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Moving Back To Atlanta

It was an odd feeling putting my socks in their drawer. I unpacked my bag and washed my clothes as usual. But instead of packing them back up, I folded them and put them in drawers. It was a solemn end to a long trip.

I haven’t put socks into a drawer in almost two years. I’ve traveled just about every week for the last 23 months. When I wasn’t traveling I was taking short trips or was parked in some foreign place. Although my house has remained in Atlanta over that time period, I have considered the “Away” my real home.

I initially passed on this new job because of the pains of staying in one place. Traffic. Living expenses. Ironing. Neighbors. Permanence. Stagnation. Complacency. It was many of the things I wanted to do next in my career. But…the same views of the same things and the same people in the same places…these things bothered me.

I wrestled with the idea of the job. I struggled with the idea of not traveling. I dreamed about the idea of taking my knowledge and creating bigger things. I came to the conclusion that it was time to either move on or move out.

It’s not that I couldn’t move up in the same path, but I decided to move on to this new position because consulting was beginning to show its own pains. Travel. Expense Reports. Ironing. Businessmen. Change became permanence, my personal life was stagnating and I was becoming complacent anyway. The consulting lifestyle still had a great attraction. But…the same views of the same things and the same people in the same places…these things bothered me.

So now I have an office. I have an office. A singular place in which to work. I’m moving back to Atlanta from Away. For good and for bad.

Batching Emails

For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to spend less time as a slave to my inbox and so I’ve disabled email notifications on my blackberry and iPhone. That makes it easier to resist the temptation to jump on every single email that comes in, personal or professional. Then I can go through these at my leisure when I have time to think and respond.

I used to pick up my phone anytime it buzzed or dinged or rang or made any other of 100 goofy noises. I’d gotten really used to that and once I stopped it was hard to get over the urge to grab my phone and check messages every 10 minutes like I used to do. I’d get bored quickly and my attention wandered to who might be sending me some critical email. But eventually the urges subsided and I realized I hadn’t missed any critical emails and the world hadn’t crashed to a halt. More importantly I was able to concentrate on a single task and get through it faster.

Most of the time when I was checking emails constantly, I was forth from task to task like crazy. It’s similar to the computer systems’ multitasking functionality, such as last-in-first-out (LIFO) processing (whatever piece of information has just arrived, process that first and delay the current task) and extreme hard drive thrashing (going from the inside to the outside of the platter on each subsequent read or write). Obviously this isn’t very efficient. You lose a lot of time changing tasks and it’s stressful having them all open at once.

When you look at every email as it arrives, you’re basically saying “Anything that hits my inbox is more important than whatever it is I’m doing right now.” That is almost never the case, and even when it is, anything in an email can usually wait 3-4 hours before you answer it. For the really critical stuff, you can still grab calls. Many times you’ll find that the problems solve themselves before you can take care of them.

Now I find that I am much more efficient and this has probably cut out 5-10 hours a week (that’s a consulting week of about 80 hours) in wasted time and I feel more relaxed and in control. You can apply the same principles to anything you find hitting you in intervals. And most likely you already do – unless you run to the store every time you need a paper towel.

How Much Is Free Time Worth?

I’ve spent a good amount of time in contemplation of man’s balancing of work and so called free time – that in which he is wholly his own master. It is my considered opinion that I am truly lousy at striking this balance naturally and so I have begun to apply logic and economics to the problem, as best I can without actually knowing anything about logic or economics.

First, let’s start with some assumptions and concepts of value. I will assume that I get enjoyment and happiness from my free time and that is the value I’m seeking. To keep things simple at first, I’ll assume that there is no value to be gained from working other than monetary compensation. It might seem that the choice is easy, then: maximize free time and to hell with work!

But it’s more complex than that because money made from working can the value of each free hour. Money increases the diversity of experience through travel, eating out, decorating, etc. Going to the extreme of work makes no sense either: lots of wonderful toys but no time to play. Some balance between work and play is necessary to, in economics terms, maximize the total value of free time.

Staying with economics for just a minute, I’d like to introduce some concepts and make them relevant to the discussion.

