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.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Case of Opening Interview Jitters

The day finally arrives

If you’re a current reader of this blog, then you know that I’ve stated in the past that there aren’t really many long-term opportunities for people in my field (technical writing and graphic design) local to my area. This usually means that when I do have an interview, it is most likely remote (either by phone or via Skype). Imagine my surprise when a company within a reasonable driving distance scheduled me for an on-site interview!

Now, I need to note that this has only been my second face-to-face interview in almost five years. I was excited! I spent days researching the company, planning my questions, and preparing my portfolio. As per usual, despite this preparation, things did not go exactly in my favor. Despite putting together what I felt was a reasonable example of my output over the last seven years (six years of which was directly related to what I was applying for), I hit a few snags.

Confessions of a serial self-defamer

This might surprise a lot of you, but I'm not the most confident person in the world. Okay, not even nearly the most confident person in the world. Still, when it comes to the mechanics of the software I use I do know my stuff, and I'm usually pretty good about creating the effects that I want. The people who are interviewing me don't really know that, of course, and my lack of confidence always seems to seep through.

A funny thing didn't happen on the way to the interview (thank goodness!)

Still, I put on my pressed and tailored suit, tied my darkest red power tie, shined up my shoes and made the journey to the potential employer’s place of business. It should be noted, that despite every other day up to this point being a cool 50-60° Fahrenheit (10-15° Celsius) this day decided to be extra sunny and hot, so “sweaty suit for the win!” It wasn’t that long of a drive, and fortunately my car’s air conditioning works, so that was a plus.

I parked my car and made the walk to the building’s entrance. They were cutting grass, but fortunately, not in the vicinity of my only tailored suit; unfortunately, I am allergic to pollen (and the smell of freshly cut grass to me is a trigger), and that’s when I noticed that I had forgotten my handkerchief. I would spend the next hour and a half stifling back a sneeze, and trying not to let my nose close during the conversation.

I arrived early (but not egregiously so), and was sent to a room to wait. I spent my time mulling over what I wanted to ask and how I wanted to present myself, and used a sheet of paper to jot down my thoughts during the interview.

When the interviewer showed up, my immediate thought went to how sweaty and clammy my hands must have been. I won’t give away too many details about the actual interview, but I presented my portfolio to him (and made multiple apologies to him for the lack of color). He was very relaxed and cordial, and I was my usual nervous shy awkward self. I’m not used to meeting new people, and I’m even less used to trying to impress them.
Not long into the interview he called in another party to ask questions. I spent much of the time trying to explain to them why there were significant gaps in the years on my resume (in truth, though I have mostly worked steadily, it is not often very long for the same employers). I didn’t really like this part of the process for one main reason: When I begin weaving the tale of how I got to where I am today, it often sounds like I’m playing the victim. I don’t really see myself as a victim, but I have little doubt that it can sound that way (“I left work the week of 9/11 and lost my savings when the stock market crashed,” “I went to school, had to drop out in the final semesters because of financial reasons,” “I worked in the mortgage recording industry just before the housing bubble burst,” – which is all true, by the way). I try to chalk it up to learning experiences, but really there’s not a lot of positivity in my resume. The same could be said of my experience with my last employer, which I consider a mostly positive experience, but I still have no idea why they let me go (and they seem to be far more bitter about the separation than I am). Still, questions about this sort of activity are the reason one goes to interviews, and I answered them as honestly as I could. I had to stifle the more excessive bits of my personality, which was not helped by my scratchy throat and bits of sneeze that came out as snorts when I laughed.

Finishing up, I tried to ask questions during the interview that would have the duality of giving me some more insight into the company, and to show them that I have a genuine interest in what they do. They said that they needed to conduct a second round of interviews and that if they were interested they would get back to me within 3 weeks.

