Startup Morale

OfficeSpace

Every day I enter the doors to my current place of employment I pass by 3 plaques housing the names of every employee honored for 20 years or more of employment there.  The plaques have accumulated 180 names total.  Sadly this is a rarity in today’s marketplace.  I would wager that 20 years from now, those plaques are removed because few new names are being added.  This is no disrespect to my employer it’s just the reality of the marketplace where jobs are constantly abandoned for greener pastures. Loyalty exists paycheck to paycheck simply because money is usually the only morale driver at least in my region of the country.

I live in the Midwest where the famed startup stories and legends of company perks at places like Google are only part of some mythical place known as Silicon Valley.  Typically the only benefits that differentiate one company from another in these parts is the amount of out of pocket expense incurred for yearly medical benefits.  Boring.  Except for the local Big Oil company or two most benefits and company policies are fairly interchangeable from one place to the next.  Now I currently have a couple entrepreneurial things on the back burner and who knows maybe one day something will take off.  When it does I’ve got a wish list of perks or intangibles I hope to institute from the start that I hope will coax a few people to work for me and stay put.  Here they are and reasons why in no particular order:

  1. Offer A Flex Work Schedule.  Can you say Half Day Fridays?  This is something common in places like Colorado where you live in a real life playground but it makes sense for many other practical reasons besides morale that I won’t list here.  I once watched a 60 Minutes special on Patagonia the outdoor gear outfitter based in California.  One key to their employee success and productivity they highlighted was a very liberal and trusting flexible work schedule policy.  It was simple; get your time in when you wanted to…period.  For example employees still had to put in a 40 hour workweek but if someone popped in the door and boisterously exclaimed, “Surf’s up!”, they bolted for the beach and returned to work that afternoon, evening, or weekend when their cups were full and the waves had died down.  It didn’t matter when so long as you got your hours in.  You can only imagine the loyal employee base they have as a result!  For some this simple flexible policy will cause an employee to think real hard before bolting for a  job that paid a couple dollars an hour more.  That’s a novel concept that certainly goes against the grain of our punch card culture for standard factory workers but perhaps a slightly more restrictive policy will still produce similar results.  I know for me a similar policy would’ve allowed me to catch my son make his first snow angel this year rather than sulk that the moment was enjoyed via a texted photo.  I would have happily came in the following Saturday after the snow had melted if I could’ve left early that day.
  2. Work To Play Is The Company Motto!  I’ll never understand our country’s aversion to vacation allotment but it’s not remotely close in comparison to the rest of the industrial world.  Some will argue it’s a factor that affords us the world’s largest economy but I say bunk.  I say we’re successful in spite of our lack of vacation days.  Two weeks a year seems to be the universally accepted starting vacation policy.  That typically goes up as a reward for different milestones of company service.  I’ll offer 3 weeks starting vacation minimum not counting personal time.
  3. Provide Only The Best Stuff For Employees.  If the smartphone and tablet trend has taught us anything it’s that employees are tired of drab corporate centric products.  Buy them that iPhone, iPad, or touch mouse they envy.  Buy them the best gear available to do their job or at least help them get it.  My company pays up to $100/year for steel toe shoes.  I took the $100 and added $30 out of pocket to buy a premium brand that are ridiculously comfortable.  I haven’t dipped into that $100 allowance the last 2 years because I’m quite happy with the pair I bought then.  I’d say this was a win win policy for my company and me.
  4. Offer Internet Freedom.  Want to foster employee loyalty?  Show some trust.  Naturally all things should be doled out in proper portions but for most company internet policies that means an all or nothing approach.  Bandwidth restrictions I get because we are after all at work to be productive and a few Pandora boneheads can really sap internet productivity for the responsible majority.  Restricting adult sites is a no brainer too, but that’s where I think a line should be drawn after.  For starters open up social sites already!  Get with the times employers and let your employees have a free second to make evening plans with their buddies or even a coworker.  Internet filters in my opinion are a lazy exec’s way of micromanaging.  It’s silly.  If your employees are judged on their productivity and performance and they’re spending all their time on Facebook then their performance will suffer.  These things work themselves out if your people are being fairly judged on performance.
  5. Never Waste Employees’ Time.  Don’t make your accountant take a 45 minute online safety training course covering the proper shop safety gear when he/she will never ever set foot on the factory floor.  Limit the allowable number of meetings/length of meetings for each business day.  I know this sounds restrictive but most employees will actually appreciate such a policy for it’s time-respecting merits.
  6. Premium Toilet Paper.  This one is self explanatory.
  7. Free Great Coffee.  Can I get an Amen!  Don’t be cheap, pick one great perk like free premium brand coffer or an expresso machine to splurge on your employees. It really is the small things that count folks.
Advertisements

