled. And so, as it does every year, the smell of that freshly-cut tree took me right back to a long-ago childhood when our Christmas tree was the one we found, cut, and brought home ourselves.
Getting the tree was the signal that Christmas was close. And so it was always a big event when, on a Sunday just before Christmas, Dad, all decked out in his galoshes and fedora, and Mom in her Hudson’s Bay coat would drag us all on toboggans, down the road to find the perfect tree.
And we were never disappointed.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It remains to be seen how much snow we get and whether the storm lives up to all the hype, but it’s starting off well. A blustery snow-swirly day – terrible for those on the roads or trying to fly anywhere, but perfect for snowshoeing in the woods followed by a hot drink and a good book in front of the fire.
And since I have nowhere to go for the next 48 hours, let it snow!
UPDATE: 4 hours later, the storm is past and the sun is shining in a clear, blue sky. There's a lousy 10 centimetres of snow on the ground. We've been cheated!
At the mid-point of the concert there was a 20-minute musical interlude by a solo harpist of, apparently, some renown. This immediately put the bulk of the audience, the average age of which seemed to be about 65, to sleep.
To keep myself from nodding off along with the rest (it was, after all, my normal nap time) I started perusing the Bible conveniently placed in the rack in front of me, in full knowledge that by my so doing the devil might actually be lacing up his ice skates. And so while the harpist who, if truth be known, would much rather be up there wearing a Stetson, strumming a guitar and singing sad country songs about lost loves and trucks, played on to the sonorous accompaniment of 100 nap-deprived seniors, I was reading Leviticus and trying to sort out all the various abominations contained therein.
Abomination. It’s one of those words that really doesn’t need a definition. You only have to hear it spittle-sprayed from the mouth of a raging fundamentalist once to immediately grasp its meaning. It’s a mean, nasty word, too often used by mean, nasty people with mean, nasty intent, but it immediately reminded me of this – one of the many great scenes from The West Wing.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Every year we buy new candles because last year’s are too dusty, melted from the summer attic heat, or just aren’t quite right for this year’s decorating theme. And then friends and relatives add to the inventory because candles are the ultimate gift – safe and suitable for all ages and sexes and relationships, and inexpensive enough that the recipient doesn’t necessarily feel compelled to reciprocate. Meanwhile, the old ones just get put back into storage, and the candle supply grows, year after year, at a rate we could only dream would be matched by our stock market investments – an indestructible bubble that will never burst.
Now if we actually burned our Christmas candles this wouldn’t be a problem, but Christmas candles never, ever get burned.
Her: “Don’t light that candle!”So by the time Christmas actually rolls around every flat surface in the house is festooned with these virginal wax creations. To eat dinner at the table, you first have to remove the candle centre-piece. If you want to open the window, you have to move the candles off the sill. Bed-side tables, bathroom counters, coffee tables – even the fireplace mantle gets the treatment.
Him: “Why not? They’re candles. They’re supposed to be burned.”
Her: “But then they won’t look nice.”
Him: (rolls eyes) “Okay. “ (turns on the lights)
(Let me interject a word of caution here for the novice candle decorator. Rising heat from a fireplace will soften the candles leaving them looking like the ‘before’ image in a Viagra ad. If you don’t want Aunt Mable blushing and tittering into the back of her daintily-gloved hand, you’d better have a fresh, stiff set of replacements handy before the family arrives for Christmas dinner.)
By New Year’s Eve we have enough wax of various colours and shapes lying around to open a local Madame Tussaud’s. However since that’s not going to happen, I need a way to get rid of our dusty, our melted, our old, and our droopy so I don’t have to pack them all up again for next year.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
This morning we awoke to 10 cm of fresh snow. In addition to re-decorating the trees after Monday’s thaw, the snow provided pure white witness to a hidden, night-time world.
Our resident red fox had come out of the woods, looped around the house and then headed down to the lake, hunting. His track in the snow shows that, at least in the immediate area, he was unsuccessful in his search for an early breakfast.
Not so for the owl. Out in the open, a large splash of wing marks abruptly terminates the tiny footprints of a small rodent, caught exposed in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sometime after the snow stopped a flock of wild turkeys passed through, leaving their tracks on the road rather than venturing into the deeper snow in the forest.
And the deer – depending on your point of view either beautiful creatures of the forest, loathsome pests, or dinner – spent the dawn hours foraging among the remnants of last summer’s gardens looking for any previously missed morsel of greenery.
Over the day human activity, wind, and more snow obliterated the nocturnal record, but until then we had a tantalizing glimpse of life, and death, in the natural world that we would not get at any other time of the year. Just one more reason why winter is the most magical of seasons.
Monday, December 15, 2008
And the worst part is yet to come as the winds pick up speed and swing around to the north, the temperatures plummet turning all that water on the roads to sheets of ice, and our lane freezes into a rutted obstacle course, nearly impassable to anything but a full-on four-wheel-drive vehicle.
In short, it’s a mess. And although it’s a mess we deal with two or three times every winter, it never gets easier to take because there really is nothing to do but curse the weatherman. Irrational I know, but everybody needs somebody to hate. And besides, who else gets to keep their job with accuracy statistics only slightly higher than Bush’s popularity rating. Well, except for pro ball players where a .300 batting average is considered exceptional and worth $50 million a year. But then they don’t have a slush problem in Puerto Rico.
