Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Woe is CBC

One of the hard things about being a patriot in Canada is that it's like a secret club but without the cool handshakes or harshly-whispered passwords.

Even worse, when it's time to stand up and criticize something that you love -- from an honest place of wanting to see it improve -- well, in Canada, you're pretty much doomed to get lost in the boos and hisses of all the haters.

I don't want to come off as a hater.

And yet, I can't help fearing that I will.

So please know that I don't do this to be belligerent, but I can't in good conscience be silent about what I've been noticing so far. It's a trend that seems erroneous from the get-go, and I hope that it's something that'll be rectified in the future:

For a Canadian show called 'The National' it sure likes to spend a lot of time dealing with American issues... and issues that have little to no meaning for most of the country -- a fact that it proudly states in one case -- yet are still allowed to take up valuable air time (*cough* royal family visit *cough*).

I've watched 2 episodes of The National now and I have to say that so far I've been left out in the cold by what's been offered thus far.

See, I like to think of News shows as Merchants. You walk up, they show you what they've got on special and then it's up to you to decide whether or not to buy in with your valuable time.

Last night's 'special': "Is NASA a waste of Money?"

I'm sorry, but really?

REALLY?

Listen, I loved Wendy Mesley in Marketplace. I think that it was a truly fantastic Canadian show (one which I feel I've discovered far too late). But watching her do the NASA segment had me cringing in my chair.

I've never felt physically embarrassed for someone the way I did as I watched that unfold.

"NASA has a budget of $17.4 billion -- that's 40% of what the US gives for the Department of Education in the States!"

Followed by lame commentary from some random American who I don't know or care about talking about how NASA is basically useless now and should exist to give money to the private sector in the form of prizes, etc.

Wendy was quick to segue into the Canadian angle with: "well, we've managed to find a few Canadians who agree with him".

And by 'a few' she really wasn't kidding. 6 people in the segment. Including one guy who stood there looking dumbfounded and one little girl who thought NASA had a budget of a 'million' dollars and was utterly flabbergasted to learn that they, in fact, have '18 billion dollars' (apparently 17.4 billion rounds up to 18 rather cleanly).

The little girl's response?

"Woooooooooow! That's a lot of money!".

*sigh*

Wendy has 2 jars: 'NASA' and 'Education'. She gives people a poker chip (representing the $18 billion budget of NASA) and asks them 'where would you put your money?'

3 put their 'money' into Education, 2 (who are shown only as hands) put their 'money' into NASA.

REALLY? That's where you decide to take your coverage? Are you kidding me??

No mention that the $150 Billion they're spending on the space station is to be spent over a decade (a fact that the CBC themselves covered in a story in Feb, 2008). No mention of what was learned by 'bombing the moon' -- only that it made NASA a laughing stock.

Only numbers quickly thrown up, without context, in order to support a thesis (?) that has, by this time, become: 'NASA is a waste of money'.

But then, just to make it more confusing, they sit there and detail all the cool stuff we wouldn't have without NASA. Things like Weather Prediction and Air Traffic Collision Detection and Cell Phones.

That's right, after spending all that time slamming NASA, they go on to say how great it is... and then, just to stick the boot farther in your craw, Wendy ends that part of the segment with (and I kid you not) "Soo... a lot of arguments there".

Leaving no actual stance or answer to her own question... leaving me to question why the hell they gave 8-9 minutes to a half-baked segment that added nothing to the conversation, let alone shed any real light on the issues.

Seriously, what did I, as a viewer, gain from watching that?

Oh, and Peter Mansbridge's contribution? "Good arguments, both sides".

** Side note: Quote of the Show: "Wouldn't Africa argue: can we please have a snack?" - A smarmy, chuckling Wendy Mesley on what's 'owed to the Human race'. (37:15 into Oct 27th's online video)

What bothers me is that there's utterly no recognition that this is a Canadian show spending 8-9 minutes of a 44-ish minute show grilling an AMERICAN space program that has little to no direct bearing on present-day Canadian lives.

Why not take our own Space program to task for something? Or talk about how our space program is in need of more funding... or less, or why Canadians SHOULD care about NASA... or anything that impacts Canadians?

(EDIT: according to Peter, our CSA is incapable of launching satellites, that's why we rely on NASA and our allies to do it for us -- thanks Peter!).

Guess it's just not sexy enough to talk in 'millions' rather than 'billions'.

Here's an idea: Why not spend 8-9 more minutes with the guy who wants to take down the Ozone Machine seller from BC? Why not have more than ONE 'expert' to explain the situation, why not show some data to back up claims that the machine not only doesn't work but is potentially fatal? Why not talk about the kinds of numbers we're talking about here? How many Canadians have bought these machines? Is there any other purchaser who's willing to talk about their experiences?

