Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘work’

Joe the Plumber(s)

October 20, 2008 · Leave a Comment

l this talk about small business and income above $250,000 got me thinking… hey, I used to work for a small business. I wonder how the Presidential candidates’ respective tax plans would effect them?

I realized though, that there really is no “Joe the Plumber” at my old firm.  Before she passed away, the CEO established an “Employee Stock Ownership Plan,” (ESOP) devolving her ownership to the employees.  Individually, the employees should be able to make tax-exempt “contributions” (i.e. purchase shares of stock) without any changes… this policy should remain untouched regardless of who becomes President.

In terms of the firm, and somebody should definitely check me on this, my understanding is that there are significant tax deductions to be had on pre-tax contributions to the fund.  Additionally, both Obama and McCain are proposing to eliminate capital gains taxes on small businesses, so any realized gains in the value of the shares currently held by the firm would also be exempt from taxation.

What about the $250,000 threshold?  Again, I should be checked on this, but my understanding of tax burdens and incentives is that because there are tax-deductions for pre-tax contributions to the ESOP, it would make sense for the firm to pay dividends on the Net Operating Profit (NOP) up to that threshold.  The company is essentially paying down a leveraged loan used to buy-out the previous owner, and both the interest and principal are tax-deductible.  (Lots of deductions here going on here).  So, depending on the structure of the businessess, that seems like an appropriate amount of money to carry forward year-over-year.

So basically, my understanding is that the “Joe the Plumber” model does not apply.  It would if there were a single owner who received all of the after-tax earnings, but since the company is employee-owned, if anything, the Obama tax-plan seems like a better alternative because it encourages the firm to pay-out dividends below the $250,000 threshold.

Note:  I am nowhere near 100% confident this interpretation is correct.

Categories: Neato
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Self-Reflexivity

October 15, 2008 · 4 Comments

Without getting too specific here, since God knows who reads this:

As a teaching assistant for my stats class, I have been responsible for administering a weekly computer lab.  The professor for the class gives me the assignment, tells me what his expectations are, and sets me free to drop knowledge to a room full of about 25 students.

Again, without getting too specific, I have faced considerable challenges in how to best utilize these two hours.  There are constraints in terms of instructions, objective, pacing, differentiation, skill-level, attention, patience, technology… you name it, I face it.

AGAIN, without getting too specific, I have done my best to organize those two hours in a way that best serves the needs of ALL of the students.  I don’t want anyone leaving lab without having done the exercise, so that’s priority #1.  People work at their own paces based on their tech-level, so I’ve strategized to create step-by-step power-points on how to use the data-analysis program, and helped people on an individual level as they encountered problems.

Some students are very frustrated with a “learning-by-doing” approach because they’re not entirely sure whether their outcomes are correct or not, since I haven’t provided an examplar or group hand-holding session.  Today I listened to them explain their frustrations with my approach, and I could certainly understand their perspective.  I tried to be diplomatic without over-sharing the considerable constraints I felt I faced, just as I’m trying to be diplomatic now as I write this.

Some students were more… constructive… in their feedback than were others.  Other students seemed to complain out of a sense of entitlement; that whatever approach I was using didn’t meet their expectations for learning objectives.  And they weren’t interested in my theory that data analysis programs are hard, and part of the learning of the program is the struggling with it.  “We pay a lot of money to learn, not to struggle,” was the quote I believe.

Obviously I felt some of the criticism was…unjustified… given my constraints, objectives and perspective.  But it made me very self-reflexive.  The students who were particularly harsh demonstrated no empathy for my perspective.  They were critical for the sake of being critical.  I feel as if there were no circumstances under which they would not find something to complain about.

And I’m like this a lot of the time.  A lot of people are like this a lot of the time.

It’s really easy to complain about what’s wrong.  It’s harder to understand why things might be wrong.  It’s hardest to figure out how you can change things.  And it’s damn near impossible to apply this kind of systematic, analytical reasoning in a relatively reasonable time frame.

Step 1 (Anger):  Things are Bad –> Step 2 (Empathy and Understanding):  Why are they Bad?  –> Step 3 (Analysis):  How can I change the things that make things Bad?

Most people are perpetually stuck on Step 1.

Only managers understand Step 2.

I’m voting for Barack Obama because he gets step 3, and he can do this kind of thinking on the spot, all the time.

