Urgency: Does Anybody Have It?

Yesterday, I got hit with another massive wave of discouragement. I realized that I don't want to get good at handling discouragement. It's not worth the pain. But I am resorting to a tactic that got me through boot camp. I keep telling myself that many people have been here before me, and they made it. I can too.

First, I had a phone interview. I was hoping for "Wow, you're the super tech we've been waiting for. Can you start after lunch?" What I got was a second interview next week.

Then I exchanged emails with a friend. There are a few open positions in his organization. I applied for one. Even though he's a director, he has no real authority in hiring. All he can do is forward my resume. But, even after applications close out, it will be 4-6 weeks before I could even get scheduled for an interview. That's another mortgage payment. Not sure my savings will hold out that long. Crap. I wanted to crawl under a table.

Then an email came in. I applied for a FEMA job in November or December of last year. They FINALLY got around to deciding I'm not qualified. 

I have to wonder if anybody has a sense of urgency in hiring. How does any work get done when nobody can get hired?

But there was a bright spot. I'm not totally without hope. A friend of mine is a Real Estate agent. When I first got laid off, I asked her if she thought I could make it as an agent. It's something I always wanted to do, and with FEMA not being the only organization not in a hurry to hire anybody, I figured it was worth pursuing.

I met with my friend's broker, who is willing to take me on after I get licensed. I already took the school, and my state license exam is scheduled for Monday. Then I have to get fingerprinted, and get a background check. I think I misunderstood how long it will take before I can start though. Apparently it will be sooner than I thought. I'll also be working in the top producing office in New Jersey. I'll be learning from the best.

That's where a paradox comes in. I could take down all of my resumes now. I could start laying out a list of goals for Real Estate. Or do I pursue another tech job? I feel weird trying to keep a foot in each door. I think I'm going to have to make a decision very soon.

And I have to study for my license exam.

eReader Race: iPad in the Lead, nook Ahead of Kindle

That was hard to keep straight. According to The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), Barnes & Noble's nook is beating out Amazon's Kindle, but the iPad is outselling both. Well, good.

I have a nook. I don't have a Kindle or an iPad. I'd like them. I read Kindle books on my iPhone. 

In the grand scheme of things, I don't see any doubt that the iPad has the most elegant user interface (UI). It also has the most function. Not only can you read a book, you can write a blog post ABOUT the book on the same device. Technically, you can do that on an iPhone as well, but it'll be more challenging.

I would say as a runner up in elegance, nook comes in second, although I've never physically touched a Kindle. I've never seen one up close. I've seen plenty of pictures and unboxing videos of them, but never seen one in person. Nook is very streamlined and pleasing to the eye. It would be #1 if the iPad didn't exist.

But when it comes to any kind of eBook reader, content is king. I don't care how cool your iPad or nook is if you can't read anything on it. At the present time, Amazon is the king of content.

I've bought a few Kindle books. I haven't bought any books for nook yet. Both Amazon and B&N offer free eBooks. B&N's don't seem to update very often though. I got my nook on January 15. At the time, B&N offered 2 books for free in a Star Wars fiction series. I downloaded them. Amazon offers those two plus book 3, which has yet to show up on Barnes & Noble. I've seen very little change in Barnes & Noble's selection (at least their free selection). 

What my nook is good for is reading pdf files. I download a lot of free pdf documents and rarely get around to reading them. I haven't found a good (free) way to read pdf documents on my iPhone, and my netbook's battery life is pretty bad (2 hrs). So I put them on my nook. But for books, I typically use Amazon.

I would love to see a universal content. Then you could buy the reader that you want, and buy the content that you want, and join them together. I don't like the current model where the reader you choose will dictate the content you can buy. The latest software update for nook allows web browsing and playing chess. Whoopee! I'd rather be able to read my Kindle content on it.

The Fastest Way To The Top

Most of my life, I’ve tried to take the fastest path I could find to the top. It’s rarely worked well. At times, I’ve felt like an overachiever. At other times, I’ve felt like a total failure.

