Norm’s Corner

February 7, 2009

Understanding the High Unemployment Rate

Filed under: Career,Economy,Employment — Norman Harris @ 1:51 am
Tags: , ,

Why is unemployment higher than it has been for decades and massive layoffs announced daily? Is something going on that is deeper than a recession? In past recessions the general reason for layoffs was twofold. The first reason was to use the recession as an excuse to remove the less-productive employees. Every organization has employees who perform marginally, but are not bad enough to discharge outright in normal times. The second reason was because customer demand for the products or services has declined and there was no need for workers who came to work with nothing to do. If we assume corporate America is repeating the process at some point customers will return and the workers will be re-employed as before. That’s the reason unemployment insurance (in the United States) is limited to a few weeks. The expectation is that workers will be brought back or rehired elsewhere in a short time. 

When do you predict the economy turning around? Please comment before you leave.

January 25, 2009

I Drank the Kool-Aid…And Liked It!

Over the months I’ve read and heard story after story about how cool Verizon FiOS is.  All the accolades.  Faster Internet.  Vibrant tv reception.  Unbeatable prices.  I absorbed the data, assessed it, and concluded that I was not going to drink the kool-aid.  Then one day Directv changed all of that.

I have been a faithful Directv subscriber for more than 6 years.  During that time I found their service to be decent.  When it rained or when it was windy our picture was fuzzy.  When it occurred I would call their troubleshooting department and they would do a diagnostic test on their end but they would never send a technician to the house.  They suggested that the problem was with the TV.  Ok, that could be the case if my picture was always fuzzy.  I decided not to loose sleep over it because it hardly rains in Southern California. 

Then I noticed that my bill began to increase $4-$5 more every month.  When I contacted the billing department they explained that the movie writers were increasing their costs and Directv had decided to past those costs along to their consumers.  It would have been nice to have some warning.  Once my bill reached a ridiculous amount I began thinking about defecting Directv.  Unfortunately, the other option in my area was cable tv.  The cable company was going through some internal turmoil and that was having negative impact on their consumers.  One day contractors from Verizon were doing work in my neighborhood.  They were wiring my neighborhood for FiOS.  

During the installation period I began receiving “junk mail” about Verizon FiOS.  There was a promotion regarding their Verizon phone/TV/Internet bundled package.  I already have Verizon phone service and DSL.  I did not want be held as a hostage by Directv so I called Verizon.  After all the call was free and I could hang up if I didn’t see a benefit. 

I called the Verizon FiOS sales department, listened to their sales pitch, and tried to stump him with question after question.  The sales rep handled my questions and concerns very well.  I was intrigued over the idea of  TV, phone and Internet running through a tiny optic fiber cable.  I also liked the discounts that they were offering.  He offered me fremium channels for free for 3 months and 1 HD receiver free for a year.  The kool-aid was looking good.  Put I was not ready quit ready to put my lips to the glass.  I wanted to do my own research but it was going to be confined.  No one on my street had subscribed to FiOS nor did any of my friends.  Matter of fact they were eager for it to come to their neighborhood.  They would salivate when they talked about it.  I needed to buy with logic and not emotions.  I turned to the Internet.

I read several articles on the pros and cons of Verizon FiOS:

1) dslreports.com

2) fiberexperts.com

3) foxnews.com

4) engadgethd.com

5) digg.com

6) consumersearch.com

…to name just a few.

I weighed the results and decided that the most logical thing to do was to order Verizon FiOS.  The ordering process went as smooth as butter.  Shortly after placing the order I received an email confirming the order, order number and installation date/time as discussed.

About 5 days after placing the order a Verizon representative came to the house and sprayed a white line from the junction box in the ground (near the curb) up to the side of my house.  This let’s the contractors know where to dig the trench.

A crew arrived 4 days later and dug a trench for the tube that would protect fiber optic.  They broke a couple of lawn sprinkler lines but they were equipped to fix them on the spot.

 Digging trench     Verizon FiOS       Laying Tube     
 
They had to use what they called a “bullet” to drill under my sidewalk next to the house.
 
                                              "Bullet"
 
The trench they dug was filled with dirt and my lawn sod was placed on top.  
 
 Repairing yard              Repairing lawn          Lawn repaired
 
 
They cut a 1 foot X 1 foot hole on the side of my house, pushed the fiber optic cable through the tubing and up to the telephone box.  
 
