OLD ENGLAND, PARIS IN TOKYO, JAPAN

Near my office in Tokyo. Confusing.

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HAPPY CANADA DAY

To all of my friends and family back “home”, Happy Canada Day.

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I was speaking with someone about Canada last week and we agreed on a key point, when you are not living in Canada you become more Canadian.

Proud to be a Canadian. We lit off Tokyo’s version of fireworks last night, not the same as the monsters we use to set off in the backyard but an apt celebration (including sparkling sake).

Happy Canada Day!

WHY THE OLD POSTS?

If you are follower of the blog, apologies. You will see a whole bunch of posts showing up that are old.

When they transferred my blog from Live to WordPress (never should have used Windows Live Spaces) they put all old posts in “pending”. I am starting to go through them and put them back out there as a cousin is thinking about going into Sales and those posts are in the pending. They will show according to the original publishing date.

Just an FYI.

SHARK FIN SOUP

Different cultures have different traditions. I passed this sign the other day in Roppongi Hills and stopped short.

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If you have not heard about the process of shark finning, read about it here. A terrible, cruel thing where they catch the shark, cut off it’s fins while it is still alive and then throw it back into the ocean to die a horrible, painful death.

If you are not convinced that this is truly barbaric, this 2 minute video should be enough to turn you off shark fin soup for good. Those big, bad, terrible sharks are disappearing at a rate of 250,000 a day through fishing, finning and as collateral damage from commercial fishing and face extinction if we don’t do something. How will the ocean ecosystem change if one of their top predators disappears?

Barbaric. But then so is tying a dog outside all year long and never giving it attention.

“Man is the cruellest animal.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

I won’t be eating there .. ever.

Please.. Pass it on.

NOT BLOGGING

I won’t be blogging this week .. But left a few shots of things that caught my attention in Tokyo. Sorry, iPhone configuration as the 5D was not with me.

This is how you fill 5 pots with herbs on your terrace when you own a mini in Tokyo. My SUV is back in Canada ….

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This is a 3 colour bush beside an embassy in Tokyo. Some quality grafting.

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I love the flower stalls in Tokyo. Spring has sprung, the streets are alive with colour.

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Not sure why they wrote this in English on this Tokyo window, but I agree … “Peace”.

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A bus parked outside an office building in Tokyo .. I don’t know why it is in English? (smile) It was a very “Japanese” neighbourhood. Traveling stomach x-rays anyone?

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I was at a meeting at Canon and WISH I would have had my 5D to take some shots. Loved their old camera display .. Great cameras.

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Last shot. No one in Japan wears bike helmets. The most amazing thing? Gaijin (like the guy in the middle) have adopted a “if you can’t beat them join ‘em” attitude abandoning the helmet.

Just amazing that you see everyone wearing helmets in North America and then they come here and stop. (Insert shaking head in bewilderment). The irony? He had a face mask on.

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Thanks for stopping by. Posts resume Monday.

A FEW MORE iPHONE PHOTOS

What you don’t want to see during a Tokyo snow storm when you need to get to Narita to catch a plane.

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The duck that I saw when I made my plane to Sydney through a snowstorm.

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Fuji-san through my iPhone. I had my 5D, my 70-200m AND a 2X extender at the office this week and do you think I could get a good clear shot of the mountains during the daytime? Nope.

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I spent 36 hours in Auckland, New Zealand recently sans a real camera .. so I snapped a few with the iPhone as I made my way around the harbour.

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I don’t like the fact that Qantas is One World and not Star Alliance. Every time I fly them I feel like I am losing points … Good luck flying anything else in Australia.

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I found this on a university paper when I was cleaning out our basement last summer. LOL.

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From a golf tournament. I grew up a Calgary Flames fan. Love the moustache Lanny.

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I don’t miss Canada very much. Friends and family. My morning hockey league. Certainly not the snow. And living on a golf course and golfing with my family whenever we wanted .. that was a nice perk. No .. that is not my pink cart. Mine is blue.

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LOCATION, TOKYO

The Japanese love their anime. Facebook and their location services on my iPhone appear to have determined that I am a Japanese male (despite my English only settings) and are flooding me with cheesy girl anime ads.