In November, after I realized that my job was headed south, I bought Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book “Thou Shall Prosper”. I bought the 1st edition for Kindle and read it on my iPhone. It took months to finish reading. I digested it slowly. I’ve been wanting to find some way to work for myself for a while. I don’t know if this is it or not, or if I still have to learn more. I don’t know.

This isn’t a tangent. I’m bringing two threads together. While I’ve been unemployed, I rediscovered Diablo. I started playing the first version in 1999 or 2000. I used to play a modem game with a guy from work. It was a great stress reliever. After a long day of development testing, I could go home, pop a cold beer, and fire up Diablo. I’d walk through the dungeons slaying monsters and pretending they were Lockheed Martin engineers. Until you’ve had to support them, you won’t understand. I don’t mean the monsters.

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Josh Kaufman: Rethinking the MBA

If somebody told me they would pay all of my expenses for a few years so I could go to any school I wanted, I would go to Harvard Business School. I'd get an MBA. From Harvard.

But is a traditional MBA program, even Harvard's, the best way to learn business?

Josh Kaufman doesn't think so. He's the founder of The Personal MBA, a program I've followed (loosely) for a few years. Josh picks what he considers the best business books for you to read to give yourself a world class business education. If you join his site, he offers a tool for you to track the books you've read. The reading list is updated approximately every 2 years. So far I've read 8 of the 99 books chosen for the current reading list. I think I read a few more books from the 2005 and 2007 lists. Occasionally, I'll get a book that I'm sure HAS to be on the Personal MBA list, but isn't.

A quote from the blog post:

Here’s the TLDR summary of the research: getting an MBA essentially buys you a $150,000+ interview with a large consulting firm or investment bank, since it’s used as an HR screening criteria. (And as this recent article indicates, entry-level MBA positions are usually soul-sucking and often quite scammy.) For all other purposes, it’s a waste of time and money with a massive opportunity cost – there is absolutely no difference regarding long-term compensation, hiring, promotion, or job satisfaction between MBA-holders and business professionals that don’t have a degree. None.

Read more: http://personalmba.com/rethinking-the-mba/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+personalmba+%28The+Personal+MBA%29&utm_content=Google+Reader#ixzz0mJ07i9zE

CNET: McAfee’s Big Blunder

CNET has a blog post about McAfee's Big Blunder. Recently, McAfee pushed out a buggy software update. It didn't affect me, as I've long since banished McAfee and Norton from my network. I'm all for keeping my computer safe, but both are far too needy for attention, and demand too much of a performance sacrifice.

I swore off Norton after their Norton Internet Security 2005. I had a copy of NIS 2003. After about 3 weeks, I'd start getting notices that Norton quarantined and deleted my email. I couldn't retrieve it. Then people would start asking me "Did you get my email?" Well, no. I uninstalled and reinstalled NIS 2003 and the same thing happened within 3 weeks. After my 3rd try, I uninstalled it and used the disk as a coaster after it wouldn't sell on Ebay.

I got a laptop for Christmas 2005. I was just getting started at the University of Phoenix and my old P-II 233Mhz Toshiba laptop couldn't keep up. I got a Compaq, which came with a 90 day trial of NIS 2005. It didn't last 2 months. NIS 2005 seemed to have to download updates every 20 minutes, and had to flash a status balloon on my taskbar to notify me of each individual step it was taking. The problem is, I like to hide my taskbar for screen Real Estate, so when an attention needy program like NIS 2005 wants to keep telling me what it's doing, it gets in the way. It also started letting me know way too frequently that my 90 day trial was running out in 89 days, 88 days, etc. Go away, Norton. Nobody likes you.

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Commitment Part II: By The Way, The Navy Broke It’s Contract With Me

Yesterday, I published a blog post about commitments. I revealed how I was tempted to get out of the Navy by failing weight standards, but decided to honor my commitment.

I honored my end of the contract, even though the Navy broke it’s end before I even signed it.

I joined the Navy through the Delayed Enlistment Program the summer after my junior year of high school. I was already enlisted as a senior, and I left for boot camp 2 days after graduation. When I signed the contract, I honestly didn’t believe we’d graduate that late.

