April 2007 - Posts
It's nice and warm out - perfect weather to wear a light breezy shirt meant for the Mediterranean.
Wandered through a small town that some of my relatives live in today. A suburb of Katowice, in case you're keeping track.
I found myself trying out both the best and worst gelato/ice cream in town. I inserted that slash because I never determined if I was dealing with true gelato or not - it was served in a matter vaguely resembling proper gelato, but the taste was all over the map. Mostly in the poor area.
The best stuff I got was a pale imitation of Toronto's excellent Dolce/Paloma products - but it was actually half-decent compared to the second cone I tried, which was a complete abomination.
Think yellow-coloured lemon and you'll know exactly what I mean.
Ironically, though, my personal experience from the two shops was also wildly divergent from the quality of the product itself!
The best part of that little experience - aside from the fact that the tiny servings only cost a pittance - was discovering that the concept of "sampling" has yet to reach this small town.
In the first store I used the Polish word for taste test - 'degustowanie'.
The girl's response?
"What's that?" - in Polish, of course.
She really meant it. She was confused.
So I said, "no wiesz... to sample" ("No wiesz" = "you know"). Yes, I used English in an attempt to be more clear.
After a little more effort she came to the bizarre conclusion that she doesn't have anything with which to offer samples.
Um - how about the serving spoon? Why not try that?
So I sample the lemon and share it with the others.
Hmm - instant judgement: you can TASTE the sugar.
I don't want Skittles, I'm looking for gelato.
I pass on getting a full scoop of the lemon. My expectations lowered commensurately, I get Nocciola and a Polish milk/berry flavour which - to be honest - isn't that bad.
Those two scoops cost the equivalent of a loonie or so. While the serving size is puny, and quality is merely "Gelato Fresco" at best - that Canadian case study in a name that screams false advertising - (that's right, I went there), in terms of value for money, it's not that bad.
It's not very good, but it'll do.
The adventure continued when we crossed to the opposite end of the town square. Feeling cheeky, I walk up to the "Italiana" ice cream stand to see what the standards of sampling are at.
Looking at the display, I try and find their lemon - gourmands know that they can make a broad sweeping decision on an entire display case by first gauging the quality of the lemon, a deceptively simple yet devilishly difficult flavour to perfect.
I try hard to find the lemon, but have trouble. Which is an especially bad sign considering that there are only six flavours to choose from!
It goes from bad to worse: my expectations nosedive when I finally spot the lemon.
This is going to suck.
If you've been paying attention you already know the problem.
I could just give up and walk away but I feel like testing my theory - even though I know it's already well proven - plus, I have my new social study of who knows what a sample is.
This lady is incredibly more helpful than the last one! She demurs that she does not, in fact, have any spoons of any sort. Only cones.
Before I can say "that's okay, at least you tried", she pulls out a cone and scrapes off a generous sample which she deposits for me to sample.
Pleasantly surprsied by this level of service - which in this town was until-now lacking - I swallow back on my pride and try the yellow lemon.
I try not to gag. Or laugh.
It's even worse than I expected. A disaster / a complete catastrophe.
It was even more bland than the W hotel.
But - and here's a key lesson for people with even a passing interest in marketing - the lady serving the iced swill was so pleasant I felt like I might as well actually buy a scoop or two.
Which I did.
A candied pistachio (awful) and a "grape and rum" (i.e., rum and raisin) flavour. Neither very good, but at least they wouldn't taste out of place, say, in a crusty Baskin Robbins.
It cost me even less than a dollar this time, even with a little tip I gave her for being so generous with the sample - you have to love how pleased people get with even absolutely symbolic tips when they're not expecting anything - but whatever.
Although the serving may have been identical to that of the first shop, it felt more generous and enjoyable - despite the quality being objectively rather miserable.
Service saved the day, completely overriding an objective evaluation of which product should have produced a 'happier' response.
Does this mildly busy-case related story mean that I have a mindset of a person still a work, perhaps fielding e-mails or something?
Heavens no - I'm merely typing up a storm before passing out. Commentary on the amusing habits and phrases I'm noticing and picking up will just simply have to wait for another day.
My stint working as a tax preparer is almost done - Monday I check in to see if there's anything else I need to do. Then, I take off on my long-awaited vacation.
This short month working in the tax group taught me a lot of things - how CNIL
actually works, for example: it's one thing to describe what you get off the CRA's website
on an exam - it's another thing altogether to process it on a tax return.
