Monday, June 30, 2008

I Don’t Flip or Flop On This Issue

Summertime brings warmer weather, and cooler clothes. Big, bulky winter coats, are replaced with light t-shirts, long pants become shorts, and heavy winter boots become flip-flops.

Flip-flops are the worst innovation since The Pet Rock. When I’m out in public, certain parts of my body are always covered – not just because it would be illegal to show them off, but they could sustain severe injury.

Flip-flops fall into both categories – I don’t want to see some complete stranger’s stinky feet, and they offer no protection whatsoever.

People walking around in flip-flops might as well be walking barefoot – they’d put less stress on their feet. You actually put quite a bit of stress on your feet when you where these poor excuses for footwear, because you have to constantly flex your feet to keep them from falling off. This constant flexing of the feet can and does cause strain on feet, ankles, legs, calves, and even the lower back – because all those joints are connected. We’ve all heard the famed lyrics: the head bone is connected to the neck bone. . .

As for protection from rain, mud, dirt – there is none. I’ve seen the bottom of many a flip-flop wearer’s foot, and they all are disgustingly dirty. They look like they have just done a 10K run through the jungle in their bare feet. Their feet are muddy brown usually on the bottom – and seeing as other than Mother Nature, no one else generally cleans outside – whatever grime is on the ground, is probably growing on those dirty feet.


Flip-flops certainly don’t provide protection for basic “soft” penetrations – like rain, mud and dirt – so what if you walk through broken glass in them? Or happen to accidentally stumble upon a rusty nail? You might as well amputate the person’s foot now, and save them the pain of having it cut-off later – if flip-flops can’t keep out rain, they won’t stop a rusty nail either.

Maybe shoe makers are catching on to just how unsafe these things are – I’ve seen more rugged versions, which look like a hybrid between a mountain boot and a flip-flop. These “shoes” (if you can call them that) are still open-toed, but they at least have a thicker sole, more of a tread on the bottom, and usually have more straps and buckles to hold them onto the foot.

Still, these hybrids don’t offer much more safety, and still expose everyone to everyone else’s stinky feet. They still don’t stop the rain, and probably wouldn’t stop a rusty nail either. And do I really want to see someone’s hairy toes? I don’t think so!

I love summer fashions – everything is lighter and easier to carry and wear. Hey, being a guy, I don’t mind the shorter, more revealing outfits women toss on either. But not everything designed for summer fun really is all that fun.

Just because someone paints on several coats of nail polish on her toes, doesn’t mean I want to see her feet in public. It’s far more of a turn-off seeing bright red toes on the top, and a slick coat of mud and grease on the bottom. It’s like being teased by a shiny red sports car, only to peer into the windows, and see the inside totally trashed.

The only place flip-flops have a purpose is in a locker room, or at the beach or pool. There at least, you can rinse off your feet, and put on clean, proper shoes before going out into the real world. Whenever I go to the gym, I always wear proper footwear in the locker room – which just so happens to be flip-flops. Athlete’s Foot and other fungi and bacteria can easily latch onto bare feet – so the solution is to wear something which is designed for temporary, water-based wear – such as a rubber flip-flop.

I also wear the same rubber-based flip-flops to the pool – but in both cases, I shower from head to toe, and then toss on real shoes before hitting the real world.

Because I’ll never flip-flop in the great outdoors – because flip-flops just weren’t designed for that purpose – no matter how “cute” or “strong” they make them appear.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Noisy Public Spaces

When I was a kid, Sony introduced the Walkman. Innovative for their day, these portable tape decks and AM/FM radios gave rise to the Discman, and eventually the IPod.

It wasn’t uncommon to see people bobbing and swaying to the beat of tunes, no one else could hear. Thanks to headsets, we could all enjoy our own tastes in music, without annoying or alienating others.

Maybe I missed something, but times have changed for the worse. People still dance to their own tunes, but for some bizarre reason, they seem to relish in forcing others to listen to their noise – which is what it is if it isn’t something I wanted to hear.

I see people on the subway, on buses, even walking down the street with their phones, their IPods, and other portable music devices, sans headset. Instead of keeping personal music players personal, they blast their tunes through the squawky speaker.

Sometimes, I give them a hairy eye-ball look, to show my distaste for their noise – and they just stare back. Some even turn up the volume!

When I was a kid, I remember once someone brought a ghetto-blaster on the bus, and cranked it way up. The bus driver stopped the bus, and refused to continue until the person turned off their boom box.

These days, people are afraid to take action, because of all the violence in today’s society. That polite question asking someone to turn down their music could get you shot, stabbed, or worse – dead.

Sad thing too, because we all share these public spaces, so how we treat each other really is a reflection of how our society truly is.

When people blast their tunes, and appear to “get off” on offending others around them – what does that say about our society?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Negotiations – Why Isn’t It A Two-Way Street

As a consultant – a contractor – I work under the terms of a contract. A contract is supposed to be a legally binding piece of paper, which sets out the terms and conditions acceptable to all parties involved.

Why is it then, most clients insist on contracts which aren’t acceptable to all parties involved?

Lawyers create this agreement – which is probably why no one likes ‘em. Lawyers look out only for themselves and their client’s best interests.

But if lawyers were really looking out for their client’s best interests, they’d be open to creating balanced contracts – ones which take into account the needs of all parties involved.

After receiving a contract from a potential client, I always make suggestions as to changes – I have yet to see a contract which is completely balanced and truly in keeping with the spirit of satisfying all parties involved.

Depending on how well a potential client receives my suggestions, will determine if, and for how long they are a client. If the client outright rejects any possible changes, then chances are, I won’t sign the contract as is, and they will have to find another consultant. If the client is – as most are – open to some of the changes – then I’ll probably take them on for a short-term arrangement, to see how things work out. If they are open to all changes, then the sky is the limit.

Still, it always amazes me how biased and unbalanced all contracts are – until I get my changes. Lawyers do write these things; with the intent do protect their client’s – of which I am not. However, once I begin consulting for someone, in a sense, I become a vital part of that company’s team – for the length of the contract/project. Wouldn’t it make sense Mr. Bigshot Lawyer to then create a more balanced agreement, one which really does look out for your client’s best interests?

