Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Don't Ask Me About Trump Voters

As a dual citizen of Canada and the USA who has lived in both countries for many years, Canadians often ask me why Trump garners so much support from voters. It's reached a point where I'm tempted to just shrug my shoulders in response.

Previously, I've rambled about tribal tendencies, racism, white nationalism, tax aversion, celebrity worship, ignorance, anti-immigrant sentiments, misogyny, and evangelical support. After such discussions, I feel like Norm from Cheers, wasting time trying to appear knowledgeable.

I've realized that I truly know nothing about Trump supporters. I'm clueless about why they vote for him, what they desire, and who they are, although I can sometimes spot a few by their bumper stickers and roadside tributes in Upstate New York (see below).

Maybe someone else knows the answer, not me.

Trump Shrine in NH

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Work From Home Observations

 I retired a while ago but I liked to work from home when possible in my later work years.  I liked it for the obvious reasons: no commute, I could handle domestic issues like the plumber, and, sorry to say, I could goof off at times.  

Was I as productive as I was at work?  Probably close, given my job and the fact that I was physically at work 95% of the time and WFH was usually for a day or two every few weeks.

Were there downsides?  Yes, my wife considered WFH to be a secondary activity compared to domestic chores like taking out the garbage, walking the dog, etc.  

Other issues?  I worry about a few things if WFH becomes the majority of work time.

  • Loneliness will be an issue for some folks.  There is a social side to work and there is a personal support benefit to being around people.  If you screwed up on a project, are your coworkers going to effectively help and support you via video?
  • Learning on the job is extremely important and we hear that remote learning was not good for children at school, will it be equally bad for new employees or people in new jobs trying to figure out their new role?
  • The WFH fans also seem to ignore a few economic downsides.  If a company is 100% WFH, they don't need workers in the USA, they could just as easily outsource work to low cost countries.  Also, employers will figure out that it is cheaper to hire a WFH person in Arkansas than in Silicon Valley and pay them less.  It will also be easier to fire or lay off a person that you have rarely met and you can let them go on a video call.
  • Career progression will be an issue.  Out of sight means out of mind and promotion criteria will change. In the past, visibility was critical for promotion and the new WFH world may be better, maybe worse.
  • Disruption risks are much higher.  You are completely cut off if the Internet at your home or your computer goes down.  Hacking is also a risk.
But never mind all this, I am just an old retired guy.  The work world will figure this out and I look forward to business media articles about the downside of WFH once the euphoria dies down and the labour market softens.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Observations on Getting Old

 The last year or so was terrible with lots of "growing old" happening.

  • My best friend died after a long illness
  • My older brother had a stroke and died after months in hospital
  • We moved my mother with dementia to a memory-care retirement home
  • We sold our childhood home (mother's home) and had to clean it out
  • I turned 65
It has caused me to reflect on growing old and the differences between life at 30 and life at 65.

When you are 30, all your friends and relatives are alive, healthy, and carrying on normal lives.  You are working hard on your career, family, and many other challenges.  It feels like you are struggling at times, but your health is good, there are lots of new challenges and opportunities, and plenty of new things to learn and do.

When you are 65, your career is over, you have experienced a lot of things, your children are off on their own and busy with their lives, and hopefully you have a secure financial foundation and life situation.  Your health is not as good, your partner's health is not as good, nothing much seems new and interesting, or the new challenges are for the vigorous young.  Some of your fiends and family are gone, some have moved on and you don't hear from them anymore, some have changed, and the people you meet often have their own networks.  Of course the pandemic, war in the Ukraine, and problems in the US have not helped.

I am trying to figure out how to make the golden years "golden".  So far, I have tried reviving hobbies (a little success), traveling (good), making new friends (tough), and volunteering (not fun so far).  I need to make a bigger effort.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Why do Immigrants Come to Quebec?

 A few things to clarify:

  • I don't want this to be racist or anti-French
  • I grew up in Montreal Quebec, left in 1984 at age 27, but have visited family in Montreal regularly since then
English Canadians wonder why immigrants who don't speak French come to Quebec, particularly Montreal?  This is my thinking.

In the early 60s, French and English were widely accepted in Quebec and many businesses operated almost exclusively in English.  If you spoke English, you did not need to learn French, although most English had some French proficiency.  Many English Canadians English immigrants moved to Quebec and the percentage of English was about 13%.

In the 1970s, the Quebec government took steps to strengthen French and weaken English.  All signs must be in French, all professionals (lawyers, accountants..) must pass a French test, all immigrants must attend French schools, all large businesses must do business in French and were inspected, and a few other laws.  This upset the English Quebeckers and recent immigrants and many businesses and people decided that it was better to move to English Canada. Population of Montreal declined, house prices plummeted in English areas, and employment decreased, although there were other reasons for unemployment.

Today, you must know French to function in Quebec.  Unilingual English Quebeckers are generally the old, the disabled, and a few others who could not or would not learn French.  It is almost impossible to get a job, go to school, go to the store, or live without a good knowledge of French.  Only 8% of bilingual Quebeckers list their first language as English.

Immigrants to Canada can choose where to live, and the majority prefer large English cities like Toronto and Vancouver, due to their knowledge of English and the economic opportunities.  Montreal and other Quebec cities also have opportunities and I notice that large numbers of non-French speaking immigrants are moving to Montreal.  Why?
  1. Quebec and Montreal in particular are great places to live, with beautiful scenery, good schools and Universities, employment opportunities, and vibrant culture.
  2. Until recently, the cost of housing was much lower in general.
  3. Many immigrants come from countries with some degree of oppression: China, Pakistan, Iran..  If you come from countries like this, you would view the French language laws as pretty mild compared to your home country.  You would also know how to cope with more oppressive laws so finding a way to get along in Quebec would be easy.
  4. Immigrants usually have a mother tongue (arabic..) and have some English.  Given that you already speak two languages, a third, French, is not a big deal.
  5. Quebec society outside Montreal is still a little less accepting of immigrants than the rest of Canada, but that is changing for the better.  Quebec offers free language lessons and many other services to help immigrants.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

My Brother David

Me and David in Happy Times

I know that few people read this blog, but it is therapeutic for me to write it.

