Bathroom Hoarder, Part II

Almost five years ago, while reorganizing my bathroom products, I discovered I’m a bathroom hoarder. I had lots of products and lots of waste, namely expired or partially used products. Some products were untouched, still packaged. Since then, I worked hard to use my bathroom items.

When the pandemic started, I made it a mission to reduce non-essential trips, and save money, by finishing every product in my bathroom before buying anything new. This included sample tubes of toothpaste and little testers of creams, tonics, toners, and other beauty products. I devoted myself to this task, routinely checking under the bathroom sink and reaching to the back of the cupboards.

Even so, when we packed up to move last December, our bathroom stuff filled three tubs! Each tub was approximately the size of two bankers’ boxes. To be fair, most of the bathroom stuff was in a single layer, but still… three tubs! I was appalled. Three tubs even after a thorough purge of all the expired, old, and grungy stuff. I filled almost two grocery bags of bathroom stuff to dispose.

Naturally, this got me thinking about why we tend to accumulate so much stuff in the bathroom. One challenge for me is when I need to buy something specific for a one-time, or infrequent, use. This includes things like first-aid supplies, cough syrup for the cough I had three years ago, allergy medication for when I visit someone with cats (definitely not needed during the pandemic), supplies for failed beauty routines, gifts, etc.

Another challenge is overbuying when one of my favorite products is on sale. It’s hard to resist the temptation to buy an extra bottle or two. This is the case even when I don’t need to buy the product. The allure of a sale is strong.

Lastly, some of the build up is situational. I hardly used any sunscreen last year. With things closed last summer, combined with dangerous heat and polluted air warnings, there wasn’t a lot of incentive to be outside.

I have a new awareness of my bathroom hoarding tendencies. I’m more mindful about what I buy and when. With the exception of heavy-duty, industrial grade hand cream, a necessary accompaniment to frequent hand washings and using hand sanitizers, I haven’t bought much in the last year. Maybe there’s hope after all.

Navigating the Post-Pandemic Workplace

I recently returned to work after an 18-month leave. When I started my leave in 2019, everything was business as usual. This included many of the typical onsite office experiences such as collaborating on documents through email. Patchy online meetings with employees who worked at other locations. This usually ended with a conference call from a landline. Or rescheduling. Cubicle drop-bys. And mostly, commuting 5 days a week to work onsite at one of three locations.

Returning to work over a year, and one pandemic later, things are different. I expected some of the changes. However, some things have caught me by surprise. For example, all the new apps available for working online. One app is specifically for working collaboratively online. Landline phone calls come through my computer to another app. We have a chat service to replace casual cubicle drop-by conversations. The chat service deletes these conversations regularly.

The new apps are great. However, the big surprise to me was how little training I received on them. Proper guides and instructions are also lacking. So while we have all these awesome new tools, some of the work is still “business as usual.” This means relying on outdated, but familiar, ways of working.

The world changed. The workplace changed. The employees, not so much. Navigating through this familiar, but new landscape is taking some time to figure out.

Online Meeting Etiquette

Another big surprise to me is the amount of meetings. I anticipated a lot of meetings when I returned. What I hadn’t expected was the increased amount and the confusion about when to be on or off camera. Now, every casual conversation that used to happen with a drop-by, is replaced with a meeting. Or a phone call. Or sometimes casual chat messages. Since this changes based on the nature of the conversation, I’m still adapting.

As for the on/off camera confusion, I’m still working this one out. I’ve learned to always have an appropriate work shirt nearby. I also noticed some people blur their backgrounds. Or they take advantage of built-in background scenery options. Some people are always on camera. Some people are on camera for the beginning and end of the meeting, but off for the middle. Others are always off. Or only turn the camera on when they have something to say.

In time, I’m sure all these changes will feel like “business as usual.”

Adaptation: Clever Like the Fox

We have a fox in our backyard. I first glimpsed this sleek creature darting past one evening while checking the mail. I remember exclaiming loudly, “I just saw a fox!” to everyone in the house. This included a couple of technicians working on our thermostat at the time.

Later that evening, I looked up the symbolism. I was already familiar with common meanings of the fox being sly, clever, mischievous, and sometimes a trickster. What I hadn’t known is the fox is also associated with creative problem solving, imagination, and adaptability. Wow!

Red Fox in the Backyard

Seeing the fox reminded me of my long walks on the beach at Cherry Grove during summer visits. Walks in the early morning, specifically to see an elusive red fox. And here was a fox literally in my backyard. Since the first front door sighting, we’ve seen the fox twice more prowling around the backyard. Each time it’s a mix of delight, awe, and excitement.

The last couple of months I haven’t seen any traces of rabbits (i.e., pellets) in the backyard. Now I suspect it’s because of our friend, the fox. I can only imagine how many other creatures now know this is the fox’s hunting grounds.

However, the fox’s adaptability is the most impressive skill to me. Part of my initial shock at seeing the fox race past the front door was realizing how comfortable she was near people, cars, concrete, houses, etc. We live in close proximity to our neighbors. Our backyard touches three others. And yet, this fox had found a way to thrive, and live peacefully amongst us.

With the tail end of the pandemic in sight, albeit still many months (years?) away, I realize we all have something to learn from this clever fox. Once the devastating outbreaks end, and the lockdowns become less severe, we will all need to adapt to our new “normal.” It’s hard to predict what this will look like, or how we will feel about it. I’m sure for many of us it will be a combination of relief, anxiety, frustration, and joy. The point is, we need to adapt to keep going. Nothing will ever be the same after the pandemic. It was a major disrupter.

The best we can do is to take notes of the fox. Learn to adapt, solve problems, and explore some new hunting grounds.

