Friday, March 17, 2006

Lousy Service Strikes Again

Once again, technical service gets my goat.  It still amazes me, to this day, how the simplest things get by customer service reps.  In this case, a comma.

We have a recurring problem with misdirected emails coming into my wife’s account.  Someone of the same name and damned close email address keeps sending/receiving mail to my wife’s account.

I had a look at it, but could find no fault with anything, other than a possible problem with external routing, before it gets into my computer.

Then finally, we got a message that had all the headers because it came from an external source to our ISP – Internet Service Provider.  Normally, the ISP, to make damned sure you cannot do your own troubleshooting, strips the headers.

So header in hand, I look and find that indeed there is some kind of transfer error.  But I don’t understand the rest of it so much.

I’m not an email guru, so I dutifully report the problem to my ISP, who, of course, asks for the header.

At this point I’m pretty sure they’ll come up with a rationale of some kind.  Hell, even I could see there was a problem.

And… you see this coming don’t you? They tell me nothing is wrong, that all is well in the world.

Jesus-H-Christ on a popsicle stick!

Immediately, I want to crack open a can of whoop-ass onto this sorry bitch for not spending more than 2.76 seconds on my problem.  I daresay, 2 seconds of that was probably opening the problem report and scrolling down to the header information.

Then it dawns on me that maybe she’s using the same knowledge management system that was implemented at Nortel and failed.  I smile at the unlikelihood of this, but my spirits are back in order.

I calm down… well maybe not.  Actually, I take it upon myself to inform the jackass at the help desk that she is not only wrong, but an idiot as well, and that she should probably just kill herself now and avoid anyone any further grief.  Hopefully she is young and has not yet reproduced.  But I digress.

Maybe I set the bar too high for customer service, especially technical customer service?  I’ve talked about this before.  

Still.  Two seconds of thought should have triggered the “hmmm”-factor in her mind.  There the problem was, two addresses side-by-side that didn’t match up.  The mere presence of a comma would have given it all away.

But she didn’t know about the comma. She really should have known, but she didn’t.

So I did my own research.  Remember I’m not an email trouble-shooter and never have been.  Within 20 minutes and a couple of emails tests, my hypothesis had been proven, and her complete lack of understanding along with it.

Maybe I should have looked at the problem myself.

Maybe I should have lowered my expectations, down to… well, nil.

Maybe I should have ignored the problem and hoped it went away.

But I didn’t.

Instead, I wrote a new trouble ticket, expounding my hypothesis to the technician, in order to help her understand the error and to prevent her from making the same mistake again.  Also, I contacted the other email owner and told her what to look for.

I am just so very goddamned magnanimous.

In any case, I’m waiting on her response.  

And by the way, I was very gentle in my wording and avoided words like ignorant, stupid and smack-upside-the-head.  

PS.  Years ago when working Customer Service at Nortel, whenever writing any kind of correspondence, I would always put a capital C on the word Customer.  It was my way of reminding myself who was of the utmost importance to my business at the time.  This became a habit that had me subconsciously consider Customer as a proper noun, with the due respect it garnered, even in a simple medium such as email.

I don’t know if anyone ever noticed, but I certainly did notice when others would do the same.  Invariably, these people had proven to be trusted to take that extra step for service excellence.  

Odd, isn’t it?  

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Love thy Selfless - Part 1

Selfless acts are all we see on TV for redemption.  And we are supposed to love ourselves?

Modern psychology tells us that we should love our own self and that means to take care of ourselves… indeed, no one else will do it for us.  (This presents an interesting dilemma, but more on this in a minute.)

Then God tells us to love thy neighbour as thyself, but we seem to stop at love thy neighbour and work exclusively on that part.

The sentence could go both ways: love the neighbour, as you would love yourself, causing no harm etc… or

Love yourself, in a manner similar to loving the neighbour.

The difference is subtle, but it is there nevertheless.  In the latter, selfless is a matter of devotion and vocation.  In the former, being selfless means you are sublimating yourself to the neighbours needs.

This is usually completely misunderstood, especially when neighbours aren’t involved.

I think we need to define self “ish” first.

We have the 800-pound man who wants the government to pay for his stomach stapling operation.  This is wrong on so many levels.  For one, he is not allowed to accept himself as is, morbidly obese people are frowned upon by pretty much everyone. For the other, he puts the burden of blame, and a heavy one at that, on society for his condition.  And finally, he isn’t loving thy neighbour because he wants to stick thy neighbour with the bill.

With this example, I have to wonder if some of his self-worth is based on how much others take care of him?  

This equation is so simple, it’s hard to grasp.  “I am worth the amount of selfless acts that I garner from others.”  Seems logical, although completely bent.  Unfortunately, it’ll hold water, and lots of it.

For sure, parents tell their children to eat their veggies and fruit instead of chocolate bars and marshmallows. This is even enforced in some dire cases.  