But back at the lake, if today’s sunset is anything to go by, tomorrow will be a nice, cold, clear day and life will be back to normal – assuming the winds don’t drop a tree on a power line, or the house, or the truck, or....
Saturday, December 13, 2008
But except for a few minutes in the morning and afternoon when the countrified urbanites who have moved out here rush to and from their jobs in the city, the road is pretty quiet, with the silence broken only by the infrequent rumble of a tractor being shifted from one field to another, or the sound of the train whistle as the twice-daily freight thunders past on the nearby level crossing.
Beside the road, under a solitary maple tree hundreds of metres from the nearest house, someone placed these two chairs. In the winter the prevailing winds blow around them, creating intricate patterns in the drifts of snow. And in the summer, someone carefully tends the grass, plants a few flowers, and keeps the corn rows from encroaching. But no one is ever seen sitting in them.
So year round they stand there, begging those travelers of the road who are in no rush to be someplace else to stop and sit a while.
Perhaps I’ll do that one day.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Popular legend says there are hundreds of Inuit words for snow, although linguistics scholars peg the number at probably closer to a dozen. In the English language we tend to be a bit less descriptive and have only a few terms for the white stuff, relying instead on a wide range of adjectives to provide a precise narrative - squeeky snow, fluffy snow, fresh snow, and so on.
And when our feelings towards snow are not that positive we can simply combine one of those few English words ('snow' works well) with any of the dozen or so pejorative adjectives commonly applied to it (‘damned’ being one of the least objectionable) singly or in combination to get approximately 874,216 negative snow-related expressions.
I used most of them this morning.
Lesson of the day: do not stand under a 100-foot snow-laden pine tree when the wind blows.
I had snow so far down my back I had to shake my shorts out and my socks got wet.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Christmas music now being broadcast on the airwaves includes the ever-popular traditional classics like Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Angels We Have Heard on High. Every country music star and wannabe has released a new angels-heavy Christmas album. And acting careers are being launched by the thousands as 5-year-old girls and boys make their stage debut wearing a cut-down sheet and a pair of tinfoil wings in the Christmas concert.
Yup, angels figured heavily in Christmas celebrations from the very beginning when they supposedly told Mary who the father was and then told Joseph that it wasn’t him (not an enviable job). Then they got to fly around and spread the news about the Christ child to all mankind. And speaking of spreads, more recently they are best known for those Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials.
I have to admit it all seemed a bit of a stretch to me until this morning.
That’s when my angel arrived with her 4-wheel-drive tractor complete with a honkin’ huge snow blower to clear the foot of snow (okay, 30 centimetres for the metric purists) that Mother Nature dumped on us – more specifically, our ½ mile driveway – last night. Ten minutes later she was done and we were once again connected with the big, wide world out there.
Now that’s something I can really believe in!
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Normally when these storms blow in from the East we just batten down the hatches, throw another log on the fire, and wait them out. But this time I had to go into town - to get snow tires installed!
Fortunately there was very little traffic on the road and I was able to keep up a pretty good pace. And by straddling the centre line I had lots of sliding room when I needed it, which I did once or twice.
No traffic meant I could also enjoy the somewhat surreal experience of driving in blizzard conditions. The horizon is lost as the grey sky, falling snow, and snow-covered fields merge in the distance. With no reference points, depth perception fails. Periodically a house or barn will appear, seemingly afloat in a sea of whiteness, or an oncoming vehicle will suddenly appear only to disappear again in the rear view mirror. It’s like driving into a blank canvas upon which some unseen hand is quickly sketching a montage of black and white images which just as quickly fade back into the white.
A couple of hours later I was back. The car was in the driveway, suitably shod with the latest in snow and ice conquering technology, and I was in the kitchen inhaling the smells of freshly baked carrot cake and licking the icing spoon. Let it snow.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Actually, in a way it's kind of comforting because, just like missing an episode or two of Desperate Housewives, it really doesn’t matter. Within a couple of minutes you’re all caught up and know exactly what’s going on because it’s just more of the same outrageous behaviour by a dysfunctional group of self-absorbed idiots trying their damnedest to self destruct in prime time.
Now I just need something else to write about....
Boots crunching on the snow... Trees cracking in protest... The far-off whine of a snowmobile crossing the lake... The mid-morning sun hanging low in the southern sky...Breath freezing on my beard... Squinting eyes blinded by the brightness of the fresh white snow... Fingertips numbing in winter gloves... The smell of wood smoke from the chimney... Chickadees calling in the silence... Frigid eyeglasses fogging up indoors.
Winter has now got us firmly in her grasp. This morning I awoke to a bright, crisp sunny day with the temperature hovering around -20°C. The high winds of yesterday had dissipated and the air was absolutely calm.
I took a shortcut to go and get the morning paper (yes, there’s a trail through there) and was reminded again just how spectacular a winter day in the country can be. A true feast for the senses and the kind of day that lifts the soul.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
But eventually, in spite of my best efforts to delay, Christmas cards have to be sent.
And so with suitable prodding by the spousal unit (“Here are the cards and a pen; what are you waiting for?”), and the accompaniment of a very large tumbler of scotch, the process begins.
