February 18, 2010

The Way Employment Should Be

Buona sera. Yours truly is a little bit steamed today. I have heard and written about things that go on where my friend Neil works. He told me some things, and I feel the need to rant. Maybe a manager with some sense will take the advice that I offer and make his or her company a better place. Some teams don't have to fake it with a forced smile. You take care of them, they take care of you, show mutual respect, everyone does what needs to be done and is happy.

There are several things wrong with the organization where Neil works:
  • Untrained managers. People will be hired to boss a department that have no knowledge of the job; workers know the job inside out and managers have the skill level needed to be a Wal-Mart greeter.
  • Too many managers. There are managers, CEOs, COOs, Corporate Officers, Team Leads, Managers, Supervisors — plenty of management, but most of them are not leaders. Capice?
  • Managers are off-site. This company is very large, but does not pay to hire managers for departments in each location. Many people have never set eyes on their supervisors.
  • Raises are scarce. Yes, I know that it's a tough economy. But too often, "the economy" is an excuse for being cheap. It's a crisis for this company when the quarterly reports show that they are not making as many tens of millions of dollars as they want. They tell the employees to work harder and to be happy that they have jobs in the first place, yet they are making very handsome profits. Taking advantage of the people that are making you rich is bad management. Merit raises are a good thing, but should be used in addition to cost of living increases for loyal employees. Bosses, don't come crying to me because of employee performance; you get what you pay for, and if you paid a decent amount, you'd get better work.
  • Criteria are negative.  These off-site managers do not know, really know, the performance of their employees. They use numbers ("More production! Move it!") and recorded data of errors. This is negative thinking. Worse, they have no way of knowing how well their employees succeed on other things that are not measured.
  • Little respect for employees. Think about the term "human resources". What is a "resource"? Something that you use up, discard and replace. Places like this give capitalism a bad name. I hate to see this because my crew and I respect each other, and we know it can be done.
We all know that there are companies that are struggling, and the employees should be glad just to be working. I repeat, the place I'm talking about has big money coming in and can afford to give its employees some sign of appreciation.

The place where Neil works is a Fortune 500 company, but they certainly do not have a good showing in the "best places to work" surveys. That should come as no surprise. Perhaps the size of the company has a part in this. Perhaps not. What matters for any company is to get its management out of the Industrial Revolution mindset ("More! Faster!") and realize that they are dealing with people. And if the company takes care of its employees (not that stuff that they look at on paper and tell themselves that they are treating their employees well, but really wants to make them happy), then they will make the employer happy as well. It's all quite simple, really.

    February 17, 2010


    "It takes an awful lot of people, working together at an awful lot of jobs, to keep a civilization running. Smash the installations and kill the top technicians and scientists, and the masses don't know how to rebuild and go back to stone hatchets. Kill off enough of the masses and even if the planet and the know-how is left, there's nobody to do the work. I've seen planets that decivilized both ways." from The Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper
    Interesting how this comes along while I'm looking at material on simplifying and on minimalism. In this far future story, the survivors of a planet's war devolved into barbarism. This came about because nobody was able to take care of what was needed to keep the technology going.

    In times of power loss, we realize how dependent we are on technology that is driven by electricity. Once the power is restored, we can watch television, make telephone calls and go online. Some people are only slightly inconvenienced from those things, since they have battery-operated devices. But batteries run down. The East Coast blackout of 2003 shows the electricity dependence on a large scale. Electricity goes away, it feels like civilization itself goes away.

    There was an episode of "The Family Guy" where power was lost. Since there was no television, the family was at a loss for entertainment (the suggestion of lighting candles and reading books was laughed away).

    What would happen if power was out for a long period of time? If people learned to live in a simpler manner, their civilization would not have to deteriorate as completely as the one in Piper's story. Maybe the most skilled minimalists would be the new rulers?

