300 Seconds #79: Job Separation Anxiety

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You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 79, “Job Separation Anxiety,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I’ve had a feeling of impending doom at work for a few weeks now.  During this time of year, we usually start getting ready for our ‘busy season’ by preparing training materials and hiring new people so that they’ll (hopefully) be ready for the onslaught of customers in the fall. While there has been plenty of training prep going on, our boss hadn’t scheduled a single interview.  Suspicious, to say the least.

Finally, for the first time since I have worked at the company, every person in our department was called into a meeting.  The meeting began with a sad-faced girl from Human Resources going into a spiel about restructuring, company challenges, new directions, blah blah blah.  Yup, here it comes.

She then threw the hammer down: The thirty people in the room (including myself) were all going to be laid off after a few weeks.  The department was being scaled back, so if we wanted to hang around, we would have to apply for one of the new positions.  After some questions and one wire-acre comment from yours truly, we were each given a packet of documents and allowed to go home to digest the news, if we wanted to.  Needless to say, everybody called it a day.  I didn’t envy the Human Resources gals their jobs, but at least they would still have jobs in a few weeks.

In my so-you’re-about-to-be-canned document packet was a fun corporate-double-speak letter that referred to my last day on the job as the ‘job separation date.’  Yeah, I’ll be certain to file that letter next to the ‘thirteen dollar bonus’ one from a few years ago.  Yeah, that’s right.  Thirteen dollars.  And people wonder why I hate my job.

I chuckled at their choice of words: “Job Separation.”  I guess it beats ‘Don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya,” though.  This being Texas, I’m genuinely surprised they didn’t just toss us out right then and there.

In a sense, I’m a little disappointed in myself; I’ve seen the writing on the wall at other employers in the past, and I’ve been lucky enough to get out of Dodge while the getting was good.

I guess I’ll have to start paying attention to those updates from Monster and LinkedIn now!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after my update my resume.  I am Eduardo Soliz, and if you’re looking for a software developer, help desk analyst, tech support lead, creative writer, copy editor, or maybe even a voice guy, shoot me an email at edsoliz@yahoo.com.  Whether you’re hiring or not, check out Eduardo Soliz dot com for more podcasts and short stories, and as always, I thank you for listening!

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myPhone

technology2There are a number of things that I don’t mind, but at the same time it’s sometimes fun to wave my metaphorical Cranky Old Man cane at the durn kids with their newfangled doohickeys and double-you-step music.

Case in point: Apple.  I don’t mind them.  I own a 2009 iMac and an original iPad mini.  Both are quite good at what they do, and I continue to use them.  Despite that, I like to thumb my nose at the ‘Apple guy’ in the office (there’s always one) and have back-and-forths with him about why I feel Microsoft is better.  As if in retaliation, my original iPad mini has been slowly inching towards obsolescence with each iOS update.  Recently, I was frustrated at not being able to play the neato new Fallout Shelter game for more than a few minutes without the poor thing crashing.

While the thought of getting a new iPad has crossed my mind, the thought of dropping a few hundred bucks on another one is not a pleasant one, especially since my Windows 8 tablet has proven to be quite capable, Microsoft Office notwithstanding.

Because of its creaky performance, I have been using the iPad mini as a hotspot more than anything else as of late.  I would use my cell phone as a hotspot, but Cricket Wireless has internet sharing disabled on my Lumia 530.  Jerks.  So I send a few bucks to Verizon, turn on the iPad’s hotspot feature, set it down, and then use my Windows laptop or tablet to get things done.

Which brings me to my next point.  I am, for better or for worse, married to Microsoft Windows as well as their ecosystem.  Windows 8.1, Word, OneDrive and OneNote have all served me well over the years and I have no reason to stop using them.