Here's another idea: why not take some more time to talk about the H1N1 and the 6 children who've died in Canada from the virus -- rather than just proclaiming, with large RED letters that "6 children have died in Canada!".

See, those two pieces were actually somewhat interesting... until it started to slide into farce.

A nurse is brought into a hockey rink, before some concerned parents, to answer their questions.

What did the nurse tell the scared hockey parents to do? Sanitize their hockey equipment and pull their kids out of playing in games if they start to show any symptoms.

You know, like a cough.

Ummm... okay. I can understand the whole 'rather safe than sorry' thing, but isn't most of this what my grandmother would call 'common sense'? What about some facts on the flu shot... you know, like how long it takes to kick in? Or if the vaccine is good for people already infected (probably not, but what do I know, I'm not a doctor)? Or any other kind of medical advice I wouldn't have been able to get by calling up my mother...?

You know who I want to hear from?

I want to hear from the doctor who sent the most recent boy home to die from H1N1.

See, the boy complained of a sore throat so his mom took him to the doctor, who sent him home with some Tylenol.

And, to be clear, I don't want him on TV to publicly scorn him, or to make him feel like crap, I want to know what tests he did or didn't do. I want people to know how easy a mis-diagnosis with H1N1 can be.

I want doctors (of some credibility) to be on there explaining any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, to be aware of, that might hint that it's H1N1 instead of any other virus.

Or telling people to ask their doctors to ask for their children to get an H1N1 test before being sent home -- yes, it can take between 1 and 5 days to get results... but it's still more help than 'wipe down your equipment with sanitizer'.

Or, since CBC is all about biting on American style, tell them to use the US government's H1N1 self-evaluation test. Again, may or may not work all the time, but it's still better than NOTHING.

In short: I want people to be warned by doctors to ask if they're unsure. I want them to help empower citizens rather than feeding them into the fear machine.

Finally, I want to know who's researching these shows and who's approving this crap to get on the air?

In my opinion, it looks like someone went and looked at The Daily Show and said 'make that, only serious and an hour long -- the kids will love it!'.

'Cause, say what you will, their NASA 'editorial' (...?) last night devolved into a skit.

A long, unfunny, skit... about something no one in Canada really cares about.

Speaking of 'things that nobody cares about' they continued their story from the night before about Canadians not caring about the Royal family.

Only this time they went out into the streets and asked people!

And guess what...?

No one, in fact, cared about the Royal Family. Well, except for the strangely obsessive lady with the fine dinnerware.

Which also makes me wonder: Did they run that obsessive lady in the story in order to mock her? (the footage presented certainly makes me think so).

Which then leads me to the real rub:

Near the end of the program, they choose to stick in -- by far -- their most interesting story. It's a story about the growing number of incidents of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among RCMP officers.

I don't know why they felt this was not worthy of being closer to the beginning of the show, or even the middle of the show, but this was the closest thing to an interesting segment they've had so far.

Told through the perspective of Corporal David Gibbs -- an RCMP officer who works 7 days a week, 365 days a year -- he describes the toll that seeing 50+ horrible car crashes per year is taking on him and how it's slowly breaking him down.

I felt that this was a touching story about the stresses of a man who's overworked and well-aware of what's happening to him yet unable to get to the resources he needs to keep himself from falling victim to PTSD.

It, unlike any of the other stories, made me feel something -- made me WANT to connect. (segment starts at 44:30 of the online version)

Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived as they segued into a preview of what's to come: A story about "American bailout money and how it's made many corporate titans 'change their ways'... but is that about to end?!"

Bah! I don't care.

You know what I care about? I care about finding out what's going on with all those CANADIAN businesses who got CANADIAN bailout money.

How're they doing?

What's the status update there?

What's the sitch with our crazy amounts of CANADIAN deficit?

I'm sorry but Peter Mansbridge, Wendy Mesley, seriously, you're so much better than this crap.

Please, please, please don't fall for the whole "your job is to read the news" B.S. Your job is to keep Canadians informed about Canadian issues. And I dearly hope you're fighting for us behind the scenes 'cause I'd hate to think that your jaw isn't clenched in disgust as you read some of these inane excuses for Journalism.

You're the faces of the station. Put your foot down, dammit.

'Cause it's not the format that bugs me, it's not the pretty colours, it's the fact that the egg has been genetically redesigned without its yolk.

Yes, it seems good for you; yes, it seems nutritious... but it's not.

It's hollow.

And I -- as a tax-paying, proud, Canadian citizen -- am demanding better.

I sincerely hope that The National improves, I hope that these are all just stumbles on the way to discovering its stride.

But as of right now, I'm very deeply concerned.

Good Luck,
Brandon

Monday, October 26, 2009

Victorious!

So, unfortunately Saturday and Sunday ended up being busy days post-climb... so the update is coming today.

Saturday morning was a bit crazy, I'd managed to get myself up and out of bed for 5:30am, I was dressed, I was ready, I was thinking 'hey, no problem I'll just walk on over to the Metro Toronto Convention center'.

