Thursday, September 27, 2007

Belleville Illinois Community

I have created an Orkut community pertaining to the city of Belleville, Illinois. If you are interested in participating in this group, then feel free to sign up. If you have a gmail account, then I believe you should already have an Orkut account.

Q:Why use Orkut when there are many other communities/forums on the Internet?
A:Because Orkut is with Google and it is my hope Google will provide better integration and service than some of the other communities. I am also betting an eventual integration into Google Earth.

Orkut requires a valid account, so this should help reduce the number of bots, spammers, and trolls.

Here is the link:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Venomous Tale - New video.

As I have mentioned them in a previous posting, this group has an interesting sound, but an even more interesting approach to music distribution. It seems they are eliminating the middleman, the large record companies.

Here is their latest video, let me know if you like it.

A Venomous Tale - The Bastard Fairies

The Down-Side with the Big Guys

In my previous postings, I have discussed the perks associated with traveling with a top-tier consulting firm. There are other advantages, besides reward points and per deim payments. One of these advantages is the exposure you will get to some of the worlds largest and most influential companies and the people who are running them. Above all, this is probably the largest and most overlooked perk you may receive while working for the big-boys. There are, however, many anti-perks and these should be considered before accepting a position with one of these firms.

Travel can be a huge perk, but it can also be the most significant anti-perk around. This is especially true if you are married; even more so if you also have children. The routine is to fly out to your client on Monday morning (or Sunday evening), work 10-12 hour days, then fly back home on Friday evening. This eliminates Friday as a “Home Day,” which means you only have Saturday and Sunday to spend time with your family.

Did I mention laundry? In the two days that you are home, you will have to prepare fresh clothes for the following week. To help alleviate the stress this may introduce, I would suggest having 10-sets of work-clothes. This includes socks, underwear, shirts, slacks, ties, etc. etc. This will allow you to rotate quickly over the weekend and give your spouse time to take care of your cleaning during the week.

So, what are you going to do during those two days home? Being a road warrior has made you numb to the treat of eating-out or staying in a hotel; but your family at home has still been living the “Home life.” You want a nice home-cooked-meal and your family wants a weekend out for dinner and fun. You want to relax in your living room and watch TV while your family wants to get out of the house. (Do you see what is going on here?)

Now, if you have kids, you can forget about seeing them in the many different assemblies and programs. If they play school sports, you can pretty-much cross them out too. How are you going see your daughter’s piano recital while you are 400-miles away? If your kids are young, the odds are that you are going to miss a significant number of “Firsts,” such as First-Word, First-Step, First-tooth-lost, First-day-without-training-wheels, etc. etc.

Oh, but it gets better. You see, the kids will not complain to you about this; but your spouse can, and will. You will hear it when the toilet backs up, you will hear it when a tire goes flat, you will hear it when a pipe breaks, you will hear it when the cable-tv goes out, and you will hear it when anything goes wrong and she needed you to be there to help make things better. I almost forgot, you will hear it because you are NOT there to cuddle after the kids go to sleep.

Over time, you will become numb to life on the road. Flying on an airplane will be the equivalent to riding in a car. Staying in a hotel, no matter how fancy, will be like staying at your home. On one trip, I was flying from St. Louis to JFK-New York and fell asleep in the plane before it even left the gate. I woke up and saw people gathering their bags and exiting the plane. My first thought was some mechanical problem was forcing us to take a different flight. When I looked out the window, we were in New York. I missed the whole flight – and didn’t care.

Eventually, being a road- warrior, weekend parent, and weekend spouse will take its toll on you and will force the realization of the situation. You can be married to your spouse, or married to your work; but, rarely does it work out so you can be married to both. I knew plenty of coworkers who were either divorced, cheated on their spouse, or was in the processes of getting a divorce. My choice was to divorce my job, which I did, and found the good-life of working for a middle-market consulting firm.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Google virtual world

There have been some rumblings regarding the prospect of Google establishing a virtual world which will integrate Google Earth, Orkut, and some yet-to-be-identified product. Speculation has it that people will create a virtual entity of themselves (an avatar) and use some form of Google Earth to meet other people’s avatars. People will have another reason to sit at home and be dormant.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Google WiFi and Radio

Google seems to be very interested in the 700-MHz radio spectrum auction by the FCC. Should Google bid, and win, they will then have the rights to establish wireless communication.

