Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Verizon FiOS

A couple months ago, I switched to Verizon FiOS. Today, I'll talk about why I switched, what I got, and how things have been since I switched.

FiOS is Verizon's new network, offering phone, TV, and Internet service on a single set of lines, competing directly with traditional cable providers, such as Bright House or Comcast, for those same services.

Manatee County, Florida, and more specifically the southern part of the county, where I live, was "wired" for FiOS early in 2006. I use the term "wired" loosely, as FiOS is based on fiber optic technology, burying miles of fiber throughout the affected neighborhoods. I was somewhat annoyed at the time, as Manatee County had just finished burying new water lines in my neighborhood, laying fresh sod over the digging, and it seemed that sod had just gotten a good hold on the land when the crews came by and buried the fiber. Alas, the crews did not do as nice a job covering up behind them, leaving my yard somewhat less attractive when they left.

I said the neighborhoods were affected, and in that I wasn't just referring to the buried lines. FiOS is intended to replace the copper lines in the area, although it will be pretty gradual about the process. Any new phone service installed in the area would be done as part of FiOS. If a household subscribes to Verizon's FiOS TV, Verizon will automatically convert the phone service to FiOS as well. I do not know if one can get FiOS without phone service, but I find it unlikely. Purely speculating, I think the phone service is not actually necessary for FiOS to function, and the service itself could very likely be disabled at Verizon's end, leaving other services intact.

FiOS Phone

Unlike Bright House's phone offering, Verizon FiOS does not use VoIP for phone service. The phone service rides the common fiber through the neighborhood, and fiber is run from the main fiber line to an Optical Network Terminal (ONT), where it is separated from the other services. Your standard phone lines are connected to the ONT, and when the ONT is powered up, the standard phone line to the copper network is severed, and phone service is switched to the fiber line.

The up side of this is that many older neighborhoods have the copper lines running above ground, sharing poles with the power grid. Since the fiber is buried in my neighborhood, it is not subject to the service problems that came with the elevated lines. I used to be plagued with static, particularly after rain, that would occasionally make the phone line nearly unusable. this should never be a problem again.

The down side of the phone service is that the phones are no longer powered by the network. The ONT must be powered by the subscriber's power. The drain is small, equal to leaving a small light on 24/7, but when the power is interrupted, there is a risk that the phone will die as well. To reduce this risk, the ONT is attached to a battery backup, powered by a small, rechargeable, motorcycle-class battery, warranted for two years. Eventually the battery will need replacing, and I will be responsible for doing that, but the battery is fairly common, so I won't worry about it. The battery will support the ONT for at least four hours, after which you no longer have any service until power is restored. We had two hurricanes take out power for 12 hours each last year, pre-FiOS; I suggest you keep a charged cell phone battery handy if you anticipate a lengthy power outage and want the security of a phone beyond the life of the battery backup.

The battery backup is dedicated to the ONT. This is worth knowing as we discuss the other services.

FiOS Internet

For most of the rest of the country, FiOS Internet makes up your remaining service, as TV is only available where arrangements have been made with local authorities for Verizon to offer TV service. FiOS Internet is about on par with cable modem, although service offerings do allow you to purchase speeds in excess of that provided by coax-based cable.

Prior to FiOS, readers may recall I was using Verizon DSL. The most common DSL subscriber has a maximum download speed of 768 kbps and a maximum upload speed of 128 kbps, significantly slower than cable modem's advertised 5 mbps (typical cable modem speeds are closer to 1 mbps). DSL can be pumped up to as much as 3 mbps, but actual throughput will be less than that. For the purpose of comparison, we'll stick with the advertised values.

So, cable modem is typically faster than DSL, but FiOS starts at 5 mbps down and 2 mpbs up, or roughly twice the speed of cable modem, and seriously faster than my DSL. If I'm willing to pay for it, I can get my FiOS pumped up to 50 mbps! Not that I'd need that kind of speed to maintain Your World News.

Reason to switch, for sure, but that wasn't what made me do it. Switching didn't become an issue to me until I had a second technical snafu with my DSL subscription. I found that, because I live in a FiOS neighborhood, Verizon doesn't want to install DSL here any longer. Sure, I could push them to do it, but support calls would become a pain, as they would keep trying to pawn me off on FiOS.

Why was I hesitant? The system requirements. Verizon says FiOS Internet is supported on Windows 2000 and up, or on Macs. Not my older Windows 98 machines, not Linux, and not NetWare (I have an old NetWare 5.1 server on my network). A phone conversation with FiOS Tech Support straightened me out on that. The problem is two-fold, and not actually a problem at all. See, FiOS Tech Support doesn't promise to have assistance available for the other OSes, and besides, Windows 98 isn't going to notice the speed improvements. Ha! The system requirements aren't as stingy as I thought it might be. What I do on my private LAN side is essentially my problem, just like with DSL.

So, since my budget was tight, I went with the basic Internet package, and turned my attention to FiOS TV.


TV service is something I wasn't quite ready for, but any other choices were simply impractical. We we not cable subscribers. I haven't been fond of Bright House since when they used to be part of Time Warner. I had my reasons for disliking Time Warner, but can only profess to stubbornness about Bright House. I had DSL, so I had no desire for cable modem, and no desire for TV cable if I didn't need it. We had DirecTV satellite, but were spending way too much for what we used, and FiOS TV offered digital signal quality coming over fiber (no rain fade, a big issue in Florida). So, giving up DirecTV for 180 basic channels of FiOS TV wasn't that difficult.

I ponied up for two set-top boxes: a master box with DVR capabilities for the living room, where we do most of our TV viewing, and a basic box for the small TV in the master bedroom. We didn't have DVR with our early-adopter satellite TV system, so I couldn't pass on the novelty of it. It sure beats VHS!

Choosing Internet and TV at the same time dictates a hardware change in the FiOS configuration. FiOS Internet comes with a rather conventional router, but the combined service calls for something on the unusual side.

Remember, phone service was split off from the fiber at the ONT. The TV and Internet signals are sent from the ONT to a Cat 5 twisted pair wire that ends at a special, Actiontec router. This router (which includes a fairly configurable firewall, satisfying my technical whims) splits the TV signal from the Internet traffic, sending the TV traffic through the house's pre-wired coax network (along with IP-based controls for the set-top boxes). The remaining Internet traffic is placed on a separate segment, offered through four conventional ports and a built-in 802.11b/g wireless transceiver.

The Difficulties

Now that I've had the service for a couple of months, I'm seeing a few issues, none of which so far make me regret the move. The first issue has yet to be solved, mostly because I haven't devoted serious time to tackling it. The TVs have been suffering from intermittent "tiling", where little squares of the picture seem to fall briefly out-of-sync with the rest of the picture. As this is intermittent, they are a devil to catch, and the first round of troubleshooting (changing out attenuators that regulate the signal level) seemed to do little good. I'm preparing to call them back on it.

The second issue occurred when I found I was getting hit with a series of port scans that drove my incoming traffic much higher than normal. I found that I was having trouble changing my dynamic IP address. The commands would execute on the router, but it kept getting the same address back. I called Verizon Tech Support for assistance, and they discovered they were also unable to get the address to change. I wouldn't go as far as to say I had a static address for the price of a dynamic one, but it sure felt like it.

The router has some other minor annoyances, particularly in trying to stop the reporting of specific firewall rule violations, requiring me to filter those reports with a third-party tool. I don't think they planned for many subscribers to pay attention to the firewall as much as I do. I get questionable traffic generated by the router, itself, but the documentation for the router is difficult to obtain, and fairly weak when it is found.

