Thursday, December 24, 2009

Things I learned this week about Christmas

I learned:
• The bible doesn't mention a specific date for Jesus' birth. In the fourth century, when the Catholic Church decided to recognize it as an official holiday, Pope Julius I chose December 25th for the "Feast of the Nativity."

• The U.S. was almost a century old before Congress proclaimed Christmas to be a federal holiday.

• In Puritan New England of the 17th century, you could be fined five shillings for celebrating Christmas.

• Santa Claus' name is derived from that of a real Saint Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Legends speak of his generosity, and his ability to perform miracles of gift-giving.

• At one time or another, Saint Nicholas has been the patron saint of Russia, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.

• The modern Christmas tree tradition came from medieval Germany where it was called a paradise tree, and was decorated with apples and cookies. These cookies led eventually to the tradition of cookies and milk being left out for Santa.

• The notion of Saint Nick flying through the sky in a sleigh first appeared in an 1819 short story by Washington Irving.

• Santa's reindeer first showed up four years later in Clement C. Moore's account of A Visit from St. Nicholas.

• Rudolph the red nosed reindeer was created in 1939 by an advertising copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store.
Well, that's it for now. Geezer is booking off for the Holidays. I'll be back in the new year from my winter hideout in beautiful Venice, Florida, where there are no snowdrifts and the Margaritas are always in season.

Very best wishes for happy times with your own family and friends at this special time of the year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The pweor of the hmuan mnid

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Globalizing his face

Continuing with our "bigness" theme, today we feature the largest portrait in the world. It was actually drawn on the world by shipping a GPS unit around the globe using very precise directions. Next time you have a parcel go astray, show them this video.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A journey to Brobdingnag

Fortunately, when excess leaves you wanting, you can still colossalize your ...

Cruise Ship: Oasis of the Seas, recently launched, is seven times the size of the Titanic, has seven on-board neighbourhoods, and carries 5,400 passengers who will gain a total of 35,000 pounds during their cruise. "Doggy bag, dahling?"

Pickup Truck: When the 22-foot, 5-ton International CXT (left) pulls up, Hummers slink away in embarrassment. "Darlin, have you got a coupla hundred bucks? I just need to top up the tank."

Airplane: You think that new Airbus is big? Pffft. With a maximum takeoff weight of 1,323,000 lb., the Russian Antonov 225 can haul 150-ton generators and locomotives without breaking a sweat. The world supply of kerosene drops by 20% every time they fuel this thing up. "Dahling, let's just fly Capri over here this year."

Yacht: Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai owns the world's biggest yacht (above), but not for long. Russian gazillionaire Roman Abramovich will take delivery of the 560-foot Eclipse in 2010, which will up the ante by 36 ft. "Dahling, have you spotted any of our guests this week?"

House: Currently under construction for India's richest man, this 27-storey home (below) in Mumbai is costing more than $1 billion, and features a seamless, vertical garden. "Dahling, have you seen my glasses anywhere?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
•There is a mini-trend to naming kids after cars and trucks. Among the faves --- Mercedes, Lexus, Dakota, Sierra and Shelby. What, no Bimmers?

•The latest threat to the Great Lakes is the Asian carp, which are coming up the Mississippi and entering the lakes. Problem is they eat the plankton needed to support native game fish like trout and salmon. The U.S. Senate is legislating, and state officials are poisoning canals and demanding closure of waterways used by the carp to get to their new feeding grounds.

•The next big idea in the sports world is (ba-da-bing) the Lingerie Football League. Yep, pretty much what the name implies --- nubile nymphettes in their unmentionables playing four-down football. Oskie Wee Wee!

•A British government document advising officials on how to keep documents from leaking to the Internet was leaked on the Internet.

•The hot new amusement arcade game Whack A Banker is hugely popular in England. For the equivalent of 65 cents, you get to hit as many bankers as you can in 30 seconds as their heads pop up.

•Hooters is not the best place to take a busload of schoolkids for lunch when on an outing.
Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So you think you can dance?

She is 92. He is her 29 year old grandson. You will be amazed. Watch it to the end for the really hot stuff.

video

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Geography of a Recession

A fascinating video map showing the impact of the recession on U.S. employment, from the downturn's January, 2007, inception to October this year. No further comment required.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Don't get caught sitting on your business model

It's hard to stop doing something that makes money, until it doesn't, and then it's usually too late. Three examples:
Blockbusters had its sector's dominant brand, and a stranglehold on the video business, but was slow to transition from the old "come and get it" model to new distribution methods. While the former champ closes 960 stores this year, innovators like Netflix are taking large bites out of the video pie, as are video-on-demand services from the cable and satellite TV outfits, and websites like YouTube and Hulu. The company has been producing losses for more than a year ($116.8 million in the most recent quarter), and survival is questionable.

America Online was the 300-pound gorilla of the internet in the 1990s, appealing to technologically-challenged users with a simplified interface, incessantly mailing its ubiquitous CD-ROM discs to all corners of the free world, and charging premium prices for what was little more than internet access and an e-mail account. Of course, the internet got simpler and cheaper, thanks to better browsers, search engines, and high-speed connections, and users got savvy. An opportunity to leverage a famous brand was squandered by complacency and the diversion of management attention by the ill-advised Time Warner marriage. The divorce was announced last week amid estimates that AOL's worth is just 1% of its peak value.

The recording industry ruled the distribution of music for a century. Then the internet and the iPod changed everything. The record companies fought a prolonged rear guard action against downloading, eroding goodwill by suing 13-year-olds for exhorbitant sums and bullying everyone within shouting distance. Instead of having their legal departments bat leadoff, they should have been acquiring or emulating the Napsters that were stealing their lunch. Having failed to understand that consumers were now calling the shots, and that the $25 album con was over, they were "rescued" by Steve Jobs, and forced to let him sell songs for 99 cents.
There are lots of other examples of industrial dinosaurs stuck in the tar ponds of business models that no longer work. When you are king of the hill, it's hard to see the need to change.

It gradually dawns on executives and directors that they have people with the wrong skills doing the wrong things with expensive equipment and facilities that are unsuitable for the activities now required for survival. There is widespread nostalgia for some of these businesses, such as newspapers, but their demise is certain, nonetheless.

Finally, panic depresses creativity, so breakthrough thinking is unlikely as the full horror of the situation is recognized.

Creative destruction is a wondrous, or fearsome thing, depending on whether you are the destroyer or the destroyed.

Change is hard. Death is worse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The Davie Brown Index measures the public appeal of individual celebrities. It's used by ad agencies and the like in their search for spokespersons, endorsements, etc. Tiger Woods recently dropped from 6th to 24th in the DBI rankings.

• My old, cracked, recycling bin is not recyclable.

• Meccano, the maker of my old school (1950s) erector set is still around, and is now making Spykee the spy robot, proving that the toy store is good place to track changing social mores.

• The total combined weight of the world's ant population is heavier than the weight of the human population.

• The internet could be responsible for as much as 2 per cent of all human-made CO2 emissions, putting it on a par with the aviation industry.

• Buckwheat isn't wheat. It isn't even a cereal grain. It is a fruit seed related to rhubarb.

• The largest living organism on earth makes its home in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. It is a fungus living three feet underground, and is estimated to cover 2,200 acres.
How about that?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Santa’s Marketing Works Better Than Yours!

Good advice from the big guy in the red suit, republished with permission from Psychotactics.com

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Santa Claus Inc. is well and profitable, right through recessions, depressions and just about any economic scenario. The reason why his marketing strategies work better than yours, is because he uses solid, dyed-in-the-wool psychology. He knows he doesn’t have to use new fangled techniques, when his simple marketing has stood the test of time.

