Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 02: Issue 16



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! After yet another snow storm in the greater Philadelphia region, I can tell you that I am very tired of the white stuff and all the headache that comes with it. After believing the hype, the latest "blizzard" was all bust... but still caused me to stay indoors for two days. There is only so much TV a man can watch. That being said, I was somewhat productive, so let's open the fridge and see what's leftover.

[The Back Window]


CREDIT: Popgun Comics









CREDIT: 1986 - Myspace

[Interview Tips]

I went back and forth on whether I should include this article as part of Sunday Leftovers or let it stand alone. I decided to keep it separate but publish at the same time.

Career Blog: Interview Tips
(I broke it out so people running a search can find it easier)

[Recipe of the Week: Homemade Granola Bars]

This recipe comes from the good people at: Wit & Whistle. Click the link to see awesome pictures. I made a few tweaks (very minor) to mine for health benefits (and I hate chocolate chips in granola bars)

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup of ground flax seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a large bowl mix oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, flour, flax seed, nuts, cranberries and salt. Make an indention in the center of the mixture, and pour in the honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mix well. (Using your hands makes it easier to get everything coated.)

Press the mixture into the pan. Wit and Whistle suggests not going all the way to the ends of the pans because it is easier to get out the bars when done baking. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Cool for 5 minutes, cut the bars while they are still warm, and store the granola bars in an airtight container so they won’t dry out

NOTE: Check out the comments on Wit & Whistle - some of the readers had some very cool alternative ingredients

[DIY of the Week: Post Cards from old book covers]

While I hate the idea of trashing a book, if you happen to have a damaged book and don't know what do (other than throw it out). Give this DIY a try...

What You Need

Paperback book covers
Utility blade (optional)
Corner cutter (optional)

Full article and directions: Re-Nest.com

[Video of the Week]
This week's video we are investigating an odd phenomenon... dogs freaking out to the theme of Law and Order



People with dogs... does this really happen? Let me know!

UPDATE! Rachel Maddow's show has investigated the issue (BONUS VIDEO!)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



[Conclusion]

Thanks for reading! Check back during the week for a review of The 88's upcoming concert in Philadelphia. If you need to reach me, you can do so via email at: "blog at joeylombardi.com". As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

Career Blog: Interview Tips

Last week one of my close friends was asked to interview for a new position at his current employer. Since he knew that I am often asked by my company to run interviews, he wanted to bounce ideas past me. This request turned into a full on mock interview. My friend told me that my advice helped and I wanted to document (some of) it for my readers.

[Behavioral Questions]

I am often asked to run the behavioral interviews; while I follow the rules of the interview process (scoring, feedback, etc), I always rely on my intuition and instinct when recommending a candidate. For me to make a decision, I need to get to know them as well as I can in the 30-60 minutes I am allotted (not just how well they answer canned questions). I level set with the candidates and tell them general things I am NOT looking to hear. I am often asked to interview college hires and they typically use the group project example for overcoming conflict ("someone in our group didn't do the work and I had to tell my professor/confront the person"). I politely let them know that almost every candidate will use it and they won't stand out; I then hint at other areas they might use (since they don't have much experience).

I notice that most people have issues with conflict questions: that is completely understandable due to the corporate world's focus on teamwork. Most people will avoid conflict at work at all costs, so these questions are difficult to answer. My suggestion is to make up a villain in your head. Don't pull this person out of thin air, combine a few difficult co-workers and maybe add a dash of an estranged relative or friend to give you something to work with. Think about how you dealt with several uncomfortable situations and turn them into one person. Think about this for a few days before the interview.

The point of any behavioral interview is to understand your thought process. Many of the questions DON'T have a happy ending, the questions just want to see how you can handle a no-win situation. There is no shame is calling out that you can't satisfy the question as long as you articulate why. Always mention the added impact of attempting futile endeavors (other efforts suffer, stress on resources, etc) - it shows you know when to cut your losses.

General Thoughts:

  • I have always said that first interviews and first dates are very similar. If you are terrible at one, I am guessing you will be bad at the other

  • Remember, both sides have something to gain from fulling/taking this job. As the person being interviewed, don't think that the company has all the cards. I'll admit that this mentality is easier if you looking to switch jobs, not unemployed.

  • Like any long term relationship, you want to know what you are getting into. Google/internet search the company you are interviewing at and also pull a few different job descriptions (from other companies) for the job you are looking to fill. Have a complete idea of what will be asked of you.

  • Don't be too guarded on an interview, open up and let the interviewer get to know you. On the other side, don't get TOO personal (don't talk about how you have 15 cats unless you are running a non-profit shelter).



[Job-Specific Questions]

This section is obviously harder to give advice for since specific details are needed. One of the key things I can't stress enough for both your resume and interview is to focus on delivery. Have statistics on processes fixed (example: "I reduced customer complains by 35% by doing the following..."), money saved, people mentored... anything that shows you have been keeping track of your own personal job performance (if you are not doing that now - DO IT). When preparing for the interview, think about all the problems you have dealt with or continually face at your current or most recent job - how do you deal with them? Mistakes and problems are how people learn, use that education as the backbone for your discussion - the people you are interviewing with probably have the same problems (any maybe you got to the solution sooner).

For skill gaps, have talking points that discuss how fast you came to speed on stretch assignment at your other jobs. This is not a sure-fire technique because some things are hard requirements, but it's better than nothing.

[Conclusion]

Keep the first date idea in your head: nobody wants to date someone who is angry about an old flame (or job), egotistical, incompetent, too shy/introverted, or just plan old weird. If you think you are lacking in a certain area, PRACTICE! Get in front of the mirror to work on your delivery and eye contract. Find behavioral questions on the internet and practice answering them (I like to type it all out and keep a database of answers). I love the interview process; if I am the one being asked the questions... being able to prove I am the best person for the job and finding that "Ah-ha" moment in the interviewer's eyes when they agree is awesome. On the other side, finding a great candidate and helping someone move on with their career is extremely gratifying.