In spite of that, I have decided to get an iPhone for my next phone.  As I am not on a contract, I can make the jump whenever it pleases me, but more practical concerns such as home and vehicle maintenance take precedence. Nevertheless, whenever I am financially ready to make the jump I will be more than happy to for the following reasons:

  1. Apple makes pretty good hardware – My iMac and iPad have been pretty durable and dependable over the years.  I’ll likely have to get a case for an iPhone, but I’m pretty careful with my phones; I’ve never cracked a single screen over the years.
  2. Apps apps everywhere – This is the Achilles’s Heel of Windows Phone; the limited app selection wouldn’t be so bad if Microsoft would keep their own apps up to date.  The iPad version of Word blows the Windows Phone one out of the water, too.
  3. Accessories – Because I often get cheaper (or Windows) phones, cases and accessories are rare or nonexistent.  Stores seem to have three sections for phone accessories: Apple, Samsung, and one with a big sign above it for everyone else that says EFF-YOU.
  4. Microsoft is on board – The fact that I can get Microsoft Word on iOS and Android means no more Brand X Office apps.
  5. Hotspot! – I travel, and it would be nice to be able to fall back on my phone as a hotspot instead having to carry another device to do so.
  6. Android = suck, WinPhone = bleh, iPhone = ? Android devices have been craptacular for me over the years and Windows Phone trips at the finish line despite its nice interface.  I have never owned an iPhone so who’s to say I won’t like it?
  7. Get rid of iPad – I still only have my iPad mini for two reasons: to use as a hotspot and for work.  If I get an iPhone I can do without it completely.
  8. Updates for all! – With Android and Windows Phone, you are at the tender mercies of your carrier for updates unless you buy an unlocked device.  My Windows Phone is one update behind because of this.  iPhones, on the other hand, usually get all updates.

Of course, there is some bad with the good:

  1. Increased Cost – I am currently not on contract with Cricket Wireless and its been pretty sweet: $35 a month for 2.5GB of high speed data and unlimited minutes and texts.  To get an iPhone I’ll either have to pay a few hundred for the device up front or go on a contract again.  Either way that means more money.
  2. Durability – It is out of sheer luck that my Lumia doesn’t have a cracked screen given all the times I’ve dropped it (thank you Nokia).  I will definitely have to get a case to ensure my iPhone doesn’t meet an unfortunate fate.  It will remain to be seen if the iPhone is ‘Eduardo-proof’
  3. Apple EVERYWHERE? – Despite having an iMac and iPad, I am barely invested in Apple’s ecosystem.  Except for backing up my iPad I don’t use iCloud for anything.  That should stay the same with an iPhone…I hope.

I was on the fence about getting iPhone before writing this blog, but now that I’ve jotted down all the ups and downs, I’m all but certain I’m going to pull the trigger on one…eventually.  $35 a month for cell service is going to be really hard to give up, though!

RANDOM REVIEW: 2013 A.D.

2013As the final hours of the year tick away, I have to say that 2013 was a really good one for me.

After years of dealing with apartments and all that malarkey, I broke down and bought a house.  Home ownership has been pretty awesome so far: I went from one-bedroom apartments to a two-bedroom house with a garage and a huge backyard and rabbits and I can barbeque and have friends over and I love it.  Given the age of the house, home repairs and replacing things will eventually come but for now its been smooth sailing.

On the e-book front, I decided to try to sell printed copies of my work at a few conventions and events and failed spectacularly, at least from a business standpoint.  I can count my total sales on my hands.  People just don’t read much anymore, or at least not the types of folks that go to anime or furry conventions.  On the plus side, I did get to talk to lots of folks, present some panels and if nothing else, hopefully inspire some folks to ‘go it alone’ themselves.  I only published one new e-book (should have been two, but life and all that) and definitely need to up my output next year.

2013 was a fun year of conventions, camping, writing, video games, furries, cookies, home maintenance and most importantly, friends and family. I am optimistic that 2014 will be even better; my goal is to compete at least two story collections as well as the follow-up to “The Rules of Tech Support,” which is my best-seller so far.  I am also hoping to attend some new conventions, make new friends, and well, get some work done on the house.  So without any further ado:

MISSION START!

“De-empathized”

square coverTech support folks are often accused of not caring about customer problems.  Most of you won’t want to hear this (and the rest of you will nod your heads in agreement), but the unfortunate truth is that yeah, many of us in tech support really don’t care about your problem.

A tech support person hears so much wailing and gnashing of customer teeth over the course of their job that it eventually fails to have any meaningful effect.  We eventually become ‘de-empathized’ and thus lose our ability to feel empathy or sympathy towards our customers.  Most of us don’t start out with much to begin with so it doesn’t take very long to reach that point.

