Phoenix Coyote

The Government of Canada’s Phoenix pay system has affected the financial stability of tens of thousands of public employees, including thousands of students and other temporary contract employees. The previous, Conservative government decided to introduce an automated payroll system that would supposedly pay for itself after several years by letting go of 700 compensation advisors in order save $70 million per year. However, insiders insisted that the system was not ready to launch in early 2016, and a combination of technical issues and a lack of training have led to hundreds of thousands of incorrect transactions. The current, Liberal government should have ended Phoenix, because it has had to spend $402 million fixing something that had already cost $310 million in the first place.

I presently work full-time as a Library Technician and Cataloguer on an eight-month co-op placement with the Parks Canada National Library in Cornwall, Ontario. I normally live in Kitchener-Waterloo and do not have a car. The work term is part of my studies towards a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS; “Plan C”) at Western University. At some point in April 2017, an error was introduced into Phoenix that caused my biweekly pay rate to be only 10% of what it should be, thus causing massive recalculations over my entire period of employment back to early January. On May 3rd, I received pay for a single day (instead of for two weeks), and on May 17th I started receiving no pay at all.

The government now owes me $5300, from $3800 in incorrectly assessed pay and more than $1500 in taxes incorrectly withheld even before the pay-rate error. My efforts to address the errors have not gotten me very far. I have contacted my manager, another manager, a staffing advisor, a finance and administration officer, an additional administrative officer, the Phoenix feedback process, and the Pay Centre, both by phone and by email. Everyone claims that the matter is out of their hands and that almost no-one has access to the necessary pay files.

Towards the end of May, the Government of Canada gave me an “emergency salary advance” covering 60% of what I’m owed for April. It is thus neither my salary–in fact, it is approximately minimum wage–nor an advance–as it is about a month late. Also, I once again did not get paid on May 31st, this time for the period from May 4-17. Meanwhile, Western University happily continues to post government co-op jobs, when it knows full well that these types of problems have been affecting student employees, especially at Parks Canada, for over a year.

My plan for the student co-op placement was that I would be able to save just enough money to pay my fees and tuition for the 2017 winter, summer, and fall terms and to complete my program by December. However, I did not have enough money at the end of May to pay the fees for my summer co-op placement and two courses. So, I had to drop one of the courses I started at the beginning of May. Also, given that I have no credit card or savings, I had to borrow $600 just to make it through to the end of June. I have no idea how I will cover my rent and groceries (and everything else) after the end of June.

I have my Ph.D. in Musicology (UCLA, 2003; “Plan A”) and recently researched and wrote Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). From 1999 to 2008, I taught dozens of music history courses as a part-time or visiting instructor at seven universities. I then studied Information Technology in 2009-10 (“Plan B”) and worked a little in website and web content development. Incredibly, $706 a month on welfare or an actual minimum-wage job are looking like pretty good options at this point!

See also Luisa D’Amato’s column in the Waterloo Region Record about how the Government of Canada’s terrible Phoenix payroll system has negatively affected me.

MP3 vs. AAC, cloud vs. SD

I’m experimenting with re-ripping parts of my 19,000-song iTunes library to test the files with n7player on my Android smart phone. That phone player is great (tag clouds of artist names, album covers shown for navigating, etc.), but it doesn’t like mixed file types and thus doesn’t pull AAC album groupings together properly with MP3s. So, I’m going to go with MP3s, because that format works as more of a standard across various platforms. Naturally, I’m starting with early Genesis, Peter Gabriel, and Rush! I’m tempted to put everything on the cloud with Google Play Music, which allows up to 50,000 songs for free. However, I don’t really like the idea of having to use that much data when not able to use WIFI. A compromise, I suppose, would be to keep selected things also offline on a 64 GB SD card. Yes, I’m a nerd!

Combined Master’s-PhD

Graduate school should only exist as fully-funded PhD programs in which students complete their courses, exams, and teaching and/or research assistantships in the first two years and their modest-scope dissertations in the third and fourth years. Each graduate student should then be required to complete a two-year professional development master’s degree, in consultation with a career centre and including a paid internship. That work could be done in teaching (at any level), business, public writing, lab work, communications, government services, website development, library & information science, or some other area. Everyone would need to do that master’s degree before actually being awarded his or her PhD!

Book Chapter on Music in The Simpsons

I’m working on a chapter about music in The Simpsons for a book that the independent publisher McFarlane has requested. I presented six conference papers on the topic between 2006 and 2013 and also completed about half of a book on it, so it shouldn’t take take too long! The editor in 2010 co-authored a book for the same press, called: The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. The new book is intended for undergraduate students and the general public, so it’s a good opportunity to get some more “public music history” out there.

Master of Library and Information Science

I’ve recently been accepted into Western University’s American-Library-Association-accredited Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program. I will be doing my required courses from May through August this summer, hopefully a co-op work term (paid internship) in a library from September to December, and my electives and major research project (probably on online music delivery) from January through August of 2017. I’m getting student loans lined up for the summer of 2016 and will hopefully also be able to get some in 2017.

Bowie vs. Bach

Robert Shaw: “It is the nature of music, unlike painting and most of literature, that its final creation is not its original creation. Music needs to be sounded, needs to be sung. It needs to be heard. In this sense the composer literally must leave his work to be finished by others.”

I recently heard someone report another person’s claim that David Bowie had been the greatest genius in the history of music, and someone else replied: “Really, what about Bach? Come on!” I can see the reason for that reaction. However, when I sit at the piano and play and sing through David Bowie’s song “Life on Mars?,” I know what it’s supposed to sound like, because he and his production team went to an awful lot of trouble to record it to sound a certain way. That included parodying the show-tune style of Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and featuring keyboardist Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock band Yes on piano. Actually, the melodies, rhythms, chords, and words of the song remain excellent, even though I don’t have an electric guitar, Mellotron, bass, drums, backing vocal, and string section available to accompany me–not to mention Wakeman’s considerable keyboard skills. Choirs do something similar when they rehearse selected choral movements with piano for several months before they ever hear the (piano-less) orchestra and the (choir-less) solo vocal sections. The main difference between Bowie and Bach is that the former gave us “final/original”  recorded versions of his music, whereas the latter did not and could not.

Master of Library and Information Science (?)

I just made an inquiry re Western’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, in order to introduce myself and to ask about whether they have any preliminary scheduling information for the next several semesters. I’m interested to know what they’ll say, although I expect they’ll mostly just encourage me to apply.

I explained that after my BA in Music and Applied Studies Co-op at the U. of Waterloo and my MA in Musicology at the U. of Toronto, I completed my PhD in Musicology at UCLA and then more recently also a Co-op Certificate in Computer Applications Development at Conestoga College. I also said that in addition to my background in academia (research, teaching), music (e.g., choral singing), and my current work in public music history (books, articles, and conference papers), I have had several part-time jobs involving libraries, including a recordings’ research position at UCLA’s Music Library Special Collections, serving as the choral librarian of the Elora Festival & Singers, and my current volunteering in holds shelving and missing-item traces at the Waterloo Public Library. I also let them know that I once taught a course in popular music & culture for their faculty (FIMS), have developed a number of websites, took a pair of small-business/self-employment courses, and am currently a Visiting Scholar at Conrad Grebel University College at UW.

I wondered if there is an expected schedule yet for the five required courses in Summer 2016 and/or a list of what is expected to be offered in 2016-17? I said that I’m thinking of starting the program this coming summer, doing my second term in Fall 2016 (including some courses online, as I live in Waterloo), then doing a co-op term in Winter 2017 (taking one more course, possibly online, during that term), and completing the program in Summer 2017.