But the Navy’s end of the contract was always broken.

When I signed the contract, I was promised a $1500 enlistment bonus. I didn’t exact care about the bonus, but it was a bonus promised to me by contract. I would have joined anyway. I honestly didn’t have any other ideas. My dad was enlisted in the Air Force. I grew up in the military. I didn’t really know anything else. I would love to have been a fighter pilot, but I wasn’t ready for college yet. I didn’t think I was, anyway. So enlisting was my only option.

When I talked to the Air Force recruiter, he acted like he had a girl in the back room and had better things to do than talk to me. The Navy recruiter called me on a day when I was bored out of my skull and had little better to do than talk to him. The Navy offered me a better deal than the Air Force, so I took it.

I was to collect my enlistment bonus upon completion of my “A” School, or technical school. We got our bonuses on the last day of school on our way out the door. I was expecting a check for approximately $1250, which would have been what was left of the $1500 after taxes were taken out. Instead, I got a check for $800, which was what was left of $1000 after taxes at that time. When I questioned it, I was told to take it up with legal at my next duty station.

So, when I got to San Diego, I showed up at legal with the stub from the check (of course, I cashed it anyway) and my enlistment contract which showed a bonus due to me of $1500.

From what I understand, enlistment bonuses are MUCH larger now. But in 1992, they were tiny.

Legal told me that $1000 was the standard bonus for my rate (Fire Controlman), and the people at MEPS (the Military Enlistment Processing Station) did not have the authority to promise me more than the standard amount. I asked for the language in the contract stating such. I was instead told that if I wanted to push the issue, the Navy would let me out for breach of contract. I always figured that was a line of bull, but as a 19 year old E-4, I could only do so much.

I said I’d think about it. Many times over the next 5 years, I asked myself why I didn’t take it.

So you see, I kept my end of the contract even though the Navy broke its end before I even signed it.

What Does A Commitment Mean To You?

It's easy to point to the world and make comments on how little commitments mean. I'm not tempted to say "anymore". While we do witness certain deteriorations in society, I'm not convinced anything is new. It's not like there was once some idealistic, virtuous time when everybody was nice to each other. The book of Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. I think an examination of history shows that to be true. While we have technology now, nothing about the nature of man has changed.

When the iPhone came out in 2007, it came with the announcement that, in the U.S., AT&T will have exclusive rights to the iPhone for at least 5 years. I believe that was extended for a year. But it's not necessary to look it up for the purpose of this blog post. Ever since the iPhone came out, people have been hopeful that Apple will break it's agreement with AT&T and sell the iPhone through Verizon as well. Seriously, people want Apple to break it's contract. They'd be happy about it.

Yeah, how happy will you be when Apple breaks it's AppleCare contract with you?

I like to watch the show "Operation Repo". It's amusing to me. I know, it's mostly an act, or at least, reenactments of actual situations. I'm sure it's realistic enough. When we buy (finance) cars, we sign contracts to make monthly payments on those cars. The contract states that if you don't make your payments, the finance company can send a team like EGA Recovery to come take it back. It amazes me how people can get so defensive, or aggressive. "It's my car! You're not taking MY car!" But the contract that YOU signed says it's now THEIR car, because YOU didn't pay for it.

When I joined the Navy, I signed a contract to serve for 6 years. By the 4 year mark, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to give them 1 more day than necessary. 

I always had problems maintaining my weight and fitness within Navy standards. I was often a "mando commando". I had to participate in some form of mandatory Physical Training (PT) throughout my enlistment because my waist was pushing the limits. Also, I had a lot of trouble running a mile and a half in 13 minutes. I could run 3 or 4 miles at a time, but I couldn't do a mile and a half within the alloted time. 

