Thursday, December 22, 2016

Government revenue rule one: Only tax things people can't live without. Where DID all the smoke from the Fort MacMurray wild fire go anyway?

As we enter 2017,  it's time to gaze into the old crystal ball and make a couple of predictions about the Alberta Carbon Tax:

As a strategy, taxing something people cannot live without, like carbon, is a brilliant way to provide a secure stream of revenue to government.  Taxation of things that are optional, like beer and cigarettes always results in less demand for both, carbon though is beautiful in that we cannot live without it. 

Can't live without it you say! I'm a free range organic Vegan I don't need carbon.  Right, name one thing you, as a free range organic vegan, consume that does not, at some point, ride in a truck?  Trucks are fuelled by diesel, gasoline or propane which is a carbon constituent, therefore no option exists, if on the other hand you only eat food that naturally falls off trees you might be different. And never forget that  eating local isn't an option in Alberta in winter, unless you have a potato fetish.

Not heating your house is not an option, wearing an ugly sweater will just make you look goofy and will not save the planet.   Heating with wood isn't an option, if we encourage people to do that there won't be a tree  within 100 miles in five years. This would be detrimental to photo radar as they would have no bushes to hide behind, and the smoke would cause all sorts of health complaints, especially from those who don't have wood stoves and who's homes are poorly insulated.

So carbon, is by it's nature the ideal constituent for taxation. Everyone uses it every day, aside from water there is no element more commonly consumed.

The hue and cry from the population will lessen over time, people will adapt and they will complain and in 2019 likely vote for the person who agrees that a carbon tax is bad.

That person upon taking office will realize what a great deal this tax is and will be loath to cancel it sighting the shortfall in government revenues that need to be made up in a diversified economy.

And the prediction:

The carbon tax is going to be replaced by a general sales tax.    "We got rid of the carbon tax but we really need the money, so here's a three percent sales tax"

Premier Notley could have saved a lot of angst by just being honest and going straight for the sales tax, but that would have missed out on the whole diversification boondoggle and looked like a cash grab. The carbon tax is a cash grab, but one with moral and pure intent that cannot be argued against because the climate is changing and we have to protect the children, ignoring that Alberta, indeed Canada is already basically carbon neutral thanks to the Boreal Forest that covers so much of it. 

There is no talk of planting more trees to sequester carbon, nor are there incentives for the reduction in carbon, just a nuisance tax that will eventually be organic, much like the GST.  The GST is, of course, another tax Conservatives swore they would get rid of but somehow never did, the same thing will happen here.

It's still the green phase of the election cycle, yellow starts next year and red in 2018, The Premier knows she has two years for people to get used to the idea and if she does lose the next election,  which is a strong possibility,  don't expect this thing to go away even if she does.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cute old houses with dark secrets

I like old houses, I don't like the lack of basement headroom or  wonky old wiring and plumbing, but an old house in reasonable shape usually has a nice yard and parking that is lacking in a new home. A  lot of things about old houses are either inconvenient or inadequate, if you have power bars plugged into extension cords, or the bathroom light switch is behind the door you know exactly what I mean.

Take this furnace for example:
This is a Rheem gravity furnace.  It's called a gravity furnace because it does not have a blower fan  and depends on the physics of hot air rising and cold air falling to heat the house. In 1940, which is approximately when this old girl was installed, this was a pretty good system, even if the power went out the house would stay warm. Gravity gas furnaces were upgrades from the old gravity coal furnaces that occupied the neighborhood. 

My grandparents were the last people on this street to switch from coal to natural gas in, I think, about 1975. My Grandma was afraid of gas because she thought the house would explode and no amount of pointing out that none of the other houses in the neighborhood, which had gas furnaces, had exploded would convince her.   Grandpa would run out of coal every time it got real cold and at 30 below zero we would go to the Starkey mine for a load of lump anthracite coal. We shovelled the coal in and hauled ash pails out. Grandpa would jiggle with the dampers to create heat and as a young kid I thought about it not at all except when I was shovelling coal or hauling ashes.

All the people in the neighborhood had, by this time, switched to natural gas with furnaces like the one in the picture. These monsters gobbled up the whole cellar, which was, in those days just a place to store coal and huge furnaces. They were a still an upgrade and a boon to everyone except the coal salesman.

The first gas furnaces worked exactly the way the coal ones did. Gravity, which the Rheem brochure called "smooth heat".

So here we are  looking at an original gravity furnace in a house just down the street from where my Grandma's house used to be.  Gas furnaces are safe Gramma.

What does a house inspector say about a 76 year old gravity furnace?   A  couple of things: it has been recently professionally serviced  and the heat exchanger was tested in 2014.  Furnace technicians can often go their whole career without seeing one of these, just like new automotive technicians can work their whole career and never see a carburetor, but the home owner did find someone who could service this unit still.