If you don’t believe in Santa, you’d better change your mind, because the fat man from the north pole rocks on and you too can do the same if you stick to the basics. Find out if your product or service matches up by reading the article below.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle All the Way…
If you go to the heart of Santa’s marketing, the one word you come away with is ‘consistency’. Generation after generation have been exposed to one brand, one message, and the same powerful imagery.

Just like Mercedes own the term ‘luxury’ and Volvo owns the term ’safety’, Santa owns the word ‘hope’. Every kid worth his Nintendo, hopes he’s got enough points on the goodness scale to justify a mountain of gifts.

Yet, most companies get tired of their own brand. They chop, change and pour thousands (if not millions) of dollars into a bottomless pit of mindless change. Take a look at McDonald’s advertising, for instance. McDonald’s own the word family outing yet their ads have been straying down the teenager path.

Does It Make Sense To Consistently Occupy One Niche?

You bet it does! Families go out with their kids to McDonalds. These kids sprout into budget-conscious teenagers that hang out at McDonalds. They have kids and grandkids and guess where they all end up. At the big yellow ‘M’, that’s where!

Santa doesn’t waver. His customers are kids. Like several marketers, he might have been sorely tempted to enter the gift market. With bad advice, he would have tried to get to teenagers, adults and everyone. Can you see the magic still working? Even the tiniest of niches is huge and niches have a way of expanding by themselves.

At the end of the day, it’s the consistency that takes the jingle all the way to the bank. Too many companies lose focus and give you seven reasons why you should buy from them. Santa sticks to one: Be a ‘good’ kid or you can keep hoping!

You Can Spot Him in the Middle of a Crowded Sky

Do you know anyone who comes to visit on a sleigh in the middle of the night? With reindeer and gifts? The reason why Santa stands out so vividly in our memories is because he’s different. The postman does the same thing, but leaves without the flourish.

It’s Really Important To Work Out How Your Marketing Message Differs
Santa’s core marketing term is not built solely on consistent branding but also on a very hard-nosed differentiation. Too much communication out there fits in with what’s safe. Customers have just one slot in their mind. You have to enter that slot at such an obtuse angle that they remember you for life.

Rose Richards runs Office Doctor. What sets her apart from all the rest of the administration crowd is the term, "Small business pain relief". Can you imagine your reaction when you hear something like that?

The human mind is intensely curious and a marketing statement like that is pure bait. You want to know what pain relief she brings and how she goes about it-specially if you’re the one in pain. That’s only half the story. The construction of the message elevates her from simple number crunching to brain surgery and makes her unique.

If you want differentiation you need look no further than the guiding light of Santa’s sleigh – Rudolph, with his shiny nose. Can you even remember the names of the rest of the eight reindeer?

One very important point, however, is that the marketing message isn’t just different, but also customer-oriented. Rose takes the clutter out of administration and Rudolph provides a beacon for clearer navigation.

If you don’t have a benefit for the customer, just being different is going to get you nowhere.


Give and You Shall Receive

How many of you are out there networking like crazy? Trying desperately to fill in your steadily depleting bank reserves? You want, want, want! Take a look at Santa’s style.

He’s into giving first. If you probe deep into your mind, you’ll find the people you like best are those who have given you their time, their money or their knowledge. You trust them, and it’s very hard to say no when they ask you for a favour in return.

The deepest core of human emotions is fear. Every single product or service, without exception, is sold on the basis of a problem. The only known antidote to fear is TRUST. When trusts struts upwards, fear banishes itself to penguin land. The more you pile up the trust, the more you can do business.

Wouldn’t Santa be able to sell you just about anything? Would he be able to cross-sell and up-sell product? Santa could knock on your door next summer and you’d be more than happy to have him join your barbeque.

It’s up to you to build up the trust one Lego block at a time. Identify your clients and see what you can give them. It could be information, time or even a chocolate covered scrumptious cookie. It’s the old ‘What’s in it for me?’ theory. If you can’t find something calorie-ridden for their minds or bodies, they won’t want to see you.

Play Santa. It works.
He Knows if You’ve Been Bad or Good…

Heck Santa knows his customers. He even knows when you are sleeping, or awake.

Then, there’s you. Look at your biggest customer. What’s her name? When is her birthday? Does she like Indian curries or sushi? In curries can she handle hot or medium? What does she think about you? What doesn’t she like?

You’re guessing for sure. You can’t be dead certain because you’ve been so busy looking at dollar signs that you’ve missed the plot completely.

The reason why Santa’s marketing works is because he intimately knows your individual needs. If you want a drum kit, you get one. If you want a Barbie, you don’t wind up sulking with a xylophone.

Santa knows because he’s interested in giving. To give, you have to know exactly what the receiver wants or your gift is not worth the packaging it’s wrapped in.

Some people worry about invading personal privacy. Hogwash! When was the last time you got upset because a supplier turned up with a big chocolate cake (your favourite) for your birthday? or with rare stamps for your son (because he loves collecting stamps)?

Santa’s invades our privacy gently and uses it to give, not to take. That’s why we don’t mind it. The tax department on the other hand, uses our information to take, and therein lies the principal difference.

Once a Customer, Always a Customer.

Santa doesn’t lose customers. Period.
One of the primary reasons why he’s able to achieve this amazing feat is because he thinks of his customer’s customer. His customer is the kid, who in a few years gets a little wiser about Santa and his customer’s customer is the parent who has the amazing power to get their children to be nice not naughty, if only for a short while.

Since the concept works in their favour, they do all the advertising. Without TV, radio or the internet, Santa’s message gets a grip on millions of kids around the planet. These kids grow up and the marvel of Santa is handed down through the generations.

While it’s OK for Santa, how would this work in the real world?

Jeans West, a jean retailer, has several of the answers. I needed one pair, but Stephanie (the sales girl) sold me two–not by hassling me, but by gently reminding me I would get $20 off the second pair.

Then, with my purchase, she gave me a gift voucher of $10, for my use or to pass on. They, also signed me up for a loyalty program that offered to give me a 10% discount if I purchased over $250 worth of product in the next 6 months.

This Is Effectively What Jeans West Did to Make Me a Permanent Customer.

Step 1: The sales person asked the right questions to find out my need.
Step 2: She up-sold the product giving me good value for money.
Step 3: A gift voucher with a validity date, ensured an additional purchase. Or even better, the chance for me to pass it on to another person thus ‘creating a customer’ for Jeans West.
Step 4: Tying my fickle consumer head into a loyalty scheme. They wanted me to stay with them forever.

Santa’s steps may vary, but in essence he ties you into a solid loyalty program that is near impossible to get off. It’s ‘customer get customer’, rather than ‘advertising get customer.’ It’s cheaper and it works!

In conclusion here are the main points why Santa’s customers keeps coming back. These concepts may sound old, even trite, but have been proven time after time to work well. Test them against your company and brand to see where you can learn from the man from the North Pole.

1) Solid branding: We’re not talking lease here. Consistency is the key. This applies everywhere from networking meetings, advertising to any sort of communication that goes out. Keep hammering home the same unique message and put it up front. The weather changes all the time which is why we can’t trust it.

If you must change, it’s because your old message isn’t doing a complete job. I changed our first baseline from ‘Recession proof business principles’ to ‘Reactivating dormant business clients.’
The proposition was the same but the second line got 10 times the response.

2) Differentiation: Santa knows he can be a courier with a difference. You, too, can create your own legend. Nike used Just Do It. Coke threw in the concept, Rum and Coke, indelibly burning the word classic into our consciousness. Sameness is in your mind. No matter how many brands exist on the market, your product has a fingerprint of its own. You just have to dig deep to find out.

