Making My Coupons App Work With My Grocery List

I am waiting for someone to create an iPhone app that will allow my scanned coupons to work with my grocery list. I’d love to be able to select “lunch meat” and have the app tell me, “You have a scanned coupon for that. Note it in shopping list?” so that while I”m shopping I’ll know to pull that coupon. Ideally, the app would allow me to check off items on my list and hold them in another list, so that before I get to the checkout I could pull the coupons I want to use before I get to the checkout, but not in the middle of the aisle of groceries. If you can develop that app, I have several customers lined up for you. In the meantime, I have a method of scanning my coupons and exporting them to an excel file that I can use with my shopping list, and it’s not that difficult. The steps are as follows:

  1. Scan or import the coupons

  2. Export them to a file

  3. Unzip the file

  4. Import to spreadsheet

  5. Work with the data

The coupon app I use is called Coupon Keeper 2, and it’s not free. Current price on it is $12.99 and I’ve used more than that in coupons, so as long as I can actually use the coupons I clip, it’s worth it. There is a Lite version, and I’m not sure what the differences are.

1. Scan or Import the Coupons

Adding coupons can be done in four different ways: you can scan the coupon’s barcode, you can do a bulk import of the published coupons, you can type in the barcode and search for it, or you can manually put the information in.

To scan the barcode, find a comfortable position for the phone or import device where you will be able to move quickly from one coupon to the next without having to reposition the device each time you add a coupon. The position shown below is how I hold my iPhone while I’m scanning the barcodes of the coupons, it allows me to position the phone over the barcode and see what the camera sees, then to select the “save” button without moving my hand from the grip I have.

The green lines show where you want to position the barcode within the camera’s view. Once the camera gets a good focus on the barcode, it will capture the image automatically.

As the image is captured, the fields are populated with the coupon’s details, as well as an image of the coupon itself. Select the Save in the upper right. If you already have an identical coupon, you will be presented with the option to add the current coupon to an existing coupon. To manually add a coupon, you just type the information into the fields.

A bulk import is just like it sounds; you select the source of the coupons, by week, then within the source you select the items you are clipping and want to add to your database. My experience with this process is that there are going to be several items in the physical circular that aren’t listed in the bulk import, and the scan process for me is much more intuitive, so I don’t bother with the bulk import, I just clip the ones I want and scan them in.

If for some reason the coupon doesn’t scan (sometimes the camera just can’t focus the barcode well), you can type in the barcode and search. The app will find the coupon in the national database and populate the fields, just as it would with a scan, then you just select Save again.

2.Export them to a file

After you have your coupons entered into the phone’s app, you want to make the information about them available outside of the app, so we’re going to export the data out of the iphone into a file on your computer. So still in the Coupon Keeper app, go to the Settings icon, looks like a little gear, and select Data Management.

Within Data Management, select Export Active Coupons to iTunes. You could select Export All, but that would send expired coupons as well, and there may be some use for that, but not for this purpose.

Now we’re going to go to a part of iTunes you may not have known is there: File Sharing. With your phone connected to your computer and iTunes open, sync your phone. Then find the phone icon up near the upper left corner, and click on it:

In the left column, under Settings, select Apps. Scroll down to the bottom of all the apps loaded on your phone, and the whole screen will scroll up as well. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see File Sharing, and a list of apps that can share files with the computer from the phone.

You should fine a file with today’s date on it. Click once on that file to highlight it and elect Save to…, and navigate to the location you where you want to save it, then click on Save To.

3. Unzip the file.

The file has the same file name you saw in iTunes, and it’s zipped, so you’ll use whatever unzipper you normally use (modern systems will do this automatically just by double clicking on the filename).

It unzips it into a file folder, and the folder will have a comma-separated-values file and the images of all the coupons:

You can close the file manager now and we’ll open up Excel. If you are using a different spreadsheet, the instructions should work pretty much the same. So just open the program without opening up a file yet.

4. Import to a spreadsheet.

Select File, then in the dropdown menu, select Import.

What type of file do we want to import? It’s a comma-separated-value file, or CSV. If you opened the file just on its own, it would open up in a text-editor, and you would indeed see the values, or items in the file, separated by values, and it would be such a jumble that it wouldn’t make any sense. So we’re going to let Excel separate the values for us. Select Import.

