Thursday, October 31, 2013

Holiday travel may be bumpy

Scott McCartney, WSJ, Oct 24, 2013, says prices of airfare for the hols are going up. Act now.

In past years, airlines had last-minute bargains, but now the planes are filling up and such deals have gone a'glimmering.

Heading for warmer climes--like the Caribbean? Bring your wallet! Instead of going to Grandmas, the story said, more people are going to the beach and bringing Grandma along.

Christmas is mid-week, so the travel window is longer--which is good news.

The best professional advice--don't wait, prices probably won't be going down.

I remember one Christmas, stuck in O'Hare with almost no money and a whiny kid, then hitting DC at 4 AM in a blizzard, all our presents fell into an icy lake of water...ah, good times.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who's looking out for you?

How about Consumer Reports? Stephanie Ponder wrote about this long-standing nonprofit in the Dec 2011 Costco Connection Magazine.

This organizations is more than 75 years old.

It tests thousands of products a year--from socks to pasta sauce.

It even once got the Lexus GX 460 a "Don't Buy" rating--until a problem was handled.

Now, you can get this info online at

A staff of 600 work to get testing info to consumers (50 testing labs). They also do surveys of what people think about products.

They take no advertising and try to stay objective.

They have only been sued 16 times.

I wish I had the faith in the Better Business Bureau that Consumer Reports enjoys. The BBB has really gone down, in my opinion. I have looked up local vendors with a good standing--and 100 or more complaints.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What evil lurks...

Joel Best is a professor at the University of Delaware--but he is "best" known for debunking the myth that various funny uncles and weird neighbors are out to kill your kids with poison candy on Halloween.

He started his investigations in grad school. He checked records back 25 years in all the big papers.


One kid did die--but his Dad gave him the candy, figuring this legend was so accepted he would skate. He was wrong.

Another little boy ate his uncle's heroin stash. That wasn't Gummi Bears.

Now, Best gets calls every Halloween--what he wants to know now is how can reporters just not get over it? But they don't (you're reading this, aren't you?), so he updates his research every year.

Still, some hospitals X-ray treats, some malls say trick or treat here (and of course, spend money), and some churches have trick or treat in the parking lot--the kids walk from car to car.

Best says an urban legend is harder to kill than a vampire. Really? Vampires exist?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why not get a job that will exist in 10 years?

Freelance writing is sure endangered, gone the way of those benighted buggy whip makers. Actually they still make buggy whips, but you see where I am going.

Try to think about whether you are in a sustainable field. Will people still read? Gotcha!! Maybe not! They won't be able to write cursive, either. So that lets out handwriting analysis.

Andy Kessler wrote a book called Eat People and Other Unapologetic Rules for Gamechanging Entrepreneurs.

He says tellers, phone operators, stock brokers are nearly extinct. I say I have all three.

So what is extinct or about to be? Kessler says forget white collar and blue collar. We must thinking: creators and servers. Many of the latter will be replaced by technology.

But he thinks the word server is too vague (agree). So he has "created" categories. Sloppers--people who move things from one place to another. Those are easy to replace. (Yeah? Tell a computer to long-haul some other computers someplace--they would probably just build them where needed...Oh...)

Spongers in Andyspeak are people who pass a test (license, certification) designed to limit supply of them. Even doctors--computers can scan x-rays to some degree already.

Supersloppers mark up value without adding it--think The Rolex Oyster which keeps worst time than an iPhone. Well, think the iPhone, for that matter.

He has more.

I don't esp love his names, either.

But--the overall message is machines don't increase employment--even when people are needed to build more machines.

I say get into something that can't be sent overseas--esp something like health care. The sick will always be among us. Who will pay for their care, I have no idea.

Also burger making--can't send that to India. Or not yet, anyhow.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Now for something completely different

Ah, Monty Python.

Anyhow, according to my friend Dana K. Cassell, owner of the long-standing Writers-Editors Network, the visionary Buckminster Fuller used to go to magazine stands and select the magazine in the top right-hand corner and read it cover to cover. Supposedly this led to his reading a story on beehives that led to the geodesic dome.

