Monday, November 24, 2008

Ontario's new motto: We don't trust you to be responsible

What is going on at Queen’s Park? Someone should check the water.

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".

Helena Jaczek, Liberal MPP for Markham, has tabled a bill, Bill 117, that would prohibit any licensed motorcycle operator from carrying anyone under the age of 14 years as a passenger. The Bill passed first reading on October 27, 2008 with 2nd reading scheduled for December 4.

As The Toronto Star reports, not even the Canada Safety Council agrees there’s a need for this level of government intrusion. According to Raynald Marchand, program general manager for the national charitable organization, "We've found that young children are probably transported (on motorcycles) by their parents, and they're typically on short rides and the parents are very careful about it. This is a solution looking for a problem." (emphasis mine).

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.

Infantilizing drivers

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).

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

Bring out yer dead

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.

Can there?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Damning with faint praise

As reported here (Report on Business), Dale Orr of IHS Global Insight Canada says Jim Flaherty "is certainly the best person in the Conservative cabinet to be the finance minister."

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

Lousy customer service - Linksys style

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

Selling the CN Tower?

While Flim-Flam Flaherty insists the CN Tower is not for sale, or maybe is for sale, I have to ask the question: Why do we taxpayers own it in the first place?

But since we do own it, I have a modest proposal for Harper and Co. Why not hang all the portraits originally destined for the National Portrait Gallery on the Tower to be viewed while going up and down in the glass elevators? That way you solve the National Portrait Gallery problem, give Toronto some federal goodies, and turn the CN Tower into something more useful than an aging phallic symbol.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's not just about the presidency

While the CBC's US election broadcast is mainly focussed on the high profile presidential election results, their web site includes some interesting information concerning the details of the vote, including the results of a number of state initiatives of "national interest".

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

I'm addicted to Dutchies

There I’ve admitted it.

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.

For you Americans unfortunate souls who do not live across the street from a Tim Hortons, these Dutchies are a bakery product which, unlike their namesakes, contain no tobacco products or hippie lettuce whatsoever. Well, except there was that one time when a laid-back baker friend .... Ah, never mind. It was long, long ago and I digress.

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

Republicans leave no stone unturned ....

Aside from the odd dig at Caribou Barbie Sarah Palin I haven't really blogged about the US election - frankly I'm not that close to it, and others do a much better job - but this story just cries out for comment.

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.