  1. The total number of hours to devote to working and free time is zero-sum or fixed-sum. So the more time I spend working, the less I have free.
  2. The more scarce a resource, the greater its value. So the less free time, the more valuable each hour becomes intrinsically.
  3. Opportunity cost is the relative cost of making one choice over another – in other words the loss of total value of free time by moving the equilibrium in either direction.

Now let’s reach out into the real world and see how we can apply them. For example, most people I know are on a fixed-income salary. Each extra hour they work produces no extra money. So effectively you get what we typically observe – people work the minimum hours to satisfy requirements.

Now let’s address a hidden assumption here: that you control the number of hours you work. If, instead, you assume that hours worked are not controlled, we get something different. When the equilibrium is shifted in either direction, we get less total value of our free time. If that shift happens in the direction of free time, we can always find work to do to fill idle time so we can still maximize the value of our free time. But when the shift reduces our free time the problems begin.

What happens exactly? The total value of our free time decreases but the hourly rate increases. Whereas the hourly rate of our monetary compensation goes down. We’ll want to try to restore the previous equilibrium, though doing so is tricky and may be out of our direct control. This may mean renegotiating salary, looking for a new job or simply refusing to work the extra hours.

The salary renegotiation option is interesting – basically this is an attempt to reinstate a new equilibrium with a higher total monetary compensation. What I’m currently interested in is what this does to the ratio of the hourly values. If the value per hour of free time rises, is there an equivalent rise in the money per hour worked? Is the rise of one larger than the rise of the other?

If I go from working 40 hours per week to working 50 hours per week, how much more should I be making? If I was making $10 per hour before, should I make the same now (ie. $400 to $500 per week)? If my hourly rate is to go up or down, by how much?

Help Wanted

I have a side business where I dispose of obsolete corporate technology assets. That’s a fancy way of saying that people pay me to take their rusty computer hardware. Only some of it isn’t rusty or obsolete and I can fix it up and sell it. But being that I travel all the time, I don’t have the chance. So I’m paying for a couple of storage units because I’m a pack rat and can’t stand to throw anything out.

So I have been looking for somebody do help me out when I’m out of town to fix the machines and sell them. It’s not exactly a 9-5 position, as I can’t provide a regular paycheck and don’t offer benefits or anything. But I figure that if I cut this person in as a percentage of the profits, that should be enough to get somebody interested in stepping up to the plate. The problem is that it takes initiative, ambition, and the willingness to make the job work for you, rather than just sitting back and collecting a paycheck. I have had some help, but for one reason or another these people have had better things to do (yeah, like graduating college is going to help!) or just haven’t worked out.

But last night, in a fit of insomnia, I posted an ad on Craigslist. Here’s what it said:

I'm looking for somebody who either doesn't know how to fix computers and
wants to learn or who knows how and just wants a part time job. The ideal
candidate will probably be a high school or college student who's smart
and ambitious (or just bored) and wants to make some cash -- which is
just as good as money!

Here's what your resumé will say for this job:
*Troubleshot and replaced hardware
*Installed hardware
*Installed software
*Worked with Windows XP and Linux
*Performed cost/benefit analysis and ROI calculations
*Worked with data security regulations
*Worked with environmental disposal regulations
*Demonstrated good communication skills (employers always want to see this)

Let me tell you a sad story. I have about a hundred computers that don't
work. And I've got a bunch of parts to fix them up to sell. But I don't
have the time to do it. So I'm paying outrageous amounts each month to
store all this stuff. The end, here's a tissue.

I'll leave it to you to figure out what you'll be doing. If it sounds like
fun, get in touch with me. This job will give you only as much as you're
willing to put into it. And if you've got the motivation and desire, you
can make this job really work for you in your future.

Compensation: $10-$25 per hour
This is a part-time job
This is an internship job

I figured that I’d have about a half dozen people contact me over a week or so and that one might work out. I mean what kind of a lunatic would respond to that ad? Only the kind of lunatic that I wanted working for me, I’d hoped. Somebody who’s a little bit ‘out there’ and doesn’t really want a full time job for one reason or another but is plenty ambitious and maybe somewhat bored with their life. Somebody like me.