If I simply signed away on the dotted line without making any changes, I’d probably be placing all parties at considerable risk – which isn’t what the lawyer’s who wrote the original contract had intended.

There are all sorts of tricks sneaky people attempt, to try and get their way in a contract. I’ve heard of executives at some big name automaker actually take people to a strip club to sign the final deal. The other mostly-male executives, are so distracted by the strippers, they don’t notice slight changes in some of the terms of the contract, and sign off on something, they probably shouldn’t have in the first place.

Then there are those who are just – well – wishy washy.

Contracts are funny things – once signed they are supposed to be law. Yet, after they are signed, I occasionally get a client that wants to make a change to the agreement. I usually say no – and hold them to their agreement. Negotiating the initial term is hard enough, once it is signed, further negotiations are even harder to balance out.

Also, clients that want to change something after it has already been signed indicate poor leadership from the top – and that could have adverse affects on my abilities to do my job.

But it does serve as a warning sign, one which probably will limit my time with that client to the current contract/project. Once a client has suggested changes after a contract has already been signed, the chances of me taking them on for additional contracts/projects are greatly diminished.

Would you trust someone that put a guarantee in writing, only the change later?

Me either.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Rejection Isn’t Easy to Give or Take

No one likes to be rejected – be it for a job, a date, or membership in some exclusive club or organization.

How we handle rejection, says a lot about who we are – personally and professionally.

And let’s face it – we all get rejected from time to time. Nothing is guaranteed in life, and we rarely get everything we’ve always ever wanted, all the time.

I’ve had to reject potential clients occasionally, either because I don’t feel I have the necessary skills to do the work, or, more likely, because their just isn’t a good ‘fit’ in our corporate styles.

The typical method in business to reject someone these days, is to ignore them. It isn’t the nicest way – some may even say this is rude. Depending on the level of involvement with the individual or organization, I may send off a quick email. This email alerts the person that, although I value their interest in my services, I have taken on another client or project, and will be unable to assist in their current needs – but I wish them well, and often suggest further resources where they can find more suitable people to do the work.

It’s a polite and friendly email, saying essentially that I’ve taken on other projects, so I don’t exactly reject them directly. But, most people get the message – or their project timelines are too tight, and they can’t wait for me to become available, so they move on, as they should.

Some people don’t handle rejection very well. They take great offense to not being “the chosen one.”

That happened today – and from a senior member of a company no less. I don’t know which surprised me more – that I received a rather rude email laying blame directly at me, or that this email was written by someone that carries the title “vice-president.”

Originally, I just didn’t respond this person’s constant requests – figuring most people would take the hint. If you apply for a job, go to an interview or two, and never hear back, then you should get the message. Again, it isn’t the nicest way to let someone down, but it is pretty much standard in today’s business world, probably because many people don’t take rejection well, and it is easier to just not say anything, rather than having to deal with someone getting all hot under the collar.

Although I didn’t respond to this vice-president’s emails, she insisted I respond, by sending more messages, asking if I’d be interested in working with her and her team after my current project.

So, I wrote a more direct email, specifically saying I’d thought they would have gone with another consultant at this point, because of the delays – I was hoping by phrasing it this way, she’d at least think I was understanding in her going with someone else.

Instead, I get what probably was a hastily written email, saying that because of how I felt, a working relationship would probably be less than harmonious, and not worth pursuing.

Sometimes, those who can’t handle rejection need to have the last word. This way, they aren’t the one’s being rejected, but instead they are the ones doing the rejection. This is a sign of weakness, and inexperience – neither of which I expect from someone at the vice-president level.

Despite this odd behaviour from a senior member of a company, I’m professional enough to take the higher road. I won’t respond to her email, for that would probably cause her to write back a tirade of nasty thoughts.

I won’t tell her that she can’t reject me – I already rejected her! I won’t tell her that the real reason I rejected her initially, was because she didn’t appear to know what to look for to determine a quality consultant for the role – which at her level, she ought to know exactly what to look for. I won’t tell her that despite her promises to provide more information to me regarding the project’s timelines and scope, I never received any information – which made it all too easy to move onto another client. Although I’m flattered when people think I can read their minds, I can’t – so if I don’t receive enough information to make an informed decision, I will move onto projects which I can.

It really burns me up to receive emails from people I’ve rejected, which are essentially angry hate messages, venting their frustrations about being rejected. But, not everyone takes rejection well – though in business, one would figure there would be a little more tact and diplomacy.

Perhaps next time I won’t respond at all, despite someone’s constant requests for me to do just that. But I’ve also had people send just as angry emails, telling me off for not responding at all!

I can’t win!

Though I suppose, someone who handles rejection poorly will always act out their anger, regardless of what I do or don’t do. If I send a polite email, advising someone to find a more suitable consultant, I get told off. If I don’t call or email the person back at all, I get told off.

I guess I’ll get told off regardless of what I do – but hey, I can handle rejection. So I just file it as a life lesson learned, and move on. Hopefully this vice-president has said her piece, and decides to move on as well – which is what a real vice-president would have done in the first place.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Awkward Goodbyes

Today I met up with some former colleagues for lunch. It is always a pleasure to see those I used to see every day, catch up on the latest gossip, and share some laughs as we remember the silly moments of work.

We went to a pleasant Greek restaurant, and enjoyed some good Greek food.

In many ways, meeting up with former co-workers is like going on a first date. No, I didn’t bring flowers, chocolates, a teddy bear, or some other cute first date type of gift. But some of those awkward moments on a first date also happen when meeting up with former colleagues.

When we first met up, we weren’t sure whether to shake hands or hug – everyone in the group was female except for me. If it was all guys, we’d probably shake hands, or maybe just nod. That’s just one of those double-standards I suppose. But hugging another man is one of those things men just don’t typically do. Must have something to do with male bonding, or just being masculine in today’s society.

We started talking the usual small talk which begins many social situations – how are you, how’s the family, do you still workout? What about that weather?