3) Build trust by giving first. Life is all about sowing, then reaping-but sowing comes first. If you don’t give first, you will only get limited results. The more you stop thinking of yourself and focus on what the customer needs instead, the more you are trusted. Business is all about trust. If you don’t have it, you’re yesterday’s soup.

4) Know your customer… Like you know the hair on your head. Data collection and its optimum usage will get you right into their minds and keep you permanently rooted in. Every time they see you, they should think you are Santa coming to town.

5) Reactivate dormant clients. They are all volcanoes. Sitting there with the power to erupt mightily. Figure out who they are and how you can work in tandem with them. Forget your product or service. That’s a given– It has to be good. Find out the ‘everything else’ factor and you will keep them for life.

Like Santa does…

Next Step: If you haven’t already done so, collect your FREE Santas. There are lots of this lovable man from the North Pole. Click here to get Free Fun Santas

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Canada, the comedy

I once picked up an American hitchhiker heading home down that long, boring stretch of Highway 401 that runs through the flatlands to Windsor, Ontario, and the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit.

We talked about a lot of things, and at one point I asked him what Americans thought of Canadians. This is the eternal question asked by Canadians, who are often condescending toward their southern neighbours on issues like healthcare, while carefully avoiding doing anything that might give offence to them. A fine balance.

He thought for a moment before saying, "We think you all are a cute country." He went on to expand on that, and the gist of it was that Canada is a "nice" country with "nice" people, but not a serious player. At that time, it was also a pretty good place for U.S. draft-dodgers to avoid the Viet Nam war.

For my generation, WWII was recent history, and Canada had been a serious player in that conflict, punching well above its weight class. We'd also sent a substantial contingent to the fracas in Korea. We were proud of both. So "cute" was not in our self-definition.

In hindsight, I can now see that we are not a warrior people like the Yanks, who see themselves as the world's quick-draw sheriff. In the intervening years between Korea and Afghanistan, Canada earned a reputation for peace-keeping rather than peace-making. We can be proud of that, too.

But once in a while, something happens that shows the world we're still an adolescent country, trying to act grown-up but not quite having our act together.

Can you imagine a bunch of protesters climbing to the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington to hang banners on it? This past Monday, 20 Greenpeace activists hauled in ladders and climbing gear, then clambered to the roof of the Parliament Buildings, and rappelled down to mount banners that read "Stop the Tar Sands" and "Harper/Ignatieff: Climate Inaction Costs Lives."

In doing so, these guys confirmed that parliamentary security is a joke. It took two hours for authorities to remove the banners and arrest the protestors. Explanations were hard to find.

"We will conduct a thorough review of this occurrence to determine how this event took place," said the RCMP.

Isn't that what they said after a psycho with a knife walked into Chrétien's bedroom, the one wife Aline handled in the absence of the mounties? Another teenage moment.

Oh, my goodness, what will U.S. Homeland Security think now? Will we see some of those Predator drones straying a bit north of the border to take a peek at Ottawa?

And, finally, do Canadians care? Most will just shake their heads. It's only a big deal for the officials that get hauled up on the carpet. For the rest of us, it's no harm, no foul, and thanks for giving us a chuckle. Some citizens like to sit in the visitors gallery, and others like to get up on the roof. Chacun son goût.

I think that hitchhiker had us pegged.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kenny's near-death experience

On the weekend, it looked like it was all over for Kenny, so we wrote the obituary:
All those who followed the courageous struggle of Kenny, the Kenmore washer, in his heroic fight to survive a debilitating Sears Canada service infection, will be saddened by the news of his untimely passing. Though initially misdiagnosed, and subsequently subjected to an exhausting course of treatment, his severe high-speed-spin allergy had appeared to be in remission. Sadly, Kenny experienced a relapse and finally succumbed at home on Sunday, December 6, while on the day's sixth load of laundry. Please send donations to the School for Appliance Repairmen in lieu of flowers. Services will be held at the Peel landfill.
But then, miraculously, at the mention of the word "landfill," Kenny decides spinning might be better than rusting away or being cannibalized for parts, and he has an amazing resurrection.

"Just taking a little break," he says. "Ready to go again."

So, he's back, but for how long? Trust has waned, and we will forever have an ear cocked for the distinctive sound of the high speed spin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blame Canadian bigfoot for global warming

Listening to Al Gore on Letterman the other night. The man is persuasive.

Most Canadians need a wake-up call on this climate change thing, and Al definitely gets you thinking.

Like many, I'd heard about this carbon footprint thing, but never really dug into it. I knew it was a measure of the amount of crap getting shot up into the atmosphere as a by-product of my so-called lifestyle. So, I gave this carbon footprint calculator a whirl.

I figured that my wife and I would be "better" than the average, what with her penchant for turning off lights, and my having programmed the thermostat to lower the overnight temperature. Also, I don't drive much, and take only a couple of airline flights each year, and our second car is a 4-cylinder, Japanese cute-ute that sips gasoline. Plus, we go south for most of the winter, and we rarely use air conditioning while there.

Big surprise.

We came in just a hair over the Canadian average of 20 tonnes of CO2 per year EACH, which is almost double the average for industrial nations, 5 times the worldwide average, and 10 times the target level for combatting climate change.

That's our report up there on the left (Click on it to zoom it up). As you can see, we're not treading lightly upon the earth.

[Note: If you're going to use this calculator, and have a gas furnace, you need to know that 1 cubic meter of natural gas = 0.36 therms]

Friday, December 4, 2009

1961: Pop pimps Peggy Sue

Oh, the challenges of parenting in the age of a thousand dances.

video

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Consumer power shift

In pre-Facebook/Twitter/Blog/Epinions days, the consumer's power pretty much ended when she handed over her money.

Oh sure, she could bitch to her friends about how the product or service failed to live up to its advertising, and maybe write a letter to the manufacturer or the store if she was really steamed. But that was pretty much the extent of it. If she was really noisy, she could perhaps reach 20, or maybe even 30, people.

Today, a whole different deal.

Social media and customer review websites provide her with a megaphone to broadcast far beyond her immediate circle of acquaintances, and a way to check consumer ratings on every category of goods and services.

In a recent study examining the impact of consumer-generated, online reviews, people said the opinions of fellow consumers influenced them more than those of professionals, and that they would pay more for highly rated services. Another says that one negative comment on Twitter, Facebook or Youtube can cost a company 30 customers.

Smart retailers (e.g. Apple) are building the customer review process right into their online stores. Stupid companies are ignoring all this at their peril. At a minimum, they need to monitor customer sentiment and feed it back to decision makers.

If people can't find a way to complain to the company, they will complain to the world, so companies need to provide channels for problem resolution. Sure that costs money, but I'm guessing it's a whole lot less than the business lost as a result of negative word-of-mouth.

There is now a level playing field, not just because the consumer has a new arsenal of online weapons, but also because there has been a general erosion of corporate credibility by countless cases in which short-term gains trumped the best interests of customers.

You are your own consumer advocate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snub customers and pay the price

Twentieth century commerce was dominated by brand names.

Kraft, Sears, General Motors, Sony, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Tide. For consumers, those names were shorthand for quality, dependability, and service. It was not unusual for people to stick with a brand through their entire lifetimes, and often this brand loyalty was passed on to the next generation. There were Chevy families. Coke drinkers would never buy Pepsi.

Accountants call that "goodwill." It's that intangible extra value possessed by a company over and above its tangible assets like factories, trucks, and inventory.

Companies spend huge amounts of money over many years to establish their brands as trusted symbols of quality.

But brands cut both ways. Now, in the Walmartized 21st century, with customers demanding low prices and shareholders demanding higher profits, CEOs are taking the very actions that destroy those valuable brands.