Categories: Opinion
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Rant: Kinkos

August 14, 2008 · 5 Comments

I detest you.

I detest you.

Hoo boy.  Adult language to follow.

Fuck Kinkos.  Fuck those rent seeking bastards.

The last time I had to use Kinkos, it was at approximately 1am in the morning.  My stats group and I had put the finishing touches on our 400 page research report, and the University printing center was closed.  We called around, and found a Kinkos open 24 hours on Broadway… not to far away.

Fast forward to the Kinkos.  For some reason, the store was filled with really old people who looked medicated out of their minds, as if a nursing home had taken a field trip.  There were geezers shuffling around, at the computer kiosks, typing away their memoirs or putting together scrap books from their army days and God knows what else.

We debated the best method to print out our report.  If we asked for the customer service support, it would be placed in a queue and not available for pickup until the next morning.  Unacceptable.

We waded through the living dead to our very own “self-help” kiosk.  To use the machine (at $15 per hour or $.25 per minute), I had to first put “credits” on a card.  Mind you, the going rate of the US dollar to Kinko “credits” is 1:1.  I couldn’t just, you know, pay for it afterward, as is customary in every other business in America.

As I was putting $20 into the credit machine, my classmates were playing the “poor student” sympathy card on a staff worker.  He kindly agreed to print our report on the spot at a significant discount. (Note:  I refuse to credit Kinkos here… this was a reflection of the generoisity of the employee, not the company he happened to work for).

When it came time to pay, I handed the employee my Kinko “credit” card.  “There’s $20 on here,” I said.

“We can’t accept that.”

“What do you mean you can’t accept this?  I bought it here. It has your company’s name on it.”

“Oh, I know.  The credits are only good for the self-service stations.”

“Ok then.  I want to refund this then.”

“I can’t do that.”

“And why the hell not?”

“We don’t give refunds on the credits.  You’ll need to come back when there’s a manager present.”

“Oh, ok.  Fuck you then.”  (Note:  I didn’t really tell him to fuck off, but I did sarcastically roll my eyes and sigh in frustration.  Yeah, I’m a bad-ass).

Here’s the thing:  the only time anyone really ever needs to use Kinkos is when they are absolutely desperate.  Short deadline, no other options.

Kinko’s?  They know this.  They know you have no other options, that you’re on deadline, that you probably have an expense account anyway.  They know you’re probably traveling out of town, have a big presentation that needs to be printed/faxed/collated/mailed immediately, and that you’ll pretty much pay any price to make sure it gets done. “Inelastic Demand,” as we call it in Economics.

And so they price gouge.  Boy, do they price gouge.

The price gouging I can live with somewhat.  It’s America… where else are you going to find a printer open at 1am?  A valuable service, no doubt.

But WTF with the Kinko “credits”?  I take perfectly good money that is liquid, ubiquitous, and can be used anywhere, and turn it in to a card THAT CAN’T EVEN BE USED TO PAY FOR SERVICES OR PURCHASE GOODS FROM THE SAME GOD DAMN STORE IT WAS BOUGHT FROM?

The last 6 months I have carried around $20.00 worth of Kinko “credits” in my wallet.  I tried to give it to a friend as a sarcastic birthday gift, and she DECLINED it.  The thing has ABSOLUTELY NO VALUE TO ANYONE WHO DOESN’T BELONG TO A CONVALESCENT HOME THAT TAKES MIDNIGHTS TRIPS TO THE LOCAL LATE NIGHT COPY CENTER.

What pisses me off is that everytime I go to Fed-Ex/Kinkos, I bring it up with the manager.  I try to buy packaging tape, or to pay for an overnight delivery, to no avail.  Of course, I never get a cash refund.  That would be silly.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because today I had YET ANOTHER terrible experience with those bastards.  I was the only person in the store at 6am.  I needed 4 versions of a 35 page documented printed double-sided in color.  A simple request.

