We started September in Edmonton and moved back to Meadow Lake in mid October.
Harvey the Hurricane
As August wound down we looked south and waited anxiously as friends and family were beset by Hurricane Harvey. Nobody had serious flooding, but there were some evacuations and doubling up with other family on higher ground and then the return to deal with refrigerators full of spoiled food and other stressors. All is as well as it can be.
Mostly minor problems reported by the ministries we have volunteered with and some opportunities for a couple of them to help others much more affected by the storm.
We spent a week a decade ago with time on our hands in Brazoria County near Houston. The guide book we used mentioned various landmarks and history such as the pear trees that gave Pearland its name being destroyed in the great storm of 1890 or so. And the mansions of another area being wiped out in the great storm of another year.
The area is low lying land near the Gulf of Mexico. Every year more stuff gets built. Every few years a hurricane goes through and takes out some of the stuff that has been built. Every time there is more stuff to choose from to be destroyed. Predictable, but still traumatic for the people involved.
Harvey the Movie Mogul
Without getting into the scandals and the asymmetric transactional sex, the whole sordid mess brought to mind a buddy story.
Buddy had a summer job as a forest fire lookout somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps the Northwest territories. Perhaps somewhere else.
A lookout tower.
And his dog.
There had been a black bear showing up and causing problems. His brave sidekick hid under the cabin whenever the bear was around.
One day he shot the bear. The dog moved from cowering behind buddy. Growling and barking it approached the inert bear. In a show of bravery he leapt onto the bear and barked in victory. The added weight to the bear caused a “woof” noise to escape from the dead bear’s mouth. The dog rapidly deployed to its safe space under the cabin and peered out.
Here’s to all the ‘brave’ people who spoke truth to power once the power was gone and keeping silent had lost any value to their career.
Haven’t we all kept our mouths shut? Usually in lesser circumstances, but still… (if you are reading this aloud, though heavens knows why you would be, I am told one is not supposed to say dot, dot, dot)
An older male job applicant was being interviewed by an HR person.
“Why did you leave your last job?”
“I was fired for being too honest.”
“Oh. I don’t think you can be too honest.”
“I don’t really care what you think.”
I didn’t work Labour Day weekend so we went home to Meadow Lake and relaxed and visited with friends and family, returning to Edmonton on Monday afternoon. Ernie had done all he could with the siding until Rona came up with some corner pieces and he rented a Geniboom so I just took a picture of where he'd got to.
On our way out to dinner, back in Edmonton, we stopped at a Mazda dealer (lets call it M Dealer1) to look at a Mazda 3.
An enthusiastic, friendly person met us when we pulled up and took us into the showroom to see the Mazda 3 Sport. Online it looked like it would do us as a replacement for our Hyundai Elantra station wagon, but we were concerned with the amount of cargo space. The friendly person walked us over to the floor model.
Oops. Battery is dead. Can’t open the back hatch. So sorry. I guess you can’t look.
A competent person intervened and got a booster pack and we looked at the trunk. Yes. That would do. The friendly walked us to our car and took a bunch of information about our car. I said I wanted an idea of price of Mazda 3 and trade in value of our car. NO problem. I’ll e-mail it. No offer of a test drive. No push to close a sale.
We left and went to dinner.
All week I expected to hear something, but nothing until Friday when some enterprising person (not Mr. Friendly) at M Dealer1 sent me an e-mail with a Mazda 3 brochure attached. The brochure was nice and all but didn’t tell us any more than we had already learned on line. The e-mail had no additional information such as price range or trade in value range.
During the week the car got a bobo in a parking lot and would need the front bumper repaired. That was a complication. Nevertheless, with things winding down at the refinery I had Saturday off and some time on our hands and we went to M Dealer2. This time a friendly with listening skills met us and we test drove and got detailed quotes and went back and forth and had a couple of prices depending whether we fixed the bumper or traded it in as-is. Juanita could check on repair costs in Meadow Lake the following week. We would get back to each other.