I know it's hard out there and you might not be doing something you enjoy, but keep working at it by making the steps you need to be where you want. Good luck getting the job you want.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Frustrating Online Shopping Experiences

Late last week Dell had a really good deal on Garmin Nuvi 205 GPS systems. I quickly ordered two (one for my wife and one for a birthday gift for a family member).

By Saturday, I found it odd that I didn't get a shipping confirmation, but I didn't receive any emails about cancellations either. Today I decided to check the status of the order and it was canceled because they over sold. I received NO NOTICE until about 20 minutes ago (and after I made a call).

To add to my foul mood, my wife and I have been debating about getting a TV for our bedroom for the last 6 months, after seeing the prices come down, I bit the bullet and ordered a nice 32 inch Samsung from Sears last night. They only had a local pick-up available (at a store 8 miles from my house - so I was fine with picking it up). I called today to ask if the order was ready and "WE DON'T HAVE ANY IN STOCK".

I called the main Sears office to make sure my order was canceled (and it was) and I asked if there was any way they could ship it to me from another store... No. While on the phone with the sales rep, I checked the online store again and it was showing as available. I go to order it - out of stock.

Does either Dell or Sears try to get my business by offering a slight discount on another product? Perhaps a coupon? Free shipping on another TV? Nope! I found the TV on Amazon, it was 10 dollars more, but I know I won't have any problems. Fantastic customer service Dell and Sears - I am sure you will stay in business for years to come.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Concert Review: John Mayer @ The Wachovia Center, Philadelphia Pa

Headline Act: John Mayer
Location: Wachovia Center
City: Philadelphia, Pa
Date: February 21st, 2010
Opening Act: Michael Franti and Spearhead

[Pre-Concert Logistics]

Having been to concerts at the Wachovia Center before, the only issue I had was when I purchased the tickets, my only delivery option was will-call which meant we had to stand in line to get them (I bought the tickets months ago). The long line moved fast so it wasn't a big deal. We were lucky to get good seats (third row) and getting down to the floor to our seats also was not as easy as it should have been, but again, not a big deal. One last thing: I have to throw in my gripe about people standing in the front rows so you have no option but to stand if you want to see. Now that it was said, I will move on.

[Opening Act]

I have never heard of Michael Franti and Spearhead before tonight. The band had several backup singers and a high energy vibe. They reminded me of a summer bar band: bright summery tones, an eclectic mixture of musicians who just seemed to enjoy playing. Franti ran out into the crowd several times and brought up little kids on stage to dance. Nice friendly people, good tone. In between sets, the band came to the front of the stage to sign autographs, which was pretty classy.

As for the music itself, as I said - summery pop music with island influence. They weren't the greatest band I ever saw in my life, but they were very good. I appreciated that the booking agents didn't hire some Mayer singer-songwriter wannabe to bore the crowd. I would like to see this band outside and near water - I can see the summer concert series at the Pier in their future.



[John Mayer]

John Mayer came on at 9:30 PM. He kicked the show off with a song from the newest album - "Heartbreak Warfare" All of the tunes from "Warfare" sounded better live (with the exception of the "Crossroads" cover which should just be buried). By the third or fourth song, Mayer started to banter with the crowd and read a sign near us that said "I can play Belief". The sign was held up by a boy no older than 11 (his name was Austin). Mayer brought him right up and to the delight of the crowd, Austin totally nailed it. After a few minutes, he allowed the kid to leave but gave him a cherry red Fender guitar to take home. I always thought John was a decent guy and that was a very cool thing for him to do.

The night continued with Mayer showcasing his extraordinary guitar skills and light banter with the crowd. Every song and every jam was excellent. At one point he teased playing "Stop this Train" but the crowd pushed for "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" (which was great) - I was bummed that he didn't play the other song because it is one of my favorites, but the crowd must be appeased.

I can't say enough good things about the show. Mayer is a professional and gives the audience a fantastic show. We left at 11:20 PM and he was still going. I don't know what time he finished but I was pleased and satisfied with the two hours I watched. Take my advice: Stop reading the tabloids and just listen to the guy's music, go out and buy his live DVD to see what kind of musician he really is. You won't be disappointed (unless you want to be).

UPDATE: I also want to make note of one of Mayer's other guitar players Robbie McIntosh. McIntosh played with a slew of bands including the Pretenders and Paul McCartney. He is an excellent guitar player that (of course) gets overshadowed by Mayer. If you happen to catch future shows, watch this guy play, he is fraking fantastic. Mayer also scores massive points for bringing Steve Jordan from the Trio project on the road as his primary drummer. That guy is AWESOME!



Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 02: Issue 15



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! During the week we discussed how to avoid computer viruses and I worked alot, but that doesn't mean I don't have anything to talk about, so let's open the fridge and see what's leftover.

[The Back Window]


CREDIT: Korem Shadmi









CREDIT: Robb London and the Rouges - Gloria

[Church: Praise Bands]

I went to church today - I didn't like it. I can easily come up with another religious rant, but I'd rather focus on something else. Today, I am going to talk about praise bands. For those who are not in the know, most non-catholic christian churches want to pretend that they are hip and "down with the teenagers" so they get a group of musicians together and let them play crappy christian rock. I was asked to attend a Baptism today for close friends and was welcomed into the the church with the praise band rocking out in their full glory.

Drums? Check. Guitar? Check. Bass Guitar? Check.

As I found a seat and watched these gentlemen play, I wondered "who are they". Not clean shaven like the rest of the church goers, these men had beards and goatees, balding with long hair (or shaved biker style), and looked like they were out drinking the night before. What the hell are they doing singing terrible songs about Jesus? Men pick up the guitar to meet girls and overcome shyness. Playing rock music at church seems incredibly counter-productive and oh-so-very-wrong.

