Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frustration with french numbers

I'm going to admit right off the bat that this is a fairly petty gripe, but it's a genuine one.

In my day job, I occasionally take credit card orders over the phone from people across the country. This includes francophones.

While I'm conversant in French, it takes me a great deal of effort to precisely record a name and address spoken to me in the language.

But when it comes to taking the credit card numbers, I feel like I'm running to catch a bus that has already left the stop.

When I take credit card numbers in English, people typically pause after each set of four numbers (sometimes every two!) until I repeat the numbers or otherwise indicate that I'm ready for the next set. I don't know if they do this because I'm subconsciously giving them cues to do so, or if it's just convention in English, but they almost always pause.

In French, the person quickly reads out the numbers with a slight pause, but continues without waiting for a confirmation from me. But the part that makes it worse is that it is apparently the convention to read each set of four numbers like a pair of two-digit numbers. That is, in English, "1234" would be "one two three four", whereas in French it is "douze trente-quatre" [twelve thirty-four].

And the nineties are the worst (and every card in French seems to have at least one pair in the 70s or 90s). While I'd like to write down numbers as fast as they give them to me, I can't because of the blasted nineties.


Okay, four...


Scratch that, eighty...

"et seize."

Er, ninety six.

Even worse is when I get a combination like 3096, which reads "trente, quatre-vingt et seize." While it is understandable that it isn't "trente-quatre, vingt, et seize", it takes a bit of processing time to figure this out--time that's required to listen to the next four numbers!

It's times like this, when I'm reminded at how fluent at French I am not, that I slightly regret having moved from Montreal at age three (my parents' decision, of course) and leaving French immersion after grade one. Oh, well; those times aren't too often.

- RG>

Sunday, August 17, 2008

These are the people in my neighbourhood...

My apartment is hot and stuffy. Right now, and in general too; my apartment generally has poor air circulation.

Right now outside, it is cool and refreshing.

One might suggest I open up the windows and let the air flow as best as it can.

If only it were so simple.

Most of the air flows through the house North-to-South, meaning that the LAST room to get any fresh air is my (South-facing) bedroom. Perpetuating the mugginess and warmness.

But just enough wind goes the other way for the marijuana smoke from my neighbours' balcony to blow straight toward my windows. This triggers my asthma, allergies, and my highly-sensitive anger reflex.

So, were I to leave my windows open overnight or while I am out for the evening, I run a pretty good risk of my apartment reeking of burnt shit when I wake up or return home. Not to mention the equally high chance that I'd be woken up in the middle of the night by my neighbours' terrible, blaring music and loud banter.

I need a lot of good sleep, and I am not a happy grouch when I don't get my beauty sleep.

- RG>

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The doctor as ringmaster

I'm a fairly healthy guy; I ride a bike, I try to eat remotely healthily and not do stuff that would mess with my insides.

But despite that, I still have to go to the doctor every now and then, as much as I hate doing so.

I hate it even moreso when I'm only feeling a little ill, but sufficiently ill that I know I must see a doctor to get it fixed. Like this time. My asthma has started to act up after almost a year of not bothering me, and my inhaler was out of juice. It wasn't bothering me very much, but if I did get an asthma attack, I would need a working inhaler.

I've had asthma for over twenty years, and it was a lot worse back in the day than it is now. I am used to getting a refill from the pharmacy, and seeing the doctor when my prescription ran out. This particular inhaler I had gotten over two years ago, and it was the last of three refills. So you can imagine how long ago I had last seen my doctor for my asthma.

In fact, "my doctor" had left the practise a year or so ago, and while I had sent in paperwork to get transferred to one of the other ones in the practise, I had never actually seen this new doctor.

Nor would I see her this time.

When I called to try to get an appointment, I was told the next available spot was two weeks away--not a wait I'd like to make. My alternative was to come in for the 'urgent care' walk-in, which usually means an indeterminate amount of sitting in a waiting room to see the doctor of the day. My work schedule didn't really have time for that, either. The person on the phone suggested I come in as early as possible to avoid a long wait--ironic advice, given that fatigue is another one of my complaints, and early mornings do not help with this.

