Saturday, March 30, 2019

Banged Up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 4 - A Ship Without a Rudder

The Dawning of a New Age

So to recap my previous post: We were merged into an unrelated department, given a new supervisor, lost the most profitable position that we had, and were now devoted to full-time hard labor. Are you all caught up? Good, because here is the most stressful part of my story.

Almost all of our senior crew (that is to say, the people who were there longer than I was) were essentially gone at this point. Most of them were a little on the older side and realized that they couldn't kill themselves with what was now expected of us. They mostly fled to other departments, sometimes in other buildings, but I still saw them occasionally. Most would brag about how their pay had gone up significantly in the first weeks after leaving as the other departments demanded about half the work an paid out much more in incentive. But I didn't want to go to a different department: I chose receiving because it was the only job I actually enjoyed doing during my first round of Blair back in the 1990s. I liked driving the pallet jacks, I liked getting some exercise, and I could not conceive of doing one of the other lighter, more boring jobs in the company. But this choice was getting hard to justify.

Our "busy season" normally ran from early October to early January. This was when the number of incoming trucks increased to get our winter stock for the upcoming holidays. This year (in 2018 that is), our "busy season" started in July, and as far as I know hasn't abated at all as of this writing. This meant mandatory overtime (usually two extra hours a day), which is not something you want when your job would tire out trained athletes on a normal day, and was especially bad when the trucks you are unloading by hand are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit inside.

It was during this time that our third shift receiving crew was retired. The ones that were still there were moved to other departments and they were disavowed from unloading any loads at night. Now, our third shift was always smaller and never did the volume that we did. However, not having them there meant that all of the volume would now be handled by first shift.

I should also point out here, that I was written up in August of that year because I refused to work a Saturday of overtime. We had already worked five 10 hour days during the Warren County Fair, and Saturday was the last day -- I was not going to miss it! I believe my actual words to management were something like, "You've already ruined my f***ing week, you're not going to ruin my f***ing Saturday as well!" This resulted in a first (and final) warning for insubordination. C'est la vie.

Most of my coworkers were burning out due to injury (rotator cuff tears were becoming more common due to the increased volume) or just from the stress of being written up because they couldn't meet the outrageous production goals at the time. My coworker Dan, a man I had grown up with and was at that point the longest remaining receiving employee, was becoming increasingly angry at the new crew due to their slowness and laissez-faire attitude towards the work we were doing. But really, who could blame them? They were being written up rather than worked with, they weren't earning enough money alone to make it worthwhile, and some of them (me included) were in near-constant pain from the sheer amount of work we were doing.

Also during this time, we started having issues with the pallet jacks. They were being run almost 24/7 at this point, and that meant that the batteries were no longer being charged properly. Even the rare days that they were being charged,

Alone, I break

In the middle of October, on one of our mandatory Saturdays, I woke up with an odd tightness in my left arm. I went to work, whereupon my arm got stiffer throughout the day until it became very uncomfortable, then it started swelling very noticeably. I asked my team leader if I could just haul for the day, and told my supervisor that I would be going to the walk-in clinic after work. No other information was relayed to me during this time.

At the clinic, the nurse practitioner was afraid that it was a burst blood vessel and that I was in danger of a clot-related stroke or heart attack. Because it was a Saturday, I had to go to the (considerably more expensive) emergency room at the Warren General Hospital. After being poked and prodded by the doctor on duty, I was told that it was just tissue inflammation, I was given a prescription for an anti-inflammatory medication, and told to take it easy for the weekend. I did, and the swelling went down.

When I went back to work on the following Monday, I was sent out to the warehouse to run the "cranes." These were massive order-picking trucks that went up to about 60 feet into the air. I hated running these things. It wasn't that I was bad at it, but it was just boring as hell; driving back and forth in a single aisle for a whole day isn't a lot of fun, and there wasn't a lot of movement either. Because of my arm, it wasn't too bad; at the very least, it was less work than being up front. By Thursday of that week, my arm was swelling again, this time even worse than the first time. 

Please note that it wasn't exactly painful, but rather like the muscles in my arm were as tight as making a tight fist... all the time.

