Internet Defense League

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Burn 'em or not

One must wonder at what point does it make sense to hire another employee. Is it when the person is clocking more overtime hours than regular hours? Is it when the person is so tired he or she is wearing two different shoes or sleeps at the office? Or is it far sooner than those scenarios?

This happens throughout the commercial sector, I imagine. However, I frequently see this happening in the government. One person, a good friend of mine, is working three jobs with barely any compensation and has been in this situation for years. How he still works there and hasn't flown off the handle, I am not sure. And he's not the only one, just one of the more extreme cases.

In all honesty, I am not even sure where this topic came from, but I was thinking about the situation and the topic just popped into my head. The people that I know that are working far more than their job calls for typically are extremely hard, competent workers. I mean, as a boss, to whom are you going to assign the extra work--to the competent hard worker or the lazy, shiftless bastard?

There are a number of ways this affects employees. According to researchers, excessive overtime (working more than 12 hours per day), can increase the likelihood of injury by 37% (see Occupational and Environmental Medicine). I am not sure if that's limited to workplace injuries, but if it doesn't, think about that commute home during rush hour traffic where that employee is tired, frustrated, and dealing with incompetent drivers.

Further research shows that there is a 60% increase in heart disease by those people working more than 10 hours per day (see The Guardian). A number as high as 60% is no joke. However, even with these statistics, employers seem not to be dissuaded from overworking their employees.

Beyond the injuries, is the general morale and attitude of employees. When employees feel like they are being taken advantage of, even if they are being duly compensated (and government workers rarely are) their morale tends to nosedive, in turn reducing productivity. This is where you would think eyebrows get raised. If John is working 12 hour days, but only producing 10 hours worth of work, you would think that management would notice. However (and this is another area that encourages my soapboxism), employers rarely have quality defined metrics in which to determine whether their employees are productive.

Until the government (and other organizations, I suppose) get their heads out of their ... shoes, well, I imagine that we'll see an increase of stressed, frustrated workers making bad decisions. With the hiring freezes, the furloughs coming up, and the focus on reduction through attrition, I see no improvement in this area.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Weight Loss Progress

Near the beginning of this blog, I started by setting some goals for weight loss. My original goal was to hit 210 (from 233) by the end of March followed by another 10 pounds by roughly April or May. I wasn't setting too high of goals. Anyway, I hit the first goal with ease. I was actually down to 208. Two months later, I am still at 208. Of course, I suffered a herniated disc at C5-C6 (the cervical part of the spine) and that kept me from pretty much doing anything for a couple of months.

Well, that time is over. My neck and all of the associated pains are gone -- at least for now. It is now time for me to return to the gym and get back to exercising. I haven't weighed myself in a couple of days, but I believe I am running around 209, which isn't too bad since my dietary habits plummeted as well. Started off with a short run during the late evening. I plan on a light gym day tomorrow perhaps followed by a 30 minute quick walk for the fat burning efforts. And I will follow that up with a greasy, no, no, a healthy salad.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Self Preservation

The human body is a miraculous thing. One of the really cool things that the body has the ability to do is identify is when there is a problem and the general location. Okay, there are some exceptions, such as a pinched nerve that radiates pain in alternate body parts. However, most times, the issue can be easily remedied with exercise, diet, or medication.

This comes up because of an issue I had last week where I wasn't listening -- though my wife tells me that all of the time -- to my body. The kids and I were at a friend's farm hanging out watching a movie while the wood-burning stove. As we were watching the movie, I started to get cold, so I moved closer to the stove. After I'd warmed up, I moved back to the movie where I would soon get colder than before. Repeat about five times. I spent the night freezing and with a massive headache.

It wasn't till 5 AM (0500, for those that know how to tell time properly), that it occurred to me that I was in the midst of dehydration. It was the classic example: headache, abnormally cold, and parched. Of course, I wasn't paying attention. Eight glasses of water, a couple of Tylenol, and a number of hours later, I was feeling close to normal.

