Net Neutrality Or Die

Ok maybe that’s a little extreme… However, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this passionately about something that is going on in the world. I truly believe Net Neutrality is a right that the public should have. So what is Net Neutrality? It is the belief that all content on the internet should be given the same credence (aka bandwidth) and people should be able to choose what content they want to see without any impediments (like limiting bandwidth for less popular sites).

There’s actually a really great video from Endgaget where they interview Tim Wu, who explains why Net Neutrality is so important and what has gone on recently. I recommend everyone watch it. So much so that I’m going to make it easy for you and embed it here.

As an American I take pride in the freedoms that we have but it worries me that these freedoms are being lost as corporations control more and more of our political process. Part of what makes the internet so great is that you can get anywhere and find even the smallest of blogs if you just search hard enough. Though the video above really describes this is in the mobile broadband space, what happens when we take one step in that direction. Why wouldn’t the telecom companies that provide business and home internet service not want to follow in mobile carriers footsteps and start limiting access from computers as well? I think this is the next big thing in technology that we really do need to fight for our rights. It may not seem like much now but it could change the whole internet tomorrow.

Seriously, You Can’t Care Even A Little?

This is what I want to say whenever I speak to anyone in the billing departments of hospitals and even moreso when I speak to the people at the insurance companies. Because really, I do honestly believe that they don’t care *at all* about us. And it’s really frustrating to be on the phone trying to figure out why your bills are so high when you have a full-time job. Or in my case a full-time job and part-time school. Why do I have to spend 40+ hours trying to figure out why I was billed this way and why this is even a valid bill to begin with. Granted at some point you even start wondering if it is worth spending this much time trying to work out your bill or if you could be spending your time on other things. I mean if I calculated the amount of time I’ve spent trying to get this figured out and how much that would cost my company that bills me out by the hour, I’m pretty sure it’d be a tiny fraction of what my time could be used for. Yet, for me that sum of money is actually legitimate and it makes a difference whether I have it or not so here I am on the phone with like 8 million different health care professionals trying to figure out what to do.

Sometimes I really wonder who works there. I mean honestly how can you just sit there and tell someone that well I’m sorry you just have to make that choice, which is what I heard on the other end of the phone today for a procedure that I’ve been “strongly advised” to get. For something that could be a life or death illness that has yet to be diagnosed. But what incentive do I have to spend this money when I’ve been told that I’m not sick for the past 5 years. However, there is a chance that it could all go horribly wrong and so now I have to make a choice between what my doctors think I should do and what I can afford to do. I don’t even have much of a choice about what I *want* to do.

And don’t get me started on the bills that Congress are looking at. I mean what kind of a cruel joke is that. You are giving the insurance companies essentially complete power over the masses and requiring all of us “little people” to buy into plans that perhaps we can’t afford and in fact may even be detrimental for us. Honestly if you can’t come up with legislation that is somewhat decent don’t even bother. I’d rather have people stick to what is right than try to pass something that really only makes sense for the bottom line of hospitals and insurance companies. I’m sorry supporting insurance companies and hospitals is really not my concern. Nor do I think it’s something my tax dollars should be paying you to help!