Why?  A few reasons:

First, a tech can interact with a lot of customers, particularly if they do phone support. Let’s assume a tech talks to 20 customers over the course of a day:  That adds up to 100 people over the course of a week, or 5,200 people in a year.  Considering that the majority of them of them are calling because something is not working, a fairly high percentage of them are going to be angry, upset, and frustrated.  While most people are civil, many are not, and of course, there are a few jerks, to put it politely.  I submit to you that it is very difficult to hear all that negativity (to say nothing of the stupidity) and not have it affect you.

Secondly, techs get the same paycheck regardless of how many problems they fix or don’t fix.  If a tech puts in extra effort its probably because you’re being nice, or at least civil, but there are usually no consequences for not being able to fix a problem.  As much as I hate to admit, there are some problems that we can’t fix.

Finally, there is the repetition of hearing the same cries/pleads/screams for help day after day after day.  When you hear every customer tell you their problem is a matter of life and death the phrase becomes meaningless.  There is a saying that sums this attitude up best: “A failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”  The constant exaggerating by customers only aggravates us further; are we supposed to believe that a customer just sat behind a computer for three hours on a stuck install?

Don’t confuse indifference for laziness, though:  Those jaded-don’t-give-a-crap support people are still going to do their jobs, but they are going to do it without a single shred of touchy-feely-ness.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped caring, but I haven’t cared about my customer’s problems for quite some time, now.  Unfortunately the lack of empathy and concern can be heard loud in clear in my ‘phone voice’ at work, and I’ve been called out on it on occasion.

But just like I do when I hear the cry of ‘it has to be done now’ or ‘it was working yesterday’ or ‘its your company’s fault.’  I sigh, fix their problem or tell them it can’t be fixed, and move on to the next person.  Its just water off an apathetic duck’s back.

Closing Windows

technology2I don’t drink alcohol, but it is going to be hard to resist the urge to raise a glass of something on April 8, 2014.  That particular Tuesday is going to be a special day for many of my fellow techies around the world and I have no doubt that many of my I.T. brethren will be celebrating the momentous occasion that takes place on that day.  What is it, you ask?

It is the day that Windows XP finally DIES.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows XP has had a hell of a run since August 2001.  It was a good OS and was definitely a step up from the awful Windows Me that preceded it.   Heck, it was so good Microsoft kept it around when Netbooks came into vogue a few years ago.  Those netbooks and the terrible Windows Vista probably helped to keep it alive probably well past its originally intended expiration date, but all good things must come to an end, so here we are…or at least here we will be in just under seven months.

Windows 7 is goodness and I finally decided to eat my Windows 8 peas, so XP is but a fond memory for me except for when I have to deal with customers that still use it at work.  I can’t give them too much grief, because I still use WinAmp 2.9 and Microsoft Money 2000!  That said, I’ll be happy as a clam when I no longer have to worry about whether users should click on ‘Add/Remove Programs’ or ‘Programs and Features’ in the Control Panel!

24 Things I Noticed While Helping at San Japan 6

My home for San Japan 6
My home for San Japan 6

I have attended every single San Japan.  I went to the first out of curiosity and found myself helping out with tables for First Storm Manga and original-gamer.com for the next four.  As FSM is no more and I have resigned my post from original-gamer.com, I found myself with nothing to do at San Japan Sinister Six.  I suppose I could have gone as an attendee and enjoyed myself, but instead I decided to help out the fine folks of RegIT with processing the 11,000+ attendees.