This leads me to paying attention to those things, not only in you, but around you as well. How frequently are the winds of change around us, but yet we hang on for a bit longer, usually until it's too late. Perhaps you're risk averse, just really content where you are, or are confident that your organization needs you.

If you are in a situation that is getting worse with time and is unlikely to improve in the relatively near future, you need to consider your alternatives. Perhaps those alternatives include minor adjustments such as leaving for work earlier to avoid traffic, having a talk with your boss/spouse/friend, looking for a new job, or even considering a complete career change. It seems to be too rare that waiting it out is an effective tactic. You'll end up bitter and frustrated, which doesn't only effect you, but those closest to you. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Motorcycle Safety

I have been an avid motorcyclist for the last 11 years or so. During this time, I have always admonished cars for not looking before changing lanes, not giving the right of way, and the like. There are countless articles that bemoan the same type of thing.

However, one thing that is rarely mentioned is the motorcyclists' responsibilities. Yes, you will hear stuff like don't ride too fast or too close, slow down before entering the curve, and watch where you want to go because that's where the bike will go. What is missing is the appropriate location for a bike to ride in the lane.

Motorcyclists have a tendency to ride to the far left so they can easily see around the cars in front so they can take evasive action, if necessary. That places them in a blind spot as depicted in the right drawing. A motorcyclist riding like this was nearly squashed by me on I-270 this afternoon because of this technique. I know to look for bikes, but was not able to see him through my mirror or through my window. Fortunately enough, I saw him early enough on that went back to the right lane before he developed a severe case of road rash.

By riding towards the center of the lane or closer to the dashed lines, he likely could have avoided soiling his shorts. So I ask all riders, do your part in riding safe. And keep the rubber side down.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who gets the benefits?

Having worked in and around the federal government for nearly two decades both as a contractor and a government employee, I've had the opportunity to see how contracts work and, closer to the topic of this posting, who is considered important within the corporate structure. Years ago, the company I worked for was bought over by a larger, beltway bandit. When that happened, most people kept their jobs, but there were a few people who were made redundant. When I look at who lost their jobs, it wasn't the money makers, but those who facilitated the business, e.g. the project managers who were non-billable. All of the folks that were creating new business or were billable kept their positions.

This makes sense for a couple of different reasons. As a retained employee who saw layoffs, your efforts increase to ensure that you are not ousted during a future round of layoffs. Further, the work of the employees that were not retained can typically be divvied among other employees. A group may not have a manager, but a Lead Engineer who now has responsibility for ensuring time sheets are submitted in a timely manner.

As a student and husband of a teacher, I see one arena where the hiring and benefits practices are quite the opposite. The post-secondary education group, instead of taking care of their money makers, they are, for lack of a better term, screwing them. In effort to save dollars, many schools have severely reduced the number of full time faculty and have replaced them with adjunct professors.

ad·junct - /ˈajəNGkt/
Noun: A thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part. (See source.)

There are two significant issues I think. First, schools are downplaying the importance of their teachers. I will give you a second to digest that. The role of teacher/instructor/professor is no longer the important position in a school. They have an abundance of other staff such as human resources and information technology personnel that are all benefited positions. However, these positions are not the money makers. Which employees should have the benefits? I would think that you want a content faculty that looks forward to coming to work rather than a bunch of people that feel they are getting taken advantage of.

The other issue is the quality of the instruction that the students receive. I am not suggesting that all adjuncts do not teach to the best of their ability. I know quite a few that are phenomenal instructors. However, I have had the displeasure of being a student of lousy instructors. I believe that in many cases they are distracted by their full time profession.

It would be nice if schools would revert to the old standard. Bring back the professional teachers. And I say this at the risk of reducing my chances of teaching as well as losing my wife's employment as an adjunct professor at a nearby college.