I finally came to the conclusion that the men must have had massive drug problems, cleaned up, found Jesus, and now rock out for the lord....

After 20 minutes of praise band, announcements, and more praise band I found myself missing the quiet, strict, and delightfully formulaic Catholic mass that I have grown to loathe. Now I know what happened to all the hardcore hippies - they grew up, sold out, and joined fucking praise bands. Go back to the drugs!

[Recipe of the Week: Onion Tart]

I am pulling this recipe from memory based on an old episode of Naked Chef. It might not be perfectly recreated, which I am okay with.
This recipe will serve four.

INGREDIENTS
4 large Spanish onions
4 large pieces of smoked bacon (nice large strips - decent thickness)
1 lb of grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup of cream
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut the very top and bottom of the onion so it sits upright (make the top and bottom flat). Then start scooping out the middle, but not to the bottom. You want to make a cup shape. Take all the scooped up onion and reserve it. Do this for all 4 onions (or however many you are making)
2. Take the leftover pieces of onion, dice it, and saute it in a small soup pot (use butter if you really want to be delicious). Once translucent, add the cream slowly - you don't want a very juicy mixture, you want it to be thick (you can even add some flour if you want). When the cream is bubbling, add most of the grated cheese (keep a little bit in reserve) and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Wrap the onion cups with the bacon and secure with a toothpick. Full the cup with the onion-cream sauce.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Add some more cheese on the top and set in the oven.
5. Cook for 10-12 minutes

Enjoy (don't have a heart attack!)

[DIY of the Week: Automated Media Center]

I am bringing the geek back this week. For those of you who don't know what a media center is, skip this (or google it). For those that do, this is an awesome how-to.

Set up a fully automated Media Center

[Sunday Stocks]

China Petroleum continues to go down while AIG increases (but for how long). This week I am in the green but I am thinking of giving up on the Chinese stock as historically it spikes but always hovers around the same price.

Joey's Stocks

[Video of the Week]

I can't tell you how badly I want to re-create this video. It's going to happen.



[Conclusion]


Tune in later today or tomorrow for review of John Mayer (who is playing Philadelphia tonight). Later in the week I am going to post some helpful interview tips based on some coaching I did this week. If you need to reach me, you can do so via email at: "blog at joeylombardi.com". As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

Friday, February 19, 2010

Computer Joey 101: Protecting Your Computer and Fixing Viruses



About the author: Joey Lombardi owned and operated a computer repair store named "Computer Joey" for several years. He has an "Information Technology" degree from Drexel University and several Microsoft MCSE certifications. Basically... he knows his shit.

I probably fix 5-10 computers a month for friends and family since I closed my computer shop. I don't mind doing it because it forces me to keep up with the latest tools (for whatever reason, I am interested in it). With that said, I decided to put this information post together so I can point people to this and get them going before I really need to get involved. If you have a Mac or running Linux, you are too cool for school and probably don't have many issues, but some of these tricks might still apply.

[PREVENTION]

The best way to avoid a problem on your computer is to never put it in a harmful situation. There are several free tools available to protect you before you even have a problem.

1. OpenDNS (Works for all computers)

DNS stands for Domain Name Server/Service and if you are on the internet, you are using it. DNS masks a web site IP address which is a series of numbers (example: 239.138.2.1) with a website name that everyone is comfortable with (like JoeyLombardi.com). Your internet provider probably has a DNS service and it's probably just okay. There are a few organizations like OpenDNS and GoogleDNS that offers free enhanced DNS services.

OpenDNS and GoogleDNS provide faster name resolution and a few neat tricks like custom short cuts to web sites, but it also blocks websites that are known to contain viruses and other malware. If you have children at home, you can also set the service to block pornography at the router level, so the kids cannot bypass any of your crappy controls on the PC. Currently I am favoring OpenDNS over Google because it allows more customized services and is easier to use.

To use OpenDNS, go to the website and sign up for an account. Once you sign up, follow the set up directions for your router or home PC and you can even test your settings to see if they are correct.

Doing this also fixed an odd issue I was having with Facebook where I was getting re-directed to other sites like MySpace.

2. Spybot Search and Destroy

5 years ago, this program was the only excellent free tool that mattered. While others have improved the scanning feature, Search and Destroy does one thing the others do not: it protects the windows host file proactively which prevents shady re-directs. This is normally one of the first things I install when I get a new computer or a fresh rebuild of an existing PC.

Download and install the program. Perform the updates like it asks and then perform an immunization. Make sure do this every month or so for the latest protection.

3. Microsoft Security Essentials

If you are running McAfee on your computer, uninstall it right now. It is a total piece of shit. If you have Norton on your PC, make sure it didn't expire 2 years ago (Norton works well, but overall I don't like it because it is a total memory pig). There are some great free anti-virus programs (I used AntiVir for years), but Microsoft has a free, light-weight anti-virus program that works well. Since they built the damn OS, I am going with them.

4. Firefox Web Browser

Firefox is the best browser available right now. I am starting to really love Google Chrome, but Firefox is secure, customizable, and works well. If you are using IE or Safari - don't (PS - Safari is the LEAST secure browser of the pack).

[REMOVAL]

Let's say you didn't see this post until after you are infected with something, how do you fix your computer once it is infected?

First thing to do is download and install Microsoft Security Essentials that I mentioned in the first section and if you can, download Spybot too.

If you still have an internet connection that is sort of working OR (if you don't) go to a working PC, download the following programs and copy to a thumb-drive:

1. SUPER Anti-Spyware: Every time you download it, it comes with the newest definitions, this little bastard is light and mean on the malware. All you have to do is double click and it starts running.
2. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware: Go to the site and download the free version. This is the program of the day and works very well. Some spyware knows how to get around it, but overall it works like a champ.