As we became more acquainted, and realized we were all old friends, the conversation become more familiar and comfortable. We began to fill each other in on our current events, news, and that old favourite of water coolers everywhere – gossip.

We ate, joked and talked about everything. We had re-established that old bond between us and were enjoying catching up.

We talked about vacations people took and where they would like to go on their next one. How much work there still was, as always, piling up.

Then came the end – that awkward moment like on a first date. On a first date, you often wonder, do you go in for the kiss, a hug, or just a handshake?

No kissing here – these were former co-workers. But again we weren’t sure whether or not to hug, shake hands, or what. In many ways it resembled a first date – as you don’t know quite what to do.

In the end we all hugged each other good-bye, and said we’d have to do this again sometime soon.

Hopefully we will – but just as a first date, you never really know. People move from job to job, from company to company. Some even move from country to country these days, with the global economy being what it is.

It would be nice to stay connected, and keep in touch. Not just for the office gossip, but to keep some good friends close. Though one never really knows if that will happen . . . just like on a first date.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Feel Like a Ragdoll on a Rollercoaster

Once something is in writing, it is generally assumed to be final, complete, done like dinner. Especially if that something is a contract, or other such legally binding agreement.

I signed on a new client yesterday, and no more than 40-minutes after I had already signed the contract, they inform me of a change in the contract – which took quite some time to get in the first place.

They gave me a matter-of-fact response through email, telling me that it wouldn’t affect much, just a couple of dates in the contract.


Dates in a contract affect everything – when things are started, when things are finished, and the biggie – how long it takes in between to get those things done in accordance with the dates in the contract.

Also, I didn’t like their tone – it was as if they were telling me that they could arbitrarily change the dates, without my consent.

Being the other party in this arrangement, they can’t change anything unless I authorize it.

I let it go for the day, so I could sit and think clearly about this dilemma. I called the client today, and they – low and behold – gave me a completely different rational for changing the dates.

I was fuming, not just because they were changing the terms of what was already agreed to in law, but obviously, they weren’t giving me the complete and honest truth behind these changes.

They even wanted me to cross out the dates in question, initial the changes, and fax the revised document to them.

I declined – I said we can talk in person about these changes, and I’ll consider them then. I brought the power back to my end of the table – because they really can’t just go and make changes to a contract which I am a party too, without my consent.

I told them there were so many negotiations up to arriving at the contract in the first place, and that the whole ordeal has been quite trying. To make changes now, once we’ve already established a final, legal agreement wasn’t exactly very professional or Kosher.

But, I said I would consider those changes, in person. It is harder for people generally to make crap up in person, so at the very least, maybe I could get a solid and legit reason for these changes.

Still, I often feel like a ragdoll being tossed around on a rollercoaster. People recognize the need for my services, and want me in on their projects, but they make it so damn near impossible for me to be comfortable dealing with them at a professional level.

Being a contractor often means being tossed into a project already in progress. Usually because the project team has dropped the ball, and they need someone to quickly clean up the mess. But being a contractor shouldn’t mean having to deal with people that don’t value or respect the very paper the contract is written on.

Without that paper, the relationship between the contractor and the client doesn’t exist. And then who’s going to clean up your mess?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The World Suffers Because of Greedy Oil Tycoons

A few weeks ago, movie theatre companies announced they were increasing the price of popcorn and other already over-priced items at their concession stands. They claimed, their costs were rising to have these goodies delivered from their suppliers, because of increased fuel costs.

Food prices have constantly been on the rise, thanks to the cost of oil. It costs more to get the food from the suppliers to the grocery stores, because it costs more to fuel the trucks that carry those goods.

Air Canada – the largest national airline in the country – announced 2,000 layoffs due to – you guessed it – the constant increase in fuel.

Meanwhile, last week in Quebec, several gas stations were charged with fixing prices to ensure they get more than their fair share of the oil tycoon revenue.

We’ve long suspected that the mega-large and all too powerful oil companies have been fixing prices. Granted, a handful of gas stations in one province doesn’t mean much – but the constant rise of fuel around the globe certainly does.

Most companies have to set their prices in accordance with what the competition is selling theirs, otherwise no one will buy it. But if all the oil and gas companies, of which there are only a small number, work together to ensure they all sell their products at the same prices – guess what?

We all suffer. People lose their jobs, because companies can’t afford to keep them on because their costs go up. The costs of products and services which we depend on for our very survival – such as food, clothing and shelter – all increase, because it costs more to make and transport these things, due to increased fuel costs.

The oil tycoons on the other hand, continue to claim that oil prices are set by the standard market trends – the more people who want the product, the more it costs to fill that need – the classic supply and demand model.

Funny though, as fuel costs increase, more people than ever are taking unusual measures to cut their fuel consumption needs. Transit authorities all over Canada and the States are reporting record increases in users of public transit.

Many people even admit to taking the bus, instead of driving, to save money – because they can’t afford to refuel their cars.

Yet, with the oil tycoons claim there is a constant increase in the demand for their products, so the price is constantly going up.

I think the oil tycoons are ripping us all off. They are harming the fundamental basics of life, all so they can have a new car for every day of the week.

They probably spend a lot to fuel their cars – but hey, they get it all back in the end. Of all the companies we hear suffering due to oil costs – the oil companies aren’t any of them.

General Motors is shutting down a whole automotive manufacturing plant – with thousands of employees – in Ontario, because of increased oil prices forcing people to not be able to afford a new car.

Air Canada as mentioned earlier, is laying off 2,000 employees, but they are also cutting flights and raising prices to cover the costs of their increased fuel needs.

But we never hear of Imperial Oil, or any of the other oil tycoon companies cutting staff, slashing products or services, or closing factories or processing plants. All they do is keep raising the price of their products – while the world suffers.

We have become far too dependent on crude oil – which is where the real mess lies. If we utilized alternative fuels, such as wind, solar power, even electric, then we wouldn’t be at the mercy of a select greedy few oil tycoons. If we took advantage of alternatives to oil-based products, then the oil companies really would be forced to set their prices in accordance with market trends – instead of whatever they want to pad their pocketbooks.