Navigate to the folder ExportCoupon, then select the file Coupon.csv, and select Get Data. The next three steps are going to tell the spreadsheet how you want to see the data. The default selections should be correct, it’s a pretty simple file. Select Next>.

Once again, these defaults should be correct, and you should be able to see some of your coupons in the Data preview section. Select Next> again.

These defaults are also self-correct. Select Finish.

For this import, we do want to use the Existing sheet, and it should default to =$A$1, so just leave it there. Select OK.

 

5. Work with the Data.

Your spreadsheet is populated with ALL the coupon data, some of which is not going to be very useful. I keep the columns for Name, Category, Detail, Expiration, Quantity Available, and Value. I delete the columns that I don’t find useful, and I add one column for Item. In that column, I put what I call it in my grocery list. I also make sure the coupon Category corresponds with the category separators I use in my coupon keeper.

Verify some of the expirations, you may see this:

Verify if that coupon has no expiration, or if the database had it wrong, and if so, you can correct it here.

Now you have a spreadsheet of coupons that corresponds to your shopping list (I use Our Groceries, the free version because I don’t mind the ads), and you can sort the items in your spreadsheet so you are using the closest to expiration first, or by whatever else makes sense to you.

 

Posted in Life (mainly mine), Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pigeon

Something caught my eye this morning as I was going about my normal routine, a movement just outside my apartment window. I turned and saw a pigeon standing on his side of the ledge, peering at me through the glass. I had seen birds fly past my window before, many times, but I don’t recall any ever landing outside my window, at least not while I was standing looking through it. But birds do tend to live outside, so I moved on, giving it no further thought.

Walking past that same window about half an hour later, I saw him (her?) again. At least, I think it was the same bird, but as they all look very similar, it would have been difficult to say with any certainty. This time, however, I noticed something unusual about the bird–it had something attached to one of its legs.

I walked slowly and cautiously over to the window. The bird seemed unafraid as I approached, and even as I raised the window with a painstaking timidity, it never moved. It just stood there, watching me.

I didn’t try to reach out to it, not at first. I spoke softly to it, though I can’t imaging how the bird could hear my voice over the noises of the street below. “Well, bird,” I said, almost in a whisper, “where is your nest? I don’t see it up here anywhere.” Of course I didn’t expect the bird to answer, that would almost certainly indicate I was acting out a very realistic dream. I left the window open and went about the rest of my morning get-ready, sometimes talking at the bird as I went. Just before I began gathering my things to head out the door, I turned again back to the bird–only this time, he was standing inside my window. Not far inside, just one step onto the windowsill on my side of the glass, and still completely unafraid.

I tentatively walked to where the pigeon seemed to be waiting for me. He held out the leg with the attachment, and I could see that it was made of a soft leather, probably a deerskin, and it was held on with narrow strips of the material gently knotted. Untying it and unwinding it took much less time than I had predicted, and I was soon holding a diary-sized piece of very normal paper with a message:

Congratulations–this bird has chosen you as its new partner. He isn’t much of a companion, but he has brought me communiques from some very remote places. It is rumored he was instrumental in solving a murder mystery in Vladovostok. The message he brought me first didn’t indicate a name, and the legging he is wearing is the same one he came to me with about five years ago. It doesn’t seem to have been affected by time or weather. PS–he doesn’t always come back.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wages

In a well-meaning article from MIT, a “living wage calculator” showed the difference between the current minimum wage in various states and the costs of living under different circumstances in the different counties in those states. The project was designed to demonstrate the disparity between what Americans will tolerate as the least amount of money paid for any labor and the least amount of money it takes to live wherever you happen to be regardless of your circumstances.

For example, this image shows the results for Jefferson County, Alabama:

 

Here is the same chart for Fairbanks, Alaska:

We are left to draw a lot of our own conclusions from this project, because there are a lot of questions that are not answered. For example, why does a single person in Jefferson County, Alabama, spend $600 on housing? I did expect a lot more disparity between Alabama and Alaska, but I’m actually encouraged that the cost of living in Alaska is so low–I may still consider moving there.

There was no objective that I could find for the project. Are we to push for higher wages or greater transfer benefits? Both? The requirements for wages obviously decrease with other benefits provided. For example, if a family of 1 adult and two children is living in subsidized housing, $735 per month is extravagant.