First you have to write the dreaded Christmas letter. That’s the letter in which you summarize a year’s worth of family news of absolutely no interest to anyone but yourself, and perhaps your mother, onto one double-sided page to be foisted off on the unsuspecting Christmas card recipient. The Christmas letter used to be the exclusive domain of immediate family back in the days when a stamp was cheaper than long-distance and Christmas was the only time folks found out what their grandkids had been up to for the past 12 months. But times change and the replacement of the trusty Underwood by word processing software means that it is now but an extra click or two to print 100 copies to send to EVERYONE. It also means the font can be reduced as necessary to ensure that the entire message still fits on the single page which will keep the envelope within size and weight limits for first-class postage. Just be aware that a 4-point font is totally illegible to anyone whose eyes have been on this earth for more than 4 decades.
Once your letter of exciting news, brilliant witticisms, and the requisite out-of-focus family snapshot taken during the summer vacation at the lake is ready to go you have to select the correct card to stick it in. As when crossing a minefield, one must tread very carefully in this regard. There are 3 distinct types of Christmas card out there – religious, secular and humorous, to be sent to religious, secular and odd friends. And you should never – NEVER – mix them up. A Christmas card with Vixen in a thong doing a pole dance while being cheered on by Rudolph and a bunch of drunken elves should never be sent to the Pastor, for example. It’s not that your Pastor is this dour person with no sense of humour; it’s just that humorous religious cards are simply not to be had. Which is a bit odd, really, as one would think 3 dudes showing up on camels, carrying something called Myrrh and calling themselves Maggie would have all sorts of comedic possibilities. But alas religion and humour remain mutually exclusive, so it’s angels and ginormous stars and baby Jesuses in mangers with biblical quotes for the religious sect. Everyone else gets a laugh, a cartoon of Santa in a compromising position, and a Happy Holidays greeting.
So you’re done, right? Just throw them in the mail and you can go back to watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas or Vixen doing her pole dance ... wow it's amazing what you can find on cable these days ... er, sorry, lost focus there for a moment. Yeah. Mail. Well not quite, because now the game of Christmas chicken begins. Everyone has people on their Christmas card list who they don’t really want to send a card to, and who they suspect feel the same way towards them. But you don’t want to be the first to break with tradition so you delay sending them a card until (if) one from them arrives in your mailbox. When it does, you quickly toss a reply card in the outgoing mail as if you intended to all along. And because Canada Post can take anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks to deliver, they will never know with certainty that the cards didn’t simply cross in the mail, thus extending for at least one more year the period during which folks you don’t really care about that much still feel an obligation to send you a Christmas card or else suffer the humiliation of being first to break the chain.
By the way, this is similar to the technique to be used when a card arrives from your Aunt Mabel who you hadn’t heard from for 12 years and assumed was dead but was really just chillin’ with some trucker in a trailer park in Tennessee and has now decided it’s time to renew family acquaintances in the hope that someone has a spare room. On second thought, in that case it’s probably best to let Aunt Mabel think you’re the dead one. But you get the point, which is always keep a few extra cards around for the last minute panic mailing that’s sure to occur right up to the big day itself. Besides they'll still be good next year.
Yup, sending out the Christmas cards is one of those traditions that help us celebrate this most joyous occasion. I wouldn’t miss it for anything, but why can’t it wait until tomorrow?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
No I have no idea what it means either, but that’s what Gilles Duceppe just said when asked about supporting a Conservative budget in January.
The coalition is dead. It was a good try, but it failed. It hurts to be beaten by a bully and a coward, but now it’s time to move on. After the G-G’s decision today, there’s no way the coalition will be asked to form a government if Harper & Co. get turfed on a confidence vote on the budget. Parliament will be disbanded and it will be every party for itself in a new election campaign.
So the progressive parties on the left better start dealing with that reality right now because they only have about 8 weeks to come up with an electable alternative to present to the Canadian people – or they roll over on the budget. And the longer the Liberals, NDP and Bloc persist with their coalition fantasy, the less time they will have to mount an aggressive, winning campaign and counter the flood of lies and propaganda about to be unleashed on the Canadian public by the Cons.
Monday, December 1, 2008
That anonymous quote got me thinking again about the latest Ontario government initiatives to coddle its citizenry, protecting us from ourselves, and furthermore protecting us from ever having to take any real responsibility for our actions. (Previously blogged on here, here, and here.)
Nanny-state legislation, most often initiated as a political knee-jerk reaction to an unfortunate death or injury, seems particularly problematic in Ontario. And without a major backlash, its relentless progression will eventually turn us all into a society of zombies. As we move from one protective bubble to the next, we will live our lives totally unexposed and to some extent oblivious to the real world around us with all its excitement, beauty, and, it must be said, dangers. Unable to conceive of taking any personal risk, we will become solely focused on immunizing ourselves from life so we can survive forever, without fear and without pain. Ironically, in order to live longer we become the walking dead ourselves.
I’m certainly no Edmund Hillary when it comes to living on the edge, but I’ve had my moments (many of which I'm proud to say would now be against one or more laws) and I simply can’t imagine being 100 years old and only having a white bread life to look back on. As the old joke goes, the doctor says if you give up drinking, smoking and wild women you’ll live to be 100. To which the patient replied, why would I want to? Exactly!