45 minutes and $84.69 later, I had my documents, and a sour mood.  These are the problems I encountered, in order:

  1. Person behind the desk told me should couldn’t process my job for me, even though I was there when the store opened, before the sunrise, and the only customer in miles.
  2. The Dell computer at the Self-Help kiosk began charging me by the minute, even as it was slowly sending memory requests to perform simple tasks such as “viewing the contents of a folder” and “opening a pdf.”
  3. The print settings are customized by Kinkos and do not include the intuitive “double sided” one-click feature.  Buried within properties, they have a “print along edge” option, which is the gateway to double sided printing.  So while I’m spending 5 minutes searching for this, it’s costing me $.25 per minute.  Keep in mind:  I have a blog, I use a computer every day… I’m on the long tail of the bell curve in terms of computer proficiency.  But maybe that’s just how they suck all the old people in for days at a time.  Again, fuck those guys.
  4. I find out that there is a “laptop” station which is significantly cheaper, at $6 per 15 minutes, so I bust out my laptop and set it up.  By the time everything is functioning, I adjust my chair slightly and the serial connector which is SCOTECHED TAPED to the payment processing server disconnects, abruptly ending my session.  I yell at nobody in particular.
  5. FINALLY a print 1 version of the report, and take it to the color copier, which I assume is cheaper than the “Self-Flagellation” station.  Of course, I wouldn’t be able to price compare, since there is NO PRICING INFORMATION ANYWHERE.

The staff member, of course, has at this point ducked into the back office.  If I were a worse person, I would take my pound of flesh from Kinkos in the form of highlighters, stock paper, and bubble packing.  Disgruntled, I insert my credit card (which I now discover can be used in lieu of the worthless Kinko’s “credit,” and pray that the bill is not too much.

It was, but I had a 9am meeting and our color copier is down.  Pardon me, I’ll be filling out my expense report.

Categories: Snarky · work
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No. F’ing. Way.

August 7, 2008 · 3 Comments

I recently found a phishy e-mail in my work account’s inbox.  I forwarded it to our HR rep, who then sent out an office wide “DO NOT CLICK ON THIS E-MAIL” message, just to be safe.

Since my name was attached to the forward, I of course got the requisite heckling from my co-workers:  “With the porn again?” … “You dirty bird.  Where have you been surfing?

Well, I’d like to clear this up once and for all.  I found a site that analyzes your browsing history in order to hazard a guess as to your gender.  HERE ARE MY RESULTS:

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 84%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 16%

Site Male-Female Ratio
google.com 0.98
yahoo.com 0.9
msn.com 0.92
myspace.com 0.74
youtube.com 1
ebay.com 1.11
amazon.com 0.9
craigslist.org 1.13
facebook.com 0.83
cnn.com 1.35
wordpress.com 0.98
flickr.com 1.15
weather.com 1.08
nytimes.com 1.13
monster.com 0.82
digg.com 1.56
typepad.com 0.94
simplyhired.com 0.77
urbandictionary.com 1.13
sprint.com 0.77
sprintpcs.com 0.74
americanexpress.com 0.98
linkedin.com 0.94
cbsnews.com 1.17
citicards.com 0.9
ikea.com 0.67
state.gov 1.02
lifehacker.com 1.63
rottentomatoes.com 1.17
zimbio.com 1.13
salliemae.com 0.63
salon.com 1.13
feedburner.com 1.11
columbia.edu 0.87
annualcreditreport.com 0.74
jetblue.com 0.79
gawker.com 1.17
zazzle.com 0.75
theonion.com 1.2
newyorker.com 1.22
blogcatalog.com 1.13
picnik.com 0.5
smartdraw.com 0.87
americanapparel.net 0.89
hsbcdirect.com 1.27
nature.org 0.75

PLEASE TELL ME WHICH ONE OF THOSE SITES PUTS ME ON A SPAM SITE IN PANAMA.

I am inclined to look at porn if only to assert my masculinity to above 50%.

Categories: work
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My Shower Story

July 30, 2008 · 1 Comment

This morning I shaved in the shower, as I tend to do.

I like to multitask in the shower.  I am a devout follower of the triple-S method and sometimes, when I’m feeling especially friviolous, I go for the four S’.  Incidentally, I also like to hang my shirts in the bathroom while I shower, to steam out some of the wrinkles.

The obvious problem of shaving in the shower is that you’re doing it blind, sans mirror.  This can result in terribly uneven sideburns.  The benefit is that you’re in a steamy environment and suffer less razor burn. So I can live with lopsided burns if it means less bumps on my neck.

