How to Tell One Robax from Another

I have a sore back. It’s something that hits me once or twice a year due to a problem with lower back spasms. This time it’s been going on for more than a week, which is unusual. Today I was almost completely incapacitated, which is very unusual given that two days ago I thought I was almost over it.

The go-to drugs for back pain are the collection of Robax drugs. Those are the ones you see advertised on TV with the wooden dolls dancing around after they get a pin taken out of their backs. Well, they help me a bit, but not much. Even after taking a pile of Robax pills I still feel like there’s a dagger in my kidney.

There’s a reason for this sad lament: a sadder lament and a bit of information that you might find helpful.

Here in Canada we have not caught up to the U.S. when it comes to over-the-counter drug packaging. Go do a Rite-Aid or a Duane Reade in the U.S. and check out the pills. The packages very clearly state what are the active ingredients, and even more clearly state the dosages. It’s writ large and clear, in a design that has clearly been vetted by UX designers. Bravo!

U.S. package. Easy to read!

But go into a Pharmaprix or a Shoppers Drug Mart or a Jean Coutu in Canada and check out the same pills. Yes, the information is there, but it’s written in 4 point Helvetica in a block of text with no line breaks or spacing or any other cues to help you quickly make sense of it. Plus it’s in two languages, and given how unreadable it is, it’s like two foreign languages.

Canadian packaging. WTF?

So when I went to a Jean Coutu last week to get some back relief, I was faced with the same problem I’m always faced with. A wall of pills that all look the same and have the same basic names but it takes a good amount of study and ideally an internet connection to sort out which is the one you should buy. This time, however, I finally managed to figure out the difference between the three different types of Robax back pills. And now for your reading pleasure I preset that information to you, in plain English, the way it should – but isn’t – on the package.

Note: the one thing they all have in common is methocarbamol, a muscle relaxant. The difference lies in what pain reliever they’re married to, if any.

  • Robaxin: methocarbamol only.
  • Robaxacet: methocarbamol and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Robaxisal: methocarbamol and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, or Aspirin).
  • Robax Platinum: methocarbamol and ibuprofin (Advil).

That’s it. It’s that simple, although some are also available in “extra strength” dosages. In that case it’s only the pain reliever that’s “extra strength,” not the methocarbamol.

But wait! For some reason, the standard dosage of methocarbamol is 400 mg. That is, unless you’re buying straight Robaxin, in which case it’s 500 mg. Or Robax Platinum, which has the standard dosage of ipuprophen (200 mg) and 500 mg of methocarbamol. There is no reasonable explanation for this difference.

However, you should know that if you already have ASA, acetaminophen, or ibuprofin in your medicine chest, you need only buy Robaxin. Because there is absolutely no difference between taking one Robaxin plus one Advil, and taking one Robax Platinum. Similarly, the only difference between one Robaxin plus a Tylenol and one Robaxacet is you get a bit more methocarbamol in the former case.

In my case, I find Robaxin with acetaminophen (or Robaxacet) does the trick for me, at least for muscle pain. If I take Robaxisal, I need to supplement it with Tylenol, which means I’m taking ASA that I don’t need. We have tons of acetaminophen already, so what I really should be buying is straight-up Robaxin and just take them with a couple of Tylenols.

This next bit should be a separate blog post…

While I’m on the topic of drug dosages, you should familiarize yourself with a few standard dosages. For example, the standard acetaminophen (Tylenol) pill contains 325 mg of active ingredient. The “Extra Strength” ones contain 500 mg. If you take three regular ones you’re getting 975 mg, which is pretty much exactly the same as the 1000 mg you’d get if you took two Extra Strength ones.

You might think all of this is really obvious, but I’m shocked at how often I meet people who have no idea what’s in the pills they take, and who believe silly things like “regular Tylenols don’t help me at all! Only the Extra Strength ones work!”

No. Read the labels. Hopefully we’ll learn from our neighbours to the south and the labels will one day be clearer.

Now go take a pill.

Opus Card Problems

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Opus card. It has made using public transit in Montreal a lot easier, at least in terms of buying and using tickets and passes. The single, rechargable “chip” card makes a lot of sense, and I’ve had no real problems with it. Well, except for what I’m about to describe.

opus cardSome background: I live “off island,” on the South Shore of Montreal where the transit system (RTL) is separate from Montreal’s STM. Generally, this presents no problem; I pay a bit extra to get a monthly pass that I can use on both systems. (The standard STM monthly pass is $72.75, while my combined RTL/STM pass is $113).