I met Bucky Fuller at Southern Illinois University, where I attended for a year, and loved his bright blue dome--I want one to this day!

Anyhow, Dana also told about a site called will take you to a random site you otherwise would never know about.

Break up your usual pattern!

Brush your teeth with your other hand.

Eat anchovies.

Go wild.

I recommend joining Dana's online job-searching services--if you are a writer. Check it out at

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Signing on to a firm on the way down

 Some companies are trying to rebuild staffs--but those who remain are bummed out, cranky, and suspicious.

As a new hire, what is your best course?

First take it slow and keep a level head. Don't get anxious because others are.

Put ideas out there--keep moving forward.

Stay neutral in long-standing smackdowns--these were before your time, stay clear.

Try to help out--you may be regarded with resentment--sure, you get a nice job now, but you should have been here before, are you here to fire me, replace me, show me up?

If everyone has an attitude, make a point to find one lifeline person you can talk to about things.

And try to stay positive--the existing employees are all set in their roles--don't come on too strong, just do your job.

Gradually things should turn.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

You can't just slack in your twenties

Your twenties are when you acquire soft job skills, such as showing up on time, dressing appropriately, and getting along with people. You need to be in some work situation to absorb these.

Your twenties are when you can live for less--you may not have a spouse or child--it's cheaper. You can even move to another town easier.

Your twenties are when you need money to go out and have fun! To get some living under your belt.

This takes money.

Your twenties are a pretty short time, actually, to see what you like--and are like. Do you prefer to work outdoors or in? You could try both.

Your twenties these days are when you get a certain respect for your technological abilities just because you are young and it's assumed you "know things." Make that work for you.

In entry level or lower level jobs, you learn how to tune into office politics, to get the lay of the land.

So my advice is get some kind of job even though the economy sucks. Go to this job every day. Take it seriously. Keep track of the people you meet. If they leave, see what's up at their new job.

You can't do this stuff my sitting at home, looking an Monster openings and sending off resumes.

This is a life hunt, not a job hunt! Make your mistakes early.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Losing your insurance--now what

We all know by now that the assurance that if you liked your health plan you could keep it longer operational, as they used to say under Nixon.

Companies that will eventually be required to cover people are ending their insurance in some cases and in others, the insurance companies are dropping the companies.


Sooo...if you get the letter, what should you do? First, I am not a trained expert in this--so you must decide for yourself.

Due to the nonperformance of the gazillion-buck website, Consumer's Union says wait a month to even attempt to get set up.

When you do try to pick apart plans and see what's what, there will be four levels--bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The better "metals" may be taxed as income. So bear that in mind. All will have deductibles--this means amts you pay from your own funds before the plan will pay anything except for the so-called "free" stuff like mammos and other preventive tests.

A preventive test, by the way, does not prevent the disease for the most part, just early death from it. Maybe.

But I digress.

The premiums will also be not less, but more, in more cases, than you pay now, even with a subsidy.

Your personal IRS agent will be talking to you about the subsidy. Or maybe the website will work one day and then maybe it will factor in your income and check for you. Who knows.

I had individual insurance all through my career--even though I had pre-existings...I joined groups that offered it, etc. Not sure whether you can even jump between the lilypads like that anymore.

Can you get it from an insurance agent?

Insurance agents know which drugs are on which plans, which plans pay fast (another thing--you may end up with insurance from a company you never heard of), which plans are going to be around.

This is a mess, so cowboy up--but for now, hurry up and wait.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Work on your res, then find way not to use it

Resumes! Gosh, what an enduring subject. You can never get an answer on these, say our jobs gurus Dale Dauten and JT O'Donnell.

Your resume is a marketing brochure for you. They go through fads--today Objectives are out, Experience Summaries are in.

That could change in six months.

You can get some tips at JT's site--

The idea is to do a clean, error-free res and then spend your time trying to get people to actually read it.