We fall back to the decades-old debate regarding the purpose of the minimum wage, and entry-level jobs. The time to learn to work is BEFORE the children come along. The time to earn more than minimum wage is BEFORE the children come along. The time to gain entry into the workforce and develop skills is BEFORE the children come along. There is no societal reason, with all the advances in technology and education available to all layers of society (I’ll get to that in a minute) for anyone to never advance beyond entry level skills, with obvious exceptions to mental incapacity.

A worker can bring excellence to any position, and will quickly outgrow each position in so doing. Most managers are not stupid. They can spot talent and initiative. Most managers want to find someone who will go the extra mile. They want to foster growth. They want to bring people up beyond entry-level. Excellent employees are pursued by other employers.

There is no reason at all that a two-adult household must survive on 80 hours of minimum wage work. One of those adults can work more than one job, and should. One of those adults may be able to provide greater income working two, or even three, part-time jobs, than one minimum wage full-time job. Part-time work can often pay more than minimum wage, because the employer rarely pays benefits to part-time workers. Minimum wage jobs rarely offer benefits, so working one full-time job isn’t likely to offer any advantage over two or three part-time jobs. A single, childless worker certainly ought to be working more than 40 hours a week if the only work he can get is minimum wage.

We are majoring in minors, drowning in minutiae, focusing on entirely the wrong end of the work/wage string. We shouldn’t be trying to give more money for the same amount of work. Workers should be striving for excellence all the time. They should be demanding it of themselves all the time. They should be encouraging others to provide it, mentoring those new entry-level workers who haven’t a clue what the end of the minimum-wage line looks like.

Our path to this spot is littered with trophies acquired just by showing up. It is cluttered with diplomas received for spending a specified number of days occupying a school desk. The same mindset that has our children unable to deal with difficulties and crises has them blaming society for their poverty. The rise in suicides over bullying isn’t about bullying. It’s about the inability of a tender psyche to get over hurt feelings. Our children are no longer allowed to be resilient enough to deal with their problems.

And therein lies the major issue.

We have padded hard times so they don’t hurt so bad. We’ve made it easier for moms to raise kids without the burden of a permanent man in their lives. We’ve taken away the stigma of divorce so that if it feels good, it is good, and whatever emerges out of it is society’s responsibility.

Frankly, if a student can’t handle getting a bad grade on a report card, it’s pretty evident that the child is not ready for college, let alone a professional position. Until they learn to take some hard knocks at a minimum wage job, they are not fit for anything greater. And until they understand that they are not too good for the minimum wage job, they’re barely good enough for it.

Posted in Economics in Practice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s See if I Can Provoke a Lawyer

NutriBullet

Nutri-Bullet

Nutri Bullet

Nutribullet

I’ve spelled it as many ways as I can think of that will still trigger the spider crawling the web for the hyperactive lawyers for the Nutribullet company.

I follow a blog called Lazy Man and Money. It is devoted to helping readers get value for their money without having to spend every waking moment in that pursuit. The blogger often reviews products that he has purchased with his own money. His reviews are completely unbiased, as a result, and based solely on his experience with the products, rather than being paid endorsements. I can highly recommend this blog if you’re interested in seeing how other people are making money work for them after they’ve worked so hard to get it.

Not all that long ago, Lazy Man posted a review of Nutribullet, a higher-end blender for making juices and smoothies. You’ve probably heard of it. He really liked the product and gave it a great review, and included links to sites where the item could be purchased. Nutribullet should have been thrilled and asked him if they could send him some recipes or accessories in gratitude.  In fact, for product review for a different product, the company did send a letter of thanks, and did offer to send him some product.

Nutribullet sent him a Cease and Desist letter.

It’s as though they don’t want anyone saying anything good about them, although the reality is almost certainly not that well-thought-out.

I understand that automation is the wave of the present and future. It seems to have escaped the lawyers here, though, that sometimes a human needs to oversee the automation. I believe that where something is so badly gone wrong as this, a computer crawled the web looking for likely incidents of trademark infringement and found the name mentioned at Lazy Man’s website. Rather than setting the spider to notify the trademark holder of what it found, it seems that the spider sent out these notices indiscriminately. Had some real human in the lawyer’s office actually read the blog posting, no such notice would have ever been sent.

