Monday, March 31, 2014

There's never a good time to lose your job

 Luck may be the most important thing that determines if you keep your job. How expensive it is to employ you, and who you know, are close second and third factors.  Skill, expertise, experience, uniqueness, importance to customers/clients/readers/whomever you're serving, effect on remaining employees are part of the formula but not as highly weighted as they should be.  And if you're too outspoken and have opinions about how to do thing differently than the status quo...see ya!
--commentor on Change of Subject*

There's never a good time to lose your job.  There are some times when it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise, but you often don't know that until a much later point in life.  In the meantime you have bills to pay and need to eat.

If you are going to lose a job, there might are better times than others to be laid off. If you are a parent and have a partner, getting let go at the beginning of the school year could at least be helpful in getting your kids adjusted to a new schedule.

If you are young and relatively debt free, the beginning of summer means you get to enjoy warm weather while collecting an unemployment check.  you might even be able to pick up shift work at a bar or restaurant.

When I was in my early 20s, I knew some guys who would get a job in the fall, work as much as they could and save their money.  Then around Spring they'd start to slack off with the hopes/intention of being let go just in time for summer volleyball.  They'd collect unemployment while they spent their days on the beach and their evenings at the bar.  At least that's how the story went.  They probably weren't able to pull this off year and year and in all likelihood this was an outright exaggeration to begin with.  Perhaps one person just happened to get canned early in summer and couldn't find another job because it's really hard to interview at the beach.

If you get let go, hope it happens on the first day of the month.  I could be mistaken but I believe by law, your health benefits have to continue until the end of the month.  So getting canned March 23rd, not so good.  Getting the shaft April 2, a little bit better.

Getting canned in the last quarter of the year is brutal because a lot of companies are winding down.  Budgets are already blown.  New head count might not begin until the start of the new year.  And the holidays.  So starting your job hunt in Oct or Nov is extra brutal because you have to go through the motions of job hunting and try to stay positive yet at the same time your intuition is probably screaming about what a colossal waste of time it is looking for a job Thanksgiving Weekend.  Yes, I know there are always one-off stories about someone who found that position because they were persistent and they got the attention of someone who happened to be in the office during the holiday lull.

And of course in the Internet Age it's not quite as hard as it once was because instead of pounding the pavement, you can apply online from the comfort of your own sofa.  That doesn't mean it isn't still work or isn't exhausting.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, you can apply to hundreds of jobs, go on dozens of interviews but until someone actually offers you the job, you have nothing tangible to show for it.

* I will endeavor to find the specific poster who made this comment if I can.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dear Winter please kindly get lost already

Nightingale is out of town and having the place to myself has afforded me the opportunity to do a few things around the house that I've been putting off like getting the composter I bought a couple months ago out of the laundry room and into the now snow free yard. 
this snow exists because it was where I piled all the other snow

Had a couple of friends come over Sat night to see the house, and then we went out for burgers at LeadBelly.  So while they were there i had them help me move a dressor from the basement to the office.  sadly it was too cold to put the new grill together or powerwash the deck. 

It would be great it we make this GNO a monthly or more often event but I don't know if that will happen.  These two are fathers and getting a hall pass is probably hard to come by with but maybe we can make it a quarterly thing.

Last week was my annual condo association meeting.  It seems another owner -- this time a First One -- has bought a house and is going to rent out his unit.  Assuming he goes through with it and all the existing owners who rent continue doing so, we are beyond the 50% limit we voted for in 2012.  Kesha also admitted that the association doesn't have the money to spend on a lawyer to officially change our documentation especilally since we need to focus our money on tuckpointing.

Nightingale and I really want to sell the place.  however, I'm not sure the comps let alone the market is there to support selling at the price I need to avoid bringing money to the table.  With the increase of my property taxes, I'm breaking even on rent but paying the assocation fees out of my own pocket.  I also give 10% to a property manager who isn't really managing my tenant as much as I am.  I'm probably going to get rid of him soon since it isn't economical for me to keep him on.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The First Assignments

When I worked at the BigName Law Firm 1.0 a lifetime ago, I got a job as a paralegal assistant.  I was actually working in the mail room while finishing up college and after graduation, a PA position opened up. 