You might want a couple of variations--but after that, redoing it all the time is a way to avoid networking, calling, reading, and thinking.

The best time for a hiring manager to see your res is when you show up for the interview--an interview set up by a person trusted by you and the manager.

Personal story--Last week, I sent an app to a company on Monster. I hardly ever do that. It was hoops, flaming hoops, you name it.

Then I got calls from insurance companies wanting me to be an agent. What about me screams insurance agent?

I need a nap.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thought about Kickstarter?

I know this is pretty wacky, but maybe you can develop an idea with crowd funding. Kickstarter, though sort of a crapshoot (you don't get the money if you don't meet your goal, I don't think), is the most famous place.

It came to mind because I recently saw an appeal from a young musician who sustained a terrible head injury, woke up from it, and is now trying to market a book and distribute his music.

Check out:

Notice he did a really professional video--or a friend of his did. I think that was pivotal.

And he had a reasonable goal--and above all, seemed credible.

A professional PR firm was also involved--they contacted me.

Have any of you tried this?

I know Kickstarter does not guarantee the projects, but does reject many. Still, it's donor-beware.

And, I guess, user beware--you can sink time into it and end up with nothing.

Of course, the site takes 5%. And there has been grousing lately about movie stars using it to fund independent films they could pay for out of their own petty cash.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bad sign--people scared to leave jobs

Ben Casselman, WSJ, Oct 7, 2013, says the usual job number we see each week is new jobs minus old ones that were dropped. This is showing steady if slow improvement.

Layoffs are back below pre-crisis levels. New jobless insurance claims are down to a six-year low.

But--biggie--workers are not quitting to get better jobs. Companies are also not filling vacancies.

In 2007, three million workers quit. Last July, 2.3 million did.

A job vacated by someone, an existing job, may be easier to get--but harder to find.

Changing jobs is an important way to increase wages--which are stagnating. The best time to quit for a better job is when you are young--to get on the job ladder. But the young people who are finding work are clinging to the rung they are on.

Actually this started before the recession or whatever they call it.  Geographic mobility, new business formation--these were down before.

The economy is losing it's mojo--which sounds hip but isn't.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

College--10 yrs from now

Gabriel Kahn, WSJ, Oct 9, 2013, says the college of the future may still have ivy-covered walls and parties, but everything else will be different.

Textbooks may be gone, lecture halls, too. The Sept-June thing--old hat.

Will it be cheaper--alas, probably not.

Professors will run courses from digital platforms--marking each student's progress as the class goes along.

Start and stop dates will become obsolete--you start when you can, work at your own pace. Some smarties may polish off a class in a few weeks.

You may no longer have to go to the prestige schools to get the best profs.

Each class will have a tailored "textbook," not some 10-lb horror that costs over a hundred bucks. The content will be interactive, video, simulations, you name it.

But...sad face...don't expect prices to drop. All these bells and whistles mean more non-academic costs such as career counseling and student activities for many more students.

Ah, progress--gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Musical desks

Rachel Feintzeig, WSJ, Oct 9, 2013, says some companies switch people from desk to desk and room to room every few months.

This, they say, increases productivity and collaboration.

This is somewhat different from open floor plans and unassigned seating. It is engineering of who, with what attrributes and attitude, sits next to whom.

Apparently your closest neighbors on the floor account for 40-60% of your interactions.

One company mixed up the accountants and media buyers hoping they would learn each other's work by osmosis. The media buyers learned the financial side so fast, some accountants were not needed. Yoops.

At Kayak, a guy takes into account personality and political views before assigning seats. He tries to avoid style clashes that take up time and annoy people.

But--if someone is stressed out, say, they may put a cheerful bubbler next to that person.


Usually it comes down to loud and quiet people. But even then, the powers that be may send a loud person to make the rest interact more.

I dunno. Isn't work hard enough? My kid used to get dinged in school for being a chitchatter--is that what companies want?