This time, I couldn't continue working and reported to my supervisor. We called the triage help line the company had (because they were too cheap to pay for an on-site nurse anymore). I was told to go to the ER again, which I did, in the middle of the day. The doctor on duty finally diagnosed me with a severe case of lateral epicondylitis (more commonly known as "tennis elbow"). Most likely, this was due to the months of hard work I had put into the company catching up to me. I was ordered to put my arm in a sling and take over a week off of work. I would have to put in a workman's compensation claim.

If you've never been deprived of using your dominant arm for over a week, let me tell you that it's no picnic. I couldn't type, I couldn't play video games, write, draw, or do much of anything else.

I will leave it here for now, but there will be more in part 5.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Banged Up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 3 - The Incompetencing

Will the real supervisor please stand up?

Over the course of my time at Bluestem, there were a few questionable management choices made. After the shakeup, the department manager for the picking and return crews became our new "big boss." Our department at large was still managed by our old supervisor (although this was not to last forever), so we really didn't notice much of a difference in day-to-day operations, except when the big boss would (rarely) come to our morning start-up meetings, or to stand around and pretend like she had any say over the contained chaos of our department.

Then, slowly over the course of the following months, we began to notice a change. It was imperceptible at first; I was fairly new, but the old-timers explained that we were much busier than we used to be -- we had virtually no downtime anymore for doing our normal housecleaning and repair chores around the department. It was also becoming more and more difficult to earn that +110% rating, despite the fact that the work was flowing from us at the same pace. Like I said, it was lost on us (the newer members of the crew), as we had no frame of reference to "how it used to be." Slowly but surely, we saw our department's numbers (and our incentive benefits derived from them) slowly erode into effectively nothing.

But at least we had "Paperboy"

The biggest blow came when they started training the stock picking crew on "Paperboy." This was ostensibly done to help the receiving department, who were now inheriting a steady stream of work on the docks just as people began to leave the department; less people in the department meant the need for more trained help. Although it may sound cynical, I knew as soon as these people were brought in that they were going to take the "Paperboy" job away from us -- it was, after all, our highest paying job.

A bountiful gain (#sarcasm)

In April of 2018 there was a big announcement: Bluestem would be raising its starting wage from $9 an hour to $10.50. This meant that those of us starting at the bottom were getting an effective $1.50 an hour raise overnight! What a boon! But there were caveats...

The primary caveat was that we would be losing our off-standard incentive pay. This really didn't affect most departments. Unfortunately, it really affected my department, as about 80% of the work we did there was off-standard. Now we wouldn't be paid any incentive for that -- at all. Now, we never earned a whole lot from these jobs to begin with, but that money was there, and now it was gone, replaced by a raise that now seemed modest in comparison. But at least we had "Paperboy."

But at least we had "Paperboy" (#sarcasm)

So, just after this announcement, there was another announcement issued: Our long-time supervisor was going back to the "Finishing" department. A new supervisor would be picked. This meant that the "big boss" would be temporarily handling the supervisory role until the replacement was chosen. This also came with a bigger shakeup: The receiving and warehouse departments (who had been joined at the hip since the century began) were split apart; warehouse would now be associated with stock, receiving would be associated with the "prep" department, which was completely 100% unrelated in anything other than its proximity to the docks. This meant that morning meetings for the receiving department's 10-14 employees would now be folded into the prep department's 70-90 employees. 

Almost as soon as this was announced, it was determined (never made official) that the "Paperboy" job would now be handled by the stock picking crew instead of receiving. This immediately took that reliable income out of the receiving department's hands and gave it to more inexperienced, less driven people. Receiving was now banished entirely to the docks, to perform back-breaking labor every day with virtually no reprieve.

I know that it sounds strange to complain about a job that one was hired to do, but it's worth stressing that this was, in fact, no longer the job I was hired for, but was now slowly twisting into something unfair and unmanageable. 

That's when they hired our new department supervisor. He would oversee both the receiving and prep departments' functions. He was a shrewd fellow, not unfriendly, but also somewhat no-nonsense, not having the patience of our previous management. He came in at a time when we were unhappy, and for that I have regrets. He was also in charge of 70-90 prep department workers, and for that, I'm sure he had regrets. He was also the punching bag of the upper management, and that may have hastened his doom.

