Friday, April 24, 2009

I'm the Ambassador to Technistan (With a Theme Song!)

I'm looking for a job, as most of you know. There are a few jobs advertised (very few) that would be a good fit for me, and I'm applying to them as I find them. For the most part though, my job search requires me to work my network, uncover opportunities before they get advertised, and persuade someone to create or alter a position to match my talents. And part of doing that requires getting noticed, and standing out. This is not a time to be shy.

A few weeks ago, I read this post at my buddy Hardcory Mogkenstein’s Blog. He took offense (well, just a little) at the suggestion that "some guy in his basement" might not be able to produce high-quality music. I was intrigued by the thought of getting a jingle or theme song for myself, and decided to take advantage of their offer of a free demo. I filled out the web form, explaining that I'm looking for a position as a software manager, and a theme song could help me get noticed.

The next day I had a phone call from John Schulte and Chuck Lindo in Los Angeles, the musical talents behind Jingle This. They had just come off a tough job, and the idea of writing a jingle for me seemed like a lot of fun to them. We spoke for a while, and they asked me a bunch of questions to understand the key skills I want to get across to employers, and get to know me a little. I warned them that my "marketing budget" was really small (like $zero), but they said they would do it anyway. I didn't hear from them for a bit (a few paying gigs took priority over my pro bono job, which is fair enough), until today, when they sent me the finished product. I think it's pretty cool, and I'm excited to have my own theme song. Here are the lyrics:
John, John Gross
He's the most talented software manager
John, John Gross
does the most to bridge your teams together

He sees high-tech through a manager's eye
He's way more than a computer guy

He's John, John Gross
He can, he's the ambassador to Technistan
John Gross, he can
'cause he's your ambassador to Technistan
and you can hear it here (open it in a new tab or window if you want to see the lyrics while it plays). I think the boys at Jingle This did a great job, and I figure the least I can do is recommend their services to anyone who needs a jingle or theme song. Nice guys, and I'm thrilled with what they did for me. I always wanted to be an ambassador...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm a Loser (and Happy About It!)

It has now been two weeks since I made my commitment to lose some weight, and so far the progress has been pretty good. I've lost 5 pounds, well ahead of the pound-a-week pace I need to stickk to. I know it won't likely be this easy for the rest of the weight, but I'm quite pleased. I've been exercising a lot more than I had been, adding a few times a week on my elliptical machine, and a few long walks each week to my rock climbing sessions. And I've been cutting back on the desserts and junk food. Nothing too extreme, which means these are changes I'm likely to be able to sustain after I reach my goal of 20 pounds lost over 20 weeks.

Brain teaser: Boys vs Girls

Quick little question: from a fairly typical load of laundry at my house, which pile is my son's, and which is my daughter's?:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another Reason to Love the Banks

I somehow neglected to pay my January MasterCard bill. I guess I missed it in the flurry of activity after the reduction in force at Autodesk that week. When my February bill arrived, I noticed the error, swore at myself for making such a stupid mistake (I always pay my bills on time!), and paid the full balance immediately. Of course that included a hefty interest charge (over $100; ouch).

I just looked at my April statement, which appeared online yesterday, and noticed a small interest charge. Looking back at the March statement, it also included interest. I called BMO Mastercard to ask why, and learned that when you miss a payment, they continue charging you interest for the next two months. This is mentioned in fine print on the back of the paper statement: avoid paying interest on new Purchases, you must pay your New Balance in full by the payment due date for two consecutive months.
This condition does not appear on the online version of the statement, nor could I find it elsewhere on the BMO Mosaic MasterCard web site.

I also noticed that the amounts of interest charged for March and April were wildly different (about $55 and $5 respectively). It turns out that is based on the number of days between the issuing of the statement and my full payment, even though my full payment was made before the due date each time.

The good news is that my phone call to inquire about this was answered quickly by a human, who promptly transferred me to her supervisor when I said I wanted to dispute what I considered outrageously unreasonable interest charges. The supervisor explained their policy clearly, understood my displeasure, and immediately agreed to refund the last two interest charges because I was not aware of the policy. Now I am, and so are you. If you have another credit card, you may want to check if they have a similar deal.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

And Now a Message From our Sponsor-ee

I'm doing today's quick little post to try to help Alison raise money for Serve!, the non-profit organization she joined recently:
Hi there! As you all know I've changed jobs and am now working for Serve! an organization dedicated to assisting high risk youth who are in transition. I am enjoying it immensely and am very impressed with the dedication and hard work that goes into making this program successful.

