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Calgary thoughts… May 7, 2008

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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holy mother…there’s a lot of money here.

Seriously, at lunch, going through the +15 mall…I was a schlump. It’s the Mink Mile…but indoors!

Also, apparently, Calgary has the highest % of car ownership where the car value is over $60K, per capita. Did I express that right? I failed (or rather, recused myself) from statistics in university…you know, as a *film* student. 😉

And, interestingly enough, if T.O. wants to be the next Manhattan, but should take a page from Chicago…then Calgary wants to be the next L.A….just ’cause of the cars. Don’t hate me, it’s pretty much a quote from a born-and-bred-Calgarian tonight.

Websites are like cities…oh, I’m not going to go there.

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holy mama, I’m back… April 13, 2008

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Um, the rest of the winter didn’t so great, either: I had to have knee surgery, my mum had her gall bladder removed, and my husband had a major heart attack on March 6. For me, a day that will live in infamy.

On the awesome side, I’m the new aunt to the most beautiful boy in the world!

Okay. It’s spring. Time for new life. Breathe. 🙂

sadness December 23, 2007

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A friend of mine died this morning, after a long, superhumanly courageous battle with leukemia.

Why I’m posting this on my “professional” blog? Um, because Seth Palmer was the absolute kick-in-the-ass that I needed. He challenged me; he was brilliant, and wickedly, wickedly sharp and witty.

I learned so much from him, and truly he’s a huge part of where I am today. Professional, intelligent, knew his shit…and the best project manager I have ever seen. He interviewed me at Organic back in 2004, for a BA position. I had brought some docs as work samples – they were sanitized, of course (that, and the fact that I wouldn’t allow him to keep the docs was the thing he said made him hire me). Seth asked me what was the difference between an assumption and a precondition in a use case. Answer: assumption is a business decision, while a precondition assures that the system has allowed the use case to be triggered (yeah, I know, I said it way better in the interview, but I’m not at my most eloquent). Then he smiled, and we just ended up yapping for an hour about god knows what. Shoes, possibly. Clearly, he knew enough to know what to ask, and I was able to meet his requirements.

And then, the idyllic time I call US Airways. Such a wonderful team on a project has never been seen since. Charlie, Dave, Seth and I – wow, we rocked the house. It was an absolute pleasure to go into work, get on the phone (me: Toronto, them: NY), and yap for the whole day about airline ticketing. And have fun doing it. I’ll always have a fond memory of UC056: Upgrade a ticket. And his now-famous quote: “and here’s where the drama slide in the presentation goes”.

It’s not fair that he’s gone…in fact, it fucking sucks. With his conviction, determination, and will…why couldn’t he be spared? We have too few of those bright stars already.

I miss you, Seth. That we’ll never yap on the phone again, or have a drink, or discuss RUP, and the problems with scrum, or talk about our dogs obsessively…there’s a big hole now. I go by the Soho Met, and I want to cry. Sometimes, I do.

be full of peace. love.

Update: I just talked to Dave on the phone, and he put it best: what are we going to do without you, buddy? Seth was always the guy in charge, giving directions, leading us where we needed to go. We’re all kind of lost now.

Rudderless.

Car Rentals vis-a-vis Customer Service (or, Richard Branson, please help the NA car rental industry!) October 18, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera.
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[I know it’s been a long time…much work, much vacation – no excuses]

I was in Atlanta with a client on Sept. 27th (my wedding anniversary), and we were driving back to the ATL airport to return the rental car. We were there in lots of time, at least 2 hours before each of our flights. However, Dollar Rent-a-Car doesn’t have a spot at the airport for returns. I follow the sign pointing to where we should return it. I’ll spare everyone the details, but 1 hour later, and after having been on the phone with the “guy” (from a central call desk) giving us directions, we were no closer to dumping the car. I think I must have seen most of the suburbs around Atlanta at least twice by now (and I’m really good at directions, honest!). Finally, with the clock ticking, we pulled into the Hertz car drop-off, to catch our breath. The “guy” (didn’t give a name – and we were dumb for not getting it) told us to leave the car there, leave the keys under the back-seat mat, with that door unlocked, and he would make sure it got picked up.

Fear was in my soul. Enough that I even swore with the best of them in front of my client (who is Christian – I’m sorry Karen).

We made our flights (and me spontaneously hugging TSA officials at ATL is another story, but a nice one). I made it home, only to leave again this next morning at 4:30am to head to Vancouver.

I decide to follow up with Dollar, to make sure the car was indeed picked up, and that my rental contract is closed. Well, no, and no.

