Public Shaming

The folks at NorthStar Business Solutions are sending spam email around to Charlottetown businesses, titled “FW: Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce E-Business programs.” I received a copy in my email this morning, and it included a 36KB Word attachment, and an anonymous 247KB attachment labelled simply Picture.

I don’t know who NorthStar Business Solutions is, but by sending me unsolicited email, they have guaranteed that I won’t do business with them.

An appropriate invoice [5KB, PDF] was sent in reply. I would encourage other annoyed recipients to do likewise.

Note to other businesses: don’t send me junk advertising email unless I give you permission!

Note to future

The trend today appears to be making notes to the future.

Here is a note to those in the future after I have gone: you don’t have permission to “pore over my hard drive.” When I die, take my computer and throw it away.

My thinking in this regard is prompted by the announcement that a posthumous Douglas Adams novel, extruded from his hard drive, will be published next year.

I think this is a stupid, insulting and inane idea.

All you will find on my hard drive is a bunch of software to help you find out what the weather was like on July 12, 1994. And some pictures of Oliver. And a recipe for peach pie. I suppose you could cobble this together into a very mundane sort of novel. But I’d rather you didn’t. And, truth be told, give the fact the I am not like Douglas Adams in any important regard, nor would you try.

But just in case someone ever has the inclination, let this serve as official notice that I forbid you. So there.

Television, described

I am a big fan of the Eastlink interactive television guide. It’s not really an Eastlink product: they just rebrand Tribune Media Services generic TV guide. But that’s neither here nor there: it’s still a pretty handy web application.

I do wonder, though, who writes the episode descriptions that appear with the listings.

For example, tonight’s episode of The Practice is described as follows:

The guys work with an insurance company to settle the claim of a young accident victim.
There’s something odd about the familiarity of “the guys.” To say nothing of the gender-inaccuracy: there are three women in the firm of lawyers at the centre of the series.

The listings at Canoe are somewhat more descriptive:

Jimmy and Eugene clash during a case involving an insurance company’s settlement with a 10-year-old accident victim.
I guess “Jimmy and Eugene” are “the guys.” But here we learn that they’re clashing, not simply “working with.”

TV Guide’s website has a different take:

Complications in a personal-injury suit unsettle Jimmy, whose emotional reaction prompts a disbarment hearing presided over by the uncompromising Judge Hiller.
So I suppose it’s Jimmy’s unsettledness that causes the clashing?

The official description from the The Practice website says:

Bobby, Eugene and Jimmy work with an insurance company to settle the claim of a 10-year-old accident victim. But when the case presents a dilemma of moral and ethical proportions, the tension that’s been brewing between Jimmy and Eugene finally boils over.
It would appear that the copy editor who created the text for my listings was short on room, so they simply abbreviated the official version: “Bobby, Eugene and Jimmy” became “the guys” and “a 10-year-old accident victim” became “a young accident victim.”

I think it would be a cool job to be the guy (err, person) who watches television all day and writes the summaries for the listings. In my heart of hearts I know that I could come up with a better description for Seinfeld, which is described in my listings as:

Friends living in Manhattan obsess over little things.

Can you?

Peeing with Robertson Davies

Toilet Stall Many of the monumental events in my family appear to happen while peeing.

All this talk about working at home got me thinking back to when I was doing my apprenticeship in the Composing Room of the Peterborough Examiner. This was pretty well the only work experience I’ve ever had which took place in a Real Workplace, complete with all the usual workplace rituals (Christmas parties, coffee breaks, co-workers, etc.).

Most of the people in the Composing Room had been working there just short of forever. They weren’t progressive people. They were incredibly generous, patient, kind, funny, compassionate. But coming from working with anarcho hippie freaks to working with these guys was a big shock to my politically correct system. When all was said and done, I loved working there. But it did have its challenges.

The Composing Room was housed on the second floor of the paper’s offices on Water St. While at one point Composing had taken up 3/4 of the floor, the reduction in the size of page production technology meant that much less floor space was needed, and also meant a reduction in workforce from 90 to 9 over twenty-five years. So by the time I arrived, we were all gathered in the corner of what used to be a large open space.

One vestige of the larger workforce was the employee washroom: a vast room with a big foot-operated trough-sink like the kind you might remember from elementary school. There were a lot of rituals associated with the Composing Room washroom: when you could go, how long you could reasonably spend there, etc. And there was a very specific way you were supposed to leave that day’s paper tucked into the stall doors (for the next guy) if you took it in with you.

Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies,
Examiner Editor
(From Lakefield Literary Festival website)

The best story I ever heard about the washroom was this: Robertson Davies, noted Canadian author, was Editor of the Examiner from 1942 to 1955, and then Publisher from 1955 to 1965. His tenure at the paper overlapped with that of almost everyone I worked with in the Composing Room, and there were many stories about him.

Davies has been described as a “gentleman in the old-fashioned sense of the word.” The story goes that when he was Publisher he arranged to have his office extensively renovated; one aspect of this was rather extensive renovation of his private washroom (including the installation of a bidet, something which, 20 years later, the guys in the Composing Room still thought was weird).

Because his private washroom was being renovated, he obviously needed the use of other facilities, and the Composing Room’s being the closest, this is the one he choose. The kicker was, however, that it was deemed inappropriate for the Publisher to use the same stall as the Composing Room guys, so a particular stall was choosen to be temporarily taken out of general service, a lock was installed, and this stall became the private domain of Davies.

