When the chickens come home to roost

May 24, 2007

I’ve blogged about the “Low Cost Country” (LCC) phenomenon previously, so if you’ve read that post you — like me — will probably not be surprised by this latest problem reported on the BBC News website: US checks toothpaste for toxins

Now, I’m OK with businesses being in business to make a profit — hey, I have investments for my retirement and I’d appreciate it if the businesses that my mutual funds have shares in would oblige by returning a reasonable return to ensure a reasonably comfortable retirement.

At the same time, I believe that companies owe a certain duty of social responsibility to, well, society.  That is, decisions to cut costs need to be thoroughly examined to ensure that the public’s safety and security is not sacrificed on the altar of shareholder value.

More and more these days, it seems that the chickens are starting to come home to roost.


Headlines that make you smile (1st in a series)

May 23, 2007

Genes shed light on fish fingers

That’s the headline for a science article on the BBC’s news website.

Which made me smile, thinking of a couple of guys named Gene coming up with an explanation for a type of pseudo-food….

LinkedOut Redux

May 16, 2007

I’m adding another blog to the Thoughtful Grotto, one that I read from time to time. It’s called Walt Now and is written by Walt Jaschek, who’s a Cleo® award winning advertising copywriter; I’ve mentioned his blog previously when I referred to it in a post about The Great Baked Tostitos® Bite-sized Triangle Mystery.

I enjoy reading his blog, he’s clearly the kind of person you would enjoy conversing with at a cocktail party; intelligent, well read, witty — just like me, except with a moustache 😉



May 15, 2007

As in the sound of me letting out a biiiig breath.

Busy day: full on interview with the company that I wrote about previously, the one that held the job fair. I felt that the interview went well; there was the young woman from HR who had given me the preliminary interview at the job fair, the hiring manager for the position and one of his colleagues — a standard panel interview situation, and there seemed to be reasonably good chemistry so I am hopeful that this may end up proceeding further. I remain impressed with the company and would be very happy to work there, and this manager is actually looking to fill three of these positions (two permanent; one contract) in his department Real Soon Now, so that increases the possibility of being selected (hey, a bronze medal would be OK, right?).

And then later in the day, I went to my second ever job fair. This event turned out to be a little different than the first one; it was again being put on by a single company (it’s their second annual one) and was actually billed as a “Technology & Careers Showcase”. This is a relatively new Canadian company; they were started in 1999 and have grown rapidly.

There was a presentation by the founder, talking about the company, its products, customers and the corporate philosophy — they are very customer oriented (he said something to the effect of “we’re a little unusual; we put the interests of the customers ahead of the shareholders.” — yet they still manage to be profitable, and have grown organically mainly by customer word-of-mouth with very little sales and marketing effort) and work in collaborative fashion with many of their customers.

As well as being customer oriented, they strive to be good corporate citizens — and not just as window dressing; talking with the employees after the founder’s presentation, you can see that this is a company that walks the talk. While the objective is to be profitable (hey, it’s a business after all), they are driven by a vision of their product making a difference in the world — and unlike many modern, technology based consumer products which are often just playthings or fads, their product (not a consumer product) does provide some value to society; it’s used in the field of education.

They are also trying to encourage eco-friendly behaviours in employees (they pay up to a certain amount to employees who use a bus pass to get to work; one of the “advantages of working here” listed was “located on a bus route”), as well as providing support for health and fitness: partial subsidy of fitness club membership and free healthy snacks in the cafeteria.

And the level of passion demonstrated by the employees was pretty impressive — talking to them I got a sense that this would be another great place to work. Challenging to be sure, as they are growing rapidly, but definitely the kind of job that you could feel good about at the end of the day; where you felt you had made a positive contribution not only to the company’s bottom line (which, in the scheme of things is still important) but also to improving the quality and reach of education in the world (quite literally; although the largest part of their customer base is North American, they have customers in all sizes of countries throughout the world and are expecting to grow these markets rapidly too).

