Monthly Archives: May 2011

When Great is Too Good

Some time ago Joanne’s computer started crashing frequently and running slowly.  When she took off for a visit to see family in British Columbia, I took the opportunity to check it over and discovered that her hard drive was failing.

Since the drive was a mess, I didn’t want to just clone it.  Instead I carefully backed up all of her files and then, over the course of several days, performed a fresh install of Windows and all of her software onto the new drive – a laborious task involving a never-ending cycle of installs and reboots.

I took care to put everything back exactly as it was before, right down to the desktop picture and location of the icons.  And that was my mistake…  After my hours of dedicated, painstaking work, Joanne came home and carried on using the computer as before – sans the crashes.  I looked on proudly, awaiting my kudos but none were forthcoming.  When I [slightly peevishly] pointed out that I had completely replaced the hard drive, Joanne merely replied, “Oh, thank you.” and that was it.

WHAT???  No adoring hugs and kisses, no offers to cook my favorite meal, and no mention of slipping into “something more comfortable“.  Clearly the amount of effort that went into making the whole thing seamless was not coming through.

At home I can take the fact that Joanne felt zero pain as a sign that I did a good job.  But what about in the work environment?

When the end of year when bonuses are being handed out, don’t you want people to remember something of your valuable contributions?

Telling people about your hard work and technical prowess generally isn’t appreciated, so you need to find more subtle ways to get credit.  Ironically, that sometimes means doing less than a perfect job.

I’ll give you an example.  On a business trip, I stayed in a hotel where they had treated the mirror with something that stopped it from fogging.  But they didn’t treat the whole mirror, just a large square in the middle, and I really appreciated having that square of visibility.  I was impressed that they had gone to the extra effort.  But would I have even noticed if the mirrors were completely fog free?  Unlikely.

If you are adding new functionality, then getting noticed is easy.  But if you are performing maintenance type activities, or are involved in something that aids efficiency, then you need to find other ways to be appreciated. That might mean making subtle, but obvious, changes just so that people know that things are from  “the new system“.

Occasionally the only option is to tell someone about the great work you did.  If you have to ‘toot your own horn’, then see if you can find a way to weave that narrative into the day-to-day work.  Tools that automatically notify people when jobs are complete are great for this (Jira would be a good example) – after all, it wasn’t you that notified people.

The sad fact is that excellent work often goes unnoticed simply by virtue of it looking easy.

Finding ways to get credit for what you do is tricky but, whatever you do, please try to be subtle – no-one likes a braggart.  If you do it right then you’re hard work will be noticed and, who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself sitting down to your favorite, home-cooked meal.

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it

Is It Just About Sex?

Shortly after the number of children in our house exceeded the number of adults Joanne and I started going out on “date nights” – a few hours every couple of weeks to reconnect and remember why we married.  This has been a huge help in maintaining the health of our relationship – and a lot of fun too.

There’s no set format. Usually it’s just dinner and a couple of drinks – occasionally a movie if there is something we are both interest in.

Once settled in at the bar / theater we start looking for other couples, and that is when the fun starts. By watching their body language we try to figure out how long they have been together and how things are going.  Occasionally we see a couple that are obviously into each other but neither one is making the move.  One of these days I will walk over and say “For God’s sake kiss each other and get it over with!

It’s a lot of fun to observe as things either progress or head rapidly downhill, and this often acts as a great source of conversation about our own lives.

During a recent date I commented about one couple saying “It doesn’t look as though he will be getting any action tonight.”  Joanne looked at me and said “Is that all it is for men – is dating just about sex?

Like any sensible man confronted with a question that starts “It that all it is…” I immediately said “Nooo….”  – I’m no fool.  Answering that one incorrectly would have left me in the same boat as the person I was commenting on.

But then I thought about it and, honestly, there is much more to our dates than that.

I put it this way.

There are plenty of studies proving that money is not the #1 motivator for employees.  Despite that, giving someone a big raise or bonus is still the main way that companies reward employees for a job well done.

The money is handy but, in my opinion,  it is the fact that it provides recognition of a persons efforts that is truly meaningful.

The same thing exists in relationships.  If you put in some effort (wear some nice clothes, pick a good restaurant and keep the conversation flowing) then the date is fun, but sex is the bonus that acknowledges that you did a good job.  Not to mention – that’s a lot of fun too!

And it doesn’t have to be sex either.  Remember when you first started dating? A kiss on the stoop would leave you with a bounce in your stride, and an ear–to-ear grin that had people wondering what you had been up to.

So it’s really not just about sex.  It’s much more about showing appreciation for the other person.  And, when you think about it, isn’t that why we were out on a date anyway?

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Filed under Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

iPads in Church?

Yesterday was my Daughter’s first Communion.  A beautiful affair with plenty of kids running around dressed like little princes and princesses.

As one of the lucky families we had our own pew for the day and we settled down to watch as our youngest completed another rite of passage.