    In Spy by Ted Bell, The Xucuru warriors of the Amazon are about to wipe out a boat crew. The boat has all sorts of high-tech weaponry, but has to travel very slowly. The Xucuru are primitive, almost naked, using blowguns and poisoned arrows. How to stop them from boarding the vessel? Carpet tacks spread all over the deck.

    Just some things for you to ponder and discuss.

    February 16, 2010

    Working on the Minimalist Philosophy

    Buona sera. As you know, I've been examining minimalism. It turns out that there are several sites devoted to discussing the subject. Some writers have made statements that made me uncomfortable. I began to wonder, "Am I getting into something that looks good on the surface, but is a plank in a platform that I cannot sanction?" Not really.

    The philosophy of minimalism is disparate. One writer seemed to advocate something resembling communism, where everyone shares what they have, and nobody owns anything. Ummmm....yeah.Who regulates? Well, there is no overseer. Oh, I get it: anarchy. That may be your goal, Poindexter, but you're probably alone in that (people are selfish at heart, you see). Another advocates "social change through minimalism". That won't happen, Cupcake. You need some kind of uniform code and many like-minded people.

    A third writer on minimalism is a Christian. He finds that the philosophy fits in with Christian values. I have stated that clinging to stuff is contrary to the teachings of both God and Buddha. Just own what you really need, the rest is distraction.

    One guy is pretty extreme: Quit your job and have everything you own in your backpack. No thanks, Bubbles. I need some things to be able to function, and I need my job to pay bills and honor my commitments. But you go right ahead, let me know how that works for you. I would love to know where you stand on this in five or ten years.

    Going the minimalist route is great for the youthful nonconformist, that is certain. This from "The Prisoner" (the good series, not the 2009 drivel) comes to mind: "...youth with its enthusiasm, which rebels against any accepted norm because it must..." As I got older, I realized that this was true, youth rebels because it is part of the nature of youth. Anti-establishment, rock and roll and all that (except that the "values" of rock and roll today have become the "establishment" that was the target of rebellion). I know what it's like to be caught up in some kind of idealism. After learning and experiencing life more, the idealism has to change and deal with reality. Rebelling in a minimalist direction can be a good thing because you will not be as inclined to be like some people that I know, who love things and use people.

    So, what is minimalism? The core philosophy is simply to own and use as little as possible so you have time and money for what matters most in your life. After that, it means different things to different people. Personally, I am very interested in going one notch above minimalism: Simplifying. Get rid of clutter, unneedful things, distractions. This would fit in very well with many philosophies (with the probable exception of hedonism). I don't care what you believe, as long as you're not a drain on society.

    If you're interested in my links on personal productivity, simplifying and minimalism, click here. Note that workplace firewalls may block you simply because the page is at Angelfire. Try again at home. It's simple.

    Next: You might be glad to have minimalists around in this extreme "what if..." scenario.
    A little while before: Does "minimalist" government exist?

    February 14, 2010

    You Don't Need Toolbars

    Buon giorno. One of my goomahs sent me an e-card for Valentine's Day. (Kinda gets you right here, doesn't it?) Although I don't like sending e-cards very much (aside from embarrassingly sappy stuff, some of them also spam people), I clicked on "send a card back" button. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a requirement that I install their toolbar.

    I don't need a toolbar installed. And I am insulted that Egreetings requires their toolbar to use their service.

    Oh, sure, they claim it's "spyware free" and so forth. But by it's nature (being required to use their service), they become spyware by default. Plus, they crow about it being free. Yes, because of the advertising. Egreetings is insulting our intelligence.

    "Why do you hate toolbars so much, Cowboy Bob?"

    Several reasons, Skippy, if you didn't catch on the first time. First, they clutter up your system and slow it down. Second, they are often spyware and malware. (Take a look at this monstrosity from My Web Search.) I've been consulted to help people remove some of these things and been surprised that they've been click happy, installing a stack of browser toolbars. Some were friendly, like Yahoo or Google's toolbars that go away when you ask them to. Others were vicious, and I had to ask Hal the Hacker to drop the assignment that I had given him so he could help me help someone else. If it's that bad for me, it'll be that bad for you, capice?