The key to gravity furnace operation is that the cold air has to have an easy path to the furnace so the hot air knows where to go. With a blower, air does, more or less, what it's told,  with gravity, woe be tide the person who closes a door in a room, because the heat would magically, stop.

A small child could, and often did, sneak into the central cold air return ducts, in those days they were built of heavy sheet steel,  riveted together and covered in asbestos.
Our parenting skills, like duct work and furnace technology has changed and we hardly ever let our kids play hide and seek in the cold air returns anymore.  

Change the behemoth furnace?  Possibly, yes but not absolutely necessary,  it's a small house with four large cold air returns and when we looked at it, the house was warm. All the interior doors were open. The big issue is terrible energy efficiency, expect at best about a 50% efficiency, compared  to a new furnace at 95%.   Upgrading to a high efficiency furnace would probably cut the gas bill by more than half and cost $6-8,000.00 to do so.  Part of the reason it is so expensive to upgrade to a modern furnace is none of the ducting is compatible and  there is probably going to be asbestos  in the system which requires professional abatement to remove.

Old houses like this, particularly in a blue collar neighborhood tend to get upgraded by amateurs, cheap to buy, handypersons often do creative things to make the house more liveable.

Speaking of upgrades:

This is some pretty creative plumbing, that black thing on the steps in a drain line from the bathtub to the soil stack which is itself conveniently located in the middle of the stair run. Lack of access might be a reason the furnace has never been changed, it also tells me the house was probably built before there was a sanitary sewer on the street so the sewer was done after the home was built, or maybe it was remodelled, but based on the style of door knob in the picture, I doubt it.

That drain line did not need to run over the tread, but I guess it was a "what the hell" moment and the owner didn't have any 45 degree elbows to run it along the back of the stairs and didn't feel like driving to Home Depot to get two, beer may also have played a part in this decision.

The basement is  dry but useless except  to hold  the furnace and hold up the house. 

The block wall is not original, nor is it particularly well done, but it's a basement and there are some jobs that can be done badly without effect; nobody is going to see it or want to improve it, so why bother to point the mortar?

This house is probably the cheapest liveable bungalow in a neighborhood  you'd actually want to live in; nice lot and the main floor is well decorated. The folks who asked me to look at it with didn't want to go downstairs and once I convinced them to, they were sure that a media room was not in their future. 

The comments:
1) There are cardboard boxes on the basement floor and they are old and dry, this is good.
2) The gravity furnace works  after 70 years, this is good, although in the face of the new carbon tax this furnace will make the owners mad every time they get the gas bill.
3) The electrics were upgraded to a 100 amp service, this is good.
4) There is one electrical outlet in each bedroom, not  good.
5) There are two outlets and a gas stove in the kitchen, the fridge is on an extension cord, not  good.
6) The house is loose; it is doubtful there is any insulation in the walls, maybe insulbrick under the siding, essentially if you looked at modern building envelope sealing techniques, you would find none of them here. It needs a monster furnace to keep the place warm because heat loss is so high, but if you keep the water away from the foundations and learn how to hand roll window putty, you could keep it alive indefinitely.
7) The deal killer? There is old wiring in the attic, worn insulation and very brittle wiring because of people putting 100 watt blubs in enclosed fixtures and cooking the wires.  You can live with the furnace, but the wiring has to go.   I didn't take any picture of it because I was busy trying not to disturb anything. I could write a book on why you should not put 100 watt light bulbs in old style fixtures.   The wiring is unsafe and must be replaced. I know several electricians who love to fish wires through tight spaces, they do good work but they aren't cheap and once you start the process of upgrading  you have  to do it all.

The attic was insulated with wood shavings, probably an R5 rating, which for my purposes was ok because if the insulation was any deeper I would not have been able to examine the wiring, I just wish an electrician had checked the attic when he upgraded the panel.

$190,000 is not a lot of money for a detached house, we can expect to spend $20,000 on upgrades and have a house worth maybe $200,000.

The costs look like this:
Electrical     $6,000.00
Furnace:      $7,500.00
Plumbing:    $1,500.00
Insulation:    $2,500.00
Fixing holes: $1,500.00
Beer:            $1,000.00
Total:            $20,000.00

After all this you still have a house with old windows, no insulation in the walls and a goofy kitchen.

I make jokes about some of these things only because, I know how to fix them; for the average person this home is probably way too big a project, there are old renovations to  redo and new work to be undertaken, much of it without any satisfying effect of praise from your house guests or your spouse.

Get it inspected:  buying and old house  is not for the ill prepared or shallow of purse.

Doug Elniski
Elniski's BestHomes Inspections Ltd.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How not to cause grief when altering the smell of things.

This primer, (you will get the joke later) is for people who enjoy the fragrant smells of things like essential oils, marijuana, it's mask incense and all sort of things we spray, diffuse or burn to make our homes or ourselves smell better than burnt popcorn or diapers.