But as with many things in life, we often don’t learn our lesson until it is too late. The economy is slumping, people are losing their jobs, and prices continue to rise – all because we depend on oil-based products and services to keep the economy moving.

Monday, June 16, 2008

High School Reunion Time Already?

You know you are old when you get an invite to meet up with people you haven’t seen in over 20-years.

Recently, I was invited to my high school reunion – well sort of. I was sent an online e-invite from one of my friends on Facebook that also attended the same school.

I checked out the Facebook site for the high school reunion, and saw faces from my past. It is eerie and cool at the same time.

It’s eerie because in high school, you are a very different person then when you are an adult. In high school, and university or college, you are still a kid at heart, becoming an adult. School gives you the opportunity to explore who you really are, which forms the basis for who you become as an adult.

All those late nights studying, those awkward first dates, all the extracurricular clubs and activities, all those wild parties, all those part-time McJobs – all of these experiences and more are just that – experiences.

It is the whole experience of growing up which makes us who we become later in life. Actually, life is nothing more than a collection of experiences, which constantly change and grow us throughout our lives.

But the point here is, although a high school reunion may be fun, I was just as different a person back in high school as all those I went to high school with are today. So, in a sense, we’re all strangers to one another.

Sure the cool part is to catch-up with friends and see what they are up to now, but then what?

Unless you happen to be in the same line of work, live on the same street, or have something else in common, you’re at a loss for connecting. Unless you keep those connections from the past, which I imagine happens.

Although I haven’t gone to a high school reunion – and I’m still not sure if I’ll go to this one – I imagine most of the time is spent remembering days past. What else can you talk about with someone you haven’t seen in over 20-years?

Granted, special bonds develop with those who you were close to during those early years – when you’re growing up, you’re sharing those experiences with those closest to you. But still, once you discuss the past, and share those memories from the past, what next?

The interest in seeing what people look like after all this time, and what they are doing now is the big draw. And it is nice to look back on high school and remember the good times, the silly times, and even some of the not so good times.

Maybe I’ll go just to do that – it is an experience. And that is all that life really is – experience.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fear Not – Today Is Friday the 13

Superstitious people everywhere will be avoiding walking under ladders, black cats, and opening umbrellas inside, because today is supposedly the worst day of the year.

Today is Friday 13 – supposedly an unlucky day for those who believe in such things.

The number 13 is seen as bad luck, not just on the calendar, but everywhere. In my building, as in many, there isn’t a 13th floor. The numbers on the elevator go from 12 to 14. Technically, the 14th floor is the 13th, but they have labelled it 14, so that those unlucky enough to call that floor home, don’t fear for their lives.

I don’t think believe in superstitions. I was even born on a Friday 13, so in many ways 13 isn’t a bad number to me.

Still, fear sometimes scares us straight. Someone did a study showing that because people fear Friday 13, many are extra cautious on these days, so people are less likely to get into accidents on Friday 13.

Call me cynical, but those who take extra care on Friday 13 in fear deserve to have something bad happen to them. It’s almost like these individuals are hoping something bad happens, so they can justify their fictitious superstition.

That’s what superstition really is – fictitious. It is all in our imaginations.

We use our creative imaginations all the time to explain the unknown. The ancient Greeks believed thunder and lightening occurred when the Gods were mad, and fighting amongst themselves. It was thought that the world was flat, until Christopher Columbus sailed across the world, and didn’t fall over the edge. We tell children about Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy to explain Christmas and how baby teeth fall out and why.

We still have magical mysterious imaginations, which make up stories when we just aren’t sure. Look at all the conspiracy theories surrounding the assignations of John F. Kennedy, the landing of man on the moon, even how the government monitor’s all telephone calls to listen for potential terrorists.

It is the same with the number 13, and Friday 13. Superstitions are fictional stories we use to explain the unknown. Bad things happen all the time, maybe Friday 13 was created as a day to explain how some of these bad things happen?

One thing is certain, it is easier to get around on Friday 13, because many people call in sick and take the day off, hiding from their own unknowns. Stay scared and in hiding, I hate traffic!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Some Were Born to Lead, Others We Aren’t Quite Sure

Being a consultant, I get around the corporate world so-to-speak. I go to many different companies, and get tossed into many different types of corporate cultures.

There are the exceptionally eased-back corporate cultures, where blue jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops are the accepted form of daily dress. Then there is the other extreme, where fresh pressed suites and ties rule.

Whatever the corporate culture, a title should mean relatively the same thing across organizations, especially at the management or executive level. So, someone with the high ranking title of “Vice President” should have the same level of professionalism and experience at the company where blue jeans are the norm, and at the suite and tie shop.

However, it isn’t – in fact I often wonder how some people got to their high paying senior roles. Maybe they slept with the right people up the corporate ladder, or maybe they are related to the owner, or maybe they just happened to buy enough stock in the company.

As a consultant, my first indication of whether a potential client is worthy of my continued interest are the very first people I meet – most of whom are senior managers, executives, and their administrative staffs.

Recently, I encountered a vice president who was all eager and seemingly interested in my services. She was glowing over my solutions to her problems – as if she’d never heard of such wisdom before.

My job as a consultant, is to pin-point a company’s problem, and provide the solution. So her enthusiasm, although it was pleasantly received, did raise an initial red flag – surely she must have been discussing her problems with other consultants to find the best solution? That’s her job – to find the consultant with the best solution, within her budget, and then go with it.

We chatted for a while, and ended saying we’d email each other the required materials to get the ball rolling – she wanted to see some more samples from my portfolio, and I needed to see the project scope and timelines, so I could provide her with an assessment of time and cost to do the work.

I had mixed feelings already, as she was rushing the process, while at the same time indicating the project she had in mind for me didn’t start until the end of the month. There were also some issues I had with how she intended to pay for my services, but that is something I’d be happy to workout later, once we get a contract hammered out.

It was a Friday when we met, but she assured me she checks her email on weekends, so we’d both be ready to meet again on Monday and finalize the contract.

I worked late on Friday night, gathering the most relevant materials based on our discussions. Around seven Friday night, I emailed her what she was looking for. It was a large compressed ZIP file, but if it didn’t arrive, I’d get a bounced message back – or at the very least, because she checks her email and is expecting a large message from me, she would email me quickly asking why she hadn’t received it.

