Month: April 2017

No Guarantees In Life

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A SANYO R227 Internet Radio, produced by the company I worked for nearly 20 years. A great product, but a pity it was released at the wrong time. Picture from Digital Trends website, where the R227 was reviewed favourably.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE

(Note: While every effort was made to write this post with as much fact and objectivity as possible, it should not be considered THE truth of the day. Read this as an analytical commentary of the current state of chronic unemployment and lack of affordable housing and not as a critique of the company from a former SANYO Canada employee)

One of the arguments made by proponents of the minimalist government model — those who believe there should be no social assistance programs and everyone should take care of themselves — is that the business world has the ability to ensure everyone is financially self reliant through employment. In other words, it’s the fault of the unemployed for being where they are, because they don’t want to work.  Lazy bastards and bitches, the lot of them. Find a job, you have rent and food. Simple, simple.

The problem with that reasoning is that the collective employment potential of the business world is far from being able to guarantee that.

There are many reasons for this. One reason I’ve already mentioned is the hit song, “Do More With Less! Downsize! Downsize!” that Corporate Canada dances to in order to make a profit. I’ve also mentioned technological unemployment where automation is doing away with jobs without provisions being made for retraining those being let go. Since they were already covered before, I won’t expand on either any further.

What I DO want to discuss today has something to do with the company I worked for. I never mentioned my last full time job by name because I wanted to wait seven years after the day of my departure and the expiration of the terms of my exit strategy before talking about it. Now that I’ve reached that point in time, I can talk about the company within the context of the topic of this blog post.

I started with SANYO Canada back in 1991 as a temp employee of Universal Support Systems. I worked as a night-shift computer operator. This went on for two years until SANYO Canada offered me a full-time position.

On the day that happened, I was on Cloud Nine.  It was busy, but not breakneck stressful. It was an awesome place to work for. I had a great boss who praised me for my good work but — on thankfully very rare occasions —  was also not afraid to tell me when I made a mistake.

Because the company was very close to where I lived, I was able to walk to work, even on crappy weather days. We had enough staff in our I.T. department to cover for vacationing employees. We even had our own secretary.

It was a great job I enjoyed doing. That enjoyment brought forth good employee performance. I was promoted from night shift computer operations to programming and then later to applications developer.

I received paid-for company training for things involving my work, attended lavish Christmas parties, enjoyed company BBQs, and went on trips on the SANYO blimp.

Nothing lasts forever, however. Over the next 15 years that followed, my dream career began to unravel.

When I was a kid, you had an appliance that served a specific purpose: TVs for television shows, phones for telephone calls, stereos and radios for news and music. A this for that in other words.

All of that can now be done on either a smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Very convenient, very portable, and consumers in general love portability and convenience.

Companies that adapted to this changing consumer landscape (such as SONY, Samsung, and Apple) weathered the storm. Companies that couldn’t…? Well, let me continue with the story.

SANYO Canada and its parent company could have made products (like smart phones) that rode on the convergence trend. It didn’t. It decided to get out of the business of making cell-phones in 2008 and go for gimmicky niche products instead.

The R227 (shown above) played news and music over the Internet but had a nostalgic look with the chrome and knobs. I was one of two I.T. guys who had the pleasure of working with the initial prototype. I tested out some of the features and sent a short report to Marketing that reported any issues with the product design. The R227 was a great product, but in the mid-2000’s it was already out of favour before it hit the store shelves. We were living in an on-demand world at that point, with streaming audio and video already available on devices that were smaller and more affordable.

Consumer marketing gambles that backfired were not just limited to the R227.  In a time when people were ditching their landlines (including cordless phones), SANYO thought making cordless phones where you could change the colour of the handset’s faceplate was a solution to bolster the product line’s sagging sales. It didn’t work. In fact, nothing meant to improve the consumer side of SANYO’s business worked. The company was in trouble and that’s when the austerity cuts to the company began.

It started with the frills. Gone were the lavish Christmas parties, to be replaced with Christmas office pot lucks. No more expensive company lunches and outdoor BBQs.

Next came evaluating the operational costs.

Our I.T. infrastructure was moved to our head office in San Diego after the first wave of staff cuts in my department began. We could not implement any software or hardware solution that directly plugged into our core business processes unless San Diego approved and most of the time they refused. VPN access for employees who wanted to work from home was only permitted if we used the client software we were told to use, not what we needed. In the end, having our head office host our I.T. infrastructure crippled SANYO Canada’s ability to adapt to the changing B2B and B2C needs of our customers.

The corporate tree was flattened, and the  I.T. department merged with the Finance department. The position of I.T. manager was removed with the staff reporting directly to the head of  Finance, who had the designation of Vice-President.

As my department shrank, my workload increased. I went from being just a developer to also wearing the hat of systems administrator, security officer and first level backup for EDI and PC support. My pay didn’t increase in proportion with my new duties but my blood pressure and stress level sure did. My weight ballooned to a very unhealthy 200 pounds.