                                     1'X1' hole on side of house           Side of house    Nice job with filling in the hole with concrete.   Fiber optic placed next to phone box    
 
 
On installation day the technician had a problem with the order which delayed the start of the installation by about 1 hour.  Whatever the problem was his field supervisor was able to correct it.  The technician started with installing the ONT (Optical Network Terminal).  The ONT transfers the data to your phone line and Internet.  They like to install this box inside the house or garage near a 3 prong plug.  I chose to have mine installed in my garage.  In the event of a power outage the ONT runs on a back-up battery.
                      
                                     ONT Installation
 
He pulled the black optic fiber wire that was outside the house through a small hole in the wall and connected it to the ONT.  Before doing his installation in my house he did a walk through all of the rooms where a receiver needed to be installed.  He actually asked me where exactly I wanted the receivers.
 
After about 7 hours of work my phone lines, Internet and 6 televisions were up and running on fiber.  Using the ONT and their router eliminated a couple of ethernet lines and phone lines I was using for the DSL setup.  Connecting to the Internet was easier than what I thought.  Color and sharpness on the HDTV and Plasma was in one word — AMAZING!  Verizon claims that you will notice a difference in audio but I did not notice any change. 
 
They also claim that your Internet download and upload is faster.  I did notice a difference.  Signal strength on our wireless computers increased by 1 bar using Verizon’s Actiontec router and I was able to navigate from site to site faster.  I had considered using my LinkSys router as a bridge because I had all of my computers and my printer set up but I found their router’s capability to more than sufficient to handle all 3 computers.  And with the Actiontec router you can receive a wireless signal up to 400 feet away.  As you can see from the pictures below the router does not take up any space on my desk.  It comes with a stand so you can sit it on a desk vertically.  You can also mount the router on a wall.  It comes with a template to mark holes. 
 Verizon Actiontec Router

Verizon Actiontec Router

The technician attached a coaxial cable to the back of the Verizon router.  It keeps the TV Guide and Pay-Per-View programming up-to-date.  The cable transports the packets from the ONT to the router and the router pushes that data wirelessly to all of the receivers.  I had 6 receivers installed: 1-HD receiver, 1-HD DVR Multi room receiver, and 4-Standard receivers.  You can record a movie using the multi room receiver and watch that movie on any of the televisions when you are ready.
 
He programmed each remote to the televisions and he explained the different features of the remote.  He gave us instructions on how to program the remotes.  The remotes are universal so one remote will control one receiver, one tv, a DVD and an auxiliary device.
 
The channel line up we have is audacious.  I subcribed to the Extreme HD package.  More than 250 channels.  
 
It’s been a week and we have had no major issues or disruption of service.  We did notice that the tv aspect changes when we watch a HD program.  Our HDTV and Plasma picture stretches with black bands on each side or converts to 4:3 (small box) with black bands on all sides.  This can cause your tv screen to burn through the center.  To rectify this we were able to set the tv aspect to an automatic setting.  
 
I enjoyed calling Directv to cancel.  Customer service bounced me over to their cancellation department.  At first I did not tell the representative that we changed to Verizon.  He offered me free service for 3 months.  When I told him that I was cancelling because of the increase of price all he could do was apologize.  When I did tell him that I decided to replace Directv service with Verizon he seemed shocked.  I told him that the picture quality was better than satellite.  He responded by saying that he never heard that before.  Well, I guess there is a first for everything.  A couple of days later we received a call from a Directv representative who tried to get us to come back.
 
I drank the kool-aid and I like it!
 
 

December 30, 2008

Free Product Does Not Always Mean Bad Service

I typically spend alot of energy expressing my grievances about a company’s service or product.  Although, today I had a very good reaction and resolution to an online product so I thought I would share with you my positive experience.

I’ve been working on a second site that I called “A Recruiter’s Perspective” (could not help adding that plug in).  I needed to incorporate a product that my readers could use to rate my articles.  After some research I noticed that there were some good reviews about Outbrain and their star comment widget.  I decided to upload their widget into my customized blog template but it was not operating correctly.  I guess I could have chalked up it to a cheap widget but I liked the look and thought my readers would be attracted to it as well.  So, I contacted their customer service via Chat and was immediately connected with an employee name “Kate”.  I explained my situation to her and she immediately went to work.  Within minutes she had resolved the problem and my widget appeared on my site.  Outbrain offers this product for free and I did not expect any satisfactory response.