Any life worth living is inherently risky. Sure, some of us pushed it too far and, paraphrasing James Dean, lived fast, died young and left a beautiful corpse. Other friends, colleagues and family members didn’t make it this far due to countless other factors beyond their or anyone else’s control. But most of us make it through just fine, in spite of it all. And facing those risks, feeling that excitement, winning... and losing, even those near-death experiences define who we are. They are the underpinnings of our character, the same human character that brought innovation and progress to the western world at an unprecedented rate over the past few generations. It’s the same human character that gives us our heroes, in war and in peacetime; the same human character that lets us dig deep to find that irresistible force needed when faced with one of life’s immovable objects; and the same human character that every society needs in order to survive and that we, as humans, need to truly live.
Losing a loved one before their time hurts, and it’s understandable that those suffering such a loss will cry out for more rules, more limits, more controls so that no one else will ever have to feel their pain. But personal pain is not a good forge for public policy, and we should expect our politicians to be wise enough to realise that.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Earlier today I wrote about the McGuinty government’s infantilizing of Ontarians, only to find out later that they’re not satisfied with attacking young drivers, they also want to go after responsible adult motorcyclists in yet another misguided attempt to "protect the children".
I think I’ll take my depleted RRSP and invest it all in plastic bubbles, because soon the McGuinty Liberals will have us all living in them until it’s time to put us in the ground... in a plastic bubble, of course.
There’s been quite a debate over Ontario’s latest move to further restrict the freedom of its younger citizens when it comes to driving privileges. Supporters tend to be parents and politicians (Dalton McGuinty: “If that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until they reach the age of 22, then, as a dad, I am more than prepared to do that ... We're going to take special steps, special measures, to protect our children."), while opponents, not surprisingly, tend to be the young drivers themselves (and quite a few parents, it must be said).
The proposed legislation combines drinking and driving restrictions (which virtually nobody opposes) with limits on the number of passengers young drivers may have in their vehicles. Under the current legislation, a G2 license holder faces restrictions on the number of passengers during the midnight to 5 a.m. period only. The new law, if passed, will restrict any under-20 G2-licensed driver to no more than one passenger aged 19 and under until they have had their G2 for at least one year (i.e. approximately 2 ½ years driving experience).
It’s this latter restriction that’s getting the most attention as opponents claim it will seriously curtail the ability of young people to have a designated driver, for example, when planning a night out. Car pooling to school, hockey practice, even church on Sunday will become illegal if more than one non-related passenger is in the vehicle. Age discrimination, pure and simple, the more polite say.
But there’s another, more serious issue at play here. As Robert Sibley points in Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen, these restrictions on young motorists may have such unintended consequences as removing “the requirement of responsibility from those most in need of acquiring it”. Dubbed infantilism, the concept is that by taking the ability away from people to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions (good or bad), we effectively encourage a continued level of immaturity in young adults.
But it seems to be a selective immaturity. It’s hard to reconcile such legislation with the fact that these very same young men and women are deemed old enough and mature enough to vote at 18; they are deemed old enough and mature enough to enter into binding legal contracts including, ironically, buying a car; they are deemed old enough and mature enough to get married and raise families; and they are deemed old enough and mature enough to fight, and die, on foreign soil for the very rights and freedoms which they are being denied by the nanny state back home.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
As the markets continue to tank, along with my (and hundreds of thousands of others) hopes and plans for the future, I can’t help but wonder how many companies now with their hands out and/or declaring massive write-offs, potential bankruptcies and so on are simply taking advantage of the situation as an opportunity to clean their books and get rid of any and all weakness in their corporate portfolios.
Surely there can’t be that many piss-poorly managed companies out there.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
But wait, before we hang up that particular banner, what does the rest of the article say?
"Mr. Flaherty and the Conservatives should have taken better precautions against a deficit, noting they cut some rainy-day cushions and drove program spending up 13.8 per cent in their first two years."
"...he went too far in partisan attacks on Ontario's Liberal government and suggested Canada's most populous province was the "last place to invest" for business."
"...hard to find an economist who supports the Conservatives' decision to forgo $11-billion of annual revenue and cut the goods and services tax by two points..."
"It will also be the first time Ottawa has slid into the red from a surplus since 1970-1971."
"saw him fumble the relationship with Bay Street over a bid to end the tax deductibility of interest from foreign expansions, and underperform in selling a controversial equalization deal to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland."
"...he was removed from steering roles on two key agenda-setting cabinet committees."
And he's the "best person in the Conservative cabinet" to get us through this mess? We are in deep trouble my friends.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I am so sick of bad or non-existent customer support from these big multinationals, and technology companies are, by far, the absolute worst. Given this is a technical medium, I expect anyone reading this blog will be able to nod sympathetically and drag out the t-shirt. But as long as we put up with their bullshit service nothing will change, so I write letters, make phone calls when I can find a number, and write online, pointing out the failings of their useless support offerings. I also write letters and make phone calls when I’ve received exceptional service, so this isn’t simply a one-way street. (As an aside, with 20-odd years of managing support teams under my belt, I do have some idea of what it takes to provide good service. And the very real cost of crappy service.)
So my latest rant is with Linksys/Cisco. I have this older Linksys router that has been causing some problems recently, so rather than simply calling Linksys technical support, I tried to do what every support person will tell you to do first anyway, and that is make sure you’re running the latest version of the firmware.
Off to the Linksys site. Find my router. Find there’s a new firmware release. Download it.
