All posts by Suzette

I’m a software technical writer, living in Keswick, Ontario, Canada.

360 Degrees

In the beginning, department stores had their own currencies and provided banking services to the community.  Store employees lived in houses owned by the company and paid rent to them. They were paid in store credits, so they could purchase the goods they needed.

At some point in our society’s evolution stores and banks became separate entities, but most of the larger stores had their own financing departments. Even that drifted further apart though as Mastercard became dominant in that sector. The retail industry then started to diminish with the advent of online shopping which became much more convenient and reliable. Meanwhile, the separate bank and credit card companies flourished.

As bricks and mortar stores continued to decline, people turned even more to online shopping. Instead of just speciality items (which played a role in the death of record and electronic stores), or the children’s area (which helped destroy stores such as Toys R US), they became very convenient for purchasing household products, toiletries, and bath products. This negatively impacted the midrange and bargain stores, like Zellers and Sears.

List of Stores Closing in 2017

Amazon could force 400 mall stores to close up shop

All of this drove people to shop online even more, since traveling to a bricks and mortar store became no longer convenient, and with less selection than online stores. Which caused companies like Amazon and Walmart to grow even stronger online.

Two companies with different paths.

Amazon was originally a bookstore, kind of like Chapters or Coles. Then they created an online presence and they kept growing it. It wasn’t just another option for purchasing, it quickly became a desirable option, with sellers from all over the world selling every type of product imaginable. The majority of the products are backed by Amazon, so easy returns meant no risk to consumers.

Free shipping for everyone on 100M+ items? Amazon’s doing it at $25

When you reach the point that you’re ordering from Amazon on a regular basis, at some point you realize it makes sense to pay to be a Prime member. Prime members get their orders delivered usually within 1 to 2 days. Plus they get a year of online television (sort of like a cheap Netflix).

Walmart, on the other hand, has always been a general goods store, with everything from tires to clothing and healthcare, to household products and eventually to even food products. At some point though, they probably realized the threat Amazon presented to their business, and they quickly created an online presence. They are definitely still a bit behind Amazon.

Walmart’s latest experiment: Higher prices online than in stores

And now Amazon (a store) wants to be your bank.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

 

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Flying Gazebos and Other Perils of Life

My favourite season of the year is spring, when we begin to thaw out  after the long cold winter and things start blooming. It reminds me of a promise – the promise of a warm and sunny glorious summer! Until the wasps come.

Having once been stung more than 30 times, I can honestly say I hate them.

I discovered wasps had taken up residence behind my shutters on my house when I went to remove them to repaint them. So I offered my brother, who always needs money, $200 to go up and bring them down. He jumped at the chance for easy money. After climbing up the ladder to the second story of my house, he removed the shutters, threw them to the ground and quickly descended the ladder in a visible state of agitation.

“Holy cow” he exclaimed, there’s thousands of wasps up there!
“Why do you think I was paying you so much money just to remove the shutters?” I told him. “Consider it danger pay”. My next goal was to create an outdoor space on my back deck, so we bought a gazebo. It didn’t take long for the wasps to find it and start building a nest.

My daughter’s boyfriend decided he would earn some brownie points by offering to remove the nest. Armed with nothing more than a broom handle, he ventured outside and started poking the nest. I could see what was going to happen so I quickly closed the patio doors. As the wasps came out in force, said boyfriend ran for the door screaming “Let me in”. Well, there was no chance of that; if I opened the door the wasps would get in, so I quickly locked it. I’m not a cold hearted person though, so I did eventually open the door and let him in – after the wasps had gone away.

Wasp-free, my gazebo was now perfect for sitting out on warm summer evenings. I purchased a few comfortable chairs, some side tables, and plants, and surrounded the deck with solar powered patio lights. It was divine!

Until the first storm of the season, when the winds picked up my gazebo and tossed it about, twisted metal lying amid the devastation of knocked over tables and plants.

Not to be deterred, we purchased another gazebo – a bigger gazebo, a better gazebo. This one was screwed to the deck and had netting all around it. Paradise!

