I Owe You a Blog Entry

It’s been more than three weeks since my last confession blog entry, and much has happened in that time. In fact, without overstating it, I can say my life has changed. But that, in itself, has kept me extremely busy.

I’ve been working like a dog for one of my clients. I’m in a bit of a ridiculous situation with that client, and the irony is that I got in that situation because I’ve been wanting to prepare in case that outside job came through. Setting aside how I let myself get too involved in its internal politics, this is one of my longest-standing clients and it has consistently been reliable and good to me — the kind of client that’s been known to send me messages along the lines of “why haven’t you sent your monthly invoice yet” (which happened once when I accidentally sent my bill to someone’s secondary e-mail address).

But, that’s not how my life has changed, folks. What changed is that I got that job! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ex-Friend, who acted as my persistent advocate with she whom I now refer to as The Woman (a tongue-in-cheek nod to “The Man” in reference to big business and big government). I received the official word just before noon Wednesday, and pending a standard security and credit check (which I’m not in the least worried about), I’m slated to start work on Monday, March 13.

Yay me! 🙂

So, what’s the job? Well, after a career in academia and another as a freelancer, now I’m making a foray into the big corporate world. I’ll be known as a client training officer for a major bank that is moving its clients from PC- to Web-based banking applications, focussing mostly on the francophone clientele. Even though this is officially a one-year contract to start, I’m extremely excited because:

  1. I’ll get to use the experience I acquired over the years regarding the Web, meaning I’ll not be making a radical shift away from my area of expertise;
  2. once trained and set up, I’ll be working from my home office as I have for the last 10 years, which is brilliant because there’s ample proof that this is the ideal setting for me in terms of productivity;
  3. I’ll get to work a lot in French, which isn’t obvious in a predominently anglophone setting like Halifax;
  4. the pay is excellent and should allow me to reinject some vigour into my small business; and
  5. the prospect is good that the project to which I’ll be assigned will be extended beyond one year.

I’ll definitely be playing it by ear, though. Just as it would have been foolish of me not to apply for this job in November on the grounds that it was coming sooner than I had planned in my mind, I’m not planning on closing down my small business. I owe as much to my clients, who’ve been very dedicated to me, and I owe as much to myself, who has poured so much sweat and tears into that business. I see the business as a kind of insurance policy: I’ll have something to fall back on if/when my contract is not renewed, and it’ll continue to serve as an outlet for my creative side, for although technical by nature, the CMS I’ve been building can only be described as a massive creative venture.

By holding down two jobs, I’ll continue to be a very busy man. But I don’t mind that; it’s what I’m used to. And what I find odd but exciting is that, with a steady income coming in, I may be better able to expand my business even though I’ll be making it my part-time job. My problem hasn’t been that my business has not been doing well; it’s that it represents too much work for one person to handle alone, and that got me in a vicious cycle. I’ve needed outside help for as long as I can remember, but I have had to turn down projects because there aren’t enough hours in a day to get through them, meaning I had only enough income to pay myself and not enough to get outside help. But once I gain my footing in my new regime, I should be in a position where I’ll be able to invest into my business in ways other than my own brute labour. Ironically, putting my business in part-time mode may not slow down its growth that much, and I may become even more focussed when I’m working on it: I’m bound to dismiss more quickly those frivolous “would be nice” things and stick to the core.

Anyway, exciting times!

Another way in which my life has changed is that, in just one week, I have been able to snap my internal clock from night to day, just like everybody else’s. (I suppose necessity really is the mother of [re]invention.) I questioned myself as to why I wasn’t able to do that the last time I had a formal “outside” job (10 years ago), and I think the answer is simple: I hated that job with a passion because it was obvious to everyone including myself that I was seriously underemployed. I initiated huge projects to keep from getting bored, but my efforts weren’t appreciated. Now what’s different is that I’ll be committed to two jobs that have similarities but sufficent distinctions to prevent me from getting into conflict. So, knowing I’m not going to dread one job or the other, my body quickly accommodated the change from night to day.