This year's Experience This! participants have all overcome incredible challenges with very little familial support. One youth was a child soldier from Africa. Another started the program living in bus shelter. They deal with issues of mental illness, addiction, and low self-esteem. Yet the transformation in these youth after just 6 months at Serve! is truly remarkable and speaks to the need for this type of programming. All of this year's Experience This! graduates are moving on to college, university and finding jobs.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I am going to participate in the Toronto Challenge walk-a-thon for Serve! on Sunday June 14th. I am emailing everyone I know to see if you'll be kind enough to sponsor me. Serve! is funded completely by special events, individual donors, foundation and corporate grants. By supporting Serve!, you're making an investment that helps young people discover the good that they can do. They overcome their obstacles and achieve their goals. It's a long-term investment that pays off as youth make positive choices and become better citizens.

And my sponsoring me, you help me save face as the Newbie on the block!

THANKS! If you'd like to know more about Serve! check out

To sponsor Alison, you can:
  1. Make a donation Serve!'s website at - just remember to note that it is sponsorship for Alison Caird's walk-a-thon.
  2. Write & mail a cheque payable to: Serve! Canada at 543 Queen Street East, Toronto M5A 1V1
  3. Give cash/cheque (made out to Serve! Canada) to Alison or me directly the next time we see you.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

NHL Rules Can Give a Team a Good Reason to Score on Themselves

The NHL’s rules for breaking ties in the standings contain a major flaw that provides clear incentive for a team to put the puck into their own net late in a close game at the end of the season.

This didn’t happen this season, but consider the following scenario that demonstrates how possible it is:

First we need to change history just slightly, involving these 2 games:
Oct 10th: St Louis Blues 5, Nashville Predators 2 becomes Blues 3, Predators 2, in OT
Nov 22: St Louis Blues 2, Minnesota Wild 1 becomes Wild 2, Blues 1

That gives the Predators 1 additional point, and gives 2 of the Blues’ points in the standings to the Wild. That slightly tightens up an already close race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western conference. We can easily imagine things unfolding such that on Friday April 10th, the Blues could have been in 8th place, a point ahead of the Wild, and 2 points up on the Predators.

That night, Nashville was in Minnesota for their final game of the season (the Wild still had a game to play after that). Late in the 3rd period, Nashville leads 2-1. Coach Barry Trotz calls a time out with less than a minute left. The commentators are wondering why, since the extra break allows Minnesota’s top line to get a bit of extra rest as they pull their goalie for the extra attacker. After the time out, the faceoff is in the Nashville end. The Predators’ captain, Jason Arnott, wins the faceoff, and pulls the puck back towards his own goal. Goaltender Pekka Rinne steps aside, deliberately letting the puck go in the net. What the hell is going on?

Coach Trotz has figured out that in order to make the playoffs, the Predators must beat the Wild in overtime, not regulation time. The reasoning for this surprising conclusion follows.

A regulation win would tie the Predators with the Blues for the last playoff spot. The first tie-breaker is wins, and both teams have 40. The second tie-breaker is points earned in head-to-head games, and the Blues would win that tie-breaker, 8 points to 7 based on the results of games between them:

Oct 10th Nashville 4 @ St Louis 5 (OT)*
*this is a result we changed from the actual result
Nov 25th St Louis 1 @ Nashville 0 (OT)
Dec 8th Nashville 3 @ St Louis 6
Feb 12th St Louis 3 @ Nashville 4
Feb 19th St Louis 2 @ Nashville 1 (OT)
Feb 21st Nashville 2 @ St Louis 0

Total points of 12 possible:
Nashville: 7 points
St Louis: 8 points

So a 2-way tie between the Blues and Predators would result in the Blues advancing to
the playoffs. But if that April 10th game goes to overtime before the Predators win, the
Wild pick up a point, and now it’s a 3-way tie for 8th place. The NHL rules (from say:

If two or more clubs are tied in points during the regular season, the standing of the
clubs is determined in the following order:
  1. The fewer number of games played (i.e., superior points percentage). {this is always equal at the end of the season}
  2. The greater number of games won.
  3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, shall be used to determine the standing.
  4. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.

