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Thursday, November 12, 2009


This story in the WSJ re executives who got laid off and are still living large, even turning down job offers, seems so far removed from reality. It's hard to imagine keeping on with $130 haircuts or the Starbucks habit when you no longer have income to support it. It doesn't seem very smart to me, but then I get my hair cut at Haircuts for Less and similar ilk and I find Starbucks disgusting so my coffee habit is usually limited to Taster's Choice with the occasional splurge on McDonald's McCafe.

What's crazy is a couple of people in this article have turned down job offers. In this kind of economy, who knows when the next offer is coming? It just seems enormously irresponsible for people who are otherwise pretty smart.

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2 comments | 6:56 PM |

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I'm on vacation this week as I'm between jobs. My last day at the previous job was last Friday and I start the new job this coming Monday. It seems a little surreal to have found a job so quickly -- about 3 months from application to start date -- in this economy when there are so many stories about people who have been looking for months, who have applied to so many different jobs, etc. It's actually demoralizing to read those stories and I stopped about 2 months into the job search. Each of those stories is a data point of just how bad the economy is, but there aren't any stories on people like me -- who found a job fairly quickly considering. So for those of you who are out there looking, there is hope.

Note - I'm aware that some parts of the country are better off than others and I happen to be very lucky and living in a part of the country that while it has a 9%+ unemployment rate, it's not as bad as other places and that could have played some into my job search.

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0 comments | 9:26 AM |

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The emperor has no clothes

I was reading a stat today that about 10 to 30 percent of resumes have lies in them, whether inflating or exaggerating accomplishments to lying about military experience or saying one has a degree from a school that one does not have one from*. I don't understand what's the point. The lie might get you in the door -- for instance, I could say I'm a petroleum engineer with 20 years of experience, but anyone's going to know 3 minutes into my first day on the job that that can't possibly be true.

That's what keeps me honest. I stress over things like getting the month of my graduations right (honestly cannot remember anymore if I graduated in April, May or June of a certain year). I recently took some bullet points off my resume from when I was at Very Big Insurance Company; I'm sure they were true, but it's been nearly a decade and I can't remember what projects those bullet points refer to now. If I can't talk intelligently about the things on my resume, off them come.

It's awfully tempting to put programs like SPSS or Minitab on my resume because I have used them at one point, but gosh darn if I remember how to use it. I know those are programs that are in demand in my field and I know it wouldn't take me long to learn them, but still -- something holds me back, namely conscience. I'd rather 'fess to having used them at some point, the memory has faded, but I'm confident I could re-learn in a short period of time.

It's a tough job market, but there are plenty of examples out there of people representing one thing to get the job but don't last any length of time because they're very quickly found out. Not worth it, in my opinion.

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0 comments | 8:50 PM |

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Worst. Idea. For. A. Show. Ever. Apparently, a new show from Fox revolves around firing people on-air. Seriously. Real life people in real life jobs and their co-workers decide who goes, who stays. I just can't even fathom how something like this would work. Not to mention, who on earth would want to participate? I can't possibly see the value of Impending Doom being broadcast across the nation. And I know there are people who'd want to watch this train wreck of a show, but don't we see enough as we watch our friends and family members lose their jobs? Ugh. Terrible idea. As much as I enjoy reality shows, I'll pass on this one.

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0 comments | 10:43 PM |

Friday, August 07, 2009


Here are some ideas on how to to expand the Cash for Clunkers program. I have a whole apartment full of stuff that I'd love the government to give me a rebate on so I can get something shiny and new. So how about it, Uncle Sam?

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0 comments | 6:20 PM |

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Impending Doom

Remember that book from the late 90s, "Who Moved My Cheese?" These days, it seems like lots of people are moving le fromage everywhere. "I didn't see it coming," one friend lamented to me a couple of days ago. Another friend said to me that she has survived two rounds of Impending Doom(tm) but now can't sleep or eat, she's so stressed because another round is sure to come.

I think waiting is the hard part. Anticipating kind of sucks too. I think the thing to recognize is that the cheese is going to move, whether you want it to or not. You need to always be thinking which way is which, and hopefully stay in front of the cheese.

Or something.

My point is, what's the plan? In situations of Impending Doom, it's rare that you as an individual have any control over what's happening or any influence whatsoever. So the only thing to do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And keep a stiff upper lip.

