A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

30 September 2005

Arrested Development?

As regular readers (all both of 'em) will know, I spend my days driving trucks. The company I work for is possibly the best organization I've ever had the pleasure of sweating my ass off for.

One of the things they give, in addition to a fairly substantial benefits package, is boot chits. That is, you get a gift slip for $100 off new safety boots at a certain store. The company pays the $100, leaving you able to spend the money on beer.

Yesterday evening I had a discussion with another employee--call him Bob. Bob is one of those people you know, he tries to be scary, but you know or at least believe that he's basically crusty on the outside with a nougat centre. He and I have been working at the place for roughly the same period of time and we're friendly-ish.

During our conversation, he mentioned that he'd had two of these boot chits this year. I thought Wow--$200 worth of boots per year--Is this a great company or what?

Now, my boots are worn out; they're so oil-soaked that they leave smudges wherever I go. It's more than my job's worth to walk on carpet with 'em, and they've got a stinking great hole through the right toe, with which I boot recalciterant drums into position.

So the following morning I went to find out why I hadn't seen a chit yet. My boss--call him Frank--said that in fact, we're entitled to only one chitty per year and asked who'd told me we'd get two? I mentioned that Bob and I had been talking about it. It seemed harmless.

At nine o'clock my cell phone rang. It was Bob. He was, and I realize that the word is insufficient for a conversation over a medium where one cannot see the speaker, incandescent with rage. He was yelling so loudly that I couldn't keep the phone to my ear.

"Why the ₤µ€λ did you have to go and mention my name to Frank!"

There followed a foul and generally abusive tirade. I gathered three things:
1) That whatever was pissing Bob off had to do with my speaking to Frank.
2) That it had something to do with the boots conversation.
3) That I was not to speak to Bob regarding work ever again(which presumably leaves social chit-chat).

After the first five minutes I found myself sitting there thinking, if I may paraphrase: "₤µ€λ you Bob."

I appreciate that he may be wounded somehow. But I actually don't yet have a ₤µ€λing clue what pissed him off, and I find I haven't the interest.

And though I felt a powerful persuasion to do so, I have not yet told him to go and have his temper tantrums somewhere else. The man is thirty-eight years old and alternates behaving like a seventeen-year-old (when he's happy) with behaving like a four-year-old (guess when?). I like and respect this guy, most of the time. But under a fairly impressively-sized exterior he's really a very small and petty man.

One of the reasons I wanted to get out of trucking to begin with is the fact that I prefer to solve my problems in the real world like most grownups--of which the industry seems to have a cryingly short supply. I'm next going to see him on Tuesday. If he carries the grudge that long, he can just, in the prosaic terms of the (Vice-)President of the USA, "Go ₤µ€λ himself".

The last time this happened it took him a week to stop acting as though he was wearing a saggy diaper that leaked; Oh yes, this has happened before.

But last time I knew what the cause was. This time I'm having to guess. And I've decided that if he can't talk about it rationally then he can . . .

Oh. Said it before, haven't I?

28 September 2005

A Bit More On Gas Prices

Just two days ago, I saw a brand-spankin'-new Hummer H3 in Smartie pink. Slate seems to have an explanation why.

Do You Own an IPod?

Make sure you don't miss the chance to get your money back. Apple is refunding the "blank media levy", which has been struck down in Canada by the courts. It seems an oppor-tune moment to quote a popular song:

"If it keep on raining, the levvy gonna break"
--Led Zeppelin

Closer to Home

Stephen Harper the other day asked the Prime Minister if he supported tough sentences for "violent and repeat offenders". This came amid some pretty low-grade political sniping from his side of the House.

'Scuze me Mr. Harper--I'm sure he's all for Mom and butter tarts too.

It wasn't really what Harper said that let us all know he's back to his usual grubby standard, but the event he used as a springboard and the questions he's asking.

It's right to ask questions about the events that led to the murders of four RC's in Mayerthorpe. But the questions should be useful ones: "How can we prevent this from happening again?" is favourite.