The most recent issue is fairly predictable, but one needs to keep it in mind in any case. The battery backup only works for the ONT. A power problem does impact the rest of the system. Make sure you have at least one conventional, line powered phone, if you want to use the phone line during a power outage (true in any phone system, of course). While you won't be watching TV during an outage (in most cases), the set-top boxes lose their menuing system when the power goes off. When the power comes back, the boxes connect to Verizon over the Internet to download fresh menus, including those used to access the DVR. This means you may have an extended period after power comes back when you can't watch a DVR recording or do more than flip through the TV channels one at a time. A recent extended outage left us waiting an extra 15 minutes or so after the power came back before we could resume a recorded movie, and that still left us having to fast forward through the recording to find where we left off.

Putting these devices on UPSes might help. Certainly keeping the router powered would allow you to use the Internet via independently powered computers (probably at a loss of ONT operating time), but putting the set-top boxes on UPSes might also prevent the annoying delay of service resumption I just described. That is entirely up to you.


Verizon FiOS wasn't something I anticipated getting right now, but it hasn't been a very painful investment, and I think my overall quality of life has improved by having done so. The gains clearly beat the drawbacks, and I'd suggest anyone eligible to subscribe should give it serious consideration.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Promises, Promises

When interviewing for a job, it's good to keep in mind that any promises you get may not last through the process.

I recently interviewed for a network administration position with a major manufacturer. The interview went splendidly. For nearly an hour and a half, I had a pleasant conversation with the incumbent, who was being promoted to a position supervising the administrators at multiple plants. We spoke of the old days, the state of the industry, and the kind of work that was being performed in the position (work that well exceeded the tradition of basic network administration). The interview only ended because the principal was summoned to a conference call.

Hasty "good-byes" were exchanged. He gave me his card, and told me I would be called for a second interview. Had I not received a call by the end of the week, I was to call him, as he was leaving for a business trip the following week, and he wanted to be sure things progressed.

I left, jubilant. I felt this was a job I could excel at, and looked forward to the subsequent call. But I made two mistakes:
  1. I was the first person interviewed. Others would follow, and I knew nothing of them. Of course, I never do know anything of other candidates, and make my best effort in the first interview, but one should never leave a first interview confident of the future.
  2. I believed his promise that there would be a second interview.
The principal is not the only person involved in the process, and even if he/she is, the decision of who makes the cut can't truly be made until all the candidates have been seen. A promise at the end of an interview that you will be called for a second interview is only lip service, especially if you are one of the first to be interviewed.

If I had been one of the last interviewed, I would have had better feedback during the interview as to how I stood against my competitors. Maybe he wouldn't have said anything directly, but I could have read the comparison in his behavior, and might have noticed where I needed to put more emphasis. At the least, I would not have been as likely to invoke the strong positive vibes that led me to think I had a future. Had the interview then ended with a promise of a second interview, I would be more justified in believing the promise, since he would have been less likely to make such a promise after doing a mental comparison to the other candidates, unless I did indeed stand out.

Also, being at the tail end would allow me to remain more clearly in his mind when the actual choices were made.

So, given the opportunity, I believe I will opt for an interview at the tail-end of the process, and will only count on getting that second chance when that second chance is actually arranged.

Interviewers will lie to you. They may not do so knowingly or willingly, but that makes it no less true. You can only count on what you know to be true, and take the rest with a grain of salt.

The resumes will continue to fly, and in the meantime, I continue to work on Your World News. I can still use some volunteers there. Drop by the site and drop me a line if you're interested in helping.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Why put off 'til tomorrow... oh, never mind.

Have you ever talked with someone who was thinking of buying a new computer, but every time he or she was about to make the plunge, he or she heard about some new feature coming out soon and decided to wait until that new thing was available?

Has that person purchased a computer yet?

Usually one of two things gets a person with this problem to change his or her mind. Either he or she gets tired of waiting for a promise that will never be fulfilled, or someone finally gets through to him or her that waiting for the next big thing often does little but deprive one of the benefits the current model has available now.

By now you might be thinking I'm about to lecture on the evils of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) as a marketing tool, but remember, I seem to be perpetually in the job hunt, so my point is really related to finding work.

And I'm not going to use this as an excuse to talk about birds in hand versus birds in bushes, though, of course, I could. The lesson is the same.

No, oddly enough, it isn't me who can't make a decision, here. I've had the misfortune of interviewing with an employer who has fallen into this very trap. You see, this employer has a vacancy, but they also have a workaround for the vacancy, and the workaround is working fine for them. They know they should hire someone for the position, but they aren't in a hurry to do so. As a result, the instructions given to HR is to find the perfect department manager.

Alas, no one has convinced HR (or possibly worse, the President of the company, whom the position in question would answer to) that such a person does not exist. Rather than pick from the ample supply of applicants, they simply run a fresh ad occasionally, and HR has to spend her time screening resumes and attending interviews. She told me herself she was hired four months ago and hasn't had time to do real HR stuff because she has to find the perfect department manager.

Meanwhile, the department's staff makes due with self-management, supplemented with doses of supervision from the President and the Production Manager. Before long, they will forget what it was like to have a department manager, and the small problems that have been festering for months will become big problems that the eventual hire will curse, unable to cleanly solve.

They told me they'd call me if they decide I'm the person they're looking for. As time passes, I'm starting to wonder if I really do want them to call. I won't envy the person who is picked for the position.

So, I'm still shopping, and spending my spare time at Your World News. See ya there!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Innovation isn't all it's cracked up to be

Someone reminded me I hadn't written to the blog for a while, being so caught up in the seemingly never-ending job search. Until I think of something better to say, this will have to do...

I was browsing through Your World News and came across an article that I found somewhat interesting. You might remember the blog I wrote on HD-DVD vs Blu-Ray. Well, two engineers at Warner have developed a means by which a single disc can support HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, and standard DVD, all at the same time.

If Warner makes licensing the technology affordable, the new disc could make the entire issue of which format is better moot. It would also dramatically reduce inventory costs for wholesalers, retailers, and especially rental companies.

Warner was the first studio to release a film, Lake House, in both HD formats. This new solution is a win-win for everyone involved, and I look forward to learning what happens with it, if anything.

After all, good ideas often don't survive competition. One of my favorite innovations was a cassette tape that had re-usable record protection. Where conventional cassette tapes have punch-out holes that prevent the record mechanisms from engaging (leaving us to apply adhesive tape over the holes to record over a protected tape), the cassette I speak of had a cover that could be easily rotated away from the hole with a screwdriver or fingernail. The cassette was sold by Loran and is no longer in production.

With this in mind, I look at Warner's development with interest, but am resigned to take what I can get.

Which is a little like my job search, I'm afraid...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Florida: The Right to Not Work?

They call Florida a "Right to Work" state. I never knew what that was supposed to mean to the worker, but to the employer it means he has the right to fire an employee without having to go to extremes to justify it. The law gives the employer the ability to terminate an employee for practically any reason.

For example, let's say a company hires someone who happens to have some writing ability, and that someone is asked to write anonymously for the company's blog. If the blog later appears elsewhere as written by the CEO of the company, it might not behoove the employee to ask any questions. In Florida, an employer can terminate an employee for questioning the actions of an employer. The employer may still be held liable for the actions, themselves, but simply questioning those actions would be legitimate grounds for dismissal.

Go figure.

By the way, while I'm out there looking for work, you could be at Your World News checking out what else is happening... and maybe even sharing your own point of view. Do drop by, won't you?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

About that Trial ...

I promised when last I wrote to write about my jury duty experience, but I'll warn you now, it isn't very dramatic. At best, I can offer that it was a criminal trial, but it was a lowly misdemeanor, albeit one that falls in the pet peeves department. It's a long story, which I'll trim to the important parts.

This Story is About Taking Responsibility

The accused was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, and I was one of seven jurors chosen to hear the case. The trial started at about 9 AM Wednesday morning, and the opening statements from both sides left me about neutral, a good place to be as a juror.