Finding The Silver Lining

Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to find the silver lining in life. I’ve been waffling between being unable to have the energy to look for the silver lining and trying so hard to find it that I just go out and do crazy things. While the crazy stuff is fun, I forget that I’m not 16 anymore, I can’t go out for 6 days in a row with no sleep and still be able to do the work I need to do for grad school and hold down a grown up job. Thankfully I have yet to do anything so idiotic that I get fired from said grown up job but that doesn’t really make me feel any better because I know I’m smarter than this. Anyway the point of this is not to crib about all of that but to point out that sometimes even when life is hard there really is a silver lining in there somewhere.
I mention this because I have a lot of friends who are struggling with the job search right now and um, I understand just how much it sucks. I remember when I got out of college and I didn’t have a place to live or enough money to do anything. I lived mostly out of my car for nearly 2 months but thank god for D who let me crash with her during that time before I had enough money to even be able to afford an apartment. It sucks. But remember it’s not permanent and it’s not forever. I even ended up taking a couple of AWFUL jobs in that time. I was a glorified secretary that they called an office manager except I did all sorts of crap stuff, like replace soda in the refrigerators and make lunch on Fridays. I swear it was the most frustrating thing ever because I thought to myself, “I went to college. I have a double major in Physics & Philosophy. And honestly, I’m smarter than most of you people that work here, I can’t believe I have to do this. This is so demeaning.” And at the time it really was.
Oh and there was this OCD woman that I worked for. You would think that someone with OCD is really clean, that’s just the general stereotype. Wrong. She had stacks of paper piled so high that there was just a narrow little pathway from the entrance to the staircase which I would have to go up to go to her “computer room”. And everything was covered in plastic because she had “cleanliness issues”. She also ran a “clutter workshop” to help others declutter their lives and for the life of me I do not understand because I really didn’t think she was the picture of learning how to clean up your clutter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make fun of her, I’m glad she was trying to organize her life. It just didn’t really seem like it to me. Not to mention it was terrifying to walk through that house once a week, it was just… I don’t even know how to describe it but it is certainly etched in my memory.
And this is all just stuff I *had* to do to get by at the time. So ok, my life is not perfect right now. I will give myself enough legitimacy that I’m allowed to be sad and to look forward to 2010 being a better year but seriously, my life is not that bad. I have a place to live with a roommate that I really like. (Actually, I think Adam is just a gem. I have a friend who is having the most awful time – lost his job and got kicked out of his apartment. *WALKED* from Lakeview to Downtown Chicago [that’s like 10miles] in the winter in freezing weather to a job interview because that’s how desperately he wants to be employed and not be in the place he’s in right now. – so I told Adam I’d like to offer this guy a place to stay and, seriously I love this boy, Adam’s response was “Of course he can stay with us. If it becomes an issue we’ll think of something when we get there, we can’t let him be homeless. We’ll figure something out. Tell him to come over whenever he wants.” Seriously, Adam is *such* a gem.) I have a job that I actually really like. And I’m in school for something that I’m actually really interested in. And I’ve got incredible friends, even if some of them are thousands of miles away they’re still there. So really there is some silver lining out there. Sometimes it’s just about perspective and being able to see it. And for everyone who is looking for a job, I know the economy blows. I know it’s really hard. But I promise you it will not be like this forever. You will find something. Cut yourself a break. Even if it’s just for an hour. Also I know it seems like the most overwhelming thing in the world right now but it will get better and there are good things out there outside of needing to find employment. You’ll get there, just have a little faith even if that sounds impossible right now.

“Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”

Oh but what about when they can. I have recently been doing a lot of volunteering at the Lakeview Pantry which is my local anti-hunger pantry that serves the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. All they ask their clients to bring is some form of ID and some proof of residence within their borders because Chicago is huge and they can’t serve the entire city’s population. But I think they do a great job in the neighborhood. So enough of my little shameless plug about how great the pantry is. The reason I started this post initially is that while I’ve been working there, I have simply been amazed at what some people will be choosy and difficult about. It’s so interesting to see people complain about what can be given to them when almost everything there including the people serving them is free and being given by the good will of others.

It’s also quite amazing to see the difference in reaction of the people that come through there. There are some folks who come through and only take what they can use and will tell you that, which is great because then nothing is being wasted even if they don’t take the full amount of what you are offering. And there are those who are so very grateful that we are there and will thank us profusely because this economy has simply made food unaffordable. I find that I have a much stronger appreciation for exactly how lucky I am just by spending some time there.

The Spring Program at The Joffrey

This past weekend I saw the Spring Program at the Joffrey Ballet and I think what I was most surprised about was that the theater was half empty. I mean it was just unreal. It’s amazing to see how significantly the recession is effecting everything. The part I found most amazing was that the least expensive seats in the house were completely empty. It’s fascinating that everyone has cut back so much. Even with the bailouts, there is such an impact to the arts. I find it quite tragic because I thought the performance was quite stunning.