But Harper is steering well away from any comment on say, gun control, because his support base includes more than a smattering of gun nuts. And honestly, it's hard to see how much better gun control can get than Canada's system--short of replacing the registry with something that works. The guns used by the Mayerthorpe maniac were the usual collection of legal and illegal arms.

Harper can't ask if the cops need to be better prepared 'cos that sounds like criticizing the Mounties and the law-and-order crowd won't like him.

He dasn't dare ask if the individuals involved made any major mistakes (I tend to think they did, while recognizing that their deaths were primarily due to the presence of one homicidal, gun-wielding nutjob) because he'd find himself standing alone as people rushed to avoid the hellstorm that'd come at him from the friends and relatives of the murdered men.

But he has to look like he's doing something, so he bring up a mom-n-applepie question and tries to make it look like the PM's somehow softer on crime than he is.

I'm sure Martin is softer on crime--he made gay marriage legal, remember? From Harper's viewpoint that's likely a crime. Martin also favours more relaxed sentencing for pot "offences" (who's being offended, exactly?).

Unfortunately for Mr. Harper, these are the positions of average Canadians--a majority of them, in fact, if you recognize that a majority of voters helped this government cling to power by disliking Harper's policies enough that they wouldn't vote for him. So he's reduced to playing on the political fringes and asking dumb questions.

The government in this country is pretty feeble. But the opposition is worse.

26 September 2005

Your Audience and How to Know Them

While learning to be a professional writer (I am, it's true! Check out this if you don't believe me) I took a course in genre theory.

Generally genre theory teaches one what to expect of things that are written, depending on the reason they're written, and who writes them. With me so far? Basically, if you're taking a university -level political science course, your prof will not be pleased when you hand in a paper called "Dick and Jane go to Parliament".

But genre theory also says that you can tell a lot about who the piece was written for--who the ideal reader is. In many places, you can still be judged by the newspaper you read. The Washington Post is still a well-respected rag, despite several recent setbacks. Fox News, kindly speaking, is a misnomer.

This means that when you consider what is written, you can turn it around and know something about the type of person who follows that particular organ (I don't know anyone who admits to watching Fox--even the people who watch reality shows don't).

So imagine my glee when I ran into this:

You can enlarge that pic so that you can read the headline, but it starts with:
"US President George W. Bush (right) said yesterday. . ."

So let's get this straight: The audince for this paper is someone who, upon seeing a picture of the POTUS, says:

"Hey--who's that ugly waving dude?"

23 September 2005

No Worries

A wonderful Aussie phrase I've always been fond of. It can mean many things depending on usage, and one of my favorite applications is the double-edged plea for reassurance, as in when you find an old friend in the lineup at a gun shop and you ask him what he's doing there:

"Oh, well I'm sure that the rumours about giant hairy vicious mutant man-eating wombats are exactly that--rumours. Still, no worries, right?"

In North America, a phrase with similar currency has surfaced: "It's all good." I'm told--often--that I am inordinately fond of it.

Today, ludicrous rumours of $2.70-a-litre gasoline have been bubbling around. Naturally I treated them with the scorn they deserved. Yet on the way home, noticing that it's running at around $1.09 a litre (lowest it's been in days) and seeing also that the car had just under half-a-tank, and despite the fact that I had formerly had no plans to do so--had even planned to gracefully ignore rumour, I pulled in and filled up.

Still; it's all good, right?

I loathe lungs. Specifically mine, which in the wake of the recent bog fire have been forcing me to take hits of an inhaler twice a day and are responsible for the blog post you are reading now. If there's really a black market in healthy lungs from South American street youth, could the goddam bastards responsible please contact me? Let's not be @$$holes about it though--two kids, one lung each, okay?

But to get back to gasoline: Dalton McGuinty is trying to look as though he's "doing something" about gas prices at the pump--which in fact are one of the few truly market-driven indices at work. The reason oil prices go where they go is well-explained by this article. The reason gas prices go where they go is explored here.

The one thing that the articles don't cover though, is the lack of transparency in the upper reaches of the oil industry. The industry's companies actually don't reveal their raw material costs, so we never quite know what each individual company is laying out, nor by how much they may be profiting.