I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that the most helpful Dollar Rent-a-Car CSR, Sherry, told me that if I thought I could do her job better than her (i.e. to FIND the car)…well, then. She recited her script, ad nauseum, and kept telling me that really she was the ultimate boss and there was no one else to help me (apparently, in this situation, you threaten to sue, and you’ll suddenly find a supervisor). While I was in Vancouver (3 hours behind Atlanta), between my client and myself (Karen is a fireball of making things happen! I owe everything in this story to her), we managed to find the car (at Hertz); discover it was (seriously) in the process of being hooked up to a tow truck because Hertz kept calling Dollar to come get the car and they wouldn’t pick up the phone; get the tow company’s name/number/address; find out the process to initiate Dollar to go GET the car; and have the contract closed. Also, I had my “people” in Atlanta, who were so wonderfully, willing to drive out to the location of Dollar to help me. Bobby, Ben, Melissa – that’s you.

In those 3 hours? Sherry helpfully supplied me with an “issue number”. Thanks, Sherry.

It took another FIVE days for Sherry to email me that the contract was closed (I’m now in Austria, on vacation). But, since car rental companies take their money first, I’m out $500 US – for 3 days rental, AND the towing charges.

Because one of their people told us that it was okay to make an alternative drop-off. Huh. So “guy” was trying to help us, but didn’t follow through. I blame him for that. But, I believe his heart was in the right place, although he sucks at completing a task.

And the rest of Dollar Rent-a-Car (the new name of Thrifty Rent-a-Car) denied that this ever happened. Okay, I said I’d spare the details (I’m trying). Do I bite the cost? Or follow up? Will “Silverman Helps” help me?

Contrast Austria. Sixt Rentals, a German rental car company. We picked up a minivan on Oct. 10, to drive our family from Vienna to Salzburg. No problems, here you go. When we park the van near our apartment, my dad notices a big scrape on the van. Uh-oh. We’re fretting already. There’s absolutely NO way this scrape could have been ours. Logically.

During the trip, we find out that one of the seat-belts doesn’t work. And, thanks to numerous motorists on the Autobahn, that one of the rear tail-lights doesn’t work. Fretting more. My husband and I deliver the van (after-hours) and I write a big note, saying exactly what we noticed. And that we’ll call to confirm.

I don’t get any sleep that night.

Harald calls Sixt the next morning, to make sure that everything’s cool. They THANK HIM for pointing out the flaws, and they’ve made a note to have those things fixed. He asks if we’re responsible, and they reply quite shocked “of course not! We’re happy you told us about these things. This way, we can make sure that everything is working/fixed for the next renters.”

I checked my Visa statement. Sixt: absolutely the price quoted, no questions asked.

I have ideas about why the experience was so different…in America, the car is king. And people are treated like they’re guilty. And thieves.

In Austria, there’s thing idea of always exceeding expectations. And a trust that people are honest, and smart. When Austrians feel as though they’ve let you down, as a customer, they’re actually ashamed. And have the autonomy to do something about it.

I was kind of kidding when I said bring Richard Branson in to revolutionize the car rental industry in North America, but not really. But, that’s another post.

Don’t treat your customers like they’re stupid, and powerless, and out to cheat you. ‘Cause, most of the time, they’re not. And the trust will pay you back in loyalty, forever.

Sixt.com – use them always. A pleasure.
Dollar Rent-a-Car – sucks to be you, gimme your money. And, by the way, screw yourself while you’re at it.

parents + computers = me, ashamed August 2, 2007

Posted by andrea in ephemera, thinky thinky.
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So, as the “computer” person in the fam, my dad often requests that I help him with his laptop (which I gave him 2 years ago), ’cause it won’t do what he wants. Usually, I spend the weekend archiving everything, wiping the drive, and re-installing Windows XP, then setting everything up again.

This time, I totally lost it on him. Admittedly, he doesn’t understand the nuances of how Microsoft and Google are actual competitor, and so how Google docs really will not work with Outlook (which I’ve told him NEVER to use…and the whole rabbit-hole of CRAP went on from there).

But: me, yelling, trying not to cry out of frustration – totally uncalled for. To those who work in tech support, I bow down, I couldn’t do it, seriously.

So, what do I do? I thought of getting him a Mac (hard to f-up), but he deals with PC-based clients. Maybe he needs an admin service? My lifesaver has been emptytray.com, but they’re focused on accounting and stuff like that. Would they take on someone like him?

I absolutely love my dad, he’s a great person to talk to about strategy and and clients and getting by in business. He just does NOT get the digital world…or organization/categorization, which is basically, what I do.