The first witness for the prosecution was the victim, a young black man who just happened to be an auto body mechanic. Bad luck for the defendant, there. The witness first advised us he was there because he was ordered to be there; he had no particular animosity against the defendant. The reason for this came clear a little while later.

The victim had been stopped in traffic at a traffic light, and felt his car rear-ended. He looked in his mirror, saw the defendant, stepped out of his car and, looking the defendant in the eye, he signaled for the defendant to pull into a neighboring parking lot. The victim then returned to his car and pulled into the parking lot. Rather than follow, the defendant proceeded down the road.

The victim quickly re-entered traffic behind the defendant, called 911, and described the offending vehicle and the tag number. He was then told to return to the scene of the accident. The victim returned to meet with a state trooper.

Technology Makes the Job Easier

The trooper used his onboard computer to look up the car, and from that, the owner of the car. The computer displayed the driver's license picture of the owner, whom the victim identified as the driver of the car.

Of course, the defense had to have their say, and they went after the physical proof of damage: which was nonexistent. The victim had called the defendant's insurance company (number provided by the trooper), and an insurance adjuster came out to check the damage. The adjuster offered the victim $48 for the repair - about an hour's labor. As I mentioned, the victim was an auto body mechanic and knew the damage would cost more to repair, so he asked a co-worker to prepare an estimate. The estimate from his co-worker came to over $1,000... but he'd lost the estimate when he later left the employ of that company (he thought he might have thrown it out with other papers from the company).

Further, the victim had been in the process of trying to trade-in the vehicle for another, and succeeded to do so roughly a week after the accident. So, the victim did not have the car, or proof the accident had occurred - except for the testimony of the trooper, who came up next.

He Should Know, He Sees It Everyday
The trooper indicated he saw the damage, believed it to be new damage (no dirt or rust), then went on to describe how he apprehended the defendant. It appears the defendant wasn't home, but a neighbor indicated the defendant frequented a local bar, where the trooper caught up with him. The trooper brought the defendant outside and asked about the accident. He said the defendant denied being in an accident, and showed the trooper where no damage had existed on the car. The defendant persisted in denying involvement, claimed he'd been there a couple of hours (the accident had occurred maybe 1 and 3/4 hours earlier), and the trooper arrested him.

A third witness, a bartender at the bar, recognized the defendant as a regular patron who had been in the bar maybe an hour and a half before the trooper arrived.

Bad Move for the Defense

Next came the defense's turn, and they had only one witness: the defendant. He took the stand on his own behalf, and described the events of the day. What we found most important was that the defendant was very detailed about everything except his interview with the trooper, when he suddenly could not recall the specific events of the discussion. We also noticed that his activities would have put him at the scene of the accident at nearly the right time, if you allowed fudging with the timeline (and no one except the trooper had an accurate timeline of their events). Finally, the defense offered into evidence photos of the defendant's car, as the defendant boasted of its pristine condition (a nicely kept 15+ year old car).

After closing arguments, six of us were allowed to go to the jury room; the seventh was our mystery alternate, who was visibly disappointed at not getting to deliberate.

A Nice Way to Top Off a Nice Trial

Through fate, and maybe a little excitement, the jury decided to let me be the foreperson. Before we took our first vote, we passed around the pictures of the defendant's car. Then came the first ballot:

"All who believe the defendant's guilty, raise your hand!" No wimpy secret ballot for THIS jury. Five hands went in the air - and I was the lone holdout. "Convince me," I said.

They did. I had a crazy theory that it was possible the victim had setup the defendant, and without physical evidence, we couldn't convict. They saw it another way. My theory, while possible, wasn't plausible. The two had never met; there was no reason to believe the defendant had any money, or even insurance, at the time; and the rest of the story fit the victim's claim. I again looked at the pictures... and you know, that front bumper DID look out of alignment with the rest of the body. You couldn't tell at a casual glance, but that car HAD been in an accident at some point.

I gave in, and signed the paper. My first jury had convicted its first criminal.

We never did find out what the sentence was, but I wouldn't have passed on the experience for anything. Lunch time!

An Aside

By the way, a couple of notes: first, I have found a new job, which I'll write about a little later, and yes, I'm still collecting news at Your World News. I hope you'll come visiting.

Monday, August 21, 2006

They call it Jury DUTY for a reason

I take my civic responsibilities seriously, so when I was summoned for jury duty the thought of avoiding it never crossed my mind. I understand there are circumstances why one might need to defer jury duty; it even happened to me, once before. But when called, U.S. citizens have an obligation to respond, and it surprised me to learn that a sizeable number of people summoned simply don't appear.

If you want the benefits that come from being a U.S. citizen, then you should be willing to satisfy the obligations of one. And it isn't like the obligations are strenuous: remember, the draft doesn't exist in the U.S. any longer (for now). Where's the pain in voting? Yes, it takes time from our busy lives, but with the extra steps our various federal, state, and local governments have taken to make voting convenient (such as absentee and early voting), is there really an excuse not to register and vote?

This is usually when some moron says something about registering to vote just gets him on the list for jury duty. I call him a moron since he's another of those abusive citizens who want to take, take, take, without giving any more than his tax dollars. Like all you need to do to be a U.S. citizen is buy an annual membership!

Well, just for that moron's information, many localities no longer use the voter roles as the pool for potential jurors. In Manatee County, Florida, potential jurors are selected from driver's license registrations. If you're so afraid to be called for jury duty, give up your driving privileges!

Jury Duty in my community

Jury duty is handled differently for different locales. Manatee County calls all of the week's potential jurors together on Mondays, and each judge collects his or her pool of potential jurors from that larger pool. Those selected are told when to report for service, and those not selected are returned to the big pool. If you aren't chosen by the end of Monday, you're dismissed from duty for another year.

I was selected from my first pool, and found myself on a jury for a criminal case. I'll talk a little more on this next time.

Still room for editors

Your World News is now up to 1,000 links and growing. We still have room for more volunteer editors. Visit the site, then write me for details.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Good job interviews can get creative

Job interviews come in many forms. I was reminded of this with a recent application, for a position related to website development and management.

In this particular case, it appears I skipped the traditional face-to-face Q&A or the similar yet common phone interview. Instead, the employer jumped straight to evaluating my skills, providing a situation requiring me to evaluate a site and offer my recommendations.

This particular interview reminded me to a small degree of the second interview I had for the ICA position. In that case, the first interview was in group form. ICA extended an invitation to 30 some individuals to attend a meeting where the organizers explained the organization's purpose and what they sought. Then they gave each of us a few minutes to ask questions and formulate our ideas as to where we might fit in. After this, we were tasked to go home and, if we were still interested in the position, we were to write an essay explaining how we would approach the position, and why we thought we were the ones to do the job.

For the ICA job, the essays determined who would be invited to the third interview (the essay counted as interview #2): dinner with the executive director and his senior staff. What was surprising about this whole thing was that, even though I ended up being cut after the third interview, my ideas were sound enough that the executive director paid me for the right to use parts of my essay in the final plan, then later called me back when he decided I did have a role in implementing that plan, after all.

This time it's different

In the current situation, the site I was tasked to evaluate was a live site having issues, and the principal offered to pay me to do my evaluation. What he got for his investment was both a solution to the problem at hand, and an example of how I performed the work. Clearly, the work came first, as I expected it would, but I found it odd, and maybe a little refreshing, that they wanted to see me in action before they took the time to learn about me.

As a bonus to this, the company again offered to pay me for my effort, but I took the tact of offering the employer to pay me only what he thought the results were worth. This was risky, since I might find myself essentially uncompensated for my fair effort, but I was confident that I could produce something of at least some value. I pointed out to him that, if I nailed the problem, a decision to hire me would be far more valuable to me than any one-time fee would be worth.

The task was done. I found the problem and made my recommendations. In fact, I made more recommendations than the scope of the task required. As a result, I now have an appointment for the long-overdue personal interview.

Things are looking up.