The only downside, which I’m not fretting about, is that there’s no prospect of vacation time for me in the next year, and I won’t be able to sneak out to the beach on sunny weekday afternoons this summer. Consequently, I have booked myself a four-day escape to Montreal next weekend (March 2 to 6). I’ll be staying in the heart of the Village, close enough to throw a stone at the Beaudry subway kiosk on Ste. Catherine. Cleopatrick and His Boys, who no longer live in the city, plan to come meet me for dinner and hanging out one of the days I’m in town. I also hope to at least get to have coffee with J. Other than that, I’ll probably do a lot of leisure reading I never get around to doing when I’m in Halifax, a lot of innocent people watching, and probably a visit or two to ma tante Sonia… All of that should envigorate me for what’s ahead.

Blizzard

A shitload of snow has fallen overnight in Halifax. I don’t know how much exactly, but I’d guess about a foot. That doesn’t come close to White Juan. But this night felt a lot like that night as far as the snow falling and falling and falling. It just wasn’t nearly as windy as Feb. 17, 2004.

We really can’t complain, though. We haven’t had much snow this winter and it’s been unusually mild. I’ve been able to go out in my Docs most of this winter. And I’ll probably be able to do so again soon, since it’s supposed to rain and go back up to 8C (46F) by the weekend. That’ll mean “Bye bye, snow, we hardly knew you.”

I’ve Been Tagged!

Okay, Julie has tagged me, so here goes!

4 Jobs I have had
— Clerk at Treats in Highfield Square (Moncton)
— Managing editor of a feminist academic journal
— Language lab supervisor
— University instructor

4 Films that you could watch again and again
Torch Song Trilogy
Cinema Paradiso
Babette’s Feast
AmĂ©lie (Le fabuleux destin d’AmĂ©lie Poulain)
(Okay, so I like chick flicks. Leave me alone!)

4 TV Shows I like to watch
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Law & Order
Rick Mercer Report
— The news

4 Places where I have lived
— Family “Homestead” (Moncton)
— Quinn Street (West End Halifax)
— Bedford Highway by MSVU (Halifax)
— Morris Street (South End Halifax)

4 Destinations where I have gone on holidays
— Maine/New Hampshire, USA (as a kid)
— London, England
— Berlin, Germany
— Washington, DC, USA

…in Canada
— Rivière-du-Loup, QuĂ©bec
— MontrĂ©al, QuĂ©bec
— QuĂ©bec City
— Toronto, Ontario

…for work
— Fredericton, New Brunswick
— Moncton, New Brunswick (since I no longer live there)
— Grand-Falls, New Brunswick
— Banff, Alberta

4 Places you would rather be right now
— MontrĂ©al
— Mykonos
— Key West
— Melbourne

4 Favorite Dishes
— Mashed potatoes
— Curried chicken
— BBQ hamburger
— Pan-fried haddock

4 Websites you visit every day
google.ca
cbc.ca/news
www.weatheroffice.ec.gc.ca/canada_e.html
dictionary.com (’cause I’m always in doubt with spelling)

4 New Blogs to be tagged
Sorry to break the chain, but I don’t like tagging people. But if you’re inclined to do this thing, leave a comment with this entry and we’ll go visit you.

Letters from and to Dick

Disclaimer
I usually avoid blogging about work-related stuff specific to one of my clients. However, this isn’t ABOUT the client, so it’s different. Also, many of you already know — or can find out with 2 seconds of Googling — that I’m the webmaster for a union local here in town, namely the union I belonged to when I was a part-time university instructor. I’m no longer a member because I haven’t taught in so long, but I remain the local’s webmaster on a contractual basis. So this blog entry is about an e-mail exchange over the last 6 weeks with someone who is still a member of the local, but clearly isn’t happy about it. And you all know that when someone pisses me off and makes cheap insinuations in writing, I’m likely to come back with a nice little dose of vitriol that’s bound to be entertaining.