Every 6 months, the Navy required us to take a physical test known as the PRT (Physical Readiness Test). We had to pass a weigh in and/or a body fat test. Then we had to do so many sit ups, push ups, and a mile and a half in so much time. These varied by gender and age. I think I had to do 45 sit ups, 29 push ups, and a mile and a half in 13 minutes and 45 seconds. I hated every second of it. The scary thing is, I've been out of the Navy for 12 years, and I still judge my physical condition by those standards. 

At one point while serving on the USS Oldendorf (DD-972), we had a PRT (Physical Readiness Test) coordinator who HATED fat people. He literally hated the site of us, but we still had to muster with him every day for weigh ins and PT. He would go on tirades about how much he hated us. We were allowed 3 PRT failures before we could be kicked out of the Navy. If you failed weight and any portion of the PRT itself, that counted as 2 failures. At one point, the PRT coordinator miscalculated my number of failures. He somehow thought I had 2 failures, and told me I'd be kicked out of the Navy for 1 more failure. I was 22 at the time, and about fed up with the Navy. I thought "Wow, all I have to do is NOTHING and I can get out of the Navy. I'll take my electronics training and get a real job."

I could taste the freedom.

Then I realized something. I made a commitment to serve in the Navy for 6 years. I signed a contract. And as I looked ahead at my life, I wondered if I would ever reach a point where I regretted breaking that contract. As good as it would feel to get out in the short term, I realized I did not want to face the longer term consequences of the decision.

And so, I decided to stay in. I found out that the Navy offered an inpatient treatment program for "overeaters". It's actually the same program that alcoholics and drug addicts go to. I spent a month at Miramar MCAS going through this program. I came out of it in shape, within weight standards, and feeling a lot better about myself. The counseling they provided even helped me understand and deal with a few things about myself. I passed the PRT, and I managed to hang in for the last 2 years to finish out my enlistment.

Then I got out. I completed my commitment. And it has paid off several times. 

I've been married for 9 years. We've had plenty of challenges. But I made a commitment in that church 9 years ago in front of friends and family. And during a few times when walking out started to sound like a really good idea, I was always brought back by the commitment I made. And things always got better by sticking to my commitment.

Last week, I was infuriated by the breaking of a minor commitment. A manager told me he would call me back, and didn't. I honestly didn't care if his return call was "You didn't get the job". I was upset that he said he would call me and didn't call me.

Let's bring this back down to Earth. What does a commitment mean to you? Even a really bad one, like staying in the Navy, or letting AT&T have exclusive rights to the iPhone on their crappy network? Do you believe in keeping your commitments? Or are they only means to an end, like I can get this guy off the phone if I say I'll call back, then not do it?

Do you honor your commitments, great and small?

Alternate Work Schedules: What’s Best For You?

The company that laid me off last month rolled out what they called "Flexible Work Schedules" at the end of 2008. I elected not to participate because I considered these schedules to be far less flexible than a regular 8 hour day 5 days a week.

One model required you to work 9 hours every day and take 1 day off every two weeks. The other model required 8 hour days one week, then 10 hour days the next, with 1 day off in the 2 week period. Maybe if they'd called it an "Alternate Work Schedule" I would have considered it. But by calling it a "Flexible Work Schedule" while making it less flexible than the original model, my BS detector just about blew my eardrum out. Oh, yeah, if an unpaid holiday appeared (they only gave us 7 paid holidays a year, and Black Friday wasn't one of them), your day off became that holiday whether you liked it or not. Yeah, real flexible. Also, if a paid holiday appeared during a time when you were scheduled to work more than 8 hours a day, you had to take vacation to make up the balance. Again, super flexible. 

It's scary when companies believe their own BS.

I've worked a flexible schedule before. When I was at BAE systems, I was required to put in 80 hours in 2 weeks. I could flex up to 16 hours from one week to the next within a pay period. As long as my work was getting done, I could come and go as I pleased. I loved it. If I needed a day off (or was sick) I could work a couple of 12 hour days to make up for the missed day. I could leave for a few hours and come back. Nobody ever said anything as long as my work was getting done, which it was.

I really enjoyed that kind of flexibility. I normally worked 9 hour days and took a half day most Fridays. I could come in on weekends if needed to make up time. I loved coming in on Saturday, when nobody else was there. I could get a lot done with the entire floor all to myself.