How To Select The Right Compact Fluorescent Bulb

Bulb1

You may have noticed recently the supply for good old fashioned incandescent bulbs seems to be dwindling.  You might have even heard that they’ve stopped making certain ones beginning this year.  Myself I find it near impossible to locate clear 60W incandescent bulbs but an overwhelming selection of compact fluorescent bulbs abound.  It’s like there’s some grand conspiracy to get you to stop using incandescent bulbs.  Technically there is but it’s not as bad as you think and no they’ve not stopped making incandescent bulbs either; just check out this article from The Verge that debunks all the rumors here.  The problem with switching to compact fluorescents is that nothing seems like an apples to apples swap.  The packaging would lead you believe it’s a pretty straightforward affair by printing bold letters indicating 13W bulbs are 60W replacements and technically they’re right but that’s really where the similarities end.  Buy two different brands and try to mix them within the same light fixture and you’ll see what I mean.  One light is more blue, one is more yellow, and one is brighter.  How do you pick the right one and how do you replace one brand with another?  It really boils down to reading the fine print, literally on the bulb that is.  There’s really three key specifications you want to try and match up closely particularly if you’re mixing different brands of compact flourescents.

Bulb2

The first you already know is wattage.  The package usually takes care of that by spelling out the incandescent equivalent.  The second specification you want to pay attention to is bulb brightness.  This is usually measured in Lumens.  This is easy to follow, simply the higher the number the brighter the bulb.  If you’ve got a fixture with 4 bulbs from Brand A and one burns out and you can only find brand B then you want to try and get this number to match as close as possible.  You will also want to match the color temperature of the bulb.  Color temperature is usually measured in Kelvins or simply ‘K’ as shown in the picture above measured as 2700K.  The lower the number the yellower the hue of the bulb.  The higher the number the bluer the hue becomes.  That’s it.

The Basics | Engine Etiquette

Credit: blogs.cars.com

Sorry folks for the hiatus.  I’ve been working on another writing project and have been blindly devoted to it.  Nonetheless I’ve taken a break to start a new advice column that allows me to as usual scratch an itch to passive aggressively opine about certain pet peeves.  This will be the first post of an ongoing advice column named “The Basics”.  These will be short and very simple “basic” insights I wish to share on things that many people overlook or have never been educated on.  For this first post I plan to tackle three very common mistakes (I politely use the word “mistakes” loosely, see told you passive aggressive) people make pertaining to the use and maintenance of motor vehicles.

‘Tis the season of single digit weather and as such our reliance on cars and their conveniences become ever more important.  For starters simple physics dictates that cold air is typically denser air.  Translation: when things get frigid stuff constricts and this is true of the air in your tires.  Many new cars are equipped with tire pressure sensors that will flash a light on your instrument panel telling you that you’ve got low tire pressure inevitably the morning after the first cold front passes through.  What most people don’t know is that there’s actually two conditions that will trigger that light; one, a tire has abnormally low pressure (ie, you got a flat bro) and/or one or more tires’ pressures vary within approximately 2 psig from one another.  It’s particularly the second condition that complicates things for the layperson who doesn’t know this.  For those people (not judging) the most logical thing to do is to hit a free air station at the local 7-11 and start randomly putting air into tires starting with the ones that look lowest until the low tire warning light goes off.  This could exasperate the problem and potentially cause a more disconcerting issue by overpressurizing a tire.  I won’t waste your time by discussing the hazards with a overpressurized tire, just know this is bad, every bit as bad or possibly worse than a underinflated tire.  My advice is simple, buy a tire pressure gauge and keep it in your console.  But what pressure do you maintain your tires to?  Answer:  it’s stamped on the tires themselves right?  Wrong.  What’s stamped on the tires is a max rating that’s intended to be a benchmark if you were hauling a maximum payload for example (trucker speak).  The real answer can be found somewhere inside your driver’s side door usually on the main upright near your seatbelt.  There you can find a label that will typically detail recommended tires pressures for front and rear tires.  Please whatever you do please don’t aimlessly fill your tires until the silly light goes off.   In that case you’re probably better off doing nothing (unless you’ve clearly got a flat).