On Sunday afternoon after church we went to a Hyundai dealer (H Dealer1) to check out the Elantra Hatchback. No friendlies here. We walked into the showroom and tried to open the hatchback of the showroom model. Nope. Dead battery. Still no friendlies. No competents, either. After a while of being studiously ignored by a bunch of very unbusy sales staff we left and went home and changed and had lunch.
After lunch we went to H Dealer2. Very friendly. Good listening skills. Finally got to see inside the back of the Elantra hatchback. They ended up overstating the price by $2k over their web site price of an upscale model Sonata from last year that they were dying to unload and were able to give us a phony trade-in value for our Elantra as-is and came up with a difference that was probably a bit too much but I could live with. We bought it. Nice car. Rides nice. More features than we wanted but should do us. Looking forward to heated seats and steering wheel this winter.
The sales manager of M Dealer1 called later in the week. I told him what we had asked for from them and what we got from them and what we bought. I also said I knew that H Dealer2 has a crummy reputation for service, but we didn’t live in Edmonton and probably wouldn’t be taking it there for service. He just kept saying “a Sonata”. I tried to cheer him up with at least his dealership wasn’t as bad as H Dealer1. Didn’t seem to help.
A couple of weeks after the car purchase I noticed a problem with a couple of the strips not working on the rear window defroster. The service experience was even worse than existing on-line reviews. I posted my own snarky on-line review.
The sales manager reached out and tried to make it better.
The rest is an ongoing saga of a minor first world annoyance. The service and attempts to purchase experiences are only important as examples of why a friend looks at situations of incompetence and says “Poor Canada”. One notable sign of competence was the bank I deal with in Edmonton called and checked before they certified the cheque I wrote for the car.
The repair issue isn’t a third world issue like not having clean water or food or shelter. Still, one shouldn’t have to show a technician how to find a problem with his test gear. Especially when he already has a picture of the window and which traces work and which ones don’t. Just saying.
Ansel became a terrible two in September. Terrible too, how time flies. Rebekah is on bed rest with Ansel’s future sibling so Nick is doing all the Mr. Mom stuff and made a dog cake for the birthday. Aunt Debbie and his Meadow Lake cousins came to Edmonton and we all gathered around Rebekah’s bed and he blew out the candles and opened his presents after we sang “Happy Birthday.”
Just into October we celebrated Rebekah’s birthday, as well. She got vertical long enough to blow out the candles.
Mid Autumn Festival
A couple of co-workers were performing at the Mid Autumn Festival so one Saturday evening Juanita and I took the LRT to Churchill Square and watched them prove their competence with the bass and the guitar. I am more familiar with them working on electronic instruments, but they did fine on musical ones.
After the band there was a parade to the pond and the kids got to float the boats they had made during the day. Not having kids or boats there we went back down the stairs to the LRT and went home. Waiitng for the train I handed out a few curved illusion tracts.
Ezekial and Eliana are in skating lessons. We went and watched one evening.
Touch Screen Gloves
These gloves were in Costco. They were only in kids’ sizes, but similar gloves in adult sizes could come in handy doing loop checks and recording the results on the company iPads during cold weather.
During the night the iPads were polled for our work from the day and uploaded with the new assignments, complete with loop drawings and location drawings. I knew I had been using an iPad too much when I was looking at a paper drawing and wanted more detail so I put two fingers on the paper and spread them apart. Took a second to figure out why the drawing didn't get any bigger.
The refinery I was working at is getting closer to completion. The workforce is winding down. The last month they have been consolidating bus routes to keep the buses close to full with fewer construction workers to fill them. I had been planning to ask for a lay-off if any were to be had near the end of September, but postponed that into the middle of October because the new car cost a few pay cheques more than planned. Maybe a week after Thanksgiving if that worked with the manning curve and people who were being shuffled between crews or laid off for lack of work for them to do.