Anyway, today as I was walking to work, I grazed my hand over my face to double-check the shave, and I noticed a small patch I had missed –directly above my upper lip.  When I checked in the side-view mirror of the nearest parked car, the “look” was quite familiar:

Way to ruin this for the rest of us, Hitler.

Way to ruin this for the rest of us, Hitler.

Now, if Hitler hadn’t ever tried to take over Europe and exterminated 6 million Jews, I might have been able to shrug it off and march on my merry way to work.  As it was, I had to backtrack all the way home for one additional swipe of the razor.

Way to ruin it for the rest of us, Hitler.

Categories: work
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Sad News

July 28, 2008 · 6 Comments

There’s been no formal announcement of this yet, but since only friends read this blog, I think I can share:

Susan Hager, the founder and CEO of the company that I’ve worked for off and on for the past two plus years, passed away on Friday.  This is a sad day at our office.

When you work for a small business, and I’m talking about a single-floor office of about 40-45 people here, the work experience becomes very familiar very quickly.  Within a month, you know who everyone in the office is by name, and you probably know where they sit.  Within six months, you pretty much know everyone’s bis-nass, and your staff meetings become hour long laugh-fests. :)

As a junior staff member, I would see Susan from time to time without having a chance to work directly with her… I conceptualized her much in the same way I understood my elementary school principal– a distant figure of authority who operates at a level beyond me.

What I didn’t realize– at least not right away– is that everything that seemed familiar, the “culture” of the office as it were, was set from the top down.  And once I did realize this, it was like running into my principal at the grocery store, or at church… outside of the limited confines of the environment in which I previously understood her, I began to appreciate Susan as more than the title or role or symbol she served within the constructed environment of the office.

About a month ago, Susan invited me– even though I’m technically a temporary worker for the summer — to celebrate the 35th anniversary of her company at a black tie dinner.  My seating arrangement was at the head table, next to her and her husband.  Although I was initially quite nervous to make small talk with the head of the company, my date and I quickly found her and her husband to be extremely gracious, and genuinely interested in our pursuits.

As the night proceeded, the Senior Vice-President gave a brilliant speech that reminded us all how hard it was for Susan to establish a company in an era when women couldn’t even get credit cards without their husbands’ co-signature.  I realized that establishing a viable and sustainable business for 30 years… being responsible for the employment and livelihood of over forty people, is quite the accomplishment.  Moreover, Working Woman Magazine called Susan one of 25 people “whose actions over the last quarter century have given women in the workplace a better shot.”

She and her husband had planned a trip to Italy at the end of the month.

I am glad I decided to write her a thank you note after that dinner, and tell her just how grateful I was to her for that night and how impressed I was to learn more about her career and success.

Categories: work
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How to: Run an All-Staff Meeting

July 23, 2008 · 2 Comments

This may be a sensitive subject and unwise to post about, but I promise not to be mean or snarky.  Think of it as bottom-up constructive criticism.

An all-staff weekly morning meeting represents an opportunity to sit and socialize, perhaps even enjoy some breakfast foods while not working.  For some people, the staff meeting may allow for an opportunity to gain some recognition that they need to validate their work.  I can understand and appreciate that, especially for people who work on smaller accounts.

Here’s the thing:  nobody likes a long staff meeting.  They’re boring and unproductive.  Nothing makes the rest of the day more sluggish than an hour plus long meeting that is not in any way relevant to your work. People get antsy.  They start checking their watches.  They start tuning out.  They become a passive audience.  Eventually, the meeting loses its value.

For all of you future leaders out there who will one day run staff meetings, here are some things to keep in mind:

Set the Agenda – Have an agenda and work through it.  Make sure everyone at the meeting knows what they’re there for and what they’re expected to share.  Don’t let meetings develop organically… you risk unnecessary over-shares.  Once a precedent is set for unnecessary over-shares, you’re guaranteed to have a meeting that lasts at least half an hour.

Share Vital Information ONLY– The following are examples of things worthy of sharing in an all-staff meeting:

  1. Any clients coming into the office between now and the next staff meeting.
  2. Any key staff members OUT of the office between now and the next staff meeting.
  3. Any MAJOR events.  This depends on your industry, but you should be able to tell what a major event is.
  4. Any jobs that require outside assistance, or an office notice that the fax/copier/printer will be tied up.
  5. Any major staff changes or other important Human Resources information.
  6. Any particular challenges your team is facing that might require institutional knowledge from another account.  Don’t discuss it then; explain your problem and ask people to approach you after the meeting if they have ideas for solutions.
  7. Any brown bag lunches or other informational sessions/opportunities that you know about and that your co-workers might be interested in attending.