In my case, I made a plan which I hopefully will not have to implement. The plan, in broad strokes, goes something like this:

1) How will I handle myself? What questions do I need to ask?
2) What is my exit strategy?
3) What is next? How will I cope with extra time?

In the first case, I wrote out Things I Need to Know(tm). That way I don't miss anything important. This is the category for things like severance, insurance coverage, confidentiality agreements, non-compete clauses, etc. YMMV, but these are just some of the things to think about.

Second, how did you exit? I visualized what my vision of a dignified departure in the face of bad news would look like. I decided I wanted to be gracious and that I wanted to be sincere in my efforts. I wanted to feel like if I did indeed fall prey to Impending Doom (tm) that I had done everything I could to make myself and my company successful. I didn't ever want to look back and say, "I wish I had done that," or "If only I had done that." So I think about every day, "what can I do to be successful today? What can I do to make the company money today?" That way I don't have to be regretful about anything.

In the third case, I needed a plan for the extra time I might have on my hands. I can't possibly sit around and play word games on Facebook all day long. So I thought about what would I want to do? Do I want to write? Do I want to get back into web design? What about going back to school and acquiring additional skills? Honestly, all of those things sound like fun and I'm at a loss at focusing on just one of them.

Underlying all of this is the budgetary plan. This is the hardest part, and it's scary when you sit down and try to figure out how much your lifestyle costs on a monthly basis. Then you have to think that it could be 6 to 9 months before you find another job. I have friends who were out of work for a couple of years before finding something. YMMV. The point is, you take that Scary Monthly Lifestyle Cost and multiply it by 9. That's what you need to keep going.

Impending Doom, unfortunately, is broadening its reach. People who were safe through the first several rounds of layoffs aren't safe anymore. People talk about how to make yourself invaluable, etc., during this time -- how to keep the job you have. But at the end of the day, that decision isn't really yours, is it? I mean, to an extent you can make an effort, but roles and requirements change in a tight economy. So the idea is to have a plan of some kind so whatever happens, you can deal with it.

And honestly, it's better to plan now and not wait. There's a sense of security in knowing you know what's going to happen if the worst ever happens. Plus, if you've prepared and know how you want to deal with the situation, then you at least have the chance of being dignified and gracious. And remember -- the cheese is being moved because it's a business decision; it's not personal. The crummy part is, I think we understand the business decision part; it's the latter that's just so hard to accept and understand.

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0 comments | 7:48 PM |

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Interesting blog, especially in this employment environment - Ask a Manager. Some good advice/insight there.

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0 comments | 9:58 PM |


So many post ideas, so little time.

The news is claiming the recession is over and that we're officially in a new bull market that is going to last until mid spring 2010. That's "Kudlow and Company," by the way, who said that. You can catch them on MSNBC. I don't know what Kool-Aid they're drinking, but I got an email from a friend today asking to go to lunch next week to blow off steam; second round of layoffs at her company yesterday and now she's super stressed about her job. Not a lot of fat left, and the unemployment numbers are steady. A job cut here, a job cut there. Sure doesn't feel like the recession is over or that the bulls are running.

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0 comments | 9:49 PM |

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I'm having massive computer problems tonight, but I had to share a link with you that I found awfully provocative. I'm not sure whether I agree with the article or not but it made sense. I'm imagining anyone who suggests rationing health care must be getting a lot of hate mail. An unpopular argument, for sure, but I found it intelligently put.


Health care is a scarce resource, and all scarce resources are rationed in one way or another. In the United States, most health care is privately financed, and so most rationing is by price: you get what you, or your employer, can afford to insure you for. But our current system of employer-financed health insurance exists only because the federal government encouraged it by making the premiums tax deductible. That is, in effect, a more than $200 billion government subsidy for health care. In the public sector, primarily Medicare, Medicaid and hospital emergency rooms, health care is rationed by long waits, high patient copayment requirements, low payments to doctors that discourage some from serving public patients and limits on payments to hospitals.

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0 comments | 10:34 PM |

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Unemployment in Sweat Sock City has reached 8 percent according to this morning's news report. Big change from just a year ago when unemployment was really, really low and it was hard to find qualified candidates. How things change. The boom is over (for now). I'm optimistic that it will come around again.