Monday, October 14, 2013

More companies hiring the autistic

Carolyn T. Geer, WSJ, Oct 9, 2013, says with those with autism, the key is not to train for a job, but to match a job to what the applicants can do well.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth Univ are looking into this. Autism is defined as a set of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by mild to severe impairments in communication and social interaction.

Many autistic young people have been in special programs and have good memories, systematic ways of working, or an eye for detail. The can also be math, music or art "geniuses."

In the Virginia Commonwealth study, a control group of autistic students stayed in their schools, while a second group spent a year in a special work-study program at a hospital.

The second group met each morning and evening in classrooms where they learned job skills such as getting to work and asking for help. The rest of the time, they tried out in various jobs to see what suited them.

At the end, 87% of those in the second group got hospital jobs such as pharmacy assistant or teacher's aide.

It was all based on what each individual could do well. When they are in their comfort zone, one source said, they can do wonderful things.

Friday, October 11, 2013

You may have a degree and not know it

According to a story by Caroline Porter (WSJ, Oct 9, 2013), some colleges are taking a look at the records of people who left school early and finding that they have earned a two-year degree without taking any more classes.

This is part of a program called Project Win-Win using data mining techniques available now to see what's up with people who left school.

Sixty schools are participating and they found 6,700 eligible for an associate's degree and about 20,000 more who needed no more than 12 credits to finish.

An associate's degree can result in tens of thousands more in salary.

The searching has encountered some "glitches," but is on-going.

If you think you are close to a degree, it wouldn't hurt to ask. You can ask anybody anything.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Go on a money diet before house hunting

Ellen James Martin, AZ Republic, June 26, 2011, wrote about thinking of buying a home. Now, this is more relevant because people actually are doing it.

First, you will need some cash--it's not like the old days. But it is also not like the 20% down thing people have been saying.

But--the more cash the better. Sellers will often take a lower bid from a buyer with lots of cash.

If you need to amass cash in a hurry, stop impulse buying. No more catalogs, internet browsing. I buy everything on ebay--over-the-counter meds, cosmetics, clothes--you can get real bargains. And many times there is no shipping charge.

Take a hard look at your spending--needs, wants, or just things you do because you have always done them or are lazy (eating out, for example).

Chart every cent for a few months.

Do more home cooking. Does every adult need a car?

Sign up for an automatic savings program.

Can you think of other ways?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Are you "middle skill"?

Middle skill workers are HS grads with less than a four-year degree.

A study in 2011 said in NY alone, there would be a million middle skill jobs.

The cause is the growth of the advanced manufacturing sector--where some advanced training is needed, but not a world-class STEM degree.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.

Health care and transportation have middle skill openings.

Dental hygienists, electricians, and aircraft mechanics are other examples.

This may mean going after an "industry certification." Some 2-year colleges are crafting these. There is also some certification activity in the free online area.

I would say the economy is still sucking wind, despite a lot of phony posturing about turning a laser beam of effort on it. But I would also say all is not lost just because you don't have a 4-year college diploma.

Middle skill is still skilled.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Are best leaders warm or strong?

Writing in Government Executive, Aug 8, 2013, John Kamensky talks about executive style.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review story by Amy Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger, the way to influence is to begin with projecting warmth.

People decide what they think of you before what they think of your mission or message.

Warmth and strength are the big two influencers.

To throw out strength first can scare people. Many leaders do this--stress their competence first.

But you need a a foundation of trust, the authors say.

Then--and only then--veer toward function, competence, and a sense of purpose that makes people follow.

What do you think of this? Sometimes I wonder about all these theories.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Joking around at work

It's such a cliche--humor is subjective. It's in the eyes of the joker and the butt of the joke.

In a work situation, where people are thrown together involuntarily, it can be a problem. Sue Shellenbarger wrote about this in the WSJ Aug 14, 2013.

Employers say they like people with a sense of humor. People like funny people better and think they are smarter.

But the Dilbert guy Scott Adams says if you have never been "funny" before, the office is not the place to start.

It is really important for the joker to be able to recover if a joke flops. The joke should also read the moods of the people and of the meeting.

