Wednesday, April 30, 2008

E-Books Just Aren’t the Same

I’ve downloaded a couple e-books recently – books in PDF format for reading online. When e-books first came out, they were thought to be more economical and easier to read.

Unlike traditional print-based books, there is no need to spend extra money printing, binding and shipping them. So the cost of e-books is significantly cheaper.

They were also designed to be easier to read online – so that you don’t have to use a bookmark to keep your spot.

The downside with e-books, sitting in front of a computer monitor all day reading one just isn’t as comfortable as snuggling up on the sofa or in bed with a nice paper-based book.

Sure e-books are better for the environment – as they save paper. But I can print these e-books, which would probably consume more paper than had they been printed originally, as my printer would print single sided pages (most books are double-sided).

I know, we spend so much time online, typing, working, and playing games, that reading books online is the next logical step.

But there is something to be able to hold a book, to turn it’s pages, even to put it down in haste when the phone rings and have to go back and flip around to find out where you left off.

When computers first came out, people were making sweeping predictions about just how much of a time saver they would be. Some predicted we’d have shorter work weeks, use far less paper, and even get paid more, because we’d all be more efficient.

In walks reality, and paper use is at an all time high, the work week is still the same – if not longer thanks to the ability to check email and login remotely from any location, even home – and wages haven’t really changed all that much over the past decade.

E-books are a time saver when it comes to ordering them. Once you order it, instead of waiting for the print-based book to come to your door, you simply download it and in a matter of minutes, you have your book. But that is about as much of a benefit as I could find in these electronic books.

I have a laptop, and even taking my laptop to the bed to read isn’t nearly as comfortable as just lying in bed with a good old fashioned paper-based book.

Imagine taking an e-book to the beach? I’d probably be taking my laptop to the tech support guys, asking how do you remove sand from the keyboard and plug-in ports?

I’ve tried e-books, but I’ll stick to a good print-based book any day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Lazy Man’s Strike

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is on strike. The TTC is the largest transit system in Canada, and one of the largest in the world, keeping over 1.5 million people in pace with their lives.

Most unions, when they stage a labour walk-out – AKA a strike – they not only stop working, but they stage a protest in front of their bosses. These protests usually come complete with angry workers, marching in circles, yielding signs in protest, while chanting some sort of slogan of protest against unfair wages, job security and the like.

Not so with the largest transit union in Canada – they are too lazy to get out on the picket lines and march as every other labour union has done in the past. No sir – there aren’t even picket lines to march in!

The TTC’s way of getting their bosses to listen to their labour demands? Displace those 1.5 million daily people who use the system, by simply taking time off with pay. Grant it, strike pay is far less than they make while working, but isn’t the whole point of a strike – well – to strike?

The TTC is an essential service – like the police, the fire and the ambulance – they keep Toronto moving. By providing a much needed life-line for those who depend on their service, they ensure people get to their jobs, so they can afford to live. Those who do have cars also take the TTC. Car pooling is common – and many of those car pools take people to the subway, so they don’t have to park downtown.

The TTC also provides another essential service – helping keep Canada’s busiest city from being stuck in traffic. There is always traffic in Toronto. But when the city’s buses, streetcars and subways stop rolling, the traffic more than doubles – making it nearly impossible for anyone – even those on foot – to get anywhere, anytime fast.

So, the TTC has the ability to get it’s labour unrest messages out without having to actually do anything – they just take the lazy way out and take a paid holiday.

I wish I could do that – hell I bet you could too. I want a raise, so I’ll just stay home and watch TV all day. Yeah – that’ll work.

The TTC’s employees do an amazing job when they do it. But when they don’t – they do just as an amazing job – more like mind numbing – who else can take a paid holiday when they decide they aren’t being paid enough?

The problem is the union is far too powerful, the city too dependent, and the workers too blinded by the scale of their city. The workers have a false sense of security, thinking that because they drive buses in the biggest city in Canada, they should be paid and treated like royalty.

I hate to point out the obvious, but they are JUST bus drivers! No one goes to university to become a bus driver, just like no one goes to college to become a garbage collector, a telemarketer, or any of a bunch of blue collar jobs.