No idea what this is or what it is for, but I find it a bit creepy. Kind of like Akihabara.

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A FEW MORE RANDOM PHOTOS

Cleaning out my iPhone.

If it takes too long to shred documents you can always burn them. Before we moved to Tokyo I sorted and scanned a very large filing cabinet. I am sure the neighbours wondered what I was up to. I think this was 2008.

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Why yes, that is Windows running on a Mac. Thanks for noticing. Mac still doesn’t have a great selection of games so a dual boot is required and I must constantly answer the question “Why didn’t we buy Alienware?”

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In Japan when they tear down or build a building they use high tech scaffolding. Safety men everywhere. This is how they do it Hong Kong.

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And this is how they make tea in Malaysia. It is a looooong pour. Tea and condensed milk. Is it better tea? Reality is that anything is better with sweet condensed milk.

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A last Australia shot from Christmas. Waiting for a pizza on Manly beach. Great spot.

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I WONDER

 

.. what the owners of this extra clean car and incredibly well manicured property think every morning …

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.. as they look at this abandoned scooter (smile).

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CHANGING EDUCATION PARADIGMS: Ken Robinson

 

One of our boy’s teachers encouraged them to watch the Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson.

The video was particularly interesting to me as I was one of those people who found University incredibly boring. I found learning how to sell and how business works at my part time job much more interesting. The only flashes of interest for me were the occasional challenging project where it would capture my attention and I would throw myself into it. The rest? Repetition and memorization.

 

Our education system needs an overhaul. Only 9M people have seen this, hundreds of millions need to see it.

PS: On the education side, a great video on how to understand the UK here:)

MY SNORKEL MASK LEAKS: A MYSTERY SOLVED

While in Australia we had the barrier reef on our “to do list” and for me, I learned an expensive lesson there.

Over the years I have had a lot of trouble with face masks and leaking. I recently upgraded all of the family’s gear (we love to snorkel) and had some success with masks.

However, the same thing kept happening over and over on trips. The longer we were at the hotel/resort, the leakier my mask would get. It was was driving me INSANE. The family had gotten use to it and was convinced that I am just finicky.

We traveled all the way out to the barrier reef and the same thing happened, I spent more time clearing my mask than snorkelling. The mystery being that a couple of days prior I had snorkelled for 4 hours with no issues. What was I doing wrong?

The skipper finally solved the mystery: my beard. When I go on holiday I like to skip shaving. As the week progresses, it gets thicker. At a certain point, the mask is incapable of making a seal with my skin due to the stubble and starts leaking. Mystery solved: shave. Which is alright, there is a surprising amount of grey anyway (smile).

The boys have no such issue, they swim like fish.

DAYS LIKE THIS …

 

I am glad I am not in Toronto. A friend sent me a note with a pic of the streets of Toronto .. dark .. and –25 with the wind chill. I do not miss that. 8C is t-shirt weather for a Canadian (smile).

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GUNS

The Australian papers are filled with anti-gun articles after the last US gun related tragedy. It is just so sad.

President Obama has yet to step up, afraid of the well financed military industrial complex and radical NRA who’s view is that this latest tragedy simply means that more people should be armed to protect themselves; including 6 year olds and teachers.

In Australia there were 30 gun related murders in 2010 after Prime Minister Howard had the moral courage to stand up to the gun lobbies. In the US: 10,000 over the same period. Canada is similar to Australia with roughly 50 deaths. The gun registry had reduced gun related deaths by 41 percent.

This is your chance Obama. Make the US a better place or bend to the will of the military complex that Eisenhower feared so much.

This isn’t about the constitution and the right to bear arms. This is about money and senseless death.

A time for courage to do what is right.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

 

The day after our son’s birthday we start to put up the Christmas lights. I remembered a few photos I took a while back of the lights that I was untangling and weaving through the bannister.

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I have started to build my Spotify Christmas lists. Last look, 583 songs that play for over a day …

KEVIN STADLER

I had the good fortune to sit next to Kevin Stadler on the plane home from the US on the weekend. Super nice fellow on his way to a tournament that his Dad used to play in Japan.

As I don’t really follow golf, it took me a moment to figure out that his Dad was Craig Stadler. I said “Tell your Dad that I think his golf book is one of the best I have read”. He laughed and said “I didn’t even know he had written a golf book”.