Notwithstanding. Price controls on anything are a bad idea except when there's clear evidence of collusion in price-gouging (which isn't illegal--just nasty), despite Mr. McGuinty's fond hopes. So if gas hits $2.70 a litre, it'll be becuase we as a society have decided that's what it's worth paying for it.

Perhaps this will be the spur that propels us in a direction beyond oil. Our local bus company, having blown its fuel budget for the year in the first few months, has finally started seriously testing electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-powered buses. The Post-Carbon Institute is probably seeing a lot of interest right now, no? Or maybe not.

Note that the no politician has yet said: "This is primarily the fault of SUV-driving soccer moms and guys with really small penises and Hummers."--oh no!

But the real crux of the matter is this: it's not the developed world that really suffers. Oh sure we bitch at the pump like crazy, but it's the parts of the world that are struggling upward that really get killed. Developing nations rely on older technology for economic production, so they need more oil per unit of economic production.

Ethiopia has been clinging to an economy that's been improving by inches. The current price rise in oil could shave enough off its economy to send it stagnant. China, which has been importing oil like mad to fuel feverish growth, is looking for more reserves--hence the recent China National bid for an American company, which was shamefully fear-mongered away. Indonesia, now a net importer of oil, could face economic stagnation this year. And in all the developing world, the economic margins on which people live are a lot thinner.

If gas really did hit $2.70 a litre, I'm lucky enough, close enough, and fit enough to bike to work. The SO enjoys the freedom of reasonable mass transit (though the price would certainly go up). For most of us in Canada, it'd come down to choices about whether to drive to the restaurant or walk. In Indosnesia, it might come down to whether your family eats today.

20 September 2005

A Cure for What Ails Yer

The SO has blogged at length about the cleaning properties of baking soda mixed with water. I just need to add my voice to the choir.

Last night I dragged from their resting places in the unmentionable depths of cupboard-dom a set of cheap, thin, and nasty copper-bottomed pots. If you're single, or ever have been, you know the ones I mean. Since the SO and I are engaged, I had thought that the time had come to put away single-ish things such as cheap-ass pots.

However, we keep in another cupboard a set of ready-to-go camping gear (here are some people who have rather overdone it, I think), which has until now been missing one major component: we have no cookset, only a coffee pot. Now while that may seem ample to some, the SO and I generally require at least one or two larger cooking vessels for our outdoors cuisine.

So it came to me yesterday evening to kill two birds with one stone and metaphorically cook them in the two orphaned pots. One problem: these pots have been hidden from daylight since before the SO and I joined forces. They were covered with dirt, carbon, and the usual array of oxides that build up on such surfaces.

I was about to attack them with the copper curly-cake (presumably it has another name, but that's what I call it--you know, the gadget that looks like Orphan Annie's hairdo?) and I was anticipating a long slog of scrubbing. The SO intervened, evangelising about BS&W.

Hallelujia, I have seen the light, and it glints off the once-again-coppery bottoms of these ancient pots. The burnt-on crud inside will still need a scrub, but most of the other stuff has vanished.

Can I get a witness?

13 September 2005

Bog Burns

Our local peat bog is burning, and the smoke and falling ash are making it difficult for me to a) sleep and b) breathe. So here we are again at quarter past one in the morning. . .

Lately, I have been losing patience with the Rio music player. The SO purchased this item from a local electronica store. It's called the Forge 256 and as the name implies it contains 256 megs of memory for storing and playing back music or the audiobooks the SO prefers.

Note the ad copy on that page: " . . . for people who like to play hard and use music to play even harder . . . No moving parts . . . ".

This not-cheap little item functioned perfectly well through its three-month warranty (who has so little confidence in their products that they back it for only ninety days?). However, at five months it malfunctioned drastically. The SO followed the steps in the manual: reformatting the "drive", messing with the contents etc., upon which it ceased to function entirely.

The SO was steamed and wrote what I considered a rather strident, but understandable, letter to the company.