Yes the TTC is an essential service, and yes it should be declared one – finally – so that the city doesn’t fall into the spirals of commuter chaos every time the union wants more.

But, I think it is also time that the TTC’s workers be reminded of their role. If they want to make more than a bus driver can make, maybe they should do what the rest of us do when we want to make more money – find another career!

Instead of raising fares, cutting repairs and killing routes to pay egomaniacs more money to simply drive a bus, the TTC should provide worker education programs so that bus drivers can become more than just that, and the city can continue to move and grow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Sometimes, Even Adults Need a Good Spanking

The largest city in Canada is enduring more labour unrest with it’s transit union. Though this time, things have turned ugly.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has gone on strike. Nothing ugly about that – except that everyone had thought the issue had been resolved last week, and a labour walk out was averted.

Turns out, although the city and the union bosses came to an agreement, when the union boss presented the agreement to the over 9,000 members – they turned him down.

Yes – I did say him. As in the union’s president. The whole process of collective bargaining begins and ends with your union’s president. If the president is well respected, then the members will follow his lead – after all he’s looking out for you and your interests.

However, if the union president isn’t seen as a true representative of the union’s membership, then things go wrong.

And they did go very wrong last night – the TTC shut down all busses, streetcars and subways immediately at midnight – stranding thousands of unsuspecting people.

Originally, the union bosses said they’d give everyone 48-hours notice of a possible strike. But last night, they didn’t give even a second’s notice of warning – they just shut the whole system down.

I sympathize somewhat with the union bosses – they probably had no choice in the issue. Their members decided to walk immediately, and they had to follow. Problem is, because of union discontent within itself, they have lost faith in the public sphere.

Politicians are already working on laws to legislate the workers back to work, and they will then probably declare (finally!) the service an essential service, forever preventing future strikes. Those that rely on the TTC and are sick and tired of dealing with these labour disputes every three-years are understandably pissed off. And even those that don’t use the TTC are upset – they have to deal with the burden caused by more cars on the roads.

Though the real villain here is the union’s chief – the TTC’s union boss. He’s failed his union – obviously, they didn’t accept his offer – he’s failed his city, and worse, he’s failed to keep the peace between his union and those who depend on public transit for their daily lives.

From the beginning I never liked the union boss. At the start of the labour unrest, he always came off sounding like a dictator, ordering the city to give in to his ridiculous demands, or else he’ll tell his members to go on strike.

Throughout the negotiations, he has publicly humiliated himself, by acting like a child in desperate need of a spanking.

First he said he couldn’t work with one of the city’s negotiators, and requested by name a city councillor who happens to also be chair of the TTC, to replace him. Then he said the only person that could save the talks and prevent a strike would be the mayor of Toronto himself.

Most of us don’t get to choose who we work with – we don’t always make the hiring or firing decisions at the office, so whoever does what we need done, is it. Adults put personal differences aside, and get the job done, regardless of what we think of each other.

Perhaps the TTC’s union couldn’t stand working with their union boss any longer, and his childish temper tantrums? Perhaps the TTC union just said, f*ck this, we’re going on strike now – deal with it.

And now we all have to deal with it in Toronto. Those who depend on the TTC to get around have no means to go from point A to B. Those who drive, have to face longer traffic tie-ups, as more and more people use their own cars, instead of taking public transit. And those in desperate need of emergency services – like police, fire or ambulance – better start praying, because traffic tie-ups translate into longer travel times for everyone – including those that need to get to you immediately for life and death.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Closing Schools Bad Is Bad for all Canadians

Enrolment in publicly funded schools across the country is at an all time low. Politically motivated – and politically correct – politicians tell us this is because of declining birth rates.

As politicians close more and more of our public schools, despite protests from those whose kids attend those buildings of learning, they remind us that it’s because their just aren’t enough children anymore.

The truths about declining enrolments is partly linked to lower birth rates, however, there is an even bigger and more obvious reason. Though it isn’t politically correct to admit it – immigration is the real bane to our public school’s problems.

Canada has always welcomed those from other countries with open arms. We live in the best country in the world, why not share our way of life with others?