Once the founder finished his presentation, he answered questions from the audience and then a draw was held for some prizes — mainly items with the company logo, but also a $200 gift certificate to a local dining establishment (the latter prize was drawn only from the names of people — like myself — who had RSVPed that they would attend the event via the company’s website, as indicated in the newspaper ad; a fair number of attendees just showed up — the HR person in charge of organizing the event that I spoke to told this was what they had expected based on the previous year’s experience — and evidently a number of people who had RSVPed were no-shows since they had to draw several names before awarding the prize).

They also provided coffee, tea, bottled water, juice and hors d’oeuvres (a pretty nice assortment of wrap-style mini-sandwiches, veggies & dip, fresh fruit and some dessert squares) — neither the food nor the draw prizes were something they needed to offer to get people to attend; just the mere mention of “career opportunities” in the ad would have guaranteed a good turnout.

As it was, I was actually quite surprised that there weren’t a lot more attendees; in fact I had arrived fairly early myself in anticipation of this (and based on my earlier job fair experience) in order to be near the head of the line.

Except. There was no line this time. I went in to the conference centre (this one was held off-site, unlike the other one I attended) and was greeted by the young woman from HR who was organizing the event — I think I was the first attendee to arrive. We chatted a bit, and she told me to help myself to some of the bottled water that was out on a table or if I wanted coffee it would be coming soon.

So in the end there were perhaps a hundred, maybe even 150 or a bit more — I wasn’t counting, people in all who showed up. A stark contrast to the other job fair where there were probably 10 times as many. This may have been due to two factors: the first job fair I attended was with a company in a city which has seen a fair number of manufacturing and skilled trade jobs lost in the past few years and they were recruiting for a number of positions in the production side of the business; the one I attended today was with a technology (um, call it software development) company in a significantly less economically challenged city.

This is a company that has grown rapidly since it was formed and it looks set to continue growing, which is why they are looking to recruit — and recruit experienced people, particularly, as one of the hiring managers I spoke to said. While they have their share of young, recent grads, they are in need of experienced hands to help manage the growth.

There certainly seem to be some opportunities there which would be a good fit for my skills and experience; I had a very good conversation with one manager in particular who was looking to fill some positions that are of interest to me. He told me to submit my résumé with a cover letter to him, mentioning our conversation, when applying for the positions he needed to fill.

Once again, putting the “human” back in Human Resources seems to Be A Good Thing when it comes to connecting the hiring managers to candidates — you get the opportunity to put a face to a name, and have a dialogue rather than getting a two-dimensional view from just reading their résumé.

So, this is another company that has impressed me with its qualities and that I would be pleased to work for; their corporate culture is one that I wish were more prevalent, wanting to be a source of positive change in society as well as being profitable.

Now, time to wind down and have a rest… beyond these two opportunities, it’s looking like I may soon be getting interviewed by another company. Good things come in threes, don’t they say? 😉

Women are from Venus; Men are from Duh.

May 13, 2007

Oops. Mea gobble, mea gobble, mea maxima gobble (to paraphrase from the Latin “mea culpa).

We went to the weekly Saturday morning farmers’ market in town and picked up a bunch of the first “local” asparagus — it was from a farm in South Western Ontario somewhere down near Lake Erie, which isn’t strictly local to where we live, but does fall within (or at least within a country mile or so… 🙂 ) the 100 mile (~160 km) criteria (as in “The Hundred Mile Diet) we’ve been trying to stick to as often as possible when shopping these days.

We also bought some organic shiitake mushrooms from Greenfields Farm, which has a stall at the farmers’ market. For dinner, K combined them into this:

Sauté of local asparagus with organic shiitake mushrooms.

A lovely sauté of the local asparagus, first of the season, with the organic shiitake mushrooms. It was delicious…

Now to the oops part (yes, I know it’s hard for you to believe that I’m not perfect… 😉 ) — I was cleaning up in the kitchen (which is my usual role in the process of doing dinner, well, apart from eating it that is) afterwards and eventually got to the pot that K had blanched (or parboiled or something like that…) the asparagus in prior to adding it to the sauté. The water that the asparagus had been cooked in was still in the pot; nothing unusual about that, I thought.

So I emptied the pot down the drain before loading it into the dishwasher.