I’m on and off my email all weekend, and never receive a bounced message, so I assume the large email I sent reached her. But I don’t receive anything back – no project plans, no timelines, nadda.

I sent another email asking if she got my email, and inquiring about the one she told me she’d send on Saturday.

Sunday after Midnight – so technically the weekend is over as it is the wee hours of Monday – I receive an email from this vice president, advising that she hasn’t received my email!

For someone who checks her email on weekends, obviously she didn’t this weekend. She wanted me to send her the email again, and said we’d have to push back our meeting until Wednesday.

I was frustrated and disappointed, as I saw more red flags raised, but I attempted once again. I sent her a smaller email, and reminded her to send me the project specs.

Early Wednesday morning, the day I’m supposed to meet with her, she requests more samples, and wants to push back the meeting to another time. I still haven’t received anything from her, and I’ve already provided her with more materials than most potential clients, so now I’m really fuming.

Anyone who’s been in this business long enough to earn the title of vice president should be able to make a decision on whether to go ahead or not with the project, based on the materials I’ve provided, and offer my something concrete in writing. Unless of course she never really earned her title – maybe she’s the president’s niece, or sister-in-law, or lover, or whatever, but she certainly isn’t acting like a vice president.

I respond with a few more samples, advising her that I have other projects on the go, and the sooner she can make a decision, the better the chance she has of having me on the team. I advise her that we’ll meet once she has had a chance to go over the newly sent materials, as there is no point in meeting before. I still haven’t received anything from her, which is another major red flag.

When an administrative assistant says she’ll do something and doesn’t, you know that at that low level on the corporate food chain, that occurs. But at the management and executive levels, when someone says they will do something and they don’t, you know there is a serious problem within the company’s management.

Over the next few days, this supposedly vice president, requests more samples, and continues to set different times and days for meeting, which just as quickly as she sets the appointment, she asks me if I can reschedule for another time.

I got the feeling that she was intentionally stalling. Oh she wanted me on the team, but the project didn’t start until the end of the month, and we’re only in the first week of the month. So, instead of being a professional, and being honest with me, she strings me along, hoping to buy enough time until the project’s funds become available to bring me aboard. Alternatively, maybe she didn’t know enough about her job, and was hoping the more samples I sent her, the more ideas she could steal so she could do the work? Either way, it was another red flag, waving in the murky air.

I realize that this company isn’t worthy of my attention – maybe the company is well managed, just this one individual at the top isn’t very good at her job. But then again, maybe the whole company is run in such an unprofessional way? Who knows, I can only base my decision on those I am working with, and at this early stage of the game, this amateur vice president is the only person I am dealing with.

So I advise the vice president that I’ve taken on another client and will have no time for her project, but I wish her every success in finding the right consultant for her needs.

She emails me back, asking if I’ll be available in a few weeks, to work on her project. I ignore her email and move on – and I bet I’m not the first nor the last person who’s done that.

She was fishing to see if I was yet another alienated professional, which she has scared off because of her failure to be what she claims to be – a vice president.

She may not know how or why people suddenly put the brakes on her projects, but she’s probably found the right consultant before, only to have that person back off quickly and never work with her again.

And that is too bad, because it sounded like an exciting project. But having someone in the wrong role in a company can cost it big time – now she’s got to find another consultant, and hopefully, she won’t scare him off as well.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some People Never Let Go

Our Prime Minister apologized today for the numerous sexual assaults in some native schools. The Prime Minister has never actually participated in any of these, he was apologizing on behalf of the nation.

The Natives of this land, and many other lands, have endured many changes from their traditional ways of life. European travellers discovered new land, and their native inhabitants many eons ago. And as both diverse cultures collided, so too did the ways this land was run.

All of this happened back in the days of the fur trade, long before cell phones, televisions or even the Internet. Yet in this day of technological advances – many of which the Natives use themselves – our politicians are still grid locked with Native protestors about issues that should have been buried long ago.

I’m not saying that the sexual abuse on Native-based schools is a good thing – far from it. But why is our country’s top dog apologizing for it, when he has absolutely nothing to do with it?

The answer is strictly political – the Natives blame their misfortunes on everyone and anyone that isn’t Native. They use the realm of politics to garner attention and support for their causes, when for the most part, their causes have nothing to do with that realm.

Sexual abuse unfortunately happens in many places across the country, but you don’t hear the Prime Minister apologizing to those who aren’t Native.

Poverty, hunger, alcoholism, drug abuse and other problems common throughout society, have all been blamed on modern society by the Natives. Our federal government has responded by pumping billions of dollars into Native communities, in the hopes of helping with these problems. But these problems occur everywhere in our society, not just on Native soils. How come our federal government doesn’t take the time to try and solve these problems nationally?

Because Native protestors are violent, politically savvy terrorists. That truly is what they are – you don’t see Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) blocking major highways, and threatening to shoot anyone that passes. Yet MADD does great work in helping victims of drunk drivers. The United Way, one of the largest non-profit charitable organizations in Canada, which provides training, clothing, and shelter services to the poor, doesn’t light our national flag on fire, while getting into fist fights with police during a protest, as the Natives do.

There are many examples of just how good, solid organizations raise awareness about real issues, versus the violent methods Natives use to resurrect old issues, just because they really have nothing left to complain about.

When a group of people takes federally issued funds and uses those funds to cause harm and violence, instead of to use it for resolution of the issues for which it was intended, then I think we should stop supporting Native causes.

Why should our tax dollars be spent on bullets and barricades, when they can be used elsewhere in the country for peaceful means?

Yes, what happened to the Natives during the fur trade was horrible, and shows a certain level ignorance towards their culture and way of life. But those horrors occurred long before our grand parents – and even our great grand parents – were alive. So why are we still hearing the same old song and dance?

I think, the Natives just aren’t creative enough to come up with real solutions to their own problems, so they hold on to old issues to rally support around. These rallies gather much needed financial support, which they in turn put into more rallying cries, instead of their intended purpose – to help with the issues raised.