Turns out it's a bit longer of a walk than I'd anticipated.

On the bright side, I realized just how beautiful post-rain Toronto is at 6-ish in the morning.

It ended up being close to a 40 minute walk just to get down there. Again, I figured I'd show up, get in line, get up the tower and head right back off to bed. This was wishful thinking in the extreme.

See, I wasn't the only one who had the idea to climb the CN Tower as early as possible (you know, to beat the crowds). As I walked into the room my jaw dropped: hundreds of people stretching and milling and lining up... at 6:30 in the morning!

I get into line -- apparently I was an 'early bird' because I showed up before 7am, so I got a free ticket to get back up the CN Tower later. Pretty cool.

Anyways, yeah, I get into line to hand in my money and register proper. Then I get in line to get to the coat check, then I do a bit of stretching and head off to line up to get into the CN Tower.

From there I walk outside the Convention Center where I'm 'scanned' with wand for any metallic devices (absolutely no cell phones, cameras, mp3 players, or anything!), walk up a ramp, check through another security check point and finally line up at the 'stairs' entrance.

All told, I didn't step on the first step of the tower climb until 7:22am.

But I was finally there, finally on my way up.

And that's where I learned a very specific lesson in training: The stair climbing machine is not like climbing stairs. See, on the stair climbing machine there's a bit of give in it, a subtle bounce in each step that pushes your feet back up.

Not so with the hard metallic steps they have in the tower. No, I put my foot down and it pretty much went 'thud'.

Which led me to my next revelation: I was getting tired, and fast. I looked up to see that I was on the 10th floor... of 144... and I was already sweating. Worse: my legs were burning.

By the time I hit floor 30 I realized I was in real trouble -- what had happened to me? Where did all my training go?

And that's when a thought bloomed in my head, "Stop looking at the big picture. Small goals, baby steps if you have to. One foot in front of the other". I started counting the steps on the next landing.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.

12 steps.

And that became the plan. 12 steps, mental checkmark. 12 more, check again. Head down, one foot in front of the other. I try to push every single thought out of my head. Nothing but the numbers, nothing but 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

Next thing I know I'm on floor 52.

Emboldened by this revelation, I start to think about how many stairs I've climbed, how many stairs I'm doing per minute... and then I drop kick that thought out of my head.

1, 2, 3, 4...

Another twelve steps down and I'm officially making progress. I pass some people sitting off on the sides as they fight to catch their breath. A few more floors, I pass an EMT as some guy is being helped with an oxygen mask.

Don't think, don't worry, keep your head down, keep counting.

Legs burning? Who cares, keep counting.

Around floor 90 I think I got my my second (or 3rd?) wind. The pain in my legs finally goes away, but my pace is definitely slower. Still, I just keep on moving.

Keep counting.

After floor 120 and I start to feel a tinge of hope, I get excited, I want to make a break for it. But I know better now. I know that I've made it this far -- without stopping! -- only because I've been careful to stay within my limits. I know that if I stop, I won't be starting again any time soon.

So I keep on pushing, landing after landing, watching the people by the wayside as they gasp and fight the pain in their lungs. A few rush by on the Left, taking stairs 2 at a time, I stay far out of their way.

Finally, I hit floor 143 and my knees almost buckle with excitement. I look above me and sure enough, only one floor left. I push on, forcing my legs to climb the last 12 twelve steps. I tell myself that the journey's over, that I've made it.

I hit floor 144 and hurdle myself through the open doorway. I stop, confusion turning to frustration.

More stairs. Several landings worth.

I suck in a gasp of air and I run. I climb floor after floor, giving it every last sweaty bead of juice -- time card extended as the people at the check-in desk cheer me on.

I dive forward, handing off my card and it's punched with my finishing time.

I'm there, I'm done... what the hell?!

More steps. 9 more landings up (okay, who's idea was it to get creative with the floor count?!).

And yet up I go -- 'cause, really, what's 9 more floors after doing 144? -- soon I find myself on the main deck as a nice lady claps and hands me a bottle of water. I whisper 'thank you' from my parched throat and chug the bottle.

One thing I have to say is that going out on the observation deck at quarter to 8 in the morning is one hell of an experience. Nevermind the view, standing out there as the morning wind whips through me is the best part of the whole experience... the only word I can use to describe it is 'cleansing'.

Yes, my legs ache, my body's cold and my throat is raw... but I can't help but feel amazing as I stand there watching the sun peek out from behind the clouds.

If the climb was the test then surely this moment was the reward.

Unfortunately, time flies and soon I'm sent packing down the elevator, back into the Convention Center. I hand off my timecard and watch as numbers are written on the back of T-shirt for me.