As a technology consultant,I find this interesting because of a few other things Google is already working on, like the Google Wireless Phone. In case you did not know, Google has been developing a wireless phone, although the exact details of this remain sketchy. Based on what information is available and theories by industry insiders, Google is looking to provide free wireless phone service for consumers; which will be paid for by advertising revenue.

Google has also been buying unused fiber optic networks (dark fiber) for several years. It is my belief that if Google wins the auction for the 700MHz band, they will then light-up this fiber network they have been working on and establish nodes, or wireless access points, and then tie their phone service into the “Google Net.” Google has already tried to establish WiFi networks, which would be free for consumers, in San Francisco. So, we know they see much value in wireless access points in metropolitan locations.

How does this relate to radio broadcasting? Should this Google plan be implemented, wireless Internet access may soon be widely available to the masses; which, could be a huge enabler for Internet-based radio stations. You could have streaming feeds directly to your cell phone, PDA, or even an Internet-Ready car radio. Would this change the way Radio stations function? I don’t think it would spell the end of radio as we know it, but it may force certain changes and revenue models.

Here are some links for your consumption:

Google WiFi in San Fran.

Cities turning off plans for Wi-Fi

Belleville Received Grant for Public WiFi

Google Phone

Google’s interest in the 700MHz band

Google’s desire for fiber networks

Sun Microsystems “Black box” (Portable data center)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bonus Items

1) Once you have accumulated enough points, fly to an exotic location for a weekend get-away. Many times the firm will pay a portion of your air fare, which would be equivalent to the amount it would cost them to fly you home. Use your rental-car and hotel points for the weekend vacation.

2) See if the hotel offers a kitchenette. Preparing your own food is an excellent way to save your per diem. At the very least, ask the hotel for a microwave and small refrigerators. Most hotels have them, but are available only on request.

3) Get familiar with the airline workers at the gate. If you are going to be on a project lasting more than a few months, it would be good if you start to recognize the people trying to manage the boarding process. Bring them a smoothie or something. This is a great way to get preferential treatment and to get placed on the “Short-List” for first-class upgrades. After several weeks of flying, you will not want to ride coach.

4) Avoid frequent after-work drinking activities. A great way to kiss-up to your boss is to go out drinking with the team. It is also a great way to blow the extra cash you have been hording. Try drinking a club-soda with a lime. It is cheaper than a mixed drink and you will not get drunk.

5) Avoid the nudie bars. A great way to loose a ton of money is to go out with the guys to the strip-joints. Just say no.

6) Pay your debt ASAP. Most credit cards do not charge you interest if you pay them off immediately. Turn in your expense report promptly so you are reimbursed on the next paycheck. Make sure you use the money to pay off your credit card. Do not let a debt linger.

7) Invest in some quality luggage. Being a road-warrior means living out of a suitcase; so, buy some quality luggage and make sure you have one (or two) with some nice wheels. You might even be able to trade in some points for a good set of bags. Cheap bags will break down and cause more headaches – so will ones with cheap wheels. This is one item you have my permission to splurge on.

8) Get to know your location before you arrive. Use Google Earth or Map quest to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land. If you are going to take a taxi, then know the roads might save you some cash (there are taxi drivers who will take the long-way in order to get a larger fare).

More about the perks

While I have explained the points and the perks, I have not yet gone into too much detail about the early retirement plan. In a moment, it will all come together; but, for now I still need to continue with the points.

As I mentioned, you will start accumulating points for all of your travel necessities. In time, the accumulation of points will enable you to have very fancy vacations. For example, I flew my family from St. Louis to Orlando in first class and it did not cost me one cent. For my second honeymoon, I will be staying at a Marriot World resort (any of them) for two weeks with a rental car; and it will not cost me a cent – it is all from reward points.

All right, lets get to the meat of this early retirement thing.

First, you have to live with your parents. You will not really live with them, but you need to have a place or residence and it would be nice for someone who can take care of your mail. Don’t worry about living at home because you will be spending very little time with mom and dad.

Second, let the consulting firm know that you are very willing to travel. Once they understand you WANT to be a road warrior, they will make sure you get the opportunity.

Third, establish your relationship with the reward-point systems each provider offers. If the company is a partner with an airline, do not (DO NOT) take air-points in lieu of reward points. New consultants fall for this one. Believe me; you will start racking up the air point from just flying. You will be very surprised how quickly you will earn free tickets and upgrades.