Try installing the anti-spyware on the infected computer normal style. If you can't, reboot the computer in safe mode (while the computer is starting up before you see the windows logo, hit F8 and you will have the option to start in safemode). Try running the programs in safemode. This should correct your problem (most of the time).

Once you get the computer to a healthy state, do the stuff I mentioned in the prevention section. Scans can take hours so be patient and make sure if you are using a laptop it is plugged in.

[BACK UP]

One final note. So many people use digital camera and don't print out their pictures. You may have thousands of pictures and music files that you can lose if you don't have a proper backup. For pictures, I upload all of my files to Google's Picasa but there is also Flickr. I pay for extra storage so I can upload the best quality pictures I can, I would suggest doing the same.

Regarding music/MP3s, I copy my music to a spare hard drive in my computer and every 6 months I back that up on an external drive. For my documents, I have been using Google Docs to keep most of documents (in fact, I write them there now, so they are never on my PC in the first place).

I highly suggest you have a method to back up your personal files because you don't want to lose it if you have to totally reformat your PC due to a virus or corrupted operating system.

Good luck!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 02: Issue 14



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers! This has been a hell of week: snow storms, fights with car rental companies, rants about fictional heroes from my past, and of course manifestos on remote work. Sifting through all that baggage from the past week, let's open up the fridge and see what's left over...

[The Back Window]


CREDIT: Korem Shadmi









CREDIT: Dr. Dog - Shadow People

[To the victor goes the... guilt?]

If you read the blog this week, you know I had a service issue with Hertz Car Rental. After I achieved my refund goal and started to unwind over the weekend, I started to get an unsettled feeling... did I use the blog to bully those people? I still think I was right and my first attempts at talking to the corporate office failed, but by using the power of the blog to force their hand, did I become an asshole?

I really don't want to be the loud mouthed bully (enabled by this site), but on the same token, it has become a wonderful tool to point out problems with unresponsive vendors. Everyone who heard the story thinks I am in the right, but I still wonder...

[John Mayer: Racist?]

I feel like I need to comment on this since I am public about my appreciation for John Mayer. I read the Playboy Interview and the recent Rolling Stone interview: I won't defend Mayer's use of racial slurs, because I can't, it was very stupid and arrogant to think he could say it and not get back-lash. With that said, the context was not hateful: he essentially said he doesn't have the cred to use the word, but he used the word in referencing it. Stupid.

I have been turned off by the guy's antics in the press the last few years, but I found his honesty in both interviews interesting. The masses want celebrity opinions until they disagree with the populous' core values; but why would we assume they would have the same values? Money, sex, and other things we could never dream of are accessible to those people at any moment, why should we expect to be on the same page as them? Maybe Mayer will learn his lesson this time: I hope keeps his mouth shut for a long while and focuses on playing the guitar well - something that is missing on his most recent album (see my review). Regarding the media back-lash especially the hate brought on by Perez Hilton - I am taking my wife's advice and quitting Hilton's website once and for all.

I will be seeing John Mayer in concert at the Philadelphia Wachovia Center next weekend. Check here for my review the following Monday.

[Recipe of the Week: Buffle-Chicken (Redux!) Quesadillas]

I am stealing this one from my wife's blog who stole a part of the idea from my recipe last week

Ingredients:

Whole Wheat Quesadillas
Buffle-Joe Chicken
Pepper Jack Cheese
Blue Cheese Dressing (optional for dipping)

Directions:

1. Coat the bottom of a skillet with butter or olive oil, that is slightly bigger than the diameter of the quesadilla.
2. Place on quesadilla in the pan, cover with grated cheese and shredded chicken.
3. Cook on Medium heat for about 2-3 mins, until crispy
4. Top with a second quesadilla and flip, cooking for another 2-3 mins.
5. Take out of pan and let cool, then slice in quarters.
6. Serve with a side of blue cheese dressing for dipping.

How to make the Buffle-Chicken:

1. The night before: Mix two cups of milk with a cup of Tabasco sauce and 3 table spoons of salt. Add the chicken and seal in a zip lock bag overnight. The next morning, take out the chicken, pat it down with paper towels.
2. In a bowl, mix two cups of hot sauce with an egg. Dip the chicken in the wash, and then coat with paprika, salt, and crushed red pepper. Get a frying pan and coat with oil, cook the strips.

[DIY of the Week: Charging Station Shelf]

I have a ton of wires and gadgets that need to be charged and when I saw this DIY - I know I have to do this:
Simple Wall Mounted Charging Station

[Sunday Stocks]


This is the second week of Sunday Stocks and my stock picks from last week are doing okay only because AIG had a good week and saved my ass. Take a look at the progress report:
Joey's Stocks

My big hope stock - China Petroleum (SNP) took a big hit this week, while AIG, which was a throw away guess, did very well. While I am ahead, I need to go back and rethink my strategy.

[Video of the Week]

Ummm.... Yeah....


[Conclusion]

I am burnt out - that's all for this week. If you need to reach me, you can do so via email at: "blog at joeylombardi.com". As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hertz so bad...

I was asked to drive up to Connecticut for a team meeting earlier this week. I decided to leave Monday night and planned on coming home Thursday. When I arrived, the news of the big storm that was hitting the Philadelphia area seemed more grim than I was anticipating: While I enjoy my co-workers up north, if I am getting stuck, I am getting stuck at home. I decided to leave Tuesday night (after the big meeting). During my rush to leave the state, it dawned on me that my rental car might be an issue. I called the Hertz rental agency and spelled out the situation. This particular Hertz is run out of the back of an auto-body shop and closes their gates at 6 PM and didn't have a drop box option, which meant I couldn't drop the car off on Tuesday evening before the storm really ramped up.