My final time? 27 mins 15 seconds

And, as a bonus (for me at least) I made it all the way from the first landing to the last without stopping. Yes, I definitely slowed at a few places, but I never allowed myself to stop.

Always one foot in front of the other, counting my way, 12 steps at a time, up the CN Tower.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who supported me through this grand adventure... because, more than just the physical aspect (I'm absolutely more in shape than when I started), I definitely feel like I've learned something more out of it all:

Sometimes when I'm presented with a problem, it seems so big, so insurmountable that it becomes disheartening. It sucks the wind right out of me.

I've since come to learn that that is absolutely the wrong way to look at it.

See, it's good to know what the big picture looks like but the more important part is to know how to pick away at the problem; to figure out how to accomplish it bit by bit while knowing that, sometimes, it's all about just knuckling down and doing the work.

Cause, no matter what, eventually, I'll get there.

Cheers all!
Brandon

Friday, October 23, 2009

Standing in the shadow of the Tower

It's the night before the big climb.

After all of my sweat and pain, after all of the self-doubt and fear, my month-long odyssey of preparation has lead me here.

Tomorrow morning at 6am I'll be out there and warmed up, ready to climb all 1776 stairs - 342 metres - of the CN Tower. For charity.

Honestly, I'm a weird mix of excited and nervous. I wonder if I've trained myself hard enough, if I've really done everything I could.

I guess I'll find out soon enough.

To make matters more interesting, my wife's getting back from a business trip (been gone for 2 whole -- and very long -- weeks) tonight... late tonight.

I have a feeling it's going to be a 'Hi honey, welcome back! Well... see you tomorrow' kind of situation as I rush off to try and catch some shut eye.

Tho' I figure I'll give the whole place a good once-over tonight as a surprise for her. She'll come in, tired, jet-lagged and see sparkling tile and vacuumed carpets... hopefully, that'll be a good 'welcome home' present.

On a side note, can I just say that it's such a weird sensation for me to really miss someone like I've been missing my wife?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I miss my friends and all... but for me and my wife this was the first time we've been away from each other (for any long period of time) since we've been married -- and man, there wasn't one day these last couple weeks that I managed to get to sleep before 4am.

And, no, it's not like I was laying there pining away or anything... I just couldn't sleep. I'd end up laying there, tossing and turning, feeling like 'man, this sucks' until the 4am sleep-exhaustion-fairy came by to kick me in the teeth.

Hopefully that'll be a problem solved shortly.

Anyways, yeah... tomorrow all the chips are on the table. Wish me luck ;)

And, hey, there's still time to donate to the cause (I'm climbing the CN Tower for the United Way on behalf of Ink Canada ;)!

Donate here: http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=2386085

Cheers!
Brandon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Consuming the Consumer

I know a few people lately who've found themselves on the business-end of some seriously high-pressure sales tactics.

They've hung up the phone, closed the door or left the gym and thought to themselves 'wait a minute... what the hell did I just do?'

So, as a former door-to-door salesmen myself, I wanted to write a little something for my fellow Canadians and introduce you to a little-known Consumer Right (yes, Consumers in Canada have RIGHTS... crazy, eh?) called the 'Cooling off period'.

In Ontario any written contract worth over $50 -- From the DAY YOU RECEIVE IT -- can be cancelled, for any reason. This right was granted to you by the 'Consumer Protection Act of 2002'.

You can, if you like, read the act HERE.

Or, you can go to this website for explanations of how it works and for templates of letters that you can use for canceling a contract under the Act.

You can read your actual rights as a consumer in Ontario here.

You should also make sure that you cancel in writing and submit it by fax or by registered mail so that you have proof that you tried to cancel (I recommend registered mail).

Now, if you don't live in Ontario, that doesn't mean you're excluded. Some provinces have different laws and regulations in regard to this.

To find out more, find your province below:

** Note, I'm highlighting special considerations by province as I find them, these are not exhaustive by any means, but hopefully will help point you in the right direction.

Provincial and Territorial Governments (this list is copied from here - with my notations added):

First off: Download/Read the Canadian Consumer Handbook 2008-2009

Alberta
--> No cooling off period for buying a car, 2-day cooling off period for Pay-day Loans. In Alberta, you want to read the 'Fair Trading Act'.

Service Alberta
Consumer Contact Centre
17th Floor, TD Tower
10888–102 Avenue
Edmonton Alberta T5J 2Z1
Telephone: 780-427-4088
Toll-free: 1-877-427-4088
Email: governmentservices@gov.ab.ca
Website: www.servicealberta.gov.ab.ca

British Columbia
--> 10 day cooling off period for door-to-door sales. 24 hours if you lease -- not purchase -- a car (and only if you leave it with the dealer for that time). In BC it's called the
'Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act'

Consumer Protection BC is a not-for-profit organization that operates at arm's length from government. On July 4, 2004, the Authority assumed responsibility for the oversight of business practices and consumer protection in British Columbia, functions previously performed by the Consumer Services Division of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General of British Columbia.