Without telling us, they are putting more water in the bottle of lotion. They are reducing the amount of cereal in the box. They are shrinking the jar of peanut butter. They are using cheaper materials in appliances. They are outsourcing their service to subcontractors, and their help desks to India. They hope no one will notice, but we do.

Our anger is particularly venomous for the brands we trusted most, the ones we supported with our dollars over and over again. The ones we told our friends to buy. "It's the best," we said. "You won't be sorry."

We thought we had a deal with those companies. The deal was that we would pay a bit more, and they would continue to deliver consistent, higher quality than the so-called "off-brands."

Apparently, many of the companies decided to cancel the deal. We didn't get the memo.

When that happens, we stop being advocates for the brand, and become advocates against the brand. We say, "Remember when this company was the gold standard for quality?" and "You won't believe what these guys did to me!" It comes up in those everyday conversations over the backyard fence, at the hockey rink, on the 10th tee, on Twitter, on Facebook, and everywhere that people fill time with small talk.

Word of mouth, the most powerful marketing force ever. More powerful than all the ads and coupons and free samples and special sales and fancy displays and nifty packaging and discounts and celebrity endorsements and convincing sales pitches combined.

The brand's power begins to evaporate away, then it's gone in a rush. It's no longer the automatic choice. It's just another box on the shelf. We move on.

[Click here to read how Sears Canada destroyed its brand in our household]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Workday 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Camel war breaks out in Oz

Marauding camels, two words I didn't expect to see in the same sentence.

I always thought camels were sorta like cows, but with longer legs. Figured they were docile, maybe not too bright, beasts of burden. Caravans in the Arabian deserts, the three wise men, and that old ciggy ad "I'd walk a mile for a Camel" pretty well sum up camels for me.

But in Docker River, Australia, 6,000 wild camels are being hunted down with helicopters. Their crime: thirst. Their regular water sources have dried up. They have been smashing water tanks and doing other serious damage in their search for the water they need to survive.

The camels don't have guns and helicopters to fight back, so they lose. The plan is to herd them out into the desert and kill them.

Australia has been experiencing some of the worst drought and heat conditions ever. Some say it's a climate change warning for the rest of the world.

Does this confrontation between people and camels portend intensified competition between species for food and water in the age of global warming?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Post-mortem: A collision with 21st century service

Our household was recently disrupted for 48 days due to a dead washing machine.

Initially, it was just a wounded washing machine, but it died during minor surgery. That was just the beginning. You will find the complete blow-by-blow account in yesterday's post. It is a litany of ineptitude, broken promises, and failures to act, reflecting a general absence of concern for the customer.

What do service organizations need to learn?
• Communicate with the customer. Customers can put up with a lot if they know what's happening. If they don't hear from you, they assume nothing is happening.

• Ensure that your call centre and field service depots are communicating effectively. It is inexcusable for a customer to be given one date by the call centre, and another by the dispatcher. Customers are changing plans and making arrangements in order to be available for your technician.

• Communicate with your own field staff. Technicians need the full history of the problem in order to show up with the right parts and an understanding of the situation they are walking into.

• Keep service personnel's product knowledge up to date. For example, service flashes on component changes need to get to the field technicians.

• Create a culture in which employees are expected to take ownership of a problem and manage it to a solution.

• Escalate service orders that have not been closed within a reasonable time frame, and to an executive level when they have not been closed within an unreasonably long time frame.

• Monitor social media for posts that mention your name. Customers are complaining about your service on Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs, etc. This is painful to read but invaluable feedback for you, and can signal that something has really gone wrong. Someone in your company needs to be listening, and responding.
What can customers (including me) learn from this?
• Determine whether the affected product is still under warranty and, if it is, read the terms of your warranty. Jot down model number, serial number, date of purchase in preparation for your first call. Be prepared to describe the exact symptoms.

• Be polite to call centre operators. They are just looking at a computer screen in India or the Philippines, and have no authority to do anything other than place your service order. They can only follow the strict procedures laid down by the company.

• Hang around the area where the technician is working. Don't pester or distract him, but ask him occasionally whether he has found the problem and "How's it coming along."

• Document everything, right from the beginning --- dates, times, names, conversations, promises, no-shows, mistakes, admissions that the tech has caused damage to your unit, and so on. Create a chronological report, and keep it updated.

• Do some research online to identify company contacts who may be able to help when the regular process goes off the rails.

• Write a letter or send an e-mail message. Go as high in the organization as possible, and cc any customer advocate you have already contacted. Attach your chronological report of events to date. An e-mail or letter to the CEO may not get a direct response (although sometimes it will), but the boss may ask someone to look into your problem. By the way, don't wine, threaten, or exaggerate the problem in this correspondence. Be reasonable, factual, and state clearly what you expect from the company if the product can not be repaired in a timely fashion (e.g. replacement if in-warranty, financial assistance with buying a replacement if out-of-warranty).

• If the situation deteriorates --- no solution forthcoming, getting the brushoff from the service outfit, undue delay, excuse-making --- use social media (Twitter, Facebook, personal blog, etc.) to raise a ruckus. Always mention the company's name in updates in order to snag the attention of their online community manager, if they have one. A recent survey found that a negative comment on Twitter, Facebook, or Youtube can lose the company 30 customers. Businesses are gradually waking up to the power shift that social media are producing.

• If the situation appears hopeless, get in touch with customer advocates associated with major newspapers and TV stations. Your chronological report will be valuable here. Even if your story doesn't get picked for tomorrow's news, they have contacts in organizations who may be able to help.

• Companies hate negative publicity in the news media so, when e-mailing customer advocates, copy your messages to e-mail addresses listed on the company's web site. That can get someone's attention, and result in a phone call (Be sure to put your phone number in the message).

• Ensure that the problem is truly solved before the technician leaves and you sign off. Signing off will normally close the service order, so it's back to the beginning if the repair is unsuccessful. For example, if it's a washer, do a test load and offer the tech a coffee while you both watch.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NOW PLAYING: The Sears Washer Repair Fiasco

Comedy or tragedy --- you decide.
The peace and tranquility of a suburban household is destroyed by the madcap antics of a parade of inept Sears Canada repairmen who fail to keep appointments, damage circuit boards, and show up with incorrect parts. The central character is Kenny, the Kenmore washer, who accepts it all with good humour. The supporting cast includes the Helpless-Desk ladies in the Philippines, and mysterious strangers with whom the technicians hold sotto voce conversations about what they should charge for the latest injury they have inflicted upon Kenny. The play co-stars the lovely Linda in the Toronto depot, who delivers her lines with heartfelt empathy while delivering only false hope. Highlights include the hilarious vignettes at the coin laundry. This black comedy opened on October 11, and has been here for an extended run, which may explain
cast members' lack of motivation in recent performances.

Does it have a happy ending? Find out in the final act.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sears used to be the gold standard of customer service, famous for standing behind the products they sold. In this recent case of what should have been a simple Kenmore washer repair, it seemed they couldn't get out of their own way.

It all started on the morning of Sunday, October 11. I was enjoying my coffee and newspaper when cries of desperation were detected coming from the direction of the laundry room.

Initially, I was not unduly distressed, as my wife is known to have "issues" with anything technological. Computers have been known to go into whimpering spasms when they notice her in the vicinity. Usually I can sort out these little problems by Googling the symptoms or calling one of my geek pals.

This was not to be the case on that Sunday, however. Our marvellous, computerized Kenmore washer, with many buttons, dials, and flashing lights refused to enter the spin cycle. My blandishments left it unmoved. It said, "I will wash, but I will not spin. Spinning is not on my agenda. My spinning days are at an end. Be advised that the spinning feature has been withdrawn from the menu. You are henceforth without benefit of spin"

Here then is the ensuing chain of events occasioned by this obstinacy:

WEEK 1

Day 1, 10:00 am. Much use of threatening language, twisting of dials, and pushing of buttons, to no avail.

