October 2008 - Posts
And to think I voted for you.
New taxes tend to not bother me - until I'm smacked in the face with them when they surprise me on their "payment due" date.
And of course, to achieve maximum "kick you while you're down" effect, tack them on with other fees I had to pay.
For absolute bother, ensure that those taxes also achieve nothing!
While renewing my car's registration I saw signs warning residents of Toronto that under the new and improved City of Toronto Act the city has new abilities with which to completely mess with our wallets.
I'd like to report a robbery
"Messing with us" includes jacking up taxes to support the heavily
unionized labour force that cleans our parks, fights our fires, and
polices the rabble.
Now general taxes for housing I've long accepted, as have most people. You own property in a city, you support the services you get. You use specialized services, you pay additional fees. Fine, whatever.
If I paid more for driving more, that would seem fair. Paying the same
for driving once a week on a special excursion instead of doing daily
commutes is just wrong. Almost as wrong as letting people dodge the
rule by registering their car outside the City of Toronto at a relative's house, but living in the city. It turns the tax into a penalty on being bad at good a schemer - or just too much of an "honest sucker," if you will.
An extra fee for having a car can make sense - if you're trying to logically achieve something with that fee. I refer you to Exhibit A, London's congestion charge. You're trying to significantly alter people's habits.
I like how London's website says, "By law, all net revenue raised has to be invested in improving transport in London".
£137m raised? Brilliant.
What is Toronto doing with its $60 per car, aside from NOT reducing traffic levels?
Collecting a pathetic $56 million a year.
I'm complaining about paying a new tax, and then complaining that it's too low?
Okay, this guy had even worse problems than a $60 tax. Lost a wheel on Queen's Park Crescent. Damn. Didn't even hit a thing - poorly tightened nuts perhaps? Maybe "Oops" is more appropriate.
If a tax is too low to affect people's habits, then you're wasting our time - just raise your general revenues instead of being cute by spreading things around.
If a car tax doesn't affect when and where you drive, it's most likely also designed by idiots missing vital chromosomes.
Look at the ridiculous traffic jams in the city. The highways were designed for a population of about half the size we're currently living with.
We need massive investments in creating the world's best mass transit system. I want to be able to catch a train at any time of day to take me to ridiculously remote client locations in the suburbs. I then want bikes available - or room on the trains for bikes - so I can travel the last 2 km myself. Or have some decent bus service to get there, so the non-cyclists among us won't clog up the roads with their own gas guzzlers.
Doing a timid half-measure like this accomplishes nothing, other than filling myself and others with righteous indignation.
More righteous indignation: idiot driver gets himself smashed by a streetcar, blocking two lanes of streetcar traffic. Cyclists such as myself cruise by while ordinary commuters are hosed. Photo credit: my low resolution cameraphone photo.
I don't expect us to achieve the brilliance known as the Swiss Rail system anytime soon - we have trouble ordering streetcars before they turn 35 years old - but I'd sorely prefer that we have leaders who at least try to achieve something, rather than wallow in mediocrity.
I wonder if I'm unique in that I'm supporting the positions of both radical anti-tax crusaders as well as megalomaniacal urban planners?
Either "extreme" sounds like an improvement over the middling slugs who are adept at annoying me at a rate inversely proportional to their list of productive achievements.
Don't even get me started on how Londoners get a nice pretty and
detailed website outlining the logic and intelligence of their system,
get nothing that appears after a quick Google search - just a skimpy
FAQ from the provincial government telling you who will listen to your
ineffective angry complaints.
Click here to sign in to leave comments about the car tax.
I hate missing deadlines.
I’m referring, of course, to the self-imposed variety.
The kind where you say, “I will leave the office no later
than six today.”
As much fun as work can be when you’re being paid to
legitimately destroy someone else’s computer system, spending time with friends
and family is much better.
One thing you hope to never have to say to a client is, “I
spend more time with you than my kids.”
Gotta get home on time to spend some quality time with the pumpkins
Sadly, far too often many people allow that to happen - and I don't mean in accounting land, I mean in the work world in general.
