What’s wrong with us?

I say “us” because I know I can’t be the only person out there like this.  Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

What makes me such a hopeless dolt?  One minute I feel like everything in the world is going beyond perfect, the next minute the world is crashing down.  Spoiler, it’s usually crashing down because of something I did, or more often than not, something I didn’t do.

I’m still struggling through college.  I’m a 26 year old who is still taking fucking college classes.  Yeah, I got my associate degree after six years of classes, but it doesn’t mean shit to employers, or at least the very few employers I’ve ever taken the time to apply with.  I bounced around from college to college those first four years, constantly telling myself that the college wasn’t the right fit.  Here’s another spoiler: I wasn’t the right fit.  I’m never the right fit for something so centered around answering long lists of questions and submitting meticulously scripted assignments.

There ain’t no rest for the kinesthetic learner.

I tell myself that the education system is broken, just so I can feel a little better.  I rage in my head about the day when I’ll tear down the system, stand above it and beat it into bloody oblivion.

Maybe it’ll happen in my lifetime.  But I won’t be the one standing anywhere near the trainwreck of “higher learning” and “reality.”  I’ll probably still be working a shitty job that’s far from my passion: waiting tables, cleaning bathrooms, sucking up.

I don’t want to be there doing the same things I’m doing now in ten years, hell I don’t want to do those things tomorrow.  And I fight it with every fiber of my imagination, because for some reason my body doesn’t want to get involved with the fight.

I space out.

I forget things.

I can spend all day thinking about the most meaningless things in life, yet the most important things like my family, my God, my money all get shoved to the side.  I hate it.

I hate it, but where is my way out? Hate doesn’t create solutions.  Hate doesn’t change things.  So why do I feel so overwhelmed with hatred?

I have a new baby.  She’s one week old.

I have three children now: four, two, and fresh out of the oven.

I don’t want them to have a loser dad.

I’m the exact opposite of the typical loser dad who drinks too much and hits his wife, but in a way, aren’t I worse?  I have four people depending on me to provide for them.  Provide!  I can barely get us through the month hanging on food stamps, always holding out for the tax return or the next school refund.

I’m crying.  Not physically, but I can feel the tears inside of me.  This hurts.  A lot.

I need to make a change today.

I’ve said that many times in the past, so saying it doesn’t mean a thing.  I need an action.

I start a new six-week class today; my previous two classes ended fifteen minutes ago.  I might have really fucked them up, not giving them much attention during the last two weeks.  I tell myself it’s because of the new baby.

I lie to myself too much.  The truth would be “I don’t know.”  Pathetic, but I can’t explain why my attention lapses so.  Maybe a chemical imbalance, maybe the dreaded acronym.  Whatever the case, it’s bad, and it’s scary.

I start a new class this week.  I currently have half as many classes on my plate as I did fifteen minutes ago.  Acing this class is a horrible goal.  That was my goal with the last two classes, and I’ll be lucky now if I pass them.

My goal should be to learn.  I want to learn about not just “Linux/Unix” as the class title says, but about myself.

I want to learn why I am this way.

I want to learn what can be changed.

I want to learn what cannot be changed.

I want to learn how to get my fucking life in order so I don’t have to keep describing it as “my fucking life.”  “My wonderful life” sounds a little better.

“My super awesome kick-ass life”?  That’s about right.

And do you know why I need to get closer to kicking life’s ass with some super awesomeness?  Because my family deserves it.  I don’t care about myself, not in becoming some egocentric asshole.  I don’t want my name to be known in every house in America.

All I want is to enjoy what I do for a living and make sure my family enjoys their lives.  If I can’t have both of those things, then all I need is a happy family.

I grew up happy.  I don’t know exactly when I transitioned from being happy to being stressed/pissed off/worn out/cynical, but it happened.

And now it’s an uphill battle to getting back to happy.

I don’t need to be happy, but I also can’t afford to be a pathetic loser who’s always wallowing in self-pity.

I need to make choices and stand behind them.

I need my love for my family to become real.

Security

Whenever I read about someone who does freelance work (usually of the programming or technical variety), I’m reminded about my thoughts on job security.  I’m writing this because I just had one of those moments, and in fact it’s the first time I’ve had one of those moments since I became unemployed three months ago.

 

Let me backtrack a little.  In the late summer months of 2009, I was searching for a job.  I walked up and down downtown Dearborn here, putting in applications wherever I could get one.  Looking back it’s a tactic I’d shun today, but I was desperate to find work.  Out of the dozen or so applications I returned, only one company called me back for an interview and consequently hired my sorry ass: Westborn Market, a small, local fruit market.