I bought him a whole bunch of the peanuts from the St. Lawrence Market that he really likes, as a peace offering. I wish I could include a person to manhandle his computer in with them. 🙂

being entitled…to a “brain dump” June 20, 2007

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So, I was out with some long-lost-back-in-the-nefarious-days friends this evening (from high school, no less). And all three of us are a) raising kids; b) working successfully; c) happy that we scraped in under the insane TO housing prices; and d) wondering where the process of having to work to achieve something went, given the new brood we encounter every day.

D – who has had a thriving design firm for about 20 years, says he wants no part of trying to offer web sites, since it’s way too hard to find people who will show up on time, or deliver on time, or just generally be responsible. K – says that the process of learning-failing-trying again has been lost.

I agree with them both. And to D, I apologize for all the shiftless dudes that he’s had to deal with. And I totally understand K’s thing when the bakery she’s been going to for two years to buy baguettes to serve along with the organic soup program she does at her daughter’s school…yeah, the staff roll their eyes, and tell her “no, those baguettes are for customers”. Um, she’s a customer! With money! Gaaaaaah.

Remember the days, when you got out of school, and were glad to start at the bottom, and learn the ropes, wherever? Well, now, apparently, the ropes start at being managing director, or VP, or what-have-you. Um, why? Where’s your passport? Not just about the skill, but all the stuff that you (I believe) cannot learn or read, only by actually doing.

I had a similar conversation earlier today, with another friend who was tutoring someone’s daughter. She found the class too hard, so she never went. A week before her final paper was due (the one that would determine whether she graduated or not), she called him. And he helped her. He did not write the paper, that is for sure. But there was much weeping, and drama…”it was TOO hard”.

Um, school is called that for a reason…it’s not supposed to be something you swan through, unencumbered by effort, or worry. If it’s too easy, stretch yourself further, and find something where you ARE (reasonably) concerned, or worried, or stressed enough to actually care about what you do, and the outcome it produces.

My husband (the inimitable H) has a renovation company. No matter how many times he explains things to his guys, they never get it until they experience the “uh oh” themselves. Cheesily, (considering I went to a school called School of Experiential Education) I said well, until you’re the one standing under the plumbing when it all goes to literal shit, then you don’t get it. Life gives good lessons. Sometimes they suck. But they always teach…something.

My biggest “mantra” (I guess) is that life will continually hand your ass to you, on a plate…what you choose to do with that potential knowledge is your own decision. Learn, and reflect, and keep learning. Or don’t learn, and blame, and keep blaming.

Mistakes are good…and time spent in the trenches is good.

this post didn’t actually go the way I planned, but went sideways…I take responsibility for that. It’s just me, yappin’. 🙂

hurt May 17, 2007

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A friend passed away yesterday, someone I worked with at my last contract. I got the news through an email, and was shaken. I talked to another friend at the company, and he told me that people had gathered at a local bar. I wondered whether it was “appropriate” to show up, not wanting to intrude. But as my friend said “this isn’t a company thing, this is a Rich thing, so go”.

And I went – cried, laughed, hugged, ordered more drinks, and we kept on not wanting to be alone, not tonight. I had to leave, because I kept dissolving into tears, and not being any help. I thank the people I got to know at Critical Mass, for all their support, and strength and humour, and just general goodness. I love you all.

I didn’t know Rich for very long, but as people like him do, he made an immediate impact. I couldn’t help but fall in love with him, in that work-crush way. bless, sweetie.

I can’t even believe he’s not in the world anymore.

Work life don’t mean shit compared to real life.

the reverse-side of work travel May 9, 2007

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Okay, so this time, I’m the one left at home…with the doggies, all mine. Every walk, every poop, every meal. No trade-offs.

Harald left today for Vienna, in order to attend his sister’s funeral. Probably the WORST reason to travel, but I urged him to do it, booked the flight, found a hotel today, and text-messaged him the deets, so he’ll get them when he lands. It’s family, there’s no choice, right?

But, for the first time, I’m the one who kissed him goodbye and sent out “safe flight” vibes, as he left. It was always me leaving before, for work. And I always pooh-poohed his “please be safe, good flight, be a good girl, I love you” admonitions when I left, like “dude, I’m just going to work…on a plane”. Like I was soooo cool.

So, it’s me and the dogs tonight, and for a few days. And our home is missing one of its integral parts. And the dogs keep running to the door with every sound, thinking “oh boy, my favourite part! when DAD comes home!”

And it’s me now that’s worried, not WORRIED, but in a very low-key “hmm, I hope he’s okay” way. And I’ll probably wake up at 4am, when his plane is supposed to land, and wait for him to call.

When I travelled, I got very good at the calling. I would text him, as soon as the wheels touched the tarmac. “I’m back! See you soon!” And everyone in my same situation was doing the same thing, that little touchpoint to their friends or family, or whoever.

Last summer, I was in FLA (flaaaaaah, as I call it) when the big “no water, no liquids, nothing” thing happened. I was routed through Charlotte, onto Toronto. The flight attendant was magnificent…a large, beautiful Southern woman sauntering up and down the aisles calling out “any liquids? I personally prefer the finer fragrances…y’all can just drop them in my bag here…and I’ll do my very best to make sure they get back to you.” Chortle, nudge wink. I loved her.

It was the typical Thursday shuttle, for commuters…back home to T.O. Tons of people like me, laptop-jockeys. White, Black, Indian, Asian – just wanting to get home. And, for the first time EVER (aside from charter flights to the Caribbean), when that same flight attendant announced as we touched down “Welcome to Canada”, the plane erupted in clapping. Happy to be home, happy to be out of the U.S.? Who can say? But there was a tiny recognition amongst us, a certain care that we understood for each other. Home.

Be well, my goofy husband…and come back safe. Nina and Trudy (the dogs) will be wagging to beat the band.

first-ever official logo… April 29, 2007

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I think I might have a logo. Well, a designer friend of mine sent me the concepts today. I was so excited, anticipating what he had come up with. He has a way with a typeface/icon that I really like.

I was not disappointed. Now, though, I have to pick one – I do have my faves, probably 3 or 4. Stay tuned.

First a logo, then a website, where will wonders cease?

info-ADDict April 11, 2007

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I just read an article that really made sense to me…that information gives us a lot of things, but also takes our concentration away. That our brains aren’t that plastic to deal with all the stuff coming in. Again, I reference Bobby who said to me “could you work in a space with other people? Since you have to think so much?” If I would, NOT could – I “could” shut off everything, and work, but I haven’t yet – then yes. And I did today.

1993: Small story (and this is before *my* Internet, and Flickr, and Facebook, and Gmail): I was on a cargo ship to Africa, with my then-best friend. Every night, while trying to sleep, I couldn’t. Too much information in my head, but none of it linked – just random bits, all over the place – visual, word images, thoughts, reading I hadn’t done. I remember saying to her (and writing in my so-called “journal”) that I was overloaded, and tired – there was too much to know, to learn. And my brain held photo colour-correction formulas, and shot-analyses of what I was seeing in real life. Jesus.

Ahhh, Africa time. Where your goal for the day can be: buy a train ticket, OR get money out of the bank. Not both. Freedom. Simple goals: shelter, water, then food. Then maybe hanging out with people, or going out, or reading. Possibly, even, a shower! I remember hitting Nairobi after months and shaving my legs…absolute heaven.

1995: I had worked all night, producing a major print campaign for some mutual fund company. I came home, sat down on the couch, and the president called me back to fix something. Went into my room, undid my ponytail, brushed my hair, and re-did it. It looked terrible (as did I). So I said (honestly) out loud, “apple-Z” the command for undo. No go.

1997: I could tell anyone, even being woken out of a deep sleep on threat of losing my job (true, sadly), the entire SKU list of the tires for sale in the NFLD version of the Canadian Tire flyer, and their prices. Of course, I drank a lot to combat that affliction. 🙂

1998-2006: I won’t even go there. I hold a stupid amount of esoteric information in my head that has no business being there. I could be so much more interesting if I didn’t know the exact process an insurance policy document goes through, or the various permutations of how an airline ticket is priced.

Now: Facebook, blogs, multiple email addresses to keep checking, the latest whatever…and that’s only online stuff. The real world? Groceries, bills to pay, dogs to take care of, relationships to care for…

It’s no wonder that I have a hard time concentrating – it’s not the renovations, it’s me. How ironic I’m blogging about it. My concentration needs caring for, too, it seems.

Today I visited a friend, and I was supposed to call her before I showed up, but I forgot my ‘berry (leash, chain, etc.). So I just showed up. Saw another friend who was on her way out, and then I went in. My friend totally apologized for not being ready, but I was supposed to call, so honestly, it was my fault. I explained about my lack of connectivity, and her colleague smiled and said “ahhh, freedom”. And I liked just sitting waiting. I thought I should probably pull out my laptop and ask for a wireless connection, but then I thought “wtf?” and continued to just sit. And have this lovely soft random moment…of nothing. It was fantastic.

I definitely should do more of that. And visit with friends in real life more often, as opposed to typing to them. Maybe try an entire conversation – like my friend and I had tonight. It’s a start. I am hopeful.