I have to say I wasn’t a huge fan of the first piece which was Les Noces – choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, music by Igor Stravinsky. The music was stunning but I wasn’t really into the way Nijinska choreographed the piece. I think I tend to like dances that flow a bit more. To be sure the dancing was beautiful and the choreography was certainly dramatic, just not my style.

Now the second piece, Valses Poeticos – choreography by Helgi Tomasson, music by Enrique Granados, was absolutely stunning. I loved it. It was a piece between two dancers with the pianist on stage with them. It was so simple and delicately done. It was literally like watching a love story played out in front of your eyes by these artists with no words needing to be said.

I also loved the third piece, Round of Angels – choreography by Gerald Arpino, music by Gustav Mahler. I wasn’t really expecting to love this piece at all because I thought it was just some art-house thing about angels. But I believe this is what they call poetry in motion. Literally. It was so visually stunning. It was a piece all about lines and how bodies in motion can look so artful together. I think this was possibly the most visually appealing piece I have ever seen.

The last piece, Carousel (A Dance) – choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music by Richard Rodgers, was quite good but nothing in comparison to the two in the middle. It was certainly interesting and beautifully danced, just not quite the same dramatic effect of Round of Angels or the incredible simplicity of Valses Poeticos.

I would recommend that if you have the time and the finances and if these pieces are performed anywhere you can find them. I would recommend going to see them. I know that the economy makes things difficult right now but I have always believed in supporting the arts. And I get calls from the opera, symphony and ballet in Chicago, so I know they must be having a difficult time. While I can’t commit to being a subscriber, I certainly do try to make the performances I can budget in.

Holding On To Hope

This is something I have to remind myself all the time. Or well, not all the time, when things are going well there is no need to try to hold on to hope because things are great. But currently with the economy in state it is in and everyone’s job security being up in the air. It’s a rather tense environment in general. With more people being laid off every day, sometimes it is difficult to keep your spirits up.

I’ve noticed that even in my social circle (friends, family, coworkers etc) there are a lot of people that have been getting rather down about it. And I’m sure listening to my pep talk isn’t always helpful considering I try to be a bright ray of sunshine all the time. But there is actual logic behind it. I’m not just trying to be an ass, I do believe that having a positive attitude about the whole job search process is really important. If anyone you are speaking with can detect that you are defeated or unhappy they are far less likely to want you on their team. I mean think about it logically. Would you rather have someone who is confident, bright and positive on your team or someone who is self-effacing and doesn’t have much confidence? Sure the self-effacing person might have better skills but it is hard to see that in an interview. I mean if you bring personality to the interview it can last twice the time it would if you don’t. And let’s face it the more time someone has to get to know you is probably better because a 20min interview is not doing anyone justice. The basic idea of this is that when you have a winning attitude and can keep yourself positive no matter how bad things get then people can’t tell just how bad things are.

I think it’s somewhat like an Asian concept where you have the face that you show your family and the face that you show the rest of the world. It’s actually fairly prevalent in India and China, I’m not sure about elsewhere but I believe many Asian countries have this concept. It’s like that old adage “don’t air your dirty laundry in public”. Sometimes people find these practices antiquated but I still believe there is some value in these practices. Perhaps not quite as extreme as they used to be but it is far more pleasant to speak with a well-put together, organized, attractive person than it is with someone who is clearly downtrodden.

I think the most difficult thing to maintain through job searching is maintaining a positive self-image. In today’s society it has become ever more prevalent that our self worth is reflected by what our “position” in society is which is generally tied with your career. So when that is gone or is difficult to maintain it generally has an impact to one’s ego. The key is to make it appear as if that isn’t true. Or not just to make it appear so. I like to believe that I have value regardless of what anyone else thinks. I think having a good sense of self will keep that value regardless of the economic troubles and whatever hardships one has to go through. I’m not saying it isn’t difficult to maintain, it takes a toll on everyone. But if you have a good sense of self it is harder to take away.