First, there is no better air freshener than cleanliness. A little  ammonia, bleach (although never together) or possibly some baking and your house will smell pleasant and clean.

When I walk into a property and I smell anything else, I am on full alert!

What is wrong with scented candles or air fresheners? In a word, lots. Odor masking is a fanatical activity in our society, drag a dog turd in on your shoe or drop your hockey bag in the closet and people immediately break out the heavy artillery. Smoke  dope and then try to mask it with scented incense and problems lingers in a different form.

Our olfactory senses are out most easily fatigued, they get used to bad smells quicker than we get used to, say, not being able to see in the dark or living beside a train track. Things that smell bad to some don't bother those frequently exposed, which in large part is why people are able to work in hog barns to make bacon.

As a kid I grew up in the smelly end of Edmonton, my neighborhood, was downwind of the Stock Yards, Canada Packers, Gainers, Swifts, Burns, Alsask Processors and the Edmonton rendering plant.  We kids knew what kind of critters had walked the stairway to heaven by the way the air smelled. Tuesday was the worse as that was hog butchering day at Swifts. The rendering plant, which boiled dead horses to make soap and leather, always had it's own unique smell depending on the age of the corpses. The stock yards, used to haul manure about once a month and that day was always putrid, even by our own rather low clean air standards.

What we learned, however, was to live with it. Being kids of parents who couldn't afford to live anywhere else, what choice did we have?

We did not have NIMBY committees complaining about the smell since most of the Dads in our encampment worked in one of the aforementioned plants. Except mine, he was a bus driver.

The point is we got used to it, my uncle the lawyer moved away as soon as his legal practice allowed and their new house in the south always smelled fresh and clean.

Smell was thusly considered, a fact of life.

To today:

When I enter a property and I smell anything super scented  I always wonder what is being covered up here?  And I  add sourcing the smell to my list.

A backed up sewer is easy to smell, as is excessive marijuana or tobacco use, so is a lack of proper ventilation. Often the best way to make a home smell better is to clean it and open the windows.  Heavy scents seldom achieve their desired outcome. Mildew, dirty laundry, full garbage cans and unclean fridges all contribute to bad smells. Dogs, cats, babies, teens and men in general contribute as well. Women usually smell pretty good so I give them a free pass on creating bad smells, I don't however, give them a pass on creating pleasant masking smells.

Here is how your air freshener works:

The common ingredient in ALL air fresheners is some kind of oil and it does not matter which kind of oil because they all do the same thing.  The oil is usually diffused by heat in a candle or other heating appliance and diffuses itself by air movement throughout the space. Spray air fresheners also contain oil that is diffused by a propellant when you press the spray button. In either case the same things happens:

The minute particles of oil,  ultimately, being heavier than air collect on surfaces where they  leave behind an oily residue, often so fine you can't even tell.

Try to repaint:

The most popular  paint is latex which is water based and as you know from science class; oil is lighter than water and tends to float to the top. The result for your walls is that when you repaint, the latex cannot make good contact with the surface as the oil on the wall is trying to stay on top. 

You might recall that it is very hard to paint latex over oil (alkyd) paint for this very reason. There is a lot of chemistry involved in paint making so likely there are those who won't agree about this.

People don't like oil paint because of the way it smells and that you need turps to clean it up, yet it's ideal for repainting a wall that has oil paint on it already. But then unless you painted that wall yourself last time, how would you ever know what kind of paint is on it? In practical terms you can't be sure.

So use a  primer and take advantage of it's ability to dry on any surface and create a firm base for oil or latex top coats. 

The poorer the surface adhesion is, (the more oil present) the heavier the primer  needs to be and you will still run into trouble if you are not judicious in how you apply the primer.

The best solution? There are many, all really involving removing the oil from the surface. Finger prints or your dog rubbing on the wall also contribute to the problem. I have had great success washing walls with  Tri sodium phosphate.  In fact any time I have not pre-washed a repaint job I have regretted it. Ammonia can be used but it's very harsh and like TSP MUST be rinsed off. Ammonia is an urea (cow pee) derived product that has remarkable properties. Any time you see a cleaning product labelled "with ammonia"  save your money and  just buy the ammonia. DO NOT SNIFF IT, you'll learn why not about 2 seconds after you do.

Bleach will kill mould, ammonia  and TSP won't, but as a base solution for eliminating bad, or good smell residue TSP cannot be beaten.  Use it before you paint wash and rinse your walls then apply a proper primer and buy good paint.  This is the best way to combat the olfactory war being fought on your walls between the competing interests of oil and a new paint job.