The location manager was friendly enough and told me she would call me to let me know their status the next day (because I was concerned they would be closed). Sure enough, I received at call around 8 AM telling me that the branch was open but she wasn't sure for how long. I asked her to let me know when they would be closing because I didn't want to arrive to closed gates. The shoveling out began. I went inside to take a conference call around 10 AM and the manager called to let me know that they would be closing in an hour. I asked IF I could get the car over there, would I be able to get a ride back; she couldn't commit to that and if I didn't get it there today, I would be charged. Looking at the roads and the rate of the snow fall, I made the call to stay off the roads because I would have to endanger someone else so I could get home (I wasn't walking 10 miles in a blizzard) AND I didn't want to endanger myself/the car (it would be my luck I would get into a fender bender). I suggested we discuss our options in the morning and wished her safe travels getting home.

This morning I call to check if they were opened and they were. Once again I asked for and was denied transportation back to my home due to their (understandable) lack of resources. My wife and I dug ourselves out again and Allison followed me over to the Hertz rental office (in Woodbury, NJ if you were wondering). The manager informed me there was nothing she could do and gave me a corporate number to call. I gladly took it and went on my way with no ill feelings towards her. We safely arrived home and after a block of meetings I called the corporate phone number: the associate told me the company stands behind the decisions of the local office and there wasn't anything I could do except call the Woodbury manager and plead my case. I called location manager back and repeated the corporate policy (which I get the impression she already knew, but wanted me out of there without a fight). She proceeded to tell me that the situation was essentially my fault since I was given ample time to get there (1 hour notice in a blizzard). I told her that I appreciated her good customer service and her attempts at informing me of their schedule, but at the end of the day the roads weren't safe. She continued to repeat the line that she called me at 7:30 to let me know they were opened. I then offered a few thoughts/comments to see if I could change her mind:

  • From a risk management perspective, do you want your asset out in the middle of a blizzard to save the daily $40 rate - at the risk of a potential fender bender/insurance situation which would most definitely cost you more money?

  • From a business perspective - you are not losing money on that asset because the office was closed - nobody could rent the vehicle

  • From a customer service perspective - you don't have the staff to arrange return transport (because of the storm you essentially said I am okay to be driving in) - which means I have to ask someone to follow me/come get me

  • This is a corporate account which brings Hertz steady business, do you really want to risk that? By the way, I work in the vendor management department and I am going to let my team know about this situation


She didn't respond to my points, she just countered that they were opened and she made it in that day and customers did manage to get there. I responded with "just because you could open, it doesn't mean it was a good idea... you had to close!" I could tell I wasn't getting anywhere with her so I dropped it. I believe she was just following corporate orders, so I didn't see the point in getting loud or angry with her (wow, personal growth!). With that said, am I going to drop it? No. I am going to take this post and forward it to Hertz and I will also send a letter (with some of my traffic reports for this site) and see if anything comes of it. Do I care about the money? Not so much. In this case, it really is the principle - they are a preferred vendor for my company and I don't think they took care of me or their own asset very well. I am going to give them a chance to respond and make the situation right, and if they stand their ground, I will bring this to the attention of the better business bureau because I don't think I am wrong... IN ANY WAY.

Be safe out there.

PS - Did anyone else have a similar problem with the storm? I'd love to hear about it and trade stories!

UPDATE (1):
One of my loyal readers was traveling this week and was in the same scenario but she used Avis. They PICKED UP THE CAR AT HER HOUSE and didn't charge her for yesterday or today.

UPDATE (2):
Posted the story on Hertz Facebook Page. I have never performed such a direct move before, curious to see how this pans out.

UPDATE (3):
Hertz has responded via Facebook - check it out:

"Joey, I would have left a comment on your blog as well but it doesn't seem to have that enabled. I'll talk to someone in customer service about getting these changes sorted out. We absolutely do not want to endanger our customers or ask them to take unnecessary safety risks, least of all in extreme weather conditions. Please accept my personal apologies for the inconvenience.

On a humorous note, I really enjoyed your blog. The Lloyd Dobler post was great."

UPDATE (4):
Hertz delivered on their promise to investigate. I am quite pleased with their reaction. Thank you Hertz!

Dear Mr. Lombardi,

This is in response to your post on FaceBook regarding you rental in
Woodbury, New Jersey. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

We sincerely regret your rental experience with Hertz did not meet with the
high standards of service we strive to maintain. As a service oriented
company, we rely on customer feedback to help us maintain and improve our
service performance standards.

As a gesture of our concern, a credit of $87.57 will be processed to the
account billed for this rental. The adjustment is being made at this time,
but may not appear on the next monthly statement due to billing cut-off
dates.

Thank you for giving us the chance to respond. Your business is
appreciated.

Sincerely,

Kanda [Last Name Removed].

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Career Blog: Telecommuting aka Working from Home

It's the American dream: roll out of bed, put on your slippers, and start your work day. Your commute can be as short as reaching over to your night-stand, grabbing your laptop, and turning it on. Almost any worker would love to be able to work from home and an ever increasing number of companies are allowing their workers to do it. Being a frequent remote worker, let's talk about the pros and cons for corporations and for the workers

PROS:

  • Workers have more flexibility with home/work life. Theoretically, this enable workers to be more productive. The ever decreasing line between home and work becomes almost invisible (which isn't for the weak at heart).

  • Reduced office overhead: Reduction in real estate needs, network strain, office equipment, office supplies

  • Reduced stress on transportation: Less traffic on the roads, less people on the trains

  • Better labor pool for organizations (essentially every market)

  • Privacy: Assuming you are working alone at home in a home office, you can be a loud as you want, have conversations on speaker phone, don't have to worry about offending someone sharing a cubical wall with you

  • Better tools: My monitor is better at home, my chair, keyboard, and phone are all better in quality and functionality. Hell, my internet connection is MUCH faster at home. If I could use my own PC, that would also be better.