Problem is we Canadians are exceptionally weak when it comes to maintaining our way of life. We allow those that come here to rape us, using the fundamental freedoms which we hold close and dear as weapons against us.

Our freedoms allow people to practice their culture, their way of life, here – as they should. However, those rights shouldn’t be allowed to negate the ways others choose to live – but they do.

Immigrants come to our great land, move into neighbourhoods with others from their homeland, set-up communities – no, they set-up mirror images of their homeland – complete with their own restaurants, stores, religious centres, community centres and schools.

Each immigrant group settles into its own microcosm of its own cultural community – from Little Italy, China Town to Greek Town. Each immigrant community sends their kids to schools built exclusively for those in their own narrow-focused community.

Italian kids go to Italian school, Chinese to Chinese school and so on.

Canadian kids, go to the public schools – just as their parents did. Problem is, as Canadians are having fewer kids, there aren’t enough kids in Canadian schools to justify keeping them open.

Think the Chinese school will open its doors with open arms to the Canadian kids?

Fat chance. These schools must teach the basics as dictated by the government, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, but then they are allowed (thanks to our freedom of speech) to also teach culturally-specific subjects – and charge admission for such courses.

I hear co-workers and colleagues all the time talking about how they have to pay extra to send their kids to these culturally-centric schools. They start out complaining about the cost, but then justify it in the end, by bad mouthing the Canadian school system.

“They wouldn’t learn anything about Slovenia in a public school.”

“They don’t get to play with kids from back home in Canadian schools.”

“It’s good for them to learn from others who were there.”

But it’s bad for our country, as it propagates the ultimate problem we have with immigration – intolerance.

Immigrants come over here to escape the repression and intolerance they have in their own countries. Many would be jailed or executed if they were to express their opinions about their governments in their native land.

Yet, once they get here and realize they have unlimited freedom of expression, they create just as intolerant a state, only in reverse. By creating pockets of communities, which have little or no interaction outside of their own culturally-specific circles, they create intolerance towards anyone not from their homeland.

It is pure and simple racism – and our Canadian way of life is dying because of it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'm Too Important to Answer the Phone

In business, the telephone is probably one of the most common forms of communication. Sure there is email, text messaging, video conferencing – one could even make the argument that we don’t get up and simply walk over to our co-worker’s cubicles enough these days.

But the telephone is still the primary means of communication. It is cheaper than videoconferencing, easier than a text message, and more personal than an email.

Still, some people don’t get it – ever. They never answer their phone. I deal with many people at many levels at many different organizations. Most people answer their phones when they can.

Often I get voice-mail, which is understandable. We’re all busy and we simply aren’t tethered to our desks all day to answer every call. But when you call someone back several times throughout the day, and each time all you get is their voice-mail, it makes you wonder why that person even has a phone?

It may be that the individual is truly over-worked, and simply doesn’t have enough time to take phone calls. Or, it could be that the person thinks they are too important to answer the phone, and want to only talk to people when they call back on their time. Or, it could be the person wants you to think they are so high up in the corporate food chain, that they are unreachable.

Whatever the reason someone never answers their work phone, it indicates a severe problem within that person’s office, which is probably deep routed within that company’s corporate culture.

Ah, here we go again – talking about corporate culture.

Corporate culture is an important element in today’s business environment. All offices have their similarities – they all have desks, phones, computers, people – but the interactions of all things in the office – that’s corporate culture. And corporate culture can vary significantly from one office to another – even within the same company.

Corporate culture is the unwritten law of the land – all the things which people just do at the office, because everyone else does them. They can be good things, like being extremely anal about the quality of work turned out, to bad things, like abusing casual hours or dress.

In one office I worked, for example, one of the elements of the corporate culture was that people abused their casual work hours. There were no hard and fast rules written down that said you must be at the office at 9am and leave at 5pm. The only rule written was you must but in at least a standard eight-hour day. Many had made informal arrangements with their managers to come in early so that they can leave early. Some (usually the managers) would come in late to stay late (and avoid rush hour traffic).

Regardless of what their agreed upon hours were, no one really ever put in an eight-hour day. Those who arranged to come in early to leave early, often came in well past their agreed upon time – but they always left at their agreed upon time.