Did it work? I will let you know in three weeks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Four Portfolio Mistakes You Should Avoid

Don't let this happen to you:

I had to attempt to put together a presentable portfolio in about a week. This was challenging, as I’ve not had need of a physical portfolio before, and I needed to pull it off without a hitch. I failed at it miserably, and here’s some reasons why:

1.) Have money for color

The first was the fact that my portfolio would have cost me between $45-90.00 to print out in full color. While I have little compunctions about doing so, I simply did not have the resources to do it (at the time I had just over $15 in the bank, and much less now). What’s even more strange, though, is that I found that I really don’t know anyone locally with a full color printer. At my previous job, if I needed anything in color I would ask the boss if I could use his printer (a rather beefy CMYK laser printer) and never for a moment thought about alternatives to that. Instead, I had to print out black and white laser versions of my work which really doesn’t capture the essence of the product. I made the wise decision to spend $8.60 of my $15 on bright white extra heavy paper, though, so it was less concerning to see the facing page text through the paper.

2.) Invest in business cards

The second snag was that I apparently don’t have any up-to-date business cards. These are crucial little pieces of self-marketing that essential for making those in-roads, and all of mine are either old, embarrassing, or emblazoned with the logo and contact info of my former employer. I put an extra copy of my complete resume in the packet, but I didn’t have the time (or money for that matter) to have more business cards printed.

3.) Have finished samples from previous employment

Snag number three was that I don’t have any of the printed work I created for my former employer. There were no catalogs, pamphlets, or manuals in finished form. I mean, I have the files, but as far as being printed on photo paper in full color, no such luck. This is only somewhat irritating as I have the files, except for the fact that I can’t afford to have them printed in color (and even if I did, it wouldn’t be a large run).

4.) Have video? Make sure that you have DVD software

The fourth (and probably least important) snag was that I could not include a DVD of my videos. These weren’t a requirement for the job, and probably wouldn’t have “wowed” them, but it is a skill listed on my resume and would have been nice to include. I put a link to the videos in my portfolio, but having the DVD would have been better. Now you may be asking yourself, “Surely, he has at least one blank DVD lying around, why wouldn’t he include it?” You would be right in that assumption; I have a few dozen blank discs staring me in the face as I write this. Before any other theories arise, the DVD+-R drives on both my desktop and laptop computers are in perfect working order, so that doesn’t factor in, either. The real reason is one of simple erroneous assumptions made by me about the software I have. When I have made videos in the past, it has always been for upload on YouTube. My videos and projects are made this way from the start. The workflow usually consists of: Filming, importing into Adobe Lightroom (which takes forever, but allows me to organize and meta tag my clips), enhancing in Adobe After Effects, tweaking audio in Adobe Audition, editing in Adobe Premiere, and finally exporting and converting in Adobe Media Encoder. Here’s the kicker: NONE of those programs allow you to create a DVD suitable for a player. I have another program that came with my analog signal capture device, but here’s the other kicker: None of the formats from Adobe Media Encoder are apparently compatible with this software (it won’t recognize H.264, MPEG2, and any MOV or AVI wrapper I could find). I found another, now out-of-date program from Adobe called Encore which will apparently do the job, but I downloaded this literally minutes before I had to leave for my interview and had no time to create a DVD menu or burn it. I am now playing with the program to have it ready for future portfolios (although I doubt that I will have the funds to have those printed professionally, either).

In Conclusion

What I did was burn all the materials that I included to a DVD so that they could view them in full color as needed. I put the description of the DVD inside the folder’s business card spot to help mask the fact that there wasn’t anything there, and then apologized profoundly and multiple times to the interviewer for not being able to afford color. It was not impressive.

So that was much of my week and my entire weekend. I'm already working on the next one.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Chasing The Elusive "Ideal Job"

Before I begin

I’d like to apologize for what you, the reader, might mistakenly categorize as a “woe is me” style rant. This couldn’t be further from the truth, I am simply trying to take an honest evaluation of where I am right now so that I may find another way.

The Premise

I've been unemployed now for almost three months. This isn't surprising given the lack of jobs (let alone quality jobs) in my hometown in general, but it is still beginning to wear on me. It's time to evaluate my skills and weigh my opportunities.