 

Being a new environment, I really enjoyed myself there at first.  I was working on making prepared foods in the back room: salads, fruit bowls, veggie trays, and sandwiches.  The perks included always knowing I’d work in the morning, even if the days were uncertain, and having very little customer interaction.  For two years I looked forward to the work I was doing, not with over-excitement but also not  with dread: I was content with what I was doing.  I had a great relationship with my manager, and was able to tolerate two of my co-workers in our department and get along with the other; the rest of the store was a mix-bag of different personalities, but I got along with everyone and actually liked most of the people working at the store.  When the one person in our department I got along with was fired, I was glad to see someone my age eventually hired as her replacement and she quickly became one of my best friends.

 

During my first two years, I felt like I was one of the best workers in the department and the store, and based on the input from my manager and the store managers I had to be pretty high up there.  I was always at work on time, moved quickly, and put a lot of care into the food I made, which translated into great-looking options for customers and happy managers.  If it wasn’t for the 10+ year veteran in our department who was such a frazzled individual she could work faster than most people, I would have been on top.

 

After about two years I started spending some time working shifts on the other side of our prepared foods department- the hot bar, where hot foods were cooked and served as well as a couple dozen specialty cold salads (like potato and chicken salads).  This is where our manager spent her time working, along with about eight other individuals in that crew.  There was frequent communication between the hot bar and our back room, so it was easy to fit in with my co-workers up there and I loved the change of pace.

 

Sometime around here, two years into my employment, things started to go downhill.  I’m talking about this from the perspective of the managers, particularly our prepared foods manager, because during my almost three years at Westborn Market I never felt like I lapsed in quality, quantity, or care for my work.  I was constantly on top of what had to be done that day, including big catering orders as well as our daily quotas.  I worked the overnight shift to prepare orders for Christmas Eve both times my first two years, and by the second time I worked it I had created a system that was infinitely more efficient than the first year (at which time I had only worked there for four months).  From my side of things, nothing changed.

 

Yet everything else changed.

 

My belief is that our manager was simply bored with us in the back room, that she wanted more from us when we were already at top speed and were producing plenty to keep stock (and believe me, the prices we charged and the stock we sold definitely made us a profit center for the company).  Truth is, the hot bar side of our department had a much higher turnover rate, with a new hire every month or so.  Maybe this lead to my ultimate demise, but I’ll never know for sure.

 

Eventually, I got the ax.  At the time, our back room consisted of the manic veteran who would never be fired, a 50-year-old Asian woman who moved extremely slow and avoided taking on anything besides her “prescribed” workload, a twenty-something new hire that had worked both the cold and hot side of prepared foods, yet ended up with us full time because the hot bar couldn’t stand her, and my previously mentioned friend, who after a year or so was just as efficient as myself and I considered us very much equals.  Based on this, I would have put myself and her as tied for the #2 spot out of 5 workers.  My manager didn’t think so.

 

I was fired in June of 2012, after almost three full years of service.  In the six or so months before being fired, I was told multiple times by my manager that I needed to hustle more, produce more.  I would always nod and say yes, and sometimes ask for explanation, but there wasn’t much more that could be done.  I was firing on all cylinders and outperforming two of the other employees in our back room; the only way to be “better” would be to have a psychological deficiency like our manic co-worker, and that just wasn’t how my personality was wired.

 

The final nail was Memorial Day, where I was the only person working that day (we usually had 3 people in the back room).  I pushed out an average amount of product (my manager and I agreed that we didn’t want to make more than would be sold) and spent the rest of my time making sure things in the back room looked nice and that there was plenty of prep for the next day, as we’d be getting back into the usual rush of Ford workers looking for lunch.  Of course, since the only thing that could be quantified was the actual product put on the floor and it was “less” than usual, it was used as evidence for my lack of production.

 

I was completely ambushed when my manager called me into her office to fire me, so I wasn’t able to form a proper defense, one free of stammering and trying to sort the millions of thoughts running through my head.  Actually, i’mt not sure I could even muster such a defense today- my mind went numb when she told me I was being let go and it’s kind of been stuck ever since.  Not that that’s a bad thing- the last year or so working at Westborn Market was a sort of hell, one I wished I could have escaped every single day.  I eventually dreaded the thought of having to go to work, and when my hours were randomly cut during the last six months or so, I secretly rejoiced inside; that’s how bad the oppression was from our manager.