  • Reduced Costs: In a time where companies aren't giving out raises and are given no options to reward employees - working from home allows workers to save money on travel (gas, train fees, parking, wear on your car), food (I buy when I am in the office), and clothes.

  • Not involved in rumor-mongering

CONS:

  • Less face-to-face time inhibits team building

  • As a worker, if you are not seen and heard - are you being forgotten? (See the last few paragraphs)

  • Invites the possibility of massive slacking

  • You aren't as informed of issues/chatter that might impact your job

  • Infrastructure cost: VPN and virtual desktop infrastructure like Citrix are needed so workers can actually work (I have a whole counter point this issue, but I will save it for another article)


The last two years I have found myself working from home more often and it is most definitely a perk to my current job that I enjoy a great deal, but with great power comes great responsibility. Many managers fear that their employees are sitting at home and performing personal tasks and errands instead of working. I cannot speak for other remote users, but allow me to share insight into my remote work day:


6:45 AM - 7:30 AM: Eat breakfast, catch up on personal email, get my mind ready for the work day
7:30 AM - 9:00 AM: I start my day and catch up on emails and paperwork
9:00 AM - Noon: I am in a block of teleconference meetings during this period - EVERY DAY
Noon - 1 PM: Assuming I don't have a lunch time meeting, I will go to the gym
1:00 - 2:00 PM: This is the witching hour for project managers - I don't know why.
2:00 - 4:00 PM: More Meetings
4:00 - 5:00 PM: People don't seem to set meetings at this time as they are leaving the office, I typically catch up on emails
5:00 - 6:00 PM: I cook dinner and eat with my wife
6:30 - 8:00 PM: I typical check emails, speak with my manager who is finally coming up for air, and do any reports/paper work that I need to get done.

10 hour work day every single day. Some days I don't leave my desk for 8-10 hours. Slacking? I don't think so. Now let's review a day in the office.

NOTE: I car-pool with my wife unless there is a situation that would warrant me driving another car to the same location, because of this, I am on her schedule the days I go into the office because she has more specific requirements around when she has to be in and when she can leave.

5:50 AM - 6:30 AM - Wake up and get ready to go to the office
6:30 AM - 7:10 AM - Traveling to the train station (this can take 20-40 minutes depending on traffic)
7:10 AM - 7:45 AM - Take train into the city, walk to office building
7:45 AM - 8:15 AM - Get PC started, open email, run down to the cafeteria to get breakfast (oatmeal if you were wondering)
8:15 AM - 9:15 AM - Conversations: either in the cafeteria or people coming to their desks, the good morning hellos and water cooler talk starts. I am usually 5 minutes late to my 9 AM
9:00 AM - Noon: Same block of meetings
Noon - 1:00 PM: Lunch (typically at my desk answering emails)
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM: Same block of meetings
4:00 PM - 5:15 PM: Travel home
5:00 PM - 6:15 PM - Gym
6:15 PM - 7:15 PM - Dinner
7:15 PM - On: Veg out on the couch

I am much less productive on the days that I go into the office and I am far less inclined to come home and sign in after a long day (and I don't have kids to deal with - which is another point I will get to). A major productivity impact is the office environment itself: I have to be concerned about volume control (I am loud, everyone around me lets me know...), who is overhearing sensitive job related conversations in the isle (which often forces me into hiding in conference rooms or un-used offices). When I don't put myself in a private location, I am often interrupted on calls from people stopping by to ask questions or just to say hi - this is a perspective that people who have had offices for years tend to forget (it's easy to have an open door policy when you know it can be closed and people will respect that). All that complaining aside, working from home is most definitely a privilege - and like any privilege, it shouldn't be abused. A worker shouldn't run out for 2 or 3 hours at a time and not be accessible without telling anyone. W@h shouldn't be used for daycare: to this point, when I have children, I will be going into the office every day. A child cannot understand why you can't talk to them during a teleconference and I don't want to have to explain it, that's when it's time to give up the dream (at least until they are in school).

The managerial fear of workers abusing the remote office is strong. In my experience, managers seem to think that if a worker isn't in the office, they aren't working. Don't get me wrong, I am sure there are people who abuse the system, but I am willing to bet they would have performance issues in or out of the office. If someone isn't getting their work done, revoke their right to work remotely - its that simple. The same managers who worry about their employees not being on-site are usually stuck on the phone all day themselves, barely leaving their offices and most definitely not out shaking hands and kissing babies, what value does it add to manager or worker? Managers need to resolve their trust issues and have confidence in their ability to adjust to managing remote workers. There has been a 74% increase in remote work since 2005,there are now 17 million people telecommuting at least once a week and 20.7 million people working part time and starting business in their homes, remote work is not a fad, and should be a means for a company to reduce costs to off-set rising operational increases and health insurance costs.

Just because you can work from home all week, doesn't mean you should. Assuming you don't live hundreds of miles from your home office, you should set up a schedule with your team and manager so you are all in the office at the same time. Once or twice a week is really enough to "feel like part of the team" and getting the benefits from remote office. The hybrid approach allows companies to save on real estate if they go to a "hotel-office" set-up, where people come in and work in unassigned cubes. In my opinion, this is absolutely the best possible work arrangement.

The corporate world is at an interesting crossroads: Personal and home-based technology is surpassing the tools available in the work place. Companies that need to lock down their employees due to security risk concerns are not keeping up with productivity and communication tools that are revolutionizing the way people function in the other areas of their lives. In many cases these tools are free (I know this is a security issue for most companies), or have very low cost secure pay models that have little to no downside (I am looking at you Google apps). The corporate world needs to get a handle on what is going on with technology and how people work because they are letting money fly out the door by paying for tools that just don't work as well as low-cost alternatives. I am mentioning these tools because they will only further-enable the remote worker revolution.