A List of Skills

Foremost among my skills is my writing ability. While I used to be able to compose paragraphs that were almost poetic for research papers and for my own amusement, I find that my time writing marketing copy for the lowest common denominator has made me more staid and inflexible in my style. This could probably be overcome with a more creative outlet, but my creativity is effectively tethered to my happiness and my well-being, and it’s hard to not consider such things when you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from. It doesn't help that my research sensibility has been so drenched in meaningless SEO and fireplace accessories that I fear I may never recover.

Second to my writing is my art. This is a rather distant second, I’m afraid; despite three years of college-level training my skill with a brush or pen is woefully underdeveloped. While I am considerably more effective on the digital front, I find that when given complete creative freedom I tend to choke. When I have a project that I need to get done for a client I am focused and working. Alas, when I am between clients I seem to be incapable of getting even the most basic tasks done for my sole beneficiary (me). Perhaps it is because I can’t pay myself…

Then there’s video. Ah, video: Cheap to do, easy to make, and incredibly time-consuming. I love making videos – I truly do. And now you’re asking yourself, “If he likes videos so much, why doesn’t he make more of them?” The sad simple answer is one of support: I can either be the camera man or I can be on camera, but not both. This makes any videos I create static and not especially fun to do. Furthermore, it’s hard to do both video and sound checks when you’re in front of the camera. Moreover, scripted video requires a lot of planning that is daunting for a single person to do alone. Now it can be done, but it requires time. It requires quiet time. And when you live with other people, quiet time is something that is in a vastly short supply. I challenge you to edit ten minutes of video with someone asking you questions as machine gun fire blares on the television in the other room, while the dog howls for no immediately apparent reason.

I could fall back on my computer repair and support skills, except for two things:
  1. I don’t have any official training in that capacity, just twenty years of experience.
  2. I don’t have an A+ certificate in that capacity, either. And those cost money.

Honestly, this isn’t really something I’d want to do full-time anyway. Most computers can be fixed by swapping out a part, but there’s always a chance you’ll get a computer with a slightly warped motherboard or one single ruptured capacitor that will take hours upon hours of digging to figure out. While figuring it out can be challenging and fun, working under a deadline for very little compensation isn’t. The CompTIA A+ certification is standard for these things, and I don’t have one; it’s the bitter irony of my life that I can either have the time to study for it, or the money to get it, but never both at the same time.

Location, Location, Location

As far as opportunities go, there’s not much to be had in Warren, Pennsylvania. There are jobs, mind you, but those jobs don’t exactly intersect with my skills, tend to not pay very well, and the few that do are in industries that I have no experience with. It’s hard with someone my age and experience level to land one of these jobs anyway, because employers don’t want to spend the time or the money training you if you’re just going to leave at the first opportunity (and rightfully so).

This means that I must look for opportunities outside of Warren, which on the face sounds great, but in practice is incredibly difficult. There are factors preventing me from looking outside of the area for work, and mostly they all boil down to money.

You see, my previous employer didn’t pay very well. Oh sure, they paid better than a retail job or fast food, but for the work involved they just didn’t pay as well as others in the field. It was partially this lack of pay that kept me there for so long, as I rarely had the funds to look for work outside of town. In fact, I was in the process of finding a part time job to supplement my income when I was let go. Now that I am no longer working, my unemployment compensation is drastically less than the pittance I was making before. This leaves me with barely enough money to put gas in my car once every two weeks, let alone travel to a new city for a job interview.

Now there are locations outside of town I can consider. For example, Erie, Pennsylvania is a long commute but should be perfectly serviceable until I can start drawing a paycheck once more. The same goes for Bradford, but they’re about as jobless as Warren at this point. I have friends in Pittsburgh who might be willing to tolerate my presence for a time until I can find proper lodging. And that’s about it, really; I don’t know anyone else.

Running out of alternatives

I’m too old for military service (and far too fat and nearsighted for that, anyway), and I’ve already tried going back to school. The latter didn’t turn out too well, as now I have almost all the debt and no degree to show for it. I would love to further my education, but the funds just aren’t there (which is the reason I had to drop out in the first place). Running a personal business requires an investment that I can’t make financially right now, so that’s out of the question too.