Day 1, 1:00 pm. User manual located after much rummaging around in closets and other likely hiding places.

Day 1, 3:00 pm. In-depth immersion in manual, various suggested solutions noted and tried, to no avail.

Day 2, 9:00 am. Service call placed to Sears toll-free number published in manual, push various phone buttons in response to telephone prompts, sunny female voice asks me how she may help, I ask to arrange a service call for my washer, she asks the usual questions, she says a technician will show up between 12:00 noon and 8:00 pm Tuesday. He will call before coming. I say 'Thanks."

Day 3, 8:00 pm. No technician has arrived. No call from Sears has been received. I have stuck faithfully by the phone for eight hours because my wife has impressed upon me that this is a domestic crisis. I am unhappy, but am willing to cut Sears a bit of slack due to Monday having been Canadian Thanksgiving. There is probably a backlog of service calls, I think, and the technician has probably overindulged on turkey and is in a tryptophan torpor.

Day 4, 8:30 am. I call Sears to find out what happened. The female voice says she has no idea, but will rebook for today, before noon. The technician will call. Very mysterious.

Day 4, 9:46. I'm on Twitter. I tweet, "Waited 8 hrs yesterday for Sears washer repairman no-show. Rescheduled for today with 4 hr time window. Fingers crossed."

Day 4, 12:00 noon. No technician has arrived. No call from Sears has been received. I have been captive in my home for two days. Patience is running thin. I cycle through all five stages of grief. Twitter beckons. I tweet the following: "SECOND Sears washer repair ETA window now expired. Now waiting 12 hrs for no-show, no-call technician."

Day 4, 3:18 pm. I notice that I have received a tweet from something/someone called SearsBlueCrewHA: "Very sorry this happened. We're going to make this right for you asap. Please DM me your phone number. ^PK"

Day 4, 3:21 pm. I tweet my phone number back to the BlueCrew. I think, "Yes! Sears is a 21st century outfit after all, monitoring social media for cases of customer dissatisfaction and reacting instantly with solutions and empathy. Something is bound to happen now."

Day 4, 6:00 pm. I get a phone call following up on the tweet to "take care of your problem." She sounds nice, and desirous of resolving my dilemma but, alas, as soon as I say I am in Canada, it all collapses. She is most apologetic, but the BlueCrew's attentions do not extend to the country above the U.S. Nonetheless, I implore her to make inquiries on my behalf. She replies, regretfully, "No."

Day 4, 9:00 pm. I get a second call from an equally pleasant and sincere young woman, inquiring as to whether I have heard from anyone at Sears, and whether my problem is now resolved. I answer "Yes" and "No." I also tell her right away that I am in Canada, and she tells me right away that she can be of no assistance.

Day 5, 8:30 am. In total frustration, I call Sears and cancel the service call that did not happen. A mistake on my part, as I am about to discover.

Day 5, 9:00 am. I call a local appliance repair business with a substantial ad in the yellow pages. There is no answer and no voice mail. I select another with a smaller ad. This one has voice mail, and I leave my problem description and phone number.

Day 5, 9:30 am. The repairman, Les, calls back. As soon as I mention the name Kenmore, Les starts backpedalling, informing me that Sears does not provide support to independents for Kenmore products, and therefore I should call them to book a service call. I plead with Les to just take a look, pull the front off, see if there seems to be anything amiss. He gives me some things to try on my own and says he'll call back to see how I made out. Those who have read my blog post about Grade 9 Shop know that this will be fruitless.

Day 5, 11:00 am. Les calls. We agree that I will spend $50 to have him take a look. Neither of us are expecting much.

Day 5, 12:00 noon. Les comes, he looks, he gets his 50 bucks, he leaves.

Day 5, 12:30 pm. I call Sears to cancel the cancellation of the service call that did not happen. She says it will be Friday. I say "OK." She asks whether I would mind completing a customer satisfaction survey. I tell her I would be very pleased to do so. She flips me to the survey. I pour out my soul. I hang up.

Day 5, 12:40 pm. I notice that, while I have been on the phone with the call centre, someone has left a voice mail message. It turns out to be a nice woman named Linda, calling to sort out the problem with my washer repair call. She has a Toronto number. I think, "Alright."

Day 5, 12:45 pm. I call Linda. Linda is apologetic and says the original service call was not booked properly and it got added to the end of a technician's trip and the technician never got it and so it didn't happen. I say, "Oh." Linda says the next available time slot is Tuesday afternoon. I ask what about the Friday booking I just got from the call centre. She says she sees nothing about that on her screen, and anyway the next available is Tuesday afternoon. I say, "Book it Linda."

[Note: I have spared you the regular reports I have been making to my wife as this adventure has progressed been unfolding, but now a moment of truth is upon us.]

Day 5, 2:30 pm. My wife arrives home. I tell her, "Tuesday." She is not pleased, to put it mildly. She threatens to write letters. She says she will never buy another thing from Sears, and certainly no appliances. She says that more than two weeks will have passed without laundry having been laundered. There's more, but you get the idea.

WEEK 2

Day 8, 12:30 pm. Wife is fed up. Clean underwear, socks, and other essentials are now at Great Depression levels. She heads off to coin laundry with four loads. While waiting at the laundromat, she calculates that a washer can be purchased for the price of 20 trips to the coin laundry.

Day 10, 3:00 pm. Sears technician calls. He is about 30 minutes away. He wants to know how I will be paying. It seems a strange question at this stage. He also asks what problem we are experiencing with our washer. Clearly, despite my having described the problem to Sears at least twice, this information has not been relayed to him.

Day 10, 4:00 pm. Sears Technician arrives. While still at the curb, he asks whether I have a credit card. He seems very concerned about getting paid. The reasons for this will soon become clear. Entering our home, he immediately demands a credit card, and keys the card number into his handheld terminal. He explains that there is a service call charge of $93 plus taxes. All parts and labour are in addition to this. I say, "OK, let's get it done."

Day 10, 4:30 pm. He deduces that something has gotten into the pump (It turns out to be a zipper pull). He recommends replacing the pump. He has one in his van. That will be $87 plus taxes. There will also be labour charges, plus taxes. I say, "Go ahead." I'm thinking that this doesn't sound too bad.

Day 10, 6:00 pm. I ask how it's going. He says he has replaced the pump, but now we need a new "speed board." Apparently, he has one of these in his van.

Day 10, 6:30 pm. He asks for the location of the main breaker panel. Apparently, something is amiss. We check the breaker panel. No breakers have tripped. He says something happened while he was installing the speed board. He calls the office, and there is a long conversation with someone there, presumably someone more knowledgeable.

Day 10, 7:06 pm. Technician is lying on his back looking into the bottom of the washer.

Day 10, 7:26 pm. Same.

Day 10
, 7:28 pm. He calls the office. I overhear, "I don't know what to do next." There is some discussion about what to charge me. I'm beginning to understand why he was so anxious to get my credit card when he arrived. I'm feeling like I'm paying for someone else's party.

Day 10, 7:36 pm. He's off the phone, so I ask him, "What's up." He says he's going to call his service manager, which he does. I overhear that he has made a mistake and "statically charged the board." Sounds like the service manager is saying he shouldn't bill me for the fried board.

Day 10, 7:57 pm. There is a murmured conversation with someone else now. Sounds like they're discussing what I should be charged for.

