Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So Slow You Can Watch Your Own Hair Grow

Recently I started working on-site at a new client’s office. Not unusual for us consultant-types, they even provide a comfy cubicle or office, desktop or laptop, and if you’re real lucky, a good cup of hot chocolate.

This contract, I’m working in someone’s cubicle temporarily – until Monday when she returns from vacation. I’m using her desktop computer also on loan, until they set one up for me.

I don’t know how on earth the person who’s desk I’m at uses the computer – it is so slow you can watch your own hair grow. I got into the office around 8:30am and the first thing I did was turn it on. At 8:45am, it was still loading – the login screen hadn’t even appeared yet!

If I try to run more than two Internet Explorer windows at the same time, the system slows down so much, you have to wait for the keys you pressed moments ago to register.

You’d think technology like this would be in a museum, or if still in use, by a small, mom and pop shop that just hasn’t caught up to the technological race. But I’m actually working for one of the largest healthcare research centres in Canada – and one of the largest hospitals in the country.

The computer I’ve been temporarily assigned at this client site is so painfully slow, that I’ve actually been dragging in one of my laptops to their offices, to do much of what I have to do. I can’t plug it into their network – most companies won’t let you just drop in any computer into their private network for security reasons. So, I’ve been using the computer they assigned me for their emails and other internal network-related tasks, and my laptop for everything else. I use a USB jump drive – or “stick” to exchange data between the two machines.

Using my laptop solves many issues, though it has created some new ones. For one thing it isn’t always easy to cart around a 17-inch laptop through megacity traffic downtown. It’s so busy downtown, people just push there way through the crowds – meaning I could easily damage my own equipment en-route.

Also, although I work out, it’s nice not having to carry heavy bulky items to and from the office – so lugging the laptop is just that.

And then there is the fear of expectations – once you do something at the office, it is expected you will always do it. We’re looking at getting a couple more consultants that do what I do, to build the team, so I know eventually they will have to get decent systems that we can use, else anyone we get won’t be able to do what they hired us to do. But as they have been using outdated systems for so long, and as they didn’t have anything ready for me when I started, time is something they seem to have plenty of when it comes to spending on new technology. They could keep delaying any purchase of new hardware, saying I’m getting by using my own tools.

Most clients where I work on-site, have everything setup prior to my arrival. It is nice to be in on the decision-making process, and build my own dream system for use at a client’s office. But at the same time, it is a pain in the butt to work on outdated machines, which just can’t handle the applications I use to do my job.

The ideal would have been to consult with the consultants prior to us starting. But ideals and reality seldom happen.

Still, it amazes me that an organization as large as the one I’m working for – with funding from all three levels of government, private donations, and major fund raising drives – has money constraints so tight, they force their staff to wait 15-20 minutes for their computers to start in the morning.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I’ve Got to Learn to Slow Down

I’m a work-a-holic, and that just ain’t good.

I just started a new contract, and already I’m repeating some of my past behaviours. I’m in before everyone else, often I skip lunches and other breaks, and I’m more than occasionally the last one out of the office.

Being a work-a-holic benefits the companies I work for in the short-term, but everyone loses in the long-term. I get burned out quicker, which means I don’t do as good a job as I’d normally do.

Funny thing, most people assume us work-a-holics do so much extra work because we love what we do, we want to kiss up to the boss, or for any of a slew of self-centered, ego-building reasons.

The reason I work so hard is plain and simple guilt. I feel guilty leaving work early, even if I got in early. I feel dishonest if I don’t put in a standard business day’s worth of work – even though I see most around me coming in early, and leaving early. I feel guilty if I say “no” to that extra project, lunch meeting or other work-related thing, which cuts into my own personal time.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love what I do – I’m very passionate my work and doing what I can to better myself, and the profession as a whole.

But I know I need to take more “me” time. I need to learn to say “no” or to delegate to a subordinate or junior more often. I need to look around, and although it may be wrong to “cheat the system” by coming in early and then leaving early, everyone else does it, and that’s how they survive.