After hitting up a series of topics, I feel much more confident in my abilities on the tax side of things - no doubt the reason my CA students in Canada are required to work 100 hours preparing tax returns before they earn the CA designation.
In addition to getting practical experience in a broad variety of tax returns, I came to a bit of a realization: the supposed 'difficulty' of tax is overblown, once you sit down and deal with it.
The epiphany reminded me of my high school chemistry class, where our teacher proclaimed to us that the technical knowledge he was sharing with us was rather straightforward. Why do people freak out over the periodic table, or any of the other things engineering students grapple with? There's no need to be concerned.
Find out what you have to do, try and do it, and you'll be surprised to find that you'll probably get it done.
You may stumble along the way, but your mistakes will be surprisingly mundane - a misplaced decimal place or a formula being written out or copied incorrectly.
You come to the humbling realization that the work you do, while demanding a moderate technical background, can be re-performed by virtually anyone.
That's a Good Thing when you're disappearing from the workplace, of course, since it also means that you're replaceable: given a few minutes to gain familiarity with your files, someone else can pick them up where you leave them off. If you document your work clearly, of course!
At the risk of sounding excessively grateful, I have to say I'm glad I
didn't get any hassles for taking off a week before the end of tax
season. Of course, I think my aforementioned documentation is up to snuff, but despite that, there are other considerations to remember: the last week before a tax filing deadline is here!
It's also invariably the
most intense, as all the last-minute paperwork has to be tidied up and
processed. Fortunately our tax prep team is, as far as I can tell, big
and strong enough to pick up the slack from one guy disappearing - and
on another level, it's considered unthinkable to give anybody a hard
time if they're leaving for a vacation they planned well in advance.
My managers were especially understanding, though, encouraging me not to take on more work - there's plenty to go around, but there's plenty of people to work on it too. Instead, I spent my time finishing up my files, and assisting with other files that just had a few last documents to be prepared.
Even though I was pretty busy finishing up work on my files, this was an incredibly enjoyable week. The joy came from describing my trip itinerary. There will be at least nine countries to hit at a whirlwind pace - and whenever I ran through the list I could just see people's eyes light up with vicarious excitement.
Now it's time to get some last-minute preparations done - there's less than 72 hours left before takeoff.
Not surprisingly, my posting will be increasingly sporadic in May. But I'll be back. After all, I have four people to help prepare for the 2007 UFE!
I was amazed by how quickly this day blew by. Having shown up thinking that I would have very little to do, I found myself continually bouncing from one file to another, tying up various loose ends.
During the course of my hectic little rush I found myself glancing at the little news feed on the elevator screens. New CD coming out, more cloudy weather, something about a shooting. Nothing really clicked.
That changed, of course, when I pulled my head out of the tax files and finally interacted with people immersed in weighter matters. It seems that I wasn't the only one who was caught unaware until so late in the day.
wrote about one young student's oblivious stroll: "Bernhards recalled walking toward her class, preoccupied with an
upcoming exam and listening to music on her iPod. On the way, she said,
she heard loud cracks, and only later concluded that they had been
gunshots from the second round of shootings. But even at that point,
many students were walking around the campus with little sense of alarm."
She was on campus when the senseless brutally struck - but she might as well have been thousands of kilometres away like me. We, of course, weren't in much of a position to do anything.
The university officials who sat on their hands during the gap between the first and second shooting incidents - presumably carried out by the same deranged man - were, however, in a position to do something. If reports of their inaction are true, they have the souls of over 30 people on their consciences now. I would lambast heartily, but that will accomplish little. They will no doubt suffer countless nightmares second guessing what they did today - or if they have any decency, they certainly should - and that will be punishment enough for them.
It feels like only yesterday we were in shock over a similar event in Montreal.
The true cretin is dead - I can only imagine how many articles and magazine covers will be reserved to indulge in a thorough review and analysis of what caused this tragedy.
And hopefully some good will come of it - it seems far too early to hope for the appearance of Goodness in such a stark moment of horror, but that's really all we have to live for in times like this.
Say a prayer for all those who lost their lives today, in the US, and in all the strife-torn places in the world, of which there are still far too many.
I haven't written much here this week, but please rest assured it was due to a cause completely unrelated to working in the tax pool - it was something to do with having something resembling a social life outside of work.
The overtime was almost non-existent - I went just one hour over the required work week minimum, and I got all my work done too. Just too freakin' sweet, really. It helped that our team was fully staffed this week and tax files were snapped up as soon as they arrived.