Consumer Protection BC
5th Floor, 1019 Wharf Street
PO Box 9244
Victoria British Columbia V8W 9J2
Telephone: 604-320-1667
Toll-free: 1-888-564-9963
Fax: 250-920-7181
Email: info@consumerprotectionbc.ca
Website: www.consumerprotectionbc.ca

Manitoba
--> Up to 48 hrs after purchasing a condominium, 7 days on a reverse-mortgage loan, 48 hrs for a Pay-day loan.

Consumers' Bureau
Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Manitoba Finance
302–258 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg Manitoba R3C 0B6
Telephone: 204-945-3800
Toll-free: 1-800-782-0067
Fax: 204-945-0728
Email: consumersbureau@gov.mb.ca
Website: www.gov.mb.ca/finance/cca/consumb

New Brunswick
-->
10 days for purchasing a Condo, No cool off period for car purchases, 10 days for any door-to-door sales pitch sale over $100. This is granted to you under the 'Direct Sellers Act'.

Rentalsman and Consumer Affairs
Department of Justice and Consumer Affairs
Centennial Building
PO Box 6000
Fredericton New Brunswick E3B 5H1
Telephone: 506-453-2659
Fax: 506-444-4494
Website: www.gnb.ca/0062/rentalsman/index-e.asp

Newfoundland and Labrador
--> No cooling off period for vehicle purchase, 10 days for a door-to-door sale that is more than $100. This is given under the 'Direct Seller's Act'. There is a great FAQ here.

Trade Practices Division
Department of Government Services
5 Mews Place
PO Box 8700
St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador A1B 4J6
Telephone: 709-729-2600
Toll-free: 1-877-968-2600
Fax: 709-729-6998
Email: gslinfo@gov.nl.ca
Website: www.gs.gov.nl.ca/cca/tp

Northwest Territories
--> You have the 'Consumer Protection Act' (PDF), but I can find no mention at all of a 'cooling off period'.

Consumer Affairs
Department of Municipal and Community Affairs
Suite 400, 5201–50th Avenue
PO Box 1320
Yellowknife Northwest Territories X1A 3S9
Telephone: 867-873-7125
Fax: 867-873-0609
Email: michael_gagnon@gov.nt.ca
Website: www.maca.gov.nt.ca/operations/ consumer_affairs/index.html

Nova Scotia
--> 10 days for a door-to-door sale over $100, 24 hrs to change your mind on a Pay-day loan. You have the 'Consumer Protection Act' (this link is an overview of your rights).

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations
Public Enquiries
Mail Room, 8 South, Maritime Centre
1505 Barrington Street
Halifax Nova Scotia B3J 3K5
Telephone: 902-424-5200
Toll-free: 1-800-670-4357
Fax: 902-424-0720
Email: askus@gov.ns.ca
Website: www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr

Nunavut
--> Sadly, I can't find anything in regards to consumer protection legislation or 'cooling off periods'. That doesn't mean there isn't any, I just haven't been able to find them.

Consumer Affairs
Department of Community and Government Services
PO Box 440
Baker Lake Nunavut X0C 0A0
Telephone: 867-793-3303
Toll-free: 1-866-223-8139
Fax: 867-793-3321

Ontario
--> (See beginning of post)

Ministry of Consumer Services
Suite 1500, 5775 Yonge Street
Toronto Ontario M7A 2E5
Telephone: 416-326-8611
Toll-free: 1-800-889-9768
TTY: 416-325-3408
Toll-free: 1-800-268-7095
Fax: 416-326-8665
Email: consumer@ontario.ca
Website: www.ontario.ca/consumerprotection

Prince Edward Island
--> 10 days after the day of a door-to-door sale. For some situations (ie. being mislead into buying a vehicle) you may have recourse under the 'Business Practices Act'

Consumer Services
Office of the Attorney General
4th Floor, Shaw Building
95 Rochford Street
PO Box 2000
Charlottetown Prince Edward Island C1A 7N8
Telephone: 902-368-4550
Toll-free: 1-800-658-1799
Fax: 902-368-5283
Website: www.gov.pe.ca/attorneygeneral/ index.php3?number=1002799&lang=E

Québec
--> If you feel your rights as a consumer have not been respected you can launch a complaint online here. Also, read Québec's 'Consumer Protection Act'. There's also a great Article explaining 'Québec Consumer Protection'.

Office de la protection du consommateur
Suite 450, 400 Jean-Lesage Boulevard
Québec Quebec G1K 8W4
Toll-free: 1-888-672-2556
Fax: 418-528-0976
Website: http://www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/

Saskatchewan
--> Your rights and responsibilities as a consumer. An explanation of 'The Consumer Protection Act'. 10 day 'cooling off period' for door-to-door sales, more if they're unlicensed or from out of province.