More Pandemic Tech Failures: Renewing my Driver’s License

Recently I renewed my driver’s license and provincial health card through an online system. Being able to complete this task online and according to my schedule was a relief. It seemed odd that I could renew photo IDs online without uploading a picture. I always thought my photo IDs expired after 5 (or 10 years) expressly to get a new picture. In this case, however, the new cards will likely have my existing picture.

Everything was smooth and easy with the online process, until the end. With a driver’s license and health card renewal, the confirmation documents need to be printed. This is to validate the expired cards until new ones arrive in the mail. The whole process fell apart at the printing page.

After completing the renewal process, and paying the fee, I had an option. I could either print or download the renewal documents. I selected print. When I realized our new printer hadn’t been hooked up to my iPad, I tried to email the documents as a backup option. The documents would only email as a link that opened to a blank page. Before connecting the printer to the iPad, I also tried to download the documents. This option also failed. In the 3-4 minutes it took me to configure the printer, all of the renewal documents had disappeared. Completely. There was no way to recover them. My receipt was in my inbox, but not the critical renewal documents.

Technology Fail with an Online Renewal System

According to the website, I now had to visit a ServiceOntario center to get printed copies. The following Monday morning, in the middle of another pandemic lockdown, I went to the nearest center. I had to explain my situation to two different agents, one of whom had to call his superior for instructions. Finally, I got the printouts.

Throughout this entire process, it seemed odd that I didn’t have the option to email myself the documents. Or that the system didn’t email them automatically like it had the receipt. What about people renewing their documents at a public computer? Or people who don’t have a printer? Why wasn’t there an option to show the renewal documents electronically as verification, rather than a print copy?

A year+ into a pandemic, I expect better with technology and electronic options. Hopefully I receive the renewed cards soon so I can stop carrying around all this paper.

Facebook’s Oversight Board: The Decision

A few weeks ago I posted about Facebook’s Oversight Board. In particular, I wrote about the pending case regarding Facebook’s decision to ban former-President Trump from their platform. The ban followed the riot on January 6, 2021. (Read more here.)

Facebook referred the case to the Board for two important reasons. One, they wanted validation for their choice to ban Trump. Two, they wanted guidance on how to deal with suspensions from accounts of world leaders.

In an interesting twist of events, the Board determined Facebook had acted appropriately to ban Trump’s account. However, they had a problem with the indefinite ban Facebook imposed on Trump. According to existing Facebook standards, users in violation of the rules are either suspended for a period of time or banned permanently. There is no mention of an indefinite ban. The Board determined that Facebook has six months to decide if Trump’s account should be banned permanently, or be reinstated after a set amount of time, in accordance with its own policies.

Furthermore, in its “Key Findings” of the case, the Board asserted that “[i]n applying a vague, standardless penalty and then referring this case to the Board to resolve, Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities. The Board declines Facebook’s request and insists that Facebook apply and justify a defined penalty.” While Facebook did make the right decision, they didn’t enact it properly. And by referring the case to the Board, they were also dodging the hard decisions.

Regarding Facebook’s request for recommendations on suspensions of world leader accounts, the Board instead focused on influential users. In defining actions for Facebook to take, the Board concentrated on any user who has a large audience. Basically, any user with an extensive following, could have an impact.

Defining the Influential User

Many parts of the Board’s decision kept referring to an influential user. However, I never saw a definition for one. For some users (i.e., former President Trump), the definition seems obvious. Trump had a large number of followers, over 35 million on Facebook, and he was a high-ranking political figure. But I see where this could get murky. For example, what about a local politician with a “large” local following who is influencing things on a smaller scale?

Will there be different levels of influential users (i.e., those who are popular at a local, regional, or global level)? Will it only be based on the number of followers?

Technology, Testing, and the Pandemic

Although technology has an asset through much of the pandemic, some instances exist where it’s been disappointing. Or perhaps it’s my expectation of how technology should work that’s disappointing. For example, scheduling Covid-19 tests or vaccinations is a perfect platform for technology to shine. However, this isn’t always how it works.

Before booking my first Covid-19 test, I assumed it would be easy and straightforward. In reality, it wasn’t difficult, but annoying. It was not a seamless process. Here’s what happened.

I went to the Covid-19 provincial website to find testing centers in my region. A list of options appeared. Here’s where it got annoying. Each testing site had its own sign up process. Some sites allowed me to enter a date, then showed available time slots. Other sites required me to enter all the registration information before providing date/time options.

Getting the results was even more irritating. The testing centers instructed us check our results online. My partner, who went to a different testing center on the same day, received his results the next day. Mine, however, never appeared online. After four days of (anxiously) waiting, I tried in vain to contact someone for the results. Eventually, after seven days and multiple tries, I succeeded. Negative, fortunately. My results never appeared online, with no explanation as to why.

This scenario illustrates a perfect example of how technology is failing us during the pandemic. At this point, booking a test should be routine, straightforward, and convenient. More importantly, the process should be consistent and focused on date/time availability. Most people likely want a test as soon as possible. Therefore, the system should focus on showing registrants available testing centers based on date/time. By contrast, I had to use several different systems to book an appointment.

Ensuring Technology is an Asset

The challenges with booking tests, and receiving results, is a strong incentive to improve existing systems. It could even be an opportunity for more advanced technologies, like medical robots. Trained medical robots could do the testing. Testing centers could be drive throughs, and open longer.

Booking vaccinations could be a centralized process. Instead it’s a hybrid process of waiting in person, calling, and booking online. Or going on waitlists. Again, it depends where you live and what’s available. It’s needlessly complicated. This ultimately slows down the process, resulting in wasted unused vaccinations.

The technology is available. It just needs coordination.