Managers would come in late, but instead of leaving late, they’d leave at the usual end of the working day.

This abusive nature was okay – because it was embedded into the company’s corporate culture. It actually isn’t okay, it indicates a problem at the executive levels within the organization when it comes to maintaining order and structure. But as the executives didn’t want to provide that much needed structure – it was accepted as just the way things work.

This brings us back to those people who never seem to answer their phones. It is probably accepted as their corporate culture goes, that people just don’t take the time to answer their phones. But at a higher level within the company, someone has obviously dropped the ball, because there is something missing from a leadership perspective, which has caused the corporate culture to allow for this poor use of a major form of business communications.

When I worked for that company where people abused the casual work hours, my biggest problems were all tied to it. It was nearly impossible to schedule meetings, as the key individuals were never all around at the same time. Deadlines would come and go without the necessary work being done, because people weren’t around. Projects would then be rushed, to catch up on all those missed deadlines. Getting information for projects and other work related tasks was also pretty hard, as people were never around.

People who don’t answer their phones are avoiding others – be it inside their office, or worse, people that depend on them but are outside of their office. This makes it extremely hard, if not impossible to work with these individuals, as they aren’t around – and don’t make themselves available to be around – for work.

Corporate culture isn’t all bad. It’s nice to be able to wear blue jeans on Fridays. It’s great when they order in cakes and sing you “happy birthday” on your birthday. It is even a great way to motivate and mentor people, when the corporate culture allows it.

But when corporate culture is bad, it is very bad – not just for the office which has the negative office behaviours, but for anyone that has the unfortunate need to work with that office.

I’ve turned down contracts, refused to work with some companies, and even terminated contracts with clients whose corporate culture is detrimental to the business work flow process.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Going Green or Brown?

In the heat of political turmoil of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the environmental movement began.

Back then, hippies smoked grass while wandering barefoot on grass, to protest everything under the guise of protecting Gaia – aka Mother Earth.

In the heyday of the 1980’s economic boom, companies began to realize they too can turn a profit by jumping on the environmental band wagon. Everything old was new again, as it was suddenly labelled “environmentally-friendly” or “eco-friendly” or simply “green.”

These days, you have to be careful what you shop for, because most things sold as being “green” are really “brown” as in the color of bullshit.

Clever advertising has always targeted our most heartfelt feelings. From the warm and fuzzy “reach out and touch someone” advertising campaign from AT&T in the 1980’s, to the just as famous “something special in the air” campaign of American Airlines, also in that time period, to the witty “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials for Apple’s computers these days.

By labelling something as “green” it also caters to our feelings. We all want to be somewhat more environmentally-friendly. We’ve all heard about the constant rise of global temperatures, the failing ice sheets in the Arctic, even the sorrows of the baby seal population during the seal hunt.

Clearly, saying something is “green” adds an element of marketability.

Problem is, not everything being sold under the “green” banner really is all that green in the first place.

Pizza Pizza claims their pizza boxes are made from recycled paper products, and even claims some outrageously high number of trees saved by their recycling efforts. But they fail to say just how much of their pizza box is made from recycled fibres. For all we know, it could be as low as one-percent – and that just doesn’t seem all that green to me.

There are many other companies all touting similar claims, yet how environmental are they really?

It is time us consumers – and we all buy things so we’re all consumers – demanded greater accountability when it comes to all things green. Before simply handing over our hard earned dollars for a supposedly “green” product – ask questions.

Just how much of that box is made from recycled materials, and how much is new paper matter?

What else do you do to promote environmental-friendly products?

How is using this green product really going to help the environment?

If we continue to blindly buy products which are sold as “green” we’re no better than the blind leading the blind. We’re being raped – as our home, mother earth is. Yet we feel better, because we THINK we’re buying products and services which do not harm the earth – but they may have little to no real environmental gains.

So, next time you’re going green – think and ask first.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Just Say No to Plastic Boobs

We’ve seen the problems in silicone breast implants in the mid 1980’s. When these fake breast implants are improperly “installed,” they can leak, and cause serious injury leading to death.

These days, fake boobs are safer, thanks to laws put in place to ensure they are correctly used. But how are these things being disposed of?

