Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lesson Learned

A few weeks ago I placed an order for USB memory sticks which our company will be using for distributing electronic handouts to potential clients. This involved getting a number of quotes from memory stick providers. I did a quick Google search and clicked on the ads for the first 3 Canadian vendors which came up and filled in their online quote forms.

Since my portfolio of responsibilities at work is so diverse, my desk is always a beehive of activity. I rely on email to keep me on track, and have a compulsion about unread emails. If they're unread, I consider them unaddressed. Sometimes I read them and realize that the resulting task requires more work than I can do at that moment, so I'll mark those emails as unread again so they continue to tweak the ear of my subconscious self until addressed. It's a quirky system, I admit, but it works for me.

Phone calls, on the other hand, are a different ball of wax. When I get a call, I typically open up a Notepad window on my computer and type notes during the call. The unsaved & untitled Notepad file also irritates me on a subliminal level, so until I can either safely discard its contents or store them in a more suitable electronic file, I can't get it out of my thoughts.

But back to the USB memory sticks.

I received an phone call right away from one of the vendors I had selected. I gave a little more detail and was assured the written quote would come via email. I received it shortly thereafter. I continually marked the latest email in that thread unread, as per my habit. I received no other emails from vendors, so after comparing that one online quote with one from a local vendor, I opted for the online quote and placed the order. This all came to a happy conclusion about a week ago.

Today, I got a call from a vendor whose company name I didn't recognize, but I guessed that it was one of the ones I had found online from whom I had yet to receive a reply. I explained that this was the first I'd heard from them and that I'd already placed the order with the one vendor that had replied to me. "But we talked," he insisted. "I phoned you and you said that at first somebody else was going to place the order but that it had landed on your desk instead."

A tiny bell started ringing with that comment; I do recall having that discussion on the phone with somebody. "Did you send me a quote via email?"

"Yes," he replied. I asked him what date he sent it, and scanned my inbox (I don't delete emails, ever, except for the ones that tell me my inbox server file is too large) for that date, which was about a week ago - and found nothing from him.

"I didn't get anything from you on that date," I said.

"Hmm, maybe your junk mail filter screened us out." This is indeed possible. Many corporate email servers and email providers have hyper-vigilant junk mail screening installed, and often many perfectly good emails are flagged as spam incorrectly. There seems to be several layers of this protection, as I have separate folders for spam and junk mail (I've yet to figure out the difference). I'm also pretty sure that there's a hidden filter even earlier in the chain that blocks stuff without giving me the ability to see what's been blocked, unlike the other two folders.

I've personally observed how emails sent from my work can easily be interpreted as junk by common webmail providers like Hotmail and Gmail. The lesson I learned many years ago is that if I suspect my sent email might not be delivered to the recipient's inbox, I need to follow up my email with a phone call 1-2 days later. In this vendor's case, if he had learned and applied this lesson, he would have been in the running for the sale.

The new lesson I've learned is that not everybody has learned the first lesson I've learned, and so I need to try to be flexible in my methodology of tracking ongoing issues to ensure I don't miss elements like this.

Ah, the tyranny of self-improvement.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prodigal Thoughts

The Gospel reading for Mass today was on the prodigal son. This is a rich, rich text and I've blogged about it many times before, but today I obtained a new insight.

The son cashed in his inheritance and spent it all on loose living. In other words, he partied hard. If the tale happened in modern times, I'm sure his parties would have been like modern raves: full of drugs, booze, sex, and thumping music. Probably the only difference back in Jesus' day was the style of music played.

Fast forward... famine, pig slop, repentance, "Father I have sinned against heaven and against you..." and the loving father welcomes him back with an embrace, the finest robe, a ring, new sandals - and finally, a party.

Imagine the difference between the two types of party this man experienced. One was full of strangers, fair-weather friends, and left him feeling shallow and empty at the end. The other was a celebration commenced by those who loved him most, who were truly delighted to see him, and who were eager to treat in him as a member of the family again. The latter party was genuine; the former, a counterfeit. They were both "fun" in the moment but only the father's party assured the son of continual love.

This challenged me to ask myself: are the celebrations in which I partake of any lasting value? Do they rejoice in the happening of a great event, or do they create only a fleeting happiness for its own sake?