Update: Changed secondary to post-secondary.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wasted dollars

Sometime last month, I took the kids to the Motor Trend International Auto Show - Baltimore where we had a pretty good time. Not the best car show as there were no major releases happening there. However, Ford had a nifty display set up. They had a computerized electronic racing game there. And it broke as the prior to me got off. To make matters worse, the guy running it was not equipped to reset the system. He had to call a technician in. To essentially reboot a computer. Riiiight.

Anyway, as a part of the display, Ford had their Shift into $50 program running. The premise is that they get my email address, verify that it's accurate, and I take a printed sheet to my local Ford dealership to test drive a car. Following the test drive, the dealer would fill out information on my printed sheet and I would enter the info into a website in return for a $50 gift card.

Well, that's not such a bad deal. I can give them any one my email address (how about and never have to deal with the onslaught of craptastic messages. In return, they get me behind the wheel of one of their cars and try to seduce me into buying one. Now is not a bad time for us as our Mazda is nearly seven years old, about to flip 100,000 miles, and is showing its age -- ignore the sequestration as a deterrent.

Ford is relying on dealers to sell these cars. And this is where it all begins to break down. As soon as the salesman saw me come in with the printed sheet, he immediately brought the sheet to the manager, they filled it out and sent me on my way. I didn't have the opportunity to talk to anyone nor go for a test drive. Was I going to purchase a car today? No, but I might be in the market in three to six months. I now have no intent to go back to that dealer. I feel as if there is no interest in building a relationship with potential customers -- only with those that they are guaranteed to get a dollar from.

Is this my loss? Perhaps, since Ford has a lot of nice offerings out there. However, there are other Ford dealers within 20 miles of here. And there are other brands with just as good or better offerings. Oh well, such is life.

And that brings to a close this moment of preaching on my soapbox.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Building a competitive edge at what cost

I had the opportunity, as I did last year, to proctor Frederick County's Challenge 24 Math Competition. This is something I always enjoy as I love seeing kids using their brains to excel. This is the somewhat rare opportunity for kids to be cheered on for the their ability to think rather than for their physical speed, strength, or agility. It equalizes kids of different stature.

This is also a time for parents, instructors, and coaches to embrace a competitive spirit within their charges. However, this competitive spirit must be cultivated in a fashion that also teaches fairness and keeping within the spirit of the tournament.

Allegedly, it is in this vein that one of the competing schools failed. Perhaps the facts were relayed wrong, but three parents and a competing student corroborated the story and only one parent defended the school's modus operandi. It is because of the dissenting parent that I began this paragraph with allegedly.

To understand the issue, you must first understand what 24 is. The player(s) are shown a card similar to the one on the left. Based on the number displayed on that card, he or she must form 24 using addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. In this case, one possible answer is 4 * 3 = 12; 12 * 2 = 24; 24 * 1 = 24.

Instead of the students learning to use their math facts, the students memorized the numbers on the cards along with the solution. The students were reaching to tap the cards before the cards hit the table -- before it is even possible that they could have seen all four of the numbers. This is not the intention of 24 or of the competition. The intent is to place an "emphasis on the process and patterns, what [Robert Sun] likes to call 'the method behind the math.1'" Rather than learn the method, the focus for these kids was on rote memorization skills.

Until the end of the tournament, when the trophies were distributed, all of the students were having a great time. It was when they heard that one specific school won 15 of the 18 trophies that they realized something was amiss. And the disappointment set in. Granted, the kids still had a good time. However, realization set in that all of their practicing was fruitless as they were studying the wrong thing.

The bright side of this story is that all of the students I worked with increased their math capabilities tremendously. For that I am happy. But I am still frustrated.

Isn't that the same as studying really hard? Perhaps. However, I would be willing to put money on these students coming out near the middle of the pack or lower if new cards were introduced or if a different solution was expected, e.g. 16 or 32 instead of 24. They may have studied hard, but it wasn't to get better, but to win.

Is this just the ramblings of an upset parent of a losing student? I would say no. While my daughter did compete, neither she or I had any expectation of her coming home with a trophy. She was there to be with and to support her friends as was I. Further, I will volunteer to proctor again next year even though I will have no children eligible to compete.