Until the second storm of the season, which was one week after we had put up the gazebo. Still fastened to the deck, the gazebo still managed to become twisted and mangled. We complained to the store and they gave us our money back.

Our next gazebo came from TSC which is more of a farm country type of store. Surely their gazebos were better. After we had put it up and fastened it to the deck, we added some carpeting and a beautiful chandelier style light in the middle. We even purchased more plants and some outdoor drapes to block the western sun in the afternoon and to give us some privacy. We were the envy of our neighbours.

Until the third storm of the season. The entire gazebo collapsed in on itself, destroying the beautiful chandelier.

Undeterred, my husband bought some metal bars to reinforce the parts of the gazebo frame that had broken or twisted. Success!

Until the fourth storm of the season. The reinforced parts of the frame held up very well, but everywhere that wasn’t reinforced was broken and twisted. No problem – we were pros by this time. More metal bars, more reinforcement. We were so confident by this time that we even put a new Edison light bulb in the chandelier and hung it back up. My paradise was restored.

Then the next storm hit. We were home at this point and as I heard the winds pick up from my office upstairs, I quickly ran downstairs, screaming “Protect the gazebo”. I wanted my husband to go out on the deck and loosen the canvas from the frame, believing that would stop the gazebo from damage. He disagreed and decided to hold onto the frame, to hold it down so that the wind couldn’t take it away.

I watched him through the patio door as the wind picked up and lifted him off the deck. Then I saw lightning. I asked him if he thought it was wise to be holding a metal rod with lightning happening. He assured me this was a better solution than loosening the canvas.
After checking the double indemnity clause on his life insurance policy, I decided he could do as he pleased. In the end though, he is fine.

The gazebo did not fare well – the final storm of the season destroyed it one last time.  I console myself with the knowledge that it was never up long enough for the wasps to rebuild their nasty little nest.

 

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The Rest of the Story

I pay attention to all leadership races, because I believe sometimes it’s more important to vote for the leader instead of the party.  After all, the world needs more leaders. I find myself aligned with a lot of the values of the NDP party even though I don’t traditionally vote NDP, but I consider leaders like Tommy Douglas, Ed Broadbent, and even Jack Layton to have made a tremendous contribution to the welfare of Canadians and our workers.

A recent “tweet” by Andrew Coyne (National Post, and formerly Macleans) brought a YouTube video to my attention. It featured a heckler (Jennifer Bush) confronting an NDP leadership hopeful, Jagmeet Singh, at a town hall meeting held in Brampton, Ontario. It was intended to show how racist Ms. Bush was and how calmly Mr. Singh handled the situation.  Watch the video here:

I admit that when I first viewed it, my impression was that was Ms. Bush was racist, and maybe not too bright because Singh is a Sikh, not a Muslim. Now, it’s not often I read the Toronto Sun these days, but a column by Sue-Ann Levy after this incident, led me to realize there’s a story behind the headlines.

http://www.torontosun.com/2017/09/11/singh-selective-when-protecting-freedom-of-speech

Jennifer Bush confronted him about his support of Sharia law in the Legislature. Jennifer Bush IS a racist (she is a supporter of the anti-Islamic group Rise Canada) but she did have a couple of valid questions, she just lacked the polish (or panache) to ask them properly.

Did YOU know that Singh voted to support Sharia law?

Singh keeps saying it’s important to stand “united against hate”, but after doing a bit of research, I find that statement to be a bit hypocritical. After all, he recently held a press conference that was sponsored by assorted anti-Israel activists. How does that jive with his claim to stand united against hate?

I’d like to see the best person possible as the leader of the NDP party, but I’m not going to take things on face value. The media are very careful about telling us what they want us to hear. We all need to become colour blind while we scrutinize each of the leadership contenders, their history, their views, and their various stances, to determine if they are who they say they are. Don’t just rely on the headlines, tweets, or news-bytes; dig a little deeper.

To determine if they are the best person to lead a federal political party. The party of Tommy Douglas, Ed Broadbent and Jack Layton.