If you're able to keep your priorities straight, cherish that ability and don't lose it.
But if everything is out of whack for you, figure out how to fix things before you blow your life away on nothing.
Dennis, the online business guru - go read his collected wisdom - wrote a little article listing ways companies can save money. It's a quick and clever little list.
But one point made me shudder: cutting back on cleaning expenses.
"Consider the frequency of janitorial services. Does the office really
need cleaning every night? Might staff at least partially fulfill that
Some random statistic I stumbled across ages ago said that offices are some of the worst places in terms of germs. Accounting firms lead the pack according to the study.
Perhaps it was just advanced internal fear mongering to generate sales of hand sanitizer.
Regardless, I continue to wash my hands, but I also appreciate the hard work of the cleaning staff. I also know for a fact that people would revolt if they were confronted with overflowing mounds of rubbish in the office.
It'd be nice to thing everyone can pitch in and help, but unless you work in a very small office that's more of a small house than a giant audit factory, it's a wildly unlikely concept.
We live in a world where someone, in their infinite wisdom, realized that it's necessary for a chocolate bar to have operating instructions. Yes, I do think that asking people to clean up after themselves and take out the trash on a daily basis may be a daunting concept, unfortunately.
It's important to balance criticism with praise, though - and offering incentives to your good customers - with whom you have a strong business relationship - while being tough on the bad customers - who are more of a hassle than they're worth - is wisdom worth always remembering.
As Dennis writes:
"Review your worst payers and consider ceasing business with them or
applying onerous surcharges for late settlement. No one likes to cut
off customers; but if they’re not paying, then they’re not worth the
Well put. I've seen it in practice, and the effect is brilliant.
I suppose it would've been good for me to realize I was learning the lesson firsthand when it was happening to me back in university.
For a difficult publishing year, my staff and I wasted mounds of time on a high maintenance advertiser in my campus newspaper. At least my cost of labour working for me was "free", so I was able to delegate that onerous task to another volunteer at the newspaper.
It was a shame that dealing with the advertiser caused my volunteer to collapse. That was the effect anyway - I do of course mean burn out and break down in tears.
Well, almost break down in tears.
Okay, he just got lazy and stopped working for us - which gave me the dubious pleasure of "firing" a volunteer member of my staff.
But it was a blessing in disguise because that opened up the position - and I was able to replace that hapless volunteer with a much stronger business manager who ended up joining the same Big Four company I work at after surviving the trial of managing a campus journalism business.
So in conclusion, drop your worst clients unless you can make them profitable
Or, if you're feeling diabolical, use them as a punishing training ground for your most expendable staff. Horrible advice, I know. Unless you're a new to this whole "managing people" thing and have an appetite for pathological ruthlessness.]
I swear, I only stumbled on this tactic by chance, not by design.
Click here to sign in if you want to leave comments about the status of your office's cleanliness, or your love of Kazakhstan - just pick a nickname and supply an address to get in.
A typical CA's job is all about writing. So in that way it's probably identical to more than 90% of all the professional jobs out there.
Not everyone writes flowing prose, but they have to get ideas across in writing, in a professional and consistent fashion.
So why do people who are trying to get hired in such a place think it would be a good idea to send e-mails asking for help without taking care to use proper capitalization, spelling and generally decent grammar?
How can you help someone land a highly competitive position if they don't make it look like they can handle it?
A job interview is nothing like a jousting competition on an air fort, where your strong hand eye coordinate helps you overcome communications weaknesses.
So why would you write like someone who just emerged from a kindergarten playpen?
Keep these thoughts in mind - and if you're unsuccessful with a job interview and want advice on how to learn from your setback, read this excellent advice from 'Ask a Manager' right away.
A thought occured to me. Even though I'm Canadian, pretend you and I are both Americans for a moment. The nationality doesn't matter, just run with it.
Let's assume that you have your own little business and you're
buying some kind of tool, and you have perfect knowledge about the
quality of two competing products. You're going to use this tool for
five years before you plan to stop using it.