I was with a super talented photographer colleague/friend on the red-eye and just had to grab a photo. Haneda airport, 5am-ish Sunday morning. He was very happy to take the shot with his new Leica M Monochrom that he is oh so fond of. Now if he had only told me to comb my hair … (smile). Check out his Shoottokyo site for some eye popping shots.

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Best of fortune to him. Super nice fellow.

JURA SAYS “SYSTEM FILLING” ERROR

 

I make this post as a public service, from one person who could not find answers to the “System Filling” error on a Jura super-automatic.

Weeks ago my Jura C9 displayed the message “Change filter”, prompting me to put in a new Claris filter. I am not sure if I missed a step or did it wrong, but all of a sudden I kept getting the error message “Press Rinse” followed by the message “System Filling” and nothing happening. Over and over and over and the terrible loud grinding noise making me cringe (and I stood there envisioning a pump burning out).

Searching the message boards delivered few clear results and no action. The feedback from the Jura helpline in Switzerland was to do the following:

  • Fill your water tank with hot water (not boiling) and press the rinse button a few times. That may have worked if there was an air bubble in the line.
  • The way to prevent air bubbles with the Claris filter is by emptying the water, putting in the new filter, refilling the water and going through the filter rinse cycle.

In my case, no joy. I tried to call Canada help (because there is no Jura dealer in Japan) but each time I was too late (Jura closes at 5PM in Canada, 6AM in Tokyo). Very frustrating. So I emailed them and a technician emailed me back suggesting I call in. I explained my time zone issue and he did the amazing, he sent me his cell phone and said he would help me after hours. We talked at length and he helped me solve my problem.

Now, for those of you who have a depot nearby, I would probably not do this. I would take it in for service as it required opening the machine.

But if you are stuck like me (No depots in Tokyo), then chances are if you have this problem and a Claris filter installed, some carbon came loose and jammed the tiny little micro-filter inside your machine. Here is how you fix it:

First – pop the side off your Jura. This is what mine looks like – looking at the right side.

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Looking at the side panel in the bottom left there is a pump. It looks like this.

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Pull the little metal clip out and pull the plastic pipe out. Next, the “cream” coloured piece where you removed the pin from needs to be removed. You do this by “unscrewing” it from the white piece which goes into the boiler.

Below is what it looks like with the cream piece removed.

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Now take that little piece with the micro filter and attach it to a compressor and blow it out. Trying to do this manually will not work (i.e. blowing in it). I had to drive to a gas station and use their compressor to truly get the bits out as my compressor is in my father-in-laws garage.

Then simply reinsert. Turn on the machine and the boiler should prime and you are good. Once confirmed, put the sides back on. I have had 2 Juras and used filters in both with this never happening. Hopefully it never happens again.

To avoid it in the future, empty the water container first, put in your new Claris filter, add water and then turn on the machine (in other words – follow instructions) and pray that random carbon chunks do not leak out.

Hopefully this helps someone.

WALKING TO WORK

 

A few things I noticed:

  • A billboard for a new band called “One Sexy Zone” and the launch of their first album. I found the name odd.
  • It is November 1st and it will be 21 degrees in Tokyo. Yesterday a colleague said to me “So how do you like the Japanese winter, cold isn’t it?”. I had a tough time answering as I could not stop laughing. It is November. I am walking to work without a jacket … awesome.
  • In the US and Canada the east coast is deep into trick or treating. In Japan, people are heading to work. I walked into the Starbucks as it opened this morning (don’t ask about my Jura) and what did I hear? Christmas music. I … kid … you .. not. The only good thing? It was the album that took over the number 1 spot on my holiday music list last year. Zooey has an amazing voice. This year we will be spending Christmas on Hamilton Island next to the great barrier reef, so I will need to crack out the holiday music earlier this year.

A Very She & Him Christmas

MARKETING IN JAPAN

 

Continuing on the theme of marketing that interests me; a picture taken while walking to work. I guess that surrounding the words with a “heart” makes it true. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Coke here and there, but I am not sure on the health part …

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WINTER

 

It has been the oddest of winters. Imagine if you are in Venice and you woke up to this?