Forth, find out about weekend options for the project. Many times the company will let you stay over the weekend because it is cheaper than flying you home each week. If this is an option, then find out if they will provide per Diem; if not, no worries. You would be spending money on food anyway. If you plan your week out, you can save enough per diem to cover most of your weekend food needs.

Fifth, use your expense card for everything. The more you use your American Express card, the more points you will earn. Make sure you pay it off each month. Make sure you are registered in the rewards program. Some card charge an annual fee – pay it!

Sixth, do not splurge. This, by far, is the most important aspect of this whole equation. I have seen many young consultants tempted by this amazing lifestyle. What other job could you have where all of your living expenses are paid for by the company? Since their salary is not being used for “Real Life,” they end up buying fancy things, like BMWs, Porsches, and extravagant electronic devices (i.e. home theater systems and industrial margarita machines). I knew one guy who bought is own soft-serve ice cream machine!

Seventh, max out your 401K and make wise investments with your “Unused” salary. While some might say this one is the most important part of the equation, you have to understand that you can not invest if you blow all your money on crap.

By now, you should understand how this plan works. The key is to keep yourself on travel projects so you can live off your per diem and invest your regular salary that is not being used. In time, you will build up a very large nest egg, much like you have been building up reward points! If you are prudent, you should be able to retire early and enjoy many months of leisure travel as you start cashing in all of those points you have been accumulating.

On my next installment, I will be talking about the down-side of working at a top-tier firm.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Working for a top-tier consulting firm.

In my previous blog entry, I suggested the global firms might not be a good as the middle-market firms. In terms of quality people, this I believe to be true. There are, however, some advantages to using a global, or top-tier, firm. The most significant advantage is the support structure behind each consultant. The big-boys go to great lengths to make sure each consultant receives continued training and is connected to their massive internal support networks. When you get one consultant from one of these firms, you also get a collective knowledge from the entire firm. In a way, they are much like the Borg.

I did mention perks in my previous posting and I will go into some details about them. If you played your cards right, working for one of these larger firms could help one retire by the age of 45, give or take 5 years. Even if you did not play all of the cards correctly, there are many other advantages – but there are also some costs. Let me explain.

Working for one of these consulting firms will require a fair degree of travel. If you have any reservations about travel, then you should not even consider joining their ranks. If, on the other hand, you can travel, then a whole world of opportunities is handed to you on a plastic plate (your expense card). I'll present the formula for early retirement and let you take away the good and the bad. Ready? (I should be paid to let you read this formula).

Prerequisite #1: You are not married.
Prerequisite #2: You do not have any children.
Prerequisite #3: You do not own a home.
Prerequisite #4: You have, at least, a 4-year degree from a reputable university.
Prerequisite #5: You have self-control.

These firms want you to travel because they can get a larger billing rate from the client, so travel is the primary catalyst for early retirement. When traveling for these firms, they pay for everything. This includes the air fare, hotel, meals, and any other associated expenses related to your work. Many times, this will include a rental car (you have to be able to drive back and forth between your hotel and the client’s work site).

When you travel, you will earn reward points. It is a good idea to pick one provider for each aspect of your travel. For example, always stay at a Marriot. Always fly American Airlines. Always rent a car from Avis. You get the point; or, should I say, you’ll earn the points. Here is a run-down of point rewards.

Credit Card (American Express): Earn points for every dollar charged on the card.
Air Fare: Earn frequent flyer miles.
Hotel: Earn points towards free stays.
Rental Car: Earn points towards free rentals.

As you start to accumulate points, the providers will start to reward you with bonus points. For instance, your air fare points will start to double and provide nice perks, like free upgrades to first-class. Your rental car points will allow you free upgrades (go from a Ford Taurus to a convertible Mustang). If you are using American Express, your reward points will start to accumulate to allow larger “Gifts” from the catalog (I knew someone who was real close to having enough points for a Harley Davidson).

How does all of this enable one to retire early? As a traveling consultant, you will be gone for weeks at a time. It would be a very typical week for me to leave home on Monday morning and then return late Friday evening. During the week, my out-of-pocket expenses were zero; remember the firm pays for your hotel, meals, etc. etc. Since you do not have the typical day-to-day expenses one would normally have with a “Regular” job, you now have more money to save. Not too shabby, but it gets better.

