January 27, 2008

Dusting Off Resolutions from 1995

New Year's resolution: something that goes in one Year and out the other --- Unknown

Going through old paperwork (my wife's "suggestion"), I came across my New Year's resolutions for 1995:
  1. no bedtime snacking (don't eat during the two hours before sleeping)
  2. proper sleep (by midnight and until 7:30am)
  3. proper exercise (3-4 times a week)
  4. proper budgeting (daily)
It's now 2008 and those same items remain challenges. The list is even longer. Do you have the same challenges doing what matters most? Since habits are said to take three weeks to become part of our lives, you'll likely know by now.

Baby Steps
I've made progress, but in areas related more to business than health and family. The first three items are still priorities. I've got no intention of budgeting daily. Too boring. A pay-yourself-first type of savings plan is a simpler alternative.

Exercise looks like the "magic bullet" that synchronizes with diet and sleep to change our lifestyle. We joined a family fitness club after reviewing our options. Our membership starts next week. Let's see how long that lasts.


January 20, 2008

Great Customer Service from Rogers

Readers know that I rarely mention company names because they aren't relevant. Today's an exception.

When travelling, Internet access can be intermittent or expensive. When in Canada, I take mobile broadband with me. I use WiMAX --- like long range WiFi --- in the form of Rogers Portable Internet, which provides access in selected cities (see my review). You need a special modem and a wall outlet, which isn't too onerous.

While packing for a trip to a venue without Internet access, I found that my modem wasn't working. Normally the five lights on the top flash and show the signal strength. All my lights were a solid green but there was no signal.

I called Rogers tech support. After a few minutes, a technician concluded that the modem was bad. Luckily, I had three days left on my one year warranty. He'd send a replacement but delivery would take 3-5 business days. I needed a replacement that day.

I had an idea. Could I exchange the modem at the Rogers store where I bought it? The support rep thought so. As a courtesy, he looked up the phone number for me and waited while I confirmed that the store had modems in stock. He also wrote up a problem report so that the store would have proof that an exchange was required.

Minutes Later
Minutes later, I went to the store and was told that they did not exchange modems regardless of what tech support thought. I asked if they could make an exception. No luck. I left disappointed. What could I do?

Asking For Help
Once home, I phoned Rogers Customer Service and explained my dilemma. The representative phoned the store and was told that they only made exchanges during the first 30 days. During months 2-12, defects were the manufacturer's problem. She didn't have any authority over them. I was ready to give up hope but she had an idea. She'd give me a $100 credit for the price of a new modem, I'd buy another one and call tech support to activate it. What a terrific solution!

There And Back Again
Why won't pesky customers just stay out? That's probably what the store thought when I returned. I explained that I wanted to buy a new modem and why. They were surprised. They accidentally tacked on $30 for a starter kit which I clearly didn't need. When I noticed, they removed that item.

When I got home, I saw that I'd been tricked. They'd given me a used modem. However, it worked and I didn't want to return to the store again. I just wanted something that worked.

Lessons Learned
Customer service depends on who's helping you. Yes, everyone was polite. However, some reps follow rules strictly --- maybe they think they have no choice? Others are more creative. We can each deal with the same company and have different experiences. Or we can have different experiences with one company at different times. Customer service isn't consistent anywhere.

The hotel was nice and I'd stayed there before. However, they put me on the second floor beside the ice machine in a room overlooking a loading dock. While checking out, the front desk asked how my stay was. Fine, I replied. After all, my mobile broadband worked beautifully.


January 14, 2008

How Much Do You Really Earn?

There is nothing more demoralizing than a small but adequate income.
--- Edmund Wilson

How much do you make?

Chances are, you think of your annual earnings. That's not the ideal comparison.

Suppose that Callie earns $100,000 a year and Sandy earns $50,000. We'd conclude that Callie earns twice as much because we ignore an important factor: the hours worked. Suppose Callie works 80 hours a week while Sandy works 40. Then both earn the same hourly rate. Now who's ahead? Probably Sandy who has more time to enjoy life.

The idea of looking at earnings on an hourly basis came from The Four Hour Work-Week by Timothy Ferriss. The book is one of my favourites. It got me thinking about wisdom acquired years ago: the cost of anything is how much of your life you pay (e.g., money, time, health). Too often we think only of the cost in dollars.

Since our tax system is "progressive", the more we earn, the higher our tax rates. In our example, Sandy likely comes out ahead when we look at after-tax earnings per hour.

If you're paid a salary or commission, you probably don't know what you earn per hour. You may be shocked once you do a quick calculation.
I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expenses, and my expense is equal to my wishes. --- Edward Gibbon

Nothing hurts more than having to pay an income tax, unless it is not having to pay an income tax. --- Thomas Robert Dewar

January 5, 2008

The Low Noise Life

Everybody's talking at me.
I don't hear a word they say.
--- Harry Nilsson, Midnight Cowboy
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
--- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
We are what we eat. We're also what we consume with our senses. We don't let garbage accumulate in our homes. Yet we let garbage get dumped in our minds and rot there.

Our attention spans are limited. The more noise, the harder to detect a signal. We're like the SETI project looking harder and harder for intelligence but finding so little. Waking up to news radio depressed me before I got out of bed. What a way to start the day.
All the while the world is turning to noise.
Oh the more that it's surrounding us, the more that it destroys
Turn up the signal. Wipe out the noise.
--- Peter Gabriel, Signal To Noise
While "no news is good news", bad news is good ratings. If it bleeds, it leads. And hurts us.

What Can We Do?
We achieve more when we focus. We focus more when we eliminate the irrelevant. You'll find that's nearly everything. Thirteen months ago --- without telling anyone --- I
  • cut out news, sports, entertainment, traffic and weather reports
  • suspended the newspaper
  • started chucking out most junk mail
The first few weeks were scary. How can you work with clients when you're tuned out? Not a problem. They don't want to discuss current affairs with you. There are many other topics for small talk. If pressed, it's easy enough to say that you've been busy working and ask for a synopsis.
I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.
--- Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes”

Here's what gets through
  • selected magazines: the articles and advertising give ideas
  • audiobooks: educational (generally nonfiction)
  • neighborhood newspaper: for local happenings
  • social media: for what others think is important (e.g., Digg and Google News)
There are more extreme guidelines in what Timothy Ferriss calls the Low Information Diet in his book The Four Hour Work Week.

You're lost during small talk because you don't know the latest about senseless violence, Stephen Harper, the US election, oil prices or, sadly, Jessica Biel. That's okay. You can listen and ask questions. Or daydream. Chances are others won't notice.

It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. --- William of Occam
More than a year has passed. Here are the results: more peace of mind and more focus. Your computer runs faster and has more free memory when you stop unnecessary programs from running in the background. The same with our minds.

Image from dubqnp.dk