Before the Opus system was installed, the pass was a paper card with a magnetic stripe. I’d get in line a few days before the end of each month and would buy a new pass for the upcoming month from a ticket agent. I had to buy these passes at the terminus in Longueuil, as they were not for sale at the regular STM outlets. Again, not a problem as I passed through the terminus twice a day, five days a week.

With the Opus card it’s even easier. I have one rechargeable card that I can recharge at a machine. Sadly, although Opus recharging machines exist in virtually every Metro station on the STM system, I could only recharge my combined RTL/STM pass at the terminus Longueuil. A bit of a setback, but no biggie since passing through the terminus was part of my commute.

Then, last June, I was thrust into a new situation. Due to an externally imposed (but ultimately welcome) “sabbatical,” I did not have a need to commute into Montreal five times a week. I knew I’d be going into town frequently, but I didn’t think it was worth buying a full monthly pass. I thought it might be better to buy my tickets a la carte.

That’s where it gets complicated.

It’s complicated because when you’re paying “per ride” on my commute, you’re not just dealing with two systems, you’re dealing with three. Or more precisely, two and a half. Or maybe two and a virtual. It’s like this:

  • RTL tickets are needed to ride the bus from my house to the Terminus Longueuil, where the STM Metro’s yellow line terminates (and all RTL busses terminate). Those tickets are $3.10 each, or six for $16.75.
  • STM tickets are needed to ride the Montreal Metro and bus system. Those tickets are $3.00 each, or six for $14.25 and 10 for $22.50.
  • Special STM tickets are needed if you are starting your STM ride in Longueuil. This is because some idiots feel that any Metro station that’s “off island” should charge more. (People taking the Metro from any of the three stations in Laval also pay extra.) These tickets cost $3.00 with no discount for bulk purchases. (Re-read that, and ask yourself if it makes any sense.)

It gets worse:

  • RTL tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines at the Terminus Longueuil, on the ground floor level.
  • Regular STM tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines in STM Metro stations, with the exception of the Longueuil station (and most likely the Laval stations).
  • Special Longueuil STM tickets can only be purchased at Opus machines at the Terminus Longueuil, on the Metro level (the level below where the Opus machines for the RTL are).

Did you catch that? I have to go to three different locations to buy all the tickets I need to get around on a per-ticket basis.

It gets even worse:

Once you’ve put the three different kinds of tickets on your Opus card, you have to keep track of how many of each you have left so you don’t end up stuck with the dreaded red light on the turnstile when you’re in a big hurry to get somewhere. This would be OK if the readers on the Opus machines gave a clear indication, but they don’t. They do not distinguish between the two different kinds of STM tickets!

Here’s a blurry picture of what my Opus card contained one day a couple of weeks ago. It shows how many tickets I have for each of the three variations. The one in the middle is obvious, as it says “RTL.” But can you tell which, between the top one and the bottom one, is the regular STM tickets (for use only on the island of Montreal) and which is the one I need to enter the system in Longueuil?

Opus Card Recharge screen

If I’m down to one or two of the top variety and have six or eight of the bottom variety, which one do I recharge? (Bearing in mind that each requires being at a different geographical location in order to recharge.)

The Solution(s)

The solutions are easy, at least in theory. The hard part is getting the human beings behind two or more disparate systems to work together for the benefit of the riding public. Believe me, that’s no easy task.

But if they were to find the desire to fix it, here’s how to do it:

Solution, Part 1

This is easy: reprogram the interface so it differentiates between regular STM tickets and “off-island” STM tickets. Look at the photo above; by checking my status before and after using an off-island ticket, I was able to deduce that the top item refers to those tickets. I have since written it in Sharpie on my Opus card, which is about the most inelegant solution ever. But if the screen said:

  • STM-off-island
  • RTL
  • STM

…then I’d know at a glance what tickets I have available. It’s a simple matter of labeling. Is that so hard?

Solution, Part 2

This bit is harder because it involves (a) getting networks to work together (somewhat difficult) and (b) getting people to commit to getting networks to work together (very difficult).

If the networks had better awareness of each other — and the labels were clearer — then I’d be able to go to any Opus recharging station anywhere on the system and load up with whatever tickets I need.