**********************

So sit down and let me tell you a tale of a member who makes it a sport to piss off this humble webmaster. For the purpose of this story, we’ll hereafter refer to said member as Dick. It seems to fit.

Dick has never left any doubt as to how he feels about the union, which isn’t much, and what he guesses is a typical member of the union. Back in mid-December, in response to a regular notice I sent to one of the listservs to which Dick is subscribed, Dick sent me this one-liner that I quote, unedited:

why does your link take me to a sales pitch for netscape?

I’m no fan of people who proclaim being mightily big-shot professionals yet can’t be bothered to use uppercase letters in e-mail messages, but I let that pass.

For a minute, I tried to figure out what he meant. It is true that I have designed the content management system that runs the union website to bounce off people who are still using Netscape 4.x because it’s an archaic browser that doesn’t support the most basic things encountered on websites today and, consequently, is still used by only a few Web surfers. For those people, about 10 seconds after arriving on the website, they get taken to a page encouraging them to download a more recent version of the Netscape or Firefox browser. It is also true that at the bottom of the first page of the site’s members’-only area, I encourage people to get either Netscape or Firefox, but not Microsoft Internet Explorer. That’s because the rubric is about how Netscape 4.x is obsolete, and I assumed people who are already using Netscape would rather stay with Netscape, but there’s also the fact that the current version of MSIE is outdated. Otherwise I simply couldn’t figure out what Dick meant by “a sales pitch for Netscape,” but I tried to answer him as best I could:

Hello Dick,

Are you using Netscape 4.x by any chance? The only time I’m aware of any links redirecting to what could be called a sale pitch for Netscape (or Firefox) is when the site’s content management system detects that the visitor is using Netscape 4, which is an antiquated browser that even our little site manages to crash. For now, the only reason the CMS favours those browsers over MSIE 6, which hasn’t been significantly upgraded since 2001, is because MSIE 6 has the unfortunate tendency of badly garbling sites coded in a “standard-compliant” manner (sorry for the geek talk). However, once MS releases its much-anticipated MSIE 7 (or whatever it will be called), a browser that is expected to “behave” more like the other mid-2000s browsers, a link to MS will likely be provided for visitors’ convenience.

Having said all of that, if you’re *not* using Netscape 4.x but are still getting the “sales pitch,” can you help me trace back exactly how you got to that page, so that I can try to replicate the problem and fix it for you and everybody else? Did clicking from Outlook on one of the two links provided in the e-mail lead you to that page? That should not happen, so I’m eager to fix whatever is causing this behaviour…

Maurice

Dick never replied to this message, and I didn’t give it a second thought afterwards. That was until last night, when he responded to the listserv notice I sent earlier in the day. This is his message that really pissed me off:

hi maurice, am i forced to download netscape in order to read your email? if i am, i ask whose idea was this – i suspect the typical socialist, ndp, tree hugger, never had a real private sector job in their life professor ? for the record some of us part-timers actually run businesses and don’t feel bad about using explorer – really, bill’s billions does not keep us awake at night.

Geez, maybe his keyboard is broken, or his contempt is such that he can’t even give me an uppercase letter…

One thing’s for sure, though: he has a real chip on his shoulder as far as the union goes. But the thing is, on a personal level, he just went somewhere he shouldn’t have gone. I might well be, as he condescending surmised, a “socialist, ndp, tree hugger,” but I do run a small business as well, for what it’s worth. So, figuring at this point that the gloves were off, I couldn’t resist going at him on that level via baffling him with my know-how in *MY* business:

Hello Dick,

Respectfully, I am not sure what you’re talking about. I can plainly see from the header of the e-mail you just sent me that you are using Outlook 6 as your mail client. Are you telling me that the notification e-mails you receive via the listserv are not getting through? That doesn’t seem to be the case, since you were able to resend it to me (below). For personal and professional reasons of my own that have nothing to do with those you enumerated, I choose to use Eudora to send those notices (after getting a fresh copy of the listserv’s subscribers via the website’s extranet module, using whichever browser I happen to have running at the moment), yet no one until now has told me that those messages aren’t getting through. Therefore, if you are having problems reading the e-mail I send you, I would need a few more details in order to help you troubleshoot, although it’s possible something has gone haywire on your installation of Outlook, which would be beyond my control. (That’s not an anti-Microsoft slur, by the way; it’s a conclusion resulting from years of helping Web hosting clients solve e-mail-related problems.)