I was assigned to 3 paralegals:  Jane, Eileen and Denise.  Right off the bat, there was something off about Denise.  She seemed to be an airhead.  In fact, she single-handedly did her best to promote the dumb blonde stereotype.  The skinny from the other PAs was that the other paralegals didn't like her.  It took a while for me to learn why.  Apparently she wasn't someone you could count on to help out in a jam and towards the end of her time there, she really mailed it in.  She would leave her computer on and leave for hours to make it look like she was in the office working. 
It would have been tolerable if they had looked like these ladies

The idea behind the paralegal assistant position was that we would help out with tasks that paralegals couldn't bill a client for.  And that is one of the recurring themes from this period.  The war cry "I can't bill for that" was used so liberally whenever there was something that would be described as sh*t work that it lost any meaning.  Yes, a paralegal billing at $80 an hour probably shouldn't be bates stamping documents or running off to court to file a simple memorandum when a less expensive option is available.  But since we also operated on a needs to be done right away or yesterday model, there wasn't much in the way of workflow process.

The compromise was that PAs could bill if the situation allowed for it.  [Note: to give you an idea of just how SNAFU this place was, those two points were deduced and inferred over time instead of explicitly stated.]  We didn't generate our own work product, we were given -- or not given -- tasks by the paralegals.  No real training was baked into our workweek.  Secretly, it seemed our position was created to help with court runs because the paralegals didn't want to do it.

So one of the first assignments Eileen gave me wasn't much of an assignment at all.  It had more the makings of something to keep me busy. And slowly kill my brain.  She wanted me to count the number of pages in a copy job.  That's right.  We make a lot of copies in a law firm and even in the anarchic early 90s the copy machines had a mechanism to count the number of copies which would be placed on the return slip.

Eileen was convinced that the Copy Center was padding their numbers to make a little extra money.  I don't remember how much we charged for copies back then -- it was certainly higher than market value -- but let's say for argument it was a whopping 0.25 a page.  The only way this translates into anything significant is if they make 100 copies but charge you for a 1000.

Having me count each page isn't a good use of my time -- whatever you catch in their "error" is offset by my cost.  Granted my cost for that project was non-billable and my hourly pay was rather insignificant too.  Still, it really wasn't a good "project" to unload on anyone, especially a recent college grad with a desire to do more with his brain width.

In all fairness, I should have simply done the assignment without complaining and seen it as "paying my dues" and bond with Eileen by agreeing that yes the Copy Center pads their numbers.  Evil Bad.

I did the assignment in what is thought was an innovative, creative manner which should have demonstrate my abilities.  I measured one inch worth of documents, counted those and then measured the stack and calculated that the number given to us by copy center was indeed within the range we should have.  Eileen was pissed that I didn't simply do what she asked.  She made me recount the documents.


One time Denise asked me to do something.  While it certainly wasn't rocket science, it did have a certain level of complexity that required some explaining.  I honestly cannot remember exactly what and that's not important.  The point is that it probably took three times as long to explain what it was that she wanted me to do than to simply do it herself.   And I nonchalantly said something to that affect.  Not snooty or like it was beneath me...just a comment that "wow in the time it took [you to explain that 2 minute task to me], you could have done it yourself."  This wasn't even something she was going to give me on a regular basis.  It literally was something she dug up because she was asked to find something for me to do. 

And therein lies one of the many problems with that position and the culture in general.  They wanted these things called PAs to be available when they needed us but then wanted us to go away when the work was done.  There was no team building or skill training or even friendly bonding.  The concept of headcount justification was someone else's problem.


Jane had a better tolerance for dealing with me.  And we usually got along and worked together well, especially once I was promoted to full paralegal.  She had her own special quirks too.

When someone asks how your weekend was, generally speaking, they usually are only interested in a high level recap.  You went to a nice dinner on Friday, you took the kids to the zoo on Saturday.  You saw a cool movie on Sunday that you recommend everyone go see before the Oscars ruin it for you.

Other people are interested in the granular detail of what your kids said and did and whether you had buttered or salted popcorn at that movie.  Still others want high level some of the time and more details some of the time.

Jane didn't run in different modes.  You asked "how was your weekend" and she heard "tell me in excruciating detail all about your kids, your life and your dog until my ears bleed."  She could go on and on about the little things her kids did that wouldn't be interesting to blood grandparents but once you made the mistake of giving up the spotlight by talking about what you did (at a politer high level) you had to listen to what the kid did until someone else mercifully came along and interrupted your conversation.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Some thoughts about my College Days at NMSU

While I do a lot of my blogging over at ChicagoNow, I've decided that this space will be used for much more personal entries and stuff that I'm fleshing out here and might appear there once the kinks are worked out.