As the sermon began I was looking around the church taking in the scene when I noticed a woman in the pew in front of us, hunched over with a strange glow illuminating her face.  Was this the glow of enlightenment?  No…it was her iPad!

I thought I would give her the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps she had downloaded her Bible, or the pew books?  I sneaked a peek at the heading – The New York Times Hmmm…  I guess that is at least slightly better than Angry Birds.

She continued to read her iPad, and even engage in some shopping, only stopping when everyone stood up or when she went to take communion (which she actually did).   I didn’t want to be nosy but she wasn’t exactly being discrete with it.

I like to think of myself as open-minded, and I certainly don’t worry too much about the formalities of church, but I actually found this slightly offensive.

If you don’t care about the church then don’t attend.  If you have to because of family obligations (I believe this woman was the mother of one of the kids receiving for the first time) then would it kill you to sit there for an hour?  If my ADHD son can manage that then I think it should be achievable for most people.

I don’t know…am I being too prudish?

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition

A Fully Accredited Degree for $3,900?

OK…I admit, that sounds like the sort of thing that would be swept straight into your spam filter along with the emails about Viagra and penis enlargement.

In fact, that title and first line just about guarantees that none of the email subscribers are going to get this post…

But, in theory, obtaining a full four-year degree for under $4k should be possible. How?

CLEP is a program that allows you to take tests to show proficiency at a college level and can provide up to 12 credits per test.  The tests usually last about 90 minutes and the cost …under $100 per test!   Yes, for under $100 you could earn 12 credits. 

I used CLEP tests to cover a bunch of subjects when obtaining my degree, saving me months of sitting in classrooms listening to lectures on subjects I already knew.

Most of the tests I was able to pass without any study at all, but not all of them – I had to study for the test on American History.  So I started looking for a course that would fit in with my schedule and my budget.

Phoenix University wanted about $2,500 to spend a semester online.  Fortunately, I came across a faster and cheaper solution.  It turns out that Berkeley (and many other colleges) provide most of their lectures as downloadable audio for free.  I promptly downloaded 40 hours of lectures on American history and spent the next month listening to them during my daily commute.

At the end of that month I took a 90 minute test and walked out with 3 credits.  Total cost – $90!!!

Now I am not saying MP3s and videos can replace a classroom – there is a lot to be learned through interaction with teachers and other students.  And you certainly won’t get the ‘full college experience‘ via CLEP.  But how much is that worth?

Let’s compare our $3,900 degree with the cost of a school, such as New York University (NYU) Getting a four-year degree at NYU costs over $160,000 – in tuition fees alone.  Whoah!  That’s a big jump from $3,900.  I could buy a lot of ‘social interaction’ with the $150,000 difference!

And don’t let NYU give you a sob story about how much it costs to run a University either.  When I estimated how much NYU pulls in each year just (see the end of this post for the dull math stuff) I couldn’t use my iPhone because the numbers were too big.  By my estimate, NYU pulls in about $2.5 billion every year

While NYU is not a cheap college it is by no means the exception in its fees.  You can do things cheaper, of course.  Using community colleges to get the first two years out-of-the-way can save you a bundle (assuming that the college you want to officially graduate from will take your credits).  Even the cheapest four-year degree (in state, living at home and attending a community college) will cost you at least $25,000.

How do colleges and universities get away with this?  Well first off, none of the schools are going to let you take CLEP tests for more than a small percentage of their classes, so you have to attend their school if you want their piece of paper.  And let’s face it, most people don’t go to school for an education anymore – they go there to for a certificate.  Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself this question – if employers dropped the need for a degree certificate, how many people would still go to college?

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  Education is vitally important.  But we seem to have switched to a society that values certificates more than education and, in both academia and business, there are plenty of people willing to profit mightily from that.

Once upon a time schools were the places with the information you needed, and if you wanted to get an education then you had to go there.  Today it is completely possible to learn everything you need online, in your own time, and in a way that suits your learning style, timeframe and budget.  We are now in an age where education is freely available, but certificates are getting more expensive every year.

Which leads me to one of  my favorites quotes from the movie Good Will Hunting – “…in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped $150 grand on a f***in’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

And that, my friend, is the honest truth.


How much does NYU bring in each year?  

  • $40,082 – Undergrad tuition (figures from Collegeboard for 2010 – 2011 could be a bit higher)

Enrollment?

  • The current total enrollment at New York University is 22,097 undergrads and another 21,700 graduate enrollment.

So, 22,097 x 40,082 = $1,215,335,000 per year for just the undergrad tuition.

Add onto that:

  • Fees paid by the 21,700 grads (estimated at $883,276,800)
  • Fees for books and, of course, the non-refundable registration fees (a figure in the tens of millions).
  • Donations to NYU of $349,000,000 in fundraising during 2010.

So, each year, NYU brings in about $2.5 billion in fees and donations.

(note: NYU are not alone in this – I just picked them because they are local.  NYU does not accept CLEP at all currently)

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Filed under Career, Education, Technology