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Europe, England snowed under and us with one of the mildest I can ever remember. We have not even skied this year, there is no point. Candidly, I am not disappointed …. It will be 13C on Wednesday.

IS IT TIME?

 

Is the day finally here? After all those years at Microsoft, bugging a few of my Apple fanatic friends, will it happen? Seriously contemplating it.

DEATH OF INSTANT MESSENGER?

 

I just noticed the other day that I never turn on my MSN Messenger anymore. In fact, I find it a nuisance and very anti-GTD as it can randomly interrupt what you are doing just like that little email pop-up in Outlook or your smartphone buzzing when you get a new email.

I am actually thinking of uninstalling it. After all, it never made the transition to mobile or multi-platform (i.e. Android, Apple, etc.) and the new social media skin is simply too busy for me. With email, text messaging, KIK, this blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype I am pretty well covered. Perhaps too well covered.

TOTO ARE WE IN WALES?

 

Around this time four years ago I flew to Heathrow and travelled to Wales to meet my new peers for a team offsite. Wales is a beautiful place, but quite wet. You can read about it here. As I look across the Canadian countryside, with another week of rain I really have to ask ‘Are we in Wales?’ I am not sure where the global warming is, but it definitely isn’t here.

 

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Not a lot of difference ….

THE RUINS OF DETROIT

 

Walking through the Toronto airport (on a regular basis) you pass a gallery of photos. The photos are of abandoned buildings, a great room with books strewn about, a large church fallen into disrepair. A sign of the times, as funds get tight it is more cost effective to tear them down than repair them. A sad state of affairs in North America and in direct contrast to the UK, where 800 year old buildings remain in use today. A great example of that being Virginia Park, which could have been torn down and replaced with high density housing, instead it was repaired and turned into a thriving residence. It might be painful and more expensive, but we could learn from the English in this regard.

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Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have documented the decline of urban Detroit in their book The Ruins of Detroit. The shots on their site are breathtaking. There is something so wrong about our allowing this to happen and the fate that awaits some of these beautiful buildings. So wrong.

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Haunting. We squander our past.

A WORD I LEARNED AND WILL NEVER USE

 

I can see myself using the word ‘disestablishmentarianism’ in a sentence. For instance:

The longest word in the English language is disestablishmentarianism.

My kids find the word disestablishmentarianism funny.

Oh, don’t be such a disestablishmentarian for the sake of being a disestablishmentarian.

Try to say disestablishmentarianism five times quickly (insert pub noise in the background).

I cannot see myself using the word ‘septuagenarian’. Definition:

  1. Being between the age of 70 and 79, inclusive. In one’s eighth decade.
  2. Of or related to a septuagenarian.

I just can not fathom the need to use this word in a sentence, even though Jim Collins worked it into his book. I will just say ‘old’.

THE DAY STARTED NORMALLY ENOUGH

 

Yesterday started out as a rather unremarkable day. I exercised vigorously in the morning (I try to play ice hockey with a group of ex-colleagues and friends regularly – fantastic work out), attended meetings, met an old colleague who had some fantastic insights into my business and met someone new. A collage of different events – but relatively uneventful.

Until (insert ominous music) 6 p.m. when I went to leave the office. My assistant was still there and I asked why. It turned out that her husband was picking her up. He had left 2 hours ago and still was not there …. Oh no.

I looked outside. Sure, it is cold – we are suffering through a bitter cold snap with wind chill in the –20 range. But there wasn’t any snow falling and while we have had a bunch of snow, we were not suffering through the craziness that trapped hundreds of motorists west of us.

I hoped … only to have that hope dashed like a Kookaburra dashes the life from snakes that it catches (More on that in a second).

Now I don’t mind people driving slowly for a reason. I can even understand slow downs due to accidents, although I do wish the police would get on with it – an accident scene should disappear in no more than 15 minutes after a police officer arrives unless there is a fatality … Goodness knows the tow trucks are always sitting there ready to go. Really, what do they accomplish spending 2 hours on the side of the road documenting one guy rear-ending another? I digress.

The road was clear. The snow had been removed. No snow was in the air. No snow was blowing. The radio was not announcing a massive wave of road blocking accidents. For some, inexplicable reason, everyone had lost their will to drive at a normal pace, resigned to 10 KM/hr.