I have seen places that were so perfumed with scented candles that the new paint would not stick to the wall at all or where it did you could knock it off with a fingernail. It's very disheartening to go to all the trouble of painting only to find out that your paint won't stick.  We used to  find this to be a universal problem in kitchens and bathrooms because of the grease and oil loads in those rooms,  thanks to the use of scented candle air fresheners and such  we have successfully made this a problem for the whole house.

And the house inspector asks: What are they trying to hide?

There was a recent civil lawsuit in the United States involving a homeowner suing an inspector for not reporting that the previous owner smoked, the homeowner lost.  It however a clue when you get a highly scented home that the owner is trying to mask something.  Fresh air is the best, no matter how many "spring time fresh" dryer sheets I use , my laundry always smells better when it's dried outside, now anyway. When I was a kid, not so much.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Making your homes value go away in a hurry, scary renovations.

My friend The Real Estate Ninja, says that smoking in your house will cost you $10,000.00 in resale value. Since she was a real estate broker I have no reason to argue with her position on this issue at all.  

Recently I attended to a residence for another friend, (it's nice to have more than one), and what I found was quite impressive. Impressive in a bad way mind you, impressive that everything the home owner had set his hand to was done badly. Not a single repair or improvement was done well, legally or made much sense. Fortunately it was largely contained to the basement, he had virtually left the rest of the house alone, including, I'm sad to say housekeeping and maintenance.

The place was a great house, nice area, nice little crescent and good curb appeal, yet even though the house had been on the market for over six months and every other house in the neighborhood had sold for more, the owner did not understand that his mishaps were keeping his place from being sold.

Staging professionals will tell you that clean and uncluttered sells. A good smell is golden and well done renovations are pretty much a licence to print money.

This house had none of these.

Rather than write a thousand words I am going to let the pictures tell the story:

This is the dryer lint screen, an early warning sign that things might not be quite as good as they appeared. It led me to take a much closer look,  lint is a great fire starter and by having a plugged filter he was asking for a lint related fire in the dryer duct. Major red flag.

The range hood wasn't much better, there was enough grease here to deep fry a turkey. A flash fire on the stove and it is going to set this device on fire too. Another red flag.

So now we know the owner isn't a clean person, or maybe they don't know about such things.

Lets see how this translates into handy work:


This little gem is an attempt at insulating in the garage ceiling, trouble is the pink foam has no protection from fire, it needs to be covered by drywall. The owner went to a lot of trouble to use that board to hold it up there so maybe he's going to come back and finish the job, I have my doubts.  Third red flag.

Onto the basement:
Nice drywall work, there was probably three times as much filler on the walls and needed and  sanding it off is a nasty job so he left it as kind of a random textured effect that paint did not fix.

This is either a bad heat duct install or a bad drywall cut or some new way of having heated floors. There are a lot of good drywall installers in this city who need work, I guess he thought he'd save a few bucks doing it himself,  how hard can it be?

Skills of the owner included electrical wiring. Now I am scared!

This one is funky, apparently no drill was handy when the third wire was run this will make putting the drywall on a bit tricky, one screw into the romex and it's be a shocking experience.  

This, by the way, is virtually impossible to do, the box is too deep and I have no idea how he managed to put the faceplate on wrong, but he did.

There are a bunch of things going on in this junction box, technical enough that this alone  will tell any good inspector that this work was NOT done by anyone qualified nor was it ever inspected.

Next  is plumbing: This is supposed to be a trap for the basement basin and it is supposed to be a P trap, not much P going on here, I bet he paid $20.00 for all the unnecessary fittings in this picture.

I like this one, I find these plastic shower cabinets short too, creatively he solved the problem by installing the shower head sort of in the ceiling, the ceiling BTW was regular drywall which really likes getting wet.

Speaking of getting wet; if you thought this was a heat duct that wasn't hooked up you'd be wrong, this is the vent for the bathroom exhaust fan in the basement, it terminates in the basement, right next to the electrical panel. Nice....

Here we are:  take a pretty house, do bad work and watch it not sell. Personally I'd lowball the offer, rip all the work out and spent $15,000.00  redoing everything right, Then I'd put the house back on the market for full list.  I figure there is a quick $25,000 sitting here to be made. 

My friend is not handy and could not see herself taking on a project like this, so she passed on the deal, it's still out there though.

Do yourself a favour: owning a hammer does not make you a carpenter, nor a screwdriver an electrician. Do it yourself work attracts a lot of attention from home inspectors  as you can see, for very good reason, so if you do it yourself, do it right, get permits and have it inspected. We know when it hasn't been......

Elniski's BestHomes Inspections Ltd.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

CHABUDUO: The human element in failed construction or pretty well anything else.

Chabuduo:  a Chinese phrase I was introduced to recently that means, in rough translation: It'll do, close enough, or close enough  for government work. It is the general expression of malaise that overcomes people when there is a disconnect between what they are making and the person they are making it for.