    Trust me on this: Browser toolbars are clutter at best. You don't need them.

    Addendum: Someone landed on this article because they searched for "why does egreetings toolbar still show up in my browser". Although I cannot help with that directly (have not had the experience), a stubborn bit of software can usually be made to be a good spirit and go into the light with the help of Revo Uninstaller. Use with care! If you get in a hurry, you can create problems for yourself. Follow the directions carefully and you should be fine.

    February 10, 2010

    Pheeding the Phishies

    Buon giorno. I'm getting irritated. Not only do I get a marked increase in spam, but I'm getting people sending me viruses and phishing attempts. I learned long ago (and I think most of my readers know this by now) that your online company will not ask for your account number, social security number, bank account number, password or other personal information. (Also note that you should not give that kind of information over the telephone to someone who calls you and asks for it.) But at least I can share my experiences with the world and, hopefully, save someone from grief.

    When you get hit with something, you can contact the company yourself if you think there may be a legitimate question on their part. More likely, it's a spoof (phishing) attempt. Report them. Go to the site of the company itself, find the address that most of those companies give you, and then turn in the scumbags.

    Here is a cute thing that I got from "PayPal". Or so it claims:

    They try to scare you into working fast. But...where's my name? This is "PayPal member", and that's my first warning. And no, looking at the "from" field in the e-mail is not an indicator, because those are easily faked; if I wanted to, I could send you e-mail from "Satan@Hell.com" and it would appear real until someone checked the headers of the e-mail.

    After checking with PayPal's site and forwarding it to them, I wanted to have some fun. I have clicked on these things before (including a "request for information" from a company where I did not even have a credit card), and filled in junk. Don't do this at home, though. I have excellent security on my system, capice? My next protection kicked in:

    Well, well, well! Firefox leaps into the fray, being my Bill O'Reilly ("looking out for you"). OK, playtime's over. My protection spoiled my pointless bit of fun, I was going to pheed the phishies some phalse information.

    Anyway, I know I'm rambling. Just remember, kids, don't give out personal information to your "bank" or other "financial institution". It's probably not them at all, capice?

    Check out what PayPal itself says about phishing and spoof mails, and their advice on protecting yourself. 

    February 9, 2010

    Does "Minimalist Government" Exist?

    The thoughts just keep on rolling! But I think this will be the last one on "Minimalist" philosophies for a while because I have some other things to talk to you about.

    Let me remind you that I am still working through these things. As far as I can figure it, a Minimalist is the ultimate clutter reducer. Leo Babauta describes it this way: “Minimalism isn’t about having or doing nothing – it’s about making room in your life for the things you love doing most. In this way, by getting rid of all the clutter in our lives – physical clutter and commitments – we are freeing ourselves, so that we can focus on what truly matters, and not all the extra crap people tend to do and have for no good reason”. You can read some more interesting discussions on that here, here and here. Note: Use your right-click and "Open in New Tab" feature on Firefox so you don't get lost and forget to finish this article that started you off.

    As I said before, Leo takes things further than I am willing to go. But these philosophies fit quite well with Buddhism and Christianity because both discourage fondness for (and clinging to) possessions. Minimalism seems to be a state of mind. That means it will have an effect on just about every aspect of your life.

    Is there such a thing as Minimalist government? Frankly, the terms create an oxymoron. By its nature today, government is big, bulky, cumbersome and pervasive. Minimalism could conceivably lead its practitioner to anarchy, where there is no government and everyone does what is right in their own minds. That would lead to chaos and violence, so anarchy is right out.

    Leftism, or liberalism, in the USA is only slightly better than anarchy. But liberal government keeps getting bigger and more invasive, eventually collapsing under its own weight. It seems to me that an honest Minimalist would want to shun liberalism. The "green" movement, with its pseudo-religious chant of "reduce your carbon footprint" is liberalism in action, creating more government involvement and intrusion in our lives. You want to live "green", fine. But don't force the rest of us to buy into any of your philosophies with unnecessary laws.