To quote the classic movie “Shawshank Redemption” “The world went and got itself in a big hurry.”  One of the most common mistakes we tend to do when we get in our cars to go somewhere is to not wait for it to warm up.  Car engines and car technology certainly has advanced and it takes most cars much shorter spans of time to get that heater blowing warm air than it used to so people seem to forget one important fact that is universal about cars and car engines in particular.  That fact is that they are still made up of literally hundreds of precisely machined and fitted moving parts.  In some cases all it takes is one small nick and you can get a catastrophic engine failure.  Most of those moving parts still depend on oil to keep them lubricated and moving freely.  Most oils, even the overpriced and overrated synthetic kinds, still get thick and gummy when the temperature drops.  My advice is succinctly simple – let your car run at least a minute before putting it in gear, even thirty seconds as a bare minimum.  This allows the oil to loosen up and cover all intended surfaces before putting a heavy load on them.  It could save you many headaches in the long run.

My last piece of advice though begs you to do the exact opposite from the previous piece.  It actually seems silly to me to even mention it nevertheless I’m floored every time I see this warning go unheeded.  Folks turn off your stinking cars when you’re pumping gas and especially when smoking!  I’ve debated with myself how much detail to get into to explain the common sense in this so instead I’ve decided to offer an example link of the hazards associated.  The lady in the video was the smoker’s wife and she did suffer burns.  PLEASE don’t endanger (or enrage) me or anyone else because you simply wanted to keep that heater running longer or wanted those last couple drags from your smoke.  Trust me it’s not gonna make much difference during the time it takes to pump a tank of gas.

Size Matters | The Screen Size Debate

Credit:  Apple

Credit: Apple

September 20th was the official launch of the new iPhones 5C and 5S and just prior to it’s release every tech site and news site all rushed to get out their verdicts on the new models.  For the most part all the reviews were positive.  It’s really hard to argue with Apple’s solid hardware designs and reliable and vast App Store but every single review I read dinged Apple on one common thing – screen size.  The rumors were all abuzz with a larger screen for the iPhone but all proved to be untrue.  Android has toppled iOS in worldwide market share in large part due to affordable designs and big and bigger screen sizes.  It’s the same game that has played out year after year whether it’s TVs, laptops, or smartphones.  What’s lost here is the value of true functionality, portability, and ultimately purpose.  The purpose being that of a smartphone.  By definition a smartphone is limited by size because of it’s inherent requirement to be portable but size can also limit functionality.  How do you define and strike the right balance of portability, functionality, and features?  That’s ultimately the debate in play in the smartphone market with ever increasing screen sizes.  Personally I define it one way with one question.  Can you fully operate the device in one hand?  This is precisely the marketing ploy Apple baits us with.  Most people can touch their thumb anywhere on the iPhones’ screen without having to readjust the phone in any way with another hand.  This simple subtle fact I believe is at the core of the very purpose of a smartphone.  In my opinion if it takes two hand to operate it then just save you money for a full blown tablet.  Don’t be swayed by giant phone screens unless you just don’t care about portability.  Make the overall experience your priority.  I do believe there’s a market for larger screens sans the Galaxy Note 3‘s 5.7″ display but I treat that market as really the outer fringe of the tablet market.  Even Samsung knows the Note’s screen is a stretch that’s why they’re solely paring it with the Samsung Gear smartwatch for now.  Gee I wonder if the smartwatch market will play out the same way?  Will we soon be toiling over whether 1.3″, 1.6″, or 2″ is the proper screen size for the smartwatch?

When Choosing The Right Smartphone or Tablet Specs Don’t Matter.