The Austin Lounger Lizards, my favorite blue grass band have a line in their song Industrial Strength Tranquilizers  "If we're good and work real hard, we save our pay until we are able to afford the kind of crap they make us build" 

You can hear the song here:

The point being, in Central America, the Caribbean and a lot of other places, buildings are constructed with a Chabuduo attitude toward construction, either because the $35.00 bze a day labourer knows he will never be able to afford one, or because developers are too busy selling granite countertops than  solid and well designed structures. A lot of the dilapidated buildings we see, and a lot of the things that fall over in Hurricanes are classic Chabuduo.

Look at the following failed Haitian structures: These are aftermath pictures from Hurricane Matthew:

What we see here is the complete failure of buildings that probably weren't any good to begin with, slapped together with what was at hand, unfit from day one for human habitation.

The Chabudou attitude caused as much damage as did the storm itself.  When you employ either of these ladies for a day labour job in your nice home, you need to think that this is what they go home to. Your house because it has a gable roof and is well constructed, survives.

The choice is very simple, build to the Dade County building code in hurricane prone locations, or build to and live with the Chabudou style of building and watch it fall down.

Now I am not suggesting that everyone gets the gable roof house in Dade County, we already know that isn't possible, however if you build in a hurricane prone  place like Belize or anywhere on the islands ask yourself if you know enough about building to be able to spot Chabuduo at work in your home. 

We import so much stuff from China that is broken when it gets here, or shortly there after that it's no wonder they have a word for it. I always think about some Chinese worker assembling LED Christmas lights and think, "how safe are these really?" Do workers in China really care about your Coach purse or Nike runners? I doubt it. 

We have a company in Canada that specializes in selling a real cheap house brand of tools made in China, they offer a great return policy because on some items 60% fail.  Which is the same as if I built ten really cheap condos in Belize and only six fell down.

What does Chabudou look like on the job site?

It looks messy, piles of crap, tools lying around soon to be lost of stolen. Scaffolding that you would not climb yourself and lots of people standing around not doing very much.

My favourite place to find Chabuduo class workmanship is either the electrical or plumbing systems, site built waste traps that you can't clean, one outlet per room with every outlet in the house on one circuit and often by the time you spot it, fixing it is virtually impossible, or at least very expensive.

People make expensive assumptions about construction quality and since knowledge of such things is generally not widely held there is a lot of room for Chabuduo to set up housekeeping. 

What to do?

1) go back and look at the pictures and decide which you want after the next hurricane.
2) manage your construction project, or if you can't hire a reputable third party to do it for you.
3) Inspect new construction more than at take over.
4) Read your contract: know what the builder has promised and make sure your guy knows what's in it. 

CHABUDUO: It's everywhere, you have to do your diligence to prevent it!!

Doug Elniski

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Firing badly. It's gonna cost you.

Managers tend to be myopic thinking about costs and HR people are more concerned with the rest of the employment lifecycle to give termination much real deliberation.  They think they know the correct way to proceed, but in reality they probably don't.  Few organizations have good downsizing or termination strategies and they have a lot at risk as a result. For the sake of argument I am going to call every dismissal a firing.

When firing an employee, you lose:
  • That workers relationships with your customers.
  • That workers proprietary knowledge and experience
  • The inevitable "who's next" amongst the rest of the team.
  • Your corporate reputation,
Companies who fire senior people without forethought risk all this and more. The inevitable vacuum is problematic, word of mouth will create rumours as to the reasons and the likelihood of bigger, hidden issues.
Surprise firings of senior people speaks to bad planning and rash decisions. The long term effect on the employee is usually nothing, the long term impact on the business can be very real in terms of dollars and cents.

There are ways of doing this that protect the organization and, frankly, not a lot of HR people see the bigger picture, neither does the CFO or the supervisor. It behooves the most senior executive to understand what the impact is likely to be and plan to mitigate it long before the act occurs.

Now sometimes, organizational restructuring happens and in these cases the best advice I can offer is to fire the assholes first; everyone in the company knows who they are and if you don't then you don't know your business. Get rid of the assholes, bullies and sycophants. Most of your staff will be grateful that you did.  When you, instead, terminate the most popular manager you have, you will find, as a consequence and after time that your staff never really stop staying in touch with the good guy and sooner or later, someone, or more will leave your organization to go work for the good guy at his new place.  Some of my best recruiting comes from exactly these circumstances, believe me, people are more loyal to each other than they are to the business.

Your lawyer probably isn't going to be much help, few lawyers look at firing s from the perspective of anything other than contract.

You might get some carefully drafted language in the fired managers separation agreement that says they can't recruit, but just as nature abhors a vacuum, so to will your existing workers ignore an agreement they are not part of and recruit themselves into the good guys business. 