On the downside there weren't any new returns to pick up today. On the upside - yeah - there weren't any new returns to pick up today.
There was some drama before I finished.
There's always drama.
I had to wrestle to submission the ugliest report from an investment bank I've ever seen. The scary thing, of course, is the fact that I know
there are uglier reports out there.
Of course, the fact that nastier reports exist to be man-handled isn't that surprising, mainly because in retrospect, I have to admit it wasn't even that bad. I just had to slog through a long exercise in tedious data entry, after a stint of careful analysis to make sure everything was being entered correctly.
To make up for the tedium, I have to admit that there was a pretty damn sweet sense of accomplishment once the return was complete. It made up for all the times I wondered whether all the tax stuff I was learning in university would ever come in handy.
Of course I'll find out on Monday whether that work was completed correctly. But aside from clearing review notes, the only thing left to wonder is whether more returns will arrive for me to work on. If there aren't too many, I may just find myself floating around, helping my friends with the returns that they're working on - I've gained a metric ton of experience in the past two weeks and it's especially fun to share.Disclaimer:
my sunny disposition towards tax is no doubt influenced at least in part by the fact that I go on vacation in 10 days - I leave a week before the Canadian tax deadline. That means if there are insane hours of work in the last week, it'll be physically impossible to pull me back in, short of the deployment of a team of team of body snatchers to Europe. I doubt, however, that my company plans on ever putting me in any Bourne Identity
-style scenarios. And that's probably a Good Thing, unless you're into the 'planning assassinations and getting shot at' scene.
What I'm about to write is tantamount to heresy - to the Krupo of, oh say, roughly a year ago.
Like most introductory level disciples at the altar of capitalist accounting, I looked at tax with apprehension at best, and complete fear and loathing at worst.
I mean, it's a course saved until the very end of your university career and people spend the first 20-odd years of your life making it sounds like one of the grisliest things you ever have to deal with.
As usual, though, it boils down to being another case of making much ado about nothing.
It’s also a case, though, of practice making perfect. As much as you may not like the idea of doing your taxes, after a mere several dozen or so hours you can get a handle on a given category of returns.
The usual exceptions apply. If you haven’t you may need to brush up on new rules. It’s amazing how many mundane details you need to stay on top of. Of course, it helps if you work for a medium or larger-sized firm which has a dedicated tax department who analyse the annual government budgets and other intermittent policy announcements to help you stay on top of what’s new.
Having tax software, ironically enough, may end up complicating matters more than they help. Simple programs may be easy to use, but they may not necessarily be powerful enough to handle every bizarre exception you might run into - or they may charge extra for those features.
And while you can “get a handle” on the work fairly quickly, there are nuances that can stump you if you don’t have a decent tax guide or experienced colleague nearby to help you. Check back with me at the end of the month to see whether I find that you can achieve some degree of ‘mastery’ over personal taxes after an intensive month in the return prep trenches.
Will I find it - gasp - perhaps even a pleasant way to spend some time at work? So far the outlook has been rather positive. Although how much that had to do with the free food I scored for three of my lunches may have made me feel dangerously optimistic.
Do you see cash coming into your bank account listed as "CANADA RIT"? If you don't recognize it, it's your income tax refund.
I've been doing people's tax returns all week. It's nice to see my refund back so soon.
This means that the people who I helped at the ICAO low-income tax clinics
last month must've received their refunds in the past week or two as well - so everyone's happy. Hurray!
Well, almost everyone should be happy. If, however, you find yourself cutting a cheque to the feds instead of getting a refund, consider making some charitable donations. One idea is the Heart and Stroke Foundation - I'm doing 75km for them in the Ride for Heart
- e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you'd like to make a contribution.
I'm watching Spike Lee's Very Important and epic
4-hour documentary When the Levees Broke
In addition to reminding me of many things which went Horribly Wrong in the summer of 2005, the movie plays Barbara Bush's crass and insensitive remark about the victims of Hurricane Katrina being in a position to benefit from the hurricane.
Although receiving aid is nice and all, the way she said those words - and the unfeeling boorish sentiment it exposes showcases her to the world as a disgusting harpy. And, the mother of the current U.S. president too.
I was curious to see the results of a Google search for the pointed headline
I chose for this comment. It turns out this isn't a unique sentiment
in the least -unsurprisingly, really.
Her exact words - thanks Japan Today
- were: "and so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were
underprivileged anyway, so this — this is working very well for them,"
Spike Lee's movie is even-handed enough to point out that there are both elements of not just racism, but classism throughout the entire debacle.