No racist, ethnic, or sexist jokes. I don't even love Blonde jokes--even though, shocker, I am not a real blonde.

The best humor brings people together--they may even add to the joke, try to make it better.

Back when I had a "real job," we used to love to imitate our bosses in a fakey "mocky voice."

I also used to say, "I have many bosses, but no superiors."

Come to think of it, that one might have bombed a couple of times.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Job descriptions need work

Lauren Weber, WSJ, Oct 2, 2103, says job ads no longer denote desired bust size, but they are full of jargon and blah-blah.

These should be under 300 words--zippy! Give an impression of the duties and the corporate culture. And of course, you must obey all the laws (no bust sizes, I said!).

A candidate spends about 76 seconds scanning to see if the job is for him or her.

The idea now is to get 10 great candidates who "get" the job and not a slew of people who try for it just to try.

Some other tips for listings:

Don't list 15 skills you want. No one will have them all. Eight tops. Men will apply if they have only 60%, but women may toss it if they don't meet all the requirements.

Don't list educational requirements--these are no predictor of success. My favorite is "English major wanted"--for a writer. You are not necessarily a writer just because you were an English major!

I read dozens of job descriptions a week. You know what I hate? When they ask a ton of skills from you and make no mention of the pay. You can spend a lot of time expanding on your qualifications and find they are cheapos--or worse, non-payers who presume you can use the internet exposure.

But don't get me started.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

WSJ names top startups

The Wall Street Journal did a documentary called "WSJ Startup of the Year." It began with 24 new firms and is now winnowed down to five semi-finalists based on scalability, long-term viability, and utility and probably some other "ilities."

ASIUS TECHNOLOGIES in Boulder, Colo, makes inflatable earbuds and hearing aids to deliver better sound.

LIGHT POINT SECURITY, Baltimore, protects firms from web-based malware by letting workers browse from a virtual machine in the cloud.

REBELLION PHOTONICS, Houston, improves safety on oil rigs with special trouble-spotting cameras.

SWIPESENSE, Evanston, Ill, Cuts hospital infections by giving staff portable, trackable hand-sanitation devices.

THE MUSE, NY, Profiles companies beyond job openings to give job hunters a better shot at finding the right slot.

Once you see an idea, if you understand it, it seems so simple--what a great idea! But, it's not that simple--it can be the hardest thing you ever did.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

With friends like these...

Are all your friendships fairly two-sided?

Over the years, I have left people behind, even purged people--and they have done the same or drifted away. When I moved west, a lot of people forgot me. Out of sight, out of mind.

I can get worked up over this if I try.

Elizabeth Bernstein, WSJ, Sept 24, 2013, says friendships can develop cracks and people can show their true colors over time.

Usually, I have found, one person is more into it than the other one.

Still, friendship is not all tit for tat. Usually you give without expecting anything in return.

But over time, if it's too unbalanced you can develop "relationship distress," according to this article.

Even the most giving person, the one who does not keep score, can notice if they are not receiving support back.

The woman used as an exmple in the story was constantly babysitting for her friend, driving her when the other woman's car was in the shop, listening endlessly to her problems--and then when she needed a letter of recommendation written to adopt a kid, the "friend" bailed--no letter.

This friendship ended.

I have developed the theory that friendships may have lifespans. They may be "meant" to be limited, some of them.

Another thing I know for sure--you can't write a script and get people to read it. Won't happen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Student loan load can hurt startups

Ruth Simon, WSJ, Aug 15, 2013, says some entrepreneurs owe so much to banks for student loans they can't get loans to start businesses.

The average student who borrows for school racks up $40K in loans. For grad students, this can be $55K.

Recent grads are those who are most likely to pursue a tech idea, though. Many would be serial entrepreneurs--starting business after business--if they didn't have big student loan payments.

Yet--others see the loan payments as an incentive to get going fast--to earn the money to pay them.

Which camp are you in?

Startups are risky--but loans will always be with you. Well, for 25 years anyway--under new federal rules, they may be forgiven after a third of your life is over.