A Sour Note From Toronto 2015 Volunteers

Let me start by saying that I had the greatest time at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.  It was a pleasure to spend eight days (plus training) with a group of mostly like-minded individuals who, when they were asked, signed up by the tens of thousands to volunteer at the Games… in any capacity asked.

That being said, I admit that I applied specifically to volunteer for the Taekwondo competition.  It is the art that I have learned, practiced, and taught for nearly eight years, and I will likely continue throughout my life.  Had the Organizing Committee seen appropriate to offer me a spot at another venue, or for another sport, I would have availed myself of the opportunity to decline when I received the offer in January.  I took a lot of time off of work (unpaid) to work the games, but my interest was specific.  Fortunately for me it worked out.


I received several things along the way – a uniform and a shoulder bag, tickets to the dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies, and a gift certificate to Joe Fresh.  I received a couple of pins, a pair of cheap sunglasses, a keychain, and a Pachi doll.  After my last shift I was handed a generic certificate thanking me for volunteering.  While these were all nice, the value of all of them combined does not come close to the wages I did not earn on any of those days… not by a long shot.

[vol-uh n-teer] /ˌvɒl ənˈtɪər/
1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

I looked up the word to be sure because some (not most, but a vocal some) are expressing sour grapes about several of the things we received. They wanted something in exchange for their service.  Some of them were upset by the quality of the shirts, the scarcity of the pins and key chains (whaddya mean we all only get JUST ONE?) and, on the last day, the participation letter that we all received.  ‘It’s too cheap, it’s not personalized, and anyone can Photoshop it to make it look like they volunteered too!’

I think the first time I volunteered it was to collect signatures to have Anatoly Sharansky released from a Soviet prison.  I don’t know how old I was the first time I did so, but as he was freed several years later (when I was 14 years old) we can assume I was 10 or 11.  It never would have occurred to me that I should receive compensation for my work… but when Sharansky moved to Israel in 1986, I beamed with pride.

That was 30 years ago; can someone else claim that they did what I did?  Sure, it’s easy.  Does that mean they did it?  Of course not.  In the same fashion, anyone can mock up a letter that says they volunteered at the Toronto 2015 Games… but they don’t have the memories, the experiences, and the new friends to back it up. 

‘But that doesn’t change the fact that someone could put it on their resume and tell prospective employers that they volunteered!’

Firstly it doesn’t take a lot to do that… 99 times out of 100 an interviewer is not going to say ‘Hey, you claim you volunteered… can I see the certificate to prove it?’  But they might ask you to talk about the experience and what you learned from it… who knows?

I was in a bar several years ago with some friends, and there was someone telling people that he served in the Israeli Defense Forces.  He was trying to impress women, and from what I could tell he was about to succeed.  I went up and started asking him a couple of questions.  Nothing like ‘Where did you serve?’ or ‘Did you see action?’… I asked him what his Mispar-Ishi was… I didn’t explain to him that it was his Army Serial Number, because if he served he would have known… no matter how bad his Hebrew was.  It took about 30 seconds to expose him as a fraud, and 30 more seconds for him to understand that one day he was going to claim to be something he wasn’t… no, there was no violence involved, but I put the fear of G-d into him.  For those wondering, he left the bar alone that night… and quickly.

In the same vein, you can claim to have volunteered… but it wouldn’t take more than a few questions to either prove you were a fraud, or at least put enough doubt into the interviewer’s mind that you won’t get the job.  Unless you are Mike from the show Suits you are not going to fool anyone for long.


What did I get out of the games?  Believe me, I have memories that will last a lifetime, and while there are some pictures, there is no piece of paper that matters compared with the memories.  I also have the swag, some of which is cool and most of it is not.  But the parts that matter… nobody can take that away from me… and nobody can fake it.

So what’s my point?  If you volunteered and had a bad experience (there were 23,000 of us, and I have heard some stories) then I am sorry to hear it.  I’ll bet we all are.  If a venue lost track of you and you showed up for a shift and were turned away because there was no record of you, well that sucks.  If you are disappointed that security guards hounded you for free pins, well that is pretty crappy.  If you didn’t get the right size uniform or there were too many volunteers so your credentials were cancelled, I really do feel for you.  But overall, the games were an overwhelming success; Toronto 2015 was a well-oiled machine and the nightmares that everyone anticipated did not actually happen.  There were no empty venues, there were no gridlock-apocalypse, and aside from one Brazilian water-polo player who is wanted by the Police here and four Cubans who decided to defect, the athletes thought the games were amazing.  Hopefully, most of the volunteers did too.