One would almost think that this is how you teach a child to take care of himself.  


What really happens is that the parent is taking the care, but the child only sees disgusting food to be scarfed down.  As soon has the child gets a chance, its back to candy because, so very obviously, these are the things that make the child feel good!  The chemicals involved in complex carbs and chocolates are an insanely powerful force to be reckoned with, but that’s another blog entry.

What have we learned?  Health is completely meaningless to a child and is not a valid care-taking imperative.

But the child learns quickly that chocolate is the key to self-serving goodness. Hmmm. Kinda puts a new spin on child obesity doesn’t it?

Barring health issues, this shows that the child is obviously equipped with self-love.  Damned the little rug rats!

Somewhere down the road sublimation occurs and we are then taught to reel it all in and start thinking of others.  Sharing, compassion, mingling, not beating the shit out of little Steven… the list goes on.

Haplessly we delete the child’s self-focus in favour of anything but.  We certainly don’t want to raise selfish children.  By god they must be taught to share… dammit!

Low and behold, some become selfish and self-centred anyway.  “But where did we go wrong?”

It’s not that we went wrong.  It’s just that we have no clue as to what is right.  We have no easy dogma to understand, no clear example.  And we wind up with 800 pounds of anger.

Now about being selfless.  It’s a much easier angle

All we see are examples of selflessness on TV and in movies, indeed in church and in our everyday teachings.  This is the dilemma.  The route to salvation, if any, is apparently through selfless acts towards others.  This would make for a formidable society if everyone subscribed to it, but reality is much harsher.

But we do have the ever-present movie examples: be selfless and you will be loved, good things will happen to you.  

And when they don’t?  When you’ve been selfless and still get screwed?  When you’ve been kind and generous and got nothing to show for it?  When you are wasting away in a mental asylum, depressed out of your mind, completely worn out from trying to provide for others?  Good feelings about the selfless acts you have done will not pay the heating bill, nor bring back your sanity.  Time to move to someplace warm, I guess…
Or maybe this is betrayal.  The example you have been provided your entire life has now betrayed you.  It really wasn’t the solution.  It was actually a way of manipulating you.  Maybe being selfless is all about slavery in favour of the selfish?

Holy crap!

But then, when good things do happen to you, it usually because someone else was selfless towards you!

Doesn’t that beat all, eh?  

(…and you thought I was being too cynical there for a minute, didn’t you?)

On the flip side, I have not seen many mainstream examples of selfless acts towards oneself.  It’s just not done, not systematically.  And certainly never in a good light.

That’s the crunch, isn’t it?  

I caught a chunk of Oprah’s TV show where a courageous young lady was in the spotlight about cutting herself, because she was abused as a child.  A likely, if rather extreme, reaction based on self-mutilation to try to atone for self-hate.   She finished the interview with “I am <her name>”.  I smiled immediately and thought to myself: this chick got it!  But this simple phrase dumbstruck the audience so much that she had to say it again only to get a reaction.  Beautifully simple!

So she’s advocating self-love of some kind.  What does she know?  What has she figured out that we haven’t… or maybe we have and just don’t know.

She needed an intervention to sort her ass out.  Sometimes these work, sometimes not.  In her case, she was open minded enough to listen, to understand, to accept and then take charge of herself.  Oddly enough, at no point did she get selfish.  

In this particular case, she was totally victimizing herself, which makes things easier for us outsiders.  It also means she wasn’t wreaking havoc upon others, which we would simply have condemned out of hand and tried to lock her up.

So it is that many people, including her boyfriend intervened with her, on her own behalf.  She isn’t cured, not by any stretch of the imagination, but she is now accepting her problem and furthermore, she is doing something about it.  She hasn’t cut herself in six-months.

You identify something you should improve on, and go about doing it… That’s really taking care of yourself.

I’m thinking she is now, and will continue to be a formidable human being.  Why? Because if she has the capacity, the courage and the gumption to find and address her own problems then there is truly nothing she cannot do.

The next question to ask inside each of us: what’s an issue and what ain’t?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Registry

I was asked the question, not long ago, as to what was so wrong with the firearms registry in Canada.  A good friend of mine asked the question in good faith, and notwithstanding the cost issues, on which I have already expounded.

There are several inherent flaws with the registry concept, specifically as it pertains to firearms.

A registry is assumed to be unimpeachable.  Such as it is with cars or RRSPs.  A unique number identifies a unique thing, beyond all others.  This item is of a certain form or description that does not tend to change very much at all.

By and large, a car will remain a car and an RRSP will remain a tax shelter… ummm, different blog entry.

Anyway, the serial number of a car is a well-organized and regulated thing.  This allows us to register our cars with plates and insurance, etc. quite easily.  The serial number is in the dash on the bottom driver’s side up against the windshield.  It’s been like this for decades.  Cars have a definite form.  Frame, 4-wheels… you get the picture.  There are a few exceptions, but generally speaking, this is the car.