Let's assume you were presented with two options. Also assume there are no other hidden costs (i.e. no extra
pollution caused from shipping the tool because of carbon offsets or
whatever) and money is no object - you have at least $60 burning a hole
in your pocket, ready to spend.
one is buying a $40 tool made by Americans from all American raw
materials which you knew would work at 100% efficiency for one year,
then break and be useless and impossible to repair.
Option two is
buying a $60 tool made by, let's say the British, from British raw
materials, which you knew would work at 150% efficiency for five years.
For some reason I think you wouldn't be surprised if you found out that this shirt was not made in the USA. And you might not even be shocked, either.
If you were to buy American, this would mean spending $40 five times, or a total of $200 for the American tool over fives years, as it breaks and has to be replaced yearly.
The British tool would cost $60 over five years - a saving of $140.
Would it make sense to spend an extra $140 on the 'weaker' tool, in the name of supporting the American tool factory?
Or would it make more sense to use the extra cash to hire an assistant (the laid off American tool factory worker?), or if you already have one, to pay higher wages?
Pick whatever use you have for the $140 - it doesn't matter, it's money you're better of spending on anything other than the inferior tool.
Replace "American" and "British" with whatever country you're living in and competing with - protectionism among developed countries isn't a good way to spend your money. And buying expensive imported goods is equally stupid if it turns out your compatriots are actually the makers of the higher quality good with the better price.
You clearly notice that, like any economist, I've peppered this simplistic example with many assumptions for the sake of illustrating a point. And in some ways it's a very narrow point: if you've studied the economic history of Canada, protectionism for weaker developing countries is another story we can discuss later.
Between two trading partners on equal footing, however, not choosing the best deal - in terms of price and quality - just doesn't make sense and could even be labelled unpatriotic, since wasting money doesn't help anyone.
I have, not surprisingly given my little writing-break, an extensive backlog of topics to write about.
I'm going to do two things right now: shine the spotlight on an aspiring CA, and answer someone's question.
Judging a book by its cover, "Second Rate CA" has an excellent dark sense of humour, and the wicked good funny writing there supports that view.
The writer is going through the difficult process of getting that all-important start on the road to having a CA. I wish lots of luck towards anyone in that challenging position, and especially those who are writing and sharing their thoughts. It's a valuable service.
I myself did some extensive travelling and worked at a place best described as "anything but an approved CA training office", until I accomplished all I could there, and at the same time successfully landed my current job.
Travel is always an option; it can be surprisingly affordable too.
The question to answer, on the other hand, is from someone who finally made it through the gruelling process. I received the query last June - again, I apologize for being so slow.
Dan from GT left the following comment:
Probably one of the biggest challenges I've gone through so far is to
get a job during the CA recruit. I think the best advice is keep busy,
and don't turn down anything that gives you some relevant business
experience. That's how I got my job at GT. Krupo, do you have any
tips on how to stand out from the crowd in a firm? I'm starting in my
small business group, but plan to transfer to audit after a year. Want
to perform well so I won't have any problems transferring.
This is one of the toughest things to accomplish, you'll say to yourself, when you realize that your firm hired dozens of smart young things like you, and everyone's keen to be the best at everything they do, and everyone's willing to take on more work, and it's seemingly impossible to stand out.
That's how it seems, anyway. Everyone has their unique qualities and traits, and people have different goals in life. Some want to make it to the position of partner by their early 30s, others want to get their CA and leave as soon as possible. Yet another set of people doesn't even know what they want to do.
I'm going to pull that lousy trick that people tease consultants about - I'm going to answer someone's question... with their question.
If you want to stand out over time, as Dan asks, you have to take his attitude towards the job search process - don't turn down anything that gives you some relevant ... experience - and apply it to your day job!
To avoid stopping there with the cheap and easy answer, we'll go for the "value added" answer and add something to what Dan has already unconsciously revealed - and I'm going to steal from Francine this time. Keep developing yourself.
Although her advice is originally geared to the recently laid off, it can be used to great effect by people still waiting to get recruited, as well as those who are gainfully employed. If all you do is shuttle back and forth from the office on a daily basis, and you feel like you're living a shell of a human existence, you need to break out of that routine and do something different.