"Customer Care" as the department is (inaccurately, it seems) known, responded with a letter that stated that as the warranty had expired, there would be a $69.00 (US) "out-of-warranty replacement charge".

Let's clarify: In response to a complaint about the shoddy performance of a device made by their company, the people at CC decided to offer to sell the SO another one.

At this point I jumped in, 'cos I'm a consumer-power junkie. I scrapped with our phone company for around six months to get back $63, just because the president of the Telus company decided to be a smarmy oik one Christmas. Briefly he apologised for the lousy quality of service we were getting and specifically mentioned that we hadn't been getting what we were paying for. Naturally I wrote and told him to put his money where his mouth was by refunding one month's worth of my phone bill. I also wrote three articles on the conflict, including a cut-out form letter for anyone who wanted to do the same.

So I happily wrote to the Rio piople, specifically the Manager of customer care, indicating that 1) The SO, having been unsatisfied with the original product, was surely unlikely to buy a second (implying also that for the $100 Canadian involved she sure as hell could find something better); 2) Surely five months was an unnaturally short lifetime for such an expensive gadget? and 3)I expected the company, as a goodwill gesture, to replace the unit as though it were still under warranty.

Yesterday came a reply from an unknown functionary: Exactly the same form letter as the last, including the demand for $69.

My further reply re-stated 1,2, and 3 above and included a comment that further attempts to sell us another one of these crap-ola machines or reply by form letter would be viewed as a deliberate insult.

Waiting now for a response, grinning and grinding axe.

06 September 2005

Home Again

The SO (there's that nickname again!) and I have been out of range of computers, televisions, news etc.

Camping is when you discover your obsessions. Can you go three days without checking your e-mail? Or do you insist on packing in a generator just so you can play Everquest in a tent?

The SO and I went up north to meet with IH, who has posted comments here from time to time. IH is one of my oldest--no wait, he's the second-oldest exactly, friends, and I wanted to ask him if he'd be next-best man at my wedding (who's the best man at my wedding? The same guy who's best man at any wedding attended by me :-) ). So the SO and I met him and his own SO (to avoid confusion we'll refer to her as Fred) in Barkerville, which is a preserved Gold-Rush-era town in northern BC.

This was all in aid of celebrating the Labour Day weekend, a holiday observed in many Commonwealth nations, among others. Its function is to celebrate the efforts of early trade unionists toward things like fair wages and paid vacations. In honour of these efforts, the residents of most civilised nations do no work at all on the first Monday of September. I spent last year's holiday writing a novel for the 3-Day Novel Writing Competition.

This year we went camping. We hadn't packed sufficient cold-weather clothing or sleeping gear. My fault. I know what the weather gets up to (or rather down to) up there. But I was thinking about warm September afternoons, not icy Cariboo nights. But IH and Fred wimped out and ran for a hotel on the second evening, leaving us their extra blankets. And thank Bog that they did! If they were tougher, we'd have been in a hotel ourselves. Thanks, folks.

When we got home, I caught up on reading about Katrina and New Orleans. I spent some time in New Orleans a few years ago. Pretty city. I suspect I wouldn't recognize it now. Certainly put my unnecessary freezings in perspective. I have nothing else to say on the matter. Even any criticism of the White House can wait. There are things on which I do agree with the POTUS, surprisingly, one of which is that this is a disaster.

Thirty-Something blogged about her visit to Daiso, and her $2 "titanium" bracelet, which is supposed to short-circuit the body or something. Daiso's not just another dollar store. The SO and I went there on opening day and couldn't get near the place. People were lining up for three hours to get in!

On bracelets: I recently found one of those magnet bracelets lying around--think I found it in a puddle at school two years ago or so. I put it on and I hate to think I might be falling for something I regard as total quackery, but I swear my hands (which generally perform handsprings on the edge of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) feel better.

Unfortunately, I have no control for this experiment, so if I'm deluding myself into feeling better, then how can I tell? I mean, the other hand is connected to my body, so any seeming improvement might be related to my brain telling my body it feels better, or to a real improvement originating with the bracelet. Either way, it's a nice delusion to have.