Can I Speak with You for a few Minutes?

nightmare-recruiterI won’t call it a mistake, but it wasn’t exactly what I intended. I updated my resume on Dice the other day in an effort to uncover midwest firms looking for information security help. To some extent, that effort has been successful. However, I also seemed to “poke the beehive” in the online-job market.

Within hours my phone’s been ringing with recruiters wanting “just a few minutes of my time.” Now before you accuse me of a humble-brag, hear me out.

1. None of these callers have bothered to look at my resume, work history, or even managed to figure out that I run a consulting company (a real one).

2. The majority seem to be Indian or at least sound like they are Indian and primarily use VoIP phone systems. In short, I can barely hear some of these callers and even when I can hear them, there are language barriers. Most do follow up by email, but the messages are clearly hacked together (cut/paste) and unprofessional.

3. Those that are not Indian, are attractive women. These usually attempt to connect on LinkedIn first. I understand social engineering when I see it and knowing the I/T field is primarily geeky men means this probably works.

So, it is with some self-admitted bias I’ll claim there is something very wrong in this business. The linked article at Dice.com provides a hint. Their embedded link to Nick Corcodilos does a better job (“Why do recruiters suck so bad?”).

My guess is simple, there are too many people chasing commissions and they’ve essentially broken the recruiting business for real employers.

It’s the only explanation I have for the influx of unqualified buck-chasers. It reminds me of pharmaceutical sales or mortgage lending a few years back. It seemed like everywhere I turned, a friend or connection was suddenly in that business (having no prior background). The difference here is that I/T recruiting offers something for both the attractive and social as well as the back-office database miner. You can do this job from half way around the world.

Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t mind people making a living, but I am particularly sensitive to any that don’t add economic value or that rely on deception.

As of right now, this system reeks of anti-competitive practices, including but not limited to recruiters padding candidate resumes and bringing in over/under qualified candidates just to appear like there’s a choice.

From that I can see, they essentially make money in two ways:

1. If they “place” you somewhere, they get an immediate or delayed payout of 20-25% of your annual salary. This seems to be the big draw as this can mean a five-figure payday. If they are a cog in a recruiting machine, I’m sure they get less, but if they are independent it only takes a few good candidates a year to cover the rent.

2. Many act as a ‘shell company’ that will hire you directly and then sell your time to another business with anywhere from 30-50% mark-up. Not the big payday up front, but they take a huge margin on your time for what is essentially general business admin work (that many just outsource).

My experience over the last two weeks:

1. They claim to be in the “consulting business” but are clearly lying. They are in the labor sourcing business.

2. Most know little about technology other than the minimum necessary to identify candidates and talk to clients.

3. They know most people are looking for a full time job with some stability. That’s why they describe every opportunity as ‘contact to hire.’ They want you to believe it may convert to full time.

4. Since their service doesn’t actually add any significant or differentiated value, they operate with a higher than normal level of secrecy, rely on asymmetric information, and a employ subtle forms of intimidation and bullying. Watch out for fine print with unenforceable non-competes and intellectual property ownership claims. Even those that claim to do this well seem to be the “best of the worst” although they’d not say it that way.

5. Unless the need is so specific and the candidate pool is so small, they really don’t care if you get the job or not as long as “they place the final candidate.” It’s like the realtor that doesn’t really care if you get that extra $10 for your house. It just doesn’t change their commission as long as they get the sale.

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Professional Grade Access with Gmail

I’ve become quite a fan of Gmail this year and here’s why. With relatively little effort and with reasonably inexpensive equipment, anyone can have access to their email from just about anywhere, get world class spam filtering, and enjoy better search capabilities than most corporate email systems.

I’m still tethered to a work email system (Lotus Notes of all things), but for the rest of my life I find Gmail an amazing addition to the kit. Polling multiple POP3 accounts, filtering mountains of e-mail into manageable piles, and giving me access to my messages anywhere I go means I get out of my office more and more.

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Where’s my Personal Air Vehicle?

Flying car implies it will replace anybodys car, said Carl Dietrich, chief executive officer of Terrafugia, which is developing the Transition, a personal aircraft designed to travel on skyways and highways. Flying car brings out a lot of connotations and The Jetsons.

A quick look at what it takes to control normal automobile traffic in our cities and states gives it away. We won’t be getting flying cars anytime soon, but I still just enjoy the fact that Paul Moller does what he does. I was a bit surprised to hear he’s 70 years old and I assume that means at some time in the next few decades we’ll lose updates on this story.