More in part 4.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Banged Up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 2 - A Very Stable Company?

The workload thickens.

When we last left off, I was making a genuine effort to be smiling and courteous as I performed what could have been a monotonous job, but things weren't actually that bad for day labor: I was working the day shift for one of the rare times in my entire life, the job could be physically grueling, but it was also broken up by bouts of what the company called "Paperboy."

I need to explain "Paperboy" to you, as it was my specialty:

When we were tasked with paperboy, we would load up a pallet or two of stock that the warehouse had pulled from their shelves, and deliver it to various locations around the building. This was fun for me, as we were encouraged to drive the trucks as fast as could safely been managed, and you got to see the entire building and various people as you went. Not to mention that attempting to find the right package at a paperboy drop was fun in its own right; I loved zipping to a drop zone, hopping off the truck, quickly finding the right package, expertly throwing it into the zone (I had practiced so that I could pitch the boxes on top of other stacks, usually without a re-adjustment), jumping back up on the truck and zipping to the next location. 

Paperboy wasn't just the most fun job that I had, either: It was also the most lucrative. If you could score high at Paperboy (and I almost always did), you usually had a whole day's worth of work at a high score, which meant an extra $40-$60 in your paycheck at the end of the week. I won't say that it never got monotonous, but it was a nice break to unloading the trucks every day.

Oh yeah, I should probably mention my regular workload in the receiving department was, well... receiving things. This usually involved one of four jobs:

  1. Throwing = By far the most physically brutal job in the building. When you throw a trailer you are literally in a tractor trailer container throwing hundreds (if not thousands) of ten to forty pound boxes onto a conveyor belt. Most boxes that we threw had bar codes on one side that we needed to scan in order to get them into inventory.
  2. Sorting = The second most physically brutal job in the building. There were traditionally two sorters on every receiving line, one on each side of the conveyor belt. Their job was to pick the boxes off the conveyor, scan the bar code, and then sort it to a pallet depending on where it was supposed to go. For example, one box might go to warehouse 3, while the next one might have to go to the Quality Control (QC) area. Manageable, until you have several boxes in a row going to very different areas, because different areas can't share the same pallet.
  3. Pallet-to-tally = This person's job was to wait for a pallet to fill up, and once it was full to count the number of boxes and take it to the tally clerks for checking. This person was also responsible for setting down fresh pallets once the old ones were removed. Probably the easiest of the three jobs, but it takes a certain amount of skill to know which pallets to pull to prevent the sorters from running out of space and shutting the line down.
  4. Hauling = The person(s) who were doing the hauling would take the finished pallets to their ultimate destination. The incentive pay for this job was never really there -- it was almost impossible to get the required 100% performance, even before the eventual events that I will describe.
These jobs were somewhat difficult, but we typically rotated positions so that one person wasn't stuck doing the same job every time. They also weren't nearly as long as "Paperboy," so the chance for extreme financial gain wasn't there.

We also had a host of other off-standard jobs that we had to perform, which the system would give us compensation for. All in all it wasn't too bad; we had a hearty crew of long-timers who knew the job, knew what to do and when to do it. I struggled to keep up with them, but I managed.

So typically, we would do a day of receiving, a day of "Paperboy," another day of receiving, and so on and so forth. In an eight hour day it was quite consistent, and even the occasional mandatory overtime wasn't entirely unwelcome.

All's all at the town hall

Every month Bluestem would host a town hall meeting, were we would be told the company's plans, how the company was doing, our performance, and it always ended with a prize drawing. It was nice, and it gave us something to shoot for.

Additionally, they hosted an employee safety committee, and even had continuous improvement meetings to get the people on the floor to suggest ways to improve efficiency (these were also followed by a pizza luncheon).

On top of that, every Thursday the vending machine company that stocked our break rooms would cook a hot lunch that was affordable for a very reasonable price, it was something to look forward to nearly every week.

I dare say, that Bluestem's Irvine Distribution Center (IDC) was an okay place to work, despite the low starting wage.

Shake-up, rattle and death-roll

So, if I had to pick a moment when things started to go bad, it was right around the time that my department's supervisor was terminated.