And a little while later, when K comes into the kitchen after I’m pretty much done cleaning up, she looks at the pot-less stove top and cries out “Where’s my asparagus broth?!?!?“.

She explained that she had planned on using the broth as an ingredient for other dinners later in the week. But she had forgotten to mention this to me, and I didn’t even think about asking whether she wanted to keep the cooking water before I pitched it out.

Well, I really felt bad about it — I’m sure that the broth would have been put to good use in livening up the taste of another dish.

You can be sure, though, that from now on, I’ll be asking before I dispose of just about anything when I’m cleaning up in the kitchen.

And that’s why I’ve concluded that women are from Venus and men are from Duh… 🙂

The Good, The Bad and The Miscellaneous

May 10, 2007

The Good

Yesterday evening, we (me and my wife, K, that is) were in The Big Smoke for a book launch party that K had been invited to. She’s known Amy, the book’s author (she’s also Editor/Publisher of the on-line knitting magazine knitty.com), for some time so to show support we schlepped into town to help her celebrate.

Book Launch party for “No Sheep For You”

The book’s title, No Sheep For You, alludes to Amy’s allergy to wool and fabrics made from it — as a knitter, this has a somewhat limiting effect… The book is filled with information about substituting alternative fibres in hand knit garments — the characteristics of each type of fibre and the yarns made from them mean that it’s not always a straightforward substitution as adjustments need to be made to accommodate the differences in order to make a satisfactory finished garment.

The book has actually been out for a while now, but Amy wanted to have the launch party outside of Lettuce Knit, a local yarn shop that she frequents and which holds weekly “stitch ‘n bitch” knitting get-togethers. Weather was therefore a determining factor, and it’s finally becoming seasonable enough in these parts that she was able to schedule the party with reasonable confidence that there wouldn’t be snow…

It was a great party, and Amy deserves lots of congratulations (and success) for all her hard work in putting together the book and knitty.com — here’s a picture of the get-together, with arrows to point out K and Amy:

K and Amy at the book launch party

During the party, I did wander off while everyone knitted and chatted, exploring old familiar stomping grounds: Kensington Market, Spadina Ave (including walking by the El Mo, where I had seen George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers perform an amazing set many moons ago), up through the campus of the ol’ Alma Mater and on into Yorkville.

Which leads to…

The Bad

Walking back to Amy’s book launch party from Yorkville, I passed along Cumberland St, where there are a number of chi-chi re$taurant$ and boutique$. Now Cumberland is a no parking zone, but I came across a Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55 AMG folding-roof convertible (I can tell you exactly what kind of car it was because it had the “V8 Kompressor” logo on the side of the front fender — I am an admitted, life-long gear-head, and didn’t need to look at the trunk lid for the model badge to identify it) parked at the curb in front of one of those aforementioned restos. It had a handicapped-parking permit on the dashboard.

Now, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the owner/driver, or perhaps their passenger, were legitimately entitled to be issued the permit by the authorities — but it certainly made me go “hmmm…” and wonder if there had been some monetary influence involved in getting the necessary medical certificate required to obtain said permit.

Then, a short distance down the street: another fancy-schmancy car parked in the no parking zone, also with a handicapped permit. If memory serves me correctly, this one was a Bimmer, a 6-series if I’m not mistaken — I wasn’t paying as much attention at this point (being distracted by my thinking about the possibility that fraudulently obtained permits were being used to abuse a privilege that should be reserved for those who truly need it), so I can’t say with authority whether it was the vanilla version or the M6 überwagen with the V10, or even whether it was a coupé or cabriolet.

So, while it’s possible that both of these were legitimate applications of the handicapped parking privilege, the circumstances — two very expen$ive cars parked in front of expen$ive restos on an up-scale street in a trendy neighbourhood…. well, let’s say that I’m leaning heavily towards believing that everything was not exactly on the up-and-up.