If the silicone inside a fake breast can cause death in humans, what happens with all those breast implants that are simply tossed away?

Laugh not said the spider to the fly – as you ask yourself who’s going to toss away their bigger, bouncier self-image?

Look at Canada’s living Barbie Doll – Pamela Anderson. Pamela Anderson has had several breast increases and reductions. She’s changed her breast size more times than most people have their tires rotated on their cars.

What happens to all those fake breasts?

Why am I asking this?

No, I don’t have a breast fetish.

The provincial government here, along with other various governments, is thinking seriously about banning plastic bags from landfill sites.

Plastic bags, like most things artificially produced, take forever to break-down in garbage dumps. It can take several hundred years for plastic bags to make it to the ashes to ashes, and dust to dust stage – if ever.

This is due to the nature of most plastics, and why most plastics these days are recycled. Those PET plastic bottles used for pop would take even longer than a plastic bag to break down, simply because of the chemical composition of the plastics.

There simply isn’t enough sun, heat and moisture in a landfill site, to decompose artificially made plastics.

These days, most breast implants are saline (aka salt water) so they do believe it or not – break down in a landfill site. Though the plastic liners that hold all that salt water may last quite a while before becoming dust.

Plastics are a problem, yet we rely so heavily on plastics in our daily use. This computer I type on has loads of plastic parts – from the materials used in the keyboard, to the various wires, sockets, and joints, to who knows what else is lurking inside.

Banning plastic bags from landfill sites is a start, but there is so much more out there, it would be impossible to prevent all plastics from entering our dumps.

We use plastics in everything from the containers used to hold blank CD/DVD spindles, to the plastic containers used by fast food places for delivery, to the plastics used in drinking straws – plastic is everywhere.

If governments were serious about creating solutions to eliminating plastics from landfill, they’d be working on funding research into other materials, while banning plastics from use throughout all other manufacturing.

Though in some ways, every little bit does help. Banning plastic bags will reduce landfill use somewhat, as plastic bags are the most common type of garbage bag used. But, there needs to be more done, to keep all plastics from our landfills.

Maybe we can take a lesson from breast implants. We need a salt water solution, somehow.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Power if Soaking it Out

I have a confession to make – I’m a slob when it comes to eating messy food. Watch out if you’re within sprayable distance while I’m eating ribs, wings, pizza – you’re bound to get some of the sauce on ya.

I do try to be careful, and generally speaking, I don’t make that much of a mess.

Pass the wet nabs, please. . .

I guess messy eaters are generic. My dad is also a messy eater. Whenever I have my family over for dinner, wherever he was sitting is always the messiest.

Last night, I had the family over for dinner. I enjoy our family dinners – it gives me a chance to catch up with the people important in my life.

We had a great meal, watched some movies, and talked. Then came the clean-up afterwards. What a mess!

The placemats were covered in pretty much everything we ate – and some things I don’t remember ever seeing!

What to do?

How do you get a concoction of chocolate mouse, ketchup, mustard, cole slaw, juice, iced tea, and other things I couldn’t even identify out of placemats?

I took all the placemats, and covered them in liquid laundry detergent. I let them just sit and soak in this stuff for about 20-minutes. Then I added in hot water and stirred them like I was a witch making a caldron of some sort of secret potion. I let the water and soap potion soak for an hour.

Then I rinsed and hung to dry. I couldn’t see any stains, but I figured, that’s because it hadn’t dried on. I was anxious to check back in the morning to see how well my cleaning efforts worked.

Surprise and joy – no stains were found! My witches brew did the job – all the food stuffs that were stuck on were gone. I think these even look like new placemats!

So, the solution to the messy eating gene is a good soaking in soapy water. Now if only they can cure baldness so easily!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Politeness of Lying

Every day, we face numerous choices – do I wear brown pants or black? Do I have cereal for breakfast, or do I want to make toast?

Sometimes though, the hardest choices require us to lie. Though I find, it is best to say nothing at all, rather than to bend the truth.

“We’ll call by the end of the week regardless of our decision to move ahead or not, just to let you know,” said one potential client last Monday.