If an event like Toronto 2015 was expected to be business as usual for the city then there would be nothing out of the ordinary about it… but it was never going to be business as usual, and they were extraordinary.  Did things go wrong?  Sure.  Did the vast majority of things go right?  YES.

Thank you Toronto, and on behalf of the volunteers, in light of the few loud bad apples, I apologize..

Mayor Ford: It’s time to go.

Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, greeting a nun at ...
Rob Ford, mayor of Toronto, greeting a nun at the Mayor’s 2011 Levee at City Hall. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past eighteen months I have written a couple of articles about Toronto Mayor (and News Talk 1010 radio host) Rob Ford.  In the first one (Leave Mayor Ford Alone!) I came to his defense when people took a video of him leaving a fast food restaurant and made fun of him (he was trying to diet).  The next one I wrote on June 3rd of this year expressing my opinion that it was time for him to either leave or be relieved of his duties as a member of the media – I did not feel that he had any business as a talk show host (You can read the article here).

For those of you who do not know the story: Earlier this year two media outlets – www.gawker.com and the Toronto Star – reported that they had both been offered a video of Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine, and making a bunch of stupid remarks.  Unfortunately neither of these media outlets purchased the video so while there was a whole lot of speculation, there was never any proof.

Over the past few days (from what I have been able to glean from various reports on the Internet, as I am overseas) the following has been determined:

  1. Toronto Police are now in possession of a video that Chief Bill Blair confirms is exactly what Gawker and the Toronto Sun reported: Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine.
  2. Close associates of Mayor Ford have been arrested and charged with several Class A Felonies.
  3. Mayor Ford used his Sunday afternoon radio show to make a brief statement, saying that he is not perfect, and that he has made mistakes, but he cannot change the past.

Now here’s the problem that I have: Mayor Ford made several mistakes that caused the video to be made – and the mayor smoking crack is certainly in that category.  I am ready to accept that he made some terrible mistakes, and could even forgive them.  What happened after the video allegations were made are completely inexcusable, and are not mistakes: they are absolutely lies, and there are allegations that there is criminal activity in the attempt to cover up the video.

  1. He told reporters that he never smoked crack. lies.
  2. His brother, Councillor  Doug Ford, acting in several situations as the Mayor’s unofficial spokesman, confirmed that Mayor Ford never smoked crack. lies.
  3. Mayor Ford, after several weeks, told the media that the ‘alleged video’ did not exist. lies.
  4. One of Mayor Ford’s close associates (who is currently under arrest) is alleged by Toronto Police Services to have acted in the interest of the Mayor to the end of ensuring that the video be completely destroyed. criminal.

While the list likely goes on, I don’t need to kick a man when he is down.  The Mayor says in his apology that ‘…I love the work I do, and I am going to continue doing it.  I want to keep working for the people of this city’ Well Mr. Mayor, from what I have read there may be no legal obligation for you to do so, but there is certainly an overwhelming moral obligation for you to resign as mayor.

He keeps talking about ‘the right thing to do.’ He asks Chief Bill Blair to release the video to the public, because it is the right thing to do, and that people deserver to see it…’  If that is the case Mr. Mayor, then why have you been lying about it for six months?  That was the absolute wrong thing to do.

‘All I can do right now is apologize for my mistakes.’

No Mr. Mayor, you are wrong.  You can resign.  That is the right thing to do,  You claim that you can and will learn from the past.

If the lesson you plan to learn is that it is a bad idea to hang out with drug dealers smoking crack, I am curious to know how you did not learn that lesson in high school.  You and I are close to the same age, and Just Say No was as much a part of your upbringing as it was mine.

If the lesson you plan to learn is that it is wrong to lie to the media and to the citizens of the city that you represent, then that ship has sailed.  Your credibility is shot, and anyone who believes you will change, or will continue to support you, must have head trauma.  You have made Toronto the laughing stock of every major city in the world.  Yes Mayor Ford, Tokyo is laughing at you.

If the lesson you plan to learn is to learn how to lie better, then when you have learned that lesson you can run for office again.  I assure you that the voters are just stupid enough to consider voting for you again, be it municipal or provincial.  Not me – you have lost any chance of my ever voting for you for anything as important as assistant head dog catcher – but others will still vote for you.

I do not have a vote in Toronto.  I live in Oakville and have voted for Mayor Rob Burton and will do so again.  However if he were to be embroiled in a scandal where he lied about something this important for six months until video proof was released, then no… he would lose my vote.  Fortunately I know Mayor Burton, and expect there is less a chance of that happening that there would be of my getting elected to replace Mayor Ford.

By the way Mayor Ford, there is one more thing that you can do: In the last six months several of your staff have either resigned or been fired.  You owe each one of them an apology, and not as a group – in front of the entire media pool that you continuously chase off your driveway you should name each one and give a detailed account of how you screwed them.