  1. You either have fun or work at a convention, and I worked at this one…a LOT
  2. That said, the people I worked with were very cool.
  3. It was neat to experience how much work goes on behind the scenes in registration.
  4. Think about it: about 20 people had to process over 11,000.  That’s pretty nuts.
  5. There were a few glitches, but the overwhelming majority of people were very understanding.  Nerds is good people.
  6. I was right about the customers being cooler at San Japan, there were only had a handful of genuine jerkasses to deal with.
  7. Goof-up #1-Not having good sneakers. I put gel insoles inside my casual shoes, which hepled, but my dogs were barking by the evenings.
  8. Holy cats, some of those cosplayers…Good Lord, I thought blood was going to shoot out of my nose!
  9. I’m old enough to have fathered a teenager, so I guess that makes me a dirty old man now.
  10. A friend guessed my age and was off by a decade, so I guess I’m not doing that bad.
  11. If you are going to give something to someone at a con , be sure you have it on you AT ALL TIMES. Sorry, friend of mine…can I mail you that t-shirt?
  12. Cardboard, if applied correctly, can be pretty awesome, as demonstrated by Tall Cardboard Robot Guy.
  13. I found myself shifting into my ‘announcer voice’ on occasion, that hasn’t happened in awhile.
  14. I don’t think I’ve ever done that at my regular job…which probably says something.
  15. Goof-up #2-Not taking Monday off from work. It would have been nice to do more stuff after the show, but I had to be at work on Monday and do laundry.  Stupid responsibilities!
  16. I wore my Wreck-It Ralph cloth pin and got lots of compliments, which makes me feel bad that I don’t remember the name of the artist who MADE it.  Sorry!
  17. The artists I know seemed to be happier this year and the layout appeared to be MUCH improved this time
  18. That is, the few times I was able to get away and see stuff…see #1
  19. Goof-up #3-Not by me, but for those who would ask me where things were…I AM SORRY BUT I HAVE BEEN HERE THE WHOLE TIME. AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE ANYTHING IS 😦
  20. I think the highlight of the whole thing was when my furiends showed up on Saturday to say hi.  The fuzzies gave me the warm fuzzies.
  21. Which is more than I can say for the jerkass who texted me ‘Are you even here?” despite knowing very well where I was the whole time. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
  22. Goof-up #4-Not getting a picture of the gal dressed up as the Ancient Aliens guy…she even had a sign that said ‘ALIENS,’ too!
  23. I seem to be doing a lot of apologizing in this list.  Sorry about that!
  24. Now that I can scratch ‘volunteered at a convention’ off my bucket list, I simply have no choice but to have fun at next year’s San Japan Samurai Seven…maybe!

RANDOM REVIEW: Windows 8

EATING MY PEAS

My Windows 8 Desktop
So Purdy…

I first gave Windows 8 a spin when the Developer Preview was released back in 2011.  As I have not purchased a new computer since then, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the final product, but judging from prevailing opinion as well as feedback from customers, it seemed that I wasn’t missing much.  As I work in tech support, I figured that I was going to have to support Windows 8 sooner or later, so I decided to eat my peas and installed Windows 8 on my laptop: a 14″ Toshiba P745-S4102 with 6MB of RAM.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN

The install went fairly well, but I made the mistake of not wiping the drive beforehand, so I had lots of icky bits left over from years of Windows 7 use.  I would open up my boot drive to find rouge directories sticking out their tongues at me in glee.  Obviously the thing to do was to delete them, so I got delete happy and of course, deleted an important directory.

So just like I did during my adventures with OS X, I had to start all over again.  I formatted the drive, reinstalled Windows 8, and was back in business.  Windows 8 seemed to be a little more happier after the second install, so lesson learned: always format the hard drive before dropping in a new OS.

THROWN FOR A LEARNING CURVE

Up until Windows 8 you could count on a few things like the Start Menu and Control Panel to be there.  No mas.  The Start Menu has been replaced by the Start Screen and other options are accessed by pulling up a ‘Charms Bar’ that is accessed by moving the mouse to either the upper or lower-right hand corner of the screen.  Moving the mouse to the lower-left hand corner reveals a shortcut to the Start Menu, and the upper-left corner pulls up the last program opened and a list of currently open programs if you move the pointer down from there.  The interface is not intuitive and poorly explained, you get zero help and are tossed into the Start Screen with nary a tooltip to help you.

A great example of how obtuse things are is the method for shutting down the computer:

  1. Bring up the Charms bar by moving the mouse to one of the right-hand corners…that is, assuming you know its there.
  2. Click ‘Settings’
  3. Click ‘Power’
  4. Click ‘Shut Down’ from the pop up menu.

Is it any wonder that people are upset about having to re-learn how to use their computer again?  Expect to stumble around Windows 8 for a while (I certainly did) until you learn its intricacies or say ‘screw it’ and download a Start Menu replacement.

APPY, APPY, APPY

Mess of tiles on Windows 8 Start Screen
…or not!

One of the big reasons Windows 8 has received so much grief was because of the removal of the apparently-beloved Start Menu.  I admittedly gave them static about this too, but having poked at it again, I now get what it is Microsoft had in mind when they removed it.

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have given us the concept of apps, or small programs that only do one thing or access a single service.  Like many of you, I’ve gotten accustomed to doing things via apps.  When done right, they’re great: you open up the app for whatever it is you want to do and take care of business instead of having to open up a browser, navigate to the website, login and all that.