Understanding these dynamics is useful for post incident consideration, but there is more: As the CEO or VP here are a few thoughts to keep in mind that should influence your decision making and firing methodology:

1) Who's the to be fired manager sleeping with? Are you breaking up any extracurricular relationships, real or implied? I know we'd all like to deny this happens, but come on, you know it does, and it does.

2) Is the to be fired manager financially stable?  This is a tough question, a lot of times people are looking for "one more severance cheque and then they can retire" other times they have problems that are very real.

3) Is the to be  fired manager likely to be vindictive or spiteful? Loonie tunes shoot up post offices, other people just go postal on social media.

4) Does the to be fired manager have family in the company? This is tricky and tough, if you chose to fire everyone with the same last name expect a human rights complaint.

5) What were the circumstances of their hiring, were they recruited, by an associate in the business? If they were so good that you stole them from the competition, why aren't they that good now and have you questioned the judgement of the person who hired him, who else did that person hire?

6) What kind of job did they have before? If the hiring was a promotion, why?

7) Is their health good? If you are terminating someone with health issues, what is your plan to mitigate liability?

8) Are they armed? Don't assume anything in this regard, an accurate shot and a quiet burial have been contemplated by more than a few unstable people.

9) Do they know anything that can hurt you? Are they privy to any corporate behaviour that is not 100% above board?  That government inspector your manger took fishing suddenly comes into play.

10) How will they get home after the firing? this is important because whoever drives them home needs to keep notes, some crazy shite is likely to be said.

Each of these topics needs consideration beyond the basics of you not wanting that person to be there and at the end of the day it's all about money and security.  Properly done, a firing, while never pleasant, can be structured in such a way as to mitigate the risk to the organization. I am not particularly concerned with the employee, I am more concerned with making sure the business does not suffer as a result of the firing. 

I was fired by an incompetent idiot who didn't know he was doing me a favour and another time by a guy  who really cared. There is a lot of honesty in the termination process and so there should be. 

There are a million ways to die in the west and about the same number of ways for an employer to pooch a firing.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Damn it, they might be right, a hat trick in fact.

Before people go off on some Calgary sized outrage like they did about hats. I want to be clear that I do not support everything the provincial government in Alberta is doing, this blog however is about the stuff I think is going well.

One: Religious Education:
Normally when I talk about David Eggen I like to remind the universe that I kicked his ass in 2008 and gave the seat back to him in 2012, today however I want to acknowledge that he has taken on a very significant challenge and is doing the right thing  by ordering an inquiry into the conduct of a publically funded school that does not wish to adhere to the guidelines of his ministry, I refer, of course to the Independent Baptist Christian Education Society who run two schools in the Edmonton area.

I'm completely in favour of freedom of association, of speech and of placing the individual ahead of the state, where the line is blurred however is when a publically funded institution, such as a school board chooses to go it's own way based, in this case, on Deuteronomy quotes about who God thinks you should be able to sleep with.

The year is 2016 and as a society we have changed our definitions of what many tings mean, we did not do this by accident or by insight, this occurred because different people, with very different ideas made compelling arguments that work.  Such are the ways of the school act and the Gay Straight Alliances. I suspect in ten years the GSA's will be about as cool among kids as debating club or band, but for the moment, it's got all kinds of knickers, bloomers, thongs and jockeys in a knot about what this means to our kids and the future.  Frankly I think it means pretty much nothing.

It's  time to just accept what is and be done with it.

If you want to have a school that does not believe in math, for example,  because your ancient warrior God declared that "all a man needs is a bit of cyphering to get a fair deal in the market".  Public scorn and outrage would be universal, such a school might exist, I don't know but certainly not within the public system, as long ago people recognized the importance of math and Algebra, (to the chagrin of kids everywhere) so we teach it without giving it a  thought.  And as a tax payer I am looking forward to the day when I can teach the Pythagorean theorem to my grandsons. If I want them to learn about religion well, that's up to their parents, not me. 

In the case of the Baptist schools, Minister Eggen should expend the resources necessary to settle this issue once and for all. Religious freedom is great as long as we do not expect the public to pay for it.  The Catholics might, justifiably, worry that this is the thin edge of the wedge and indeed it is, I was educated in the Catholic school system and can find no compelling personal reason why I would continue in  that belief system, you might disagree and that's fine but as a friend recently stated

"Canada has no national religion, we are not a "Christian" country, we welcome all faiths, more or less equally, and people are free to bow to whatever divinity they choose"

Education should be the same, secular, based on standards with the ability to respond to the educational requests of the families. The Edmonton Catholic school board offers Delete repeated word education period.  The Edmonton Public School Board has Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and I have no idea what else, and  they manage to get along just fine. I can find no Catholic school program for Muslims, some girls schools yes,  but nothing geared toward other religions, which is exactly the same thing as the Baptists are doing. 