Lazy Man is protected, furthermore, under Fair Use Doctrine. Captain Jack Sparrow said there are two rules: What a man CAN do, and what a man CAN’T do. Here it is in a nutshell.

What a man CAN do: You are allowed to use a trademarked name or copyrighted material for certain uses and under certain conditions. You are allowed to name the name in a product review, or for other informational purposes. You are allowed to use someone’s logo in your review or article on their product. You are allowed to play a clip of a song in a review or article.  You are allowed to talk it up or talk it down.

What a man CAN’T do: You are not allowed to use someone else’s material and call it your own. You are not allowed to take someone else’s material and sell it without their permission. Their permission may include license of some sort, may include compensation of some sort, may include attribution of some short, or may include none of those things. You are not allowed, without permission of the trademark or copyright holder, to use someone else’s material in advertising for your product.

In one of my other blogs, Grown Up Tech, I use photographs that are licensed under a Creative Commons license; there are different levels of Creative Commons license, but the one I use most is the Attribution license. The owner of the artwork requires only that you appropriately attribute the work to him. I also did a review of Microsoft’s products, Evernote’s products, and Amazon’s drone. I used artwork provided in their press packages. Those photos and logos were provided for exactly that use. The companies actually WANT you to use those photos, they are provided because they demonstrate exactly the image those companies want to portray.

Cornell University has produced a Fair Use Checklist for public use. It’s downloadable as a PDF, so keep a copy of it handy. Seriously, it would have been good for Nutribullet’s lawyers to have had a copy of this, don’t you think?

Do you know of any other cases of misapplication of this law? As technology becomes more ubiquitous, we’ll hear more and more. Tell me your stories on it in the comments.

Posted in Economics in Practice, Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

It’s Time To Demand Excellence

The money I spend on things represents an exchange of excellence. It represents the fruits of my best efforts exchanged with the fruits of my employer’s best efforts. As such, when I purchase something, I expect the fruits of the other party’s best efforts. If I am willing to exchange less than excellence, that is, less money, I expect less in return. But I stand behind my efforts, and when we have an agreement for exchange, you will get what we agreed you will get. Because I am willing to make you whole in the agreement we make, I have a moral right to expect the same of you.

The general understanding in America is that unless stated otherwise, goods sold new are in NEW, PERFECT condition. No flaws. No defects. No usage. No wear-and-tear. From the moment of first use, degradation begins. That’s a given. Wear and tear happens, and sellers and makers should not be held responsible for what happens with normal use. But we should be able to hold them accountable when normal use results in excessive damage, or when damage is discovered not attributable to use, for example when the item is broken or damaged when it is removed from packaging, or when it falls apart with just a few uses, as I experienced recently. Because the seller did (eventually) make the necessary adjustment, I will not publish the name. This isn’t about them, in particular. It’s about sorry customer service in general.

There are a lot of different things that affect the delivery of customer service. One of them is the culture of the organization. If the top levels of the organization are firm in the belief that the customer must get what he has paid for, and have communicated that to all levels, all levels usually exemplify that understanding.

In this case, I don’t know that it was ever articulated. I don’t know much about the firm from an internal standpoint. We purchased several items, all quite large and none of them were cheap.  I understand that things happen. I understand that during a milling process there may be flaws in thread and yarn. I understand that much of the work that produces our goods is automated, and I understand that quality checks pull items out of batches, not every individual piece. So when one of the pieces was discovered, upon unpacking, to have a flaw, I was not surprised that the store immediately ordered a replacement. This piece was small enough that I was able to return it to the store and bring the new one home when it came in.

In less than two months, a flaw was detected in both of the larger pieces. They are identical, and as a matter of fact, four flaws were detected altogether, in the same place on both sides of each piece. Getting acknowledgment that this was a problem was easy. Getting the replacement parts for the pieces took some time. I understood that as well, the service manager said he had five similar situations. If I am the factory manager and one store calls with five situations all alike, that means I probably have stores all over my region with the same issue–and I need to find out why. That can explain why the factory was slow in replacing the parts.  But it doesn’t explain why the factory didn’t communicate that to the service manager, and it doesn’t explain why the service manager didn’t explain it to me. The service manager should have been pushing harder for that information.