So essentially, I am trying to keep my faith that things will get better. And that some day I will find the dream job that I am looking for. In the mean time I will try to hang on to what I’ve got for now and make the best of a bad situation.

Job Hunting For New Grads

I know that in this economy, job searching can be intimidating. It’s intimidating for me and I’ve been working for nearly 4 years and in corporate America for nearly 3 and I, thankfully, still have my job (though I am keeping my ears open since things are pretty darn unstable).

While I’ve been speaking to quite a few of my friends and family members, I found out that there are a significant number of young’uns who are seriously intimidated by the job market. Not that I blame them, I’d be intimidated too if I were just entering the job market too. But I think that if you are creative about it you can definitely find something. I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy and often you end up with things that are not fun but it is possible to get to where you want to go if you just have the tenacity to keep trying.

So let me backtrack a bit. When I was a senior in college I was too busy playing with my friends and writing my thesis to seriously job search. I applied to Teach For America in the spring – basically at the last minute, which was silly because it is much harder to get in that way. And I toyed with applying to the Peace Corps but didn’t really get around to that. Eventually, I applied to a few placement programs for placing young grads as teachers in private high schools but I was pretty late getting to them so there weren’t many places that were still looking. So come May, a few weeks before graduation I was panicking because I had my thesis defense coming up, graduation weekend and absolutely no clue what I would be doing after I graduated. Seriously, I had no idea whatsoever, it was the worst planned thing I’ve ever done. But you know I made it through my defense just fine (whew!) and graduation weekend was somewhat stressful but it went off ok. Let’s face it managing 8 family members in a new location where only you know where things are and everyone has a strong personality always is a bit challenging. The last thing I had to do was move out of the dorms and find a place to live and a job to get me through… well the rest of my life.

Thankfully I had a few good friends in the area and I hopped through a few apartments for the first few months after graduation. Let me clarify, my mom told me to come home but home is Texas and I was a bit stubborn and refused to let her pay my way down and didn’t have enough money to move myself home. So instead I opted to stay with friends for free until I found a job. So I applied to all sorts of odd jobs – not many that I actually wanted to do – just to tide me through the summer because by the time I had gotten to graduation I figured out that I wanted to teach for a couple of years. I was convinced that I wanted to be a public high school teacher for a little while because my own had made such a big impact on my life.

So the big dilemma was how do I make it through the summer without starving and being consistently homeless and finding a job for the upcoming school year without any certification or “qualification” to be a teacher. One thing I did have going for me is that I was convinced I was smart enough and qualified enough to do the job even though I had no “credentials”. When a person is job searching I think one of the most important parts is to think to yourself, “I am qualified. I don’t care what they have written on paper, I can do this job. And not only can I do this job, I can do an outstanding job of it better than anyone else out there.” (Ok, you don’t have to have that better than anyone else out there bit, but it does help to have some confidence in yourself).

So I actually ended up with this horrifying summer job where I was basically an Office Manager… or well that’s the closest to what you could call me. I did some web design, secretarial work, cooking (they would have “catered” lunches for their employees, and by catered I mean I went shopping and made them) and running random errands. The best part is that the whole business was a little shady if you ask me, it was a ticket reseller which I didn’t think was legal but apparently it is. It’s all about how you do it. Amazing the things you can learn when you will take almost any job someone will offer you. But it was enough money to get me through the summer – enough even to let me afford to live with a roommate and not just mooch off my friends.

Oh and for a short while, in that same period I was working for the ticket reseller, I was also an “assistant” for this woman who had OCD. That was another treat, so she lived pretty far away from where I was in a really rural area. And her house was filled with papers and things and I never knew the real meaning of OCD until I met her. Let me tell you OCD is not always synonymous with clean. Sometimes it is terrifying and anything but. I didn’t really last very long with that one but it was nice to have a little bit of extra spare cash for the while that I could deal with it.