My older brother David died yesterday from the effects of a stroke, maybe caused by COVID.  I wanted to reflect on his life.

He had a hard life medically.  Born with Hirschsprung's disease, hip dysplasia, and autism.  He endured casts on his legs as an infant, and multiple surgeries until he was 20 or so on his intestines.  He had colostomies at least twice.  The government and school system in the 60's and 70's did not provide any help for children with mental disabilities, other than institutionalization for the severely handicapped.  Our parents struggled to get David the help he needed at learning disability clinics and private schools.  David learned how to keep going no matter what obstacles he faced.

David never reached his full height, was always thin, had lots of skin problems, and suffered from ear problems which eventually caused him to be almost deaf.  He worked at multiple jobs as a young adult but found his calling working at the local TMR library.  He loved re-stacking the books and was a diligent worker, as long as he got to drink his "tea with the library ladies" with 3 to 5 heaping teaspoons of sugar.  Sugar and gravy were his favorite things.  Unfortunately this resulted in a lot  of dental problems and removal of teeth.  He was also an expert on public transit and could navigate the buses and Metro in Montreal to almost anywhere.

He became independent thanks to the work of a local charity, Avatil, and the hard work of our parents and he lived with a room mate for about 10 years in an apartment and then around 10 years in his own apartment.  He always went back to the family home on weekends to visit, do his jigsaw puzzles and baseball cards.  Eventually, he retired from the library and still lived independently but his medical problems were catching up with him - arthritis, skin problems, hearing, teeth, etc.  He still enjoyed his hobbies and never really complained.  He was always happy to see friends or family and would talk the ear off someone he just met.

By this time, our mother was developing dementia and we had caregivers coming to the home.  David would still visit on weekends but we were hearing that he was falling down and his skin was in bad shape.  I took him to the hospital and they kept him for two weeks, cleared up his skin, and did lots of tests.  The discharge report was a tribute to his strength: mini-strokes, kidney stones, arthritis, abdominal masses from his operations, deafness, skin issues, and maybe a few more.  He moved into a retirement home not far from the family home and enjoyed 4 years there, surviving most of the pandemic and not being able to visit our mother.

Then the stroke happened and this was one medical obstacle he could not handle.  I felt so bad for him.  All the things he overcame and now this, he did not deserve it.  After 3 months of rallying whenever the doctors said he would not live, he finally reached a stage where his quality of life was terrible.  Luckily, one of our mothers fabulous caregivers, Lise was with him at the end.  Alan and I were on the road trying to get to Montreal asap.

David, you were a great brother and I always admired your strength and courage.  You are in a better place now and we will miss you.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Recession is Coming


In my opinion, a recession is coming.  We have all the ingredients in North America:

  • High inflation for both assets (houses, cars) and living expenses (gas, groceries)
  • Supply chain issues
  • War in Ukraine
  • Central bank interest rate hikes coming
What does this mean for us?  It depends on your stage in life.  The usual results of a recession are stock market declines, house price declines, and more unemployment, 

If you are a young worker, best to make sure your job is secure.  Last in, first out usually applies when a recession hits.  Companies that are struggling are also at risk.

If you are a middle aged person, the same provisos on your job apply.  On top of that, you probably have a family and a house.  I recommend building up some savings, and avoiding any unnecessary large purchases like a boat or second home.

Retirees should also be careful with large purchases and be prepared to tighten your belt a little.  If you live on a juicy pension (rare nowadays), there may be little effect on you.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Due Diligence in the Valley of Deception

 The Theranos trial reminded me of my experience at Nortel doing "due diligence" on a silicon valley startup that Nortel wanted to purchase.  Due Diligence is the process of checking out an acquisition, in my case, checking it out technically.

I got a call from my boss saying that the corporation wanted me to do diligence on a startup making small low cost GSM network equipment.  This had to be done quickly, quietly, and I needed to follow the lead of one of our more eccentric (crazy) execs who was in charge of the project.  Quickly meant in a few days, quietly meant no technical testing, do what you are told, etc.  I had never done diligence before but no one cared.

So off we went to the valley and met with the CEO of this company, who was as eccentric (crazy) as our exec.  She described their product and its maturity and it sounded too good to be true.  We then had a bunch of presentations (all positive), toured the lab (everything works well), and wrote up our report - remember they wanted this done quickly.  Our report basically said that we found nothing negative, but we did not do anything in depth, it sounded too good to be true and the company should be cautious.  We got profuse thanks for our report.

Then I found out that one of my old colleagues had worked for this startup for a year and than had returned to Nortel so I decided to phone him.  He told me that this startup had failed due diligence previously when they were trying to sell themselves to a German company, the CEO was a nutjob, staff turnover was very high, and anything they said about their product was probably a lie.  Basically, they knew how to deceive us since they had failed diligence previously.

So I called my boss in a panic and told him to stop the acquisition, which was not completed yet!  He then shocked me by saying that Nortel didn't really care if the startup was a shambles, they just wanted the positive publicity from acquiring a new innovative company!

This contributed to my loss of faith in Nortel and big corporations in general.