More to come true be-loggers.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Would I let my daughter date Lloyd Dobler?

NOTE: Lloyd Dobler is a fictional character from the movie "Say Anything". If you haven't seen the movie, turn on the crappy free movie channels that your cable provider offers, I am sure it will be on. Go ahead, I will wait. If you can't find it, here is a decent synopsis by the late great Gene Siskel

Since the holiday season, I have noticed the 1989 teen romance flick "Say Anything" has been broadcast in constant rotation. Sometimes I watch it, other times I pass, but over my lifetime, I must have watched this film at least 40 times. I first came across Say Anything before my teenage years, wasting my summer away watching early morning USA network block of youth-focused movies (No Class Movie Daze). I returned to the film the year I graduated high school, coming away with a much better understanding of the characters and developed a long-held appreciation for the character of Lloyd Dobler.

Turning 30, my focus is far away from teenage movies and my mind often drifts to the probability/possibility of having children (in which I am convinced I will have daughters). What kind of father will I be to my future-made-up daughters? How will I react when they eventually bring boys home? Will I play it cool like my father-in-law? Will I be terrifying like my own father (I didn't feel much sympathy for my brother-in-law in those days, but he had it on that fateful evening)? Will I be a dismissive asshole like the character John Mahoney played in Say Anything?

As I watch the film as an adult, the charm of the John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler isn't as universal as it once was (and Diane Court has gone from being slightly annoying to intolerable). Dobler's whole rant about "not knowing what he wants to do, but knows what he doesn't want to do" was mind blowing for my 17-year-old self, but now it seems aimless and self-indulgent. I once considered Lloyd's struggle to find a "dare to be great situation" awesome, and now I understand that I have to attempt to make every moment great. I often wonder how a 45-48 year old me would react to a kid wearing a trench coat telling me he doesn't want "buy anything, sell anything, process anything sold..." fuck it just check out the clip:



So here we have this dreamer, this "champion of mediocrity" as Mahoney puts it, attempting to date my daughter. Would I be relieved that he was able to form complete sentences (something his peers would probably falter at)? Would I be impressed with his travels? Or would I focus in on the fact that he has no ambitions besides kicking a punching bag and having a creepy stalker-style situation happening with my daughter. How pissed off would I be when this kid pulls up behind my house and starts blasting a poor man's version of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" to get her attention?



It mildly depresses me that a character that I held in high regard at 17, I view as a bit of a fuck-up in the "twilight of my youth" (thank you Ryan Adams). While I find it disturbing that I can empathize with Mahoney's Jim Court, I can't help but think he had the right reaction to Lloyd: Dobler followed his daughter to London, and let's face it, you know she isn't going to get the full experience of her educational opportunity with Lloyd to come home to every night. He is going to ride her coat-tales until she figures out that too many punches to the head has caused minor brain damage, limiting Lloyd's job choices. Diane will realize that she has wasted her youth on a functionally retarded adult and leave him sad and lonely (and in the rain). Maybe he will get lucky and some emo girl will find his plight endearing and let him cut the soup line.

God damn-it... I sold out.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sunday Leftovers: Volume 02: Issue 13



Howdy true be-loggers, welcome to Sunday Leftovers. I have been effectively snowed in this weekend left to think and cook, let's see what has crossed my mind and what is leftover.

[The Back Window]











CREDIT: Pathological Lovers - I am the Interest Rate

[Brokers]

A few months before Allison and I got married, we decided we should get involved with stocks and investments. I asked a few people I respected for their opinions and one of my friends hooked me up with his brokers at SmithBarney. I called them and they agreed to meet with us. At their office in Center City, we discussed our assets, the wedding, and our plans. I asked them about Roth IRAs and they suggested I put my money in a mutual fund. Something didn't sound right about that since all of my other contacts said to get one. I decided to give them a small bit of money in Allison's name and mine and see what they did with it. I told them I fully expected the market to crash and I wanted to see how they navigated it and those actions would determine how much I would give them in the future (this was before total stock market/economic melt down, there was just the obvious signs). Months passed, we didn't hear from them. The mutual funds they set up were doing terrible and I wanted to see what they had to say for themselves (and we had some post-wedding money we could use to invest). I sent the younger partner in the duo an email which I kept:


From: Joey Lombardi
Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 3:44 PM
Subject: Checking In
To: "Ana XXX" , "Sandra XXX"

Ana & Sandra,
I wanted to check in and say hi. The wedding is over, the economy is in the dumps, lets talk about investing some money. Since Citigroup/SmithBarney isn't doing well, what's the situation with you gals?


From: Sandra
Date: Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 11:44 AM
Subject: RE: Checking In
To: Joey Lombardi

Congratulations on your marriage. Hopefully all is well and everything went off as planned. I don't know how much money you're talking about investing , but give us some idea so we can give you a proposal. We'll wait to hear from you.
By the way, would appreciate if you did not call us "gals". Thanks.


At this point I want to pause and remind you that they had lost 50% of the money we gave them; considering that information, my message was rather friendly. Besides her snooty email, my major concern about the situation was that SmithBarney had just been bought out by Citigroup and then Citigroup was all over the news for being in bad shape. I was most definitely pissed off at their lack of communication and poor foresight, but I kept a friendly tone to see if they had a plan. They didn't... and I felt they were rude, but I kept my cool and apologized for the apparent insult. I suggested a dollar amount and asked them for their ideas. It took them a month to respond and it was more cookie cutter programs that wouldn't require them to do much managing (I was suggesting a nice bit of money to invest too). I wasn't satisfied with their suggestion and asked for other options. I never heard from them again. I decided I was done calling and offering to do business (which I am sure that is exactly what they wanted to happen).