In the mail, we received a little envelope of hardware. It came in before the actual parts did by almost two weeks, and as it turned out, was never used. The large replacement parts were delivered to my house via UPS. Then I found out that we were expected to do the repairs ourselves, and then bring the (very large) defective parts in to the store.  Let me explain this: We are not repair technicians for this type of item. And even if we were, the concept of making the customer whole should not include having them repairing their own merchandise when the merchandise is covered under warranty.

I was never again able to get the service manager on the phone. But I did–after several attempts and messages left–get on the phone with the store manager. In a conversation that lasted way too long, she insisted that since we did not have the merchandise delivered, repair at our home was not covered by the warranty. We would have to bring the items in, or pay a fee to have someone come to our home.  Never raising my voice, but nonetheless sounding, I’m sure, very frustrated, as I was, I pressed the issue that this was defective merchandise and the right thing to do when the customer has been sold defective merchandise is to make the customer whole at no inconvenience to the customer. The larger and more expensive the purchase, the more this should be the case.

I told her that someone has the authority to make this happen, and she said that would be the owners, and they have never done so. I asked for the owners’ names, and she said she couldn’t give out that information, and when I said, “That’s okay, it really is a matter of public record, I can get that information in a matter of minutes, don’t worry about it,” her whole tone changed. She immediately said that she would make a phone call first thing in the morning, and if I didn’t hear from her by Monday, I should call her.

I had no intention of calling her. I was tired of calling people.

On Monday I did a search on the store’s name and found the names of the owners. It just so happens that the store’s Google listing also lists the owners’ Google+ page for the store. I let fly.  Then I did a Facebook search and found the store has a Facebook page as well. I copied and pasted from the Google+ page into the Facebook page.  Keep in mind that there was never any abusive language exchanged. There was never any shouting. There was never any profanity. But within an hour I got a phone call from the store’s General Manager who wanted to set up a time to have the repairmen come out to my house and make the necessary repairs and pick up the defective parts.

The repairs were not something we could have done. It took two knowledgable men nearly two hours to get it done. We would have taken much longer and may possibly have done further damage to the pieces. I’m satisfied that the replacement parts have resolved the issue, and we have been made whole.  But it took the megaphone of social media to make it happen.

I offer excellence. And only because I offer excellence do I feel that I have the right to expect it of others. The miracle of social media is not that we can share billions of cat videos or even that we can keep in touch with friends and family, although that is one of the benefits I enjoy. The real miracle of social media, if we will use it, is that it allows us to hold people accountable in a very public way. Now, we have to be responsible to do this effectively. We must remain respectful. We must remain honest. We must not ask for things we do not genuinely deserve. But with our new media, everyone has a voice, and we should be using it to demand excellence.

Posted in Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cyberbullying Has Very Little to do with the “Cyber” Part

To begin with, I do not want to be interpreted as not having sympathy for victims of bad behavior. In fact, the whole reason behind my other blog (www.grownuptech.com) is to empower people to make use of technology to increase their prosperity. But the bold reality is that cyberbullies are bullies regardless of access to technology. Technology just makes it easier to torment people, and opens up the floodgates of available victims.

Technology is never the cause of problems between people. Technology is, for good or bad, for better or worse, a facilitator. Technology can assist in fanning an old flame on Facebook; in fact, Facebook is being blamed for an increasing number of divorces. A strong marriage in the first place is not vulnerable to such, and a partner who could be swayed on Facebook could be swayed anywhere else as well. Technology is being blamed for the rise in pornography addiction. Although it wasn’t as widely known, due to the lack of resources to tell us about it, pornography was available before computers were putting it on the web. And before printed pornography, there were “peep shows” and stalkers. Technology is being blamed for cyberbullying. Saying mean things is nothing new. If you didn’t receive the barbs, you saw it happening to others.

The problem isn’t the technology, and removing the technology from the picture isn’t going to solve it. The problem is lack of respect for people and relationships. And the reason it is spreading isn’t because of the availability of technology. It’s because the lack of respect for people and relationships is spreading.