For most projects, you are given a per diem, which accounts for three meals and incidentals. They do this to help reduce the number of receipts needed for reconciliation. Quite often, you can get by for less than the per diem; which means you pocket the extra. Over time, this becomes a nice tax-free source of revenue (consult your tax advisor on this). So, if the firm gives you $40.00 to spend on dinner, but you spend $5.00 on Mac-And-Cheese, you just pocketed $35.00.

On my next installment, I will put this all together to explain how to enable early retirement.

Stay Tuned.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Working for a consulting firm

Yesterday I had a conversation with someone regarding billing rates. Having worked for two middle-market consulting firms (Daugherty Business Solutions and G.A. Sullivan) and three top-tier firms(KPMG Peat Marwick, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Avanade) I am here to say the rate charged by the big guys may not necessarily mean you are receiving any-better quality from their consultants.

So, what is the difference between the $175/hour and the $75/hour consultant? The difference is likely consultant’s support network because most of the time, the quality of the consultant is exactly the same. Let me explain by drawing an example from a previous project.

When Compaq came to one of the BIG-5 firms to help them with their e-commerce initiative, the firm brought in plane-loads of people from all over the US. Many of these people were junior-level and had only been out of college for 1-2 years. Sure, they were mixed in with some seasoned consultants, but even the seasoned ones were still cutting their teeth in the business world. The point I am getting at is Compaq was paying a pretty billing rate for people with little, or no, experience. Compaq was paying the firm to use this project as a “Training” site to indoctrinate fresh meat. Compaq would have received the same quality from a middle-market firm (although maybe not the same quantity).

The big firm has the ability to summon large numbers of people to a project and offer a support-network to help insure these people do not fail. They do this well because it is done this way time after time, project after project, client after client. As I mentioned above, working for three of these firms, they are all the same. Here are some other tricks to help justify their hefty billing rate:

1)They fly people in from all over the US. This helps to give the illusion of a shortage of local talent. When you go to the airport on a Monday morning (or Friday evening), you can play spot-the-consultant by the logos on their laptop bags. Bring a friend and see who has more people in the air, Accenture, IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or BearingPoint.

2)Look for the management pyramid. A dozen juniors, several mid-range, two-three managers, and one partner. The people doing the bulk of the work are the bottom two layers and the people doing the schmoozing are on the top. When you get the bill for a partner’s work of $300-$500/hour, see if you can identity what exactly that work entailed (other than signing the contract).

3)Laptops, Laptop, and more Laptops. Each consultant brings with them a mini data processing center with all of the hardware and software to run a business. Never mind their computers are probably not permitted to be connected to the corporate network; rest assured they are using them to surf porn back at the hotel.

4)Turn over. Working as a consultant for a top-tier firm does have many advantages, if you are single, don’t have kids, or can live the nomadic lifestyle. Since many people have aspirations of having a family, a home, or other “Traditional” lives, there is some degree of turn over within the ranks. These firms count on this to keep the staff rotating with junior-level people (young and don’t have to pay as much).

On my next blog, I will go into the perks of working for a top-tier firm (yes! There are P-L-E-N-T-Y) of perks.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Back in the game

After a long absence, I think I am going to try and get back into the game of writing to my blog. Since my last posting there has been much going on, both professionally and personally. On the personal side, little league baseball is over for the season and the Fink’s are ramping up for the fall season. On the professional side, I am still helping farmers all over the world grow better crops by using technology to track the progress of their corn (or whatever).

The baseball team I coach took first place in their division, again (three years in a row), with an undefeated season (second one). Many congratulations go to these kids who have demonstrated huge amounts of skill and have proven that practice can make perfect. In three years, we have only lost one game! Sadly, this will be my last year participating with the Belleville Parks and Recreation because I (and most of the parents) are sick and tired of the league and all of the bullshit we have been forced to put up with. We will likely be playing in O’Fallon next season.

As for growing crops… The solution I helped (Insert Ag. Company name here) develop enabled us to track several thousands of acres of corn production and was deemed a huge success. We will be looking to take this application to Brazil and Argentina for their next growing season. For those who might be interested, this is a 100% Microsoft solution from top to bottom. We use several varieties of mobile computing platforms (Symbol, Dell, and HP) and track the crop progress from pre-planting to post-harvest. I still enjoy the work and the company keeps things challenging.