My first year at NMSU, I was in a three person dorm room.   My two assigned roommate were very different from me and from each other, at least as far as three 18 year old white guys can be.   I don't have the energy to come up with aliases for them so I'll just use their initials.

CH was taller than me and from a well-to-do suburb of St Louis.  In fact, almost everyone there that came from St Louis actually came from a suburb of St Louis, usually in St Louis County.  CH came up with a bunch of friends from high school so he basically already had his social infrastructure established.  He was a nice enough guy and friendly, but any chance we had of bonding was circumvented by his friend MM.  MM lived one floor up and was from another well-to-do suburb of STL.  The story was that these two went to the same high school even though they were in different suburbs.  I'm not sure how it all worked out.

Anyway, MM was in no way, shape or form interested in making new friends at college.  He had his high school friends here, and his girlfriend back home (they both had GFs back home and went home as often as they could since it was only a 3+ hour drive).

The other roommate was MW.  MW was essentially a hick from Southern Missouri.  I had no idea at the time but Missouri south of STL might as well have been a separate country.  This is where the rednecks who supported the Confederacy apparently lived and inbred.

Like I said, we got along alright but didn't spend too much time together relative to our time there.  MM was in the army reserve and gone at least one weekend a month.  CH went home every chance he could get.  They both transferred elsewhere after our freshman year and we didn't even try to keep in touch.  I've googled them on occasion and checked LinkedIn and Facebook.  However, they have common enough names and apparently no immediate Internet Footprint for it to be an easy find and I'm not curious enough to devote more than 5 minutes on a dull afternoon to the task.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A more exciting weekend

This past weekend was our most busiest in some time.  Saturday morning we ran the Get Lucky 7k race in Jackson Park.  I actually came in 4th in my age division.

A couple of points about the race.  First, the course was badly planned.  There were too many points where runners criss-crossed which is dangerous especially on such a narrow path.

Secondly, my official time was at least a minute off what my Garmin reports.  And while I don't generally give many F-cks about that, it is interesting because I started my Garmin early..a few feet before crossing the start line and stopped it late, more than a few seconds after crossing the finish line.  If anything, my official time should be shorter.

After grabbing a late brunch we went home and took a nap.  I should mention that we have not been sleeping well lately, sometimes waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep until just before the alarm goes off.

Had dinner with CN friends.  We met Tara and her husband* at the last ChicagoNow blathering and had a great conversation.  I suggested we get together for dinner or something out side of CN and Tara followed up.  Rick is quiet well traveled and though a closet republican, he was on good First Date Behavior.

*since they use their real names on their blogs, no need to alias them here.

On Sunday we went to our friend's South Side Irish parade party.  It was St Patrick's Day weekend in 2011 when we helped Theron move into her apartment in Beverly as she was beginning her new life with a new job at St Xavier University.  Now a few years later she is married and lives in a house with her professor husband.  And so she started a tradition of having a parade party every year to celebrate.  Given how cold it was, not many were interested in watching the parade.

All in all it was a well packed weekend with lots to do but not too much to do.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Two Blogs

So I was looking at the Google Analytics for this site versus my Chicago Now equivalent where I have been blogging since October 2012, and more consistently since last August.  Except for an occasional abnormality or one-off, I generally get less than 200 pageviews a month here.  Compare that to ChicagoNow where my readership is climbing and I am averaging 4K hits per month.
That makes a lot of sense.  For one thing, CN has a built in audience that tends to read the blog post that brought them there and then they click over to other items that catch their eye.  Secondly, I do more to promote those posts than I do here.  I use twitter (@Icarus2013), Facebook Fan Page and occasionally Google+.

The Chicago Now blog was called Adventures in House Hunting because when I signed on to get a blog at CN, the paradigm at the time was every blog should have a focus.  In other words instead of a place to dump your stream of conscience personal rantings, ravings and other BS (that's what this place is for), they wanted a variety of topics that would draw a unique and diverse readership.