If you have a blog or website and would like to install a quality widget check out Outbrain.  BTW – I am not receiving any kick back for mentioning this company.  I had a good experience.  “Kate” deserves an “Atta Boy” and public recognition.  Nice job “Kate”.

December 27, 2008

What To Do with Those Unwanted Gifts

Filed under: Great idea — Norman Harris @ 5:13 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

So, Christmas is over and you are wondering what to do with a gift you received that you know you will not use or wear.  You could stow it away in your closet, attic or garage.  Or you could re-gift it.  Or you could place it on Ebay.  Maybe take it back to the store and attempt to get a refund.  Or you could DONATE it.  What a neat idea! 

  • Someone in your church’s congregation could probably use it right now.
  • Goodwill or the Salvation Army would appreciate your donation and they would put it to good use to help others.
  • A charitable organization that helps victims of Domestic Violence.
  • Fund raising organization.  In this economic climate there are many organizations struggling with raising funds for their programs.  Your donation could be raffled off.
  • A homeless shelter.
  • A foster home
  • Check out Oprah Winfrey’s website for organizations that accept donations.

Think about how you can donate and brighten someone’s day.

December 25, 2008

Beware of Contractor Fraud

Crooked contractors like to prey on people who have experienced a natural disaster.  In disaster areas they can pose as federal employees.  They do not need someone’s misfortune to try to separate you from your money.  There reported cases of scams on the elderly, people looking for a cheap deal and the unsuspected.  Here’s an example. 

“A roofing contractor who hadn’t seen much business lately went neighborhood by neighborhood, offering to do free roof inspections.  

The roofing contractor offered a story about how the original builder used inadequate roofing materials and that he has personally come across three houses in the neighborhood that would have had serious damage if not for his free inspection.  He of course indicates that there is no cost for the inspection, but if damage is found, he can give phenomenal prices due to his crew already being in the neighborhood.

So an elderly woman, who has nothing to lose, agrees to his offer.  After all, the man seems nice and sincere, and of course, the inspection was free.  Who wouldn’t take advantage of a free offer like this?  

If such repairs were necessary, it only makes sense that this roofer would be able to give better pricing because of volume within the neighborhood.  Allowing him to do this would certainly save her tons of misery if there was damage and the next rain storm caused the roof to leak.

You guessed it; the roofer found that the shingles were weak and poorly attached.  “A good wind and rainstorm and there would most certainly be major damage.”  How lucky could she be that this nice man had come along when he did?

The $7500 price tag seemed somewhat high, but what did she know about prices?  And how ungrateful could she be to question this nice man who’d come along with his free offer and had saved her home.  As he kept telling her, he was giving her a 20% discount for signing up right now and ordering the same shingles as the other 3 families.  

Again, he had his crew in the neighborhood next week and it only made sense that he could get some quantity discounts if he could purchase triple the usual number of shingles.”

  • Be wary of contractors who contact you door-to-door or by telephone, especially those offering bargains, scare tactics, or immediate service.
  • Don’t allow contractors to pressure you into signing documents.
  • Don’t sign documents that have blank spaces that can be filled in later.
  • Beware of those contractors who talk down to you!  
  • Don’t forget to have a written agreement that details the work to be done, the materials that will used and the start and completion date.  Have independent contractors sign a contract, stipulating that the individual is being hired as an independent contractor and spelling out the nature of the work that will be performed, how he or she will be paid, and when the work is to be completed.
  • Get at least three bids and don’t necessarily choose the lowest bid – you’ll probably get what you paid for, and not be happy
  • Don’t do business with an unlicensed contractor – EVER.  Check the contractor’s license with the Contractors State Licensing Board (state of California).  You can Google the term for your state.
  • Get a reliability report from the Better Business Bureau.  In addition to checking the BBB, I would recommend visiting the Rip Off Report: By Consumers
  • Get three references and check each reference thoroughly
  • Pay in full only 1) When the job is completed to your satisfaction, 2) You’ve received a “lien waiver” showing the contractor has paid all sub contractors and suppliers, and 3) An inspector has signed off on the job (if required).
  • Never agree to financing through your contractor without shopping around and comparing loan terms.
  • Avoid those contractors who require you to secure a permit.  Contractors should provide all necessary permits. If they don’t, they may not be licensed or registered properly under the requirements of your state or locality.
  • Make sure the contractor is protected and has liability and property damage insurance.