Consumer Protection Branch
Saskatchewan Department of Justice
Suite 500, 1919 Saskatchewan Drive
Regina Saskatchewan S4P 4H2
Telephone: 306-787-5550
Toll-free: 1-888-374-4636
Fax: 306-787-9779
Email: consumerprotection@justice.gov.sk.ca
Website: www.justice.gov.sk.ca/cpb

Yukon
--> Visit their 'Consumer Protection' page
'cause I can't find much else...

Consumer Services
Department of Community Services
Third Floor, Andrew Philipson Law Centre
2130 Second Avenue
PO Box 2703
Whitehorse Yukon Y1A 2C6
Telephone: 867-667-5111
Toll-free: 1-800-661-0408, local 5111
Fax: 867-667-3609
Email: consumer@gov.yk.ca
Website: www.community.gov.yk.ca/consumer/index.html

Good luck out there folks!

Remember: You are always free to leave at any time. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable in a sales situation and you're completely within your rights to get up and leave -- or, if they're in your house, ask them to leave.

And, frankly, if you ARE feeling pressured or bullied or anything during a sales presentation, you should leave. If you're still interested in the service, come back some other time and ask to speak to a different representative.

Also, for myself and as a general rule of thumb, I never buy anything sold to me at the door, on the street or from unsolicited ads online -- even if it sounds like the deal of the century. Ask for the information, take it inside, look into it on your own. Read the fine print.

If you ever hear a door-to-door salesperson say 'oh, this is time sensitive' or anything remotely like it, I will guarantee you that in some way you're not getting the full picture. They WANT you to rush, to not think. Door-to-door salespeople are trained to get you (as fast as possible) into a 'non-thinking' state by talking fast, overwhelming you with information or using lots of technical-sounding jargon.

Watch for salespeople who continually nod their heads 'yes' at you while they speak and ask you questions. They're taught to use subliminal cues to get you to not think, to get you to automatically agree with them. As humans, when put into a situation where we're confused or off balance, often our natural response is to go with the guy/grrl who has the answers. They know this, they're trained to do it. Watch out for it.

Also, if an unsolicited salesperson ever steps a foot into your house (without your permission), your first reaction must always be to say "please step back". This is another trick... another way to throw you off balance, so that you're more willing to say/sign anything to get them to leave. Be aware of this. They're counting on you to be a nice, polite human being that's too nice to kick them out.

Don't let it get that far.

Anyways, always remember, you have 10 days to cancel but you should begin that process as quickly as possible 'cause sometimes the dirtier places are prone to 'lose' things. Or forget to pick up their phone. Or 'accidentally' give you the wrong number for their cancellation line.

Yes, not all door-to-door salespeople are bad - I prided myself on being upfront and honest (which, is why I wasn't a top seller...) - but the fact is that there are enough bad ones that almost every province has laws protecting consumers from door-to-door sales. Keep that in mind.

Do your research and remember your rights and you'll be fine ;)

Now if only we could make this 'cooling off period' work for elections... :S

Cheers!
Brandon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Training

Today's the first day that I stopped and gave myself a good once-over in the mirror.

See, It's been about 3 or so weeks now that I've been training for this CN Tower climb -- hitting the gym, skipping the elevator, watching what I eat and generally kicking my own ass wherever possible.

Turns out it's been paying off in spades, doing things for me that my many (many) months of sporadic gym training could not.

While I'm not 'losing weight' -- in fact I'm about 3-4 lbs up overall -- I am actually slimmer. I'm stronger. And I definitely have more endurance.

Even though I haven't been at the gym every single day, I've been finding ways to make my every day routine that much harder in order to help me get results.

In short: I've been using discipline to get what I want.

Which is awesome... but at the same time, well, troubling.

See, discipline's always been something of a weird thing with me. I've flirted with it all my life, but always squirmed and fought to get away from what I saw as manacles and chains. I thought that the whole concept of discipline was a dumb idea; why waste your time planning ahead? Why not just be free to do whatever you want to do? Why not live in the moment?

Turns out that when I was younger and 'free to do whatever I wanted to do', what I wanted to do was sit around and do nothing. Sleep, relax, goof around, doodle, play video games, etc.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'd always been able to knuckle down and really get the job done whenever I needed -- and knowing how to relax really IS an essential skill.

Yet, as I've gotten older I've come to realize all the time I spent, well, dicking around when I was younger really has had ramifications for my adult self. Now I look at some of my current comrades, some 2-3 years younger than me, who have careers and genuine accomplishments... or my wife -- who did a double major in Engineering and Business in 5 years -- and wonder what I've been up to, what I've really 'accomplished' with my time thus far.

I guess the long and short of it is that, well, I've been growing up a lot lately. Growing up and taking stock of my life.

And I've been starting to understand how much my teachers and grandparents were trying to help me when they said I need 'discipline'.