Goodbye Mayor Ford… You may not be stepping down, but until you do, I am tuning out.  I will not listen to another word that you have to say, because I do not listen to lying, insulting, crack addicts.  Step down, go to rehab, I’ll consider giving you another chance.

Mayor Ford on News Talk 1010… It’s time to go.

Over the past fortnight I – all of us who live in the Greater Toronto Area – have been subjected to an interesting spectacle..  Just over two weeks ago two media outlets – www.gawker.com and the Toronto Star – went public with independent stories that their reporters had seen cell-phone video of the mayor of Toronto (Rob Ford) smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine.  His refusal to address the issue beyond a very quick statement that it was ridiculous has essentially put him at war with most of the media – not to mention the butt of jokes of comics and talk show hosts around the world.

I do not live in Toronto; I live in Oakville, a city about 30 minutes west of Toronto where our mayor, Mr. Rob Burton, is a very well respected man whom I am proud to have voted for not because he is a casual friend, but because he is good for Oakville.  He is likeable, he knows how to work with others, and he has been successful in his position.  During the next municipal elections I will vote for him again, and not for Rob Ford, for the simple reason of geography.

With that being said, the spectacle of the past seventeen days has been a real show; Mayor Ford seems to feel picked on by the media – originally by the Toronto Star (a feud that did not start two weeks ago but rather during his mayoral campaign), and now by the media at large.  During his press conferences he absolutely refuses to address any question pertaining to anything outside the subject of the specific conference, and has been quoted calling the media ‘a bunch of maggots’ while refusing to speak to them on matters of obvious public interest.

There are many who are calling on Mayor Ford to step down, either temporarily (if he has a drug habit and is willing to deal with it) or permanently.  As I said before as a resident of Oakville I do not have a vote, so I will not offer an opinion on this matter.

Mayor Ford and his brother (Councilor Doug Ford) host a weekly radio show on News Talk 1010 radio, the largest (not verified, but it seems pretty big) AM radio station in the region.  The station’s signal can be heard as far east as Kingston and as far west as Brantford, as well as southwest into Niagara Falls (both Canadian and American sides).  I have been a listener to that station since I moved from Montreal six years ago (before which I was a listener of its sister station, CJAD 800).  The show, called The City, airs Sundays from 1-3pm.

I respect News Talk 1010 and their management and most of the shows, even though I do not agree with many of the hosts.  There are times that I tune it out, but usually only when a particularly annoying commercial or that offensive person who does the restaurant reviews for dine.to comes on.  As such I assume that they made a conscious decision to give Mayor and Councilor Ford their own show.  I even respect the fact that they did not jump to any hasty kneejerk reactions as this scandal has unfolded.  However it has gone on long enough… it is time to show their merit.

If the media is a bunch of maggots and the Mayor refuses to answer their questions – truly the questions of the citizens – then it is time to take his bully pulpit away.  It is time for News Talk 1010 to take the Mayor off the air.  They should not do it because of any scandal – and there have been plenty during his short tenure.  They should do it because of the obvious disrespect he holds for the media.  He refuses to answer their questions and yet News Talk 1010 turns around and gives him two hours of air time every week in which he controls the mic – the message, the callers he puts on the air, the whole ball of wax. 

I admit that I do not listen to his show – I never had, and not because I like him or don’t like him.  Many of you will remember that a year ago I posted a piece called Leave Mayor Ford Alone.  I honestly feel that there are forces out to get him and who have been trying to sully his name for the last couple of years.  I don’t listen because I don’t find it interesting radio.  However I do listen to the rest of the station for at least ten hours every week, and am sick of hearing newscasts with him refusing to talk to the media, and then commercials for his show on the same media he refuses to address.

I do feel sorry for Mayor Ford – he has had a fight with both the media and with others since he took office and before, and has oftentimes not been treated well.  However he chose a public life, and as such has a responsibility to the public which he must fulfill through the media.  I cannot be the first person to observe that he has not been blameless in these fights.  He just does not seem to know how to get along with others, does not seem to know the word compromise, and seems to think that his record can stand on its own.  Well I have news for Mayor Ford, his record will be the least of his concerns if he truly does make an enemy of the entire media – what is the point of a successful record if nobody is willing to talk about it.

Should be step down as mayor of Toronto? I truly have no opinion, and I do consider it irresponsible journalism to report on a video that you cannot produce.  Should he step down as a talk show host? Absolutely and immediately… and it can either be his choice or their choice, but he should have hosted his final show.

The Microsoft Store: The place to be this week-end

WP_000870If you are in or around the Greater Toronto Area this week-end then there is no better place to be than the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall.