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0 comments | 7:17 PM |

Friday, July 17, 2009

Free from fees

Okay, so the title is a little bit of a misnomer, because if there's a way, there's a fee. But I ran into a little trouble with my bank last month as I was traveling and you know how it is when you cross time zones and borders; it's like all intelligence seeps out of your brain, slowly eroding memory. So one thing led to another and the next think I knew, I was looking at an Overdraft charge of $20. The kicker is, the bank pulled money from my savings account to cover my checking account; so it's not like the bank was out any money but *I* was out $20.

Anyway, that happened last month. On a whim today, I called my bank and asked them to waive the ODP charges. And -- they did. They're crediting me back the $20, which is essentially 10 breakfast tacos at my favorite taco joint, or 5 Starbucks coffees for those of you who drink those. It was fairly easy. I didn't even have to explain what happened, even though I had a ready story. I just said that I was charged $20 before the privilege of using my own money and that it didn't make sense. The representative went on and on about how the ODP was cheaper than Insufficient Funds, and my point back is, "You had my money. You used my money to pay the bill. You just had to take it from one account and move it to another." I was nice about it, and I was rewarded for my efforts. It was a total of 10 minutes work and the return was awesome.

I guess the lesson learned here is to ask. In the past, I've gotten late fees from credit cards waived, I've gotten cell phone charges for texting knocked off, negotiated down my internet bill, etc. People don't like to do these things because a) it seems confrontational, b) it takes time, and c) it's this whole idea of David vs Goliath. I mean really, who *is* Seema in the face of the Borg entity that is my bank? But nearly every time I've asked nicely, as Jack Nicholson would say, I've gotten the charges waived. And most of the times, you don't have to argue -- the customer representative usually has a bit of discretion to do what you ask and if you're a good customer and generally pay on time, they'll do what they can to make you happy.

A few months ago, I was tardy on renewing my cell phone contract on a new offer they sent me for two free months for renewal plus $15 off one month's service. So I just called up and asked them yes, I know the offer expired a couple of days ago, but can I get it anyway? And they said yes, and then I asked for the $15 off as well. They said yes to that. Total savings for about 10 minutes worth of work again was about $87. Again, awesome return -- better than you'd get in the stock market for sure.

Anyways, I'm pumped; I think I'm going to have a breakfast taco for dinner to celebrate.

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0 comments | 5:01 PM |

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Job hunting

Everyone has advice on how to find a job in this economy. I've got advice too, but more along the lines of "this has worked for me in the past." Your mileage may vary. I should note that the current job hunt has attracted many job offers in the form of "work from home" and "start your own business working part-time." It's mildly discouraging, but necessary evil. I try to keep my spirits up by reminding myself that the last time the economy was bad -- 2003 -- it took me about 3 months from the day I graduated to the day I started my new job. And I'm lucky, comparatively, as I live in a part of the country that isn't hurting as badly. But still, it's not easy.

That being said, here's how I'm doing it:

1. I use job boards. I know people frown on them, but my last three jobs were found through journalismjobs.com, hotjobs.com, and careerbuilder.com, respectively. Prior to that, I applied for my job at Very Big Insurance Company through a newspaper ad. I also use monster.com (have gotten interviews in the past through monster.com, but no job) and jobfox.com as well. There's also a search engine, indeed.com, that can help round up the jobs available on a variety of other niche boards. LinkedIn.com also has job boards, but I've no experience on whether that site is any better than any other.

2. I write cover letters. Each cover letter is specific to the job I'm applying for. I tell the person where I found the job and why I think I'm a good fit, citing experiences that fit with the job description. It used to take a longer time to write these, but now I have a lot of general cover letters written and I just tweak each one accordingly.

3. Spell check!

4. I only use one resume. I know they say you're supposed to have different resumes for different jobs, but at this point, my experience and skills are aimed at such a niche area of the job market that I only use one. I may reconsider this one in about a month if I don't get anywhere.

5. I keep a spreadsheet of every job I apply to. I started this spreadsheet back in the summer of 2003 and it has basically every job I've ever applied to since then. It's kind of sad, really. But it keeps me sane, in a way, and makes me feel like I'm doing something since I really haven't gotten any responses except 3 (1 headhunter who forwarded my resume, and two outright rejections). The spreadsheet acts as a measure of activity. I keep track of when I applied for the job, the company, the location, where I found the job online, and what the results were. It also keeps me straight on whether I've applied somewhere or not before.