Lest you've forgotten

Still haven't visited Your World News yet? What are you waiting for? At a minimum, you might find a link to some otherwise missed interesting news. And who knows, you might actually find the site stimulating enough to participate in the news sharing concept.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The IT Job Dance

Fresh from another interview, some thoughts come to mind that might make the whole process easier for both parties.

See, one of the most annoying things about seeking an IT job is that no matter how many positions there are, and there seems to be quite a few positions in the Tampa Bay area, there are always more applicants than the employer (or recruiter) really needs. In fact, I think a lot of employers turn to recruiters because they can't handle the flood of applicants on their own.

But there is another side to this coin: employers are publishing dreams when they list their required qualifications. One pundit observed that employers are trying to save a buck by advertising for a relatively lower-paying position, but asking for skills belonging to a rightfully higher-paying position. The thought is that the "network administrator" they hire with Java coding skills could actually fill the need for the "Java developer" they really want but can't afford.

I think of it another way. The employers list the skills an ideal employee would have, but fully expect to have to settle for something less. Maybe there is a "network administrator" with Java, ASP, and Oracle skills in addition to his CISSP and CCNA, but you'd stand a better chance of finding three people with those skills combined. Still, there's no harm in asking, right? So, the company that really needs an Oracle administrator asks for everything else, just in case.

Now, what happens?

At first, the company that asks for the moon gets nothing, but then it occurs to the IT workers growing desperate for work that the employer has published a wish list, not a true requirements list, so in their desperation they submit their resumes, matching maybe only 10% of the requirements. The employers get 100+ apps for every job advertised, can't handle the volume, and end up turning to recruiters, who probably end up manipulating the deal into something that cost the employers far more than if they'd kept it to themselves. The next ad is lighter on the wish list, maybe even accurate in the needs, but the workers are already used to applying to anything, and so the overall problem doesn't get better. Every job opportunity is met with 100+ applicants, few of whom are actually qualified, and many of the qualified are "round filed" due to the sheer volume of applications.

How do we fix this problem?

We'll start with the employer: only advertise what you need as requirements, and list the bonuses separately. Be realistic in your needs. A network administrator shouldn't be expected to know Java; either you need an administrator or you need a programmer, but don't ask for both as requirements. And does the administrator really need a Bachelor's degree? Or is that just something to try to reduce the volume. If the latter, it isn't working. Finally, list your salary expectations. You'll get a whole lot fewer applications once people see what you plan to pay, especially if you're hiring for an entry-level position.

And for the job hunters, stop applying for everything in sight. You're only making things worse. Only apply if you truly believe you have a shot at the position. If the ad seems genuinely written toward a specific skill set, only apply if you have that skill set. This reduces the number of applications HR has to screen, and increases the odds for the truly qualified. Essentially a win-win situation. And, of course, don't claim a skill if the skill doesn't exist. Not only does it hurt your reputation, but it makes it harder on everyone else who has to follow you.

I recently applied for a job I probably shouldn't have. The position was advertised way below my skill set, but in a moment of weakness, I went ahead and applied.

I was amazed to find myself granted an interview... which lasted a whole 10 minutes. Just long enough for the IT Director to look me in the eye and ask me why I applied for a position clearly beneath me. It then occurred to me why he granted the interview. I was simply a break from the norm, a chance to put his feet up. But I did point out that if he'd published his salary expectations, I wouldn't have responded. Hopefully, we both walked away from that interview a little more prepared for the next time.

Now, I need to teach Bocona to be a little more patient.

As for other things...

Don't forget, if you haven't been there lately, you need to visit Your World News, where you not only keep current on the news, but tell others what news is important to you.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Google is NOT the answer to passing the Florida Accredited Claims Adjuster exam

To the person who found my blog googling "florida accredited claims adjuster exam answers", I would like to suggest you first google "florida accedited claims adjuster".

By definition, you can't become a Florida Accredited Claims Adjuster without taking a class. If you take the class, you'll have the answers to the exam. It's that simple. What you are probably seeking are the answers to the standard Florida Claims Adjuster exam. That's the exam you can take if you don't take the class. And it's much harder. If you really want to be a claims adjuster in Florida, take my advice and take the class.

Now, that said, I'd also suggest you think about what motivates you to become a claims adjuster. Bocona, seeing dollar signs flashing before her eyes after two years of horrible hurricanes, made me get my license, but without any practical experience in auto repair or construction, it was truly a waste of money.

For what it's worth, I'm still looking for an IT job.

While I have your attention

If you haven't done so, please take the opportunity to visit Your World News, where you have the chance to not only read the news - you can make the news!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Volunteer editors wanted at Your World News

Last time, I wrote about a social networking project I started. The site, yourworldnews.frayernet.com, is shaping up nicely, but I could use some volunteer help getting more links into the database.

I'm now looking for volunteer editors who might find it entertaining to seek fresh articles on all kinds of subjects. These volunteers will take responsibility for single categories, locating articles and publishing links and descriptions to the database. Categories will be assigned on a first come, first served basis.

You might be surprised at what you find, when you actually go looking for published material on various subjects.

If you think you're in the know, and this sounds like a fun hobby, drop by the site, look it over, then drop us an e-mail at adjuster [at] frayernet.com and make your pitch for a category.

Who knows? You might be getting in early on something big.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Your World News": My Spare-Time Project

With a little time on my lands, due to my recent layoff, I dusted off some software I had used at ICA, upgraded it, and tossed together an experiment in social networking.

Social networking is all the rage, these days. Blogs, wikis, they're all part of this trend to build a society out of the Internet. I'll save the discussion of the Internet as a society for another blog. Today, I'll spend some time discussing my spare-time project.

I call it "Your World News" and it can be found at http://yourworldnews.frayernet.com. I think of it as a news gathering site... kind of a digital newspaper where I don't actually publish the articles. Instead, I link to articles from all kinds of sources, on all kinds of subjects. I'm adding categories on the fly, so I built an "Other" category for people to put links that don't yet have categories.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention, I'm not the only one collecting these links. Visitors are encouraged to register and contribute links to their favorite articles. Further, registered users can bookmark their favorite links, and can create public bookmark folders where other registered users can check out their selections. The links are moderated by myself or an editor before they go online, so they can be kept reasonably clean. To help pay for the site (remember, I've returned to the ranks of the unemployed), the site sells classified advertising links, and I'll negotiate banner ads/sponsorships if anyone is interested.

So, check out my news gathering site, and let us know what you think.

Meanwhile, I'll get another batch of resumes ready to go out!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I think I was here before

What an interesting ride...

The idea behind my.com was to market website design services to small, local businesses. These are businesses that have a very limited geographical market, such as family-owned pizza shops or auto repair shops. Such businesses have no use for the global market (or even the national market) traditionally served by the Web, and because of this, they've given very little thought to building a website.

Pressure is on local companies to establish a web presence, however. Their traditional marketing channel, the phone book, is losing market share, as people become even more comfortable doing their pre-sale shopping online. Shoppers have been turning to search engines to find the products they seek, even when they plan to make the purchase at brick-and-mortar locations. The losers in this picture are those small, local businesses without an effective web presence. Those that do catch on often pay hobbyists for low-price, ineffective sites, or they go to boutiques that charge high design fees as well as high hosting fees for better sites. Even those well-designed sites tend to get little traffic, as they are lost in searches to the national chains.

Small local businesses have a few unique needs typically not addressed by traditional website design. These companies rarely need true e-commerce capabilities, yet they still need to be designed to inspire action by the visitor. Just as importantly, these sites need to be search-engine optimized (the right way) for local results. It isn't important for a pizza shop to rank high on a search for "pizza" but it is important that the shop ranks high on a search for "pizza [town-name]". Most designers seem to miss that point.