It’s Sunday and I still haven’t heard anything – and I probably never will. The person told me a white lie, because she was too much of a coward to tell the truth.

I’m a coward too – but I handle things more professionally.

I don’t always call back someone I have no intention of doing business with – but then again, I never make promises I can’t keep. I just say if we’re interested, we’ll be in touch. If I am interested, I’ll call – if I’m not, I don’t call.

But I don’t string people along, telling them I’ll call, when in fact I have no intention of ever calling that person – that’s just wrong.

But sadly, the wrong way seems to prevail in the business world.

I can somewhat sympathize with this attitude. I remember a time not that long ago, when I felt obligated to tell someone that we had chosen another service provider for one of our systems contractors. I had worked for this contractor before, and as I knew the higher-ups, felt it was my duty to tell them the bad news. We chose the other contractor because the fit was better – we didn’t have anything against my former contractor.

Still, when I called and politely told them we went with someone else, they were about to rip my head off – thinking I had taken a personal swing at them or something!

I told them it wasn’t personal, and I don’t make all the decisions myself – there are some things out of my control. But still, the person on the other end of the phone acted as if they had expected to win the contract, simply because I had worked for them in the past.

It taught me a valuable lesson – some of us are poor winners, some of us are great winners, but most of us are pretty shitty losers.

Since this life lesson, I have learned when dealing with contract bids, to never make a promise to call anyone back – ever. I only say I’ll be in touch if we’re interested. They may follow-up with a “oh, but you can call us to let us know right?”

I’ll just smile and repeat the part about calling if we’re interested. They may hear it – they may not. But that’s the way the water falls.

It keeps me from outright lying and saying I’ll call, when in fact I may not. And it keeps me from having to take the brunt of someone’s temper tantrum, when they don’t get what they think they deserve – which in most cases is when you don’t get what you want.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Does Anyone Actually Read Online Advertisements?

We see them all the time when we surf the web. Those banner advertisements that try and hook us with cute cartoon animals, sexy models, and larger than life font sizes.

They often flash boldly “Click Me” or “Click Here” but does anyone actually ever do?

In our information soaked world, we are literally bombarded by advertisements everywhere we look. On busses and their shelters, on billboards, on television, the radio and on just about every web page – we see nothing but ads.

There are even ads now in many bathroom stalls. So, while you are taking a moment to do some very personal business, you can carefully consider whether or not you want to purchase a new cell phone, buy a car, or rent that new movie.

I think we’ve become so accustom to seeing advertisements wherever we look, that we more often than not, simply tune most of them out. There are the occasional ones which slip past the radar, but for the most part we ignore the marketed world around us.

Rarely do I click on any of the advertisements at the top of web pages – yet I see them every day when I check the latest headlines, check different email accounts, or simply do a search for something or other.

I think, in order for an online banner ad to really catch my interest, I’d have to receive an electric shock just as the words zoomed out.

Surely I can’t be alone – there must be others unaffected by the constant sales pitches, marketing slogans, and gimmicks attacking us wherever we go.

And make no mistake about it – we are under attack.

Everything is up for sale these days. I remember a time when the Internet – back in the day, it was referred to by it’s true name – The World Wide Web – was free. There were no ads demanding to be clicked.

You just typed in the web address you wanted to go to, and within seconds, you’d be taken there. No ads, none of those annoying pop-ups, pop-unders, or my all time hated – the “Your X content will load after this commercial.”

Those are pure torture, used most often on video feeds (like MSN’s most watched videos). You see a headline you want to watch, and immediately after clicking it, a video loads.

But it isn’t the video you wanted, it is an advertisement – with a small disclaimer saying your selected video will appear after the commercial. They even have a little button you can click to “skip” the ad – but these buttons never work. I know – I’ve tried.

Then there are those ads that the second the web page loads, pop-up in front of you. You’re only cure to these is to click the “close” button or the “X” in the corner. Both methods work, but still, you are slightly pissed by the sudden pop-up in the first place.

I miss the days of old, where the Internet was free. But I suppose, everything costs something and someone has to pay for it. So eventually, the free-for-all Internet would be bought out by the corporate world and sold to the highest bidders.