Now, don't get me wrong: I never really spoke to the guy. Heck, I hardly ever even saw him in the few months that we were both there. As near as I could tell, he didn't really "do" anything but wander around. Still, it was a bit of a shock to the other people who had been there longer (this will become a running theme). His duties fell to the assistant supervisor, who was a genuinely nice guy who did try to get things done effectively. 

Shortly thereafter other department heads started to roll. Soon, power was consolidated among a disturbing few people at the IDC, and later still they began to move the remaining assistants and supervisors around like some bizarre shell game, including a new supervisor for our department. This caused a bit of turmoil, and I think that it's the primary driver for what was to come, but that will have to wait until next time...

Friday, March 15, 2019

Banged-up and Battered By Bluestem Brands: Part 1 - The Interview

Hello again, everyone!

It has been quite awhile since I last graced my eponymous blog with my my presence. There are a variety of reasons for that, but the reason that I now have time to contribute to it again is because, as is so much the time in my life, I am once again unencumbered by gainful employment.

Well... My last employment wasn't exactly gainful, but we'll get to that. Allow me to regale you with tales of my life for the last year-and-a-half since my last stint of bitter worklessness.

I'm not sure where we left off; let's see... Was it when I was liberated from my nearly five year stint doing web maintenance for an online fireplace company? Was it my brief tenure as a graphic artist for an insane woman posing as a newspaper publisher? Yes, that last one seems to be a decent after-place to start my tales of woe.

After losing my part-time job at the less-than-prestigious "Gazette," (full name withheld to prevent any web-search, not that the lady who runs it necessarily knows how to use Google) I was without income, without unemployment insurance, and desperate for cash, so I went back to an old employer. 

Now, this isn't something I would normally do, but there aren't a lot of opportunities for someone as unpleasant as myself in Warren, Pennsylvania, so I decided to bite the bullet and do it for the paycheck (plus benefits). The place, Blair Corporation, a local clothing distributor that had changed corporate hands a few times over the last sixteen years since I had first worked there, and was now a subsidiary of Bluestem Brands, LLC. Bluestem Brands is the company that runs Fingerhut, as well as Gettington, and a few other predatory buy-on-credit companies. Still, when I walked in it was all rather familiar.

Into the belly of the beast

They were in the habit of giving "open interview" style hiring sessions -- lots of people, very little time. This involved a chat with the very pleasant and cherub-like human resources manager, a review of my resume, filling out the rote application form, taking a brief tour of the facilities, and then a mouth-swab drug test. I applied for the position of "Receiving Material Handler," for two reasons:

  1. When I had worked there before, it was the most fun job in the building.
  2. It looked to be physically active, and I really needed the exercise.
I was given a job, and started not long afterward. In those first few weeks I admired how the company had changed; some of the departments had moved, but the building's layout was still the same. The production was now much faster than my previous experience, and management seemed genuinely concerned with how workers were treated and listened to them. There was just one small problem at the start...

Incongruity of inflation

When I first worked at Blair, I was hired in the spring of 1994. Let me take you back to that time:

Big Macs cost about $1.50, but would occasionally go on sale for two for $2 (no, that is not a typo). Gas, at least locally, was about $1.25 a gallon (and that was considered high). Brand new (expensive) video games were $50, and there was no DLC or loot boxes to drain your wallet afterward. The starting wage at that time was $8.00, which was quite the step-up from the $4.75 minimum wage at the time. It was an opportunity for savings, investment, and consumption. 

Let's look at today by comparison:

Big Macs cost about $3.99 each unless there's a "two for $5" sale going on. Gas (again, locally in Warren, Pennsylvania), averages about $2.75 a gallon. Brand new (expensive) video games run $59 to start, but after loot boxes, DLC, and monthly online fees they can (and do) sometimes run upwards of $100. The starting wage at Bluestem Brands in 2017? $9.00 per hour.

You read that right, a whole DOLLAR more than the starting wage in 1994. That's $40 more per week, assuming you're working a 40 hour week.