While back in Meadow Lake for Thanksgiving I looked at the weather report for the coming week. Edmonton area showed snow, wind and below freezing temperatures for Wednesday onward. Working conditions a hundred feet up would be such I would accomplish little and be miserable doing it. On Tuesday morning I asked if it was possible to be laid off at the end of the day. Yes, it was. The work load permitted that.
Back at our daughter’s that night I packed up my stuff.
Early the next day I loaded the truck and went to the union hall to sign onto the out-of-work register and check that I had enough dues in the bank to cover my non-working dues for the winter.
Then it was off to Whitecourt through blowing snow to visit some friends. On the way, most of the snow wasn’t sticking and the highway was clear but closer to Whitecourt there were vehicles that had slid off into the median earlier in the day.
After a nice lunch and a good visit I left Whitecourt. I set the GPS for home and got on the highway. The GPS told me to turn off toward Barrhead and head up to Cold Lake. Thinking of driving behind trucks billowing clouds of moisture for hours on two-lane highways I opted to stay on the divided highway toward Edmonton. The GPS argued off and on and finally near the Anthony Henday Freeway it went into a total funk and shut down as I drove at high speed on land that its database still thinks is farm fields.
I stopped to buy diesel at the Flying J and managed to dyslexic my PIN and freeze my credit card. I realized that I don’t know the PIN on one of my other ones and had no idea how much is in another account on a debit card and ended up using a debit card whose PIN and balance I did know, but don’t usually use since they charge five bucks per transaction. For transactions under $100 in Canada most places let you use tap and pay. You just wave your card at the credit card reader or gas pump and your credit card gets billed. No PIN required for that. Do that too often and you might forget your PIN. Just saying.
After half an hour on the phone to sort out my normal credit card I was on the road again. The GPS benefitted from the timeout and knew where it was and carried on okay again. I don’t need it to find my way home but it is nice to have a constantly updating ETA.
Driving along in my nice warm truck I had been thinking I had been premature in asking to be laid off. It was a grey day but not that bad near Edmonton. Stopping in Vegreville and using my again functional credit card I bought some windshield washer fluid and a lamp for the license plate light. The five minutes outside in the cold wind and blowing sleet changing the lamp and filling the reservoir convinced me I had made the right decision.
Obviously if the manning curve wasn’t on a downward trend I wouldn’t have received a lay-off. Then your choice becomes to quit or to stay. If you quit you can’t apply for EI (Employment Insurance) as they call it in Canada (along the idea of calling it life insurance for when you die). I don’t plan on applying for EI because they don’t pay you if you are not planning to go to work and I am not.
At least until maybe next year. We’ll see.
A lay off is important for other reasons since many companies have policies against serial quitters.
If you stay you are working outside in the Canadian winter. There might be a few not so bad weeks, but it is generally going to be downhill from here. In high school I had many peers who said they wanted to find jobs where they were “working outdoors”. My private opinion at the time, never expressed aloud, was “They’re idiots.” My attitude has mellowed but I still don’t like being outside in rain or cold or extreme heat or… There are reasons for central heating and windows. So you can see what you are avoiding as you look out from your cozy desk or shop job.
I am extremely grateful for mostly having had choices in life. Choices between things I would have preferred. You play the cards you are dealt, but it is nice to be dealt ones you would want.
Top Five Books
When I got home there was an e-mail waiting from a young friend who asked me “what are the most influential business books you have ever read”.
The last five I’ve read?
Took a lay off yesterday.
Went to the union hall this morning then drove to Whitecourt to visit a friend then home to SK.
Will ponder this when synapses are working again and reply.
The next morning I sat down and wrote the following answer to his request without going back and looking at his e-mail:
I don’t have time to write a short answer to your question so will have to write a long answer. The best answer would be to ask why you want to know, but I am going back through this just to correct typos so it is too late. I am invested in my monologue and don’t suddenly want to start a dialogue.
Without doing any research including looking at your question to look at the exact phrasing I may be answering the wrong question. I think it said the most influential business books you have read. Here is a stream of consciousness reply without, I repeat, any research or respite to reference material.
The 1% - Some celebrity tech business person was asked by James Altucher how much of a book he remembered and he said “maybe one percent”. Maybe optimistic. Read The Rosie Project last weekend. I am told by my daughters I have read it before. Thoroughly enjoyed both times but don’t remember a word of the first time. So I will mention books I remember one thing from that I have used in some way. That means an article is as good as a book. It also means that if actually I looked at a list of business books I might come up with a different list for you.
All that Glitters – I once suggested to a friend that I eventually would write a business book about business books and about management fads (I call them management hula hoops – beehive hairdos that twenty years later we would ponder “what were we/they thinking?”) Title of the book? “All that Glitters”
Bible – Some preacher (Bill Gothard?) was referring to the value of reading or hearing the word of God and how much it seems we remember nothing and went on about its cleansing effect and used the analogy of an egg basket and using it to carry water. Didn’t carry much water, but each successive dipping cleansed it some more. In my MBA forum wrote an article about the first management consultant Moses’ father-in-law (Jethro? – told you I wasn’t going to resort to reference material). Quoted the relevant passage in Exodus(?) where Moses was overwhelmed trying to do everything and suffering burn-out and Jethro (we’ll call him that for the sake of this account – if you look it up you can correct it). Jethro came and set him straight telling him how to divide the responsibilities and delegate and only deal with the tough cases, etc. Read it. There is some good advice there. And, I said, it was the first and last recorded case where once his job was done the management consultant left.
Flight of the Buffalo (perhaps I am thinking of the sequel, Teaching The Elephant To Dance, but seem to remember it was a disappointment). Buddie’s dog principle. Don’t do people’s work for them. Hold them accountable for doing their own work.
HBR article – Morgenstern(?) – One More Time How Do We Motivate People. Job content principle and control principle. KITA (kick in the rear) motivation – when supervisor is providing motivation by kicking the only one motivated is the one doing the kicking. Zero value content in job won’t get more value by asking for more output – zero times anything is zero. Read the article. It is short and full of gems. Difference between motivators and hygiene factors – pay is a hygiene factor, correct pay cheque is a hygiene factor.
HBR article – Monkey management – handing off responsibilities (monkeys) to supervisors and not letting employees do that to you. “I will do want you want but I need more information, could you get that for me” Hands monkey back to supervisor and has to do nothing until gets further information back from supervisor – eventually supervisor is carrying all these freaking monkeys and employees are doing nothing while they wait for him/her to get back to them.
Seven Habits – must have been something there 😊 First things first. Ladder leaning against the wrong wall.
If it Isn’t Broke, Break it – Dubious value of blind loyalty.
The war of Art – ship it.
The Portable MBA – don’t think I read the whole thing but remember one section I read – A decision has two components: quality; and buy-in. A decision with quality of 10 with zero buy-in multiples out to zero. You can do the math on a quality of 8 with a buy-in of 10. Sort of like Patton’s principle of a good plan violently executed NOW is way better than a perfect plan two weeks from now.
Somewhere I wrote a book review of the best book I never read and how it changed my life – Never work for a Jerk. The review is somewhere on my web site.
More than five – oops
Oh, and two more:
Learning organization by Peter Senge – process control theory applied to business. Probably fantasy genre.
The Beer Game – logistics. Sums up the paper industry. I have lived that scenario.
And that was cut and pasted into an e-mail which received a kind response with the suggestion it should be a blog post so here it is.
Since then have met with him on a trip back to Edmonton and discussed the E-Myth Manager and Michael Gerber’s thoughts on businesses being started by technicians suffering an entrepreneurial seizure and working in their business instead of on them.