But without realizing it, I apparently posted everybody’s dream job. Either that or there really aren’t any jobs for computer people. 12 hours later, I’ve got 50 emails about this position! About half sent a resume. I’d planned to delete them all, but some of the messages seemed promising. The ones without messages were deleted immediately. About a third were women. Some were way overqualified – 15 years as a Sysadmin and you want to do this job? Many of them didn’t get that this is a part time temporary position.

And some of them made me laugh. Maybe they’re that funny, maybe it’s just been a long week.

The job that you have posted is perfect for one of my former students!!! ...

What, was your Mom too busy to email me? Kid, if you want a job go get it yourself. And the letter had funny wording that said she wasn’t getting paid to do it. Three exclamation points is too many anyway.

I am currently located in New Jersey...

Next. Also, this guy sent me his and his friend’s resumes.

you wont need to teach me how to repair computers, if you truly need that many repaired then please contact me at....

What if I don’t truly need them repaired? Or what if it’s one less than a hundred? this guy seems to be challenging me or questioning my credibility. Not cool.

I also have a few laptops with parts I am trying to turn into some cash....

If you haven’t done it by now, you’re probably not the person I’m looking for.

I saw your ad about fixing those busted machines. It reminded me that I
have one on the blink as well.

Not exactly a “go-getter” when it comes to technology, are you?

I don't know anything about cost/benefit analysis and ROI calculations,
data security regulations, or environmental disposal regulations, but I
am sure learning it will be easy since I fantasize about working with
numbers and the like. by the way I am very detailed and my communication
skills are supreme.

Oh, this one is a GEM! By this guy’s logic, all the ladies in Maxim are “easy” too. But I suppose those are some pretty “supreme” communication skills.

What is the background of your setup? Please bear with me, but this
sounds a touch shady, or at least too good to be true.

Shady or too good to be true? I’m not the son of a deposed African dictator or anything. Actually, this one might be promising and I think I’ll follow up.
One person described herself as a “caped crusader.” Nice.
One person described herself as having a “passion for the electronic world.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a load of BS.

Sure let's talk about it.

This wasn’t a personal question directed at you. You sound almost like I’m imposing.

Okay, I will fix them for you.

Again, I’m not asking for a favor or addressing you directly. Also this guy’s name sounds like a cheap scotch.

My resume is mostly geared towards web design but if I’m technical
enough to do that stuff I can certainly work with the guts of a computer.

Really? Because “web design” could be as simple as throwing a template into some WYSIWYG software and tweaking the colors. More like Martha Stewart than Bob Vila. I’ll bet old Bob can’t pick out color swatches to save his life, but I’d rather have him working with the “guts” of my house than Martha.

...and can fix ALL of your computers.

What about the one where somebody set it on fire and then threw a bunch of water on it? You might be in over your head, friend.

Men At Work


Irish Gig

I got to Dublin a few days ago and I noticed was that it was pretty much exactly as I’d imagined. The people are Irish in look and lilt. And it’s damned expensive here. The numbers look the same as I’d pay for things in the US in dollars, but 60% more comes out of my bank account when I buy them. The exchange rate to the Euro is 1.57 to 1.

On a whim I decided I’d meander on down to Cork and visit there for a few days before coming back to Dublin to work. I jumped on a bus and headed down there. Boy did I have a time! I’ll write more details later, but here’s a quick recap:

  • A local threatened to kill me the next time he saw me because I looked at his girl. But she was the bartender and I was ordering a beer. So I suggested that he might have to buy my drinks the rest of the night. He said he’s permit me to look her way for that purpose alone.
  • I kissed the Blarney Stone and caught “the gift of gab.” After hearing that the local teenagers have a habit of breaking in at night and defiling it, I wondered if I didn’t catch something else as well.
  • Saw a raging music show that rivaled some of the best I’ve ever been to anywhere. A man in drag, a plastic guitar, Optimus Prime with sunglasses and a drummer who’d never drummed.

Cork is a really great place and I wish I had the time to spend a few months there. But somebody’s got to pay the bills.