But, Bluestem has a solution to that too: The "Incentive" program. The Incentive program works like this: There is a requirement of what you were expected to accomplish in a shift. Anything that you do that is above that requirement earns you additional pay. You need at least two hours every day working "on-standard," or ten hours per week total. If you worked at, let's say, 150% of what was expected of you, you could earn some additional dollars in your pay every week. This was a good program, assuming that you overlook the fact that what they pay one person for doing the work of 1.5 people is not equal to paying 1.5 people (doing the work of two people for example, would only net you about an extra $7 an hour, not a full $9). Still, it did the trick, and many employees in other departments would regularly make an extra $100 or so per week in their paychecks. Even some off-standard jobs were compensated with extra pay, because there was no real way to grade it otherwise. Additionally, they offered an extra $20 Walmart gift card every week for new employees who did better than expected for the first 10 weeks (not to brag, but I received every single one of these bonuses).

Working the receiving department was hard, especially for my "sits behind a computer desk for 10 hours a day" aging butt. But it felt good to do the exercise, to drive those pallet jacks as fast as I could through the nearly empty warehouses (it was, at times, like being paid to drive go-carts all day long). I made a genuine effort to be courteous, helpful, and to even smile.

That didn't last long. 

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Email, Spam, and the Lesson of Charles Woodburn

A bit of humor for your day

After a brief stint of employment as a Salesman/Graphic Designer/Punching Bag with a local weekly newspaper, I find myself gainfully unemployed yet again. It's a shame, really -- if it weren't for the pesky "Salesman" part of this equation, I feel that I could have done fairly well there.

Best not to dwell on it; instead, let's dwell on this... 

After re-posting my resume on to look at positions in the Jamestown, NY area, I came across this email in my inbox:

Charles Woodburn <>
Aug 30 (1 day ago)

to me
Dear  Applicant ,

Our recruitment team viewed your resume published on ( Application: Logistics, Data Entry, Clerical Admin, Administrative Clerk/Assistance, Customer Service Receptionist,financial Advisor,Sales,Accounting, Payroll Clerk, Book keeping, Typist Clerk,Management,IT Jobs, Military Procurement,Etc- Full Time/ Part Time) and we are pleased with your qualifications,we believe you have the required qualifications to undergo an online interview.

Organization Name: BASF Corporation Company.

Your resume was shortlisted for an online interview with the personnel manager  via Google Hangout with the following email address/User Name ( Mr Charles Woodburn  to your buddy list or  send him an IM inbox ....He will be online waiting for you ASAP to conduct the Online interview for you.

You are required to set up a Gmail account on ( )Google Hangout App on (

Your verification code is BSGA62160-9, this would serve as your identification number throughout the online hiring process. Your timely response matters a lot.

We look forward to having you on the team.

* Compensation: $38/hr
* Hourly Salary
* Benefits: Health, Insurance, 401k
* Comprehensive Online Training Provided
* Interview Date and Time: ASAP
*Venue: Online via Google Hangout

Your swift and timely matters a lot in this beneficial position.
If you have any questions, please feel free to send him an email to * (

Best Regard : BASF Corporation Company.

Yours Truly,
Hiring Manager

I am truly privileged. 

Wow! THE Charles Woodburn of BAE Systems (the prominent British defense firm) personally wants to interview me for a position at BASF! I mean, sure -- it's a company he doesn't work at, nor does he have any direct investment in, but I mean, that's fantastic, right? BASF still has a "B" and an "A" in its name... Well, I mean, they stand for different things, but still... Charles effin' Woodburn!

Well, he didn't send it from his own personal email address, of course -- it was sent from a random lackey's email, with no BASF or BAE extension attached to the email, but Charles Woodburn is a busy guy. Think about it: He runs a giant multinational corporation while at the same time acting as the hiring manager of a completely different giant multinational corporation! Where does he find the time?

Not only that, but he was so eager to talk to me, an out-of-work Technical Writer and Graphic Designer with a fair amount of photography experience under my belt about a position in data entry, which... Is somehow related, I'm sure!

So I jumped right on this incredible opportunity:

Hello Mr. Woodburn:

Hi Charlie, you ol’ Brit! It’s been a long time. How are you doing? I see that you’re working for BASF now as their hiring manager, but you’re still using your old completely official BAE email address, . Are you still running BAE on the side? I know this economy is enough to drive a lot of people to a second job (liberals and their taxes, am I right?), so I hope you are doing well.