Run with the idea

my.com didn't miss that point. They knew what needed to be done locally, but to be very successful at it, they needed local, physical presence in those communities. They needed right-minded people to guide the local businesses in getting the job done right.

They didn't want to be a boutique. They wanted to be thousands of boutiques, scattered across the U.S., with the advantage of a central development team and the economy of centralized hosting. So the plan was to franchise the concept. And they thought they had all the pieces to do just that.

They started with the domain. Their domain name, my.com, was perhaps the only two-letter domain name that had never actually been put in use. It cost them dearly to acquire, but it held a potential gold mine; without actually providing any content, the domain was ranked well inside Alexa's top 100,000 sites in the world. So exposure shouldn't have been a problem.

Next, they acquired a boutique that had already demonstrated an understanding of the local business' needs, and supplemented that by hiring one of the top names in Cold Fusion development, Hal Helms, to head their programming efforts. Because the hosting operation was going to do some serious growth, they pulled together a team of serious systems administrators, and hired a couple guys (including yours truly) to head up the technical support department (no outsourcing for this company!). Their SEO squad was trained by one of the best in the business: Bruce Clay. They even hired a crack team of franchise marketers to sell the concept.

Did anyone get the license number of that truck?

Ducks in a row, they launched their website mid-June. The visitor count soared.

And one month later, my.com went out of business. The one thing they didn't count on was that no one was interested in learning more about how to become a my.com franchisee.

Now, until they closed their doors, I was restricted from talking about them... trade secrets and all. I was released from that restriction when they released me from their payroll. If anyone cares, I can offer up my more detailed opinions on what went wrong, but for now I'll say this.

Any true entrepreneur should know that you can't expect any start-up to turn a profit during the first 2-3 years. These guys didn't give the business the time it required. They expected too much, too fast. And now a good idea is left for someone else to capitalize on.

And I'm back where I was four months ago.

Anyone in Tampa Bay need an experienced IT manager?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Problems are opportunities to learn valuable lessons

Anyone can make a mistake - even Verizon. But protocol must be followed.

An accounting error caused my phone line to be disconnected. Now, my phone line exists for only one real reason: to host my DSL line. For those not savvy in such things, DSL is technology that allows high-bandwidth data traffic to be carried over the plain copper lines used for phone traffic, and to have that service, a phone line must exist at the subscriber's site. The benefit, to me, is that the line is dedicated to me; cable modem provides high-bandwidth traffic as well, but subscribers share a network segment, so a densely populated area carries your traffic as well as that of your neighbors. This permits the speed on a cable modem to vary based on the number of users on the segment, while DSL provides less speed fluctuation. Also, since no one else is on my line, DSL is somewhat more secure than cable modem, which offers the chance for a neighbor (who technically sits on the same network you use) to "share" your PC without your knowledge.

But back to the story

When the phone line was disconnected, DSL was not interrupted. An intercept was placed on the voice line, but since we don't use the voice line, we never caught on. Now, I compounded the error by never using the e-mail box Verizon provided for the service. Verizon probably sent me an e-mail about my impending disaster, but I never saw it. Eventually, the intercept turned into a disconnect, and that was when everything fell apart.

When the DSL was disconnected, I sent Bocona to the local Verizon store to get things straightened out. After some undetermined period of discussion between Verizon and Bocona (and I'd hate to have been the Verizon rep facing Bocona), the voice line was restored with the same number, but since the line had been disconnected, the service was restored with a different circuit. That wasn't discovered until the following weekend; when I came home, I found the DSL still down, and placed a call to technical support.

Why I don't like outsourced Tier I support

I spent two hours on the phone with Tier I technical support (from the voice, the TSR was probably located somewhere in the Orient), who was unable to discover the problem, and who referred the problem to a lineman. Two days later, the line people called to say they were still working on the problem. On Saturday (nearly a week after the problem started), I called again.

Another hour with Tier I TSR, then I was transferred to Tier II, where I learned the circuit had changed and the line could not be re-established with the old circuit. I needed a new DSL order, and to get that I had to disconnect the old DSL (even though it was already physically disconnected), and order a new one. Tier II could enter a disconnect order on the old line; I couldn't order a new one until the disconnect order had been acted on, and even then, I'd have to order the new line through sales.

Sales wouldn't be open until Monday.

Bureaucracy strikes again

On Monday, the disconnect order was still pending. It wasn't until Friday that Bocona could actually request the new service with sales. And when she did, they told her the new service wouldn't be ready until the following Friday at 6 PM. There was no way to speed the process.

Friday at 6 PM, I was sitting in front of my trusty PC, reconnecting to the Internet. Connecting a single PC to the world was no problem, but connecting my Linksys router was another story. That, I saved for Saturday morning.

Hey, Verizon! Accuracy counts!

Verizon Online has a website with a nice collection of troubleshooting pages. I soon found instructions for connecting my router, which required changing the configuration of the DSL modem. I followed the instructions, but the router was still without a connection, so, with great reluctance, I called technical support again. I probably could have solved this on my own, but I didn't want to cause any further damage, so I played the sheep and let the shepherds do their job.

Another hour with Tier I, who was convinced the problem was in my modem. He was right, but for the wrong reasons. Tier I thought the modem was broken. Tier II went straight to the heart of the matter. The documentation on the Verizon site was inaccurate, expecting my router to get its connection via point-to-point protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE). The fact is, Verizon doesn't use PPPoE, and so all I needed to do was make the required changes to the modem and ignore the instructions for setting the router for PPPoE. In five minutes, I was online.

Lessons learned

  • Pay closer attention to accounting issues.
  • Use the voice line occasionally.
  • Check the Verizon e-mails occasionally, even if I don't use it for anything else.
  • And, unfortunately, no matter how frustrating it is, there is no way to get to Tier II without putting up with the shenanigans of the outsourced Tier I.

These are valuable lessons, and I'm in a position to take good advantage of them, but I'm afraid I can't tell you about that... for now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New, Improved Traffic School?

When last I wrote, I was trying to choose an online traffic school after getting a speeding ticket. I must admit my feedback, both public and private, was weak. Bocona wanted me to stop the nonsense and simply take the classroom program. I didn't see that as a worthwhile use of my time, however, and so I made my choice.

First, a trip to the Florida DMV website for a list of authorized schools, since the potential for scamming me was pretty high. It turns out that there is more than one list at the DMV, and they don't match. They don't offer URLs, either. I did find "Improv Comedy Traffic Schools of Florida" on one list, and called the provided phone number to get their URL. A good call on my part; their URL did not match the Improv school from my postcard collection.

A Little Background Data

The Improv I was referred to by the state is at www.4trafficschoolbyimprov.com. This URL belongs to the American Institute for Public Safety, but I didn't stay at that URL for long. Before I knew it, I was handed off to the aipsawaredriveronline.com domain, owned by the same company.

I was beginning to suspect all of these solicitations ultimately end at the same place, a suspicion that only grew as I took the course. Without taking another class, which I don't intend to do without serious compensation, I can't prove my suspicion that all of these companies are selling the same class... but it seemed pretty likely.

More Than Just Comedy

The principal selling point for the school I chose was comedy, but it did have other redeeming values. For my $23.95 fee, I would have my choice of having my certificate mailed to me, e-mail to me, or both. No extra charge. I pay more for rush service, such as FedEx, but that's to be expected. Of course, e-mailing my certificate required me to give them my e-mail address, which I declined to do, so I selected the snail mail route.

I was also instructed to provide the answers to about a dozen security questions. It wasn't important that the answers were correct - just reproducible. I would be asked these questions at random times, to insure I was still in front of the computer. I would have two minutes to answer a security question correctly before getting kicked out of school. And no, I couldn't print the list - I'd have to hand write the list if I were thinking of cheating.

As For the Course

The course was arranged in a series of chapters, each with its own two-question quiz, and each timed so that I would spend a minimum of four hours in front of the computer. Speed reading wouldn't help; I could not move on until the time was up. I could retake each chapter if I chose, but could not take the final exam until I took each chapter.