December 15, 2008

Google Trends – Access to search data

Filed under: Helpful Tips,Technology — Norman Harris @ 2:06 am
Tags: , ,

If you’re blogger looking for a topic to write about you need to check out Google Trends.  See what the world searches for.  In essence this search tool gives you information on how popular a specific topic (or — rather — a specific query) is among Google searchers. You can enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched for on Google over time. You can compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, and time frames. 

Google Trends will also be useful for search engine marketing experts trying to find out what users really are searching for.

December 14, 2008

How to Live on a Small Budget

Americans spend 10% more a month than what is made.  The average credit card balance is more than $8,500.  Look at your credit card statements for the past 4 months and ask yourself, “Did I really need that item? Could I have found it cheaper elsehwere?”

No matter what the current state of the economy, no matter what the current trends, no matter what the unemployment rate is or where interest rates lurk, you should consider some money-saving ideas in your household.   

Living on a tighter budget simply requires you to add a bit of creativity to your daily expenses.  There are plenty of ways to live on a small budget without feeling like you are pinchy every penny.

Start with your credit cards.  Lock them up!  If you want (desire versus need) to buy something but you cannot afford to pay cash for it you probably do not need it.

Entertainment is the first expense that seems to be talked about when it comes to living on a budget. We like to do things in our free time and we like to go out to eat or to concerts on the weekends. But when money is tight, we need to be a bit more creative in how we entertain ourselves.

  • Look at your city’s newspaper or entertainment guide regularly to see what free events are in town. You will be surprised at how many free things there are to do when you take the time to look for them.
  • Have a movie night at home. Instead of spending money on going to the movies, why not take out some of your favorite movies that you own and watch them at home? You can pop some popcorn and have all night movies marathons.

Grocery costs are another major expense for many families. Fortunately, there are also a number of ways to save on food and groceries.

  • First, you should always pack your lunch for work. Not only will you save a ton of money, but it’s also a lot healthier.
  • Skip the Starbucks. Many people don’t realize how their coffee expenses can add up. A single latte can cost up to $4.  This means that a Starbucks addict ends up spending about $1,000 just in coffee. Start making your coffee at home and your wallet will thank you for it.
  • Buy in bulk. There are a number of stores that allow you to save by buying in bulk.  Sam’s Club and Costco are most well-known examples.
  • Look for coupons. Coupons can save you a ton of money. However, you have to be careful. Even with coupons, you might not be getting the best buy. Comparison shopping is key.
  • Look for generic products. Often times, the only difference is the packaging.

Gifts and holidays are another source of worry for those living on a tight budget, but they don’t have to be. Though it may seem like you need money in order to show someone you love them at the holidays or on their birthday, this isn’t the case.

  • Create freebie coupons. Mark some index cards with free help or favors that you will provide whenever they need it, whether it’s a backrub or mowing their lawn, your time and your help is more valuable than anything that comes with a bow.
  • Look at online auction sites or garage sales for gifts. While it can be tricky to find nice gifts that are cheap, these two places are often a lot more helpful than you might think.  Sometimes you can find some good deals on forums.

If you know of any other frugal tips, please feel free to add them in the comments. Your ideas will help other readers.

Keep Your Heating Bill Down this Winter

For those on limited budgets, there are many ways to lower heating bills that don’t cost a dime. There are also weatherization applications that require anywhere from a small to middling investment of cash, yet these applications will subsequently lower both energy consumption and future heating bills. Over time, these investments can be expected to more than pay for themselves.

1. Learn to love socks. If your feet are cold, your whole body will feel cold, so make a point of wearing socks around the house in the winter. The next step if you’re still feeling cold: Bundle up in a sweater, sweat shirt or a blanket rather than cranking up the heat.

2. Tap heat that’s there anyway. There are plenty of activities you do around the house that generate warmth, such as cooking a meal or taking a shower. When you shower, keep the bathroom door open so steam spreads to other rooms, and don’t turn a ventilation fan on; it will rapidly remove the warm air you’re hoping to keep around.