One thing that is different is that our children have unprecedented unsupervised access to unlimited numbers of people that they may or may not know. You may think that you have your child’s internet access closely supervised, but unless you spend all your time in that child’s presence, you don’t have that access completely controlled. Your child has friends who have that unlimited access, and once they hand over a smartphone to your child to watch a humorous video, the world is at your child’s fingertips.

Having the ability and opportunity to see the world from many different viewpoints is excellent, and I encourage you to share those opportunities with your children. Let them see the different lives that make up the world, and how those different lives affect what the people living them think and feel and do. Ask them questions that start out, “If that was you, what would you do?” But make sure that you are involved in that exploration. This is appropriate use of this wonderful resource.

Bullying is bullying, regardless of where and how it happens. What is less well-known, however, is that every bully has been bullied.  A bully is seeking to exercise worth or superiority, or to manifest strength and power, when the bully is feeling none of those things. At the heart of every bully is a cowering, trembling little child desperately trying to be someone not cowering and not trembling, and the only way they know to make that happen is to do to someone else what they perceive is being done to them. Bullying is learned behavior. That in no way excuses the bully, because it is still a choice. But as a parent, as a sibling, as a classmate, as a spouse, as a friend, you have opportunities every day to not contribute to the creation of a bully simply by not being one. By extending respect to everyone you encounter, and by demonstrating to your children that this is the only acceptable way of interacting with people, you can prevent the creation of bullies.

When you or someone you know is on the receiving end of bullying, only two courses of action will stop the misbehavior: walk away, and have nothing to do with the bully; or stand up to the bully. Standing up doesn’t have to mean retaliating, it just means not allowing the bully to determine what you do and how you feel. The primary factor in that is not being formed externally. When you, or your children, know that you are a being of worth regardless of other people, when that is an inherent part of a person’s being, a bully has no effect.  Since what the bully is seeking is validation and power, not granting that negates the process without causing collateral damage. Online, that can mean unfriending/blocking a bully, and I don’t understand why more people don’t take that action. I also don’t understand why more parents don’t know that it’s going on in their children’s lives, and I don’t understand why, when the parents DO know about it, they don’t insist on simply severing the connection.

This isn’t rocket science. Respect people. And don’t allow people to have extended influence in your life if they can’t treat you with respect. It really is that simple.

Posted in Technology in perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

No Expectation of Privacy

I have tried a couple of times to post this to facebook, but it never makes it to publication.  I got to Google+.

The liberal media wants to play this down by saying it’s not important. It is. Make no mistake.

Obamacare Gets Creepier! “You Have No Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy” In Source Code

 

Posted in Liberty | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Resurrection–or rebirth from the ashes?

I got a bit scatterbrained and confused toward the end of 2013, and as a result I did not get this domain and blog transferred before I terminated my service with 1&1.  Oops–lesson learned: make a list and follow the steps–in order!  As you can see, I finally got everything moved and activated.  It is going to take me several weeks to get all the posts back into place, and I know I lost some.  However, thanks to two incredibly useful tools, I have most everything.

If you are not familiar with the “Wayback” machine, you should be.  It is the nickname for www.archive.org’s snapshots of wayyyyy too many websites to keep count of–although they have counted them.  Southernfriedyanqui.com had sixteen snapshots since its inception, but those sixteen snapshots provided quite a lot of redundancy. If you remember having seen a website that is no longer up and running, check the Wayback Machine to see if there’s a snapshot of it.

The other tool is Qumana, the blogging software I was using before I started using the WordPress tools. Qumana is a free program for the Mac platform, and it had saved each post I had written using it. It is nice and easy to use, but as my blogging goals evolved, the tools in Qumana just weren’t going to be able to keep up.

Neither tool has provided copies of the comments, though. That’s a shame.

If you notice the byline, I figured Lazarus would be an appropriate pseudonym; it’s a little more believable and less cheesy than “Phoenix.”

The appearance of this site will undergo some changes as I try to get it back to the state it was in when I lost it. I had put a lot of work into it, getting it set up just right, and now I can’t remember what all I did to it. It was also with a different hosting service, so I don’t know how much that will affect what I can do to make it look just like it did before.

So welcome back to Southernfriedyanqui dot com, and man, it’s good to be back up and running!