To bad the highest bidders don’t know how to really market their services and products to us web-savvy surfers that don’t click those ads. Because those ads just waste everyone’s time.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Dependencies on Silicone Sally

“Hi, I’m not here right now, but please leave your name, number and a message at the tone . . .”

Voice-mail is an irksome necessity in today’s society. Everyone has a phone – most have more than one. Even teenagers have cell phones these days. When I was a kid growing up, only doctors, lawyers and the very wealthy had pagers – cell phones were the stuff of sci-fi.

Problem with our digital world, is although we all have a means to connect instantly with someone, no one is ever around to answer.

Sure, if I don’t recognize a number, I’ll most likely let the call go to voice-mail. But that’s become a necessary evil in today’s world.

With telemarketers, automated diallers and other advances in reaching out to harass, answering a call from an unknown number is like sticking your fingers into an electrical outlet. You don’t know if you’ll get a big shock, a little shock – or no shock at all.

Though, some people just never answer their phones at all. They live and die by their voice-mail. They are too busy – or want everyone else to think they are too busy – to actually pick up their phone. So, you play a never ending game of telephone tag.

Then there are emails and text messages. I never could get the hang of text messages. Keypads on cell phones are so small, it takes me forever to press-out even the shortest text message. And in many ways, it sort of defeats the whole purpose – why send someone a text message when you can just call them?

But then again, you may get their voice-mail, and be back where we started!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Open House Leads to Close Quarters

My gym has regular open houses to bring in new members. They usually hold them on long holiday weekends, where anyone can go in, and check out the facilities. Also during the open houses, members are encouraged to bring their friends and family as guests.

Gyms traditionally oversell their memberships. Most people that sign up at a gym don’t really know much about working out, and really haven’t ever been a member of a gym. They tour the facilities, see beautiful, healthy people working out, and think that if they join, they too will be fit.

Problem is, if you don’t enjoy going to the gym, you won’t. As with anything voluntary, if you don’t like it, you usually won’t do it. There are lots of ways to stay fit and to be active. But most people that join a gym are looking for a quick fix, rather than taking their time to explore their options.

Gyms themselves also compound the problem by forcing people to buy into one-year long contracts. They do usually offer shorter contracts, or even monthly ones, but these they price well above the cost of a one-year contract. And with these one-year contracts, typically once you’ve taken the time to workout and realize it isn’t for you, you’re stuck – unless you buy out the rest of the contract, which can cost quite a bit.

Back to the open house concept – my gym will hold regular open houses, luring in people en mass to sign up on one-year contracts. Most will come for a month, maybe two months max, and then quit. They are still paying for their monthly memberships – their contracts go for a year, but they just don’t like working out in a gym to go.

Problem for those of use who do enjoy working out at a gym, is for a couple of months after the open house, we regulars are cramped. All those people the gym management count on not showing up, do show up for the first month or two.

Yesterday my gym held a big open house party. They had a live DJ, contests, give-a-ways, free food and drink. They also signed up a lot of people who were eager to drop some weight, but probably won’t last for more than a month or two.

Today, I went to do my usual biceps and triceps workout at the gym. It was a chaotic mess! There were simply too many people in the building to even traverse the stairs safely.

I managed to get a locker right away, but had to wait a couple of minutes for an exercise bike to do my warm-up. The stretching room with the mats and Swiss Balls was also jammed with people. I moved a few of the stretching machines which no one was using, to create a little floor space for me.

Then, I had to be creative to get the weights and equipment I needed to do my usual workout. I had to do things slightly out of their usual order, so that I could do them. I just grabbed whatever I could use when it was available – and I made sure once I had a workout bench, I didn’t give it up until I had finished.

After my weight routines, I go to my cardio – but none of the cardio machines were free! I went back down to the weight room, and focused on some hips and thighs for a while. Then I managed to get onto an eclipse machine.

The steam room which I use to relax and sooth exhausted muscles after a good workout was also overly crowded. But at least I managed to find a corner and just relax and enjoy the steam.

I suppose this will continue for the next couple of months. But as new members grow tired of the gym, they will slowly stop coming, and then I’ll be able to really workout without having to worry about being crowded out.