It’s time our politicians woke the f*ck up and stopped funding violent, terrorist-like behaviour. It’s time for our politicians to leave the past in the past, and move on towards the future. Let go of the Natives, they just hold the rest of the country back from progress.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lost That Neighbourly Feeling

This past weekend, I was helping my parents put in a patio. They live in a relatively new subdivision, and they have teamed up with their fellow neighbours to put in fences between the backyards.

When I was a kid growing up, we moved into a new subdivision, and we also teamed up with the neighbours to put in fences. Back then, my dad was younger and one of our neighbours was a contractor, so we did it all ourselves. I helped my dad, and we worked with the other neighbours to dig the holes, cement in the posts, and put up the wooden planks.

I remember putting in the fence when I was kid, it was a lot of work. But, the upside was we got to know our neighbours quite well. Knowing our neighbours paid off in the long-term, as me and my brother were quite young, and we’d play with the other kids that lived on our street. As everyone knew everyone, it made the neighbourhood a safe, friendly place to be.

All the parents knew each other’s parents, so if one of us disappeared, it wasn’t hard for them to track us down – usually at one of the other kid’s houses.

My parents are a lot older now, so they aren’t putting in the fence for themselves. All the neighbours have chipped in money, to hire a contracting company to build the fences. This isn’t a bad thing, as the fence is going up a lot faster than when I was a kid, and it’s good that my parents don’t have to do any of the hard work.

Problem is, the neighbours aren’t getting to know each other as well as they probably should. Sure, my parents are older, and my brother and I are all grown-up, and don’t live with my parents anymore. So we won’t be playing with the other kids on the street, and our parents don’t need to know who’s kid is whose.

But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea to know your neighbours. If you know the people living around you, chances are you will all look out for each other somewhat. Be it something as simple as taking in a neighbours paper and mail when they are away on vacation, to calling the police if you see someone breaking into a neighbours house, to simply creating a warm, friendly neighbourhood, where everyone feels apart of the community.

That’s the real issue – there is a certain lack of community these days in modern subdivisions. When I was a kid growing up, home wasn’t just a building to go to for sleeping and eating. I felt home turning onto my street, waving at my neighbours as they watered their lawn, even helping them out when they needed the occasional help moving patio stones, or whatever. The street was just as much apart of my home, as the physical building where my bed lay.

These days, people tend to keep more to themselves. They don’t open up and get to know those living around them as much as they used too. I suppose part of the reason, is my parents don’t have kids enrolled in the same schools as those other parents on the street.

But still, when I was a kid growing up, I knew the other people on the street, even if they didn’t have kids. There was the engineer on the corner, who’d come over every so often to see my train collection – I had a big model train set in the basement. There were also parents whose kids went to other schools – like our next door neighbours whose kids went to the Catholic school, instead of the public school which I went too.

We still knew these people, just as well as the rest on the street. And we looked out for each other, and made the community just that – a community.

It might be nice to live in a brand new house, but that sense of community in those new subdivisions just creeps me out, and makes me long for days gone by – when we all cared about where we lived.

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Mangle of Spaghetti – But Not the Kind You Can Eat

Yesterday, I had my brother over to hang out, watch some movies, and catch-up. It’s always a pleasure having him over – we’re both so busy in our daily lives, we don’t get to see each other as we used too.

We did typical guy things – played some computer games, checked out the score in the baseball game (the Jay’s lost) ordered in some greasy fast-food, and watched a gory guy’s movie.

He brought over the movie – a two disc compilation. The first disc worked perfectly in my DVD player, the second disc kept skipping, and dropping frames.

So, we tried the disc in my laptop’s DVD player – and it worked just fine. My laptop is one of those new fangled toys, a complete multimedia station, with all the latest digital outs.

The trick was, figuring out which cables went to and from where to where. I have digital cable, so I have a multitude of spaghetti-type wires going from all my various components. To complicate matters, it isn’t well lit behind my home theatre station, so I had to grab a flashlight to see all the different ports.

Whoever’s bright idea it was to engrave black lettering on a black video/audio component should be hung by his or her private parts. Even under the bright glare of a flashlight, it’s still pretty hard to see what is what.

Still, being an old television-production geek, I knew the old rule – for every in there must be an out. Eventually, I managed to get everything wired just right – and we were able to watch the rest of the movie.

Though after the movie, I had to remove my laptop from the puzzle, and re-assemble everything. It didn’t take that long, but again I had to deal with a mess of spaghetti-strung cables, while reading black engraved text on black components.

It sort of reminded me of the old days, when VCRs were just starting to appear in people’s homes. I remember the loud sound hiss of static, and the grey snow which appeared on the screen when we hooked up our first VCR, all while the VCR’s clock continued to flash “12:00.” The sounds of my dad cursing and swearing could also be heard – probably clear across the neighbourhood, as he fumbled with poorly written instructions, and just as poorly labelled ports.

The grey hiss of static has long since been replaced with the so-called blue screen of death. You know something is out of alignment in audio/video land, when you see nothing but a blue screen.

Technology has progressed quite a bit over the years. Instead of using analogue-based video cassette tapes, everything is completely digital and often in high definition. These days people are more concerned with getting 1080p high definition than a four-head VCR.

Funny, in all this time, despite the technological advances, the manufacturers still can’t clearly label the ports on their boxes. Back in the days of VCRs, the terms may have differed, but they still just engraved those port names, much as they do today.

RCA cables make things somewhat easier, as they are color-coded (red, white, yellow and black), but if you are using an S-Video cable, or an optical digital cable, or an HDMI cable – or as in my case (and probably yours too) a combination of these cables – unless you have Superman’s X-Ray vision, finding the right port becomes quite the challenge.

Some companies do try to make things better – but only if you use nothing but their brand. High-end LG and JVC components have special “smart” ports, which are designed specifically for their hardware. Just plug in an LG television to an LG home theatre set and pretty much all you have to do is balance the audio and video signals, and you’re done. Same goes for JVC, and I think Panasonic and Sony have similar systems.