My title is a tad misleading.  Specs do matter but I’m gonna offer up only the one or two that matter most.  Let’s assume for now you’ve selected your operating system and form factor of either smartphone or tablet.  In the smartphone category you’re generally looking at screen sizes between 3.5″ to 5″.  Tablets generally range between 7″ to 10″.  There’s also a goofy category informally known as Phablets that fall in between these two categories.  After screen sizes you’re bombarded with a bevy of software features, hardware options, and naturally long lists of tech specs and benchmark ratings to comb through before making a purchase.  If you’re purchasing a middle to top tier device (by price) let me save you some trouble and tell you that you can assume generally good processing speed and graphics performance from most devices.  I’m trying to stay away from confusing you with geeky technical specs but must now dive into one spec a bit to illustrate this point.  The iPhone 5 uses a dual core processor that clocks in somewhere around 1.3 GHz.  By comparison the new Samsung Galaxy S4 (man that’s a mouthful of a name) carries a 1.9 GHz quad core processor.  Translation- the S4 blows the processing power of the iPhone out of the water by a mile.  With this said let this geek who’s made the iPhone 5 his primary smart device vouch that not once, not even for performance sapping games, have I ever felt even a slightest lag in performance.  I doubt seriously I would notice a difference with Samsung’s processor in my iPhone.  It’s always snappy and reliable except of course when AT&T is throttling me.  Criminals. Read More

Buying Into A Platform

1367893338_Macintosh HD 1367893262_36-android 1367893354_Windows HD1371629807_chrome-512

The motto of this blog is “Star Wars or Star Trek, Apple or Google, The Battle For Supremacy and Relevancy Thrives Here” and it is in this spirit that I write this post.  Choosing a platform is the quintessential decision we are faced with on a daily basis every time you fire up a PC, smartphone, TV, or glance at a billboard.  This is a battleground waged almost primarily through advertisements and press.  Apple or Android, Windows or Mac?  Let me first burst your bubble, you won’t find a single answer-to-it-all recommendation here.  Don’t leave though because just like you I battle the same desire to go all in on one platform.  There’s the allure of simplicity, uniformity, and accessibility in the idea of buying wholly into one platform.  Nevertheless I recently have come to terms with one fact…no platform exists that can adequately be all things to all people/me.

Oh yes many try, but at some point all fail.  How about some examples starting with Google.  It’s no secret that Google search reigns supreme.  I won’t digress into a comparison with other search engines; after all it’s part of vocabulary to Google something when you perform an online search and not to Bing it.  Besides every time I see the word ‘Bing’ I think of Chandler’s annoying girlfriend from Friends (Janice) wooing him in her nasally voice “Chandler Bingggg!”  Ick!  Yet comparing Google Docs to MS Office is also a gross mistake.  In this case feature by feature Office trumps Google docs by a long shot.  Sorry to disappoint again but for purposes of another article I’ll stay away from the Apple (iOS) to Google (Android) comparison.  That’s a whole different can of worms.  Instead how about another conundrum- internet browsers.  There’s Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari to name a few.  The lines blur a bit here but if you’re priority like me is speed and access to the cloud then Chrome is the clear answer.

Want a piece of hardware, then look no further than Apple the undisputed king (in the court of public and this engineer’s opinion) of innovation and good product engineering.  Let’s talk about some apps.  For instance note taking apps.  Try the popular Evernote or my personal favorite Springpad.  Have you seen the pathetic stock Notes app on the iPhone?  Honestly who still uses yellow note pads anymore, much less a faux one on a tiny screen?  Thankfully Notes is getting a makeover in iOS 7.  I can go on all day and would likely end up with a very long laundry list of me too products to compliment a few very good ones but I think I’ll just get straight to the point.  That point being hardware and software makers have their strengths and weaknesses.  Diving all in on one platform (Apple people are likely going to strongly disagree with me most here) will only be your loss.  My advice, find what you like and go for it.  Focus on things that try to do one or two things best rather than being all things to all people.  If it really is a good product it’ll offer cross platform integration anyways.  After all last I checked you can still open up Word and perform internet searches through Google on the Chrome web browser all on an iMac.  Don’t just stick to meat and potatoes when you can have your cake and eat it too.