Trying to use career guidance services hasn't been working out either, because they all give me the same options, and even given my experience no one in those suggested industries even seems keen to interview me.

In conclusion

So here I am, caught between a rock and a very hard place. Now, I’m not panicking and I’m not saying that I can’t do any of the things described in the previous text. I’m merely stating that if I don’t find a way to overcome some of these factors that I don’t see much of a future ahead. All I can do (for now) is get to work for myself.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

I Tried Not Being Bitter. That Time Is Done.

The basics

I consider myself to be a reasonable person (others may disagree). So when my employer let me go a little less than two months before this post, I didn't raise a stink. Even though the operations manager saw fit to berate me as I was gathering my things, I feel that I remained fairly calm and collected (although I did have an unfortunate outburst when he whined that I was inconveniencing him). I bore no grudge against them: They simply didn't feel that they needed me anymore, and that was that.

Within days of my leaving, they ripped the vast majority of content that I had created for them off their websites (knowing the owners of the business as I do, I am certain that it has been permanently deleted). I kept busy, gathered up some stuff and attempted to create a portfolio that showcased some of the work that I had done for said employer, and posted it to a new site for viewers and employers to check it out. I didn't feel that it was an issue, as it was free advertising for them and a way for me to show off what I had done. It took me weeks of choosing, organizing, and tweaking, but I finally got it up.

Falling down

That's when I received the DMCA takedown notice. Now, protecting your brand is one thing, but really all my portfolio site did was give them free advertising (I even linked their site to many of the ads). All they had to do was ask me to take down the works and I would have, but they decided to get litigious. Two days later, my unemployment claim was challenged. I want to mention this, because it is a key point in this discussion: I still have received NO reason for my termination. None was ever given, even after I asked them directly.

I'm done making excuses and being nice to them. From here on in, I will no longer defend them, the business processes which (while I cannot discuss) I cannot condone, nor their treatment of their employees. Make no mistake: They have some extremely talented, warm, and motivated people working for them, and I bear those people no grudge, but their draconian, outdated management strategy keeps me amazed that those people stick around. I have nothing against these people and I don't want them to be hurt by any ugliness that may arise in the future.

I will not name my employer in this post to avoid any sort of libel, although with about three seconds of research you could find out who I am referring to. 

Regardless, I have updated the now nearly empty portfolio page with this notice:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Lost All My Stuff (but got it all back... mostly).

It's not very often I feel vindicated in my preparedness. You know how it is: You create at method of doing things that you're pretty sure will work, then the one day you need to use it, everything goes haywire and you lose... Well, everything.

I never use the hard drive (typically the "C:" drive) on my computer for anything more than running programs. I keep an external hard drive for all of my files. I find this method to be useful because it allows me to tweak and even replace my primary hard drive without having to deal with backing up and recovering data. It's also a great way to move data between computers without having to keep duplicate hard drives. I have all of my essential data on one of these drives.

Anyone with any longtime experience with computers can probably see where this post is going.

So, yesterday I plugged in that external drive into my Surface Pro to upload some data on-the-go, but rather than the normal file system the drive was showing up as "RAW," and subsequently I was informed by Windows that the file system was corrupted and that the drive partition was unreadable. 

"No problem," I thought, "Checkdisk will fix this issue." So I opened an administrator-level command prompt and keyed in the much-practiced "chkdsk /f e:" to run one of the most useful Windows programs that for some reason still doesn't have a windowed version. It was a 2 terabyte hard drive, so the program took a while to do its thing.

chkdsk: My bitter friend for the last 20 years

After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, the drive was repaired, and I opened it to find... The default Seagate applications and absolutely nothing else. 1.7 terabytes of data. Virtually everything I had ever made, edited, or created, just... Gone.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: "You stupid newbie! Why would you put all of your info on a single, volatile drive?"

Well, first of all, that's rude! Secondly, this story has a happy ending. You see, some months ago, I devised a method of preserving my data. In the old days I would muck about with multiple hard drives just trying to fit everything in different spaces, trying to think about what data was important and what data to back up. As these smaller drives inevitably failed I would lose old data.