Problem is, if you have a mix-mash of components, say some JVC, some Sony and some from other vendors (like the digital cable box top), they don’t just plug and play as easily. Often they require quite a bit more tweaking to get things to work.

At least there’s no more hissing grey static to distract and annoy you while you tweak your JVC television, to your Sony home entertainment system. But sometimes, I miss that old familiar sound, and the flashing “12:00” too.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Stink of Summer

We’re experiencing our first heat-wave of the summer here – and as the temperatures rise, so do many other things.

Often during hot summers in the city, we hear about smog alerts – but what about personal stink?

I was out and about today, and saw not one, but several people with big, ugly, stinky, wet sweat stains under their arms.

Personal care is – well – personal – but part of good grooming is making sure you don’t alienate or offend those around you.

I know not everyone likes to put chemicals on their bodies – some are even allergic. But there are natural alternatives these days, so there is no excuse for not wearing something to control excessive body stink.

There are medical conditions which cause people to sweat excessively – but then there are medications and special topical creams and ointments which solve the problem.

Maybe it is cultural, as these people, men and women, all seemed to be from an Indian/Pakistani background, and they weren’t all together – so they weren’t all part of the same family.

Even still, this is Canada, and cultural differences aside, we have specific standards and values here. Part of respecting another individual’s freedom is to not offend and alienate that person, at the very least by taking measures to not stink.

There is nothing worse than having to work in close quarters with someone whose body stench is so strong, you literally feel like each breath will be your last. And with all the products out there to prevent these things, there really is no reason why anyone should have this problem.

We have public decency laws in this country, which specify some basic ground rules to not impinge on another’s freedom. All naughty bits must be properly clothed – hence the often quoted “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”

These public decency laws even can be used to shush someone who is swearing out loud in public. So why don’t we have laws to control the body odour of another?

Some people put on way too much perfume or cologne. You can smell them miles away, and for hours after they have gone. That’s not always pleasant, but at least it smells better than stanky, sticky sweat.

It is one thing if were are working out together and get a little dirty in the field. It is quite another to go out without any protection and expect me, or anyone else, to accept your stink.

I think the public decency laws should be amended, to include bad odours and excessive sweat marks.

No one should ever have to tolerate another’s stink.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Words I Didn’t Grow Up To

When I was a kid, the world was a vastly different place.

Back then, it was safe to play outside with the other kids in the neighbourhood – we’d play ball hockey, tag, or even just go up to the park up the street.

Schools were also considered safe – all the doors were always open, and we could run and be free at recess and lunch times. It was even safe to walk home alone after school.

Today a high school was locked down, because someone brought a gun to school. The words “locked down” never existed in my childhood. But kids today are very accustomed to those words, when put together, say something has gone wrong in our society.

Teachers instruct their classrooms what to do in a lock down – to stay quiet, and keep away from the windows. The once open and free school – a pillar of focus in most communities – is now locked and closed.

We hear all the time about kids being abducted on their way to and from school, how neighbourhoods are no longer the safe places they once were and as is the case today, we hear about schools being locked down.

We live in a very different world than that world where I grew up. When I was a kid, the worst thing I can remember is a couple of other kids getting busted in the washroom for smoking cigarettes.

These days, kids bring guns to school to settle their differences – or maybe it’s for show and tell. But it tells a sad story about the so-called “progress” we have made in the last couple of decades.

Sure, it’s great our kids have access to things we never had before – such as the Internet, computers in the classroom, new teaching methodologies and theories and so on.

But when kids have access to guns, or have to be taught what a lock down is, that’s a different kind of progress – one we shouldn’t be proud of.

The fact that “lock down” has been added to the vocabulary of our youth in a way diminishes and takes something away from childhood.

Childhood is supposed to be a carefree time, where all the burdens of society don’t exist. Childhood should be a time for exploration, creativity, and most of all play.

But it is hard to imagine a playful childhood under a lock down. Pass the navy blue crayon, but do it quickly and quietly – we don’t want to get shot at.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Wish I Had Some Mafia-Type Heavy to Keep Me Employed

The signs of an economic slow-down are everywhere – housing prices are dropping, employment stats are dropping, and the major automakers are closing plants and laying off thousands of people.

Though all those people GM, Ford and Chrysler are laying off have one thing going for them most of us could only ever dream of – a bully to put some muscle on their bosses, to keep them employed.

For most of us, if the company we are working for unfortunately hits a financial conundrum, and we lose our job because the company has to lay us off, we say thanks for the memories, and move on.

Not if you are lucky enough to have a powerful union like the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) behind you. If you have the CAW behind you, then it doesn’t matter if your employer is so hurting for cash, that they have to sell off everything including the kitchen sink, your union will fight for you to ensure you still have a job.

I wish I had a someone fighting in my corner like that. Then I’d never worry about being unemployed, why would I have too – the union would flex it’s muscles and I’d be safe in it’s care.

Unions do some good for their members. If it wasn’t for unions, we’d all still be working for employers that didn’t care about our health and safety on the job. If it wasn’t for the union movement, benefits packages wouldn’t exist. If it wasn’t for unions, we’d probably work more days than we have off in a week. Oh wait, we still do . . .

But, when it comes to unions and job security, unions just don’t live in the real world. Granted, unions are there to protect their members, to ensure they get the best deals in employment and unemployment. But when the wheels of the economy fall off, and companies have to make tough choices, unions make unrealistic demands.

It is one thing to fight for good severance packages for those who must be let go. It is quite another to hold rallies and protest the closing of a plant or factory. We all have to make tough choices in our lives – and I’m sure it wasn’t easy for those executives at the top to choose who gets to keep their job and who gets the proverbial pink slip.

During an economic downturn as we are in, people stop purchasing big ticket items like cars and trucks. So naturally, the automakers will suffer – people can’t afford their products and services, so they don’t bring in the money they need to keep afloat.

Unions don’t appear to see it this way – they think the automakers are evil, have some sinister plan to the United States. They even got up the nerve to wear red t-shirts at a recent protest claiming Canadian-built cars are better.

Many cars are assembled in Canada, but as far as I know, Canada doesn’t have it’s own automaker.