When Caleb tried a physics experiment (he wanted to see if his hand and the minivan sliding door could both occupy space simultaneously) I got up and left for the ER. I came back a few hours later and worked late.

INC Magazine has an article about Four Day Work Weeks. I don't actually like the concept of 4 day work weeks. I like to have the option to do them occasionally, but I would not want a 4 day work week to replace a 5 day work week.

Here's why:

  • 10 hour days are exhausting- Seriously, they wear you down. I don't mind doing 10 and 12 hours days as the situation requires, but I wouldn't want to do them all the time.
  • Workload is rarely that predictable
  • They limit flexibility to handle workload- what do you do when something comes up on Friday, but everybody is off? "Oh, sorry Mr. Client, we don't work on Friday. You'll have to wait until Monday." That or you can incur some overtime expenses.
  • Life is rarely that predictable

Here's my preference:

  • Hire professionals that you can trust. Seriously, if you catch somebody cheating on time, fire them.
  • Tell your professionals what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.
  • Give your professionals some leeway to decide what needs to be done and when it can be done.

In this age of knowledge work, many jobs can be done outside the limitations of a 9 to 5 workday set in a physical location. Why not change compensation to a model based on what gets done rather than how many hours a butt is in a chair? Some service jobs are still somewhat chained to time and space, but most knowledge jobs aren't. Give knowledge workers some space and watch what happens.

I Am So Happy About This: 1Password for Windows

There was a time when I could use one username and password for everything. Those were wonderful days. Yes, I know the “security experts” don’t recommend that, but seriously, how do you keep track of all your logins otherwise?

Then companies started rolling out mandatory password changes. Then we had mixes of systems where we could pick our own passwords and systems that auto-generated passwords. We had systems with varying periodicities and requirements. One system required a min 6 character password and changed every 60 days. Another required an 8 character password (with mix of upper and lower case, numbers, and special characters) and had to be changed every 90 days.

It got very confusing, and I started running out of sticky notes to keep my passwords on. It was time for software to come to the rescue. Actually, I never kept my passwords on sticky notes. I used Outlook notes for a long time though.

For several years, I used KeePass. KeePass had a Windows client, and a Windows Mobile client. Life was good. Then I went through the Samsung BlackJack II and the Samsung Epix, and decided I’m never using Windows Mobile again. I bought an iPhone. I love my iPhone 3G. I’m happy with it.

But I have yet to see a KeePass port to the iPhone platform. Doh!

I did a search in the app store, and discovered a program called 1Password. It has an iPhone client, and a desktop client. But the desktop client is only for Mac. I downloaded the iPhone client. Later, I managed to snag the Professional version while it was on sale for free.

I still don’t have a Mac though.

Recently, a beta of 1Password for Windows came out. I'm happy about that. I can finally edit and maintain my passwords on my desktop (or netbook) again, but always have my login information with my where ever I go.

How Madoff Got Away With It: The SEC Was Surfing for Porn

I stumbled across this today, ironically enough, through a humor site. And I am not surprised at all. Apparently, while Madoff was ripping people off and banks were getting ready to siphon billions off the economy and collapse, the SEC was too busy surfing for porn to care.

“During the past five years, the SEC OIG (Office of Inspector General) substantiated that 33 SEC employees and or contractors violated Commission rules and policies, as well as the government-wide Standards of Ethical Conduct, by viewing pornographic, sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images using government computer resources and official time,” said a summary of the investigation by the inspector general’s office.

More than half of the workers made between $99,000 and $223,000. All the cases took place over the past five years.

Believe it or not, I’m not shocked by this. I’m also not surprised. If anything, it explains a lot.

If you think this is an isolated incident, you need to get out more. You wonder why government bureaucracies have to be so large and inefficient? It’s probably because of the amount of people not getting anything done while they look for porn. Or play golf. Or do anything but the jobs they’re supposedly hired to do. You know, like watch over the economy. And regulate the banks.