 

For the longest time I was on top of the world at Westborn, yet in the end I was fired like an incompetent worker who didn’t give two shits about the company.

 

That’s the moral of my story: security.  I felt like I had all the security in the world being one of the best workers at a company, yet I was quickly struck down and eventually left for dead on the side of the road.

 

I hate hearing people talk about job security.  There is no such thing job security, because life is uncertain.  If you look up the word “uncertain” in the dictionary, don’t be surprised that there’s a picture of your life next to it.  People think that they can gain security in their job from having worked X number of years, or being buddy-buddy with their supervisors, or being “productive” (such a subjective word).  First of all, the company could go under at any moment or be bought and your future would become uncertain in an instant.  Second you never know what management is thinking.  They might actually be your buddy, but if the best interest of the company requires you to be fired, you can bet your ass they’re bigger buddies with the entity that pays their paycheck.

 

Job security (or rather, the lack of such a thing) is what has increased my interest in freelance work in the past few years.  In my mind, working as a freelancer is infinitely more secure than working for a single company.  Think about it: working full time for a single employer providing a single paycheck for your single set of services means that you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket.  Yes, it’s the thing that most people do because there’s lots of work out there to be done that falls under this category, but being the most abundant doesn’t make it the most secure line of work.

 

On the other hand, think of freelancers: as long as you have a good portfolio and a history of some work, you could potentially be hired by any client.  And most freelancers are working on different projects from different companies at the same time, often with a queue of more clients waiting for them to become available again.  This provides a diverse clientele, providing multiple sources of payment for any kind of service you can provide.  If one of these clients backs out or goes out of business or what have you, you’re not stranded because you have a rolodex filled with plenty of other potential sources of income.

 

Whenever I hear about job security, I laugh, because most people think about having great popularity at a company for many years.  For me, the ultimate job security comes from making your own income, an income based on multiple sources that can’t be demolished in one fell swoop.

The Daily Master Plan: News

We live in a totally different world today than not only our parents, but also ourselves, just a decade or two ago.  I vividly remember as a child reading through the yellow-colored pages of our small rural New Hampshire town’s monthly newsletter to see if anything interesting was happening around town.  Yikes.

Nothing is the same.  To me, there are no more newspapers, there are no more television news programs.  Those things are long forgotten in this age, struggling to survive like the postal service.  When a household like ours doesn’t find value in paying for long winded articles we’ll never read in a newspaper or for 120+ channels of mindless cable television, keeping in touch with the outside world is mostly regulated to the internet.

Today we read our news from familiar names on the web – CNN, Fox, MSNBC – but we also have the ability to tune into whoever else we so choose, from the humblest bloggers to the biggest online corporations.  From this plethora of options, we can cultivate exactly the news we want to read, though the options can often be overwhelming.

Here’s how I do it.

The biggest advance in news-reading technology we have today is the RSS feed.  Becoming increasingly popular in use over the past decade, RSS lets a website owner create a feed of information found on their site, typically news articles or blog posts.  Since these types of information are constantly being published, the RSS feed updates just as constantly, and other services, such as Google Reader, allow users to view multiple stores from multiple sources in a single location that updates as soon as new stories are published.

I mention Google Reader because that is my RSS reader of choice.  The interface is simple, and I’m already deeply invested in Google technology already (Calendar, Gmail, Maps, Docs, etc.) that it’s the most streamlined option.  There are others great readers out there as well, such as Reeder and Flipboard, so it’s worth exploring what works for you.

In the past I’d use Google Reader as my single stop for all my news, but recently I’ve tried to refine the process.  It’ll help make things clear to list out what kinds of blogs I follow:

Thankfully, the more busy of these sites offer feeds of just their top stories, so instead of having to sift through 350 Kotaku stories each week I’m only worried about 60 a week.  Still, with these 11 sources of information, There are often 50-70 articles to sift through each day- way more than I have time to read.

Therefore, usually twice a day – before lunch and before bed – I will sift through the “unread” items that land in my Google Reader, looking to see if the article is interesting or not based on the title and sometimes the short description.  Now since bigger stories will overlap between different sources, it’s important to determine if they provide different insight or not.  For example, Kotaku and Ars Technica both brought me stories simply announcing the arrival of the (in)famous Steam Summer Sale (it’s a big deal for gamers, believe me), but the only article I have time to read is another one published by Kotaku two hours later, highlighting 10 games that should be on your radar during the Sale.