General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are all American-born, and made. Up here in Canada, parts are shipped in from all over the world, and these American companies products are assembled here. But that really doesn’t make it a Canadian product.

Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, and Hyundai are all from countries outside of North America. Some of these are also assembled here in Canada from parts sourced around the globe, but none are truly Canadian-made.

If the automobile unions wanted to really benefit their members, they would lay off the unrealistic demands, and form their own Canadian auto manufacturing company. Then, they could realistically guarantee their members a route to job security, when one of them has major cutbacks – just transfer the jobs to their own Canadian company.

Then too, the real benefit, would be a truly Canadian-built car. One which wasn’t just assembled here, but really made here.

Now there’s a good Canadian idea.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Language Test for Immigrants – It’s About Time

Canada is the best place on earth to live. We really do have it good here – we enjoy the freedoms of a democratic society, and for the most part we are pretty well respected by the most nations globally.

That love affair other nations have with this country has been a big problem here. We have been a haven for those who want to leave their country. Which in many ways is what makes this country so great.

Unlike other countries, we warmly welcome others here. But because of our freedom, we have failed to provide safeguards to ensure those who were born here don’t become second-class citizens, feeling left out among all the other nationalities calling Canada home.

We were the only country on the planet, where it didn’t matter if you didn’t read or speak either official language, you could still somehow get landed immigrant status, eventually getting official citizenship status, and living here for ever and ever.

We’re probably the only country in the world where that used to be possible – but no longer. Finally, our politicians are seeing the errors of their ways.

Our Canadian culture and values have suffered many years over, because we were a growing country of segregated people – each only living in their microcosms of their homeland.

Finally, the federal government has got off it’s butt, and created a language test for new arrivals to this great land. This language test will be offered in either official language (English or French) and those wishing to lay down their hat and call this great country home, must pass it.

It’s about time.

I was born here, raised here, and I still call this great country home. But over the years, I have often wondered who’s country I am in while walking down the street, taking a bus, or even meeting clients in an office. Far too many times, I have been made to feel like an outsider in my own country, simply because those all around me are speaking languages which aren’t native to this land.

Far too many places have signs up in their own language, but not in mine. Far too many people will ignore you, even snub you with evil grimaces, because you don’t speak their language – in your own country.

It’s about time our government protected this great land, by forcing those who come here to actually be here, rather than just setting up a mirror image of their country here.

It isn’t just a matter of national pride, or being Canadian, but has been an increasing safety concern too.

Could you even imagine driving a car in another country, but not being able to read the street signs? What about those warnings on food labels about allergies? When someone calls in any other language but English or French to 9-1-1 for an emergency, their call is routed to AT&T’s international translation offices New York City for translation. This transfer may be instantaneous, but the time it takes to translate the call, and then pass that translated information onto the emergency personal could cost someone their life.

It’s about time our government stopped being afraid of being politically incorrect, and did the right thing.

By implementing a language test for immigrants, they are doing just that – the right thing.

And it’s about time.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Living the Contractor’s Life

Wherever you go in today’s business world, you always are told time management skills are essential to succeed.

Time management – the ability to schedule enough time to complete everyday tasks – is essential in today’s business world.

Unless of course you have the luxury of hiring someone like me. I’m a consultant, a contractor, the person that saves your ass because you don’t have that one essential skill everyone – everyone – needs in today’s business world.

It’s exceptionally ironic when I meet with potential new clients, one of the many questions they ask me concerns my own time management, and just how well do I manage time. I find this ironic – no, I find it exceptionally ironic – because the very reason I am meeting with them in the first place, is because they themselves, or their team as a whole, has very poor time management skills – if any at all.

“Oh, it’s one of those things, you know – where we have a very tight deadline, but don’t have enough people on staff to complete it in time for the deadline,” they fess-up.

“In an ideal world, we’d be on track, but we need your help to get us back on track,” they may say.

“We’re well past our deadlines and need someone like you to put in whatever it takes to get us through this project,” they may say.

Funny, they never admit to their own failures when it comes to managing time, yet they seem to think someone on contract doesn’t mind cleaning up after their mess.

It’s a sound business theory, but not one of personal success. In business, if you can’t meet your deadlines, it isn’t all that uncommon to hire someone on a short-term, temporary basis, to assist. The theory continues, as the person is just a short-term, temporary contractor, it doesn’t matter if we put so much work on him or her, that he or she burns out. But we’d never put a staffer under so much excessive pressure – we’ve invested so much time and money in that staffer, we’d hate to lose that staffer.

So, my exceptional time management skills come under the real-world test, as I am called in to “do whatever it takes” to get the project back on track. “Whatever it takes,” is clever slang for “kill yourself putting in as much overtime as is humanly possible.”

Or so it feels that way – it would be nice to have at least one contract where they weren’t looking for a fixer-upper to repair their messed up project through excessive overtime. It would be awesome to actually be called into a project, which was properly managed, where they needed someone with my skills and expertise to add to the currently correctly managed project, rather than having to come into a situation which shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Remember, time management is an essential skill for today’s business world – actually it is an essential skill in all life situations. People that are late for business meetings are probably just as late for dinner dates, movies and other social gatherings with friends and family.

Still, time management is the one skill seriously lacking in today’s world. Why this is really does boggle my mind – we’re constantly bombarded with the time.

All computers have a system clock, most people these days have cell phones, BlackBerrys, Palm Pilots, pagers, IPods, portable disc players, MP3 players, and then there is the good old fashioned wrist watch – they exist still – don’t they?

Televisions have built-in clocks, as do most VCRs, DVD players, digital cable and satellite boxes, microwaves, ovens, desk and cordless phones, alarm clocks, they even the time all the time on those 24-hour-all news television stations.

Time is something which is always all around us – so why are people constantly running out of time? Why am I always hired to bring a project back on time?

Time management isn’t rocket science – it is actually pretty easy to understand concept. And it is one of the most essential things which would certainly make my life a lot easier.

But hey, I charge a pretty hefty hourly rate – so go ahead – keep screwing up your time management. I’m always on time, and I have a lot of patience. Just remember – the meter is ticking . . .