When the renovations were completed, Davies returned to the comfort of his bidet-strewn palace, and the stall was returned to its rightful users.

Twenty years later I came along and used the stall in question every day to do my own peeing and worse. I will leave the osmostic possibilities to the reader’s imagination.

One of the great regrets of my time at the paper is that I didn’t steal Davies’ thesaurus.

The Examiner, you see, had a small library off the editorial offices. This library, with the exception of the morgue, was little-used and most of the books hadn’t been read in years (you could tell from the cobwebs). One night I was creeping around the paper at 2:30 a.m., waiting for the Saturday paper to come off the presses so I could go home. I wandered into the library and picked a random book off the shelf: it was a Roget’s Thesaurus. I opened it up and on the flyleaf was a bookplate printed “Property of Robertson Davies.”

I thought, for a moment, that I should liberate the book for my own library — it wasn’t being appreciated in its hiding place in the library, my thinking went — by my upbringing got the best of me and I returned the book to its place on the shelf. I fear that when the Examiner picked up and left for the suburbs several years later, the book ended up in the trash.

Those were wonderful times.

Reinvented Work

From Bruce Epstein:

In a physical office, there is the opportunity for non-business banter, a chance to share a game of hearts over lunch, or the possibility of finding a tennis partner. Working in a virtual office is like having a foster child in Senegal. An occasional airmail letter isn’t the same thing as a nightly bath and bedtime hug. Hell, even mail order brides get delivered eventually.
Rings very familiar. You can read the entire piece on the O’Reilly website.

The New Yorker: The Final Chapter

Subsequent to my email from David Carey, Publisher of The New Yorker I received the following email from Jim Mate, VP- Retail Marketing, Conde Nast Publications:

We apologize for the difficulty that you had in finding the New Yorker at Tweels Gift Shop. We looked into this.

We found that Tweel’s normally receives 15 copies of The New Yorker and, thanks to loyal readers like you, sells an average of 7 copies each week. However, I was told that one recent issue was not delivered to Tweels for some reason. (That’s what they mean by being “shorted”.) Tweels did not get the issue with the cover date October 8. If you have not been able to get a copy of that issue please let me know . I would be happy to send one to you.

Regarding your comments about the Mondays that are holidays in Canada , I have found out that on those weeks Tweels gets their copies on Tuesday. That’s because the magazine distributor also takes off on the Monday holiday.

We very much appreciate your interest in The New Yorker. I hope that you will be able to find and buy your copy of The New Yorker each week at Tweels. However, if by some chance you have difficulty finding a particular issue — weather and other things sometimes lead to shipping delays — please let me know and I will take care of it. Thank you and have a pleasant weekend.

I my book this all represents stellar customer service, and is a credit to the magazine and to Conde Nast, its parent. Thank you.

The New Yorker Responds

It has often been my experience that if you email people, no matter who they are, they will respond. This is not universally true, of course: if you email Microsoft or Air Canada, they will never respond. The same thing goes for many Internet-based businesses. But most everyone else, as long as you write carefully and address your concerns to the proper person, will write back in kind.

As additional proof of this, I attach my response from David Carey, Publisher of The New Yorker:

Dear Peter:

Thank you for this note, and your connection to The New Yorker.

I will pass this on our newsstand operation, who perhaps can answer your question.

Have you ever thought about subscribing, which may prove to be more reliable?

Thanks again…

David Carey

This response came less than 24 hours after I sent my query to Mr. Carey about problems with purchasing his magazine on the newsstand on weeks where Monday is a holiday here.

I await new from his newsstand people. Stay tuned.

By the way, this is my second positive experience with The New Yorker in this sort of thing; several years ago we attended the New Yorker Festival and I had a difficult time getting ticket and location information over the web. In my frustration, I left a long a rambling message on their general voicemail box at the magazine in the middle of the night. The next day a very kind and helpful woman phoned me back and told me everything I needed to know.

What is the moral of this story? Do business, when possible, with people who will phone you back, and avoid, when possible, those who will not. Usually you can tell the difference on first sight.

No New Yorker

I sent the following email this evening to David Carey, Publisher of The New Yorker magazine:

Dear Mr. Carey,

I have been purchasing The New Yorker every week for 10 years at Tweels Gift Shop in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

I go there every Monday. In recent years I take my young son Oliver with me. I am a loyal and devoted reader. I enjoy the magazine immensely. It is part of what makes living in this tiny Island province viable — you are my connection to the world at large.

However I would like to point out a small problem in you newsstand distribution mechanism.

For some reason, for weeks where Monday is a holiday in Canada, but not in the U.S. — days like Victoria Day in May, Dominion Day in July, and so on — your magazine never arrives at Tweels Gift Shop. I ask at the counter and they tell me some variation of “we were shorted this week.” I don’t really understand what this means. But it is a reliable and consistent problem, and has been for some time.

I have no idea how the The New Yorker gets from New York City to Charlottetown, PEI. But on those weeks — like this one, where November 11 was a holiday here but not there — when The New Yorker is not available, my entire week is affected.

It’s like a small part of the air I breath is not available to me.

I realize that in the grander scheme of things this problem pales in comparison to others I imagine you have on your desk. But I would very much appreciate it if you could be of some assistance in helping to track down and solve it.

Peter Rukavina
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

I’ll let you know what I hear back.