Most people these days take extra long breaks, ensure they get their lunch breaks – and if they don’t they take off early or come in late the following day.

I know I’m entitled to these too – just I feel guilty doing it.


I honestly don’t know – and being a senior member of the team, rarely if ever will anyone question my hours spent on a project or dedication to the project if I don’t make meetings set during lunch. Come to think of it, no one has ever asked me to justify my time spent on anything. So long as the work gets done and the client is happy, nothing bad ever happens – to those that take their “me” time or those like me that don’t.

Though in many ways I’ve dug myself a bit of a hole. Once you do something, even if it was just a temporary thing, people come to expect that’s how it will be forever and ever. So, by always being available, no matter what time it is, regardless of whether I’ve had time for lunch, breaks, or even just a quick jog to the washroom – it is now expected of me to always be there.

Change is a hard thing to accept – and those who have worked with me will have to accept some subtle changes over the coming months. I’m getting too old to always be there, and I’ve long since past the political need to always be there.

I’m not some kid fresh out of college, with little to none in the experience department. And I don’t need to kiss anyone’s butt to get to where I want to go. Actually, I’ve found that kissing anyone’s butt never accomplishes anything – but don’t tell those kissing my ass.

Time for a break.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Safe Eating Or Not

Dining out just isn’t the same since the Maple Leaf food scare. Every where you go, you have to wonder if the food is going to kill you.

Back over a month ago now, Maple Leaf Foods – one of the largest processed meat producing companies in Canada, had a major recall, spanning several weeks. The recalls just kept coming, and people just kept dying.

At last count, 19-people across Canada died because of tainted food products.

Cold cuts make up a lot of lunches across the country – I’ve taken cold cut sandwiches to school when I was a kid, and I’ve taken such luncheon meats to work too. When you are rushing in the morning to get to where you have to go, making a sandwich is one of the quickest routes to take.

But even when you don't make a sandwich, someone else may still use infected meat. Or at least that's what everyone is thinking or must be thinking because everywhere I go I see signs. Signs at restaurants boldly declare that they do not use meat from Maple Leaf Foods, or that their products have not been infected.

How do we know this to be true? Oh yeah, the sign says it, so if it is printed in big, bold lettering, it MUST be true! Signs don’t lie.

And the stork brings babies . . .

I can understand restaurant owners concerns over lost business, it’s how they make their living. But how do we really know that these restaurant owners aren’t just saying what we want to hear, so that we don’t go elsewhere for our meals?

How can we be certain that all the spoiled meats were pulled off of store shelves? Those sandwiches that are in vending machines could have quite easily been infected – who checks those?

When our food supply is in question, no one is safe – even though the signs say so. Eat at your own risk, it could be your last meal.

Big Bad Bell Canada Wants Me Back

Recently, I left Bell Canada because they screwed up majorly. I had ordered their high-speed Internet and they told me several times that it was available in my area. They even were going to arrange free installation of the router and all the software that came with my package.

However, for those of you who read my blogs on a regular basis, you will know this never happened. Instead I waited all day for the installer to come and if it hadn't been for a phone call by me, and being placed on hold quite a long time the installer would never have come.

When the installer did come, he didn’t even do the full install. He could not get a signal to the Internet, so all he did was install the router and set up a wireless network -- which I could've done all on my own. The installer assured me that a signal to the Internet would be up and running by noon the following day – they had to do some work on the phone box on the street.

I waited and waited and waited -- but there was still no Internet signal even by the 2 p.m. So, I called Bell Canada instead and immediately he was placed on hold.

Placing a customer for story had a bad experience on hold is not a good thing, this is how people get even more angry upset and frustrated with the company that they are dealing with. As it is often you have to surf through several selections on an automated telephone system before you can get a live human being and that even makes people more frustrated.

Not to be outdone from the first time the first person I talked to was no use -- he apologized and transferred me to someone else who also had to transfer me to someone else. I must have gone through at least another 20 people, maybe even more who knows!

It makes me wonder how the biggest telephones company in Canada has any business when 20 of the people who mentioned their telephones haven't a clue how to answer them.