A firearm is a different beast.  They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and designs.  There is no single item of design to identify a firearm, except maybe, the barrel itself.  A firearm needs a barrel of some kind otherwise it’s not going to shoot bullets in any manner.  This is the basis for a firearm.  Unfortunately, this is the only basis for a firearm.

Everything else is up for grabs.  And this yields 2 very important, inescapable problems.

First, if we declare a barrel to be the defining factor of a firearm, then we have a problem with all tubes of sturdy construction.  Any tube can be drafted into firearms service.

I remember when I was in grade school some kids built a tennis ball canon.  They would shoot it off in the park next door on weekends.  This canon was made of beer cans and duct tape.  While unsafe, in my book, this was very definitely a firearm.  Other than personal injury to the shooter, it wouldn’t be effective for any other nefarious uses.  The point is made that a homemade mortar system can easily be accomplished with items in the basement!

The second problem with the barrel issue is that most modern firearms are designed in such a way that the barrel can be replaced.  This is a maintenance feature for cleaning, but also for safety and precision.  A barrel has a limited life expectancy, measured in number of rounds fired.  A target rifle may require a one-time machining of the barrel snout after 5000 rounds, after which the barrel must be replaced.  As an example, an all-day target shooting session can use up 100 cartridges easily.  Given this rate, 5000 shots is only 50 sittings.  Which can easily be accomplished over an avid two or three-year period.

This is not typical of all target shooters, but this demonstrates that barrels are inherently expendable.  More like the tires of the car.

“So what of the frame?”  My friend is a smart guy.

The frame, which the government has chosen as the basis for the firearm is a better choice for registration than the barrel.

So a first problem immediately crops up… possession of a frame but no barrel is still considered a dangerous firearm?  What is a frame alone supposed to look like?  I have a chunk of metal in my garage that has a serial number on it… but is it a firearm?  Or simply a piece of my Mustang’s engine?  I’d bet over ½ the population wouldn’t know a handgun frame if it bit them in the ass.  Again, the barrel is the mandatory… but I’ve made that point already.

It gets better:  firearms do not all have frames!  They all have a barrel, but many do not have frames!

I have a break-open shotgun.  The frame is really a combination of wooden stock and a loose spring-loaded mechanism for a firing pin.  Nowhere can a serial number be reliably punched.  A new stock can easily be carved with Home Depot hand tools!  

Break open shotguns of this type are the single most popular type of firearm, probably the world over.

So really, the only way to describe a firearm would be by a combination of barrel and frame.  The Hammerli 280 target pistol has a conversion kit for 2 interchangeable barrels, one in .22LR and one in .32S&W.  It is an extremely popular handgun for Olympic competition.  So now we have a dual-gun, we need 2 spaces on the registration form, one for each barrel?  Imperfect, but I’ll play along.

Many game shotguns have interchangeable barrels as well.  For instance, one could have a 32” in full-choke (modified) for duck and goose, another in 26” or 28” with 2 other choke settings for smaller bird or ground game, and finally a super-short 20” or 22” & compensated for deer hunting.   Oh shit, it’s 4 barrels now, to the one frame.  I can play along, but this is getting a little ridiculous.  Especially if I lend one of the barrels to my buddy with the same model of shotgun!

OK, so we are back to the frame alone, while making a mild exception for the single most popular shotgun in the world.

One of my handguns doesn’t really have a frame.  It breaks down into 4 distinct pieces.  The hand-part is the frame, so have decided the powers that be.  I have one handgun with the serial # on the hand-part, and another serial number on the slide-part.  Uh-oh.

Worse yet, this older handgun I have with a serial number on the frame… I have since learned that the factory that produced this puppy, during WW-2 didn’t bother changing the numbers for each frame.  So it’s more like a model number than a serial number.  At last count more than 250,000 units may have been produced.

And here is the problem, unless I specify the slide number as well, it’s entirely possible that hundreds, or thousands, of Canadians have the exact same frame-serial number registered.   So which is which and what belongs to whom?  If one of these things is found at a crime scene, whose door does the police crash down?

Exceptions of this sort are not exceptions in firearms.  They are the rule.  

Now a case can be made to engrave firearms with the owner’s permit.  This isn’t a bad solution, however, every time a firearm is molested in this fashion it looses a serious chunk of its value.  Furthermore, some have precious little space on them to write anything at all, so this becomes a real problem if there are multiple owners.  Except maybe for family heirlooms…

It’s becoming less of an issue with modern firearms, as they have catalogued serial numbers for warranty purposes, etc.  But until the (presumably) 21 million legal firearms in Canada are “modernized”, registering properly, or for a decent cost, is a pipe dream.