The most frustrating part is that the systems are aware of each other; at any Opus recharging station all three types of tickets are shown on the console. They just don’t let you purchase anything other than the ones that are allowed at that station.

That is as stupid and user-unfriendly as anything I’ve seen, and it is (at least in theory) easy to fix.

Taglines from Hell

Because I am a masochist at heart, I sometimes spend my lunch break eating at my desk and reading discussion threads on Linked In. In a recent thread, some poor sap was asking for help coming up with a promotional tagline that connected the idea of volunteering with the concept of “winners” or “winning.”

Having been charged with creating taglines in a previous job, I have a special appreciation for the challenges involved. It’s way harder to come up with a good one than you might think, and one of the biggest hurdles is deflecting the tin-eared suggestions that come from your co-workers and colleagues. It’s an especially big hurdle if the sour notes come from your boss (or client, if you’re a freelancer).

I knew what to expect when I saw that person asking for help in a Linked In discussion. I knew it would be bad, but the part of me that loves a good train wreck had to click through and read the suggestions.

Below are a few of them, verbatim. Imagine any of these painted on a tall banner at a flashy trade show, presented as the cornerstone to a volunteer recruitment campaign:

  • You can’t win, if you don’t volunteer to do so!
  • Winners say no to drags
  • Winners join us because here is where cream always rises to the top!
  • There aren’t any winners without losers. Choose your side. (Ed. note: the guy who came up with that one is a CEO.)
  • Winners have volunteers on their team
  • Premiere as a Volunteer – Begin and Win
  • Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Winner, that is what I’d truly like to volunteer!
  • Let the other person win, volunteer.
  • Winners…..get up one more time than they fall down!

And the Pièce de résistance:

  • Winners do not compromise the position, Leaders fo not compromise the goals adn Volunterrs do not compromise the causes. (sic)

Vacation Time

“The older I get, the less vacation I take.” I hear this from a surprising number of people. Many of them are middle-aged white middle-managers for mid-sized companies. Their offices are painted a middling beige.

That odd sentiment is understandable if the person holds high stakes in the business, or has a clearly defined path up the corporate ladder and is handsomely rewarded in bonuses and company equity for all of their sacrifice. But an alarming number of the vacation-averse people I’ve met are not that way at all. They’re middling white collar workers who seem to be addicted to their jobs. And they are all, to a man, men.

Frankly, if some office dork in his beige dockers wants to be like that, fine. It’s your life, buddy. It becomes a problem, however, when that person is your boss, or your boss’s boss. Then it trickles down. Or more precisely, it is expected to trickle down.

Um. No. I’m very fortunate that I’ve never had this kind of thing thrust upon me directly, but I’ve come close a few times and I’ve seen other people fall victim to it. It enrages me.

It’s not just that as time marches on and the years seem to get shorter that vacation time feels more and more precious. No, I’m enraged at the sheer ignorance of the people who take this kind of work-inspired martyrdom for granted.

I am angry at the drones who fall victim to it, and I am particularly angry at the executives – the stakeholders – who don’t understand that for most of us salarymen these are just jobs. We don’t have the same dedication to the company as they do because we don’t own it. Yes, we want to succeed in our “careers,” and we want to do good work, but we want that for ourselves, for our own self respect. We know that none of us are going to get rich off of these gigs. None of us will be renowned in the company annals. None of us will retire gently into our Spanish villas bought with the generous stocks and bonuses that we’ve earned through our tireless devotion to the success of the company.

No. We work until we retire, and if we retire with money it’s because we saved it ourselves from our salaries and (if we’re lucky) the company’s meager 50% of 5% matching bonus. And that’s assuming we survived the periodic swinging of the layoff scythe that so regularly and indiscriminately reaps its bloody harvest.

So I’m going to take that vacation, and I’m going to take as many days and weeks of it as I can. As much as I might like my job and my career, and as keen as I am to see the company succeed, I also like my friends and family, and I want to see those rolling golden hills of Spain and the deep blue sea of the Mediterranean while I can, before the fixed income and the bad legs set in.

If you want me to sacrifice on the altar of the corporation like you do, then there’s got to be something in it for me. Something big. But I don’t own part of the company, and a cash bonus does me no good if I can’t leave my desk to spend it. About the only thing I have to negotiate is more vacation time. That’s right. I’ll work those long days and ruin the odd weekend for you, but not because I’m addicted to work or enamored with the company logo. I’ll do it for more vacation time.