a blog on tech, politics, life and zombies


Scintilla Project: Day 1: The Story of the Cursing Elderly Woman

Hi! I'm Tom, and this is my Scintilla Project post, day 1.

That sounds so formal. But I feel like I've introduced myself many times. I am a nerd, an HR guy, a gamer, a Canadian, a blogger, vlogger, homeowner, friend, Servant to Cats (I used to say cat owner, but they didn't like that much).

Today for Scintilla, we have the option of talking about a time we were drunk under age, or a story from our first job.

I'm going to go with a bunch of little stories about my second job instead. DANGER ZONE.

Mainly because I did not get drunk under age. In fact, I resisted alcohol for a while, until I got a little pretentious in university and decided I wanted to drink scotch and fancy, foreign beers. I was turned off alcohol initially, I think, because I was an uncool kid (well, I thought I was cool, but all the drinking kids couldn't see the inherent awesomeness of Star Trek and video games) and because my main exposure was my Dad's Coors Light. I'll tell you, I can drink almost any beer you put in front of me, except Coors. Damn.


My first job was painting for my Dad in the summers between school. It paid well, but I can't say I loved it. Lots of time outdoors, lots of early mornings, slightly later nights and occasional weekends. If I was a more outdoorsy person I suppose I would've loved in, but it tended to involve a lot of traipsing around in dog shit ridden backyards, dealing with bugs, dirt and paint. And for a pale kid allergic to just about everything in the summer, this was not ideal. And, to be honest, I came away with very few good stories. 

After university, I got a job working for the federal government in one of their offices doing data entry. It was a pretty good job overall. Good hours, good pay, nice people. Some of them a little jaded, but good people. The summer afterwards they cancelled the program I was hired under, and I went back to painting.

The summer after that, however, I was hired back again, and asked to work the front desk. Now, this was an office where you could get copies of SIN cards, apply for Employment Insurance and check the status therein, and a few other government services. I dreaded working the front desk. I'd never done sales or reception or anything of the sort before, and I'd heard some of the horror stories others had told me about how some people would act and treat government employees. I was tossed out there with precious little training, the front line representative of a huge government with thousands or programs. What follows was going to be a few short snippets, but one story ended up ballooning up a bit, so just the one. I have more, like the time a guy threatened to kill me, or the time we accidentally triggered a near lockdown, or the time I was nearly given a cushy high paying job, or the time someone attempted to bribe me.

An elderly woman came in to apply for a new Social Insurance Card. This is actually a pretty big deal; that card contains a number with which you can do some very terrible things, so we were required to ask for certain documents to prove a person's identity. A driver's license, library card, credit card, passport, Subway Sub Club Card, nor almost any other document you may have with you, will be accepted. Birth certificate, citizenship card, permanent resident card or work permit. The thing is, technically none of the other documents prove you have the right to get a SIN card. They prove you can drive, read, shop at Subway, or travel as a Canadian citizen, but not that you're able to work in Canada.

I know, it's stupid. I never got why passport wasn't accepted, but alas, my job was to enforce the rules and, sadly, to inform this sweet old lady that, no, she couldn't get a new SIN card, and would have to come back with her birth certificate. 

"What? I have my driver's license!"

"I'm sorry, miss, we need your birth certificate in order to issue a replacement SIN card."


"It's your primary means of identification. It shows your citizenship, the driver's license doesn't."

"Can't you just look it up?!"

"I'm very sorry, miss, we can't, we need your birth certific-"


She stormed off to the nearby phones that linked to the central government lines. I paused a beat, looked to the next person in the massive line, smiled with what I can only assume was very little conviction, and said "Next please."

The rest of the people in that line were quiet and kind, I found. However, a few minutes later, the same elderly lady started waving at me and pushing in front of the line. Now, I don't know whether I've always had this pet peeve, or whether this developed during my time at the government, but to me, those who demand to skip the line, for "just a quick question," who think cause they're "just here to drop something off" they can jump ahead of everyone, who think they're too busy or important to wait in line with the rest of the plebs, those people deserve a place in a Special Hell in my mind, with child molesters and people who talk in the theatre. To this day little pisses me off more, as someone in line or someone managing a line, then someone who hangs out near the front hoping to get whatever they need taken care of ahead of everyone else. It doesn't matter why. YOU DON'T DO IT UNLESS YOUR LIFE IS IN DANGER.

"They want to talk to you!" she said urgently, gesturing to the phone she had gotten ahold of. "Sorry, I was here before," she said, sweet as can be, to the person I was talking to. "They want to talk to you!" she repeated to me urgently, with a hint of warning in her voice, as if I was about to get a stern talking to. I look to my coworker, who nods, as I step away from the desk to pick up the phone.