As an adult, it's a concept I've been working to get that collar on and something I continue to struggle with. Something I wish I'd gotten a proper handle on earlier, especially as I've come to realize my need to finish things that I start, to quit leaving half-started projects and ideas jumbled up in my brain and hard drive.

Honestly, I'm not quite sure what the trick is just yet -- with most of my thinking happening, well, laterally... (or tangentially) I have a history of being easily distracted -- but I think this goal to do the CN Tower climb has given me a glimpse of something greater.

I've just got to see how I can push this forward and make it work for me long term.

Definitely open to suggestions on this one.

Cheers,
Brandon

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Well said, Sir

Today is short, sweet and to the point:

"Don't let making a living prevent you from making a life."
- John Wooden

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, October 05, 2009

Confessions of a Newbie Writer

I know I'm a bit behind the times with the, well, timeliness of this post... but I'm just getting around to catching up on my blog-reading proper... so, yeah.

That said, I read I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script with a pit forming in my stomach. The kind of pit that comes from realizing an article is talking directly to you.

And not in a good way.

You see, I've BEEN that guy -- and no, not the affable but put-upon screenwriter.

I read that blog post and it hurt, man. Oh boy, did it ever.

It's not me anymore, but I felt my gut twist all the same.

It was like a gawddamn checklist.

I was amazed at how close to home Mr. Olsen hit... and that's when I realized: There's a whole bunch of people out there who're still doing some of the dumb-ass things I did when I first started out.

So, in the efforts to raise everyone's game (and try to keep my fellow newbs from making the same mistakes I've made) I'm putting this out there into the ether.

Take from it what you will but know that mistakes are there to be learned from. As long as you DO learn from them, then people are generally more forgiving. It's those who refuse to learn, who refuse to listen to the advice (SO MUCH ADVICE) that is freely offered, that earn the giant asterisk on their forehead.

That said, I've fucked up my fair share.

Let me re-phrase that, I've Fuuuuuucked up.

But at every turn I've done my damned-est to make sure I don't do it again.

For what it's worth, a bit of history: I spent 2-ish years writing alone in my basement, learning scriptwriting and formatting et al from reading old Buffy the Vampire Slayer script books.

I'd never even met another writer, let alone a professional one - and what I craved, more than anything, was feedback. Feedback from anyone who didn't have a vested interest in me; who would tell me if I was wasting my time.

I had no idea of the business, I had no idea of how to write a good script, I had no idea how busy a professional scriptwriter's life actually is.

So when I somehow managed to get a writer to agree to look at my work - man, I was... yeah... 'excited' doesn't do it justice.

The hours would go by - unfolding into days - and I'd stew. I had no idea how long it takes for someone to read a script and write back. 'Do I?... Don't I? How DO I write back and ask if they've read it? Should I?'

Somehow I'd had this belief that -- like myself -- they'd open the email, read it and get back to me right away. You know, by the end of the day.

See, less than 'no respect' I had no concept of what a real writer's life was like. I'd just figured that hey, they were writers, they'd have all sorts of free time at the end of the day to read it. What I didn't know was that most writers are entrepreneurs. Freelancers.

And as my dad so lovingly related: "Being your own boss is great, you get to work whatever 18 hours a day you want".

But I didn't know that then. I didn't understand that then.

So I waited... for like a whole day... and then I emailed.

Then the polite reply came, patiently explaining that they're busy right now but they'd try to get to it this weekend.

And, of course, I wrote back, trying to be just as nice and understanding about it ('understanding'... *sigh* I was dumb) as I could.

So I'd wait. And wait.

The weekend came and went, then the next weekend. In the meantime, I went to war against my own mind.

Maybe they were busy. Yeah, they were just busy. But that small voice in the back of my head would say 'They're not writing back because they're too afraid to tell you that you suck... which, you do. Or, you know, maybe they're stealing your idea! Yeah! That's why they're not writing back. They're running off to the bank with your idea!!'

Oh boy, my mind went to work on me. Gave me the whole kit 'n kaboodle.

I've since learned that writers are a skittish bunch -- even those who've managed to develop a thick skin about it all.

I was new and neurotic and bare... and in the throes of newbie panic.

I made an ass out of myself.

Almost every single one of those situations played out as my emotions grabbed hold and swung me left and right and all over hell's half-acres. I wondered aloud -- at first to friends and later in wondrous passive-aggressive-email-form -- if I'd offended them somehow. I continued to work on my script and sent along 'updates' thinking it wouldn't be hard for them to just keep reading from where they were at (not realizing that it only gummed up the works MORE).

It finally took the writer taking the time to write a very terse (yet still, admirably, patient) letter to explain to me that, no, I was not the center of their universe. That they were busy, that life and work were time consuming in and of themselves and that if I couldn't understand that then I could go get bent.