But that wasn't so bad, right? At least I would have four hours of comedy... and then I remembered that comedy is loosely defined as the opposite of tragedy. My columns have more humor than those chapters did! I only had one LOL (laugh-out-loud, for the uninformed) moment. I only rarely got beyond a smile. It was the content that built the suspicion that every school used the same class.

Finally, the Test

The test was not difficult. Multiple-choice. I think 80% was passing, but I admit I've forgotten that detail. I missed two questions. Had I failed, I could have taken it again. I could review the chapters between tests, but the test itself was "closed book".

When I finished, I was told I could look forward to receiving my certificate in 5 to 10 business days.

And Waiting

10 business days later I was still missing my certificate. I began to wish I had traded by e-mail address for my certificate.

I found the postcard for Improv and called the number on the card. They had no record of me (not all Improvs are the same). I had bookmarked the website, so I returned there and found the contact number.

They found me, and they said they mailed the certificate, but couldn't tell me the date.


"Mail it again," I told them. When I asked, they told me it would mail from Miami. Okay, I'd give them four days, and if I didn't get it then, they could look forward to another call.

Four days later, the certificate arrived (and the original mailing is still missing). It was mailed by "Aware Driver" in North Miami.

Big sigh of relief!

Would I Do It Again?

Were I unlucky enough to get another ticket, the online school was better than the classroom, but curiosity might make me pick another school, to see if there really is a difference. But yes, online was the right choice for me, and this school was a fairly safe choice. Maybe next time I'd use a disposable e-mail address.

Better still, I'll simply try to avoid getting another ticket.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Traffic School not what it used to be

I was a bad boy. 56 MPH in a 40 MPH zone.

Not that I believe I was as bad as that, but I'm not about to risk $500 on the possibility that I can convince the judge the officer had bumped the speed up a notch to make it more painful. I drive a fast looking car. I passed a slow-moving vehicle (which was in the left lane of a four-lane highway). And I can make all the excuses in the world.

I got caught. I got a ticket. And to avoid the biggest penalties in Florida, I have traffic school.

Quite a few years ago, I got nailed for 72 in a 55 zone. It was a righteous bust; I was remarkably stupid on some things, even when I was on top of my game as a pundit. I chose the traffic school route then as well. As the Internet had not yet come into its own, traffic school was a Saturday morning class at the only game in town - and boring. So boring, I'm sure someone had to make a B-movie about it, because it was so easy to parody.

Times have changed. Within days that had become obvious to me. I've received no fewer than a dozen invitations to enroll in a traffic school, and most offer options: classroom, of course, but also videotape, DVD, and even the Internet. Traffic school from the comfort of my living room or office.

And some of them even promise to be funny.

I'll drop names, but not links, because every one of them most certainly contribute to the spam problem in the blogosphere. I know this, because I went looking. I wanted to know what bloggers thought about each of these schools, and instead of well-composed opinions, I found countless ad blogs with no redeeming value. I wouldn't spend money on any of them, except that I do want the services of one of them. The only question is which?

  • American Safety Council offers "the lowest price without hidden fees" ($18.88) and tells me of "fees" charged by others (ranging from $2.50 to $7.50) that they suggest are not legit fees. I believe them on the fees issue, just as car dealers charge fees that aren't anything more than efforts to boost profit. But that doesn't mean I have to buy from them.
  • Sarasota County Technical Institute, an entity run by a local school board, will charge me $25 to go to school, or $32 to attend on the web. I know they're legit, but they're likely to be as boring as my first time at traffic school.
  • CheaperinFlorida, a dot com, doesn't give me a physical or mailing address (unless I visit their site to find a classroom), and starts their price at $13.95, plus a "state fee surcharge" that American Safety Council says might be as much as $2.50. And who knows about other fees applied at the point of purchase. But they say they have comedy classes.
  • Improv Traffic School certainly implies comedy, but doesn't come out and say so in their postcard. They claim they will beat any accredited traffic school by $2.00... probably before tacking on those fees.
  • FunnyinFlorida is definitely comedy-oriented, with classroom sessions costing $25, video and DVD for $29.95, and Internet for $24.95. No mention of "fees" and they "guarantee" the lowest price.

These are only a few of my choices. With the clock running, I turn to you, my readers, and ask for feedback on these courses. Let me know your thoughts on who's legit, who isn't. Please help me from getting burned.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google is only doing what Google knows best

Lately, I've been reading criticism of what some call Google's two-faced
attitude towards censorship. These critics can't understand how Google
can justify cooperating with the Chinese government in censoring search
results to Chinese IPs, and at the same time refusing to cooperate with
the United States government in their efforts to fight Internet pornography.

Some pundits aren't surprised by the behavior. When Google cooperates
with the Chinese government, it makes sure it can have access to the
Chinese populace - something Google has to find desirable - and Google
never promised to be a political champion. Meanwhile, Google's fight
against the U.S. government's request for search results appears to be
anti-censorship, pro-privacy, and a little pro-pornography, but to these
pundits it's really a matter of looking good to its customers.

I don't see this to be so complex. I agree with the pundits who look at
Google's decision to filter the Chinese market as a business decision.
As a public corporation, this really shouldn't be a surprise; Google has
to do what's best for Google. As for their struggle with the U.S.
government, Google must also continue to do what's best for Google. This
means resisting requests for information that exceeds the government's
legitimate need. If the U.S. government is trying to build a case
against Internet pornography, it doesn't need Google to provide a list
of every request for pornography that it received. Statistics should be
sufficient, as no court is going to want to review individual requests.
The government should be more interested in where the porn exists, and
for that, they should have to perform a search, just like everyone else
(a search would also tell them a lot more about how easy it is or isn't
to find the content they wish to find). So, fighting the request
protects the privacy of their users, prevents confidential information
from becoming public record, and protects the business interests of
Google... which is, of course, what Google is mandated to do by virtue
of its public status.

So, don't blame Google for its seemingly inconsistent policies. Google
is simply being Google. It isn't politics. It's business.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pinch me - - Please!

It was one of those dreams.

You know the one. The one where you're in a video rental store, trying to rent The Ten Commandments and the clerk asks, "What format would you like it in?"

"BetaMax," you reply, thinking this kid is way too young to be renting videos.

"We don't rent betas of anything. What format do you want?"

And it keeps going like that. Then you realize the kid probably hasn't been keeping up, so the next time you add, "... You know, the format Sony is backing for movies?"

"Oh, you mean Blu-Ray! Let me check... Oh, I'm sorry, but the studio hasn't released your title in that format, yet."

Then you wake in a cold sweat.

You've had that dream, haven't you?

It started for me when I heard there were two standards for high-definition DVDs under development. The first, supporting between 25 and 50 gigs of content, is called Blu-Ray, and is supported by the likes of Philips, Panasonic, Pioneer, Apple, Dell, various studios and... Sony.

The second, called HD-DVD, supports only 15 to 30 gigs of content, but it's supported by Toshiba, NEC, Intel, and... Microsoft.

So, we have two standards. The superior standard is backed by Sony. The inferior standard is backed by just about everyone else (where just about everyone else = Microsoft). Now, who's likely to win out?

Hint: in the First Video War, Sony backed the superior BetaMax against the inferior VHS. And that was before Microsoft ever entered the picture.

Sometimes this punditing job is just too easy.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

I Could Tell You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You

In my last blog, I promised to tell you what I could about my new employers. Well, here we go...

I can tell you -- nothing!

My new employers are very tight-lipped about what we do. I can't even tell you what I do when I work there. Hopefully, some day they will lighten up and give me some room to talk (and maybe I can even score an interview with the CEO for a future blog), but for now I wouldn't hold my breath.