So during this time I was looking for jobs teaching. So, how did I actually do that? Well to be honest, I just sent a letter with my resume and why I think I should be a teacher and they should hire me to every public high school in the area that I wanted to live in. Surprisingly, I got a call back from about 75% of the schools I sent a letter to. To top it off I got in person interviews to probably half of the schools that called me back. One of the states I applied to had much harder rules about Certification and I’m sure there are ways around it but it was the summer and pretty tough to figure something creative out at the time but the other state (and quite frankly the one I preferred to begin with) was much more lenient in the high need areas of Math, English and Special Education.

Now I know not everyone thinks teaching is awesome and I am no longer in the field but I think it is a great experience. I mean I absolutely loathed my administration and the bureaucracy can kill you but it is unbelievably rewarding to work with kids, especially in distressed neighborhoods. Also it’s not forever and it’s certainly something to consider when you’re young. I’m not a huge advocate for using it as a stop-gap in figuring out what you want to do with your life but who knows you might actually like it. Not to mention if you teach (in the public schools) for a certain number of years they will forgive some dollar amount of your student loans. I don’t remember the exact figures because I only stayed in the field for 1 year which was too short to qualify. Personally, I think teaching is one of the greatest professions out there and if you can find a school with good administration it is a blast to be there.

Teaching aside, I think there are some key things that young grads should keep in mind when looking for a job. I have a few friends who have been really down about getting a job with the way things are going. I mean tons of very qualified people have been laid off and that is totally true. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a job for you. And that doesn’t mean that you aren’t qualified. So here are some things that you can do:

  • Apply, apply, apply. Apply everywhere. Anywhere. Whatever you can find, just throw your resume in the hat and put a good cover letter in there for good measure too. If you can convince them you’re worth it, more power to you. If you don’t apply, you’ll never know.
  • Don’t just look at job boards. Email HR departments. Email everyone you know and ask them to pass your resume to HR or their managers or wherever. It never hurts to ask for help. Just do it.
  • Be confident when you have an interview. Don’t go in there thinking you can’t get it. They called you back, that means you’re good enough to get the job. You just have to show them that. Now let me clarify confident does not mean unnecessarily cocky.
  • Be honest. Don’t be self-deprecating but if they ask you if you know how to do something and you’re not super well versed, say something like “Well, I can’t say that I am comfortable saying that I am extremely well-versed in that area but I have dealt with it and I am confident that I can pick up anything I need to know quite quickly”.
  • Most of all, keep a positive attitude. If you don’t think you’re good, if you don’t think you can get a job no one else will for you. You have to be your own best advocate.
  • Make sure to follow up on any job you’ve applied to. If you sent someone a letter and this is something you want really badly, call them up. I can’t say it enough, it never hurts to try.
  • After an interview always, always send a thank you note – be it in writing (aka snail mail) or a phone call or an email. It doesn’t matter if the interview went fabulously or poorly, it is good practice to send a thank you note. Sometimes they’ll have you meet with too many people to remember, in that case make sure to send a thank you note to your contact and ask them to relay your appreciation to the group.

I mean let’s face it, everyone wants to hire that person who is: smart, attractive, well-dressed, organized, positive, charming and articulate. Now for the most part you can control 90% of people’s perception of you when you are at an interview simply by being well-dressed and appearing to be organized. If you are shy, it’s not the end of the world, you just have to learn how to be personable at an interview, which does not necessarily mean you have to be a “chatty Cathy”. Most of all a good attitude is composed of confidence and being positive. If you think in terms of “I can” instead of the “I can’t” mentality it will reflect when you speak to the person interviewing you. Also maintain a sense of professionalism, be personable but remember that these aren’t your friends they will be judging everything you say.

Sometimes You Just Have To Laugh

Because otherwise you might want to cry. Especially with the way the economy is these days.