Fortunately for all of us, the X-prize and Google’s recent move to back the endeavor promise to bring us loads of fun for years.

  • Google offers $30 million for the first commercial lunar rover
  • Rover must safely land on the moon and beam back images and video to Earth
  • Google partnered with the X Prize Foundation for the moon challenge
  • Ansari X Prize contest led to the first manned private spaceflight in 2004
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Smart Technology

Since this blog is presumably about a digital lifestyle, it’s probably worth a few paragraphs to describe what I’ll call my ‘flight kit.’ I’m not a true road warrior, just an average Joe that flies for business and pleasure a few times a year. I drafted this post on my Windows Mobile phone on a flight back from Los Angeles last week, transferred it to my laptop and fleshed it out a bit. Today I found a nice article at CareerJournal.com talking about the adoption of this type of technology.

  • Notebook Computer – I’m currently running a middle of the road Thinkpad that serves as a good general computing platform and also does a nice job with DVDs.
  • Microsoft Wireless USB mouse – While I’m comfortable with the Trackpoint on the Thinkpad, for any prolonged work, I need a free standing mouse. I like the wireless kind if for no other reason than it eliminates another cable from my bag.
  • Kensington Universal Car/Air Power Adapter – I don’t often have the need to use this in an auto, but you’ll be kicking yourself if your batteries low and you’re making final changes to a presentation while your colleague drives to the customer presentation. On some international flights, this also gives me half a chance at productivity on those long flights. Without it, I’d have to carry more batteries or just stare at the in-flight movie.
  • 512MB flash drive – I know, it’s kind of small for these days, but it handles most business related file swaps.
  • Laptop security cable like this one here!! – I can’t say enough about this item and I recommend anyone that travels with a laptop get one. They aren’t fool-proof as a determined thief can break your case and make off with your laptop, but it will stop a less determined ‘thief of opportunity’ from walking off with your notebook out of your hotel room when the maid’s not looking. For $10-15, it’s cheap insurance and makes me feel better.
  • Ethernet cable – This is becoming less necessary these days depending on where you travel, but I still run into customer/vendor conference rooms with no wireless access or just a few Ethernet ports. I sometimes throw a 6 or 8 port hub in my bag as well if I know the facility and expect multiple laptop users to be working at the same time.
  • Aiwa HP-CN6 Noise canceling headphones (for laptop and mp3 player) – I picked these up a few years ago before a trip to London and never regretted the purchase. While other manufacturers make sets that sell for 3-4 times as much, this Aiwa set went for $30 at the local big box retailer and while canceling cabin noise (and gate noise while waiting to board), they also allow you listen to mp3, laptops, in-flight music without having to blast the volume.
  • Zen Nano Plus MP3 player w/ Sony sports headset (yes that’s #2)
  • 1-2 AA and 1-2 AAA rechargeable batteries
  • Sprint PPC6700 – Windows Mobile 5.0 phone with capability of serving as wireless modem (car charger and room charger)
  • Motorola Bluetooth headset (#3 for the headset counters / wired headset for phone (yes! #4)
  • Various power, charging, and USB cables for connecting items – most bound together with little velco ties I buy HERE (link) – recently discovered my cell phone will recharge using the USB port on my laptop – great!!!!!

The rest of my kit isn’t particularly digital or unexpected (magazines, paper, pens, snacks), but the list above allows me to work just about anywhere I can get power and wireless access.

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How Bill Gates Works

I recently read an article describing ten leaders of business and non-profit organizations and how they use technology (look for link on same page as this article). I was amazed at the number of leaders still not using even email or relying purely on a team of admins (read as “very smart human based filtering systems”) to organize their time and information. A few were using technology on a daily basis, but like many of us they understood the 20% of a tools functionality that allowed them to accomplish 80% of what they wanted to get done. I recall one company executive that never quite figured out how to initiate an email from her Blackberry, but could respond to ones that came in.

CNNMoney recently published a good article on Bill Gates and how he deals with these issues.

Things Bill does:

  • Minimizes paper
  • Uses a multi-monitor rig on the desktop to spread work out (see photo)
  • Uses filtering and only receives email from parties he already knows or communicates with (has administrative support to filter others)
  • Mostly ignores “the toaster”, i.e. the Outlook notification that messages have just arrived
  • Uses desktop search to find data on his local machines
  • Uses project focused collaboration sites/tools like SharePoint
  • Synchronizes mobile devices with his office PC

Staying focused is one issue; that’s the problem of information overload. The other problem is information underload. Being flooded with information doesn’t mean we have the right information or that we’re in touch with the right people.