PS.  Have you ever won the lottery, but threw out your ticket?  This is what happened to many a hapless Ottawa denizen who handed in their guns at the firearms amnesty in January.  On the front page of the newspaper, assuming the pictures were accurate enough, someone handed in a couple of WW-2 Luger P-09.  Depending on condition, these puppies are worth between 950$ to 2000$US each, to the right buyer.  

There was another time- forgotten piece that I recognized as a curio, which would probably be worth easily upwards of 10,000$… of course, since Canadians are no longer allowed to export handguns, the American connoisseurs willing to pay this amount is unattainable.  

So in effect, your government threw out your winning lottery ticket.

Betrayal of Man and Country – part 2

Today, I’m letting rip with the Canadian firearms issue.  I’ve talked at length about fear, rational and otherwise, so I won’t revisit this aspect as pertains to guns.  What I really want to talk about is hypocrisy running rampant in government.  They are wool-pullers of the worst kind, and here is why.

The new Harper government made an election promise to nuke the firearms registry.  I almost voted Tory/Reform on this basis alone.  But then I remembered that Kim Campbell, of a Tory government, was the first to level a systematic attack against legitimate gun owners.  My memory is not so short.

Now of course, he has the perfect excuse for backing out of this promise: “boo-hoo, I have a minority government so I can’t do it!”


And a fine example of a first hedge.  The question remains as to whether he really wanted to close down the registry in the first place, or was he playing lip-service to the Reformist among his party and the electorate.  Time will tell.

When Allan Rock was justice minister of the Liberals, he (they) passed a bit of absolutely brilliant legislation.  It was fiendishly and amazingly powerful.   See: Betrayal of Man and Country

The gist of this bill, C-17, was that the government voted itself a power of order-in-council.  This means that they can outlaw anything with a stroke of a pen, without going back to chambers to put it to vote, ever again. Ever.

This was how they outright banned Barrett Light-Fifty and Franchi SPAS-12 which are 21000$ and 5000$ (Can$) weapons respectively.  With no compensation, as I have mentioned in the previous blog.  

I won’t debate as to whether they should have or not.  But the point I bring up is that they also banned brass knuckles.   I realize that I am more knowledgeable of firearms than most people, but for the life of me, I just cannot understand how you can shoot with brass knuckles.  While I may agree to their being banned, I don’t see how legally they can be called firearms.

Does anyone begin to realize how insidious this law actually is?  If you can classify brass knuckles as a firearm they you can also classify a pipe wrench or tire iron as a firearm.  A reasonable government wouldn’t do this, of course, but my point is that they could, without ever putting it to a vote in chambers.

And then Harper spouts off that he cannot delete the firearms registry.  Such bullshit.  If these bastards can find a way of taking my stuff, they damned well better find a way to stop spending my money.

So I return to the dastardly firearms registry.  Its cost is now well over a BILLION dollars.  That’s a lot of simoleans that could have been spent, on, well, submarines that won’t sink for example.  A billion dollars would buy a few helicopters to replace that unholy and dangerous mess of Sea-Kings.  A billion dollars would have wiped out a serious chunk of the debt.  A billion dollars could have bought a largish island somewhere in the middle of the ocean where we could drop off our politicians… but I digress.

My question, was, is and will be: what’s the business case for a billion dollar investment in a registry that cannot possibly work against criminals?  What measure of safety have we gotten from this ill-spent money?  What crime syndicate has been stopped?  For a billion dollars I would expect massive, and I do mean massive, impact on organized crime, drug and even human trafficking!  No drug cartel, no street gangs, no crime kingpin, no Mafioso… have been brought down.  I expect more, much more, from a billion dollars of our money.

Other than making Wendy happy, we got nothing for our trouble.  NO-THING!

A billion dollars would have easily provided for armoured support for our four RCMP officers *may they rest in peace* that were killed in the line of duty last year, at this time.  An infinitesimal fraction of this money could have provided for more substantial weapons and protection for these officers.

What ifs…

Throwing good money after bad and raising taxes is the Canadian way, but I say it has to stop.

Dear Mr. Harper, the solution is so simple it’s not even funny.  Drop the registry budget line to zero and crank up the police and prosecution budget by the amount saved.  

Canadians want law and order, not some ineffectual and god-awful expensive registry.   This is why you were voted into office, Mr. Harper, now make it happen, and please knock it off with the bullshit.  

PS Party Names: For my American friends, there is a massive definition disparity with the names of our parties in Canada.  This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but then again, maybe not…

“Liberal” has a very clear, often derogatory, meaning in the U.S.  However, the Liberal party in Canada is, in reality, the equivalent of your Democrats.  The Conservative party is, in reality, the equivalent of your Democrats.  The NDP is, in reality, the equivalent of your Democrats.  Umm, the Reform, which is now merged with the Conservatives, is in reality the equivalent of your… Republicans.  Tadadaah!