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Time to Pay Attention

When people ask me what political party I support, the best answer I can give is, it’s complicated. My views and beliefs are constantly changing and evolving and don’t all fit into one nice and neat political party. I like to listen to a wide variety of opinions before developing my own, so nobody should draw any inference from the fact I follow any particular journalist, author, blogger or media source. I regularly read or follow the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, Huffington Post, New York Times, CNN, CBC, Macleans, and so many more. So you get the idea – I listen to everyone, mull things over in my head, align what I hear to my own beliefs and values, and come up with my opinions.

I came of age in Toronto reading this new cool little newspaper called The Sun. It was a tabloid format and easier to read on the subway. Many of the journalists came from the defunct Telegram and the newspaper provided a flip side to the news reported by the Toronto Star.  When Sun News Network was launched, I have to admit I never watched it. I don’t watch much television to begin with and this network reminded me of Fox News in the US; high on drama and conspiracy and low on actual facts.

I admit to initially not knowing The Rebel Media and Ezra Levant were from the ashes of that network, and when I found out, it didn’t really matter. I was just listening so I subscribed to their newsletter. It didn’t take long for me to realize that there was absolutely nothing I could learn from these kooks. Besides the constant emails asking for donations, it quickly became clear that they were not about advocating for responsible government or anything like that. At one point I actually started thinking they were a shill for Stephen Harper’s conservative government, with overtones of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and sometimes antisemitic.  Long after I unsubscribed I heard stories of them inciting fear about Romanian immigrants, supporting neo-nazi groups – sorry, I believe they now call themselves white nationalists – and publishing antisemitic videos.

So it wasn’t a huge surprise that The Rebel (and Ezra Levant) are now imploding. And it isn’t a surprise to learn that Joe Oliver – former finance minister with Harper’s government – is listed as one of their contributors. What is a surprise is learning that Andrew Scheer – newly elected head of the Federal Conservative party – and his campaign manager are tightly involved with this circus.  Hamish Marshall, Scheer’s campaign manager, even served on the board of The Rebel Media – well, until it became politically inconvenient for him to do so last week.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/why-did-it-take-so-long-for-the-conservatives-to-denounce-the-rebel/article36088082/

After the incident in Charlottesville, VA, groups like this are no longer kooky fringe groups. If allowed to exist and thrive, they are dangerous – dangerous enough to drive their cars into crowds of innocent people. If we can condemn terrorism from Islamic forces, why is domestic terrorism any different?

I despise this brand of politics. It’s the politics of hate and fear. I will always choose hope over fear. I will always feel that every culture and race is as important as mine. I will always vote for inclusion and equality. For those who want to even joke about ethnic cleansing, you have no place in MY Canada. It’s a vile way to think and it sickens me – my father and father in law fought against the Nazis in WWII and it seems there’s a new generation that has grown up without that shadow that now want to espouse Hitler’s values.

We’ll have another election soon enough but be aware of the type of people you’re voting for when you vote for Conservatives. Trump politics in Canada? It can happen if we don’t pay attention.

Pay attention and start listening.

Conservatives won’t say whether they will cut all ties with Rebel media

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tories-mum-on-whether-rebel-booths-will-be-banned-from-future-party-events/article36092284/

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/andrew-scheer-the-rebel-analysis-wherry-1.4251357

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Cause of Death

I recently received some sad news that a friend I hadn’t seen in a while had committed suicide by hanging himself. In shock, his stepson posted the news on Facebook, which was how I found out because unfortunately we hadn’t been in touch for over six months. Anyone who knew him well though was not surprised, as he had struggled with his demons for years.

Some people were shocked that the cause of death was publicly posted and that made me wonder about why we shy away from posting the cause of death in suicide situations.

If someone posted that a person had died and did not include the cause of death, many questions would be asked… why? how? If we don’t hesitate to say when someone dies as the result of a car accident, or passed away after succumbing to cancer, why do we hesitate to say the cause of death was suicide?

Causes of Death

We’d better get used to saying it – suicide rates have made it to the top ten causes of death.