Now, I can't afford (nor do I have the DSL bandwidth to support) a fancy cloud backup service, which would be ideal in this situation. I also don't really have the room for a full-sized file server (or the money to power such a thing, or the time to secure it on my rather pathetic home network). Instead, what I do have are two external 4 terabyte Western Digital drives that are slow, big, require an external power source, and not very portable. They are also identical in every way that matters, and by default Windows won't even recognize them as different drives (if I have them plugged in at the same time there is a conflict in the drive manager). At first, I thought that I might set up a RAID array using these drives as clones to backup essential data, but I actually came up with a better solution.

Rather than change the drive configurations, I left them as they were. I set my system up to back up and encrypt the 2TB drive to the 4TB drive every week during off-hours. This means that as long as I leave the computer on overnight one one of those days, all the data from the 2TB (my data drive) gets copied to the 4TB backup drive.

After this backup occurs, I turn off the computer (I don't want to risk hot-swapping this if I don't have to), and then switch the 4TB drive with its twin, then I put the drive with the most recent back-up in a case and store it in a remote location. I turn the computer on, and it doesn't realize the drives were even swapped, meaning that it will go through its backup procedure again when the week is up. Wash, repeat.

How well does this work? Well, overnight I was able to recover more than 99% of my data, and even though I lost the work I did this week, it was nothing essential. I'm extremely happy with the results, and feel even more secure knowing that as long as at least one of these three drives exists and works, my data will be preserved until I can back it up again.

Score one for anal-retentiveness!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I Have an Online Portfolio (finally)

My portfolio site is up and running. It's not really much right now, but it does feature (a fair few) designs from my time with CJ's Home Decor & Fireplaces. I'm adding more as I go, so if you have the time, check it out:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Maybe it's (very well formatted) spam?

Negativity 101

So today I received the following email:

Sent: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 10:07 AM
Subject: Benefits Consultant Position

Hello Michael,

My name is (Name Withheld), and I am the Marketing Director for (Company Name Withheld) in Western PA. I came across your resume online, and I'd like to talk with you about some job openings within our company. I would also like to learn more about your professional experience and future goals. Whether you are actively employed or still looking, I'm confident there is a position within our organization for someone with your skill set.

The current changes in the healthcare marketplace in America have created tremendous opportunities for (Company Name Withheld). We are seeking individuals who are self-motivated, goal-oriented, and who have a desire to be part of a successful team with a great culture.

Although a career with (Company Name Withheld) may not be something you've considered before, we have had great success with candidates like yourself. We would welcome the opportunity to educate you on a career with (Company Name Withheld). Do not be deterred from applying if you do not have substantial marketing experience. Our associates hold a wide variety of degrees and experience, from Education and Finance to the Military and the Restaurant industry. Regardless of your particular field or expertise, a strong work ethic and desire to succeed are most important to (Company Name Withheld).

We will be conducting interviews in the next week. If you would like to discuss this opportunity further simply (Link) OR copy and paste this (Other Link) to apply today by submitting your updated resume.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
(Name Withheld)
Marketing Director

Now, at first it seems like spam, but it was so well written and designed to prey on my ego that I felt it deserved a response.

Hello Mr. (Name Withheld):

It was great to hear from you!

I don't want to seem too forward, but there seems to be some sort of mistake in your e-mail. The link for the job you're posting is to a "Benefits Consultant," which I take to mean is a liaison between management and businesses interested in purchasing group insurance (or perhaps individuals, I'm not sure). I don't know what led you to think that I am qualified for this position, as I have never worked in sales and my (few) customer service jobs have been dismal failures because of my aloof disposition and my shy personality. I mean, I could be wrong about the job, but that's what my Google search turned up.

I'm curious why you would think that someone with professional experience almost exclusive to graphic design, technical manuals, and video production is a good fit for such a position, because as near as I can tell there is virtually no correlation between the two. Don't get me wrong: I like what I do, and I have little interest in switching gears to focus on work that I have no affinity for or interest in, so I would love to hear how this job that you want me to interview for is connected!

