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Shutdown ‘unnerving, frustrating’ for federal contractors | WTOP

Offering advice to impacted contract workers, Chvotkin said they should stay in close communication with supervisors because their status could change quickly. He also advised to be ready to return to work as soon as possible, if needed.

The reality is that if you are not reporting to work, your resume is already on the street. Fifteen to twenty percent of the contractors working for companies that are unfunded will not be returning to their current assignments. Which will make restarting after the shutdown even harder.

Can I have what they’re smoking?

Mick Mulvaney says DHS can’t ‘spend money from Mexico’ for wall: ‘We have to get it from the treasury’

Mulvaney said that through the new agreement, “American workers are going to do better, the government is going to do better, and you could make the argument that Mexico is paying for it in that fashion.”

Seriously? This is how the current administration is justifying taking five billion dollars from the US taxpayer for a device to prevent border crossings. A device that the Chinese will tell you did not work as advertised, but did employ a lot of people. Mostly slaves.

I can think of a lot of things that five billion dollars can buy that will do a lot more good for the US economy. And for those playing the home game, five billion is the buy in. Current estimates are north of $20 bn for actual completion. For that the US could make Dominica a State. With cash left over. Or how about 50,000 teachers for a decade? No? 50,000 miles of road repairs. Surely that is just as important, and the follow on spending would boost a number of local economies. How about feed 3.4 million people for a year. We always hear about the homeless, many of whom are veterans in need of more than just food. We could also house some 300k of them.

Clearly preventing a tiny percentage of illegals has a cost (yes, tiny. The Census estimates less than 20 million illegals are in the US. That is the population of the state of Texas or a bit more than 4 times the population of New York City. A drop in the bucket) but the cost of building an ineffective preventative wall is even higher when you consider what can be built with it. (The next aircraft carrier is only $13 bn).

Let’s go Congress, show some leadership. Fix immigration.

There Should Be A Law: Christmas Carols

Even though it snowed in Metro Washington, DC yesterday, it is still only the middle of November. And while many of you probably do not support my position that the Christmas Season should be restricted to the two weeks from December 15 to December 26, I am confident that many of you, especially those in retail, think that the push of Christmas into almost September in many cases, is excessive.

Today, while sipping my latte from a Christmas themed cup, I noticed that the music playing was, indeed, Christmas carols.

To me, this is excessive.

I grew up in Canada. The Thanksgiving dinner, held in the United States in November is held in mid-October in Canada. Then it is Hallowe’en. Many a Hallowe’en saw me trick-or-treating with a coat under my costume. But no Christmas ornaments were competing with the jack-o-lanterns for attention. And it was not until late November or early December when the Christmas decorations began to arrive.

In the US, it seems to be entirely different. Over the last decade, we have seen Christmas decorations arrive earlier and stay up longer, and incorporate the themes of the holidays it is stepping on. A turkey in a Christmas sweater is very jarring. And of course, the carols. Those insidious earworms that flood the background sonics to the point where they cannot be ignored.

Further, as the Christmas season expands (balloons), we are hearing complaints about it stepping on the sanctity of Thanksgiving. I wrote a post about that fallacy back in 2014, and it is as relevant today as it was then. You cannot have it both ways.

Maybe someday, the economic cycle will be less focused on the fourth quarter as the retail make or break quarter, but until that happens, I cannot see any way to avoid starting Christmas as soon as possible, but could we wait until Black Friday? This Christmas year round is really getting tiring. And I am so tired of hearing Run Run Rudolph.

Apple’s TOCK upgrade

Yesterday, Apple announced the biggest iPhone ever, with stunning new displays. They also introduced a new watch that will read your EKG better, stronger, faster. Yawn. Sorry, what?

If this morning’s mullet wrappers (as an old boss used to call the tech press) are any indication, they are less thrilled then I am about the new Apple hardware. Lead on Computerworld this morning? A review of five digital whiteboards. Apple’s releases were the fifth bullet down behind Slack adds enterprise key management and How you can train for your MCSA and MCSE certifications (a house ad).

A couple of days ago, one of the luminaries in the Apple world asked Has Apple lost its shine? A valid question, especially related to the release yesterday. Sure, there are those that will go gaga over the new hardware, but those of us that have been in IT for more than a couple of months don’t pay attention to new processors unless we need a feature in that new processor. And when it is only a tock (speed, security) upgrade, we really do not get excited.

Apple will continue to promote its new devices. The iDevice market is a considerable part of their revenue stream so they really cannot do anything else. But when the most exciting thing is the camera (and I can buy better glass for my DSLR for less money then they will ever be able to stuff in a phone case), perhaps Apple really has lost its way.

One minor thing of note. In iOS 12, there will now be almost complete support for the reading of NFC tags. I say this is a slight note because the NFC people have been asking for this for more than a decade when it first appeared in Android devices. Thanks for joining the planet Apple.