That only leaves the actual reading part.  Now I could just read in Google Reader, but constantly having an unread counter is a little stressful, Google Reader doesn’t do the best job formatting content, and I’d have to be tied to my computer anyway.  No, what’s worked best for me lately is using one of my favorite services, Instapaper.

Created by one of the original lead developer of Tumblr, Marco Arment, Instapaper allows you to save any kind of article or post for later viewing in a single app/web view.  It sound a lot like the same kind of environment of just another reader, but Instapaper does the best job of formatting the content to look good and be easy to access, save, and move around.  For example, if I come across anything that makes me think of something I’d like to write about, I move it to my “Writing Ideas” folder which I can then open up on the computer when I feel like writing.

The actual reading comes soon after transferring content from Google Reader into Instapaper, such as after lunch and right before falling asleep.  When I’m done with an article I can discard it if it no longer holds importance, save it to a folder if I think I’ll need to reference it in the future (such as career advice), or move it to an active folder, such as writing ideas or things to act upon/check out.

It may not make perfect sense just reading, but in practice it’s been a really great method so far.  I’ll have to report back after a few more weeks/months and see if it’s still the most efficient method I’ve found.  I also get a lot of information from Twitter when I’m able to check it during the day, but using RSS means I don’t miss a single bit of information.

The Daily Master Plan: Dishes

Dishes are sure to be among the list of “least favorite chores” in most households, unless you’re constantly ordering takeout Chinese and McDonald’s (bad idea).  Trying to keep dishes at bay can often result in many heated arguments among spouses, family members, and/or roommates; thus an efficient method is a necessity today.  (Pro tip: owning a dishwasher helps a great deal)

Here’s how I do it.

We make good use of our dishwasher here, using it for almost every dish that can washed that way.  With two adults and two small children, it gets run almost every other day.  To keep a clearer counter and sink area (dish-related backup is often a problem here), we try to put dishwasher-safe dishes into the dishwasher as soon as we’re done using them, such as after meals, snacks, and drinks (I often keep a cup for myself and each kid out to be used all day for the same drink- they both like water and I enjoy carbonated water).  By putting dishes into the dishwasher as soon as possible, it prevents the counter from reaching it’s normal dishes-cluttered state.

All that’s left is non-dishwasher dishes: certain plates and cups, cooking utensils, good knives, pots and pans, etc.  To keep up appearances, I like to place all of these dishes into our deep sink, because it can fit quite a lot of dishes and it keeps the counters clear.  The only exception is knives and delicate glasses (i.e. wine glasses), which are placed on the counter next to the sink.  It’s a bad idea to have knives hidden at the bottom of a sink that might get filled with a few inches of water and soap suds, for obvious reasons, and glasses have been known to be crushed under other dishes.

I often leave these wash-by-hand dishes in the sink for most of the day, and they are usually cleaned in batches: once around 4:00 when doing a quick cleanup around the house before cooking dinner, and once after dinner/before bed.  There’s usually the same, average amount of dishes in the sink by these two times in the day, and they shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to plow through.  If I were to save them all for the end of the day, including dishwasher-safe dishes too, it can sometimes take half an hour to get through dishes, which is often a drain.  If I wash each wash-by-hand dish every time one is used, I’d be spending too much time stopping whatever else I was doing at that point in the day that the total time would add up to more than how long each batch takes.

Of course, these are the principles I’m trying to follow in creating a more harmonious and smooth day at home, so they’re never followed 100% and I often feel dread in my gut when I enter the kitchen and see multiple counters cluttered with dishes of all shapes and sizes.

Try this out and see how it works for you!


The Daily Master Plan is a series of posts regarding how I try to run my household to create maximum efficiency in every way possible.  

The Daily Master Plan: Chores Galore

For those who are unaware (or less knowledgeable) about who I am and what goes on in my life, the following paragraph is the TL;DR.

I’m a recently unemployed prepared foods associate, who also has a background in sandwich artistry, customer service, and custodial work, despite having a degree in computers.  I’ve screwed around with dozens of programming languages and built my own computers for the past decade, and I somehow find time to keep updated on the latest news about Apple, video games, and a range of other geeky subjects.  My wife works as a manager at a local banquet hall, handling social media tasks as well as coordinating events.  With her twenty hours a week and my lack of job, I quietly undertook the task of managing our household, which includes a three-bedroom house’s worth of chores, two children ages sixteen months and three years old, meals, finances, and more.  Adding my own desired activities to that list (including writing like this) has required quite a change in how I approach daily living.