The first international store and the largest in the chain, the opening of Microsoft’s newest retail store can only be descried as a huge success, with literally hundreds of people lined up hours in advance to get their first glimpse of the retail marvel.

Microsoft Canada president Max Long was joined by Tami Reller, Corporate Vice President and CFO of Microsoft’s Windows Division were on hand to open the store with a crowd of 700 onlookers.  They did not only welcome the crowd and talk about the store, they also announced that Microsoft Canada was making a new donation of $1.500,000 to local charities – presented by store manager Alison Evans.

When the curtain dropped the entire staff was leading the cheers, and then lined up to form a passageway into the store where they high-fived the first visitors.  By the time this VIP got in the door (in the first minute) the store was already bustling with activity, a level that has hardly abated at all thus far.

I spoke to a lot of people lined up and they were all here for different reasons – deals on new hardware, Xbox and laptops and accessories… but the two things that drew the most people were the Microsoft Surface and the new Windows Phone 8 devices.

While the Surface has been available since the launch of Windows 8 on October 26th, the only place you were able to see it in Toronto was at the pop-up retail kiosk in the Eaton Centre.  Now that the full retail store is open there are dozens of Surfaces everywhere, as well as Sony, Acer, Asus, Dell Samsung devices ranging in size from 9" ultrabooks and tablets to 27" all-in-one machines.

The greatest thing about the store in my opinion is that the display machines are all available for visitors to try out — as I write this article from a handy Sony Vaio T, complete with multi-touch sreen and reasonably priced at $899.  They are all internet-connected, and nobody is telling visitors not to touch, try, and in the Xbox corner play.  It is a great hands-on experience, and the store associates are as welcoming and helpful as I have ever seen.

In the Windows Phone corner there are representatives not only from a couple of the local carriers but also from the manufacturers as well.  Although the platform released October 26th, this is the first time I have even seen the devices outside the Microsoft offices.

Everywhere you look people of all ages and knowledge levels are asking questions, learning, and trying out great devices.  Of course every PC is running Windows 8, so it is a great opportunity for people to get their first glimpse of Microsoft’s flagship product, barely three weeks old.

In the back of the store there is an area called the theatre where during the regular hours people can play on the Xbox connected to an incredible 103" touch screen.  This afternoon (and tomorrow and Sunday) the Microsoft MVPs are taking over – we will be presenting sessions every hour on topic including Windows 8, Office 2013, Office 365, Xbox, and of course Windows Phone 8.  I have several sessions over the course of the week-end, but am more interested to sit in and listen to what my fellow enthusiasts have to say (I usually know what I am going to say so I am seldom surprised).

It is definitely the place to be this week-end.  Even though the initial ‘line up and wait’ is over, the store has been consistently hopping since it opened, with no signs of slowing down.  I spoke with several members of the management team who are all pleased by the turnout.  Alison Evans, the store manager, told me she is ‘ecstatic about the turnout.’

To make things even hotter, there will be an exclusive concert with the band Train tomorrow evening, and store staff are handing out wristband passes to the lucky few; and this afternoon The Great One – Number 99 himself – Wayne Gretzky will be in the store, and people will be lined up to meet him, get autographs, and get the chance to play Kinect games with him!

So if you haven’t come down yet what is stopping you?  Trust me, you will not be disappointed… your only regret will be if you do NOT come down!

Get on the Bus!

For the third year in a row the Springboard Bus Tour will hit the road leading up to TechEd.  If you have never met the bus you are missing out, because it delivers expert advice, great learning, and huge career benefits to IT Pros.  It delivers answers to questions you may have been having about desktop deployment, virtualization, managing consumer-devices in the office, cloud solutions such as Intune and Office 365, Application Compatibility, and much more! MSW-Tour-CityBanners

This year I am very excited, because my city (my adopted city, really…) has been chosen as the launching point!  That’s right, on May 2nd we will be taking over the MaRS Centre, South Tower at 101 College Street in downtown Toronto, CANADA!  (Yes, I know there’s a typo on the registration page… we’re fixing it!

So if you live in the Golden Horseshoe – or really anywhere from London to Kingston, Buffalo to Orillia, come join us for a great day of Windows 7, Office, MDOP, and more!

REGISTER NOW and save your seat for this free day of technical demos, Q&A sessions, and real-world guidance from Microsoft experts. We’ll see you on the road… and make sure to come say hi to me, Sean, and the rest of the STEP MVPs!

Oh, and remember… if you are not in or around Toronto, the Springboard Series Tour Bus is making stops in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Dallas, and Columbus… so you still have a chance to catch up and learn!