Archive for January, 2008

I’m a huge fan of the “right-click” with a mouse on a PC.  I can still remember the first time I learned what it was and how to use it.  I remember thinking that knowing about it would save me countless hours over time, and I was right.

I can still remember the first time I learned that Apple computers didn’t have a right-click and I wondered how anybody ever did anything on a Mac.  I’ve since learned that no one, in fact, does anything with a Mac.  They just talk about doing things and how cool those things will be when they’re done.

I also remember first learning that it’s actually called a “Context Sensitive Menu”, which is really just a fancy way of saying that the menu options that appear will change based on where you click.  Cool stuff.

I bring all this up because the right-click on my office mouse (which had been making a funny noise for a few days now) stopped working after a few years of faithful service.  When it finally quit, I cried and said a silent prayer before burying her in a nearby park, right in the centre of a meadow within a grove of trees.

Actually, I tossed it in the trash and scrounged up a new mouse that works wonderfully.  It even looks exactly the same so I don’t miss the old one that badly.  It’s like it never happened.

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Due to a combination of factors (aging means my metabolism is slowing, I eat like crap and my lifestyle has slipped into the nearly completely sedentary) I’ve started to grow a big ‘ol spare tire gut.  It’s not a very flattering look for me, especially since the rest of my body insists on staying skinny, so I look like a poorly settled house.  Not good.

Early in the new year, I checked out a local fitness gym to see if I’d like the experience.  I did not.  Between the hard sell attitude of the staff, the complete lack of social interaction in the patrons (except for the beefcake boys hitting on ladies) and the sheer boredom of running on a revolving track, I quickly fell out of like with the gym.

In a few weeks I’ll be playing a weekly game of indoor soccer, so that will help a bit.  I know one guy on my team and the rest are strangers, but it’s always fun meeting new people so that’ll be fun.  Still, I’m looking for other ways to get in shape, have fun and meet some new and interesting people.

Then, I read a post written by my friend Dion on his Facebook profile. Dion is the manager of The Gateway, a homeless shelter operated by the Salvation Army on Jarivs St.  A new green energy initiative is being piloted at his shelter and it was featured in a Toronto Sun article. You can head down to the shelter to ride a stationary bike that produced power for one of the shelter’s rooms.

So I can get a bit of exercise, produce some green energy and spend some time getting to know some homeless people.  That sounds win, win, win.  I can feel better about my body, better about my world and change the way I look at homelessness in this city by getting to know the people it affects most.

So, how does one get involved?  Let’s find out.  I’m emailing the link to this post to Dion and hopefully he’ll post some helpful information on getting involved in the comments. Maybe a few of us can set up a regular time to head down for a ride.  We can take turns burning off calories and alternate by talking to the folks who call The Gateway home.

Plus, once you’ve dropped a few pounds and helped the earth a little bit, you can turn to your new friends at The Gateway and say “That’s how I ride” and it’ll be funny.  Honest.

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I have a shameful admission to make, so make sure you’re seated comfortably and prepared for a shock.  Despite being an avid reader and having a voracious appetite for trivial information, I haven’t owned a valid library card since University.  That’s six years for those of you who aren’t very good at math.

It’s not my parents’ fault.  They raised me with a library card and we made frequent family trips to our local book rental store.  No, I chalk this up to my love of owning books.  I covet them with their pretty covers, straight spines and leafy pages.  When I read a book, I want to showcase it in my bookcase much like a hunter mounts the head of his most recent kill.  Yes, it’s macabre and self-gratifying, but it feels so good.

Alas, my budget and space restrictions in our home have pushed me to the limits of what my library can hold and rather than lose all my old trophies, I’ll make the jump back into the world of the library.

Toronto’s library system is pretty awesome, so it won’t be too painful.  There’s a satellite branch just a few short steps from our house.  I can order any book in the entire system from any PC and have it sent to my branch.  They’ll call me when it’s in, and I just pick it up, read it and return it all at no charge.  Nice.

I’ve even figured out what my first two books will likely be.  I’d like to learn more about Otto Von Bismarck (the man famous for first uniting Germany at the turn of the 20th century) and about soldering (since I got a soldering iron for Christmas and I want to use it to fix up an old electric guitar that has some faulty switches).

All that’s left to do is visit my local branch with some ID.  Fortunately I have the new and improved Ontario Driver’s License that comes complete with uncrackable security… apparently.  It looks pretty snazzy, except for the lame pastel colours.

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Friday night we checked out “I Am Legend” at our local movieplex and were solidly underwhelmed.  Sure the effects were pretty cool and Will Smith’s acting and character development were pretty good, but the ending left a lot to be desired.  I preferred Charlton Heston’s version (called “The Omega Man“).

On Saturday I wandered down to MEC and bought myself some fancy new winter gloves to replace a pair that have seen better days.  A huge hole in the right index finger left my hand a little drafty.  I got a great deal on a liner and shell system that will keep my digits toasty and useful on even the coldest day.

In the evening, we headed to U of T to check out a living room folk concert held by our friends Ericka and Andrew.  Tyrone played the opening set as his one-man band “Silver Speakers” fresh off of being introduced to CBC Radio 3 on their podcast and website.  He nicely warmed us up for an amazing folk singer named Jon Brooks.  His storytelling and crowd banter was well above par and his songs were witty, funny, heartwrenchingly sad and beautiful all at the same time.  I strongly encourage you to check him out.  In fact, if you see him live in concert, look around.  It’s likely that you’ll see me and Danielle there too.