I started off writing about our house hunting adventures but wasn't very consistent because 1) my day job started to get very busy and 2) we found a house and were under contract in early October.  My hope was to write about the search for that house in delay-mode but alas that intention never really saw the light of day.

Once you established your blog in your subject matter, e.g. Quilting, Real Estate, Mommy blogger, etc, then you could branch off and write about whatever stroked your boat at that moment.  In fact, we are often encouraged to do just that as long as we at least make an attempt to draw an audience.  I guess the best way to describe it is you can write about your thoughts on why the Grammys sucked or what an Idiot such and such celebrity/politician/pop culture icon is as long as you have a point and can draw some type of audience.

Now the site is called Mysteries of Life (although the URL cannot be easily changed) because obviously we found our house and I write about all sorts of things that strike my fancy.  Because people generally subscribe via email, RSS feed or plan old bookmark, there is very little risk of someone searching for this site and finding the other one or vice versa.  And if they do, a reasonable intelligent person should be able to figure out which blog they were looking for and that both blogs are authored by the same dude.  Or not.  After all, humans.

As I mentioned, I've been blogging on Chicago Now for over a year now.  The nice thing is that I can actually write about anything I want and we are encouraged to do so, though obviously personal crap should be reserved for ones private blog.  At CN, it's all about pagehits and traffic.  Rightfully so.

We are very fortunate that we have that avenue to post.  In the days of print media, we would be limited to physical space and competing with one another for column space.  In an electronic medium, there isn't much of a limit I suppose. 

We've had some blatherings where I've been able to actually meet fellow CN bloggers and we also have a private Facebook group where we also interact.  I've friended about a dozen or so bloggers.

We have heavy hitters like Baby Sideburns and High Gloss and Sauce.  Then there are the medium weights like Gary's Getting Real and Siblingless of Being Catholic...Really.  I actually started reading her blog years ago because I can relate to becoming Catholic through RCIA. 

In an odd sort of way, the group is part family, part high school.  Some are just more popular than others.  The Mommy Bloggers have an endless supply of material to draw from and have harnessed the ability to hammer out well written posts during nap time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not a very Exciting Weekend

Ice Patch in my driveway
This weekend wasn't too exciting: We got some light snow on Saturday which essentially melted by the afternoon and continued to do so the next day.  It's nice that my ice patch has shrunk down to almost nothing...just in time for 2-7 more inches of snow tonight.

I finally broke down and got a Netflix account.  I'm on the free trial month right now but I expect I'll

So far we are still struggling to find stuff to watch but at least Netflix does provide a little more stuff to choose from.  Part of it is Nightingale and I do not like the same type of movies.  We both enjoy Sci-Fi but she doesn't like scary movies or thrillers so I have to watch those when she's not home.

On Sunday we had an errand fail of a sorts.  Nightingale needed her oil changed and the plan was to drop the car off at the Jiffy Lube, and we'd run a few other errands and come back for it.  Well first they got her right in so she didn't think it would take long.  She sent me home and said she'd come pick me up.  Then they convinced her to get some extra maintenance done on her vehicle which pushed it to over two hours.

I used the opportunity to take some photos of various sites I've been meaning to snap a shot of for blogging purposes so it was very productive for me.  I also got to try out a pub  in the hood that I've been meaning to check out while waiting.  I will be much happier when the weather warms up and the snow is gone so that on days like yesterday I can spend time in the garage or backyard just hanging out.
keep it since it's only $8 a month.  There was much input from my friends on FB about Netflix versus Hulu Plus and I took a lot of it under consideration.  There might even be a time when  I get both.  However for now the leading factor for me choosing Netflix over Hulu was that all I needed to provide was my email address to Netflix whereas Hulu wanted a little more info Just to sign up.

Names will be changed to protect the guilty:  So I'm going to start writing some posts about various jobs I've held over the years.   I expect I will also change details a little to mask identities and things that might reveal too much information about the actual workplace.  I haven't decided yet.

Paralegal at Big-Bucks Law Firm
Support Engineer at No-Name Software Company
Consultant at FBN Consulting Firm

It's too soon to talk about my time at Big-Bucks Law Firm 2.0 or my current gig at TopFive.  Though I might work in some stories about Mr Magoo, The Red Shirt Ensigns, and even Minnie Magoo as soon as I can. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How I work on my ChicagoNow Posts

It came with a Pen and Pen holder too
For whatever reason, I discovered that sometimes I get a good idea for a post when I am not within arms length of a computer.  It could be that my brain rests long enough to let the creative juices flow and a good idea sparks.  