So far so good, until I try to install the upgrade, when I get a bolded red message: Upgrade action is not finish!! (sic) Upgrade file pattern error. (First clue about the quality of their support should have been the spelling mistake – or is it a grammar mistake in this case?)
Repeat all of the above a couple of times just to make sure I do have the latest file, etc. with no luck. So it’s on to the Contact Us page where I find they have a real-time chat facility. Great!
I enter my name, address, product model and serial number, age of my firstborn, annual income and the secret Masonic password and hit the chat button. “Chat cancelled”. WTF? Try again. “Chat cancelled”. No explanation, no nothing, just sod off you stupid twit. (Okay, so that’s my interpretation.)
All right then, let’s try the phone. Traverse several layers of auto attendant to finally reach Angel, a real live technical support person with a generic accent that doesn’t give away her third world location. I go through the name, address, serial number thing all over again and she asks what the nature of the problem is. So I explain. Then she starts asking a whole series of irrelevant questions about the number of connected computers and so on. When I objected, her response was to explain their pricing structure for support. Okay, she could have done that 10 minutes earlier and saved a lot of time, but she didn’t. The bottom line? For roughly the price of a new router, she will help me this one time.
“Wait a minute” says I, “I’m not looking for help installing or configuring my router. I’m trying to tell you there appears to be a problem with your download file.”
“Sorry, I can’t help you” she says, “it’s company policy. But if you want, you can send us an email.” She kindly provides the link.
Open the link. Web-mail form. Enter all the info again, including make, model, serial number, sexual orientation, etc and explain the problem in graphic detail. Press send. Wait. Response: “Thank you for contacting Linksys Support. The product you selected requires telephone support by a dedicated team. Please call our toll free number (800) 326-7114 for support. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause you.” And I’m right back to Angel.
So Cisco/Linksys, my support experience today sucked in so many ways I could use it for a case study. Perhaps you’re counting on the fact that time is money and most people would simply give up, toss the old box, and go buy a new one. If that’s your business model – disposable routers – then okay, but don’t lead your customers on and let them think you actually care! Because when you do that, customers like me (and there are a lot of us out here) will just go and buy an anything-but-Linksys product, of which there are many. And, in the process, will probably provide some free publicity for you.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
With 42% of the precincts reporting in Mass, 64.9% have voted to decriminalize marijuana, and 69.2% have voted against the income tax ban.
In Missouri, so far 89.2% have voted to make English the official language.
In Florida, 62.4% have voted to define marriage.
There are other state initiatives equally interesting, so check it out.
Monday, November 3, 2008
For some reason I cannot pass by a Tim Hortons without stopping in for one of my very favourite treats – the Dutchie. It doesn’t matter if I’m on my way home from a 5-course dinner, or heading off to work right after breakfast, if there’s a Timmy’s en route, it’s Dutchie time! With a large black on the side.
Having finally come to grips with my addiction, I thought it time to do a little research on the iconic Tim Hortons’ treat, so here’s more than you probably ever wanted to know about Dutchies.
The first Tim Horton’s opened in Hamilton in 1964, and the first two items on the menu were Apple Fritters and... the Dutchie! Apparently Tim’s personal favourite donut, the Dutchie is now 44 years old, and while some haughty epicureans claim it tastes its age, it remains a top seller for Tim’s.
Did you know that the original Hamilton store provided free coffee to police officers until sometime in the mid-80s? The story is that having a bunch of cops popping in at all hours for free coffee and a donut (not sure if those were free) was better and cheaper than having a security system installed.
Back to Dutchies... No one seems to know where the name Dutchie came from, and Tim Hortons isn’t saying, so that leaves it open to speculation, but most folks seem to think it has something to do with Pennsylvania. I don’t know – do they grow raisins there?
However it came by its name, it’s still just junk food you say. Well not quite. In the glass-half-empty, glass-half-full continuum the Dutchie is clearly on the half-full end of the scale registering a solid 57% on the Junk Food Index (0 is Junky, 100 is Good). I mean, 35% almost gave Stephen Harper a majority, so 57% has to be absolutely brilliant, eh?
And at only 250 calories per serving it’s a veritable lightweight compared to a 360-calorie Walnut Crunch, a box of 12 assorted Timbits (~840 calories) or a Jos Louis (another quintessential Canadian snack food, typically eaten with a Pepsi chaser) which weighs in at nearly 300 calories plus the Pepsi.
As one would expect, the recipe is as closely held as KFC’s special spices, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying to replicate those “sultana-studded pillows of sugary-glazed, yeast-risen goodness”. Hop over to Confessions of a Cardamon Addict for one such recipe. I can’t vouch for the Dutchie-ness of the resulting product, but it sure looks good. And she has lots of other mouth-watering goodies there too.
Finally, why is it Tim Hortons instead of Tim Horton’s? Thank Quebec’s language legislation that requires French signage. Since the possessive apostrophe isn’t used in French the easiest way to come up with a name that could be used across the country and still comply with the requirements of Quebec’s petty bureaucrats was to simply drop the apostrophe. So that’s what they did in the mid-1990’s, although I understand there are still some older stores that have the original with-an-apostrophe sign – just not in Quebec.
Now if only they delivered...
Sunday, November 2, 2008
According to the UK Times Online, "The Republicans have made a last-minute attempt to prevent Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House by trying to recruit an Oxford academic to “prove” that his autobiography was ghostwritten by a former terrorist."
Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess, and this witch-hunt is consistent with Palin's insistence on Obama's "palling around with terrorists" and the latest gotcha attacks about his dead father's half-sister, but still it's pretty despicable, even by US standards.
I can't help but think that these efforts do little but drive "soft" Republicans either away from the polls altogether, or into the Obama camp.
Read the article here, and a follow on here.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We’re heading to the States for a couple of days so the spousal unit can run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington on Sunday. Don’t ask me why – I’m just the driver, cheering section, and moral support.
Since we’re driving it seemed prudent to ensure our cell phone would work in the US in case of an en-route emergency. I have a Bell Mobility pay-as-you-go phone that gets used so infrequently that I am always carrying over excess unused minutes when I do a top up, unless I forget and all my accumulated and paid for minutes
I started with their web site only to find out, after waiting interminably for page after page after page to load, that I needed to phone them if I want to change my pay plan and activate the roaming capability.
Now I’m on the phone in auto attendant hell... “Please press 1 for English....”. About 6 levels in I have to enter my phone number so they can access my file. Progress of a sort, I suppose.
When I finally get to speak to a real live person, Sarah, the first thing she asks for is my phone number. Listen Bell computer system guys, it’s 2008. The technology to push that information to the agent’s desktop has been around since the last century! Get with it!
Okay, now she has my number and starts explaining the options I have to select in order to be able to activate roaming. And oh, by the way, a call will cost $1.80 plus $.99 a minute. That’s later clarified to be $1.80 a minute and $.99 a minute – total $2.79 a minute ... plus taxes. And it’s for any part of a minute – 3 seconds – that’ll be $2.79 plus taxes please. I explained that I wasn’t really interested in buying the company, I just wanted to use their airways, maybe, for a minute or two.
By the time she finished explaining the options, the plans, and the rate structures I was so confused that I was ready to pay her $2.79 a minute just to go away and take my headache with her. Clearly this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be (and as it really should be), so I gave up on Sarah and went back to the web to see if there was another option.
That’s when I discovered that what she told me did not agree with what was published on their web site.
Back on the phone. Auto attendant hell. Enter phone number. Reach Mat. Provide phone number again. Explain what I want to do and what I found online and now I’ve got Mat confused. On hold. Mat comes back and provides the right information (I hope) and clarifies the clarifications I got earlier. Problem is it’s still going to cost a small fortune to use the service (Sarah was right on that point at least) but Mat makes an effort to be helpful, suggesting it would be cheaper for me to just get a US phone if I was going to be travelling frequently in the States. Thanks for that! More questions, clarifications, answers, and it’s finally done.
So I now have roaming activated on my cell phone so I can pay outrageous rates to use it south of the border, I have provided Bell with credit card numbers so they can charge me on a regular basis for minutes I will likely never use and which they will simply take back when I don’t, and I have lost 90 minutes of my life dealing with Bell Canada that I will never get back.
And they wonder why they are losing business.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I was re-watching Peter Sellers' The Party last night (one of my favourite Peter Sellers flicks)and it occured to me that the opening bugle scene is a perfect metaphor for the health of my pension fund over the past 10 years or so. First it struggled through the the tech meltdown in 2000. Just when it was starting to recover from that, 9/11 hit. Got through that, painfully. Then it was nuked by Flim-Flam Flaherty's Income Trust backtracking. Nearly recovered from that just in time for the sub-prime fiasco. And now the market meltdown with its daily swings - usually 10% down but only 5% up. Being a good little investor I still follow my broker's guidance to hang in there, but the repeated blows are taking a heavy toll and I'm beginning to feel
a little a lot like Sellers' character in that opening scene.
Regardless, The Party is a classic and, all metaphors aside, good escape for 90 minutes or so from all the goings on in the real world where, unfortunately, you can't just jump up and wash out the fake blood stains.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
This is a simple question and I pose it because I really don't know the answer.
Where, exactly, is the $25 billion coming from that Flaherty is going to use to buy these mortgages? That's not exactly petty cash, and I don't imagine the Cons account balance at the TD Bank has that many zeroes attached to it, so where is it coming from? Are they simply going to print more money? Borrow it (increasing the national debt)? Go into deficit by tapping into operating expenses?
Somehow, somewhere, Flaherty is coming up with $25 billion and I'd like to know how they are going to do it. Perhaps I can use the same technique to replenish my RRSP after the thrashing it took in the past few weeks.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
It's all coming clear.
This story might go a long way to explaining why Sarah Palin felt so strongly about visiting Michigan. Clearly this whole witchcraft thing needs to be dealt with immediately, don'cha know? There are teachers to fire, and books to ban, and religious nutbars who need legal assistance.
Yup, fer sure.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
McKay: “This is not a time to experiment with wild schemes...”
Flaherty: “... no responsible economic manager would suggest experimenting with risky new tax schemes...”.
Well, no shit Sherlock! Do these people actually think that, on Day 1 of an ABC government, the new ruling class will enact legislation that will toss Canada’s economy on its ear? In the middle of an international fiscal crisis? Of course they don’t. But they want us, the great unwashed, to believe that is exactly what will happen, and with disastrous results. You can almost sense that’s what they’d really like to see happen, just so they can say, “Told ya so!”.