SANYO Canada moved out of Toronto to Vaughan to reduce rent and business tax expenses. My commute went from a delightful walk to a daily round trip of 4 hours by transit.  I left my apartment at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, and did not come home until between 8 and 9 in the evening. On nights where I worked late, that trip became downright dangerous when transit stopped running.

The move out of Toronto didn’t just affect employee commute times. It also made it damned inconvenient for customers needing servicing for their products. The Toronto location was pretty easy to get to both by transit and car, since it was smack in the middle of a high-density residential area. Its new home in Vaughan placed it in an area surrounded mostly by light commercial and industrial businesses, served only by a single transit line that ran once every 30 minutes out of rush-hour, and reachable only by the highway.

Our warehouses were outsourced to a third party logistics company. The staff who worked in those warehouses lost their seniority after becoming employees of that third party company.

 

By the time the Great Recession was in full swing, SANYO had endured many cuts and departmental restructuring, but that was not enough to save it. It became a subsidiary of Panasonic with all staff relocated to work at its Mississauga office. The office we moved into from Toronto — which was specifically built for us and was trumpeted in fanfare as an example of businesses moving to Vaughan — was vacated and sold to another company.

Any product lines bearing SANYO’s logo are now being grandfathered out. I was already long gone at that point, with the company and the job I had nothing more than awesome memories of what was.

What was the point of sharing all of this, you ask? To show that there is no such thing as job security any more. You can still do all the right things at work. You can be a stellar employee with a dream career but shit can still happen.

Your financial stability and security can be taken away at any time, without warning and out of your control.

This is something the minimalists need to understand. This is why businesses cannot be expected to be the white knights against unemployment. This is why we need a social safety net to catch people when they fall in this Age Of Austerity and The Jobless Recovery.

Thanks for reading!

David.

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No Sense Of Belonging

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I’m apparently not allowed to be at my own place during a property showing, and neither are the rest of the tenants who live there.

For the past few days, we tenants have been getting notices from the Re/Max realtor assigned to selling the building I’m in. Each notice states specific times for the house showing, but never at the same times.

What is common with all the notices is the directive. “Prefer that we are not to be present”.

I find that curious since I LIVE here.

To add to the bizarreness of this directive, the realtor also gets to see the inside of our rooms. While we’re not supposed to be around.

Before I leave for a temp job or go to the library for my morning job search, my knapsack has been full of things I can’t risk having stolen.

Since these viewings are almost daily, this has proven to be a damned inconvenience. I can’t do laundry during these times. I can’t clean my place or tend to my sty on my right eyelid. I can’t even go home to shower and rest after a Kijiji or Craigslist gig ends in the afternoon during these viewing times.

I have to stay away, even if I have no idea where to go. Why?

I’ll admit what I think the reason why the tenants are asked to not be around is more speculation than fact, so take what you read next as my personal opinion.

Having said this, it’s plausible enough for consideration.

The place I live in is a low-income group home. You’re not going to see rich people with stable jobs and generous benefits living here. You’re going to see people, like myself, struggling to make do in this Age of Austerity and the Jobless Recovery.

Some of us have personal issues. All of us are not exactly where we really want to be in life. The realtor probably realizes this, and has some misgivings of having us around during a showing and has decided maybe if we were not around to sully the scenery, the house will have a better chance of finding a buyer.

Think about it. A structure, a thing, is being given special treatment over people with rights and feelings. These same people are being regarded as something that needs to be hidden, in the same way a water stain or warped floor would be.

Harsh? Yes, but it’s about real estate after all, and people’s rights and feelings don’t matter when making money is involved. The Region of Waterloo’s house market is on fire as of this post, and everyone is trying to make as much money as they can.

Everyone, except for those who live there, and are being asked to stay away from their own homes.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Lost Foundation

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A scene from the final episode of my “David Needs A Job” series where I was forced to move out of my apartment because I could not afford the rent. I could be facing the same situation soon, but for different reasons.

Everything starts from somewhere.

Whether it’s my job search, working temp jobs and gigs, raising awareness about my situation, it all comes from a single source: a roof over my head and a good night’s sleep.

Without it, I can’t effectively continue my efforts to return to financial reliance and self-sustainability. Woe be me if I were to ever lose the place I’m in right now.

I always thought I’d lose shelter if my family announces one day they can no longer financially sustain payments, which is perfectly understandable. I always stressed this was a temporary arrangement while I search for work.

I never expected my landlord to be the cause.

My landlord has announced he wants to sell the group home I’m in. Why he wants to sell is not important, since it’s trumped by more pressing questions, such as  “how will this affect my tenancy?” or “what will happen to me if the new owner does not want renters?”.