I assumed the stock market would bounce back a bit and we could recover more money for the mutual fund, so I waited to close it. As the months passed I got letters saying the duo was breaking up and new people were being brought in to manage my fund under Sandra. I just waited til my losses were under 20%. Before the holidays of this year, I got a letter stating I was being put into a new program in April that "would help me realize my goals more efficiently". This made me nervous, but I waited until after the holidays to get more information. Of course my money managers didn't have direct contact information on the statement, so I called the main line and spoke to a nice 1st level person. He proceeded to tell me that this new program would subtract $40 per quarter from the account and additional $50 at the end of the year. This mutual fund as never made money and now they were going to take out $170.00 per year unless I invested $25,000.00 with them.

I canceled the account immediately and asked my wife to do the same when she got home. I am done with mutual funds and asshole brokers. I am going to take matters into my own hands and I am going to talk about it here.

NEW FEATURE: [Sunday Stocks]

NOTE: I have absolutely no experience in the stock market nor am I a trained financial professional. I am just someone that is tired of letting some asshole manage my money for me. I might succeed, I might fail but I can only blame myself.

I did some digging to figure out where I should invest. I have my own personal ideas, but I wanted a general framework to operate from. My research based on my age and a moderate-risk style lead me to this breakdown:

  1. 30% Large Cap Investments

  2. 25% Small Cap Investments

  3. 25% Foreign Investments

  4. 20% Bonds



As I await my money to come back from SmithBarney, I am looking for stocks to invest in. After reading T. Boone Pickens' books, I am convinced that long term investment in energy (including oil) is going to be a money maker for me assuming I picked the right ones. Right now my attack strategy is look like this:


  1. Large Cap: Exxon, AIG, and a managed mutual fund by Vangaurd (VTI)

  2. Small Cap Investments:I like a company called Zolteck (Zolt) which makes Carbon Fiber building materials

  3. Foreign Investments: I have my eye on China Petroleum and Chemical Corp (SNP)

  4. Bonds: American Funds - High-Income Trust (AHITX)



These are the primary players I am going to watch for the next few weeks and based on their performance, I will determine if I am going to purchase them. This should be an interesting ride readers :-)

[Recipe of the Week: The Buffle-Joe Sandwich]


This sandwich only comes out on Superbowl... here's how to make it

INGREDIENTS
1 large crusty baguette (try to get one that is wide)
3 chicken breasts sliced into strips
Celery stocks (cut into strips)
Blue Cheese Dressing
Shoe-String French Fries
Cooper-Sharp Cheese
Two Large bottles of hot sauce (your choice)

DIRECTIONS

1. The night before: Mix two cups of milk with a cup of Tabasco sauce and 3 table spoons of salt. Add the chicken and seal in a zip lock bag overnight. The next morning, take out the chicken, pat it down with paper towels.
2. In a bowl, mix two cups of hot sauce with an egg. Dip the chicken in the wash, and then coat with paprika, salt, and crushed red pepper. Get a frying pan and coat with oil, cook the strips.
3. Use the same seasoning and coat the shoe-string fries. Place in oven and cook as directed.
4. Mix blue cheese with hot sauce and treat as a spead for the sandwich.
5. Add the cooper-sharp cheese, then the celery, then the chicken, and then top with the fries.

[DIY of the Week: PVC Pipe Shelves]


This is simple and looks good. From Apartment Therapy:
DIY Pipe Shelving

[Video of the Week]




[Conclusion]


Grrr... I need to go out and shovel some more. If you need to reach me, you can do so via email at: "blog at joeylombardi.com". As always, don't take shit from anybody.

Smell You Later,
~ Joey

Joey Lombardi | Create Your Badge

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Career: Starting a blog to create opportunity

Last week one of my best friends found out some potentially bad new about his job and told me to keep my eyes open for opportunities. Figuring that this would be a good time for him to shift his career a bit, I asked him what his long term career goals were. He stumbled a bit, so I rephrased my question asking him what his dream job would be right now. His goal is very reasonable (he doesn't want to be Batman) and he most definitely has a good portion of the skills to do the job he wants, the problem is that he is self taught and has no formal job experience. My suggestion to him was start a blog.

A blog is a wonderful way to document self-education and personal growth. It is immediate proof of your skills (how often do you get to show a new employer work you have done at a previous job - I mean actually SHOW them the work) and it proves that you are willing to think outside of the box and teach yourself. Another added benefit is that your blog might attract an audience which is never a bad thing for a business as it adds instant credibility for their product or project (if that's what they are looking for and in my friends case, it would very much be a benefit).

I retold my wife the story (as she sometimes thinks about a career change) and she sent me this article. Of course they highlight the paranoid tone of not saying anything stupid, but the point remains the same: when you show you are passionate and willing to work hard, it sometimes means more than a piece of paper.

Good luck out there readers.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Note to Current or Potential Employers

Congratulations! You have "googled" me or saw my website on my resume and you have now hit the "HR Jackpot". I want to thank you for visiting this site and expressing an interest in me as a potential (or current) employee. I am fairly confident that you will find me to be a unique and honest individual. As you shift through this site you will be bombarded with my experiences, personal stories, personal research, and hard earned lessons documented for others to benefit from. I have professional information mixed with personal because technology has made that line disappear and I view everything as relevant anyway. You will also find some "bad language", a few artistic nude paintings that I found interesting, and some very strong opinions. I thought about removing them to avoid this conversation, but I decided against it.

If you went through the trouble of finding me, here I am. I have nothing that I am ashamed of and I have nothing to hide. I don't write about direct work engagements or provide anything close to specific details, so don't waste your time looking for those kind of corporate nuggets. I hope you enjoy this this blog and appreciate that I am giving you a better view of who I am as a human being. I welcome and encourage questions on the materials presented here, it will surely make for a more interesting interview.

Take Care,
Joey Lombardi