Posted in Life (mainly mine) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Unintended Consequences

A sudden departure in our department resulted in our System Administrators being left short-handed. For the most part, most departments in most organizations can tolerate short-term short-staffing. It generally means that activities can take a bit longer to complete, and it can leave the remaining staff feeling overwhelmed. The PC support group has felt that at times, with various staff members being unavailable due to individual circumstances. Most of the time we roll with it.

Due to budget constraints, there was a question as to whether the department was going to be able to fill the position. Approval was eventually granted from the powers that be, the opening was announced and the position was posted. When I told my husband that the guy had left, he asked me if that was something I would be interested in moving into. I told him I didn’t feel qualified, that position has a great deal more responsibility that I have as a PC Support Technician. Our site lead let us know where we could find the postings in case we were interested, and when I looked at them, job posting assured me I wasn’t qualified. One of the qualifications for the position is Security+ certification, or the ability to attain the cert within three weeks.  I dismissed the idea and moved on. I genuinely enjoy my work, and I know that I could work with whomever was selected to fill the position.

During this time, I have continued to study for that Security+ exam. This is the next logical step for any mobility in my career, at my current employer or anywhere else. I have been working the plan I had laid out for moving toward the actual exam. However, as time went on, I felt impressed to apply for the System Administrator position, regardless of my perceived lack of qualification. I have read many times that we shouldn’t be afraid to apply for a position for which we may not feel perfectly qualified. I sent my husband a text message telling him I planned on applying for the position. He replied with enthusiasm and expressed is confidence in my skills and abilities. My husband is my strongest cheerleader.

The process for working for a government contractor has a lot of hoops to it. The prime contractor had decided which of its subcontractors would post the position, and applications would go through them. The subcontracting company I work for was not one of the two through whom this posting was issued. Even though I am already employed through a subcontractor, for me this process would entail applying through a different company, and I would be required to leave the company I work for and begin employment with a different company. Before I embarked on that process, I got my updated resume to our site lead, and I told him that I knew I would need to jump through all the proper hoops, but I wanted him to have my resume right away. He was very encouraging, and he also advised me to wait on the formal application process for a day or so while he checked on something. He wanted to find out if they were going to have my company post the position; that would make it a lot simpler for me. A few days after that, he mentioned that I might want to ask my company if they knew anything about the position, so that they could try to get the authority to post it.

The company I directly work for has impressed me in a lot of ways. The process of working for the federal government, even as a contractor or subcontrator’s employee, is a tree-killing operation. It can become very confusing, and it is intimidating. The Human Resources director walked me step by step through each phase, answering my questions and making sure we got it all correct the first time. I did not want to have to go through all that again, but if it was necessary, I would. But when I asked the HR director if they would be allowed to submit me for consideration for this SysAdmin position, she passed it on to one of the VP’s, and he took the ball and got my name into consideration. He did ask if I felt qualified for the position, and I laid it out for him: I had done something similar at my previous position; I am already onsite, and I am already aware of the culture and methods; additionally I would be available to fill in on PC support as necessary because I have been doing it. I also told him that I was aware that there would be a lot of candidates for this position, most of whom would be better qualified that I; but I am no worse off for trying, and I would be able to work well with whomever was selected for the position. I left it at that, and the VP got my resume submitted.

The notification that I got the job was a complete surprise. I feel it’s a good move for the organization, though, because it does allow them to hold a position that they might lose completely if they couldn’t fill it internally, and this way they don’t lose a PC Support position that they also might not be allowed to fill if that got vacated completely. As with every new endeavor, I have had moments where I wondered if I can really do justice to the work. Then I remember, I have had these moments with every new endeavor. My husband has expressed his confidence in me, and he is the one who knows me best; he also never pays empty compliments. NEVER.

But one result of this new position is that I need to move faster on Security + exam prep. I don’t know that I have only three weeks, but I do need to make it happen and FAST. I have finished my first pass through on my primary book. I have been listening to the recordings I have made. I have the study guides from ExamCram loaded onto my Nook so I can squeeze in some studying anytime I get a chance. In fact, I have put all my other tech goals on hold so I can focus intensely on this one.

I’m ready for this.