So, this is how I was feeling -- first I was already in a bad mood because Bell Canada had made another promise which they could not keep, and anytime a company sells you something and tells you something but does not deliver, that'll put anyone in a bad mood. Then, I waited around for something to happen -- even my Internet to come on, or someone -- from Bell Canada to call me and tell me why my Internet was not. You'd figure a telephone company would know how to use a telephone to contact their customers and keep them informed – or at least that makes sense. Doesn’t it?

Still adding to the frustration, when I took the initiative which Bell Canada should have taken in the beginning to make contact, I had to sift through a menu of phone options, customer service representatives, and who knows who else, only to be placed on hold for half-an-hour!

Finally, someone comes on the line, and explains to me that the phone box on my street is full, and I have to wait until someone moves out of the neighbourhood before getting the service which I was already promised by Bell Canada.

SO, it surprised me over the past couple of days that on my call display, Bell Canada had been calling – but not leaving messages. Maybe the phone company really doesn’t know how to use a phone?

Again taking matters into my own hands, I called the number left on my caller ID – and was warmly greeted by a Bell Canada sales person, trying to get me to come back to their company.

I had dropped them as a primary phone carrier for my land line, and I am in the process of replacing them for my cellular servicers as well.

The Bell Canada sales person asked me what would it take to get me to come back. I laughed, explained the whole ordeal, and said I wouldn’t ever do business with Bell Canada again.

Well, maybe if Bell Canada – the country’s largest telephone company – actually learned how to use a telephone – then maybe I’d consider it. But you know the saying – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Those Silly Soviets Are At It Again

Recently the Moscow government announced that they were suing South Park, because they found it offensive.

Aside from the obvious – the show was created to be nothing but offensive – I find this action completely, well, silly.

My hunch is, the Moscow government is looking for some quick – but not necessarily easy – cash. South Park, an American-made prime-time cartoon about a group of kids getting into unusual situations, is being carried on a private broadcaster over in the land of the former Iron Curtain.

As the show is being carried on a private broadcaster, they can’t just take the show off the air – or can they? Moscow is still very much a communistic society, and although they have elements of capitalism afoot, I’d be surprised if they couldn’t exercise some sort of control. Worst case scenario, they could always just use one of their nukes. . .

But realistically, it is only a television show – if the government doesn’t like it – or more likely the people within the government – they can just change the channel. Suing an American media outlet (FOX) and the shows producers is just an attempt to make money.

Money is something the former Soviet Union needs in major supply. They were hit – and still are being hit – by the separation of their union, and the collapse of the Cold War. Poverty is at an all time high over there – which begs yet another question – who can afford to watch television? Some can’t afford shelter, clothing, even a piece of bread to nibble on – are these people really at risk from an American cartoon?

Governments are supposed to look out for the best interests of their citizens. Is suing over a cartoon really going to put a homeless people indoors, food in the starving’s tummies, and clothes on those in rags?

I don’t think so. At best, all it will do is stir up negative media criticism over yet another poorly made decision by a bunch of politicians. At worst, it will highlight the ineptitude of a country as a whole, to recover from political unrest.

There wasn’t a real winner or loser declared in the Cold War, but it is clear that some governments just haven’t been the same since.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wired Less Day

A couple of seats down from me, there was this guy hammering away on his laptop. Next to him, someone else was on her BlackBerry, and next to her, another couple people busy fiddling with their cell phones.

You’d expect this scene to happen in any office, but I was on the subway. Technology is everywhere these days. I even hear others chatting away in the bathroom stall next to me when I’m doing “my business.”

I know the Internet is addictive, and some get addicted to sending text messages, or even online chat rooms – but sometimes I wonder if we aren’t being preconditioned by the corporate greed to be addicted.

Seeing people open up their laptops on the subway is a new phenomenon. I’ve seen it in years past, but that was rare. These days, it is becoming a very common thing. Having Internet wireless hotspots at coffee shops is also a relatively new thing – which is helping drive the additions of our technologically starved society.