While I do have a multi-display approach, I haven’t managed to get the adminstrative staff to filter my requests. Regardless, it’s great to see how a modern executive of a technology company manages the same issues we all face.

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Portable DVD from Polaroid

I’m just a little bit amazed when a company with a very recognizable brand does something I don’t expect. Polaroid did that today. I recall the b-school cases on Polaroid and the auto-developing film technologies. Honestly, they were locked in my memory as ‘that’ company. However, I’ve been in the market for a portable DVD for some time now and my wife found what seemed to be a decent deal at Sam’s Club, the Polaroid PDM-0743 for $120 USD. I know Sam’s isn’t where you go to get the ‘best’ technology, but they do find deals and put them in front of cost conscious consumers.

So after roaming the primary players like CC and BB, I found myself at Sams looking at these little gems. For the money, you get a portable DVD player, case, and all the power adapters you’ll need to run at home and in a car. I’m planning a long driving vacation so I picked up a couple for the kids.

With a 7″ screen it’s not the largest viewing area available, but when I think of what it costs to put DVD permanently into a vehicle, this is a cheap way out. More experimenting to come, but so far it seems to handle commercial DVDs, home video put on DVD, JPG photo collections, as well as MPEG files just dumped onto a DVD from my PC (read anything I capture on my ATI All-In-Wonder card). I think having MP3 support would be nice, but I have a few spare Zen Nano’s around for that if the kids really need to listen to Kidz Bop #523.

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HP Pavilion is HOT!!

Wow, the HP Pavilion laptop I bought my wife is HOT! NO really I mean it. It’s a great laptop from all public perspectives, but it runs like lava is pumping across the motherboard. I’ve long noticed the fan noise but thought little of it. The public response from HP was that it was a “desktop replacement” machine and they have fans too, right?

I shared one of the Google Video links and she watched it on her PC (zd7260us). It ran fine but when she walked away and let the site feed videos at the laptop it got hotter and hotter (not in the way you might be thinking). Eventually the laptop shut itself down. Attempting to restart it resulted in a shutdown part of the way into the Windows boot cycle. It did boot after about 5 minutes of cool down. I spent 15 minutes in an online chat with technical support and found I should upgrade the BIOS to “cool things down.” That seemed plausible, perhaps the BIOS upgrade would improve “fan/cooling” management. So I hit the special (secret) ftp site, downloaded the updated BIOS and applied it. After rebooting I found no effect.

I put a digital cooking thermometer in the direct path of air expelled by the fan and found that if this laptop sits on a flat surface doing anything graphics intensive (watching MPEGs!?!?!), the temperature RACES up to and passed 135 F.

However, if I prop the laptop up on a stack of 3M notes and allow airflow, it stays at an even 105 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s something wrong with a computer that can’t run Windows Media Player without a stack of sticky notes, but I think that’s a conversation to be had with the Geek Squad at the local Best Buy.

Wow, that laptop is hot.

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Ok, B-Week says “Here’s your flying car”

In my excitement over streaming video to my mobile phone from my home PC, I recently asked Where’s my flying car? While I’d like to think someone was listening, chalk one up for coincidence as Business Week recently published survey of flying car developments. There’s nothing terribly practical or available soon, but I guess I got my answer.

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Star Trek Consoles and the Multi-Touch Display

This is an amazing piece of work and reminds me of the mult-function terminals in Star Trek NG and a bit like the Minority Report user interface (except no gloves). Information week describes the device.

At the O’Reilly Emerging Technology (ETech) conference in San Diego Tuesday, Jeff Han, a consulting research scientist at New York University’s Department of Computer Science, demonstrated a multi-touch system that he insists “will change the way people interact with computers.”

(update 2015 – replace video)

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Inevitable Hello World

PPC Hello WorldIt’s required. Really, I had to do it.

With a few minutes of idle time, a PPC-6700, and a copy of Visual Studio .NET, here’s what you get.

Anyone that has taken even a passing interest in programming will recognize it for what it is and what it isn’t (useful, interesting, exciting).

But as I said, it’s required and at least it was a quick way to get used to the build and install process for PocketPC applications. I’d like to think it’s the start of a grand development project, but grand development projects take ideas and a little more familiarity with the platform. I have a few ideas, but will need to take a few weeks to learn what I can and can’t do with a PocketPC and VS.

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