Your Rights Are Not What You Think

“Aden described the scene in a Facebook post Saturday, adding that the officer who told him that he wasn’t being detained has an “ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution that should disqualify him as a customs officer.” (WTOP)

Regrettably for Mr. Aden, as well as everyone else that considers themselves a citizen of the United States, whether natural born or legally converted, the law is not that clear and the rights granted under the Constitution do not actually apply as you have been deluded into believing (and if you think a Founding Father or two just rolled over, join the crowd). The article What Customs and Border Officials Can and Can’t Do highlights this in chilling detail.

As more and more of us are learning, especially with the more tyrannical leadership under Number 45, the Constitutional provisions offer you no protections within 100 miles of the United States Border. Let me say that again. According to the law, any member of the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CPB) has the legal right to stop you, perform an unsanctioned search and seizure, and detain you without a warrant. If your jaw just hit the floor, join the club. If you are confused, think about this. The Border of the United States is not just with Canada and Mexico. There is an invisible border twelve miles off the coast of the United States. Take a ruler. Draw a line from that 12-mile limit one hundred miles into the interior of the United States. Draw it one hundred miles from the US/Canadian border and 100 miles from the Mexican border. Tell me how many cities are inside that border? Tell me how much of the population fo the United States lives inside that line. Upset yet? You should be. Inside that zone, many of the provisions of the Constitution can be suspended without cause and there is nothing you can do about it. And it is only going to get worse, not better.

The person in the street shrugs, security comes first [B. Cockburn]. If that is your attitude, either you never plan to travel anywhere, or you do not understand how damaging this is to our foreign relationships. But as this sort of nonsense continues, it is likely that the United States will see a departure of its citizens. Those citizens that have the option to go somewhere else. The brain drain started when the IRS cracked down, in many cases irrationally, on funds overseas. This resulted in a serious backlash in financial markets that is already causing issues with US funds abroad. This type of harassment of citizens and foreigners alike will have negative impacts. Travel, tourism, and goodwill are important in international relations. When the country’s citizens are treated as criminals, the only one left will be criminals.

An Open Letter To Starbucks

Starbucks, it is time to rethink our relationship. It has been a good run. Almost twenty years of providing me a morning jolt, a quiet place to sit and prepare for the day, a quick breakfast on the way to any number of events. But I think we have come to the end of the run. Now do not get the wrong idea. The quality of the prepared food is still acceptable, and the coffee is still what gets me going in the morning most days. And least you think I am upset about the new rewards program, I am not. In fact, it suits me better than the old one. On any weekend I am expending $40 a day and only getting one star for that, the same as for buying a bottle of water. But I was not in the reward program for the stars. Heck, I probably have let more than a dozen free drinks fly by.

No, I am afraid the problem is service. Pure and simple. Starbucks used to be the gold standard for customer service. But lately, something has come off the rails. And not just a little. Allow me to illustrate.

I have two Starbucks within a mile of my house, pretty much on the same street. I pick one over the other by proximity. What we call in the business, the intervening opportunity. I visit the store that is closest to what I am doing at the time. Today, when I pulled up, there were fifteen cars in the drive-through. When I walked into the store, there were at least ten waiting to place their orders. This being a Saturday, you can expect that most people are ordering more than one item. I did not even pause, but turned on my heel and left. With only three people behind the counter, I did not have much confidence that I could get in and out quickly, and I had a bit of a time crunch.

Instead, I went to the other shop. Again, busy, but not as busy and the people ahead of me were only ordering one item. I placed my order and waited. This is where we come to the second problem in service, quality control. My daughter likes frappuccinos, but is not a fan of whipped cream. Go figure. So I always order hers without. Starbucks, if you could make one rapid improvement, it would be in the literacy of your baristas. In the dozen odd years I have been ordering her frappuccinos, without whipped cream, your baristas have got it wrong 50% of the time. And in 90% of those cases, it has been marked correctly on the cup!

I am not going to expect perfection. The baristas are human. Stuff happens. I expect that an order will be wrong on occasion. The problem is that the definition of occasion is not weekly. Worse, if this was something that happened in only one store, I would have a quiet word with the manager and that would be that. But it is not just one store. And it is not the only error, which have run the gamut from missing coffee in coffee drinks, missing syrups and sometimes straight up the wrong drink. I could go on. Since most of my drinks are coffee drinks, I am usually far away from the store before I notice something wrong at which point it is more of a hassle to go back.

Which brings me to the last issue. I would have words with the manager, but I cannot easily tell who the manager is. I am the first one to say that leadership and age are not synonymous, but sometimes the oldest person in the store is the worst offender and the youngest is the manager. Maybe if you make them stand out like the coffee masters, it would be easier to bring these issues to their attention.

Are these insurmountable issues? No. Are they resolvable? Yes, and in many cases, very easily. If it was just one store, I would chalk it up to that store and find another, but it is apparent that it is systemic. And because of this, I am considering my alternatives. Including making it myself.

Congress is Upset?

This morning, the Washington Post reported:

Some lawmakers, including top Democrats, express frustration that the U.N. Security Council gets the chance to vote on the deal this week, signaling the international community’s intention to dismantle the sanctions against Iran before Congress votes on it.NYTimes

I read this once, then I read it again. Then I forced myself to read it yet a third time. At some point, I thought the author was kidding. But no, if you read the New York Times article, you begin to understand something very important. That is that the United Nations Security Council, part of a a huge, multi-national organization is more responsive and flexible the the United States Congress.