Minister Eggen can make his mark if he does not cave in and deals, once and for all, with the issues of religious schools, If the public system can teach all these religions, why not a Catholic program, it could be done and we could eliminate this two school board mess and save a whole bunch of money that the government can spend on something else.

Two: Sustainable "green" energy 
We are not all going to be like newly minted (I was going to say child, but the guy is in his early 20's and that would be rude)  MLA Horn from Stony Plain and ride our bikes everywhere; we are going to drive and play with snowmobiles and such.

Carbon taxes are wrong, but sustainable green energy could be the shot in the arm Alberta needs! By definition, cogeneration of electricity and heat is a very green idea and  guess what? Fort Mac specifically and Alberta generally is awash in green power that doesn't flood valleys or go off when the sun sets, this could be our moment and I think the NDP got this one right.
By delaying the introduction of alternative energy we are really just biting off our own noses to spite our faces, lets cogeneration everything we can and make people think of Alberta as an energy superstar.  This does not mean swapping your dually for a Prius, but it does mean that our internal efficiencies can rise quite dramatically. It really makes no difference if we export a molecule or an electron, except that if we are turning our gaseous molecules into electrons and being efficient about it we will have a much easier time of selling our fluid molecules.  So bravo on this one, just try and get out of industries way once you decide what you are going to do.

Three: Showing up in New York.
Good on the Premier for travelling to the big apple to score some positive points on Alberta and energy. Attending a conference on climate is old hat I know, but we have a different face of Alberta now and like it or not, the NDP need successful industries to support their ever expanding social agenda. Rather than the constant battles of old rich guys against the youthful protesters who are funded by other rich old guys, let's show these folks we mean business and in the spirit of TRUE Albertans, let's rise to yet another challenge and show the world we have
1) a plan
2) implementation
3) Industry support.

Now the coal guys aren't real happy, but even with thermal coal, there are gasification options that look awfully green to me, It's not a question that coal is "bad" per se, let's use of our technical brain power to make it cleaner. 

Now, of course if the NDP were committed to my ideas, which they probably aren't I'm guessing, the next agenda item would be nuclear power. That has the least emissions of all and is very clean, it's expensive, but it sure works in France and let's be real, if the French can do it safely, I'm pretty sure we can too.

So three thumbs up for the Provincial Government this week, the concepts are all good, lets see some action.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The guy with the sign is a more effective speeding deterrent than the person sitting in the photo radar truck

Here are two images and a bit of a lesson in consequences:

The vehicle in the top picture is out generating revenue by taking pictures of motorists speeding, the guy in the bottom picture is warning drivers that the guy in the first picture wants to take a  ticket of them speeding. Which is the actual deterrent?

A very wise man named Aubrey Daniels wrote a book 30 years ago  called Performance Management about how to positively and negatively reinforce behaviour so that behaviour would either be repeated or diminished.

His correct contention  was the feedback and consequences, either positive or negative were the determining factor to whether or not a particular action would change. Key to this premise were two factors:
1) Certainty
2) Immediacy, i.e. a correlation between the action and the consequence.

Daniels, contended, correctly, that the key to either getting more of what you want, or less of what you don't want was to deliver a consequence that was certain and immediate.

Imagine going bowling in the dark and having your score mailed to you three weeks later, not only would this limit your enjoyment, but you would also lack any sort of feedback to determine if you were getting better, worse or if you made that railroad split ten pin bowlers are so proud of.

So too it is with photo radar in Edmonton. The guy in the bottom picture is FAR more effective at getting people to slow down than the radar vehicle because:

1) He has created an immediate and a certain consequence to not slowing down.
2) Photo radar has no close proximity in time and space, you get a picture in the mail three weeks after you drove 56 in a 50 zone past an unmarked photo radar truck you never saw.

From this one can only assume that the delayed consequence for speeding, getting a photo radar  ticket in the mail is not a reliable deterrent or an effective means of creating consequences for the behavior we want; people driving at the speed limit.

The issue is further muddied  by the unclear consequence the purveyors of photo radar desire: Is the goal of photo radar to get people to drive at the legal speed limit or to punish them for not driving at the legal speed limit? This is not the same thing.

In certain areas you will see large signs that display the speed of your vehicle, indeed the Alberta Motor Association has created an traffic control group for tow truck drivers that include a portable sign to show how fast you are going, people see the sign and they slow down, or speed up to the correct speed. Nice and simple.

Photo radar on the other hand has no such attributes. You may not be aware you were speeding and get getting punished for something you do not even remember doing. If you get stopped by a real cop for speeding, it happens when you are speeding and you get a ticket or a stern warning. Immediate feedback and a certain consequence. All of this is wrong and missing with photo radar. 

Governments have deliberately missed the boat on consequences, and one can really only attribute this to their addiction to the revenue behaviour creates. Photo radar is cheaper to do than actual traffic enforcement and brings in the dollars. I think the cheapest way would be for the guy with the sign to stand on any busy road, people would slow down.