Microsoft and Windows 8 want you to do everything in apps, and while I like this idea and would like to embrace it, the fact of the matter is that for whatever reason, the Windows 8 apps I have used have either fallen short of my expectations or just plain don’t exist.

The official Twitter app is one example.  I have multiple Twitter accounts, randomizer9 is my main one and I have one set up for The Rules of Tech Support.  The Twitter apps on my phone and iPad both allow me to switch back and forth between identities with a few taps, but the Windows 8 app only lets me login to one account, which reduces its usefulness.

Some apps just don’t exist.  The most glaring omissions for me are Facebook and Gmail, though I can set up the Mail client for use with GMail.  I’m also surprised that there isn’t a version of Office that uses the Metro interface.  Granted, I don’t use very many apps to begin with, so its not that big of a deal to me, but other folks who love apps might be disappointed in the selection, though it should get better with time.

THE DOCKING DESKTOP

Luckily, the desktop is still around and is accessed by clicking the Desktop tile.  While the Start Menu is persona non grata, much to the consternation of lots of folks (including myself) programs can be docked to the Taskbar just like in Windows 7.  I found myself docking each one after installing them.  This works pretty well for me and I haven’t really missed the Start Menu all that much, especially since discovering this handy list of Windows key shortcuts.

Unfortunately, installing legacy programs barfs icons all over the Start Screen just like it did before.  It is a little jarring to see the a nice purdy Metro Start Screen morph into icky tile-o-rama with a tap of the Page Down key.  The big problem with the Start Screen is that there is currently no good way to organize tiles that were installed by legacy programs.  Sure, you can move them around, but one of the nice things about Ye Olde Start Menu was that it kept things you didn’t need out of the way.  Hopefully the upcoming Windows 8.1 will resolve some of those issues, otherwise I’m not sure what I’m going to do once my Taskbar fills up with docked programs.

I have experienced no compatibility issues with older programs and hardware as of yet which is pretty darn lucky considering I still use Microsoft Money 2000 and WinAmp 2.9.

WHERE’S MY MEDIA CENTER?

I feel bad for Microsoft at times because even when they do things right they often don’t get credit for it or the Thing Done Right is completely ignored.  Windows Media Center is one of those things.  Media Center turns a TV-tuner equipped PC into a pretty decent PVR and can even stream TV from a PC to an Xbox 360, which is awesome.  It was created during the Windows XP days (remember Media Center PCs? Yeah, me neither) and came included with certain versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7.  It does not come with Windows 8.  If you want Media Center you now have to pay an extra $9.99 even if you have the Super Mega Deluxe Happy Version of Windows..  So much for doing it right.

 CONCLUSION

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth you’ve probably heard, Windows 8 is not that bad.  Yes, it does have some annoying habits, such as the made-for-touch interface and missing Start Menu, but I have learned to live with those inconveniences.  That said, I understand why some people are upset: Windows users (such as myself) have grown accustomed to the Start button/menu being there for nearly twenty years.  For Microsoft to just yank that football away like Lucy does to Charlie Brown is just not right.  I know workarounds, but lots of folks either don’t or don’t want to go through the trouble/hassle.  Microsoft reached just a little too far ahead in that regard.

I understand what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8.  I even like the idea of doing everything quickly in apps instead of having to constantly go to the web browser.  Unfortunately, the apps either don’t measure up in terms of functionality or they just aren’t there, which means I end up constantly having to go back to the desktop, which defeats the whole point of the new interface.

The much-touted quick startup and shutdown is nice and my laptop appears to be performing as well as it did before, though, as with any new system, one should be leery of potential conflicts with old hardware and software.  I haven’t hit any snags yet in that department, but time will tell on that.

To wrap up: Windows 8 isn’t quite The Future just yet.  It takes steps in the right direction with its app-centric design but is hamstrung by sub-par apps that will have you going back to the desktop over and over again.  If you are one of these folks that just can’t live without the Start Menu, there are third party add-ons, but I can’t vouch for their usefulness or reliability.  Once you get over the steep learning curve, 8 isn’t all that bad, but it isn’t as great as it could have been, either.  The upcoming Windows 8.1 should make things better so we’ll have to wait and see what happens.  While I’ll be sticking with Windows 8 for the short-term, I won’t be tossing away my Windows 7 install disc anytime soon.

3 out of 5 tiles.