Day 10, 8:30 pm. Moment of truth. He confesses that he has fried the motor control board, also called the speed board. Someone will come on Friday to replace this board. However, I must call the 1-800 number to try "to get them to do something for me" on the price of the replacement for the board he has damaged. He says they usually will waive the charge if a technician has damaged it. The bill for the work done so far is $252.68, of which only $85.99 is for parts) and still no functioning washer. In effect, most of the bill is for wrecking our washer. Add in the 50 bucks wasted on Les, and we're over $300.

Day 11, 9:20 am. I call the 1-800 number, explain the issue of the board damaged by the technician, and ask that all charges be waived for the replacement of the damaged part. The operator says she will refer this information to technical staff, who will determine whether the charges will be waived. Apparently the technician's comments have not been relayed to the help desk. I say that I expect no trip charges, labour or other charges for this return visit, as it is only necessary due to the technician's mistake. I ask how and when Sears will confirm this for me. She says the technician will tell me when he arrives on Friday. I am not feeling the love.

Day 11, 5:53 pm. I tweet "Sears washer repair fiasco - now 10 days since my initial call. Tech finally came, replaced pump, fried control board. Replace on Friday?"

Day 11, 6:13 pm. I receive tweet from MySears: "Sounds like you've had some trouble with one of our washers. Can our SearsCares team help? Please DM contact info & we'll FU."

Day 11, 8:42 pm. I notice the above tweet. I'm not sure about the "FU," but decide it probably means follow up. I reply, "Already heard from @SearsBlueCrew who couldn't help because I'm in Canada. If you can help, call me at [my number]." No call is received.

Day 12, 11:30 am. I call Linda in Toronto, the only person involved with this who has shown (feigned?) any real concern for me as a customer. I get her voice mail. I leave a message asking her to intervene on my behalf to ensure the trip charge, labour charge, and the price of the replacement board are waived because the Sears technician caused the problem.

Day 12, 5:12 pm. MySears tweets back, "So sorry - they are a different organization."

Day 13, 9:00 am. I have not heard from Linda or the 1-800 number people with regard to today's service call --- if and when it will happen; whether I will be charged. Looks like I will be captive in my home for another day, waiting for a call from the elusive technician. I have visions of the tech refusing to install the replacement board unless I agree to pay. Refusal would mean more hassling with Sears, further delay, an unhappy wife, and a declining supply of socks and underwear. I'm sure the service people at Sears have no idea how disruptive this is, and that it is mostly the result of their lack of concern and unwillingness to communicate with me.

Day 13, 1:00 pm. The second technician, Deo, arrives. Older and appears more experienced. He obviously has no knowledge of the reason for the call because he has been given a pump to install, not a board. He checks in his van and finds a board, which he installs. Unfortunately, it now appears that the board was not the problem at all. The first tech fried something, but not the motor control board. Deo thinks it is probably the main panel. He calls the depot, and is told that they do not have the main panel in stock. They will order one, and will call to arrange a third visit, probably a week from today. No mention of charges. Oh, boy!

WEEK 3
Day 15, 10:30 am. My wife heads to the laundromat (what a strange term to still be using in 2009) with another massive load. There is much grumbling, and threats that this will be the last such trip, no matter what.

Day 19, 3:00 pm. Having heard nothing about the third service call that is expected tomorrow (Friday), I call Linda. She tells me the parts are in, and the call is scheduled for Monday. Unfortunately, I will be out of town, and my wife will be working that day, so after some back and forth on dates, we decide on a week from today (Thursday).

WEEK 4

Day 25, sometime. I am out of town, but Sears leaves a voice mail message that a technician will call on Thursday between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.

Day 26, 2:00 pm. Deo, the Sears technician from the previous visit, is on the phone. He has been looking "everywhere" for a helper to assist with moving the dryer that is stacked on top of the washer. This is necessary to enable opening the washer's top. He can't find a helper, and can't say when he might find one. I see where this is headed, and suggest that I help him. He says Sears doesn't like to have customers help with this sort of thing. I persist. Eventually he agrees, and says he'll be along soon. He mentions that the first technician has quit. I comment that that was probably a good career decision.

Day 26, 2:30 pm. Deo arrives, We remove the dryer. He takes the washer apart and removes the old circuit board. In installing the new board, he discovers it is slightly different and does not have a pin connector for one pair of wires that run to the machine. He calls the depot to check compatibility. The depot says it is the wrong part, and can not be installed. Deo puts it all back the way it was. He says someone will call in a day or two re: obtaining the correct part. He says the order will be "expedited," which means it will get here extra fast. Looks like we're headed for Week 5. My wife is livid.

Day 27, 9:30 am. I am headed to the coin laundry. I arrive at the coin laundry, and ask the atttendant, "Which are the washers?" He says, "You haven't done this before, have you." He gives me a tutorial, much to the amusement of the regular customers who are standing around. I meet some nice people.

WEEK 5

Day 34, 10:30 am. We are now into month two. More than a week has passed without word from Sears about the"expedited" part, so I call Linda at the Toronto number. She says they are still waiting for the part. She says our repair will happen a week from today (Friday). I ask whether I should write that down in pencil or in ink. She says ink.

Day 36, 10:00 am. Wife to coin laundry again. While there she chats with a black gentleman who, she notes, has failed to sort before washing. She tells him he "should not mix the whites with the colours." He replies, with a smile, that this is not news to him.

Day 41, 10:05 am. Apparently that was disappearing ink, because Sears called to say that the tech will not be coming today, as promised. The part has not yet arrived (so much for "expedited"). We should expect someone, sometime, next Wednesday.

Day 43, 10:00 am. My turn for the coin laundry trip.

Day 45, 6:30 pm. My wife receives a call from Sears in Toronto to tell her that the required part is "out of stock" and no technician will be coming. She is given a toll free number to call.

Day 46, 10:00 am. I call the toll-free number. Sounds like the Philippines again. I give the operator the high points of the whole sorry tale, express our frustration, and indicate that I will be contacting both the President of Sears Canada and the news media, and will be posting the complete story on my blog, if the problem is not resolved immediately. She confirms that the part is not in stock and must be manufactured. She says she will reschedule the repair for Dec. 7. I ask whether there is any assurance that the part will be available by then. She says she can give no such assurance. I suggest that Sears should subsidize the purchase of a replacement washer. No response is forthcoming.

Day 46, 11:00 am. I send this report to Toronto Star customer advocate Ellen Roseman, and copy the Sears Canada National Customer Service Centre. I send a letter to Dene Rogers, President and CEO of Sears Canada, asking him to intervene.

Day 47, 8:30 am. I upload the blog post you are reading now.

Day 47, 9:00 am. I tweet: "SPECIAL EDITION of my blog today: 'Sears Canada, A Comedy of Errors' http://bit.ly/7iSPZz #blog #sears"

[NOTE: Now it gets interesting!]

Day 47, 9:45 am. I receive a tweet (Twitter talk for message) from SearsCA: "Hi. Just read your blog post and would like to help (I'm in Canada). If you follow @SearsCA I will DM you my contact info."

Day 47, 10:35 am. I follow SearsCA and DM (Direct Message): "Got your tweet. I'm all ears."

Day 47, 11:49 am. I receive a call from Keith McCarthy of Sears Canada. He has read my story, and regrets that I felt it necessary to contact Ellen Roseman. He also apologizes on behalf of the company for failing to resolve this sooner, and says this case will be used to train service staff (particularly those involved). We both agree that someone at Sears should have taken ownership of the problem and escalated it, but nobody did. The (previously unavailable anywhere) circuit board has (magically) been located, and someone will come tomorrow morning around 9:30 am to get us up and running. Can it be true? I may not sleep tonight. It's like waiting for Santa.

Day 47, 12:33 pm. I tweet: "I heard from Sears Canada! Proof that cage rattling works. Part found. Tech coming."