A few years ago I read a formal study that pretty much confirmed what Gerber said. The study emphasized how most new businesses tend to be knockoffs of a previous employer and tend to divide the pie into ever smaller pieces instead of inventing new pies with added value businesses. Gerber emphasizes the danger of going from working for a jerk (your old boss) to working for a madman (you – too busy doing it, doing it, doing it to take time to structure the business) and prescribes systematizing your business functions.
His model is McDonalds and Ray Kroc. Not that he is saying everybody should build their business with the intent of franchising it rather that they should understand how each piece of it works and be able to train people to do each function so they are not trapped into being too busy to think. This summer I watched the movie The Founder [DVD + Digital] (Bilingual) about Ray Kroc and McDonalds. I also read Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's,Ray Kroc’s autobiography. The autobiography presented a bit more sympathetic view of Mr. Kroc and filled in the blanks of his life experiences before he ran across the McDonald brothers. But both the book and the movie were fascinating and worth the time to read and watch. Ray Kroc changed the world in his way.
This week I read Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg so it is in “the last five” and I am enamored. But that is another review for another day.
I slothed around for the first few days of my retirement waiting for a bit of good weather and then picked the best day forecast for a while and set up to clean the chimney and stove pipe for the woodstove. I assembled the flexible cleaning rods and put the appropriate sized brush on the end to match the chimney.
Putting a bucket on a ladder to catch the creosote and soot, I taped the wand from the shop vac near the opening of the bucket, turned on the vac and got down to business. I pushed the brush up to the top and back a couple of times and pulled out the brush. The whole process seemed much dusty than normal. I shut off the vacuum cleaner and inspected the chimney. It had been not too bad before the cleaning. Juanita tends the home fires and she lets the stove pipe get up into the yellow zone on the temperature gauge before cutting back the combustion air. After the cleaning the chimney was pristine.
There was a bit more soot around the ladder than normal, but oh well. I turned on the shop vac and went to clean up a bit from the ladder rungs. Problem diagnosed. I removed the hose from the exhaust of the shop vac and put it on the suction. Won’t make that mistake again.
I went inside and took apart the stove pipe, put one end in a garbage bag and took it outside for cleaning. Then cleaned the horizontal section going into the chimney and reassembled everything. There being a bit more soot in the area than normal, part of the clean-up became firing up the leaf blower and blowing the soot and the leaves in the area away into the forest.
I then used the leaf blower until it ran out of gas and refilled the tank and used it just a bit more.
The yard looked great.
I could barely move the next day.
Those were not muscles that got used much climbing up and down the gasifier all summer I guess.
We came to Edmonton a few days early and dropped off the car to have the defroster fixed. The courtesy car they provided was a year old Elantra with 48,000 kilometers on the odometer! It ran fine and handled fine. It was a car I could be happy with but it was nice to get ours back.
Friday evening Deborah and Ernie and their kids showed up. Saturday afternoon we all celebrated Eliana’s fourth birthday. Nick outdid himself with a butterfly cake. Saturday evening Nick headed to an uncle’s funeral and we put Eliana and Ansel to bed and the rest of us headed to Galaxyland at West Edmonton Mall.
Sunday after church the Meadow Lake crowd headed back to Meadow Lake. With different errands and stops along the way we didn’t see each other until back in Meadow Lake. Juanita and I brought Fred home and dropped him off at Ernie and Deborah’s. Fred is a large, potted fern. He fared better in our back seat then he would have in the back of their truck at below freezing temperatures.
The union social club had rented Galaxyland as a private function. We had all ordered tickets when they first became available. Juanita and I hung around at home until the two toddlers were settled in so we got there a bit later than Deborah and Ernie and the other kids.
Eventually we located each other after some texting back and forth. We all got to ride on some rides and wait around in lines and visit.
When we arrived I ran into one coworker and his family and later on waved at another as he passed by on an overhead railway. Then ran into still another waiting next to me in the line for the bumper cars. I don’t miss going to work every day, but I miss the people I was working with this summer. Good bunch.