If you've ever seen me dance at a wedding, you'll know that I can really cut a rug. The "Lumberjack" sequence is especially entertaining to onlookers, I'm told. But for some reason, I can't muster up the inhibition inhibitors to dance at any other time. Only weddings - and really good weddings - juice me up enough to express my joy through dance. But I digress.

The prodigal son experienced a true reason to celebrate: a welcoming back into the arms of his loving father. That must have been one epic party.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Crazy Little Thing I Do

Years ago, my dad, who is a seasoned coin collector with a passing interest in philately, told me that stamp collectors place more value on stamps from the edges of a print run, assuming they have the extra edges still attached. This is because of rarity: if there are 100 stamps on a 10x10 sheet, 36 of them will have one edge and only 4 of them will have two edges, as corner stamps. He taught me to preserve this rarity by never separating the edges from a stamp when I affix it to an envelope.

Now that stamps come in rolls in addition to the traditional sheets, edges are even more rare. On a roll of 100 stamps, there will be two unique edge stamps: the first and last ones on the roll. This doesn't have any impact on the value of the stamp today, but collectors of all stripes understand that and are more interested in what the value might be years from now.

In my role as Customer Relations Coordinator at work, I send out quality survey invitations via Canada Post. To encourage a better response rate I include a self-addressed stamped envelope, or SASE. It seems to work; our survey response rate is around 65%, which blows away the industry norms.

But that little bit of insight from my dad has stuck with me. In preparing a new batch of SASEs today, I started a new roll of stamps. On a roll, there is a separator every ten stamps which displays the artist's name. The photo above shows how the edge of the roll was cut halfway through a separator.

The reason I include that half-separator edge on the SASE I send is just in case the recepient is a sharp-eyed philateler who would identify this as a rare stamp. It's a one-in-a-million chance that it would ever matter, but I can't help myself. The smile this lucky find would evoke on a customer's face is just too great of an opportunity to pass up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

O Manada

I've heard that one of the morsels from the 2010 Throne Speech is a promise by the federal Conservatives to ask Parliament "to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem."

Jeez, not this again. For years there has been a fringe element demanding that "True patriot love in all thy sons command" be changed. "We know that that language was not meant to include all of us," said Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership. "I would just change it to, 'In all of us command,' and be done with it."

I reject that sentiment categorically. "Sons" in this context was originally intended (in 1927) to be an inclusive term representing all citizens. To think or say otherwise is absolutely boneheaded. There's something to be said for preserving elements of one's past, even (and perhaps especially) if they don't mesh with the flitting whimsy of modern shallow thought.

But the Harper Tories here are being clever and are trying to disarm people like me. For they are not putting forward Ms. Keeping's suggestion of "all of us." Instead they are suggesting a return to an even earlier (1908) rendition of the lyrics. "True patriot love thou dost in us command" is how it would go, assuming this ever passes into law. So they're not rejecting tradition by bringing this up - they are hoping that by proposing an even earlier tradition they will nullify the traditionalists out there. And I admit, it's hard to argue against.

Except, of course, you'll then get the immigrant population objecting to singing that Canada is their home and native land. And the atheists, both English and Francophone, will have to speak out against the line asking God to "keep our land glorious and free" / "et ta valeur de foi trempée" (thy valour steeped in faith). What next... will the CNIB object to "we see thee rise" or the War Amps to "we stand on guard for thee"? I'm being facetious, of course, but this does have the potential of spiraling down another telling of the fable of the man, the boy, and the donkey. Please all, and you please none. There is great political wisdom in those words.

Of course, we could make the objection that Parliament's time could be spent on better things than this frivolous issue. Heh. I'll let you know how that goes.

Oh, and a big hearty STFU to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for his analysis of the issue: "It would be good for us to get gender-neutral language. We of course support it. But if you want to do something for women, can we get families some child care?"

My wife and I are very happy with the current arrangement, which by giving us the money directly, means we have more feasible choices for how we can raise our kids. Under an Ignatieff plan, the federal government would fund daycares only, and families like ours would be excluded as there is no way we would let the state raise our kids. No bones against anybody who prefers that, but it's not for us, and we appreciate having the ability to choose an alternative.