I would love to hear more about this position! When I put my resume on the site I must admit that I never thought that one of my old colleagues would be crawling out of the woodwork to look me up on it. Remember that Graphic Design & Corporate Mongering symposium in Singapore? Well, of course you do – I’m sure we both still have scars from the after-party at the brothel… But the less said about that the better, eh Chuck?

Data entry, huh? Sounds good. My years creating manuals, pamphlets, animated ads, instructional videos, motion graphics, flow charts, and web content won’t be wasted as long as I have a keyboard to click away on mindlessly. It’s bound to be a good fit!

And using Google Hangouts to perform the interview… Classy! That truly is why it is the cornerstone of all corporate communication. I’m not sure that I’ve kept up my subscription to it though, I may have to reach out on Skype, or via Cisco AnyConnect (sorry to be slumming it, but I did recently lose my job).

This is tough to bring up, but I want to discuss compensation with you… Now $38 an hour might be all right for your average work-a-day joe with his solid silver lunch pail and Berluti Italian work boots, but – and I’m sorry to say this – I want the gold pail and Jason of Beverly Hills work boots. Could we maybe raise it to $52 an hour? I mean – you know me, C.W.: I’m a hard worker and well worth every penny. Besides… You owe me for that thing. You know what I’m talking about...

I’ll tell Betsy and the kids you said “hello,” but don’t be a stranger. Maybe we could get together this weekend to discuss the position and have a Labor Day barbecue. Just let me know; you have my number.

I’ll be in touch with you about this soon, in the meantime, have a great day.

Ne dicam auctoritates.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Coming to Grips with Microsoft Powershell

The following article contains segments of sarcasm and defeatism. It is simple venting and not helpful in any way and should be ignored by the general population.

PowerShell from a Beginner's Perspective

So, with all the downtime I've had lately (being unemployed) I decided to take some online classes to answer some of the questions I've had about many of the products I use, and to alleviate the boredom... Okay, so it's mostly to alleviate the boredom, but it never hurts to learn a new skill.

Since my unemployment wages aren't exactly stellar, I really don't have the resources to pay for an actual class with an instructor and credit. Luckily, most of the courses in the Microsoft Virtual Academy are free. I've used PowerShell in the past, but never really understood what it actually was, mistaking it for a fancy command line terminal. It was with great enthusiasm that I found a PowerShell course for beginners on the MVA site. That's where the trouble began...

I'm no stranger to DOS, and its derivative, the Windows command line. I've used various Linux builds in the past, but I would be lying if I said I really understood the whole terminal system, which is its core. I've also used Unix once or twice, but only to type in the commands that I was told to type in, and never to learn how to use it effectively. I thought I'd bite the bullet and try to learn something productive and useful.

Let's get down to it.

PowerShell is a non-graphical program. It looks like white text on a blue background. There are no buttons to click, and no pictures to look at. It was made (I suspect) to look like a Unix terminal program. It is simply the most boring-looking program you'll use this side of Notepad.

At first, DOS and Windows Command Line people will think that it's just a fancy and more powerful command line system, and they're kind of right... Let's say (for example) that you want to list a directory in PowerShell. In DOS, you would type the command "dir" to bring up a list of files and programs in the current directory. In PowerShell, you could also type "dir" to do the exact same thing.

Well, not exactly the same thing... You see, PowerShell is quite a different animal on the back-end. Unlike DOS (which is essentially just a text parser), PowerShell is running these programs and commands in real-time. The reason you can type DOS commands and get the same results is because they use an "alias" system to assign common command line instructions from DOS, Linux, and Unix to link to similar commands in PowerShell.

For a list of aliases in your PowerShell program, type "alias" and hit enter.

While these aliases do a pretty good job of letting you do basic stuff with little experience, the problem is that some of the more involved parameters of the commands are absent. For example, typing "dir /p", which in DOS would display the directory contents one page at a time instead of all at once, will not work and return an error message.

The 10 (thousand) Command-lets

PowerShell uses a system of commands known as cmdlets (pronounced "command-lets") to perform operations. They are put together in a verb-noun syntax. If you wanted to get a list of the cmdlets available to you, for example, you would type "Get-Command" and PowerShell will inundate you with far too many commands to register in your feeble meat-brain. Each of these commands will also have a number of parameters (some of which are required) that don't show up in the list, making the program all but useless.