Here’s how I do it.

It all starts with a handy household organizer that my wife found months ago, when I was still working.  The organizer provides three levels of planning: a monthly two-page calendar, a one-page weekly chore list, and a one-page daily planner.  What has worked best for us is to print out three-months worth of these pages at a time and get them spiral bound at Staples for about $5.  Add in the $9 yearly cost of the PDF of the planner, and the yearly cost is about $30.

Spoiler: totally worth every penny.

Image

Image taken from theconfidentmom.com

The monthly calendar is great for capturing events and activities coming up and can then easily be translated to the daily pages when that month arrives.  Anything occurring after our current scope of printed months goes on the marker board (or Google Calendar) until the appropriate book is printed and bound.

The weekly chore pages are the bread and butter of why this system is worth spending $30 a year.  Each chore page lays out dozens of chores that should be taken care of that week, and those chores are spread out evenly among the seven days of the week.  The weekends are typically light on chores, comprised of things like “plan the following week” and “cut children’s fingernails,” which provides a similar “relaxing” two-day break one would experience with a nine to five job.  The weekdays provide the bulk of chores, such as today’s dusting and vacuuming the main rooms, changing the children’s sheets, and cleaning the toilets.

What I find most helpful is that chores from a single area of the house are typically split among different days; instead of having to worry about cleaning the entire bathroom at once, I’m assigned to clean the toilet one day, the sinks and mirrors another day, the shower and floors a couple times a month, and changing the hand towel a few times a week.  Then more common daily tasks are given seven check boxes on this weekly sheet, such as sorting the mail, changing the kitchen towel, and making the beds.

Sure I could do these things without being told by a book, but having this book really takes a big chunk of stress out of my mind- I’m not constantly wondering about what needs to be cleaned.  If I follow the plan, everything is cleaned in the right amount of time, especially things I rarely think about cleaning.

The final part of the book is comprised of a daily page that provides a calendar with a block for each half-hour (we draw an arrow down through each block to detonate how long an event or errand will take).  Additionally there is space to write out things to remember, daily goals, and errands to run, all things that usually end up being translated to the daily calendar on the same page.

Yikes, that was a lot.  Perhaps I’ll save the rest of my daily plan for a post later today, or tomorrow.  Who knows?

See how flexible that was?  Now I just have to put “Write part 2 of ‘Daily Master Plan'” into Omnifocus and I’m all set. </spoiler>


The Daily Master Plan is a series of posts regarding how I try to run my household to create maximum efficiency in every way possible.  

5 min project: Monday

It boggles my mind that some schools/classes are still oblivious to differences in learning styles.  I say this because of a current programming class that expects students to read through an entire chapter on pointers (not my strongest suit to begin with), then answer dozens of questions, which is then finally followed by an exercise in typing out code.  Notice that the act of actual programming doesn’t happen until the last day of the week, which is preceded by six days of theoretical reading.

For kinesthetic learners like myself, it’s extremely difficult to read through something as dry as programming language.  I enjoy programming code more than a lot of things in life, but what I enjoy is the physical act of trial and error, of seeing what happens when I type out “p = line”, not reading about what it does.  If I score low on these written questions, it’s not because I don’t understand the material but rather it’s because reading that material feels very similar to eating sand.

5 min project: Friday

Mobile phones, like any technology, can be extremely frustrating in deciding which model to purchase.  I say this because my Verizon contract as been up for a month now, and I’m still sitting on the fence between possibly regretting a new phone now (probably the Droid Bionic), or waiting to see which rumored phones come true (Nexus Prime) as well as what kind of deals will be offered during the holiday season.

The biggest thing to remember while hitting your head against the wall, hoping that the correct decision will magically become clear, is that technology is constantly changing.  We’ve see how computer have changed over the past decade, shifting from a desire for raw processing speed to needing multi-cores and faster bus speeds to increase productivity.  With phones we’re beginning to see the same transition.  Dual-core phones are at the front of the line now and speeds are starting to level off.  Displays can only be a certain “high definition” when they’re so small, so things like clarity and viewability in the sunlight are now the focus.

With such subtle changes in phones today, there should be little regret over the next one or two years (depending on the contract) in phone choice as long as you choose a higher-powered device that will last that long.  My little 550 mhz original Droid is still kicking two years later, though overclocking to 1.25 ghz also helps a little.