I asked the landlord and the property manager to keep me up to date on any news about the sale. I also want them to copy members of my family, one of which is the leaseholder, on any correspondence to me. I’ve already informed them of what the landlord has planned, and could continue to update them when I hear anything, but I prefer them to know the moment the landlord or property manager presses SEND on their email or text.

Even though I’m not the leaseholder, I still can ask questions about the lease. I learned that my lease went from a yearly to a monthly one after the first year of my tenancy. Why the leaseholder decided not to renew as yearly is unknown, but it does introduce a problem.

Because I’m on a monthly lease now, as stated by my landlord:

“if the new owner decides he wants to do renovations he would have to give you 2 months notice prior to eviction”.

In other words, I might not make it to the fall as originally expected.

It’s also possible that even if the house is not sold before my monthly lease ends in September, the current landlord could choose not to renew with the leaseholder so renovations could be done to my room. This means I’m out in the fall, even if the family collective wants to continue my tenancy.

It’s still the same outcome regardless. The chances are VERY good I could once again be a couchsurfer or full-bore homeless.

It would be back to sleeping in a different home every few days, or napping in a park or a bus. It would mean being exposed to the elements, and at risk of being mugged again, like I was once mugged nearly two years ago.

Where I would do all of this is uncertain. Would I stay in the Region of Waterloo where products and services are more affordable, but with little networking options, or make a stand in Toronto where my social network is huge, but things are much more expensive, including public transit?

It would impact my ability to do the things I mentioned before. It’s hard to look for work, go on interviews, and do part time work when you are fighting poor nutrition and lack of REM sleep.

It doesn’t stop there:

  • People who are homeless are more likely to be arrested for something they did not do (or needed to do, such as trying to get some sleep in a non-residential area, or seek shelter from the elements).
  • They are more likely to face discrimination by society, thus being blocked access to opportunities that could help them get back on their feet.
  • They are more likely to be assaulted or be a victim of other forms of violent crime.
  • They are more likely to be victims of fraud.
  • They are more likely to suffer mental illness.
  • They are more likely to get sick and become hospitalized due to lack of sleep and proper nutrition.
  • They are more likely to commit suicide.
  • They are more likely to die at an earlier age from causes other than suicide but from the effects of being homeless that could lead to death, listed above.

This is what I could face.

In addition to letting my friends and family know of my status on a regular basis, I plan to prepare myself for the worse and hope for the best.

I’ll keep you posted, and thanks for reading.

David.

 

 

Artificial Intelligence? Dumb Move!

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Another reason why jobs will become scarcer, and poverty will increase. Source: National Post, Article About Investment in AI in the Spring 2017 Federal Budget.

Warning: Coarse Language

I’ve always said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a bit of a space cadet when it came to running this country, but when I hear news about taxpayer dollars funding a national AI (Artificial Intelligence) research program, well, he’s boldly gone nuts.

According to the news article linked by this post, “In an effort to push Canada to the forefront of digital innovation, the federal government committed $125 million in Wednesday’s budget to create a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.”

You can’t make shit like this up. $125 million tax dollars….OUR money…is going to create a form of benign SkyNet.

I for one do NOT welcome neither our AI overlords nor the Liberal dimwits spending hard-earned Canadian tax dollars for this.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m big on technological innovation and research.  The problem I have is this should be done by private industry willing to pony up the capital and take the risk to pursue this. If anyone wants it, be a consumer and buy it.

I really must ask: what’s the ROI for this gamble? Are we sure we can make this work? Does anyone remember the endless promises being made and the research dollars being poured into making flying cars back in the 1970s? Do we have flying cars today? The only cars I see flying are the stunt car racers illegally breaking the law in Waterloo.

I’ll no doubt be told that this will create jobs and raise the standard of living for Canadians. What jobs exactly? The answer is right there in the article:  high-tech jobs. You know, those jobs that don’t have an entry level to start from, where you need to go to post-secondary education (which only the upper-middle class and the rich can afford) to get training for. What about those people who cannot afford post-secondary education? What about mature workers who are facing increasing restrictions on career change funding? What about those people who, quite frankly, are not tech savvy? What will happen to the jobs that category of people do which will be taken over by hardware and software?

What about affordable housing? $125 million could have gone towards making more units for single moms, the elderly, and the physically challenged who exist below the poverty line. What about programs that help get the homeless back to financial self reliance and self -sustainability? Has anyone forgotten we have people living in the street?

On the subject of raising the standard of living, when are we going to see more leisure time as a result of automation and the remote workplace? Oh wait, it went the other way, didn’t it? We are now working more hours and suffering a work-life imbalance. Your employer has given you the tools to use your smartphone and computer as a virtual workplace. All without getting overtime, I must point out.

Is this truly the start of a golden Age Of Prosperity, or is this going to be an “Age Of Austerity Version 2.0?” instead?

I guess robots and talking computers are more important than helping the more vulnerable members of society rejoin the ranks and share in this bright new future the Liberals are trying to build.

Thanks for reading!

David.