As for the website itself, as far as I can tell, it renders well in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, Firefox 1.0+, Safari (a Mac browser), Opera 7+, and Netscape 6+ …so no, no one is forcing you to download Netscape. Because I *DO* run my own small business in Web development — the union is just one of my clients, for I am no longer a member because I haven’t taught in over three years — I wouldn’t dream of creating a Web-based application or website that doesn’t run with MSIE given how it’s the most widely used browser on the planet. But as I believe I explained to you before, also as a Web developer, I do find MSIE wanting simply because it hasn’t been seriously updated in several years and, as a result, is falling behind in terms of compliance with Web standards, especially with respect to style sheets. Even worse, however — again from my perspective — is the fact that some people are still visiting websites with Netscape 4.x, which ended its production run in 2000 and is notorious for getting completely confused with basic style sheets and cookies that are ubiquitous on today’s Web. For these people, and given the current drawbacks with MSIE, I recommend getting a more recent version of Netscape or Firefox because it’s similar to what these individuals have been using for so long. However, once MSIE 7 is out of beta and is stable, which is expected by mid-2006 according to most sources, I will definitely modify my content management system so that readers will have the choice to link to the MSIE download area. So my question to you is, “Are you already using MSIE 7 Beta and, if so, is it kicking you out of the website?” Nothing in the content management system’s routine to detect the user-agent string should be forcing that to happen, but if it is happening, I would definitely want to fix this serious bug.

So to sum up, the union’s website is not constructed in a manner to ban the use of IE and neither the union nor I could care less what browser people use (except Netscape 4.x), so I don’t understand what you’re asking me in your message. However, if you’re referring only to “someone’s idea” not to link to Microsoft at this time, then yes, I do own up to that idea. But as you should see by now, this decision was never due to political fervour or ideological reasons. Rather, it’s a decision I made precisely because I run a business in which I spend a lot of time providing clients with technical advice and support, and I am not given to recommending outdated software simply because it’s the most widely used. Besides, it only makes business sense for me to send clients along their merry way with software that works than having to explain to them — usually for free — why an innocuous application such as a Web browser is not doing what it should. In fact, that’s the rationale behind my recommendation to PC users to upgrade their operating system to …Microsoft Windows XP.

You may not like the union, Dick, but that doesn’t stop you from availing yourself of its services, to which you’re fully entitled as a member and part-timer, as well as the gains it has made on your behalf over the years. Too bad you seem so contemptuous towards it that you “typically” end up suspicious of anything it does.

Maurice

I’m not holding my breath for Dick’s reply. It’s too bad, though, because there might be an underlying technical glitch on how Eudora creates a link in the body of a message and how it’s handled (or mishandled) by Outlook.

I know some of you prefer Outlook by far, but I’ve never made a secret of the fact I don’t like it ……and it’s not because it’s a Microsoft product. It just doesn’t work for me, and every single query I’ve received from clients about e-mail troubles has been Outlook related. That’s just crazy!

I know it has to do with Microsoft wanting to be the one to set the standards and all of that, but given how the record on integration among Microsoft products is spotty, it’s little wonder that some of us aren’t quite ready to entrust it with total dominance in the computing world. (For example, in standard-compliant code, an apostrophe generated by MS Word, once copied-and-pasted into a webpage, will screw up the layout of the page in MSIE, but not the other browsers.) The fact Windows XP is MS’s most stable operating system since DOS is only the first step towards earning that dominance.