Sadly, my response was... amateur-ish. All my excitement to finally get what I wanted crashed and burned as the realization came that, yes, I'd gotten exactly what I'd wanted.

Real Feedback.

They critiqued my script as if it were a real work. And, yeah, holy shit. I don't think I knew what I was expecting, but damn. And, looking back on it, they were being nice.

I, however, cried. An ugly cry too. One of those ugly cries where you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and it shocks you into crying even more.

It was bad.

But I laughed out loud when I read Mr. Olsen's bit about 'wanting a few tough notes'. I look back on it now and I realize how bad I'd wanted that 'pat on the head'; That someone to recognize my 'brilliance', to say to me "you're on the fast track, kid. No years of slogging through the trenches like everyone else, you get to skip to the head of the line".

Yeah... no.

What I got was a wake-up call.

Which did, in fact, wake me up.

It didn't happen overnight, it wasn't like flipping on a switch or anything.

But I woke up.

And so that's why this entry exists, folks: Please, learn from my mistakes.

Life is yours to screw up. So, don't. Take the time, read, learn.

Or better yet, get off your ass.

What really helped me raise my game -- outside of reading scripts and books about screenwriting -- was that I found a community. I found other writers and I gave my free time to interact with them and ask questions and learn from them. I didn't lurk from the shadows, I didn't put on any airs, I simply stepped out and said 'Hi, I know absolutely nothing about this, but I think I'm a writer'.

I got involved and I made friends and learned about issues that affect all writers (not just myself). I learned that in giving of myself freely (from an honest place), I earned people's respect instead of having to screech and moan that 'no one cares'.

And guess what? I found out that people WANTED to read my work. Professional writers, now friends, emailing me to ask when my next (yes, NEXT... you have more than one script in you) script would be ready.

Asking me if I needed help.

Help which I gladly accepted, help which led to the helpful, honest feedback I'd always wanted (and had gotten originally... but was too much of a douche to see it for what it was).

Over the last few years I've come to understand that I am a good writer and that I have the potential to be a great writer (maybe, one day, a fantastic writer...) if I keep working at it.

But I have to keep working.

In closing, if there's any 'wisdom' I've learned that I can impart to newbies, hell to anyone, it's simply this:

The biggest mistake we can make is to refuse to learn.

The moment we roll our eyes, or slip on that cocky smile or listen to that little voice that says 'yeah, whatever'... we've hurt ourselves in ways we can't even begin to imagine.

Because anything -- anything -- we receive as feedback, positive or negative is given only because someone gave a damn enough to tell us.

And it's up to us to figure out how to grow from it.

Cheers,
Brandon

Thursday, October 01, 2009

You climbin' fool, you!

Sooo... I've only just begun to get my writing life back on track.

Most of that is due to Karen and her new assignment for us Inkterns:

We're to come up with 5 goals we want to accomplish over the next 3months, 1 year and 2 years. (you can read them here should you be so inclined)

Needless to say, I had to think about that quite a bit... most days I'm not even sure what I'm doing that morning, let alone months down the line. (Chaos = fun... right?!)

That said, I'm starting to get a handle on where I'm taking things, how I want my career (such as it is) to progress. Much of my plans involve, you know, writing.

But I've been having a hankering for something lately, and it was Karen and Denis who really helped me crystallize what it was: Outreach.

See, Karen and Denis came up with the brilliant idea to ask people (writers, actors, et al) at a TIFF shindig to forgo one round's worth of drink money and donate it in support of KIVA, an organization that allows you to make micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing and 3rd world countries.

Though it was what she said about the idea when she posted about it on Ink that really grabbed hold of me:

"Almost since its inception, Ink has been adorned with the dual agendas of bringing contemporary talents together for Good, & celebrating 'Creative Citizens' -- writers & their sketchy friends who Give a Damn about the larger world around them -- & don't just talk the talk -- they DO stuff to make the planet a better place to be for all of us."
(full entry here)

So, inspired by those words, I decided I would DO something. Start small, sure, but make a definitive step towards something good.

I've decided to sign up for the United Way CN Tower climb on October 24th.

Also, since I was inspired to do this by Karen and my fellow Inkies, I've decided to name my team in their honour and do the climb representing them as well.

I started training on Monday and what I've learned is that... well... I'm really out of shape when it comes to stair-climbing.

And with the realization that I'll be climbing 1776 of them in under a month... yeah, I've got a lot of work ahead of me.

They say that it takes the average person about 30 minutes to climb the stairs – 342 metres up – to the observation deck I'm hoping to come in under that mark.

But we'll see.

Tonight I'm doing some hardcore ab-and-stair training with my best friend - who's infinitely more in shape than I am - so hopefully that goes well.

If you'd like to send along your support and/or donate to the cause, please visit my donation page any and all support (verbal, written or monetary) would be very much appreciated.

Cheers!
Brandon