The document in question is the Iran Nuclear Deal. About 180 pages in length. The United Nations Security Council members, apparently, has had sufficient time to read the deal and decided it knows enough to schedule a vote. The United States Congress, on the other hand, is getting ready to leave Washington for their summer recess, and therefore, will take the next sixty days to review the agreement, and then ponder whether it will vote. As a voting constituent, I ask two questions:

  • If this is such an important agreement, shouldn’t Congress delay their vacation to deal with the work in front of them?
  • If this is not so important, then why are they upset that the United Nations Security Council is voting before them?

Me thinks Congress doth protest too much. Either that, or they really are less interested in their doing their job, than they are keeping their job.

Enough With The False Anger Over Stores Opening On Thanksgiving

There is a current upset over stores opening on Thanksgiving here in the United States. Being born in Canada, I don’t care either way – Thanksgiving is not a sacred cow. But what I find amazing is the same people that are ranting about the stores being open on Thanksgiving seem to not care that these same stores maintain almost normal hours on Memorial Day, Labor Day, even Independence Day.  Nary a whimper about this.

In an article in the BBC, an article about “Life in a no-vacation nation,” it documents the, well shock, of an American now working in Australia where vacations are essentially mandatory. I have been making it my personal project to get the federal holidays repealed.  Why? Because no one, outside the federal government and a few select individuals get them. So why have a calendar full of them if you are going to have to work them anyway. I used to refer to the little four and the big five.  The big five were those sacred holidays – Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The little four were New Years, Columbus, President, and Veterans Day. In most real, non-retail companies, the little four were either forgotten entirely, or were shuffled around to make things easier, like the Friday after Thanksgiving, or the week between Christmas and New Year.

Lately though (since the turn of the 2000), even the big five seem to be pretty much ignored, especially if you work for a global company. The holidays are dates on the calendar and mean about as much as Saturday or Sunday do, or essentially, they are just days of the week that may or may not require you to be working. So why do we bother pretending that these days are “holidays.”

If we were serious, we would close everything on these days, much like what happens on Easter Sunday. Wait, what? Yes, until recently, Easter Sunday was the only day of the year when everything from retail to restaurants was closed. I mean signs on the door, we will not be open closed. And this was as recently as the middle of this century. Now things have changed and it is considerably less stringent than it used to be, but it does beg the question – if we can be closed for a non-holiday, why can we not close for such important days as the birth of the nation or Thanksgiving? Such false complaining really makes the rest of the world laugh at us more than they otherwise do. And by the way, why is the Friday also not a holiday?  Oh, that’s right, because we are all too busy shopping….

The TSA is behind the curve

This will come as no surprise:

The Homeland Security Department is banning all liquids from carry-on luggage for nonstop flights from the U.S. to Russia. The ban comes after the department warned airlines that terrorists might try to smuggle explosives on board hidden in toothpaste tubes. The warning said terrorist might try to assemble explosive device in flight or upon arrival at the Olympics. (www.wtop.com)

There is very little that I hear coming out of the Department of Homeland (In)security anymore that leaves me dumbstruck, but this was one of them.  The first thing that went through my mind was who is running the Game Theory office at the TSA/DHI, and have they ever seen a James Bond movie? Plastic explosives in a toothpaste tube is de rigueur in spy craft. Open any kids book on espionage and there it is.  So for the TSA to now, thirteen odd years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, ban liquids again is pretty stunning.

And then I am taken back to the Confessions of a TSA agent that appeared only a couple of weeks ago in Politico. The United States Government (in other words, you and me) are spending $150,000 per machine for full-body scanners, that do not work, and even if they did, there is a high likelihood that no one is watching the monitor anyway. And as been discussed numerous times, the x-ray machines, both above and below the security screening area cannot tell the difference between peanut butter and C-4, or chocolate powder and explosives.

So why, exactly is the TSA banning liquids on flights to Russia?  Because if no one complains about them banning liquids in this test scenario, they will be able to ban them in general, except for those of you silly enough to shell out $80 (or more) for their Pre-Check program, where the agency will, with your permission to boot, know more about you than anyone else.  All because they cannot procure, use, or understand the equipment that we are already paying too much for.

 

 

It is only November 1

I have a bone to pick with Starbucks. No, it is not about their product, but about their need to “rush” the season.  Today is November 1, not December 1, yet today the “Christmas cups” have debuted to replace their normal white cups for the “Holiday” season.

Companies that push the Christmas season earlier and earlier bother me. There is no reason why we should be decking the halls before the first of December.  Christmas and its consumption based marketing machine is already long enough at 25 days. We do not need companies pushing it before Hallowe’en – as KMart and Walmart have already done with this year’s season. Do we just leave the tree up all year long?!

If you want me to think good of your company, you will not get into the “holiday” mood until December 1.  I am willing to overlook those that feel that the first Friday after Thanksgiving is the start of the season, but only a bit.  And if you want me to actually buy from your company, you will not be celebrating in my face on the day after Hallowe’en.