And as much as you can just accuse Mama Bush of being a 'classist' for the first interpretation of her comment. Another astute blogger notes that there was more to what she said: there was a concern about all the predominantly black evacuees
staying put in Texas.That's
is why is eminently fair to accuse her of all the adjectives in the headline.
Sure, some will say it's an obvious statement and you don't need to make such a big case for your criticism. But the difference between an ad hominem attack and a fact-based criticism is the quality of facts and arguments you use to support your position. A byproduct of going through the UFE process, I suppose - that's right, my angry diatribe is indirect exam-writing advice. Write your business cases the way you should attack the cruel and powerful figures of high politics - with cogent arguments and a conclusion.
There's more details we can get into, but this isn't a writing a clinic, but rather indirect advice!
It's an especially poignant time to write about the Katrina disaster. After all, New Orleans is the home of Mardi Gras - which of course is a party held before the start of Lent. And it's the Easter weekend - the end of Lent.
Plus, Time magazine just released another major issue on global warming; it points out how poorly New Orleans is defended against catastrophic flooding, especially considered in comparison to the mammoth defenses in the Low Countries of Europe.
One simmering hot topic I haven't thought too much about is the idea of getting environmental audit opinion
. Delete the quotation marks in the Google Search and you'll get over a million hits for those words, but there's only one hit as it stands.
While environmental consultancy firms are out there - after all, any major municipal construction project needs an environmental assessment - I wonder if this is something the Big Accounting firms could take charge on? I'm thinking of all the people who are starting to wonder whether those "carbon offset" credits actually go towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions - although some real environmental scientists and engineers would no doubt need to join in - it sounds like a case where some real accounting specialists to provide assurance.
I guess you heard it here first.
I'd better sign off before I start making observations on Louisiana's fiscal imbalance with the Federal Government, which gets oil and gas royalties but returns little to nothing to the state that is losing its wetlands. What a complete debacle.
Pick up the April 9, 2007 Time Magazine and check out the
inbox section. You'll find a letter on page 6 from Bobby Shriver, CEO of the anti-AIDS group (RED)
His group has a worthy mission - raising revenue to send out to help the poorest people in the world who are suffering with AIDS.
He's a complete disaster when it comes public relations, though - he wrote to protest Time Magazine's recent observation that the organization has raised $18 million for its cause while the GAP and the other big companies that are promoting the (RED)
initiative have spent $100 million dollars on advertising.
Okay, you say. Spending more than five times the amount you process for AIDS support seems a bit outrageous. Perhaps the numbers are
all wrong. Will you kindly show us how stupid Time is and how generous everyone in fact is?
And he obliges.
He says that the $100 million number is wrong by "more than 50%". And that the "true number" for revenue related to the Global Fund is "in excess of $25 million".
If you thought he was about to blow everyone out of the water and show that they spend far more on the poor people with AIDS than they do on advertising, then you're going to be shocked when you sit down and think about it.
Let's be generous and assume he means that the $100 million marketing number should be, oh, $45 million. Remember, "more than 50%" could simply mean it's actually $49,999,999.
And "in excess of $25 million" could be $30 million". But it could also be $25,000,100. Of course, if it was $30 million, you would rationally expect him to say "in excess of $30 million" or something similar.
For the sake of the argument, take the 'best case scenario' of a 45:30 ratio. That's a 3:2 ratio.
It means, that, at best
, for every $2 spent on helping someone with AIDS, they spent another $3 on talking glossy ads talking about how horrible AIDS is and how wonderful the major corporations are for helping the poor people.
So Bobby has just re-emphasized the fact that they're spending over 150% more
money on marketing than they actually are on helping the poor.
That's disgusting and pathetic. I'm not particularly surprised about the 3:2 (at best) ratio because I've become a very cynical person when it comes to major corporations, but I am completely flabbergasted that Bobby is so stupid as to think people will not see straight through his pathetic attempt to salvage the public relations debacle that arose from the exposure of the hypocrisy associated with blowing huge wads of cash on telling people how great you are for spending smaller wads of cash on the poor.
And that, along with poor design choices and a general abject failure in staying 'fashionable', is why the GAP has been doing so badly lately.
I finally got around to checking out how much spam hit me last month - 2027 messages, a strong increase over the past two months - February having only 1832
It's still off the December peak of 2436
though, but not a good sign nevertheless.