Any prudent government will do whatever is needed, implement whatever short-term fiscal programs, bolster whatever institutions need to be bolstered, to get us all through this train wreck as unscathed as possible. I don’t care if their colour is red, blue, green or orange, none of the major Canadian parties would knowingly take any precipitous action that would intentionally hurt Canada or Canadians.
The policy positions that the opposition parties are floating are just that – broadly-defined positions. They will be studied, concepts and approaches refined, feasibility will be determined, implementation strategies will be developed, and then, and only then will they be implemented in the context of the international and Canadian fiscal environment of the time – months from now.
So while we may agree that this is not a good time for “wild experiments”, 6 months or a year from now may be exactly the right time for a well thought out and prudent implementation of an alternative fiscal framework for Canada, one which has been proven to work in other jurisdictions with very positive results.
Of course the Harper Cons don’t see it that way. They want us to believe that no one but them has any economic ideas worth considering, or the wherewithal to be responsible managers of the Canadian economy for future generations. (This from an economist who's only economic credentials are academic and a re-branded lawyer.) So instead they dabble with $100 here and $150 there, they obfuscate, they fear-monger, and they insult the intelligence of every one of us who doesn’t drink their particular brand of kool-aid.
It’s time for a change.
Monday, October 6, 2008
The markets continue to melt down. My retirement savings are dwindling by 5-10% A DAY! And like the majority of Canadians, I have no indexed pension to buffer the hit.
Meanwhile, Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty can think of nothing better to say than, "We knew about this last fall and took the appropriate steps. Aren't we just super smart?" and "The fundamentals are sound. Our banks are sound." and my favourite, "It's all the United States fault. They were stupid and there's nothing we can do (shrug)."
Okay, if everything is so rosy in Canada, why the hell aren't Canadian banks the biggest buying opportunity out there today? If they are in such GREAT SHAPE, and the Canadian economy is SO STRONG, why isn't the smart money just flooding ashore by the boatload? Our economy should be BOOMING. Our bank stocks should be SOARING.
But we all know that isn't happening. In fact our markets are getting hit even harder, percentage wise, than the US markets.
Nope, Harper and Flaherty have not a clue between them. They're like a couple of deer caught in the proverbial headlights, saying whatever they think we'll believe while claiming a prescient anticipation of events that somehow eluded the rest of the financial world.
Not surprisingly, we're not getting the straight goods.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
So I thought I’d pop over to the Blogging Tories to see how they expressed their outrage at this blatant affront to the democratic process.
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Well, except for this one post at Exactly Right, complaining about how the Toronto Star presented the story.
“The story is about a number of Liberal supporter-owned cars in Toronto that were vandalized. The headline ... reads Car vandals aim at Liberal supporters. Immediately below the headline, they feel it necessary to place a large photo of Stephen Harper; as if to imply that he and the Conservative party had something to do with it! The completely unrelated photo which links to a different story, was placed ahead of the photo that actually went with the story.”
So the Star had the effrontery to put The Great Leader's picture (since removed) on the same page as a story about what is, in effect, a hate crime, and that sparks the outrage. But vandalising political opponents' cars and houses and endangering their lives? Just business as usual. Ho hum.
Well that's not acceptable in the Canada I knew, and I want it back!
Friday, October 3, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Bob Robertson, writing in today's Ottawa Citizen says:
"I'm actually beginning to like Harper's speeches these days. The one yesterday where he mentioned how mad the farmers were about all the kangaroos wreaking havoc on their farmland was downright inspiring."
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
- John Baird who meddled in Ottawa's municipal elections.
- John Baird who is, embarrasingly, Canada's pit bull face to the world on climate change.
- John Baird who, until recently, was one of those elites who attended rich galas "subsidized by taxpayers", often arm in arm with Mrs. Steven Harper. (What is that all about, anyway?)
- John Baird who never found a contrary opinion he couldn't deride, belittle, or simply outshout.
- John Baird who feels that telling the truth comes a far distant second to scoring political points.
- John Baird who is nothing more than an immature, angry, political hack.
And to Jim Flaherty et al, I apologize. This photo was misrepresented in my last post. It wasn't really you after all. It was those "54% of decided voters" in Ottawa West-Nepean.
Monday, September 29, 2008
So how do the Harpercons respond?
Well, while Flaherty and his advisors are busy coming up with ideas to help Canada and Canadians weather the storm,
little Stevie Harper is singing his new economic theme song.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Sunday is a day to which I particularly look forward, if for no other reason than I normally get an extra ½ hour sack time. And this morning was no different. Blissfully unaware of what was to befall me (and the neighbourhood) I was far off, on a favourite beach, surrounded by hard bodies (you just have to love how reality isn’t allowed to interfere in dreamland), enjoying the sun, sand, and surf.
And then – KABOOM!
What the... ?
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Aw crap! It turns out that today was opening day of the duck hunting season. Our little lake had been filling up with migrating ducks for the past week or so, which had apparently been noticed by at least two hunting parties. So at the crack of dawn all hell broke loose with competing groups on either end of the lake trying to outdo each other to see who could put the most RPMs (rounds per minute) into the air overhead.
Less than 10 minutes, and at least 100 rounds later, everything was quiet again. Any ducks with any sense of self-preservation had exited stage left, flying through the clouds of ack-ack, searching for cover among the homes on the lake. The neighbourhood dogs had stopped barking. Even the hunters had disappeared leaving behind nothing but a vague whiff of gunpowder, ringing ears, and piles of spent cartridges to later be discovered by local residents. And I was up, making the coffee, much, much earlier than planned.