Just be happy someone is willing to pay me to do something on a regular basis.

Now, on other fronts...

About a week ago, I picked up a rumor that Google and Sun were talking acquisition. There were plenty of naysayers to that idea, yet the rumor persists. Rather than discuss how likely the event would be, I'd rather talk about what it might mean as a result.

Sun's biggest revenue generator is still its hardware. I was about to suggest that Google might spin off the Sparc business when it struck me that there was a reason for Google to want some hardware -- you might recall some loose talk about a Google PC? I'm not saying that SPARCstations would be ideal for the purpose, but if you wanted the software arm of Sun and was stuck with the hardware arm, there are worse ways to get to where you want to be.

But, as I said, it's the software arm that would be appealing to Google. Before anyone forgets, Google's top dog was a honcho at Sun once-upon-a-time, and big on Java. It might be that Google has some Java-driven projects that might be more practical if they didn't have to pay license fees on its use.

Then there's this thing called OpenOffice.org (and the less-open relative, StarOffice). Sun and Google had already entered into a cooperation pact that left quite a few people speculating about a web-based version of OpenOffice.org. Some recent, related, acquisitions suggest to me that Google has already bought the people needed to build a web-office suite; would Google apply that knowledge to a fork of OpenOffice.org? Might Google kill the StarOffice product, and force OpenOffice.org to go independent, giving its own web-office suite a chance to catch up?

Google clearly doesn't like Microsoft, so I'm inclined to think such a merger would be good for OpenOffice.org. I'd look for Google to offer more developers to the project, but I also think StarOffice might go away, as Google wouldn't have a practical use for it. I also think Google would then use it's new leverage to put serious development effort into a web-hosted fork of the popular open source office suite.

Of course, I have no inside knowledge of any of this. It's just speculation. Don't make any investments without making your routine investigations.

Oh, and have a nice day!

Monday, March 13, 2006

So honesty in interviewing is still the best policy

I take it back.

I last wrote about how much it hurts to be honest in a job interview, and I'm convinced there are cases when that is true. But there are times when honesty is still the best policy. The problem is, it's hard to decide when the time is right for honesty, and so, I'll have to default for honesty. It's in my nature.

See, the situation depends on the question, and on the interviewer. In the question of the other day, it should have been clear to me the interviewer, one of the owners of the company, would be concerned over the cost of training a short-timer. Since she couldn't offer any true incentive for me to stay, I was going to be expensive and not worth the effort. It was foolish for me to tell her I was a potential short-timer.

Today, I interviewed with another company offering an entry-level position. In this case, while the compensation is likely appropriate for the position, it isn't my ultimate goal. One might assume I'd be short-timing that one, too, but the difference is that this company has something to offer: a future. Where the previous company had no opportunity to move beyond what I would have been hired to do, this next company dangles opportunity tantalizingly under my nose. I'd take the low-end offer and stay, seeing opportunity for personal growth and later on I'll get to the financial goals.

So, where honesty cost me an opportunity with the previous company, my honesty with the second company may pay off, while being dishonest would likely hurt miserably.

When honesty happens to coincide with the needs of the employer, honesty is still the best policy. One only has to find the company that has the same needs you have.

Shouldn't be too hard.

Should it?

I guess it wasn't.

After I wrote the above, I had another brief, pleasant conversation with the interviewer, starting something like, "Can you start tomorrow at 10 o'clock?"

Looks like honesty did pay off. I'm again among the ranks of the employed, looking forward to the challenges that come with a new job. It wasn't what I was shooting for, but all told, it might even be better, as I have the chance to prove myself and become a valuable asset to the company.

I'll know more soon about what I can say and what I can't say about them, and eventually you, the faithful reader, will know more as well. I can say this, however: when you're a Former Pundit, you shouldn't be surprised at having to get back on the ladder from the bottom. If you like your work, you'll soon find yourself back where you belong... and I believe I don't belong on the outside looking in. I'm back on the inside, and I'm convinced it'll be an interesting, if not exciting, journey back to the top of the game.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tell them what they want to hear

It's funny what a little honesty will get you.

I was interviewing at a not-to-be-named company that specializes in home PC repair for a simple field technician job. When the interviewer asked me what kind of work I was looking for, I was honest. I told her that, given my experience, I was really looking for something further along than a field PC tech position, but I did need to start putting bread on the table again.

She told me they commonly had techs who worked for them for a few months (to keep their skills sharp, she said) while they were looking for other work. She made it look like this wouldn't be a problem. I was so pleased. Finally, my patience and honesty was about to pay off - maybe not with the job I wanted, but with at least something to hold me until better work came along - and they were good with it!

How naive I was! Even though the rest of the interview was golden, my honesty about my intentions, any other day a virtue, had become a curse. When discussing my application after I left, the staff couldn't come to grips with knowing I did not intend to stay with them forever - as if anyone ever did! It wasn't that I was likely to bolt at the first sign of a decent job, as so many other technicians have done (and will still do) - no, the vote swung against me because I had the honesty to admit what I was going to do, while everyone else simply pretended it wasn't going to happen.

So honesty cost me an opportunity.

I could say I didn't learn my lesson, and that I'll still be a perfectly honest applicant next time.

But then, I wouldn't be honest, would I?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Real Professionals Make Interviews Pleasurable

While on my job search, I occasionally find people and places where things are done right, and I wish to bestow a few kudos this morning...

First, to the ITS staff of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. While their boss was away, they were tasked with interviewing for a new LAN Administrator, and so they did it in the most practical way I've found: as a team. The new employee was expected to work with three other staff members as part of a team, so the remaining team members collectively interviewed the candidates, discussing job knowledge, background, and indirectly learning how they would all get along. I'm given to believe I almost got that job, but still count it as a great interview. They even had someone personally call me with the results, as well as the slightly more common e-mail rejection.

I also wish to offer kudos to the recruiting team at Robert Half Technology in Tampa. In interviewing me for possible contract work, they were thorough, understanding, and practical, and even had me take a couple tests, the results of which they could use to make my case before prospects.

I'm still on the available list, but if I were lucky enough to encounter more professionals like those at Eckerd College and Robert Half Technology, I think I'd be back among the employed in no time.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Curbing auto tag theft

There are some really desperate (and despicable) people out there.

Last night, someone stole Bocona's license tag from her car.

Now, irritating as this was, it took her a little while to calm down from the personal violation she felt (any victim of theft probably feels the same way). Then we started speculating why the perp did it.

As any TV viewer would tell you, the perp probably wanted to disguise his/her involvement in a felony... right?

Well, probably not. It isn't like we have a lot of that kind of behavior going on around here, and putting a stolen tag on your car isn't going to make you stand out that much less as you get away from that bank robbery.

No, the more likely reason, in our minds, is that some undocumented alien wanted to drive a car.

It's like this. Being undocumented, the alien didn't have a U.S.-issued driver's license. Without a license, he/she could not buy insurance. Without insurance, he/she cannot register the car or get a tag for it. Without a tag, he/she runs a bigger chance of being apprehended and deported.

So, the perp steals a tag (and wouldn't it be funny if the tag that was stolen was one that someone else had already stolen?) to put on his/her unregistered car, expecting no LEO will run the tag if he/she obeys traffic laws... and that's probably the case.

Meanwhile, Bocona can't drive her car until the tag office issues her a replacement (on Monday, hopefully).

Bocona feels we can solve this problem by removing our use of the driver's license as a form of identification. In other words, had the undocumented alien been able to buy insurance and register a car, our tag theft problem would drop dramatically. While we're at it, by allowing undocumented aliens to get driver's licenses, we can probably reduce a number of traffic-related incidents.