The Miscellaneous

There were a couple of other items from yesterday’s foray into T.O. that were interesting (well, at least to me — Your Mileage May Vary) that I will mention here:

While driving in to the city, we came across a pixelboard displaying the following news item:

Toronto the good?  Guess it depends on what you like…

Which was immediately followed by:

What to do while in town…

An unfortuitous (or perhaps intentional 😉 ) — but amusing — juxtaposition…

The other miscellany: while walking along Yorkville Ave, I noted on the hoarding in front of a construction project a sign reading something like “Funding provided by BNP Paribas (Canada)“.

Why did this seemingly mundane sign catch my eye? Well, BNP Paribas is a French bank that I am familiar with from my time living/working in France — but I had no idea that they had a presence in Canada.

Certainly not an earth-shattering observation, just one of those connectedness things that strikes you at odd occasions and in odd places.

Bien élevé

May 8, 2007

For those of you who don’t speak French, this post’s title literally means “well raised” — that you’ve been brought up properly and know how to behave in the company of others; you have social graces and good manners and so on. It’s not a phrase you’re likely to run across in a guide-book, but it gets used all the time in France — as well as the pejorative negative form, “pas bien élevé“. You really don’t want to hear the latter being said in reference to you…

And what does that have to do with what’s on my mind today? Well, if you’ve read one of my responses in the comments, a couple of posts back, where I described my experience with going to a job fair, you’ll have seen me mention that I was contacted by a recruiter about a position she was trying to fill for a client after she had found my résumé on one of the on-line job search sites.

As it turned out, I had already been interviewed for the position (but didn’t get the job), so the effort on her part ended up being in vain. With most recruiters I have been in contact with, things would have ended there — time is money, as they say, and the recruiting business tends to be particularly cut-throat and competitive.

So, with most recruiters, unless they feel you’re an exact fit with a position they are trying to fill they don’t want to bother presenting you to a client — they’re looking for a quick, low-effort slam-dunk placement so they can get on to the next one.

What impressed me about this woman was that she told me to e-mail her a copy of my résumé to have on file in case she came across another suitable position. Well, that’s not the part that impressed me, as I’ve had other recruiters ask me to e-mail a copy of my résumé — and then there’s been absolute radio-silence from them…

For example, another recruiter that I spoke to on the phone told me to e-mail it to her and asked me to follow up by calling her back the next day, which I did. When I called back several times over a few days, she was always either in a meeting or out of the office. I left voicemail, but never heard anything back.  Zip, zilch, nada, bugger all, not a sausage…

What did impress me about this latest recruiter was that I actually got an e-mail back from her — several in fact as we conversed about the circumstances that had transpired when I had been interviewed for the position she was trying to fill. I had explained that after the second face-to-face interview I had not heard anything back from either the company (possibly because they had not been provided with my contact information — this is a fairly common practice with recruiters to prevent them from being cut out of the deal and losing their contingency fee) or the recruiter who had presented me to them.

In response she said that too many agencies seem to “have lost the basic principles of courtesy and mutual respect” and she added that “I hope I never fall prey to this negative trend”. She also said she would be happy to keep me in mind for any suitable position that comes her way and asked me to let her know if I land a position on my own.

That’s when the phrase “bien élevé” popped into my head, and when I wrote back to her I told her that based on our phone conversation I thought it unlikely that she would lose the basics of courtesy and respect; that some things are bred in the bone, and I felt she was “bien élevé“.  I also noted it seems that this is becoming all too common behaviour in just about every facet of life, not just the recruiting business.  Sigh.

Once more, she took time to respond, and thanked me for my kind words, asking me again to keep in touch. I certainly will, as I don’t want to be “pas bien élevé” 😉 .

Now, if you’re either an employer looking to fill a position or a jobseeker and are looking for a recruiter with a difference, if you’re in The GTA you should check out the website of the agency she’s with: Career View Inc.

Their website has contact info (general e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, snail-mail address) for the company, but if you’d like to deal with her specifically let me know by leaving your request in the comments (you’ll be able to provide your e-mail in the comment form, but it won’t be displayed in the blog) and I’ll pass it on to her (as I’m not about to put her e-mail address in this post, opening her up to spammers and other assorted internet trolls and vermin).

Hey, do you think someone “bien élevé” would just give out another person’s e-mail address on-line?