In these situations, you have two choices. You can turn into the Winnebago man (Warning – not office friendly) or you can figure out how to make the best of it. As an aside, I had just watched the amazing BBC Storyville documentary on Jack Rebney – the angriest man in the world – the night before (LOL).

I decided to make the most of it. One downside of living closer to the office is that I don’t listen to as many audio books these days. With a 35 minute commute, it is hard to ‘get into it’, one of the upsides of my old commute a few years ago of an hour.

I popped open Audible and queued up David Sedaris: Live for your Listening Pleasure and spent the next two hours (yes .. two hours) enjoying myself and laughing out loud while many around me moaned and wept. I am now a huge fan, his essays are insightful and absolutely hilarious.

So I arrived with a smile on my face, and proceeded to share David’s story about how people speak with accents, the Nicaragua story, with my wife. All was great. I climbed into bed, closed my eyes just as I heard ….. the ‘CHIRP’.

WHEN TO STOP

 

Many months ago, when I saw New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg singing one of his old songs as they launched their tour, I was left wondering ‘Really?’

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Wahlberg’s are talented actors. Donny is not as well known as his brother Mark, who seems to show up shirtless in movie after movie, but is very talented.

He starred in the short lived Boomtown (TV series) cop show (quickly cancelled despite being a great show) and his role in one of my all time favourite series Band of Brothers gets two thumbs up.

So when American Express sent me a note today offering me early access to tickets I was left wondering ‘Really’? I would go see BNL 20 years from now and I would gladly go catch the 30 year’s past their prime AC/DC crew on tour (I actually had tickets to shows in Toronto AND London for their last shows but was stymied by logistics). I loved watching Depeche Mode a few years ago, it brought back a lot of great University memories.

But a boy band?

ENOUGH BEACH BOYS?

 

I was listening to the CBC early the other morning and they were sharing Brian Wilson’s recent work, where he is taking Gershwin songs and adding a Beach Boys re-imagination.

You can hear a sample here. Curious.

COLD

 

Yesterday I watched a Canadian Forces ship leave the Halifax harbour in the morning. I thought of two things:

1. It was very cold on the pier. It would be much colder on the ocean. I deeply appreciate what they do and with Remembrance Day around the corner – appreciate everything that has been done before them.

2. That the ocean is a nasty place. I read a review of the book ‘The Wave’ that references the fact that 2 large ships go missing on the ocean every week, many attributed to rogue waves as high as 120 feet.

When you watch a video like this, you understand why. I knew I didn’t like cruises for a reason.

 

 

Updated November 9th: Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The new hypothesis is that it was sunk by a 10 story freak wave!

BABEL

I have been travelling to Europe frequently over the last month and I have been fascinated by the disparity in standards. One cannot help if this is an extension of the Bible story of ‘Babel where humans were scattered to the wind due to a simple language change.

For instance, consider these two offshoots:

·         Power standards: What a nightmare. Different plugs. Different voltages. Different standards. Don’t plug your 110 V appliance into a 220V appliance or ‘BOOM’. Just think of the additional costs that this adds for manufacturers. They cannot churn out millions of an item, they need to forecast each region and modify accordingly. How many billions does that add to our cost? Check out this map on different standards.

·         Driving: Part of the world drives on the right. Part of the world drives on the left. I was recently corrected that the UK style of driving (right side driver) is now not that unusual thanks to .. China and India. It was pointed out that there are now more people driving on the left side than the right. Again, imagine the impact on manufacturing. Every single car out there has 2 designs – a left model and a right model. Again .. billions.

And so, we remain apart, slowing our advancement as a race and our reaching the heavens. Mission accomplished big guy.

SEATBELTS

I realized the other day that I often do not wear a seatbelt during cab rides. When I reflect, I am not sure why that is. I wear one in the car at all times at home. Why not?

Well, my view changed a few weeks ago when speaking to a driver on the way to the hotel. When I asked him how his morning was going, he said well but that he was still shaken up from his last ride. He went on to explain that on his last drive to the airport the guy beside him was on his phone not paying attention to the road ahead of him and all of a sudden the traffic stopped ahead of him. He slammed on the brakes and, recognizing that he was not going to stop in time, swung into the lane beside him to avoid the car in front (missing by no more than an inch but putting the next lane in peril).