I disagree. Allowing the undocumented to obtain licenses, insurance, and register vehicles only makes them a little more documented, which is something they don't seem capable of doing, or they'd do it already. A driver's license is supposed to prove the bearer's ability to drive according to the issuing state's laws. There has to be an identifying component to that. Likewise, it's hard to issue proper insurance to a pseudonym, and I'd rather not go back to having people driving cars without insurance (which the undocumented do... even when they're in their own country). Unless we're willing to give up those extra requirements, letting the undocumented get driver's licenses won't solve this problem.

To my thinking, they problem is only truly solved by eliminating the lack of documentation. Make it very distasteful to the undocumented to be undocumented. Take away their reason for being undocumented. And that leads to some very draconian measures.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I wonder if the U.S. Congress keeps backups

I just learned about an article in News.com that tells of a bill introduced to the U.S. Congress requiring every web site operator to delete information about visitors if the data is no longer required for legitimate business purposes.

I guess Congress hasn't learned anything about its own nature from the Can SPAM law. That, or our Congresspeople have such high opinions of themselves that they think they have a grasp of the technology their dealing with. How else can you explain how such a stupid idea could threaten to become law?

I suppose it might reduce identity theft (the intended goal), if there weren't already so many ways information is kept "for legitimate business purposes." But look at some of the ways such a law might impact the Internet.

First, remember this is a U.S. only law we're talking about. So, data accumulated by web site operators outside the U.S. would be exempt from the law. Result: a whole bunch of businesses can save themselves a lot of heartache by moving their sites to off-shore web hosts, and domestic web hosts, already steeply competing for business, will face possible extinction.

I've seen it said that web server logs, which contain host identifying information such as IP addresses and machine names, may be forced to become self-editing to remove that information. Without the identifying information in web server logs, security professionals would no longer have an important tool in tracing the origins of attacks.

Sites that accept feedback from participants, such as blogs, forums/bulletin boards, or chat systems, will be greatly impacted, since they will no longer be allowed to associate a name to an e-mail address (or likely even be permitted to display either one). Assuming they even could, they would then have to have all of these services heavily moderated to prevent the display of proscribed information.

And if the web sites can't hold all of this information, what does that say about the backup tapes for these sites? When the data is no longer needed for "legitimate business purposes" it must be deleted from the sites. Shouldn't that mean the data must be removed from the backups as well?

Then there's the webmail systems, which are expected to maintain personal communications for eventual display/delivery via the browser. How can one possibly separate personal identifying information from e-mail data being stored for delivery on a web site? Ban webmail?

Okay, maybe some of these examples are extreme, but it would take a lawyer to figure out what behavior is allowed and what behavior is not. If this bill is allowed to become law, you can pretty well say goodbye to the American web site, and with that comes the eventual demise of the Internet - not from over use, but from disuse!

On the other hand, if American politicians can't keep from creating Internet policy, maybe we'd be better off letting it die!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Just to be sure, let's get this straight...

I just want to clarify my position on the state of the U.S./Mexican border. My last few blogs display a degree of irritation toward the attitudes taken by both the U.S. and Mexican governments over the apparent involvement by Mexican soldiers in protecting escaping drug smugglers. I called for, and still call for, government authorization for the Border Patrol to intervene in future incursions by alleged Mexican soldiers with force, if necessary. If the soldiers are not genuine, they are still abetting drug trafficking, and if they are genuine, they are not only abetting drug trafficking, they are violating the sovereignty of the United States. There is simply no excuse.

Illegal border crossings, in general, is another matter, one not so easily addressed. The problem really isn't an immigration problem as much as it is an economic problem. For a touch of insight, I encourage readers to watch the movie "A Day Without A Mexican" (and forgive me for recommending a decidedly cheesy film). While the content is presented with a strong bias, it should make you think.

Both the American economy and the Mexican economy depend on Mexicans crossing the U.S. border to find work. The movie makes a point I haven't seen elsewhere in the media: if it costs x dollars to provide social services to illegal aliens, how much do illegal aliens contribute to our gross domestic product (GDP)... and is it worth the cost of services to lose the related GDP? And don't forget the cost to Homeland Security for chasing down these aliens.

Now, I'm not saying "open the borders," either. What I am saying is that the illegal alien issue is far more complicated than the drug trafficking issue, or more specifically Mexican military involvement in drug trafficking. We don't need new laws to deal with the latter. We only need to enforce the laws that exist a little more aggressively.

We don't need new fences. We simply need to teach the Mexican military to stay on its side of the border.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Such a clever explanation, Mr. Secretary

Can you believe it? Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez suggested American soldiers disguised as Mexican troops may have been in the military-style Humvee filmed earlier this week protecting a marijuana shipment on the border. He says our boys had done it before.

Only I have a difficult time believing any American soldier would be willing to impersonate a Mexican soldier.

Let's see, Secretary Derbez, you say our guys snuck over to Mexico, donned Mexican uniforms (how believable would the impersonation be if they were wearing American uniforms?), came back across the Rio Grande to help some drug smugglers escape back to Mexico after a botched delivery, then changed out of the Mexican uniforms and crossed back to the U.S.?


I can see the money, but for what reason would any drug lord want to make the Mexican authorities look bad to the U.S.? Why pay American soldiers to look like Mexican soldiers? Wouldn't it be cheaper for the drug lords to dress up locals as Mexican soldiers? Or hire mercenaries?

He can't prove it, but neither can we.

I know! Let's go ahead an apprehend a few and really find out! Mr. Secretary, do we have permission to engage and detain your troops, if we catch them doing this again?

I didn't think so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Maybe they thought we'd invited them for dinner...

Is it any surprise that Mexicans for the most part cross the U.S. border with impunity, when we have turned a blind eye as a government to incursions by Mexican soldiers (14-day link) into Texas?

Why do we even bother with border patrols any longer? Does Texas even have a border with Mexico any longer? There was a day when foreign troops crossing our border without permission was considered an act of war. Now, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says many of the incursions could have been mistakes, blaming bad navigation by military personnel.

Right. Across the Rio Grande. Easy to make that mistake.

Mexico denies the incidents. Of course it does. It makes them look bad. It isn't enough to have your soldiers crossing the border without permission, but they are apparently doing so under the pay of some local drug lords.

Chertoff suggested the soldiers might be criminals in disguise. Well, Mr. Chertoff, why don't you tell your border officers to try to arrest them and find out? Any way you look at it, the border crossings are illegal, so for Pete's sake, act on it.

Look, we have known for a long time our borders aren't secure, but isn't it time we did something about it? No, I'm not saying walls... but I am saying we should give our officers the authority and ability to stand up to Mexican soldiers (on the assumption the Texas government won't dispatch the Texas National Guard to lend assistance, which, given Texas' history, equally surprises me).

I mean, enough's enough!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Getting the wrong job offers

Still on the job hunt, waiting patiently for the various interviews (how many people really need to talk to a guy before he gets hired, anyway?). Having not accepted any offers, yet, the resumes still go out...

And I get inquiries from people to whom I never sent a resume. I believe these come from the obligatory copies I have on file with CareerBuilder and Monster (no, I'm not linking them; everyone should know how to reach them by now). What gets me about these inquires is that they have nothing to do with the position I'm seeking. No, I don't want to be a:

Car salesman (used or otherwise).
Insurance salesman (three have tried, but different companies are still trying this; I'm a licensed adjuster, not a salesman).
Lawn-care salesman (this company has asked for me twice, and I said no both times).
Security alarm installer (at least this one comes kind of close to being part of the IT world).

Don't these recruiters bother to read the resume before writing me? I'd call it spam, but the line is pretty fine between soliciting me to apply for one of these jobs and asking me to apply for a real IT job. I doubt there are filters that good at sorting between them, and I dare not miss an opportunity for something I'd prefer to do.

After all, Bocona still reminds me that hurricane season is only a few months away. Funny thing about that: not too many insurance companies want to hire inexperienced adjusters who aren't fresh out of college. I guess even Bocona can be wrong on occasion... but I better not say that in her ear shot!