You don't need to radically invent a new "you". You may end up doing that later on, but baby steps are just as valuable. Check out your local library and borrow a book "you always meant to read". Call up friends you haven't talked to in ages. Sign up for a university course. Start planning that awesome road trip or vacation to a place you've never been to. The list of ideas is endless.
This is the delicious advice that the "good consultants" and CAs will give you - I fondly recall my university professors doing the same thing. After all, you may rightfully ask, but doesn't this have nothing to do with my day job, where I'm trying to shine?
If you're "unique like everyone else", you're no longer unique.
Make yourself an interesting person by living a more animated and energized life, and the effects will affect everything you do, including your day job.
If you want more examples on how to be energized, go check out what Mr. Kennedy has to say - more good tips!
Another one of my intelligent comments to the PwC blog got blocked.
This is getting a bit annoying.
This time, I had some free job application advice to share. The pumpkins sum up my feelings about this shabby treatment rather succinctly.
Here's the advice, for those of you looking for tips on how to prepare your resume and cover letter for that CA student position you're trying to land:
"For most candidates the one page cover letter is a good call, but I've said before and had success personally with the mythical two page cover letter. It only works if you have very strong writing skills and know you're actually going to deliver a solid message - that means, no buzzwords or filler, but strong selling points that show why you're a good candidate. Maybe one out of a hundred candidates can pull it off, so make sure you know what you're doing if go down this route.
Checking with your university career centre is a very good idea no matter what - but sharing your planned letter with them is also a good idea. They will probably try and talk you out of it, but make sure they read your letter first - they’ll probably correctly point out parts you can delete.
But if they go through it and say, well yes, these are all valid, strong points and there’s no obvious space to save by deleting this or that, you might be th at 1% person for whom it’s not a bad idea.
Tip: if you know when to use the word “whom” correctly it might be you."
I suppose you're not really "banned again" if the original ban was never lifted, but I was labouring under the idea that perhaps this would be a one-off thing rather than a consistent kibosh against any idea I try and share. The pessimist in me did, however, save the comment before posting it, otherwise I would have to re-write my paragraphs of advice - that's right, the above is a verbatim copy of what I was trying to share with the public. Again, perhaps it's a blessing in disguise as a larger audience will likely get to enjoy these pearls of wisdom, whatever they're worth.
With some extra days off banked up, I'm now able to take a long weekend off, coinciding with Canadian Thanksgiving.
Incidentally, I have neglected writing here for an entire month. The usual suspects, work, life and miscellaneous other ridiculous diversions, are to blame.
But there's been plenty of good stuff to read this October while I've been away, including this post at Francine's site - it should keep you busy for a while.
You really have to admire what happens here.
Francine stokes a small fire with a small tidbit about layoffs at Deloitte which turns into a raging hot furnace: by now 65 comments have appeared, talking about the layoffs themselves, how Deloitte partners risk earning less than even their senior managers, how partner layoffs work, and how little power an average partner has inside a Big Four firm. All this information surfaces in anonymous comments written by a DT partner.
Assuming what you read there is all true, it's quite an eyeopener for those who thought that once you make it to the top you have nothing left to worry about.
The last few comments kind of devolve into some bitchy name-calling, but up until Oct 3 or 4 there's still some value in reading what's on there - and perhaps some more intelligent comments will pop up shortly too.
My little statistical bread crumb trail of spam posts continues - 801 pieces of junk mail arrived in September, up from 725 last month. Difference too small to infer anything brilliant, but while briefly scanning the headlines the fake cheap drug sales pitches continued unabated - I still can't believe people decide this could be a Good Idea. Last month some clever spammer also started trying to attract attention by including snippets from fake headlines about the American election. Or from a somewhat obscure humour sites. Right.
Have them read this quick thought:
"If I make a bet on Intrade does it affect the election's outcome?
No. Is there a high correlation between Intrade’s predicted outcomes
and their actual outcomes? Yes.
Why do smart people think commodity futures work any differently?"