That’s it.  Don’t share anything else.  That meeting you’re preparing for in two weeks?  Share it next week.  That 2-month long project you started a month ago?  Assuming you shared about it when you first started, people already know what it is and that you’re still working on it.  That neat article you read?  E-mail it around (or better yet, bookmark it or share it on your reader).  The neato lessons you learned at the conference you attended?  Organize a brown-bag session about it.

Standing Room Only – If you make a policy of standing during staff meetings, I guarantee that they won’t ever last beyond 15 minutes.  That’s about how long you can stand in one place before your feet start to hurt.  Everyone shares in the impatience of standing in place, and that impatience inherently makes everyone more judicious in their evaluation of what information the entire staff absolutely NEEDS to know.

When people go into a meeting knowing that it will only last 15 minutes, they will pay attention more closely.  They will be more active and engaging in the conversation.  They will be energized by a quick status update rather than a lethargic “bored” meeting.  And they will spend more time doing billable work, and less time hearing about so-and-so’s frustration with their client who is a timid but demanding technophobe, and yada  yada yada.

Categories: work
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Fun with Font

July 11, 2008 · 1 Comment

My boss sent me an e-mail this morning to “Fontifier,” a web-site that scans in your handwriting and outputs it as your very own font.  The kid in me said “you should stay on task,” but the adult onset ADD in me said “MAKE THIS NOW!!!!”

So introducing… Hostafont!

hostafont

And the response from a friend:

gchat

gchat

Categories: Neato
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Team Building

June 19, 2008 · 4 Comments

My office is celebrating its annual anniversary by doing one of those team-building exercises (think: Outward Bound).

At the staff meeting at which this activity was announced, somebody asked what type of clothing we should wear.  It was suggested that we dress in “clothes you might garden in.”

Now, I’ve lived in either a dorm or an apartment since 2001.  As I don’t subscribe to Sunset Magazine, I’m not quite up to date with the latest in horticultural fashion.

I wonder though, is this appropriate?

Categories: work
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I’m old

October 28, 2007 · 3 Comments

When I was eight years old, my dad took me to work for “bring your child to work” day.  I mostly played with paper clips, linking them together.  But I have a distinct memory of some of my dad’s lab partners, who were about my age now I suppose, asking me what I wanted to do when I grew up, etc.

It was around the time of my birthday, so they asked me, “if you could be any age in your life, what age would you choose and why?”

I thought about it for a moment, and then I responded, “25.”

“Why 25?”  they asked, intrigued.

“Because at 25, I’ll be a lawyer from Stanford and I’ll be driving a red corvette, with a hot girlfriend.”

They smiled at my precocious pragmatism.  I mean, I was 8… I should’ve wanted to become a fireman or an astronaut.

Today I’m 25.  I never went to Stanford.  I never went to law school.  I don’t own a car, let alone a red corvette, and I don’t have a hot girlfriend.   My 8-year old self would be pretty disappointed with my 25-year old self.

The important lesson from this story, I think, is what my dad’s lab partners told me when I asked them what age they would choose.  They all said 8.  They told me to enjoy being a kid.  And I’m sure if they talked to me today, they’d tell me to enjoy being 25.

So that’s my genuflection on the aging process.  (Yes Rohit, I realize it’s lame to use your birthday or New Year’s for introspection.  But I’m a narcissist!)  The older you get, the more you recognize your unrealized goals.  And the more you recognize your unrealized goals, the more you can critique them, weigh them, reassess them.  At 8, I had some crazy Matlock/Don Johnson/Ferris Bueller identity aspiration.  I used to draw F-14 Tomcats and tanks and pirate ships and Lamborghini Diablos.  At 25, I write a crappy blog, and crappy position papers on IR theory.

At 8, I was precociously pragmatic.  At 25, I’m too old to be precocious anymore. I’m just pragmatic.

But in the grand scheme of things, I’m not too wildly off base from my 8-year old trajectory.  I mean, I could’ve wanted to be an astronaut.  That would make today really depressing.

Categories: Uncategorized
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