Day 47, 1:39 pm. SearsCA tweets back: "Sorry for the delay (meetings). Saw your last tweet. Hope all is good. If you need anything else, please let me know..." and [second tweet] "...My name is Will, and I am the online community guy for sears.ca. will.alexander@sears.ca. Thanks."

Day 47, 3:51 pm. I tweet back: "Hi Will. I think good things are finally happening. If any problems, I will DM you. Thanks."

Day 47, 4:16 pm. SearsCA tweets: "Great! So glad to hear we (Sears) are making this right."

Day 47, 6:48 pm. Sears Canada calls to say they will arrive tomorrow between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.

Day 48, 9:34 am. Sears Canada technician, Jerry, arrives. I update him on the history of this problem. He installs a new main circuit board. In doing so, he recognizes that this is a redesigned board that has eliminated a pin connector that had been on the original board. The second technician had not realized this on Day 26, and thought he had been given an incorrect board. The past 22 days of waiting have been completely unnecessary. He says everything is working OK. I specifically ask,"Is it spinning?" He says "Yes." He asks me to sign off (which I do), suggests I do a test load and he will call me later to check.

Day 48, 10:15 am. As far as I know, we have a functioning washer. I start updating my wife, my tweeps, my Facebook friends, all of whom have been generous with support and suggestions over the past seven weeks.

Day 48, 10:35 am. Keith McCarthy calls to check that the repair has been done, and to confirm that there will be no further charges. He says to call him if there are further problems.

Day 48, 10:47 am. I tweet: "Sears Canada Washer Repair Fiasco is finally over after 48 days. We now have a functioning washing machine. Hallelujah!"

Day 48, 11:23 am. I do a test load of laundry. Waiting to see what happens. Will it spin?

Day 48, 12:20 am. Washer refuses to enter the spin cycle. We are right back to the same problem that started this whole mess. I call Keith McCarthy and leave a message.

Day 48, 1:30 am. I do a second test load, just to make sure. No high speed spin this time, either.

Day 48, 2:32 pm. I tweet on Twitter and update on Facebook: "Jubilation re: resolution of Sears Canada Washer Repair Fiasco premature. Did test load. Washer refuses to spin. #sears"

Day 48, 3:06 pm. Jerry, the technician from this morning, calls to check. I tell him the machine won't enter the high speed spin part of the wash cycle. He says he'll be over in about 20 minutes.

Day 48, 3:20 pm. Jerry arrives. Confirms that there is no high speed spin. Replaces the door switch, which he says is a common problem. It contains a solenoid that can be faulty.

Day 48, 3:27 pm. Two grown men sit watching a washing machine go through its cycle. Normally this would be very boring, but we are both waiting for the elusive high speed spin. At last it arrives.

Day 48, 3:40 pm. Jerry notices the machine is vibrating more than it should, and balances it up. I tell him I think he's a good guy, but I hope not to see him again anytime soon. He checks out.

Day 48, 3:47 pm. I finish up by leaving a message for Keith McCarthy to the effect that Jerry has been back, and I think the problem is finally rectified.

I hope to never repeat this experience. No one really knows what technical gremlins were at work, although I have my own theory. At the end of the day, the problems were mainly human, not technical (or maybe not --- read the postscript).

[For more on the changing relationship between companies and consumers, check my posts on customer service, the ways companies attack their own brands, and the consumer power shift fueled by social media.]


Epilogue: Kenny had never liked the high speed spin thing anyway. He laboured on for eight days, and on the ninth he said, "That's it for me. No more spin."

Looks like we go shopping for a Maytag. I write the obituary:
All those who followed the courageous struggle of Kenny, the Kenmore washer, in his heroic fight to survive a debilitating Sears Canada service infection, will be saddened by the news of his untimely passing. Though initially misdiagnosed, and subsequently subjected to an exhausting course of treatment, his severe high-speed-spin allergy had appeared to be in remission. Sadly, Kenny experienced a relapse and succumbed finally at home on Sunday, December 6, while on the day's 6th load of laundry. Please send donations to the School for Appliance Repairmen in lieu of flowers. Services will be held at the Brampton landfill.
But then, miraculously, at the mention of the word "landfill," Kenny decides spinning might be better than rusting away or being cannibalized for parts, and he has an amazing resurrection.

So, he's back, but for how long? Trust has completely evaporated, and we will forever have an ear cocked for the distinctive sound of the high speed spin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Guns and schools, then and now


Just came across this and thought it was an interesting comment on how much things have changed in my lifetime.

In 2009, a rifle in a school corridor would result in a complete lockdown, S.W.A.T. team on its way, worried parents driving madly through city streets while listening to the latest news radio reports from the scene.

In the 1940s, it would never have occurred to these young women, or their teachers, that there was anything alarming about this promo pic for gun safety, although I'm sure the actual training did not take place next to the hall lockers.

In about grade 6 or 7, I recall many of us taking a gun safety course, having been encouraged to do so by our elementary school teacher. It was pretty normal then for a country kid in Ontario to have a .22 rifle, and to go hunting groundhogs and foxes, unsupervised.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We know you wanna be Canadian

Quiet down! You're scarin' the fish!

Monday, November 23, 2009

In praise of plain speech

Currency inflation is at a low level at the moment, but language inflation is surging.

Language inflation is my term for writing and speaking that is filled with unnecessary or pretentious words. There are only two reasons for people to inflate their language --- to confuse, or to sound important. It's often both. Always in the case of politicians.

To make the point, here are some actual, recent examples from the news and elsewhere, followed by the Geezer Plain Speech (GPS) translation:

"Builders may have got ahead of the supply issue." --- They built too many houses.

"The impact of this crisis is heterogeneous." --- Everybody is getting whacked.

"Upgrades will ... provide refurbished infrastructure for campers." --- They're getting some new toilets.

"He demonstrates the principles of movement using locomotion, manipulation and stability skills." --- The kid can run and stand without falling down.

"A solution for the scalable, enterprise industry offers benefits at the user and infrastructure level." --- This has lots of good features for the company and its employees.

"Something about the [cell phone] conversation seems to limit attentional capacity" --- Cell phone conversations are distracting.

"Cell phone users have a negative impact on your road safety." --- Cell phone yakkers can run into you."

"Long-tenured workers receiving extended benefits can expect a gradual transition back to normal terms and conditions." --- Those who have worked for a while, and are now unemployed, will likely find a job, eventually.
We anticipate that longitudinal trends in grandiloquence and magniloquence may be extrapolated perdurably, thereby precipitating the inference that rhetorical bombast and other excessive use of verbal ornamentation are unlikely to experience a decrescendo.

That is to say, lots more claptrap coming.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eat it, or lose it

Some surprising facts about where the food on Canadian tables comes from, and a warning for the future.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No free ride if you want a civilized Canada

Charities and other nonprofit organizations are the delivery system for civilization in Canada.

This sector includes our universities, our hospitals, our food banks, our amateur sports, our museums, our arts groups, our substance abuse clinics, our refuges for abused women, our animal shelters, our environmental watchdog agencies, our poverty safety nets, our places of worship, and much more.

Consider what life here would be like without these organizations. It would not be the Canada that we proudly enjoy, yet many of us take for granted that they will always be there for us.

A few years ago, there were 161,000 such organizations across the country. There are undoubtedly more now. They are fuelled by dollars and people. Some of the money comes from taxpayers, via government, and the rest comes from donations. The people include an army of volunteers who believe that the quality of life for Canadians, in all of its dimensions, is worth giving some of their time. You already know all this.

The need always exceeds this sector's resources, but now it is a particularly bad situation. The need for these services has spiked at the very time that donations have slumped and governments are cutting spending.