Fast forward to this morning, and I managed to up early enough to head over there and expect a tolerable wait.

During the visit, I remembered that waiting was not the thing I disliked most about visiting the doctor. It's the complete and utter lack of privacy.

Let me walk you through the standard trip, which I witnessed as many other patients came in during my wait:

[Patient walks up to receptionist]

PATIENT: Hi, I need to see someone about my [details of ailment] (Alternately, "I have an appointment with Doctor so-and-so at ten-thirty for my [ailment]")

RECEPTIONIST: Do you have your health card?

[Patient hands health card to receptionist. The receptionist types some information into the computer.]

REC: Are you still at [Full address], and is your phone number still [Phone number]?

PAT: Yes.

REC: Okay, please have a seat.

[The following epilogue was also common:]

PAT: How long is the wait?

REC: Well, it takes about 13 minutes per patient, and there are [number usually between 8 and 12] patients ahead of you.

[Patient sits down]
So already at this point, everybody else in the waiting room, having exhausted the supply of medical pamphlets to occupy their attention during the wait, have heard your address and phone number, your doctor, and whatever's ailing you. You feel like an animal in a circus.

Then comes the coup de grace. The nurse pokes out from behind the door, and proceeds to call your full name into the crowd, making sure that everyone heard it clearly, in case it was theirs--even though you yelped "yes" at the sound of your first name.

As someone who cherishes his anonymity while in public, I always hate this part of the visit. Here people have been staring at you in the waiting room for as much as an hour or more, they've heard you describe your ailment to the receptionist, and finally they can name you.

But you'll live with it. At least you're out of the waiting room--a bit early, too, it seems--and you won't have to meet them except perhaps a cursory glance as you leave the clinic after you're done with the doctor.

...and you are skirted into the triage room. The nurse takes you in to take some details from you, then releases you back into the waiting room to the audience of people who now have enough information about you to start writing your biography. Getting called in half an hour was indeed too good to be true.

After another wait the nurse comes back and calls you out (pun intended if paranoia is one of your ailments) and you can finally see the doctor, hoping as you walk through the waiting room that everybody keeps their eyes and ears to themselves out of mutual fear for their own privacy.

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate very much the fact that I have access to a doctor, and that there are a lot of places in the world where people can wait whole days and still not get the chance to see one.

But we live in a society that is highly protective of people and their privacy, and we have stringent privacy laws, too. Our society is also protective of younger women, who can make up a significant portion of doctor visits in practises that aren't inundated in geriatric patients. We're overprotective of them on the pathways and on the streets; so why doesn't anybody get the idea to not read out their name, address and phone number in a crowded room of people?

When my name was called, another patient, an older gentleman in a suit (whose dress was that of a fairly important businessman or politician) seemed interested and looked at me as I took the walk of shame to the back rooms.

Turns out, I recognized his name, too, when it was called. And my inkling was right; over 400,000 hits on Google confirms that he is a fairly important businessman or politician.

For the sake of his privacy and mine, I wouldn't think of tracking him down, but I really wonder if he shares my privacy concerns.

At least I can take consolation in the fact that, important as he is, he's stuck with the same wait that I am.

- RG>

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Metal railroad-spike bicyclist figurine from OFM

I picked up this little trinket at the Ottawa Farmer's Market earlier this year. It's a little metal bicyclist figurine. The cyclist's torso and head are an old railroad spike. This particular piece is mounted on a piece of driftwood.

I had wanted to take a photo of it before buying to show to my many cyclist friends, at least a couple of whom I think would be interested in buying them, but the artist didn't allow me to take a photo of it (and his many other works) on his table. So I bought one and can now photograph it to my heart's content!

For this photo, I set it on the metal stairs of my fire escape, to match the industrial nature of the figurine's construction:

I quite like it.

- RG>