    Also, vegetarians are, in my experience, usually liberals as well. Hey, if you do not want to eat meat or any animal products at all ("vegans"), that's up to you. That's your choice. It's not my choice. By the way, did you notice that some of your teeth care called "canine"? Yep, your teeth are made for eating meat. That means you have no right to pretend to be morally superior to those of us who use our teeth in the way that they were designed. So, I don't want you telling me what I can eat, and I do not want the government making more and more laws to force me to act in a manner that is "green" enough, capice?

    Bluntly, an intellectually and emotionally honest Minimalist would become a Conservative. We want to conserve the Constitution of the United States. We want to help people, but do not want to create reliance on the government. We want less government. Less is better. And that fits quite well in with a Minimalist philosophy.

    Addendum: Jim DeMint reportedly said on February 18, 2010, ""Reducing the size and scope of the fed government is the only way to truly cut spending."

    February 4, 2010

    Cluttered and Cumbersome

    Buona sera. I am still on a journey, attempting to simplify things in my life and to remove as much clutter as I can. It started with the possessions around the house. This led to introspection. (Nicky hates it when I use that word, I put it in there just for him.) I was asking myself why I am hanging onto some things, even though I had removed other things that are just taking up space.

    It is much, much easier to get things done if you have clutter removed (or at least reduced) in your life.If you are interested in this area (or arena), there is some good material at Unclutterer.

    This moved into an effort to simplify my life itself. But as I have said many times before, balance is the key word. I don't want to live an austere or extreme minimalist lifestyle because I simply like gadgets, pleasures and conveniences too much. But I do not want a lifestyle that is cluttered with excessive gadgets, pleasures and conveniences. I have to have a balance.

    I do not want an iPhone. It's an overblown gadget, and I want my telephone to be separate from any organizer that I use. Sure, my telephone has some gadgetry to it, but I can't help that. I just ignore it. Someday, I'll do an article on stuff that is overdone and could be simpler.

    One of the writers that I have been reading lately is Leo, author of Zen Habits Simple Productivity and Zen Habits Offloaded. He goes further than I am willing to go in simplifying, but I can still learn from him. One thing he pointed out is My Text File, a way to write just text without all of the clutter (you do need a Google account to use it, however). You can save it and all, but one thing I don't get: Why not use the simple text editor that comes with your computer? The only real plus that I can see for this is that you can edit this text anywhere that you have an Internet connection. But if you have to sign up for a Google account, you may as well use Google Docs and just keep it simple.

    Leo also likes a bookmark saver called Pinboard. There is a small fee to sign up (as a spam reduction tool), and you can store your bookmarks online in an uncluttered format. They can be for the world to see, or for your eyes only. I should point out that Xmarks is a free service that lets you synchronize your bookmarks between browsers. I use it to back up my Firefox bookmarks and passwords, and I can access them online as well as synchronize them between computers. Xmarks is for your eyes only, and Pinboard has the option of being public and/or private.

    There is a wide world out there that irritates the hell out of me. That is the "social networking" stuff. Big, overblown applications to share your stuff (Stumble Upon, Del.icio.us, Digg and so forth). Well, most people do not care what I like, and I do not care what they like. Is this a mark of conceit that people think everyone wants to know what they like?

    But I digress.

    I am tired of the clutter online, and tired of clutter in my life. All of the clutter, the contraptions, the complications — no wonder many of us want to simplify. When I signed up for Facebook, someone said, "Oh, good, now we can stay in touch!" Uh, yeah. You already have my e-mail address. Facebook is clutter and full of distractions unless you use only the few things you really want to use. MySpace? Fuggedaboudit! Glitz for kids.

    Less crap in our lives is less distraction. And less distraction leaves more time for what is important to us.

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