The result will be fewer people doing the work that needs doing.

A civilization is not defined primarily by the sophistication of its technology, by the elegance of its edifices, nor by the quantities of material goods possessed by its citizens. The fundamental measure of civilization is the decency and care with which people treat each each other, especially the most vulnerable.

If you're one of the lucky ones who has escaped the ravages of this recession, and you think what we have is worth preserving, please don't wait. Invest what you can, both time and dollars, in an organization that is doing work you think is important.

If you need help finding one, click here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does security trump freedom?

"When it comes to the crunch, people prefer to be safe than to have freedom."

A quote from Orwell's 1984? Soviet era politburo? David Koresh?

Nope, that is West Australia Liberal MP Peter Abetz opining on the desirability of legislation before parliament this week. The proposed law would give police the power to indiscriminately stop and search people without so much as a sniff of wrongdoing.

West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan assures that the cops will not perform such searches unnecessarily, but there are no such assurances in the text of the legislation, which ignores the "reasonable suspicion" standard applied in democracies around the world.

In recent years, privacy and freedoms have been eroded almost everywhere in the "free world" by those who claim that security has priority, and who use that as an excuse to extend their authority. Ironically, the so-called "defence of freedom" is perhaps the greatest threat to freedom.

Freedom is leaking away, small drips in a thousand places that are almost unnoticeable individually but have a huge cumulative effect. Let's hope the West Australians draw a line here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sorry, no autographs dahling

So, I stumble upon this website called MyHeritage.com, which has a gizmo that claims to use face recognition technology to find celebrities who look like you. Here are mine. Pretty sure I'll never be mistaken for Halle Berry, but then none of the others will either.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Overstretched, overbooked, and about to snap!

"Being too busy, which can seem necessary and unavoidable, can become a habit so entrenched that it leads you to postpone or cut short what really matters to you, making you a slave to a lifestyle you don’t like but can’t escape. You can be so busy that you don’t even take the time to decide what actually does matter most to you, let alone make the time to do it."

Does this sound familiar?

It's a quote from the book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and about to Snap! by Dr. Edward Hallowell. I came across it in Martha Nichols' blog (which I recommend to you as an entertaining, humorous read).

The good doctor says it's not your fault that you got into this bind, well not entirely. It sorta snuck up on you over 5 or 10 years as you just went with the flow of getting a cell phone or a BlackBerry; enrolling your kids in soccer, hockey, violin, ballet; paying for a second car and a bigger house and braces for your daughter; keeping your lawn and garden looking good; volunteering for the charity fundraising drive your friend is heading up; taking on extra work your boss asks you to do because your company is reducing staff, and so on.

All this causes stress, sickness, accidents, errors, rudeness, and general unhappiness, he says.

So, what to do, short of dumping everything and sneaking off to a Caribbean island to live the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle?

You have to get control back, break your cellphone addiction, quiet your mind, learn how to say "No," and take a number of other actions to get back to your real priorities. Halliwell has free videos, or you can spring for the book.

No, I do not get royalties, nor have I read it, but I am going to.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The value of time

Sometimes it flies, sometimes it crawls. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be enough of it. A delightful little slideshow on the subject of time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remembering the man in the photograph


My own remembrance yesterday was for a man I never met, as it has been for all past Remembrance Days in my life.

I have always felt I knew Captain Grover Dennis R.C.I.C., my uncle, although he had shipped overseas 11 months before I arrived on this earth just in time for Christmas, 1942.

Queen's University class of '39, football player, champion high jumper, life of the party, Canadian Officers' Training Corps, commando training, movie star handsome, he was quite a catch for his true love, Doris Chadwick, the stylish redhead from Toronto.

In other times, there would have been a life of laughter and friends and careers and children and pets and spats and making up. But these were different times.

Their wedding was followed by a whirlwind honeymoon before he shipped out for Sicily with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, en route to Italy.

She never saw him again.

On December 9, 1943, he was seriously wounded. He died on January 23, 1944. He is buried in the Bari War Cemetery, south of Taranto, Italy.

I grew up with photographs of Grover in his "leatherhead" football gear, and lounging around with his friends at picnics, and in his officer's uniform. I know him as the young man in those photographs. A mythical figure. A loveable, larger-than-life guy who, according to family lore, excelled at whatever he tried.

A few weeks ago, our family came together to celebrate Doris' 95th birthday. She's doing pretty well. She has the photographs.


Update: Thanks to Doug Vallery (see his comment below), I have received a great deal of information about Grover that was previously unknown to me. Doug and Jacqui co-authored this article in the Queen's University Alumni Review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance, a neighbourhood

It is difficult for us to grasp the the scale of loss experienced by those who lived through World War I.

One can read about the carnage at Ypres, the Somme, and Passchendaele, but the real impact on the then-small nation of Canada can be best understood when brought down to the level of neighbourhoods.

Toronto Star web editor Patrick Cain has done this with an amazing interactive map of the city's Riverdale neighbourhood. Cain's map uses a poppy to identify each of almost 200 individual homes that received the dreaded telegram informing them that a son had been lost in the trenches. The virtual sea of poppies reflects the heartache that permeated city neighbourhoods, towns and rural villages across the entire country. Click on any poppy for additional information on a soldier.

67,000 Canadians died in World War 1, almost 1% of the entire population, and more than one in ten of those who served.

If you are interested in learning more about the death of a relative in Canada's wars, please search the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Signs of the times

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, the meaning gets adjusted when translated into English. For example:

In a Bangkok temple:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER A WOMAN, EVEN A FOREIGNER, IF DRESSED AS A MAN.
Cocktail lounge, Norway :
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.
Doctor's office, Rome :
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.
Dry cleaners, Bangkok :
DROP YOUR TROUSERS HERE FOR THE BEST RESULTS.
In a Nairobi restaurant:
CUSTOMERS WHO FIND OUR WAITRESSES RUDE OUGHT TO SEE THE MANAGER.
On the main road to Mombassa, leaving Nairobi :
TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE.
In a city restaurant:
OPEN SEVEN DAYS A WEEK AND WEEKENDS.
In a cemetery:
PERSONS ARE PROHIBITED FROM PICKING FLOWERS FROM ANY BUT THEIR OWN GRAVES .
Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations:
GUESTS ARE REQUESTED NOT TO SMOKE OR DO OTHER DISGUSTING BEHAVIOURS IN BED.
On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
OUR WINES LEAVE YOU NOTHING TO HOPE FOR.
In a Tokyo bar:
SPECIAL COCKTAILS FOR THE LADIES WITH NUTS.
Hotel, Yugoslavia :
THE FLATTENING OF UNDERWEAR WITH PLEASURE IS THE JOB OF THE CHAMBERMAID.
Hotel, Japan :
YOU ARE INVITED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CHAMBERMAID.
In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT THE CEMETERY WHERE FAMOUS RUSSIAN AND SOVIET COMPOSERS, ARTISTS AND WRITERS ARE BURIED DAILY EXCEPT THURSDAY.
A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest :
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THIS PURPOSE.
Hotel, Zurich :
BECAUSE OF THE IMPROPRIETY OF ENTERTAINING GUESTS OF THE OPPOSITE SEX IN THE BEDROOM, IT IS SUGGESTED THAT THE LOBBY BE USED FOR THIS PURPOSE.
Advertisement for donkey rides, Thailand :
WOULD YOU LIKE TO RIDE ON YOUR OWN ASS?
Airline ticket office, Copenhagen :
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
A laundry in Rome :
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Happier times

There were some good reasons that folks may have been happier in the old days --- a tab of heroin in the morning, a little cocaine in your wine, some opium for your asthma, and some things to keep the kiddies smiling, too.