This morning I logged in to the New York Times website, which is a typical first glance before I start my work day routine for me. And I almost started laughing because I saw as one of the pictures in their “Picturing the Recession” segment was a photo of a store that I have passed by on my way to work quite often. In fact I found the sign in that photograph that says “RECESSION FLOWER PRICES $1.00/stem” so amusing that just a week ago I had taken a photo of it on my phone and sent it to a friend of mine because we were just talking about buying flowers for a birthday party. And what girl doesn’t love to get flowers? They’re just so beautiful. At any rate, I know many of the recession photos are quite sad but personally I like things like these because they make me chuckle.

Here’s the photo I sent my friend:

recession flowers
recession flowers

When Good Is Not Enough

Why is it so difficult for politicians to admit that they make mistakes? And why is it that we think that reaching across the aisle is more important currently than making effective changes to the major bills going through Congress to actually effectively change the way things are headed. I mean surely making nice with the Republicans, who I would like to note, have quite successfully been ousted out of the House, Senate and White House or we could pass some legislation that actually puts some good back into this country. Tax cuts are not effective and they are not the path to helping out people who are truly struggling. Let me tell you those tax cuts are not helping the guy that just got laid-off… you know one of the most recent in the 500k+ that have lost their jobs thus far.

I love reading Paul Krugman’s op-eds (like the most recent one) because while they can be a little depressing, he is generally quite insightful. Also, I have noticed he has become more emphatic as the economic crisis has been getting worse, which I am eternally thankful for because it is nice to have someone actually care and speak intelligently about what is going on. What I can’t fathom is why we still have these Wall St schmucks advising our new President. I mean, really, it would’ve been such a tragic idea to take someone who may not be in industry but, oh, maybe a Nobel Prize recipient instead who can actually speak intelligently about economic theory and perhaps not go down the same path of greed that Wall St has been following for far too long.

For one, I think the politicians are understating the severity of this situation, which is really not helping our cause. Not to mention the fact that everyone wants to be a “centrist” because it’s oh so safe in politics. But in reality they just created a big gaping hole in some of the most significant legislature of our time. Seriously, was that necessary? It’s so hard to hope for change and for rebound when it just seems like they aren’t getting the memo.

A New Age For Politics

Now I am pretty upfront that I’m not exactly an Obama fan-girl (skeptic would probably be the best descriptor) but I’m starting to come around to actually liking the guy a little bit. In fact Obama fan-girls/boys still irritate me and bring out the “devil’s advocate” voice in me all the time. But I have to say I am a fan of some of the things that are happening. One very trivial example would be not wearing coats in the oval office. While it may be a trivial example I think it just shows a President who is a little more relaxed with formalities and more interested in doing what’s best for the country and you don’t have to be in a full suit & tie to do it. I’m not saying wear jeans to work but loosening up a bit is not a bad thing, in my opinion.

Not to mention there has been much progress in the past week or so. I am pleased.

So Thursday morning I was reading this lovely article about how Wall St has been freely giving away bonuses this year despite the fact that they cannot stay out of water without tax-payer dollars bailing them out. And I was just lamenting to a friend about how I wish someone would say something to those people in finance who believe they deserve a bonus for actually making their companies fail because quite frankly, I’d say the opposite is true. These are the same people that got unreasonably large bonuses for doing things that we have found to be completely unethical and made of naught. The money just wasn’t there and they made it up, so why should they be rewarded for this? I cannot explain how pleased I was to read this article later that afternoon which appeared in this morning’s paper. I am really glad that President Obama is actually taking a hard stance on this, granted I wanted a little more brimstone and fire a la Maureen Dowd but you know, I’m still happy that he is showing his displeasure.

Perhaps I will end up actually liking Obama I do really like some of the new moves that Obama is making even if I am not (and am determined never to be) a “fan-girl”. I certainly reserve that fundamentally American right to criticize our politicians but I have to say I think this is a great start to what I hope is a new era in politics.