Actually, suicide is the method of death, the cause of death is mental illness. Why are we afraid to say that? Diabetes is listed as a cause of death but few people die from diabetes directly – it’s from the effect of diabetes such as heart attack, kidney failure, etc.  My sister died from asphyxiation, caused by lung cancer. My friend died from suicide, caused by mental illness.

Listing suicide as the cause of death makes it sound as if there was nothing that could have been done to prevent it. If we can properly identify the cause of death as mental illness, maybe we, as a society, can start working on a treatment and prevention plan. Like we do for heart disease and cancer.

Some things don’t belong in a top ten list.

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Continuous Learning

It doesn’t matter how old or young you are. Whether you just graduated from school or if you’re as old as dirt, it’s important to keep your mental synapses firing and keep learning. Besides improving your employment possibilities, studies have shown that continuous learning can also slow down or prevent dementia. Continue reading Continuous Learning

Happy Dad’s Day

Today is Father’s Day and so I’d like to honour the memory of a very special man. Continue reading Happy Dad’s Day

This is Me!

Wanted to quickly share somethings, so I guess this is a “quicky” post.

I did one of those stupid Facebook quizzes today – the kind of thing I tell everyone NOT to do because they’re just mining your friends and personal information. I was bored though. It resulted in a word cloud made up of my most often used words on Facebook. I have to admit, I think they got this right, because when I think of the things that matter most to me, this is it.

This is ME!

Don’t click it though, because it won’t take you anywhere. I hate those types of things. Except this one.

Stronger, Freer – A Celebration of Canada

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

That’s a quote from Jessica Hische, but how many of us have the opportunity to turn our passions into our work? Maybe there’s a compromise. Some companies/universities offer their tenured employees the chance to take a sabbatical and what a wonderful opportunity that could be. A year to re-ignite your passion and follow your heart.

Steve Harvey said that in order to achieve great success, sometimes you have to jump. You will never be a huge success by doing the same thing day after day and never taking a chance, never following our passion, never dreaming that we can soar.

A couple I worked with for several years are doing just that. They’ve jumped and they’re taking a break from their professional careers to follow a passion of theirs. That passion led to the creation of Stronger, Freer. In honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, our sesquicentennial, Stronger Freer tells the story of a struggling Canadian family over the course of 150 years from Confederation through to present day, in a series of vignettes. It’s going to be playing June 15, 17, 18 at Nineteen on the Park in Stouffville, Ontario – even though it’s not on the calendar yet, the venue is booked and I predict it will sell out fast, so keep an eye on their calendar.

Two ordinary people taking a leap of faith to use their gifts and share their passion for Canada and for theatre with everyone else. I’m envious. And honoured to know them. They are setting an example for all of us and giving all of us this fabulous gift. You won’t want to miss it.

UPDATE: TICKETS ARE NOW AVAILABLE! 

 

 

 

#Canada150 #CrazyPassionateCanadians #Stouffville #Sesquicentennial #StrongerFreer

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Where Did Everyone Go?

I think it started with Automated Teller Machines (ATM). TD Bank introduced us to the Green Machine and we fell in love. No longer did we have to wait in line to deposit our pay-cheques or withdraw money. Convenience was king. Soon all the other banks followed suit.

Then came the self-checkouts, also known as SACAT machines (semi-attended customer-activated terminals). They started popping up everywhere – Walmart, Home Depot, even our local libraries. They said it was for convenience. A lot of people hate the ones in the stores because they replace people’s jobs. I get it – we all need to save money and keep the cost of goods low, right? Besides they’re just minimum wage unimportant jobs, right?

 

Then McDonald’s, which is almost the last bastion of part-time jobs for students, put in self-service kiosks. No longer can we complain about order takers not being able to do the math and give us the right change, or forgetting to mention we don’t want pickles on our big Mac sandwich. Technology rules supreme and our orders are now perfect and everybody’s happy, right?

Have we been lulled into complacency? Into accepting a fairy tale ending to automation?

Let’s examine the dark side.

With every new technology comes an opportunity for less than honourable people to find a way to try new scams.

ATMs? We’ve all heard about the skimmers on a lot of the machines, just waiting for us to use them so they can steal our bank card information and ultimately our money.