The driver ‘stood’ on his breaks and was able to stop a hair from the guy’s bumper and avoiding an accident (luckily, no one was close behind him).

An accident can happen anywhere. I have started wearing my seat belt in cabs.

THE BMW GIVES UP THE GHOST

I am not a big car guy. I am not the guy who reads about cars or who looks at a car and says ‘wow’, except possibly the Aston Martin DB9. To me a car is two things:

1.       A depreciating asset. It is not something that goes up in value; it is constantly dropping in value. So, it should be treated as such.

2.       A tool. I drive it to and from work. Nothing more. Nothing less.

So, I want something that is reliable and comfortable.

Over the last year our 1998 BMW 328i has been on a death watch. We have been waiting for that next bill to come along were we look at the price and say ‘not worth fixing, buy a new car’.

That time almost came in the summer/fall a few times:

  • We put a huge scratch in the passenger side while pulling it into the garage while attempting to miss the $13 garbage can. That is $750 (We just left it, instead of fixing it. After all .. why fix aesthetics if it on a death watch?)
  • Two new snow tires and some maintenance work: $750. Nope, keep driving as that is less than the monthly payment of a new car.

But about 2 weeks ago, the time came. I was driving into Toronto and a light came on. I laughed and thought ‘That is a new light. Never seen that one before’.  When I got to the office, I looked in the manual and it was the brake lights. The manual said something like this:

You are toast. You have not bothered to have the brakes checked in a really long time. They are about to fail and you could go crashing over a bridge in a ball of flames if you don’t get them fixed right now. Do not pass go. Go straight to a mechanic.

Well, I had a Christmas lunch to go to so I went to that first, figuring I would drop it straight off after the lunch. Bad idea.

I started driving and a funny thing happened … the brakes started to make an awful grinding noise. Now, I am no mechanic but I know that is bad because I have been around machinery all my life. After all, I have the scars to prove it in the form of a long burn on my shoulder from where a piece of hot metal fell while I was welding the muffler back onto my Hyundai Pony with my new girlfriend watching (She is now my wife, who wouldn’t marry a University guy who knows how to weld?)

Anyhow, it starts grinding really bad. Every stop is a terrible noise. People are looking at me funny. Parents are moving their kids away from the edge of the sidewalk as who knows when this thing will blow. I limp to the lunch and during the conversation, bring up my current car grinding situation. A brilliant compatriot suggest ‘use the parking brake’. BRILLIANT!  Well, good enough. It gets me to the mechanic.

I drop off the keys; they say they will call me with an estimate. I get a call 2 hours, later: $1300. Oh no. This is too close to call. It is December. Do I really want to buy a car when entering the winter or wait for the summer? We may move, how does that factor in? Is that large enough to do it? I decide to do the work. I will get through the winter (After all I just bought new winter tires) and buy in the spring.

The next day they call (Saturday). Sorry, could not get the parts. Will have it done end of day Monday. Shoot, that is inconvenient but ok.

They call Monday. Sorry, wrong estimate. It is actually $2000.

Three hours later, I had a new car.

But I did not trade in the BMW. I wanted to get some money for it. That story is for the next blog.

NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS

We were out at a New Year’s party and a few people asked ‘What are your New Year resolutions?’ Without much thought I was able to answer ‘I don’t have any new years resolutions’

Nope.

Not one.

Why? I don’t know. Could I use the change of the year as a catalyst for some personal change? Possibly. But, I don’t want to be one of those people who needs a date as a catalyst (only to break it). I prefer a set of goals that remain core to my daily life, providing a consistent and guiding theme over time. Those themes are:

1.       My wife, boys, family and faith

2.       Continual improvement (both skills and career)

3.       Fitness and health

4.       Have fun

The most common New Year resolutions from the US government web site:

  • Lose WeightPersonal philosophy, I wear the same pant size as 10 years ago. That is my litmus test, I will never change pant sizes. If I need to, time to lose some weight!
  • Pay Off DebtInteresting story: Was speaking with a woman who plays bridge and she was relating her experiences of playing with Bill Gates and others. At a bridge tournament she was by the pool with her little son and husband, sitting beside Warren Buffett. She stated that he and his wife are very down to earth, nice people who love kids and were paying attention to their son. Over time she worked up the courage to ask, with all of your wisdom and experience, what advice do you have for someone like me? He said many people will tell you to take out loans, keep a mortgage and invest. I say pay no interest to anyone. Get to debt free as fast as you can. 
  • Save Money :   Household saving has plummeted. Consumer debt is at an all time high. Interest rates are low, so why not spend? Here is a great no nonsense article on the implications of not saving .. and how to save. For me, I always look at our personal situation like this:  What if my income were to drop by 30% and interest rates went to 10%, what would happen? If I am secure in that situation, we are in good shape today. As for tomorrow, it is a simple calculation. How much money needs to go into savings and stock vehicles over what time with a conservative annual gain, to get us to retirement at 50?
  • Get a Better Job :   I am a personal services corporation.
  • Get FitI made that life change a year + ago.
  • Eat Right:   I say the worst thing we were every taught was that you need to clean your plate. Ever been at a business dinner? Clean you plate every time, double your weight. I would suggest, eat in moderation.
  • Get a Better Education: Always be learning is a philosophy, not a one time event. Read, take courses, watch others is my motto.
  • Quit Smoking Now:   Never smoked, thank goodness.
  • Reduce Stress Overall:   Good luck.
  • Reduce Stress at Work:   Maybe I will come work for this government organization, spending tax money writing articles on New Year resolutions. Seems low stress.
  • Volunteer to Help Others:    This is something I don’t do enough of, and is a longer term goal. Little kids keeps us busy, and I think it is different at each stage in our life. But, it is something that will change over time.

Happy New Year, BACK TO WORK!

BUYER BEWARE: DIRECT ENERGY SET PRICING

I will admit that I have always been leery of these people who knock at my door and offer ‘GREAT’ deals to save on gas and electricity. During early deregulation, I figured these companies made their money through a government sponsored deregulation (i.e. They are provided with a secured lower price to shift share from the utility monopoly).

Recently, Direct Energy sent over two different notes, encouraging me to sign up before my rates went through the roof. This has been tugging at the fringes of my mind for a while, so instead of throwing it into the garbage I dug in.

The form starts out with a statement ‘complete and mail in the enclosed application or call 1-866-290-6366. By doing so, you’ll secure a price of 9.35 cents per kWh through December 31,2009’. I read on … wondering, what do I pay today?

The last part of the form (section 6) is headlined with ‘What happens if I don’t sign up? My rate stays at the open market rate of 5.8 cents per kWh. Huh? I must be reading this wrong or missing something so I call the number.

Me: ‘I must be missing something; to me it looks like the price is 50% higher than what I am paying today’

Customer Service Agent: ‘Yes, that is right’

Me: ‘Then why would I sign up?’

Her: ‘To protect your price against the rapid rise in electricity costs. They are rising very fast’

Me: ‘But the price of oil is dropping. Generally, we have hit a peak and are seeing a decline. They are rising?’

Her: ‘Oh yes, we expect the price to go up 16% this year’

Me: ‘So, if it does that, I am still 35% lower?’

Her: ‘Yes, but it will keep doing that, going up each year’

Me: ‘So, do you have a break even between now and 2009 when I will start saving money versus paying a premium or how much you would project I will save doing it this way?’

Her: ‘Uh, no. We cannot forecast the future. But it is a great way to protect against the prices. Many people are signing up’

Me: ‘You do this for natural gas too, curious, is it the same thing?’

Her: (gets the figures, provides me the data which shows a 50% price premium)

Me: ‘Thanks’

Her: ‘Wait, lets talk about a maintenance contract on your furnace …’

CLICK

Buyer beware.

PEANUT BUTTER AND BURNED BRIDGES

There has been a lot of write ups on the Peanut Butter Manifesto and how a Yahoo! SVP wrote an email about how the company needs to change that has leaked to the outside. An interesting approach.

While flipping around the net, I came across this blog entry from a person who left Microsoft in 1999 and did the same thing. The difference was that the Yahoo! mail is from someone with significant authority in the organization, acting as a lightning rod for change.