So I am led to believe the real purpose of photo radar is revenue. Some would argue that if you don't speed you won't get a photo radar ticket, true, but it is not the fear of photo radar that keeps me from getting a ticket, it is driving with common sense to the conditions that does.

Photo radar is, in and of itself no deterrent at all.

Taken in  another direction.  a big source of government revenue is gambling. Oh we wax poetic about the damage done by VLT machines, if we really wanted people not to gamble, I could fix the problem in about five minutes:  Every time you put a dollar into a VLT and lose the machine would shout "LOSER!!"  people would stop using the machines in short order. But since  VLT gambling revenue is important to government, they'd rather spend money on gambling addiction treatment  to show they are doing something about the problem than make the process of gambling itself less rewarding.

In order for consequences to be effective they need to be immediate and certain. Any other form of consequence and I respectfully suggest one should:
a) Find out who make the money.
b) Well, really the first one pretty well covers it.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Find your passion: bullshite.

This will not be your typical political diatribe or some long winded complaint about the price of beer, or how school children now occupy seats in the Provincial Legislature because all of these things are things that will pass, mostly without long term meaning or significant impact.

Today is my 56th birthday and it's pretty much exactly the same kind of day that it is most years, except when I was seven and it snowed.  I'm being nostalgic for a life I have enjoyed, people I have loved, people I still love and people I don't even know yet who I will probably love in due course.

For those not familiar I have been an executive, was the 773rd person in history to have a seat in the Alberta  legislature and now, I am wearing Carhartt bid overalls and about to leave here to go build a small shed for a friend.  All of my adventures to date, including the statement "one more severance cheque and I can retire" are summed up in my preference for Carhartt's over button down collars and cuff links.

Smattering of grey, white and pink paint, will tell you stories of the work I do for those I care for. Broken finger nails and a hole in my sock speak to what's important. And it's not what I long thought it was.

My car is an old   Mercedes  ML320, I uses it like a truck. My truck is an older  GMC 3/4 ton that I also use like a truck.  I like trucks.  More to the point however, I like what trucks let me do, they let me haul quantities of things that I can skillfully assemble into something necessary.

I should have stayed in trade school, but who knew.  I confused legislative advocacy as being more important than weather-stripping a cold door  and assumed the executive role that determined the fate of so many would never back fire and determine my own.

Thank you.

When my house is sold and the legal sabre rattling of divorce is settled, I will be in Belize; I will build, I will inspect and I will fix. My tools are good, my talents are many and as long as I have both my tools and, more importantly, my talents I will carry on.

My tools were stolen recently, and during the process of replacement, I had a tough time finding things that fit well to my hand, and were  automatic extensions of me.  Tools are a very personal thing, this is why price is never an issue when buying a hammer for example. I still have and use my Dad's old 16 oz. Craftsman hammer, I also have a 22 oz. Estwing, a 16 oz. Estwing and a couple of others. I use Greenlee electricians tools for maintenance because they are just so comfortable, at $500.00 for a set of 21, they damn well better be.

Being an Advocate and an Executive have led me to the point where I have very good tools and now it is my life intention to use them.

Being by nature a minimalist, I allow myself the luxury of picking a few  good things, instead of random piles of crap:
  • Purdy paint brushes, they ARE better than anything you get at the dollar store.
  • Estwing hammers
  • Makita cordless tools
  • Milwaukee 12" mitre saw, the king of saws!
  • Greenlee tool pouch
  • Craftsman and Snap-On mechanical tools.
  • Bose sound system
  • Apple Ipad and phone
All of which nicely fit in heavy duty totes that stack in my truck, either one.

I don't care whether you consider my life a random collection of actions or not, I do know however that I will not be seduced by the "dark side" of so called achievement, fame or glory. I've had all those and, thank you very much, they have done little to improve my life more than being able to drive a 3 1/2" ardox nail into a board in one blow.

I don't know who said there is as much dignity in plowing a field as writing a poem but they were right. I think we are distracted by this nonsense called "your passion"  I think our passions are tarnished by our concerns about what other people will think of them. There is no calling that everyone will approve of and be so careful about picking what you love based solely on what you think it MIGHT be, it is more important to be clear minded about these things.

I'm not going to apologize for where I am today, what I have or don't have because in every interaction I realize now I am at best half responsible. Failure in love or work is never a completely one sided thing, it's best to forgive, remember and move on. 

If it all ends for me tomorrow, there will be those who are saddened, those who rejoice and those who don't give a shit. As tempting as it is to try and reconcile with each group, simply let it known that I am doing what I love and if I had been smarter I would have figured this out a long time ago.

Drive your truck, fix your sewer, make laws, advocate, help people die, help people live, help yourself live, whatever. Nike, despite their child labour indiscretions, were right:

Just do it.