Do The Horizontal Limbo

1368047606_camcorder_stickerThe past few weeks have been big news weeks from the Boston bombing to the West, Texas explosion to the usual viral YouTube videos.  Most of the coverage has been captured by smartphone cameras and the recent viral hits have highlighted one of my biggest pet peeves –  ridiculous vertical videos!  Case in point is the West Texas explosion recording that’s been rebroadcast thousands of times.  Rarely has such a massive explosion and accident been caught on camera so close but Johnny-on-the-spot just had to film it vertically, grr!  I’d love to take off on a rant right about now but I won’t  because I’m sure I’ll digress into a putrid name calling tirade, instead I’ll try and politely give some simple advice that though I think should go without saying, it’s evident that it must be said.  I can list many examples of why technology is wholly geared to view images, motion or still, in landscape mode but instead I’ll only list the couple of examples where portrait mode is acceptable.  The first is the printing of still images and the second is Instagram.  Instagram clips images so they will display most effectively in portrait mode on a mobile device.  A recent example is Vine a new app released by Twitter that only formats short videos for portrait mode viewing.  That’s it folks.  Let me ask you, have you ever seen a camcorder turned sideways to film a video?  Short of trying to capture some funky special effects angle it’s doubtful you have.  The camera lens in a smartphone is only a smaller version of the those used in camcorders and work on the exact same principle.  Check out this great parody illustrating this lens limitation.  One more thing, forgot to turn your phone once you began recording that video?  Please don’t turn your device horizontally midstream and expect the images to flip automatically like they do when engaged within an app.  It won’t.  You have to stop the video, flip your device horizontally, then began anew else you’ll be filming your own version of the movie Sideways and the title will be more than just an analogy for life.

Android Buying Advice

1367740602_androidI’m going to assume that you’ve already made you mind up on taking the Android plunge or already have and want to upgrade or add a device (smartphone/tablet).  With this in mind my advice will be succinctly simple; buy a flagship device.  Every device manufacturer will have one that easily rises above all others in prestige, options, marketing, and of course price.  Can’t afford one?  Save until you can.  Why?  Again very simple, because of support.  Many device manufacturers customize the basic Android software for their phones or tablets.  Why is debatable, what’s important is these are usually device specific customizations so if you want to stay current on software and updates your best bet is to simply stick with a flagship phone because theoretically they will be treated with top priority regarding support and software updates.  Not sure which manufacturer to go with and whose customization is the best then please visit CNET.com to access indepth reviews for best cell phones and best tablets.  One last piece of advice go hands on with one at a store and play with the interface and see what suits you best.  It might be worth noting my personal opinion is that the one who pays most attention to the quality of hardware cares the most about your experience.  With that in mind my personal favs right now are the HTC One smartphone with it’s svelte aluminum body and the Nexus 7 tablet for it’s pure Android experience and its killer price to feature ratio.

Updated 5/8/13: It’s pretty much become a two horse race on the Android smartphone front between Samsung and HTC (that is until Motorola shows itself again since being purchased by Google).  Check out this great article pitting both manufacturer’s flagship phones head to head-HTC ONE vs Samsung Galaxy S4.

Restart

restart buttonIf there’s one piece of practical advice I plan to offer up above all else it’s this simple statement, “Just hit restart.”  It’s a piece of advice that I almost never abide by but never fails to come full circle on me when ignored.  By nature I’m just inquisitive so any time I run into a bug or system error or whatever  I will put on my detective hat and dive in until I’ve found the root cause and corrected it.  Problem is, and if you’re like me, I’m honestly only mildly successful.  Truthfully only about 50% of the time.  So why take advice from me then?  Don’t, just take it from nearly every IT guy I’ve ever bugged on far too many occasions.  Just restart your computer or other device.  For years I would get so irritated when they asked me “Did you try restarting?”  Honestly what does that solve?!  How does that help me the next time this happens?  One day I had an epiphany, I spent 2 hours trying to get my desktop to talk to a router (Routers…Grrr!) and finally gave up and shut the computer down.  A couple minutes later I thought of something I had not tried so I restarted it and wouldn’t you know, network problem magically resolved!  To this day I don’t know what the problem was, no matter because I still have network access.  Time is precious, do yourself and your IT people or that buddy you call for a favor and just restart your system…first.  I promise there’s a better than 50/50 chance of success.  Note this advice extends to many of today’s mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.  In case of such a device I recommend you perform a hard restart (sometimes called hard reset), look up in your manual or online for advice on how to do that.  Just be careful not to perform a factory reset in the process; you’ll lose all data and settings if you do.

-Bonus Tip  If you perform a shutdown instead of a restart wait about 15-20 seconds before restarting if you have a spinning hard drive (most common type).  These types of hard drives take a few seconds to stop spinning and it’s much healthier for them if you allow them to spin down before restarting.

“Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do & die, ” – Alfred Lord Tennyson