"Uh, hello, this is Tom, from the office."

"Hi, yes, I've been speaking with this client and I wanted to know why you didn't offer her the Old Age card?"

"The what?"

"The fireworks card?"

"Um, I'm sorry, I have no idea what that is."

"You know, the card senior citizens on Old Age Security can order over the phone that has their SIN number on it."

"…No one told me there was such a thing. I'm new here."

"Oh, well, she can just call in and order that without the birth certificate. Here, hand her back the phone and I'll explain it to her."

I handed back the phone and waited a minute. She nodded happily through it and, after jotting down a number to call, hung up.

"Oh, I'm ever so sorry!" she said to me, suddenly sweet as sugar again.

"It's okay, miss." I said impassively, a small, fake smile on my face. She did seem somewhat distraught, I'll concede, but I can't say I was in a very forgiving mood after being sworn at, loudly, in public, for doing my job to the best of my ability, and then told off about not telling her something I didn't know. 

So, next time you encounter a bitter, beaten down public servant? Cut them a teensy bit of slack? There's no excuse for rudeness, or not doing their job, but these are people on the front lines, often dedicated people who really care about what they're doing, even if they may not show it well. Give them a break if they're not super cheerful, eh?

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Why I HR

As I write this, last week I was at the HR conference. This is an annual event held by the Human Resources Professional Association in Canada, full of professional development, a vibrant trade show and a line up of motivational speakers.

Well, they're business consultants, not motivational speakers. But the only real difference is the clientele. 

I left many of the big, motivational sessions feeling a little jaded. I've been to these things before, and I've been seeing motivational speakers regularly since university, and I found it all a little much. I was taking my time away from work for this? For the kind of thing I could get from a good blog post? To listen to people who didn't know anything about HR tell me how my job mattered, and how important it was to step up/be a good steward/innovate (depending on the topic)?

But then I stepped out into the smaller sessions, and for the life of me I can't remember exactly which one it was, but I stopped and thought "this is why I got into HR." Over the course of the 3 days I'd go to sessions on racism, accessibility, employment law, and others. I'd discuss accommodating employees in tough situations, how to make sure you're inclusive of people different than yourself and what new laws were in place that were going to affect the way we conducted business.

For me, that's what HR is about. Not being the fun police, but making sure everyone has a fair shot at work, at a job. To me that's the real essence of HR. Not about pushing innovation or empty platitudes or pushing some agenda. It's about advocating and fighting for a fairer workplace, for both the employee and the employer, making sure each is treating the other well. 

Really, all that is stuff I advocate for in my real life, too, not just in my work. 

The conference got me a little more passionate about that, though, as a cause, as something I want to push for in life, something I feel strongly about. It was good to find that. I think I'd lost it.

Looks like the Twitter handle fits, though.

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Content Consumption, Dream Jobs and Sleeping In

I've noticed lately I don't spend as much time consuming things as I once did.

I don't like that word, consume. It implies something very simple, like just eating. Here I mean that I don't read as many blogs, check twitter, watch YouTube or listen to podcasts as much as I used to. I read a bit of the paper, and try to keep up on blogs, but not nearly to the extent I once did. Even TV has largely taken a back seat; whereas I used to have shows for almost every night, now I only really watch a few, and rarely live as they air. What I mean is consuming things that enrich me. Watching good TV, reading good blogs, connecting with people on Twitter and YouTube. I've been doing a lot less of that lately, and I've decided I want to change that.

I've realized that I spend a decent amount of time reading WoW news and blogs. There is a Beta out, so there is a lot going on, but I worried a bit about it becoming my only interest. I do enjoy it, and I do play a fair bit, but the actual playtime is not something I'm really worried about. A lot of that is playing with friends, connecting with people and just hanging out. What worried me were the moments where I'd read all the news and just couldn't think what else to do on the internet. That was a scary moment, I don't mind telling you.

So I've been trying to make sure that almost every moment is used in some semi-productive way. Some of that is just saying that, instead of sitting around playing Solitaire, I'm watching an episode of a TV show, or listening to a podcast. I try to be sure if I'm walking for almost any distance I've got a podcast on. I've got a list of podcasts I'm listening to. I may see about setting up a "what I'm watching/reading/listening to" sidebar somewhere, in case folks are interested. I do also try to have more meditative moments, while walking sometimes, but when I'm jostling and speed walking for my train in the evenings, that's probably a good time to catch up on podcasts, and not so much to try and find inner peace. Maybe.