It used to be, people would go to a coffee shop to escape the office, and just have a nice, normal chat with co-workers. Now, we’re seeing people grab their BlackBerry, or iPhone, or laptop, and surf and chat online while sipping their double-chocolate raspberry coffee latte, with extra foam.

The second I get out of the office, what’s one of the first things I do? Check my cell for messages. When I get home, again, one of the first things I do is check my emails and messages.

Technology has always been changing at an alarmingly hyper-fast pace. The industry was smart to design itself a model where whatever is hot and high-tech now, becomes obsolete in three-months – it guarantees consumer demand.

But this hyper-fast pace is also killing society, by taking away the simple pleasures we once enjoyed. Taking a coffee break to chat online, or text message just isn’t the same as sitting across from a living, breathing person, and actually talking to them. Standing on a busy subway car isn’t the same, when you have half the car fiddling with their wireless devices. Not to mention, it is a bit unsettling – you never know if they are taking pictures of you with their cell phone cams, or webcams and sending those all over the world.

The greeting card companies – notorious for inventing holidays which no one gets off, but require a greeting card, such as boss’ day (which apparently occurs this month) should create a day which bans technology, in honour of just being human. Maybe they can call it Wired Less Day?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why Ma Bell Needs to Retire

For as long as I can remember, I have always dealt with the main players in the communications business.

I would always use Bell Canada for all phones – landlines and mobile – and Rogers Cable for television and Internet services. The reasoning being, they put the networks in place for all the other telecom companies, so they are the best in the business.

Or so I thought – at least when it came to telephones.

Then one day, I got one of those slick promotional letters in the mail, offering me exceptionally high-broadband for an amazingly low price from Bell Canada.

They were offering me 16mbps (16 Megabytes/Second) high-speed Internet for a mere $69.95/month! That looked like an amazing deal, seeing my then – and now – current Internet Service Provider (ISP) offered their top-of-the-line Internet for a substantially higher price. Rogers Cable has a 19mbps service for $99.95/month.

I thought it over, and started looking at the fine print. There must be a catch, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is. Right?

The fine print was that I had to bundle all my services with Bell Canada – not a problem, as I was considering consolidating all my services anyways to cut costs. With my Rogers and Bell bills put together, I was paying over $300/month in television, Internet, home phone and mobile.

If I went exclusively with Bell Canada, I could cut that down and have an even better home Internet – Bell’s deal included the 16mbps fibre optic high-speed, plus a wireless router, and a 100GB data usage per month. At the time, I had a 7mbps cable high-speed with Rogers Cable, and a 66GB data usage per month.

So, I called Bell Canada, and after talking with their sales centre, I bundled all my services together, and signed up for their wickedly fast fibre optics. They told me I made a great deal, and that someone would call within the next couple of days to schedule the free installation of everything, which was also part of the package.

A couple of days came and went and still no call from the big phone company. So, I followed-up and called them. The person – the second person I talked with – told me that for some reason the order hadn’t been processed, “but don’t worry Sir, I’ll ensure it is promptly processed today.” Or so they said – they even gave me the same line about someone calling me in a couple of days to schedule the install.

Now, I’m not a rocket scientist, but all I believe you need to book an appointment is a calendar, and a decent pen or pencil. Still, I know big companies have their own ways of working the world, so I waited it out.

Days came and went, and still no call.

So, again I followed-up with the big and starting to piss me off phone company. Again the third person I talked to, apologizes for the error, and tells me it has been corrected, and someone will call . . .

. . . I cut off the poor kid and told him I didn’t want to wait any longer, please book the appointment now. Stunned, shocked and aghast that a customer actually take charge of a situation, their was a lot of dead air.

Then, after much background chatter – I’m guessing the customer service representative had been discussing the situation with someone who knows how to handle it – says he can’t book the appointment, because they use a different computer system then “that office” but he can give me the number of the office that does.

I thanked him for his time, and began dialling the number. I had to go through several annoying automated menus, but eventually stumbled upon a live person, calmly explained the situation, and asked to book an appointment.

The person on the other end asked me everything under the sun, from my account number, to my order number, to my address, hey – here’s my phone number – you are a phone company right? But to no avail, he couldn’t pull up my order.

He told me it probably hadn’t been sent down from the sales centre yet. I was starting to wonder how much longer this would take? He could take a new order, but wouldn’t be able to give me the same prices, because only the sales centre has the ability to make offers like the one I got. And I’d lose out on my free installation, because they charge $60 for it.

His recommendation, was to call back to the sales centre and ask them to cancel the order and recreate it – maybe it got “stuck” in the system, he suggested.

I called back and after going through more people, someone tells me they can’t open my account. Probably because it is open by someone else – quite possibly by the high-speed centre, which makes the appointments!

So, I wait another day or two for a call, thinking someone must be dialling my numbers. I checked my phones, they all worked – I called myself from outside of all things!

Still, no call, so I call back, determined to get an appointment or to cancel the whole thing. This time, the person at the high-speed centre sees my account and books an appointment!

It only took a lifetime of calling to get an appointment for some guy to come by, and do what I probably could do – but hey – it’s included in your package, so why?

The big day comes, I have one of those “windows” when the tech is supposed to show up. My window is from 1pm to 6pm. So, I wait, I even take up reading a bland book in my living room, closer to the front door, so that in the odd event this tech person has trouble knocking, I’ll hear something outside and open the door. . .

It comes up to thirty-minutes before my window is to end, and no tech has shown up. I’ve been reading this bland book which has been collecting dust on my bookshelf since I made the mistake of purchasing it years ago all day, and no one shows up!!!

I call Bell Canada, and after wading through more people in their call centre, I finally get someone on the line who tells me their was a problem with the phone box on the street.

So, does this mean the tech isn’t coming, I ask, all bewildered.

She doesn’t know, but assumes not. I tell them if the tech doesn’t show up in the next 15-minutes, I’ll call back tomorrow to cancel everything, and I hang up.

I get a call almost immediately from the tech, asking if I’m still home. Amazing how a hang-up can get action. I tell him I am, and he says he’s on his way.

He comes over, installs the stuff inside my home – just a wireless router, I could have done that. He can’t get connectivity from the box on the street. He calls in on his magical-direct-line to the telephone Gods, and gets confirmation that someone will fix the box problem tomorrow between 8am and 12noon. He assures me I will have Internet by noon.

I thank him for his prompt work, and he leaves.

High noon comes and goes, I wait a couple more hours just to be safe. Nothing. Nadda. No Internet. Just a flickering green light telling me no contact with the outside world.

I call the big bad Bell Canada. After going through more people, someone finally says they will get to the bottom of things. They place me on hold – for over 30-minutes! But I’m calm, I want to know what is going on.

The person on the other end comes back all apologetic and tells me that the telephone box on the street is full, there isn’t anymore room for cards. I ask her what that means.

“Well, it means in order for you to get your Internet, someone else has to either cancel their Internet, or move out of the area.”


I ask how long that could take.

She snickers, and tells me she doesn’t know – it really depends on when someone moves out of the area, it could be tomorrow, next week, next month, or longer.


How come no one at Bell Canada told me this when they sold me the damn Internet in the first place?

Now, I’m a bit of a techy geek, so I know that sometimes you don’t really know what the problem is until after you look at the hardware. But someone should have told me right away what the problem was once it was known – not waiting for me to call back.

I cancel my high-speed Internet with Bell Canada, and call back my cable company.

Because of the massive headaches Bell Canada caused, and their lack of communications – despite being a communications company – they lost a long-time customer that day. I have since transferred all but my mobile phone to Rogers Cable. Though I plan to transfer my mobile too – just as I write this, I haven’t had the time to figure out what package to go with.

Whenever I call Rogers Cable for technical support, I get someone right away that solves my problem right away. I never have to go through several people, in different departments, to get parts of an answer.

Bell Canada was broken up by the federal government years ago, because they were getting too big, and the government thought they had too much of a monopoly over the industry.

Thanks to deregulation, they are no longer the only game in town when it comes to telecommunications, but they still are too big for their own good. Bigger isn’t always better.

Oh, and I am saving money by consolidating my telecom services – though it isn’t with Bell Canada.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Windows Vista Sucks

I’ve already mentioned a few times in this blog my distaste for Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Most of the new features are great ideas, but they just don’t work very well. The product was released too early, and we all suffer, because we have to deal with it’s various bugs.

Take the User Account Control (UAC) security feature for example. It’s a great idea – to ensure the person sitting in front of the computer really wants to make an administrative-level change, one which can affect other settings on the computer system-wide, you have to acknowledge the change. That’s what UAC is supposed to do – be the little watchdog that pops-up every so often, asking if you really wanted to do what you just told the computer to do.

Problem is, UAC pops-up for silly little things, which don’t have any affect on system-wide settings too. I’ve seen it open for Microsoft’s own Windows Live MSN Messenger! MSN Messenger in of itself cannot affect your computer – though if you are careless and accept a file from someone you really don’t know, you can get a virus.

UAC is a sound idea, but they didn’t test it enough before releasing it – along with a slew of other Windows Vista features – to the public.

Once again, we the public, the ones paying for the software, become the testers for Microsoft. We should all get a nice big fat cheque for being so nice to Bill Gates.

I have a really good program called Ashampoo Windows Optimizer which will automatically adjust Windows system settings, to avoid annoying bugs like the UAC pop-ups, while ensuring the system is running in top shape.

This program works with Windows Vista – it even has a section devoted to tweaking specific Vista-only features.

I’ve set it to keep UAC on, while disabling those annoying pop-ups. Now, Windows Security Center tells me UAC is off. So I turn it on, then Windows Optimizer tells me UAC is off!

I tried resetting both several times, with numerous reboots in between – each time you turn UAC on or off, you have to reboot your machine. I just kept going in circles!

Do I blame Windows Optimizer or Windows Vista?

Windows Vista – it is just one bad apple. There are lots of fixes and I’ve already installed the Microsoft Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which was supposed to fix a lot of bugs. I hope Service Pack 2 comes out soon, because Microsloth missed a lot of bugs – or maybe they just created a whole bunch of new ones?

Either way, I’m seriously considering “downgrading” to Windows XP. Everyone who bought in – more likely was forced into – purchasing Windows Vista gets a free “downgrade” to Windows XP.

Though that’s a big thing to do – I’d have to re-install all the applications which I use and that takes a lot of time. Last time I did that, I spent 12-hours straight installing software (I use a lot of different programs).

Do I want to spend 12-hours installing software, just to fix Microsloth’s buggy software? Not really, so I probably won’t do that. And there are a few features I do like in Windows Vista – the sidebar is pretty cool, allowing you to run programs in the background that do everything from monitor system resources, to alerting you when someone comes on to your MSN Messenger.

Oh well, I guess I am stuck with Windows Vista – hopefully the next fix will fix without screwing more things up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Soaking Up Some UV

Just coming from my pool – I love going to the pool. Funny, I just don’t go often enough, and seeing as our typically Canadian weather allows us a mere three or four months out of the year hot enough to go for an outdoor swim, you’d figure I’d go more often.

When I was younger, I used to love swimming lengths. I’d go back and forth seemingly a zillion times. At the end of the swim, I was beat, that’s a great workout.

These days, I’ll do a few lengths, more dives, and then I’ll sit and lounge around, soaking up some sun.

It is so peaceful and tranquil, I’ll close my eyes, feeling the warmth of the sun beating down on me, cooking me like the steak I’ll probably be BBQing later.

When I start to get too hot from the sun, I’ll take off my sunglasses and hat and dive into the pool to cool off. Might do a few more lengths or dives, but most likely, I’ll just get a good soaking, and then climb back into my chair and dry off.

I can feel the water evaporating off of me, it is so hot. And it is so bright, even with my sunglasses on and my eyes closed, I see a bright red glow.

I’m on FIRE!

Nope, just kidding. But I am so relaxed at the pool, that I probably wouldn’t notice if I was on fire. Though I’d probably notice when the beer runs out . . .

Funny how that works. Must be a guy thing.