Here are the results of the other games among these 3 teams:

Dec 6th Minnesota 0 @ Nashville 1
Feb 6th Nashville 2 @ Minnesota 1
April 10th Nashville 3 @ Minnesota 2 (OT)

Total points of 4 possible
Nashville: 4 points
Minnesota: 1 point
(The February 6th result is ignored, as it is the “extra” home game for the Wild.)

Nov 22 St Louis 1 @ Minnesota 2*
*this is a result we changed from the actual result
Dec 3rd St Louis 0 @ Minnesota 4
Dec 20th Minnesota 2 @ St Louis 4
Mar 15th Minnesota 3 @ St Louis 5

Total points of 8 possible
St Louis: 4 points
Minnesota: 4 points

Here’s how the 3-way tie gets resolved (taking into account the 2 game results we had to
change from what actually happened to get this scenario to play out):

Nashville vs St Louis: 7 points out of a possible 12
Nashville vs Minnesota: 4 points out of a possible 4.
Total: 11 points out of a possible 16, for a winning percentage of .6875

St Louis vs Nashville: 8 points out of a possible 12
St Louis vs Minnesota: 4 points out of a possible 8
Total: 12 points out of a possible 20, for a winning percentage of .6000

Minnesota vs St Louis: 4 points out of a possible 8
Minnesota vs Nashville: 1 point out of a possible 4
Total: 5 points out of a possible 12, for a winning percentage of .4167

So the result in a 3-way tie is that Nashville emerges with the best winning percentage in evenly-balanced games among the 3 tied teams, and advances to the playoffs (assuming that both Minnesota and St Louis lose in regulation time in their final games of the season on April 12th). Nashville therefore has a clear incentive to tie the game and force overtime, in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

We could propose a better method of breaking ties in the standings that might avoid this problem, but the real reason this flaw exists is that the NHL rules for allotting points in the standings do not make an NHL game a zero-sum game. That is, you can give your opponent a point in the standings by going to overtime, without necessarily giving anything up. The solution is simple: change the rules to give teams 3 points for a regulation win, 2 for an overtime/shootout win, 1 for an overtime/shootout loss, and 0 for a regulation loss. Now any point earned by your opponent is a point your team did not get, and there can be no incentive to give points away. To preserve the integrity of the game, the NHL should make this rule change for the 2009/2010 season.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Neat Way to StikK to Your Commitments?

I came across a book that looked interesting this morning: Nudge, a book by a couple of behavioural scientists about how we make choices, and how we can be nudged to make better choices by well-designed "choice architectures". An extract is available here. I've ordered the book and look forward to reading it. The extract, which presents a dozen examples of good nudges, introduced me to Stikk, a website that offers a way to follow through on commitments that we often have trouble, well, sticking to.

The basic idea is that you announce your commitment publicly (through their web site), set a time frame for doing it, and (optionally) make things more interesting by adding a financial incentive, such as a donation to charity or even a cause you strongly oppose, in the event that you do not meet your commitment. I used a similar approach years ago when I wanted to travel to Central & South America after I finished university, but was a little nervous about going. I told all my friends & family I was going, and then had to follow through because I didn't want to lose face.

I think this web site is pretty cool, and I've decided to try it out. I've needed to lose some weight for quite a while. I've had plenty of reasons to do so:
  • to improve my health
  • to look & feel better
  • to improve my climbing
  • (and most recently) to perhaps stop me from snoring (advice from the doctor I met with after the sleep study I had done in March)
and yet I still haven't really done anything about it. So this morning I signed up at, and entered a commitment to lose 20 pounds over 20 weeks. If you want to sign up and become one of my supporters, I'd welcome that. I've chosen to wager $10/week on my commitment. The money will go to the Conservative Party of Canada if I fail (I checked "Charity" on their web form, because they only listed American organizations in their list of "Anti-Charities"). I really do not want to give money to the Tories, so hopefully that will be added incentive.

I hope that when Nudge arrives and I read it, I'll understand better why the spectre of donating money to Stephen Harper's team may be more effective incentive to lose weight than the clear knowledge that doing so is important to my health.