The Microsoft email comes off as a young man complaining. He talks about J Allard and how he wanted to work for him as he tried to change areas of Microsoft. One interesting quote:

The super rich irony about this memo is that even in pre-blog days it haunted me. J Allard did come back to the company, and I did interview to work on his team, then the Xbox team. I did not get asked to come back. I can admit that here. I was told it had something to do with my “perceived attitude.” Ouch! My memo wasn’t even in the Wall St. Journal, like this Peanut Butter one. It just goes to show…if you are going to light a bridge on fire, make sure you don’t ever intend to try and cross it again.

The burned bridge is never easy to cross again or is it that you can burn a bridge if you have the resources to build a new one? I wonder where the Yahoo! executive will end up.

WHAT IS THE POINT?

I was helping my son out with his homework last night and he was busy doing short forms of words and I got to thinking, what is the point? For example:

  • Must not becomes mustn’t. Woo hoo, I saved a vowel.
  • There will becomes there’ll (pronounce that one, it just sounds odd).

Stick with the Queen’s English young man (smile).

WATCHING SPORTS

I was at a course last week and it was interesting to observe the male greeting ritual which is often based on sports. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing sports .. but I don’t enjoy watching or talking about sports.

In almost every conversation where people do not know me (Or where I am a part of a bigger group), sports is brought up. It is like the weather, that superficial discussion point that can be leveraged until a stronger bridge is built or as a crutch when the bridge does not exist.

My history with sports is the typical one. I grew up in the average Canadian family where all the males congregated for hockey on Saturday night and we played hockey all the time. Ball hockey in the summer and in a league in the winter. During recess in the winter or after school? Hockey on the local pond. I played basketball, I even played on the high school football team in grade 12 (As a bench warmer). It was a great way to grow up and as a by-product of my upbringing, I can hold my own in any sports conversation.

But I can remember how boring I found watching sports, and I wonder why? I would sit through those Saturday night hockey games but as I got older, I would just leave my dad and brother to their bonding because I was bored to tears. I would rather read a book, draw, Lego, .. whatever. The same thing happened in university. My buddies loved to watch sports. Football, hockey, anything to keep us from doing homework. Thank goodness we had 2 TVs … one for sports and beside it, one for our Super NES.

It will be interesting to see what happens with my boys. An interesting case of home nurture, education nurture versus nature. Will their friends influence them to watch sports? (It is not on in our house .. although, if they wanted to watch it, no problem with me) or will some male DNA gene draw them to it?

We will see.

In the meantime, it still makes me yawn and no, my Canadian boys do not play hockey. We ski.

WHY DO WE NEED HANDGUNS?

We watch the events of last week in Montreal where 12 kids were shot and 1 died and yet nothing changes.
I drive down the highway and watch a biker with his ‘Hell’s Angels’ jacket proudly displayed, and nothing changes even though we know that they are as strong a criminal organization as the mob.
Why do we need hand guns? I know that American’s look at gun as their God given right (Interesting, I wonder if one of God’s primary appointed human rights is the ability to kill). The right to bear arms and over throw the government if they are not happy.
I don’t get it. Why do we need them? Here is what I suggest:
1. Scrap the gun registry. Just ban all home retention of all guns.
2. You must keep your gun at a government licensed, monitored and secure facility, unless you have a legitimate use (i.e. farmer)
3. Want to go hunting? No problem, drop in and sign it out.
4. Hand guns? Sorry, they are not allowed out of the building. After all, you are not going to take down a duck with a hand gun, so it is purely for recreational shooting. So, keep it at the facility and shoot there.
5. Some punk caught with a hand gun? Lock your ass up and make you do really crappy jobs inside for 5 years (like sorting piles of manure), instead of giving you a nice cell with TV and a gym.
We have police to protect us. Guns should not be on the street. Canada should be the first step. Let the gun lovers go to the US with their 1/2 trillion a year deficit, poor to rich disparity and the ‘Christian right’ supporting republicans who support less government and no social assistance while spending like a drunk sailor who already spent his paycheck but has access to a pretty big credit line.
Ban all guns. The faster the better.
BTW, I have a federal arms license, and have owned 3 or 4 guns (much to the chagrin of my parents) and was an avid hunter and fly fisher in my youth. I just think it is pointless.
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