In short, I've been trying to get back in touch with my own interests. Most of these aren't anything new; tech, sci-fi, fantasy, politics and lately comedy. I find myself drawn to podcasts and interviews with comic actors, or actors who have some interest or experience in that sort of thing. Listened to some great interviews lately with Jon Hamm and Neil Patrick Harris.

The idea of this is getting to the point where I'm producing more of my own things, honing my own craft. Not just for the sake of it, but because I like writing, I like sharing what I've learned and what I've found, whatever that may be. I also am trying to find my own passion, my own niche. My failed interview got me thinking about what I really want to do, and I feel like through all this I can find a way to contribute that gets me excited to get up in the morning.

And, preferably, allows me to get up later in the morning. C'mon, what's the point of a dream job if you can't sleep in?


Interviews, Technology and You

"This may be a little awkward," the woman said as she led me into the conference room. "We're sorry he can't be here in person!"

The room was a bit dark and larger than I would have thought. Inside, a man waited for me on teleconference, and a seat was prepared for me, with the camera facing me. The seat was angled such that I had to lean back and rest one arm on the table, with the other dangling free.

A little bit awkward turned out to be an understatement, but I understood the constraints of a large, multinational corporation with new technology they must justify using. In the end, though, I feel like I would've done better had I set up my iPad and Skyped.

The next day, they called to tell me they were "unable to offer me a position at this time."

It may shock you to learn that, as an HR guy, I hate that kind of HR language. Some of that stuff I love. Inclusive language is awesome. But couching things like that? No. You aren't unable to offer me a position. You're unwilling. Or, to be a bit nicer, you feel other candidates are better suited to this position.

The day after that call, I was scheduled to attend a seminar about the use of technology in the industry I'm currently working with. The talk was largely full of terms and tools I expect you all are familiar with; tablets, cloud computing, DropBox and the like. But the time flew. I was excited to get back to work and start to think about using some of these tools, to campaign to implement some to improve our workflow and to make all of our jobs easier. I chatted with my boss on the way back about all the ways we could improve things for everyone in the company.

I'd never have gotten to do this, had I gotten the job I interviewed for. I'd have ended up in a cozy, comfortable position with a large company, and it would have been very easy to just work my way up there for the rest of my life. Everything I did, technology wise, would have had to been approved by IT.

I'll admit I was a little bitter over this. I still am, which I think is understandable. I was spurned. Rejected. But in the end, I think it was a blessing. A message, even, if you believe in that sort of thing. A sign I could do…something different. Something that would get me really, honestly excited. Work that didn't feel like work.

I'm still figuring out exactly what that looks like. It's still not quite where I am now, but it's not terribly far off. I love technology, I love what it can do for us. And I love helping people work better; looking at systems and organizations and figuring out how we can use everyone to the best of their abilities, so maybe we can get our work done in 35 hours instead of 40, and all get to go home an hour early every day. Or, do a half day on Friday.

So, in the end, maybe it was good we had an awkward teleconference interview.


Wine and Love: 2

So today I'm doing Wine and Love again, hosted by Suki! Here we talk about the things making us reach for the wine glass (or alcoholic beverage of choice) and the things we love this week!


  • Seems to be a lot of folks losing loved ones these days. Pets, parents, grandparents, a lot of folks I know have lost someone in the last few days. I try my best, to help and be there for folks, but everyone handles it in their own way, and there isn't really much you can say. Though if anyone has any tips on this, I'd love to hear them.
  • Work continues to be very busy. Nowhere near some other folks, of course, but busy all the same. I was asked to do some extra work, that I was paid for, but it meant a late and stressful night, and it's throwing me off a bit. Nothing terrible, of course, but it's less than great.
  • Weight. Things are on the upswing again. I try to keep an eye, but like many things, this could be helped by moving out and not having pie, cake and ice cream around at all times. Sadly, this is not something I have a say in currently. I do need to learn to say no to these things too. But when you're a bit stressed, it can be tough.


  • I have an interview on Monday! I'm excited about this. I love my current work place, but I'd welcome the chance to try something new. This job would be closer to where I live (even closer if I move to the area I'm hoping to) and would be a great step up for me. Challenging, but worthwhile. I'm also just really glad to have the opportunity to interview and see their whole process, so I think this will be good.
  • I'm doing better at reading blogs, keeping up on twitter and reading the papers every day. It's very easy for me to get caught up in my own stuff and miss a lot of what's going on, both around the world and with my friends, so I'm glad I've been able to do that. Next up; keeping up on YouTube!
  • More wine! I've been drinking a bit more lately. Just a bit here and there, which may not be the most healthy, but it's nice. Latest favourite has been the GFM Approved Blanc de Blanc. Very nice, and relatively local!

What are you loving, and not loving this week?