"But it's okay," the PowerShell developers scream, "Because we have a robust help system!" And they're not lying: There IS a robust help system. How does it work? It's simple: 

All you have to do is know exactly which of the hundreds of cmdlets you need ahead of time, and simply type "help (cmdlet nem here)" for a huge page of information (all poorly-formatted text) that tells you way too much information about the command that you want, thus confusing you further.

(Editor's note: You also have to download the help files using a special command. I forgot what it was. Good luck finding it!)

You know what's even better? Depending on what system you're on and what PowerShell packages they've installed, you could have THOUSANDS of cmdlets to dig through. Bon appetit.

So basically, the procedure is this: Go online via your web browser, spend an hour looking for the right command for what you want to do, type it in, and then wait for the error message to pop up.

What? Errors?

Yes, because every cmdlet has parameters that you need to set to use it effectively. Except that the syntax for those parameters (it seems) varies from cmdlet to cmdlet with no discernible pattern. Unless it's a command you've been using a long time, you're going to have to look it up, and then choose the correct syntax, which can be troublesome because you must type everything letter by letter, it just begs for errors. And when you get an error, you'll scratch your head because the error message it gives you sometimes makes no sense at all. 

Who is "Kerberos?"

The POWER in "PowerShell"

The real power in PowerShell is its ability to pipeline one cmdlet into another using the "|" character (the straight line above the backslash key on your keyboard). It works like this: You type in a cmdlet and its parameters, then type the pipeline character (|), then type another cmdlet and its parameters. This allows any cmdlet to the right of the pipe to send its information into the cmdlet to the left, then wait for the error message! It's that simple! It's like having the ability to not run one cmdlet, but now you cannot run two or more at a time! That's powerful!

And you can save these cmdlets as a special text file that allows you to run large piped commands as a script! And that script can include C# elements, but the PowerShell text parser can't match the syntax, so be prepared to learn how to do THAT all over again!

Networking Blues

So, this is the conundrum: You want to use PowerShell to manage your LAN and your servers, but you need to set up and manage your LAN and your servers before you can use PowerShell. 

Oh sure, the guys in the instructional videos have no problem doing it right the first time every time, but they never show you the other computer or how to set it up. They're sending commands into the ether, and getting back data that really isn't all that helpful.

But me? I can't even connect to my Dad's PC. Ideally, I'd like to be able to monitor his processes and issue updates to his computer to keep it running when I'm not at home, but even with his computer on the same network I can't seem to connect to the damn thing, and no PowerShell tutorial I've found has been able to explain why that is. It's extremely frustrating. But that's okay -- even if I knew HOW to connect to his computer I wouldn't have the first clue as to how to do any of that management remotely, and the videos aren't really being that helpful.

"For Beginners."

I am more than halfway through the first video course on the MVA, and I am hopelessly lost. Ever since they began networking to other machines in the videos I haven't been able to keep up (because I can't follow along, because networking doesn't seem to work), and re-watching the videos has not helped. It's like they're only giving you half the information. At this point, I am so disillusioned and bitter about the whole thing that I'm not sure I want to keep going. There's a whole second part to the course that I haven't even started, because nothing they are saying at this point makes even a little bit of sense.

Let's face it, if you're a beginner you're probably going to want to steer clear of PowerShell. If you're someone who's elbows-deep in server maintenance eight hours a day, you're probably going to want to learn it at some point, and to you I say, "good luck," because you'll need it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

6 Job Scam 'Tells' Every Job Seeker Should Know

I was deep into my job search, when I received and email from my freelance account on

“We read your resume, and think that you would be a good fit for our full-time position.”

Naturally, I was curious, and replied via email. The person (who went by the name, “Nelson George”) claimed to be a part of a data entry firm owned by a biotech company (which I will not name here – but it’s not relevant, it could have been any large company), and provided me with a link to the company. I quickly researched it, and found that they are indeed a legitimate business, and a rather large one at that.

1) Suspicious name and email address

Still something seemed off. For one thing, “Nelson George” wasn’t using a company email address. Companies as large as the one referenced tend to have corporate email servers, and their employees will almost always have a company email address (especially when contacting clients and possible employees).