Ah, life in the country.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I just listened to Flaherty and McCallum on Don Newman's Brooooaaaadcast, and the discussion turned, naturally, to income trusts. Flaherty insisted, on at least two occasions, that the income trust sector had rebounded, showing a 14.5% increase since September 2006. According to him, the only people who lost money in the income trust fiasco were "people that lost early on when they panicked and they sold". McCallum called him on it claiming that he (McCallum) had checked the figures this very morning and the sector had not rebounded. He was promptly told he was "wrong" and "totally inaccurate".
Then I find this chart posted at CAITI-ONLINE-MEDIA that clearly shows an 11.1% DROP in the income trust index since September 2006.
I'm beginning to think they really just cannot help themselves. It's pathological.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Wow, that didn't take long. The election hasn't even been held yet and already Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is threatening "confidence motion". According to this story, Nicholson said "We will be taking a zero-tolerance approach. Our crime measures will be confidence measures, we are determined that our law and order agenda will be passed."
That's right. Lock 'em up and throw away the keys. And if you don't agree, we'll keep spending your money, $300,000,000 at a time, until you see things our way.
In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Let's see now. The Cons have been flooding the land with 10-percenters for weeks now, including a few from Baird's riding (and possibly others) that arrived in people's mailboxes after the writ was dropped, with the predictable response. So now, when Liberal Wayne Easter (he of Gary Ritz fame) sends mailers out it's the Cons turn to feign outrage.
Childish. All around.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
For another perspective on the cost of this war, read this post by The Enlightened Savage.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Unfortunately this was a day I left my camera at home, but that image I think says more about one element of Stephen Harper's base than anything I could say in this blog.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
In the heat of an election campaign, this may be considered old news as it was posted 18 hours or so ago, but I think it bears being highlighted again.
Garth Turner’s blog for Day 5, posted late last night, describes some of the intimidation tactics that are being used against him and his family in response to his campaign. Anonymous threats, vandalism, electronic tampering – all very frightening and worrisome. Like the Guelph incident, there is as yet no proof that this behaviour originates from any particular party or its supporters, but as I posted a few days ago, it would not be surprising to find some impressionable neanderthal responding to Harper’s compulsive hatred of all things Liberal with this sort of behaviour.
Let’s just hope that before they progress beyond making threats these morons are caught and dealt with to the maximum extent of the law for what really amounts to hate crimes based on political beliefs.
And it wouldn't hurt to have all party leaders make a clear and unambiguous statement that this behaviour is not only not acceptable but it's criminal and anyone caught will be charged, along with anyone who has directed or otherwise encouraged such behaviour.
It needs to stop. Now!
- Conservatives show just how juvenile and partisan they really are through Puffin-gate, Sparrow-gate and the whole not-a-leader shtick.
- Conservatives are caught using copyright material on their web site and ordered to cease and desist by at least one network.
- Harper self-identifies as a fruit.
- The RCMP pushes members of the press away from the PM so he won’t have to answer questions while standing in a Quebec vineyard (presumably relating on a personal level to the grapes). When they realize the potential damage, the Tories subsequently back track and later allow the press to question Harper on the Sparrow situation.
- Harper threatens to not play at all if the Greens are invited to the debates, then back-tracks when his buddy Jack flip-flops.
- In Quebec, Harper trots out national unity as a feeble (and convoluted) excuse to vote against the Liberals and their Green Shift.
- Harper backtracks on his ‘no reductions in fuel taxes’ stance of about three weeks ago to offer up a transparent vote-buying 2 cent reduction in diesel fuel taxes, thus encouraging the use of fossil fuels and discouraging conservation.
And the Canadian voting public responds like this: “The Nanos daily tracking survey for CPAC and Sun Media puts the Conservatives at 37% nationwide, up from 33% in August -- when a Nanos poll placed the Tories and Liberals in a statistical dead heat.”
Just what is it going to take to get people to wake up?
Monday, September 8, 2008
To simply suggest that folks vote Liberal (or NDP, or Green, or Bloc) across the board will only increase the Cons’ chances, possibly giving them the win and leaving us all with 4 more years of Harper, this time with a possible majority. If that happens, you can say goodbye to the Canada we know and love. It will take years to repair the damage.
So if you want to help ensure that the Cons do not get a majority, then the objective of this election has to be to deny them seats wherever possible. And to do so may mean supporting the candidate in your riding who has the greatest chance to win and/or to unseat a Con incumbent regardless of your own political stripe.
Political affiliations are important, but I believe that preventing a Con majority in this election is even more important. And in reality the differences that exist between the Liberals, Greens and NDP are far, far less than between any of those parties and the Harper Cons. And if we all do this right and deny the Cons their majority, even if they get another minority, we’ll have an opportunity to do it all over again in a couple of years, most likely with Harper gone, at which time you can vote away for your party of choice.
Flaherty is certainly at risk given his remarkably inept handling of the economy (income trusts, Ontario bashing, free-spending budgets, improper contracting, inaction on job losses, and now flirtation with a deficit after blowing the Liberal's $13 billion surplus in 2 years) so this seat offers a real opportunity for the Liberals.
We're with you Brent. Send Jimbo back to ambulance chasing.