Please, let me know how my video editing skills and knowledge of various graphic design software suites can help your company. Is "Benefits Consultant" a code-word for Graphic Designer or Technical Writer? Because that seems exciting. I am including a copy of my resume so that you can peruse it and let me know how my skill set somehow translates to this job so that I can prepare for the actual application process.

Thank you for thinking of me,
Michael R. Adams

Yes, it is exactly this kind of poor attitude and smart-assery that gets me in trouble at the jobs I do work (and probably a reason I have so few friends), but I've been making an honest effort to be straightforward with employers about what I'm looking for, and instead of genuine interest I am treated to a near constant barrage of temp agencies and corporate headhunters desperate to fill some sort of random quota because all of their dejected and miserable customer service reps keep quitting out of (I assume) frustration.

You have to have certain disposition in order to do these sort of jobs, and while I have done these jobs in the past, I simply don't have the disposition for it, and as I get older I find that I have far less interest in selling myself out for these positions. I know what I'm good at, I know the kinds of things I want to do, all I want is a chance to do it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Updated At Last!

Two years?!

Wow, it really has been almost two years since I posted anything to this site. I wish that I could say that I'm starting it up again under better circumstances, but the reality is that I was recently laid off of my job after nearly five years of steady employment, and I need to begin posting things that are beneficial to my job search.
And to that end, I am going to try to keep this blog focused on portfolio building and showcasing past projects. I can't guarantee that it will be updated as much as it should, but I will try to update it as much as I can.
Let me start off by posting a rough copy of my creative resume, formatted in HTML:



Multi-skilled digital artist who is used to working on a tight budget in a constrained time frame to produce works across several media formats. Possesses a working knowledge of vector art and photo editing software suites and animation techniques. Applies editing and photo-manipulation skills to instructional materials, advertisements, and infographics.
Core competencies include: Digital image manipulation, vector images, 3D model creation and rendering, 2D technical drawings, motion graphics, graphics for the web, and informational diagrams.


CJ's Home Decor & Fireplaces, LLC

Warren, PA
One of the largest online retailers of fireplace doors, home heating appliances, and outdoor fire pits and fire features for both private, public, and commercial applications.
Web Maintenance, Technical Writer, and Media Designer
Builds content for product web pages including marketing text and images. Researches and creates instruction manuals for products sold under the store brand. Films and edits video content for commercials, product features, and instructional (“how to”) videos. Helps to maintain social media accounts. Adds new product content and changes pricing as requested by management.
  • Wrote and drew a series of web guides that helped to reduce customer mistakes (and as a result, returns)
  • Scripted, filmed, and edited a series of instructional and commercial videos to improve customer interaction
  • Designed a series of daily product features for social media accounts that improved website traffic by about 25%

Bossa Nova Robotics

Pittsburgh, PA
A company that licenses cutting-edge robotics technology and implements it into products for the everyday consumer.
Technical Writer via Contract
Researches and analyzes core market demographics. Writes and edits proposals for business partnerships. Develops instruction manuals for consumers and technical manuals for engineers. Creates flow charts and diagrams for robot artificial intelligence. Works with the marketing department to develop commercial content and trade show scripts.
  • Wrote working scripts and developed animations for trade show demonstrations
  • Helped to cement a business partnership between Bossa Nova and Schell Games for online content
  • Overhauled the manuals of several existing lines of toys
  • Conducted market research and maintained an informational library on competing products


Studied Game Art & Design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, PA from 2003-2006
Graduated with a certificate in Electronics from Warren Vocational-Technical schools from 1991-1993


Advanced knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite CC (Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, Premiere, After Effects, Animate, and Audition), Corel Suite (Corel Draw, Photopaint, VideoStudio), 3D modeling and procedural texturing using 3D Studio Max and Blender 3D, Office software (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe InDesign, OpenOffice and LibreOffice).
Some experience with database management (Sage ACT!, MySQL) and online scripting (HTML, XML, CSS, and Javascript).