2) Too good to be true

Secondly, my going rate on is $18 an hour, and the company was offering $20 an hour during training with an increase to $40 an hour afterward. Now, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I’ve never heard of a data entry job (and yes, I’ve had several) offering that kind of money, especially when the other party is asking for so little. I decided to see how far the rabbit hole went.

3) Method of contact matters

“Nelson George” suggested that we have a chat via Google Hangouts rather than a simple phone call (yes, the company I was given a link to has its own contact page with its own chat script, so red flag number 3). We initiated the chat, and he asked me why I’d be the best person for the position. I gave him info that could easily be found on the internet, being very careful not to give him too much, just to see what the scam could be.

4) Purchasing perils

After giving him my carefully scripted background info, he said (surprise!) that I would be perfect for the job, but I would require software from one of their vendors to get started. This is where I knew something was definitely up. I carefully explained that I didn’t have the money to purchase said software, and he stated that the company would FedEx me a check to deposit that would allow me to buy the software and keep whatever was left over.

Now let me ask you, the reader: Does that sound like something any company you’ve ever worked for would do? At this point I knew it was a scam, but I played along for a while. I would not give him any banking information, passwords, or my social security number (it was only a matter of time until he asked).

5) Awful acceptance letters

“Nelson George” e-mailed me an acceptance offer letter that he wanted me to sign and send back.

NOTE: Before opening anything sent to you by a potential employer, scan the document for viruses. Also, if it’s an MS Office document, make sure that your program macros are turned off by default or it could open a viral script upon opening.

The “letter” was a Microsoft Word document with about a hundred misspellings, grammatical errors, letter case mistakes, and other errors PER PAGE. Plus, take a look here:

That font that my name’s written in? That’s “Algerian.” Now, I don’t know for certain how many pages a real large-scale business produces annually, but I’m damn sure that none of them use “Algerian” as a font on a serious legally-binding document. In fact, the document used like five different fonts (you can see four of them in the example above).

6) Unaccountable accounting

Still, I filled out the letter (again, not using any info that isn’t out there already) and sent it back to them. That’s when the “accounting” questions began.

“What bank do you use? Do you have a cell phone banking app? What’s your bank’s limits for daily deposits?”

The jig is up

I started to get a picture of what the scam actually was, but for confirmation at this point I asked “Nelson George” what the scam was.

“Scam? What scam?” he asked in turn.
“Well, you’re offering me more than what I asked for, your letter has more than a few errors in it (including the capitalization on your surname), you’re not using a company email address, and I can’t find you listed as the head of HR on any of (the company’s) online materials.” I replied.

The conversation was disconnected at that point, and “Nelson George” dropped off the face of the planet (possibly forever).

What the scam was

What I think these companies do is get you to print out a bum check. Of course, when depositing a check to the bank (even using an app) it takes time to clear and there are limits to how much you can withdraw.

Here’s where I have diverging hypothesis on the middle of the scam. They might have you purchase the software from their “vendors” (which is in fact the person acting as “Nelson George”), effectively stealing the funds before the check bounces. They might also be having you purchase the software from a legitimate source and having you give them the licenses so that they can sell those for later profit. They may even be able to parlay a problem with the check into you giving them money or your bank account information directly.

Either way, the scam ends the same way: You take money out with a fake check, they get a piece of you, and when the bank wants its money back you will be on the hook.

Be on the lookout for these things. Putting your resume and contact information online is essential to job seekers, but as with anything once the genie is out of the bottle it’s nearly impossible to put it back in.

Helpful tips:

  • Don’t assume that just because someone gives you a link to a legitimate site that they represent that business in any way. Research the business, and call them directly if you have suspicions.
  • The old adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” is a good adage to live by. Approach these ‘opportunities’ with caution. Know what you’re worth, and know what a typical salary for the job encompasses.
  • Never give your private information to anyone that you have no credentials for. A name and an email address is not enough.
  • If the company wants you to buy something, or money is supposed to change hands, exercise your better judgement: Legitimate businesses typically have the structures in place to get you the materials you need without having to give you the capacity to purchase essential items.