Self-checkouts? Store thefts (aka shoplifting) have increased over 4% because of self-checkouts. According to Business Insider, it’s actually encouraging honest people to steal, sometimes intentionally (not scanning all items) or unintentionally (buying organic produce but entering the code for the non-organic one). They’re harder thefts to prosecute as well because it’s difficult to prove intent and customers can plead ignorance or blame it on an equipment malfunction. And, as fate would have it, thieves have found a way to put skimmers on the debit machines.

Here’s a funny story about the founder of self-checkouts, Howard Schneider, actually trying to buy some peppers using a self-checkout at Wal-Mart: http://www.npr.org/2016/10/20/498736760/self-checkout-could-soon-be-checking-out

It’s hard for me to argue against the self-service kiosks at McDonald’s for a few reasons. First, it actually gets the order right. Second, because I’m forced to pay with my debit/credit card, I no longer have to worry about incorrect change or the pickles on my big Mac sandwich. Finally, it’s all irrelevant to me because I never go to McDonald’s. Not my circus, not my monkey, but gosh! what about those high school students and their part-time jobs?

Even libraries have embraced self-checkouts, but in their situation, it really is about improving the customer experience and not about reducing staff or saving money – because they don’t really save money. To prevent the library’s collection materials from “walking” out the door, they use RFID (radio frequency identification). Now libraries are discussing opening staff-less branches, primarily to extend the number of hours they can afford to be open to the public. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/03/20/pilot-project-to-eliminate-toronto-library-staff-part-time.html

Where will all this automation take us?

Many of us are doing most, if not all, of our banking online. Our pay-cheques are deposited automatically to our accounts, our bills are either set up to automatically be paid, or we go online and pay them. We move money around our accounts and send money wirelessly to our children for their allowances. We use online shopping sites and have our products delivered to our door, all paid for online. Yes, there are thieves hiding around every URL it seems, but we protect ourselves with complicated passwords, two-factor authentication, fingerprint identification, and bio-metric facial recognition. I only go into the bank to discuss or renew my mortgage, exchange currencies, or get a very rare bank draft when needed.

Now, Alterna Bank has announced that, as part of the digital banking revolution, they have launched Canada’s first and only end-to-end digital mortgage. It’s supposed to make it easier for us when seeking financing to purchase a new home. This new portal walks home buyers through pre-approval, decisioning, funding, even remote income verification. Supposedly it goes beyond basic credit scores and uses multiple data sources and advanced business intelligence to match up the right mortgage for each client. They’re calling it the “touch-less” experience for their consumers.

What’s missing from all of this is the human touch. The one-on-one, face-to-face experience. But is it even wanted? I want it. When supermarkets started switching to bag your own, I sought out stores that still bagged. I’m a busy person and though it sound trivial, I’m not an expert at bagging. I will gladly pay more for someone who knows how to optimize bag space and has the experience to understand what weight a bag can carry, or even how many bags I will need. It takes me 3 times as long to bag up a week’s groceries, and the entire time I feel guilty because I’m holding up other customers because my stuff is still on the belt. Let someone with experience do it please so I can be in and out as quickly as possible, so I get back to doing what I’m good at. Which is not bagging groceries; like these self-checkouts expect me to do.

Okay, that was a bit of a rant, but I feel much better now!

I don’t want a society where I don’t talk to anyone, where I don’t see anyone.  We all want and need that human interaction.  There seems to be a presumption that the answer to slow or poor customer service is to provide no customer service – automate everything. Is anyone researching the societal effects of an automated world? Not just the lack of part-time jobs for students (and often full-time workers) but also the psychological effects of not having the face-to-face interaction with another human being, which Psychology Today says reduces the risk of depression.

It’s predicted that by 2020 we’ll even have driverless cars, so our next Uber may not even have someone sitting behind the wheel.  Elon Musk, founder of the electric car (which I so badly want) and SpaceX has his own concerns about the future of AI.

I’ve embraced technology all of my life, but I think sometimes we need to stop for a bit and figure out the consequences of what we’re doing and where we’re going. Before we find ourselves in a place we never wanted to be.

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