Yesterday, Danielle and I went skating at the Natrel Rink (behind The Harbourfront Centre) and enjoyed a beautiful afternoon on the ice with a hundred or so strangers.  We opted to avoid the always crowded rink at Nathan Philips Square and were rewarded with lots of skating space.  We’re now in prime skating shape for our trip to Ottawa for Winterlude in mid-February where we will skate the entire length of the Rideau Canal from top to bottom and back.

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Earlier this week I wrote about the Ethic of Reciprocity (or the Golden Rule) and what it would mean to customer service if individuals in a corporation were able to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and treat them as they themselves would want to be treated.  It’s a thought that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last few days and I’ve been wondering what that behaviour change would look like, and how it could be made.

As a professional communicator (trust me, I slum it in here.  I’m a wicked-great writer and communicator.  Seriously.),  I see this as a pretty big challenge.  Like a parent trying to change a child’s behaviour, instructing people on how to view others can be seen as preachy and condescending, so just telling people “Hey! Put yourself in THEIR shoes” probably won’t work.

Personally, I think that illustrating what it feels like to be treated in a way you wouldn’t like can drive the point home.  I don’t know if I’d go so far as forcing employees to participate in role reversal sessions with customers, since that sounds a lot like couples therapy, but surely a good story, a humorous video or a brief coaching session with other employees where they share stories of being mistreated by other corporations could really hammer the nail home.

On the flip side, thinking this way can also make people better customers.  We can be more understanding of the challenges large corporations face in dealing with issues that are beyond the ordinary, and encourage those in customer service roles as they try to help, rather than exploding in a fit of rage at the first hurdle.  Reciprocity is a two-way street, and if it’s done right, everyone wins.

I’ll continue mulling this over, but would love to hear your thoughts.

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Some sort of delay on the eastbound subway caused MASSIVE back-ups and delays in stations and on trains clear across the Bloor/Danforth line.  At my station, Pape, I had to wait through six fully loaded trains before squeezing myself into the seventh.  My feet were barely touching the ground, so I wasn’t too worried about falling over thanks to the jerky stops and starts.

Like usually happens in these situations, many Torontonians drop their usual barriers of personal space and talk openly with one another, some to gripe and others to crack jokes.  Our section of the car was speculating on the nature of the delay.  One woman had heard that Kennedy station was completely closed and shuttle buses that were supposed to carry passengers to the next station never closed.  Because there wasn’t a single announcement about delays, she suggested that someone had committed suicide by jumping in front of an oncoming train (the TTC has a policy of not announcing these suicides for fear of giving other troubled people any ideas).

Once we were out speculation, we moved on to cracking jokes about who was accidentally touching whose butt, how the TTC should hold olympic events like “reaching the overhead grip bar if you’re 5’2” and “awkwardly avoiding eye contact with the person whose faces is mashed into yours”.

Further down the car, I heard a guy in a business suit ask someone who was obviously a drywaller for some tips.  He explained that he was refinishing his basement and the drywaller was really helpful and friendly.  In the end, they exchanged information and arranged to meet at the guy’s house.

Sure, I hate the hassle of TTC delays, but these are the moments that make me feel a lot better about Toronto, a city that has an image of being too cold and unfriendly, or just plain deadly.

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I watched “Family Guy; Blue Harvest” last night, which was worth a few good laughs.  If you’re a Family Guy fan, a Star Wars fan and just generally a fan of pop culture (which is basically a prerequisite to be a fan of the first two) then you’ll probably enjoy it.  I’m not sure if it’s worth all the hype that it’s getting as it’s really just a long episode with uncensored swearing.

I also spent some quality time with my acoustic guitar by jamming to some Cake and Peter Frampton (please, don’t judge me).  I’m hoping to figure out a simple guitar part to “Movin’ On Up“, which most people will remember as the theme song to “The Jeffersons”.  It’s a really catchy tune and I think it would sound pretty neat played by a rock four-piece with a few different vocal parts.  On the other hand, I could be wrong.  Very, very wrong.

Part of the inspiration for learning that song is our recent move (on up) to the east side, although our deluxe apartment is more in the ground than it is in the sky. You can’t win ’em all.

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“The Ethic of Reciprocity” is really just a fancy name for a precept that we were all raised with, although we probably know it better as “The Golden Rule”.  Simply stated as “treat others as you would like to be treated”, we probably first heard it the first time we made a sibling or classmate cry after taking something from them, or hitting them; two things kids do often and without open malice.

With roots in early religion, it’s a pretty basic concept of civility in society (modern, ancient and everything in between) and you can boil down just about any conflict as being a situation void of this ethic.  No individual would oppress, torture or kill another if they took the time to consider that they would not want anyone else oppressing, torturing or killing them.  Pretty simple, huh?  Like most ethical concepts, it makes a lot more sense in theory than it does in practice.

Theoretical discussion doesn’t take into account overriding feelings and emotions like anger, sense of entitlement or ownership or simple greed.  Those probably explain where the ethic collapses in world politics, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how this concept can be applied to customer service, and it breaks down because of a much simpler reason; laziness.

When I have a complex issue with a company which I need help resolving, the most common response that leads to inaction is “It’s not my job” or “Another department handles that”.  Sometimes you get into the endless runaround of needing to fill out Form A, then Form B, then Form C and coming back to Form A again.  What if a customer service representative took a few minutes to think about how it feels to be a customer in need of something and takes the problem on as if it were their own?  Would there still be millions of blog posts railing against corporations (many of them on this blog)?

So what does this look like in practice within a corporation?  Does it come with a fancy mantra that employees are indoctrinated with?  I’m not sure how that behaviour becomes common place in a large corporation or organization.

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