3. Lower your thermostat. You likely won’t notice a huge difference if you turn it down just a few degrees, a move that can shave 5 percent to 10 percent off your heating bill. It’s especially wise to turn down the heat whenever you leave your home for several hours.

4. Watch that water heater. It’s also not likely to be noticeable if you turn down the thermostat on your water heater to, say, 120 degrees from about 140 degrees.

5. Consider a programmable thermostat. They cost between $30 and $100, but that’s money you’re sure to make back over the course of a year because your heating bills will drop. A programmable thermostat allows you to adjust the heat on a predetermined schedule, so you can lower the heat when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping.

6. Don’t let heat escape unnecessarily. Keep your doors and windows shut when the heat is on. If your home has a fireplace that you aren’t using, be sure the flue is closed and glass doors are in place to minimize heat loss. In addition to those bathroom ventilation fans, turn kitchen ventilation fans off when they aren’t needed.

7. Call for a checkup. Proper maintenance will help your heating unit run more efficiently. Electric and oil heaters should get professional attention at least once a year and gas heaters every other year. Also, here’s a step you can take all on your own: Remember to check the filters in your heating system and make sure they’re clean and clear. Dirty filters lead to higher heating costs.

December 13, 2008

Best Careers by Astrology Sign

Filed under: Career,Employment — Norman Harris @ 11:35 pm
Tags: , ,
If you’re considering a career change — or wondering if you’re in the right spot now — why not draw on the strengths of your astrology Sun Sign? Contrary to popular belief, work can be more than just a means to make money. It can also be a way to express and develop your natural-born gifts. By following a career path that reflects your own unique talents, you can finally take this job … and love it!

Aries (March 21 – April 19)
Energetic Rams do best in jobs that are challenging, competitive and entrepreneurial. These folks work well on a commission basis, especially when sales incentives are offered. Natural-born heroes, Ariens make great soldiers, police officers and rescue workers. Advertising and public relations might also appeal to these types, who are excellent promoters. More About Aries

Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Sedate Bulls enjoy careers that afford plenty of stability. These folks will happily work overtime in exchange for a good salary, generous benefits and plenty of vacation time. Taureans are quite sensual and get great enjoyment working with food, flowers, or luxury goods. Famous for their melodious voices, members of this sign also make great singers, public speakers and receptionists. More About Taurus

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)
Clever Twins need work that affords plenty of intellectual stimulation. And although members of this sign don’t like to work overtime, Geminis can produce more in a working day than most people accomplish in a week. They work well under pressure and make great switchboard operators, technical support workers and customer service representatives. Geminis also make great teachers and writers. More About Gemini

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)
Compassionate and perceptive, Crabs do best in nurturing professions. Social work, gardening and child care are all natural fits for this sign. Cancers are natural money-makers and do well as bond traders, bank executives and stock portfolio managers. Members of this sign also work well in human resources, as they are discreet, trustworthy and tactful. Their executive ability is considerable. More About Cancer

Leo (July 23 – August 22)
Although they require plenty of high maintenance, Leo employees are worth every bit of trouble. That’s because they’re creative, dynamic and inspirational. These folks work best in high-profile positions. They make great performers, interior decorators and tour guides. Lions also enjoy careers that afford status and prestige. They make great doctors, lawyers and executives. Working with children also appeals to these big kids. More About Leo

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
Attentive Virgos do best in service-oriented jobs. Members of this sign have a knack for anticipating their customers’ needs. They work well in restaurants, spas and hotels. Virgos have highly retentive minds and therefore make excellent editors, researchers and teachers. These natural wordsmiths are also good writers and critics. Virgos can make lots of money when working for tips and bonuses. More About Virgo

Grilled Bratwurst

Filed under: Food — Norman Harris @ 11:24 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

One of my wife’s favorite European recipes.

bratwurst-22

Serving Size: 10
Prep Time: 10:00 minutes

Amount/ Measure/ Ingredient
1/4 Cup Margarine
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Dijon mustard
1 can Sauerkraut — (16 oz) well drained
1 1/2 Cup Coarsely chopped onions
1 Medium Red pepper — cut into strips
1/2 Tsp Caraway seeds
10 Bratwurst
10 Frankfurter rolls

In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt margarine. Blend in sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until mixture turns light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Some sugar might harden. Add mustard, sauerkraut

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