6. The old me used to apply for any job whether I was qualified for it or not. I figure quantity over quality. The end result was I'd have to apply for 50 jobs before I got one interview. Now, I only apply for jobs that I'm actually qualified for. If it asks for an engineering degree or Ruby on Rails, I don't apply, even if I can do everything else listed on the description. Applications take forever to fill out and I don't want to waste my time or the hiring company's time when it's obvious I don't meet key criteria.

7. I still follow my loose adage that it takes 50 applications to get one interview. That's another sanity check, because it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you're going to get an interview right away and keep checking email on hourly basis thinking someone is going to respond. I haven't reached the 50 application market yet, so I'm not discouraged yet.

It is hard slogging. But as my 2-year old niece once said, "But then it will be better."

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2 comments | 3:23 PM |

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The best of times

I've spent the last few months worrying a lot. It's like every little thing that happens seems to be 1000 times worse than it probably actually is. I don't know if it's the overload of the bad economic news that I translate and take personally. As a result, it's been difficult to make simple decisions like, should I buy a new computer?

This computer still works very well but is slow as heck and makes it difficult to really get much done; even with DSL, it's like being on dial-up again. But then I think about the $300 to $400 investment for a new PC and I shudder at the expense. Is it really the time to go out and buy something? What if we are indeed sliding towards the Great Depression and we reach 30 percent unemployment? A new PC won't help put food on the table. What if I needed that $300-$400 and it's wrapped up in a more technological advanced but depreciable item?

It's the dilemma. We need to spend to get this economy going but even those of us who are still employed (knock on wood) and should be spending are pulling way back. Two-edged sword. Don't know how to get out of this mindset and the media doesn't help with its constant barrage of reminders on just how bad things are. It makes harder to get to the point where you understand that it's the best time to buy certain items (car, house etc), but it's hard to part with that money. Having a monthly note for a new car or new house antes up the stress level if indeed you lose your job and then can't find another one for months.

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0 comments | 10:30 AM |

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


As the year draws to a close, it's always good to get a retrospective on things that made our jaws drop. I especially liked the article on "Dumbest Moments in Business 2008," especially the part when the auto CEOs returned to Washington DC in hybrids. What's that they say about first impressions again? Zzzzz....

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0 comments | 12:30 PM |

Sunday, December 28, 2008


By Saying Yes, WaMu Built Empire on Shaky Loans. To wit:
As a supervisor at a Washington Mutual mortgage processing center, John D. Parsons was accustomed to seeing baby sitters claiming salaries worthy of college presidents, and schoolteachers with incomes rivaling stockbrokers’. He rarely questioned them. A real estate frenzy was under way and WaMu, as his bank was known, was all about saying yes.

Yet even by WaMu’s relaxed standards, one mortgage four years ago raised eyebrows. The borrower was claiming a six-figure income and an unusual profession: mariachi singer.

Mr. Parsons could not verify the singer’s income, so he had him photographed in front of his home dressed in his mariachi outfit. The photo went into a WaMu file. Approved.

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0 comments | 1:59 PM |

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bank bust

It's only a loss if you pull your money out of the stock market and/or mutual funds. You lock in the loss that you're seeing on paper. At some point in the future, the stock market will eventually go up. Short-term money, okay, you may want to consider locking in the loss and putting it into a CD or FDIC-insured money-market, but if you're in it for the long haul like yours truly, make no sudden moves.* What goes down will eventually go up and vice-versa. It's the way of things.

Follow advice at your own risk; I'm not a financial planner

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0 comments | 6:56 PM |

Thursday, May 01, 2008


Some of the most expensive gasoline in the world is in Sierra Leone. Cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 plus a gallon. My mind boggles at the very idea that it could cost $180 to fill my Corolla or a total of $720/month.

I looked up Sierra Leone in the CIA Factbook because all I know about the country is the blood diamond thing and civil war thing and that I believe it's in western Africa. Literacy rate is 35.1 percent (US = 99 percent). The country's a constitutional democracy, which surprised me because I was sure it was a dictatorship of some kind as 70 percent of its population lives below the poverty line (12 percent in the US). Sierra Leone's GDP is $4.83 billion (US = $13.86 trillion) but it has a higher growth rate than the US -- 6.8 percent versus 2.2 percent -- but then Sierra Leone has to deal with an inflation rate of 12 percent versus 2.7 percent in the US.