So I got this primative tool paper notebook at one of these events at the office lobby.  I decided to carry it with me and whenever inspriation hits, I jot down the idea and any thoughts that come with it. 

The second tool I have is this Word document with a bunch of headlines that I hope to write sometime.  For the most part, the two are redundant, but the notebook is usually the first place the idea forms.  The Headlines doc was really supposed to be a one time thing that I would delete but it has taken on a life of its own.  When I publish a post, I strike through the list so as to show progress.  

The other day I went through and organized the headlines such that the ones that were closest to being publishable were moved to the top.  Sometimes it's a little more work to create a ChicagoNow post because I have to come up with a good, SEO headline and/or need some pictures that require good captions.  

The pictures also have to be mine or royalty free, because, you know plagiarism.  To that end, I have an iPhone and iPad filled with photos that can go along with these various posts.

Finally I also have a folder of notepad files that have rough ideas and thoughts, usually just a cleanup, fleshing out and expansion of the blurbs on the notebook.  The engineer in me wants to refine the workflow process but the creative side of me says: meh, why bother? 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Not a typical WFH morning

Nightingale bought a Carpet Cleaning special off Angie's List:  $109 for carpet cleaning for four areas (up to 1,100 square feet).  I've done these before and your carpet is never as brand new looking as the ads say, but since we have pets, it just makes sense to give this a try.  What really got Nightingale's interest was " A flight of stairs may be substituted for a room"

The time frame for the cleaner to show up was between 8 and 10 am today.  Of course he arrived around 8:30, just as someone from work was pinging me about some crisis that just couldn't wait even though it has been going on for a couple days now. 

So I basically have to deal with my customer while letting the poor guy in and showing him the carpets.  Then he points out that the deal is supposed to be for wall-to-wall carpet only, not area rugs.  He said he would do it and would also call it in but asked if I could show him the coupon.  I pull up the ad on my computer and show that there was no such disclaimer.  It's not his fault and he wasn't putting up a fight, he just wanted to warn me because apparently cleaning area rugs is a different sort of wizardry than wall-to-wall.

Then of course he is just about to wrap up right before my 10:30 conference call.  Luckily this meeting is always late and in fact only took 5 minutes.  He also refused the tip I tried to give him, so he definitely wins the classy, good guy award for today.

As for the carpets well he pointed out that the basement and the stairway were really dirty, which makes sense as they came with the house and are the most frequented areas.  Our area rugs weren't too bad since they are only a year old.

The membership to Angie's List itself Nightingale got off Groupon.  It was ridiculously cheap however it auto renews so I'm full expecting this to come back and bite us in a year or so.

"Oh I forgot to cancel my membership, now I have to pay $xx.xx"  she'll say. 

I will use all my energy and power to override the urge to retort: "yes when you asked if you should get this membership, I did point out that you are terrible with canceling memberships: see gym for reference." 

After all, while we have lovely basement furniture, I have little desire to sleep on it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rumor has it Spring begins in less than three weeks

While today was another day that started out at zero and gradually crept up to a high of about 18 degrees, I do feel that the worse of the winter is behind us.  The allegedly about to end season had the fourth-most days with the mercury below zero.  But add in days when the temperature sunk to exactly zero, and suddenly, this season is Chicago’s new No. 1.

This weekend I ran the inaugural Pulaski 10K at Montrose Harbor.

Austin looks like he ran a 10K
The rest of the weekend was low key.  I'm on a mission to find a piece of furniture for the house so that involves trips to Threads and other thrift stores.  What I'm looking for is known as either a Secretaries Desk or a Rolltop Desk.  It has to be the right balance of being large enough to hide my desktop, router and preferably the printer but small enough not to stick out too much as it will likely go against the wall in our living room.

We did discover a new place to add to our restaurant rotation.  This is a place in Avondale that I spotted once while biking on evening in 2009, during that year when I took a break from running only to .  I was going to stop and have a beer but it seemed like all the outdoor seating was taken and I didn't want to go inside.  So it's taken me a few years but it was worth the wait.

Milano’s Restaurant & Bar is awesome.  I definitely will go there more often.  I only wish it were located closer to my house.