Posted in Growth (Evidence of Life) | 1 Comment

Journey’s progress–early January

Well before the old year ended I had built up a good roll of momentum on my techknowledgy goals of Security+ certification, a working understanding of Python, and learning how to use Dreamweaver. Among all of the tech available to learn, I chose these three carefully for their immediacy of implementation, their property of being the next logical step, and the quality of being foundational to something else I want to do/learn.  Something that makes achievement work for me is the accountability factor, so here is a progress report on these three goals:

Security+
I’ll start here because this one has the heaviest career impact. I have one main book I am reading, and I have just finished Chapter 6, of a total of 15 chapters. I also have the predecessor to this book. Let me explain this, the book is not outdated, completely, but the exam has changed a bit, as the CompTIA exams do from time to time to reflect the changes in the technology they are certifying for. According to CompTIA’s website:
“The new exam covers more of the approach that organizations need to take to proactively address security risk control and mitigation,” said Terry Erdle, executive vice president, skills certification, CompTIA. “We’ve also included more content in areas such as forensics, cloud computing and virtualization. The focus is on the proactive elements like designing network security to accommodate cloud and the potential threats associated with it.

I am reading the old book aloud into Audacity, which produces a recording. I am exporting the recordings into mp3 files, and bringing them into iTunes as an audiobook. I can read along with the book as I listen to the recordings.  I have finished eight of these recordings, each about an hour in length, and that book has a total of 12 chapters, so I am two-thirds of the way done with that. So far the main difference I’ve seen between the two versions is the organization of the material, and it’s possible that there may be very many differences that I don’t notice because I’m being exposed to such a broad bunch of material.  If I really buckle down, I may record the new book as well, to give me a more thorough read-through of all the material.

I also have a bookmark to the Security+ entry in Wikibooks. This was a valuable find, because, although the material in the entry itself refers to the previous version of the test, it contains external lnks to other sources, and those sources have been updated to reflect the latest test changes.

A friend at work as the CBT Nuggets training videos. CBT stands for Computer Based Training. This is like sitting in a classroom with an instructor. He’s finished with the exam, having passed with a score of 850 out of a possible 900. Yeah, I’ll use his study material.

After I have read through all the material I have, one time, then it’s time to start taking practice tests. I have one test engine on my computer, and there are a BUNCH of them available on the web, most offer enough questions at a time to give provide a good indication as to how well-prepared I am.  The weak scores will tell me where I need to go back and re-read, or maybe seek out some deeper information.

I have a long way to go on this but I feel like I’ve picked up some speed and some torque.

Python

I’ve finished Chapter Two in my book Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner. I really got hung up on variables the last time I tried to learn this stuff, but—my gosh the web is a wonder! I found a website that had a free download to a book called Snake Wrangling for Kids, an introductory book to Python aimed at middle-school-aged kids, and I was able to break through that mental block. I’m about halfway through Chapter Three now, I’m taking my time on this one because I really need to put my focus onto the Security+ training. But I do get kind of a kick when I write a piece of code, it doesn’t work, I track down the error, fix it, and then it runs! Python is very good about telling you what it doesn’t like about your code, in a general sense. It will highlight the error in the development environment if you’re using one, and it will tell you WHAT is wrong, but not necessarily how to fix it. Good practice, it helps me to learn the syntax better when I have to figure out why the program doesn’t like what I’ve written.

Dreamweaver

Adobe has put out a lot of very good material to help people use their products. They should—some of these products are very expensive. Relative to what they can do, and relative to the kind of money to be made with them, they aren’t really all that costly, but if you can’t monetize the product’s output, it’s hard to justify buying them. The series I have from Adobe is short lessons on how to navigate each product. I guess I’m just going to have to get in there and do it in order to really learn how to use it, but, like Python, it’s kind of something I do at a slow pace because the focus is on the big project of Security+. I just finished the sixth of 29 lessons. I expect that I’ll have to get some more project-based lessons to really learn this stuff. It’s out there, but it’s not Priority Number One yet.

All in all….

I feel that 2013 is off to a great start. I haven’t set a target date for the Security+ exam, because my primary job is MOM, and I don’t know from day to day how much of my time that will take. When I finish the material the first time through, I’ll take one practice exam, and then I’ll set the date. The nearer that date looms, the less my family will see of me as I go into final-prep mode. But it’s a journey worth taking.

Posted in Life (mainly mine) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment