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Archive for February, 2011

Working in any large organization is a challenge. There are many times when common sense is no longer the norm; it is replaced by an ethos that to be efficient we must follow rules – whether they make sense or not.

Work has supplied me with a Blackberry. A few weeks ago, my Blackberry didn’t make it from the parking garage to my cubicle. I retraced my steps but it was no where to be found. So, with my tail between my legs, I humbly reported the loss and requested a replacement. My replacement was a used one someone had turned in after they received an upgrade. I had no problem with that. The used one was a little marked up but it worked and all was right with the world again.

(Of course, my original Blackberry was found and turned in to building security about five days after I lost it. However, it was dead – cold weather and moisture probably did it in.)

Except, the replacement started to have issues. One day last week, it decided it did not want to receive any messages – which sort of defeats the purpose for carrying one. A couple of days later after charging it during the day, I turned it off at home and left it for the night. The next morning when I turned it on, the battery indicator was in the red and it was making these pathetic chirping noises as if to say call for last rites. I charged it again during the day and then over the weekend, it gave up the ghost.

Now I know the person who looks after Blackberries in our department. In the old days, I would just call him and we would figure out a solution. However now, in the interest of efficiency, I had to call the main help desk, which is located 300 kilometres south of us. I left a message as this was not an urgent issue. About a half hour later, a pleasant person called back and inquired about my Blackberry problem. After giving him all the information, he confirmed my location and said he would contact a support person who would come to see me about the problem. He then said the support person would phone first to confirm my location before they came over. I found this a little strange since I had just confirmed my location but it was all good.

Sure enough, the support person phoned to confirm my location (I guess they have had instances where people move unexpectedly) and said he would be there after lunch. Right on 1:00 pm, he showed up, introduced himself and asked about my Blackberry issue. Again I told my story that it appeared the battery was not holding a charge. He nodded and then proceeded to take the back off the Blackberry and look at the battery. He then informed me there was nothing he could do and I should contact our departmental service request coordinator.

So I dashed off a quick e-mail to the departmental service request coordinator (even though I know who it is, we are not allowed to phone them) explaining my problem and the steps that had been taken so far to remedy the issue. About a half hour later I received an e-mail back saying they would escalate the issue. And five minutes later I got a call from the fellow that looks after all the Blackberries in the department asking what was wrong. (By this time, Alice’s Restaurant is ringing in my ears – you have to be over a certain age to get that reference.)

There is a happy ending. After a few minutes on the phone, a quick walk to a neighbouring building, I had a new battery and my Blackberry is good again. And I have the quiet satisfaction of knowing I work in a highly efficient organization – even if it doesn’t really make any sense.

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One of the most amazing sites on the net is www.ted.com.

It is a site I find myself going back to again and again and listening to some of the brightest minds and best speakers on the planet talk about an infinite range of subjects.

The talk below concerns work-life balance; a subject that I, and many other people, struggle with. In this regard, getting older has a couple of advantages – I can see the end of the tunnel and I have learned how to say “no”. But I also see what an issue work-life balance presents to younger people who are expected to give their all to get ahead or at least get noticed.

This particular talk has a great quote; “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like”.

So have a listen and enjoy – and maybe even take something away with you.

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Gord’s Cottage

Yes, I know I stole borrowed the title from Futurama. Hey, I have spent enough on their DVDs; they owe me and it seems a good way to introduce tales from my younger days.

For my first tale of interest, it was either Grade 11 or 12 and we had an odd system at school where you could get exempted from mid-term exams. I must have been doing well that year and found myself with a week off in November because I didn’t have to write any exams. My friend Gord was in the same situation and he suggested we spend the time at his parent’s cottage in Haliburton.  Sounded great to me except for one detail – we had no way of getting there.

Except this was the late 60s and that was no problem – we would just hitchhike. I don’t remember my parents having any concerns about this. Hitchhiking was far more prevalent than it is today and we didn’t think twice about getting to the cottage via thumb. We could get a ride back but we figured it would be easy to get there. A friend took us north of Toronto so we could get away from the city traffic and on to the highway where it would be easier to get a ride north.

Late November was cold and grey. We caught a few rides but certainly didn’t make the time we had hoped to. It was about a three hour drive to the cottage but over the course of the day we had not even made it half way. I remember walking along the highway at about six at night – in the dark – and thinking this was really a bad idea. We finally got a ride into Lindsay and decided to stay the night. Now this was not in our original plans so a fancy motel was out of the question. We ended up at the Dominion Hotel in downtown Lindsay. It was a single queen sized bed and I remember sleeping with a hunting knife between us given the interesting sounds emanating from the bar and lounge downstairs. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night.

The next day we did better and were probably about 30 miles from the lake when an Ontario Provincial Police car stopped. The officer asked where we going and volunteered to take us to the lake road. I don’t recall much of the ride except that the police car was a Rambler, which is not exactly what you would consider a pursuit vehicle. And somewhere in the conversation, the officer pulled a shotgun from underneath the front seat and explained that we shouldn’t pull any tricks – police humour I guess. Of course the ride from the police was not exactly good news since we were underage and were both carrying a couple of bottles of rye. But he was a good sport and actually took us right into the dock at the head of the lake.

There was no road into the cottage so we had to walk along the shoreline for about a mile or so to reach the cottage. There really wasn’t much snow, but the shore was mainly boulders so it took a while to get there. Once we reached the cottage we turned on the power, made a fire and settled in.

A shot from the front of Gord's family cottage. This was taken on another trip after the lake had frozen but it gives a sense of the country

I remember how quiet it was. We would hear the odd snowmobile but there was no one else on the lake. We busied ourselves by chopping down a couple of trees and sawing them into firewood. But mainly it was a time to kick back, read and just enjoy the solitude.

I think it was the second or third day when the power went out in the late afternoon. Now this was not a huge problem because we had the fireplace and wood stove but it did mean some issues for cooking and light. And since there was no phone line into the cottage and cell phones were only in people’s imaginations, we had no way of letting anyone know of our problem. Plus, we hadn’t seen any other lights so we assumed we were the only ones on the lake. We gave it a couple of hours to see if the power would come back on but realized we were going to have to go back to the main dock by the road and use the payphone to contact the hydro folks.

Now we could have walked out as we came in but Gord’s folks had an old fiberglass canoe. Gord and I had done a fair amount of canoeing and it just seemed to make sense to just paddle over and save ourselves the walk. We hauled the canoe out of the storage shed and dropped it in the water. I took the bow position and we set off.

I have a very strong memory of that little trip. It was early evening and starting to snow. The clouds were low and it seemed like there was a dim light to guide us. There was no wind and the lake was like glass. The flakes were large and just floated gently down as we made our way across. It was cold but not uncomfortable and I just remember how peaceful it felt gliding across the water. We were not in a hurry and it was a serene experience being by ourselves in this beautiful setting.

Of course, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line so we struck out directly for the dock where the phone was. Everything was fine until we heard a strange noise and Gord informed me the gunnel was starting to separate from the main body of the canoe. It was at that point we realized we could be in serious trouble. The old fiberglass canoe was not reacting well to the cold water. If the gunnel separated any further, the canoe would start to flex and at that temperature there was a good chance it would crack. In the summer, this wouldn’t be as big an issue but here in November with ice starting to form along the edges of the lake, sinking was not an option we cared to entertain. We started to paddle faster but in as smooth a fashion as we could maintain. The goal was to get some speed but not stress the boat any more than we had to.

It seemed to take forever to reach our destination but we reached the dock and phoned the hydro company. They had a truck out to us within an hour and reset a very serious looking fuse that had tripped. Returning to the cottage we let discretion rather than valour guide our thinking and stuck to the shoreline, so if we did have an issue with the boat it would be in shallow water close to shore.

Gord in a comtemplative mood at the cottage

After making it back to the cottage I recall it took a little while to unwind. We didn’t panic but recognized we had put ourselves in a pretty risky situation. But Gord always seemed to have the ability to size things up quickly and react – I always admired that in him. Probably explains why he became a firefighter after high school. It was an experience that sort of put a few holes in my teenage image of invincibility.

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