A university’s environmental responsibility

Just submitted to my university’s opinion website:
Many a criticism of universities starts with something like “You’d think a university…”, so much so that it’s a bit of a joke, but here goes.
You’d think that a university would be committed to things like ensuring a cleaner environment and enabling its employees and students to do the same. You’d think that would go double for an institution with an entire faculty devoted to Environmental Sciences. Apparently, you’d be wrong.
A co-worker of mine car-pools to work from another city with up to 4 other people in the car. To even things out, they rotate vehicles. So far so good. From the point of view of Parking Services, however, they must represent a loss of income, not sensible environmentalism and fiscal responsibility. They are still required to each get a parking pass at full price for their individual vehicles, despite the fact that it is people like them that allow PS to oversubscribe their lots and make still more money off the available spots.
I understand the importance of the revenue stream that selling parking spots represents to the university. But in a city where it seems that summer days mean smog alerts almost as often as not, it seems to me that Waterloo could lead the way in this sort of thing rather than simply maintaining the status quo. It’s still worse when the university seems determined to put a building over top of every parking lot while simultaneously expanding the number of people on campus.
People like my co-worker could be — and are — helping the university out in this respect, and are getting nothing in return, even when getting something would cost the institution nothing at all.
Some afterthoughts: No matter where you are in your organization, no matter what you do, you are also marketing. You are marketing yourself, and you are marketing your department. When my co-worker gets told “we never thought of that, and are unlikely to consider it,” what he’s really being told is really “I’m sorry you feel that way, now please go away and let me go back to what I consider to be my real job.”
If you sit at a public-facing desk, you’re a marketer. If you respond to email from people outside your department, you’re a marketer. If you answer your telephone, you’re a marketer. If you tell the people who spend their valuable time to try to contact you that they should go away — either explicitly or through your actions — you’re doing a poor marketing job, and those people will wonder why your department exists. I shouldn’t have to say that’s not a good situation in which to find yourself.

Death in the family

I had plans this weekend to collate my notes from the conference, finish off a few more posts, upgrade my webserver, and maybe work some hockey stats.
Instead, we took our eldest cat to the vet twice today; the first time to have her looked at as she’d been moving slowly and wasn’t her usual self, the second time a few hours later, to leave her behind for good. I guess the other stuff will wait.

Yummy curried cabbage and salmon

A couple of nights ago, we had a pretty yummy meal of salmon with cabbage and curry.  Normally I despise cabbage, and curry I can take or leave – although I find myself liking it more as I get older, so perhaps I’ve sufficiently cauterized my taste buds with coffee and beer now.  Linda originally found the recipe on a vegetarian site, printed it off, and promptly forgot the URL, but this is pretty close.

Quick to prep, quick to cook, and in our experience, quick to eat.


When I was much younger, my dad used to show me things in the night sky. He isn’t really an amateur astronomer – we didn’t own a telescope, for instance, although we had some damned good binoculars – but he has a good idea of what’s what up there, especially considering he makes his living looking mostly downwards. (A friend, the son of one of dad’s co-workers, used to scandalize his father by saying “dad digs holes for a living” – they’re soil scientists.) Dad also loves maps, which is good, again considering how he makes his living.
I have nowhere near as good an idea for what’s what, either in the sky or on land maps, but I still appreciate things like Google Earth for the coolness they represent, and the night sky still holds some interest. Thus, OSXPlanet ranks right up there with Google Earth.

Good customer service

This past week we went to Swiss Chalet – our usual one at 267 Weber N Waterloo – since it was about 10 jillion degrees out (Celsius, Fahrenheit, Kelvin, take your pick) and nobody felt like doing anything in the kitchen. My wife got a glass of water and a coffee. She was slurping away on her water, then all of a sudden stopped, spat something out into her hand, and showed it to me. A little tiny dull piece of glass.
We didn’t fuss, but the next time our waitress (Lina) came by, my wife showed the glass to her. She looked concerned, apologized, and took it and my wife’s drinks away, returning a minute later with fresh drinks and another apology. We resumed eating, but about 5 minutes later Lina returned with some plantation sugar in her hand, saying maybe that’s what my wife had found. My wife was quite clear: no, it was definitely glass. Lina looked disappointed, but left.
Once we’d finished, Lina asked if we wanted free dessert: no thanks, we’re full. She left, returned with our bill – 20% off, which came to about $7.
Not a lot, but enough – we’ll return. Swiss Chalet is one of my favourite restaurants (white chicken on a kaiser and a monkey milkshake for me, I don’t need a menu thanks), and we’ve usually had great service there. I left a larger-than-usual tip.
Maybe we should have made a scene, held out for more, sworn to never return, but to hell with that. Stuff happens, and no harm, no foul – my wife is perfectly fine. I prefer quietly acceptable to good customer service over browbeating waiters and waitresses into giving better service (at the cost of probably worse next time). Contrast to the one time we went to a different SC (525 Highland West, Kitchener), I ordered my usual, and got a pina colada shake instead of my monkey milkshake. I hate pina colada. I told the waitress, and she assured me no, that’s not pina colada, that’s banana, she made it herself. No, I said, that’s definitely pina colada. She actually turned her back and left. I barely touched my drink, which she noticed but didn’t comment on when the bill arrived, so she got no tip, and we’ll never ever return to that restaurant. Again, I could have made a scene, but why? My blood pressure’s quite high enough as it is, thanks.
Next Life post, an example of some of the worst customer service I’ve ever personally witnessed, never mind gone through.