In 2007, Sierra Leone's GDP per capita was approximately $800 -- or about the amount it would cost to fuel a Corolla for one month. Comparatively, the US GDP per capita is $46,000, which is very close to the average income for an American family. In Sierra Leone, the average income is $200. You put all that together and look at $18 plus a gallon and then you think about what it might cost to feed a family on $200/year and just... wow.

We've got it good.

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0 comments | 10:26 PM |

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The gasoline tax holiday

I've seen mention of a gasoline tax holiday here and there, and seriously, it's one of the lamest political moves ever. Today, taxes over all make up 13 percent of a gallon of gasoline; crude itself is 72 percent. Back in January of 2000, taxes (federal, local and state) made up 32.1 percent of the price of a gallon of gasoline and crude was 47.1 percent. The world price for crude back in January of 2000 was between $23 and $25. In April of 2008, the price has ranged between $103.46 to $118.53/barrel (ignore the hijinks during the day -- it's the closing price that matters). In January of 2000, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.50.

If you look at January of 2000, we paid approximately 48 cents per gallon in taxes. Average price in April of 2008 is $3.50, and we pay approximately 45.5 cents per gallon in overall taxes. Federal taxes -- which is what the gasoline tax holiday is all about -- are 18.4 cents* per gallon so the rest of the 45.5 cents goes to local and state taxes. You slice out the 18.4 cents and you drop the price of gasoline to around $3.32 for about 3 minutes, because the fundamental problem still remains -- the price of crude is what's going up, not the taxes which are a fixed cost (not to mention it would be politically unpopular to raise taxes on gasoline, even though personally, I think it might be a smart idea).

The proposed federal gas tax holiday would go from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which is approximately four months. Indulge me and pretend for a moment that the price of crude doesn't go up during the driving season. So someone like me with a fuel-efficient vehicle and a 10-gallon tank who fills up four times a month would save somewhere around $30 for the duration of the gas tax holiday. I can save that much by just eliminating two dinners out a month or heck, just waking up early enough so I don't take the toll road to work. And note from the exercise above -- it's the price of crude that's causing the pain, not the taxes. And crude's going to keep on going up and up unless we change our behavior, and that's not going to happen at all.

The taxes go to a highway fund that helps with road construction. When you have no funds, you have no road construction. When you have no road construction, you lose jobs. We don't want to lose jobs so we have to make up that shortfall *somewhere* and guess where the money comes from? Ding ding ding if you guessed China or some other foreign entity. The US is so deep in debt right now that China et al essentially owns our collective butt and that doesn't help with the value of the dollar.

So, in a nutshell, the gas tax holiday is stupid because:

1. In the grand scheme of things, most drivers won't be saving that much money to make a significant difference in their economic situation

2. Reducing the price of gasoline through government intervention will not change behaviors; instead, a reduction will influence people to drive *more*, thus driving up the price once again, essentially negating whatever savings might have been gained through the gas tax holiday

3. The US has to borrow money to finance this hare-brain scheme, which means we, as a nation, we're even deeper in debt and while I'm no economist, I'm pretty sure that doesn't help with the weak US dollar

I want to point out that crude is priced in dollars and for every 10 percent decrease in the value of the dollar, crude rises $4. I haven't figured out the exact way our debt figures into the devaluation of the dollar -- I only know how it impacts my daily life. What we need is a stronger dollar, less consumption on our parts, and then maybe we'll see a meaningful impact in the price of fuel. But the gas tax holiday, now that's just stupid pandering by politicians -- including *my* candidate -- who really want to be president.

Taxes on diesel are approximately 24.4 cents, so if you're driving a diesel vehicle you'll save around $40 for the gas tax holiday

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0 comments | 8:41 PM |

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Gas prices

The US government has one of the best websites out there on energy issues and prices. Check out this link to learn what the price of a gallon of gas is composed of. It's pretty easy to read and understand. The bottom line is, if we see $70/barrel any time soon, I'll be surprised. It wasn't too long ago that I thought $50/barrel as the ceiling was crazy. Now I'm anticipating $110/barrel in the not-so-distance future. My concern is demand destruction if we see $105-$115 range for more than 6 months and the effect on the world economy. My suggestion? When you get your tax rebate, bank it or pay down debt. Don't spend it on things you don't need. The two things might not seem related to you, but the higher those prices go, the more likely it is our economy is going to slow down even more than it already has.

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0 comments | 10:45 AM |

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