Keeping Up With The Jonses Is Expensive

From $100,000 and up is not enough – even the 'rich' live paycheck to paycheck

The trend of Americans earning six-figure paychecks living from paycheck to paycheck grew during the 2008 recession from 21% to 30% in 2009, according to a CareerBuilder.com survey. A recent survey by SunTrust found that things had not improved much by 2015. About 25% of those making over $100,000 a year still live paycheck to paycheck.

When I was a kid, my parents mostly lived paycheck to paycheck and they weren't making anywhere near the kind of money this Guardian articles is talking about. They were the "poor" version of this.

Back then, it never occurred to me that "rich" people might live paycheck to paycheck. Today, I see it all around me. They have fancy cars, every cable channel known to man, fancy furniture and dishes, $200/month cell phone bills with new smartphones each year. This includes their kids.

Me? I've got a nice house, but I still use folding tables for the desk in my office. I drive a 12 year old car that's paid for, my wife drives a 3 year old car that's also paid for. I have Internet, but basic cable TV service. Work pays for my mobile phone, the family is on prepaid service. Only person with the newest smartphone is me, which I buy every other year. The wife just got a used iPhone, my son just got her old iPhone. My daughter doesn't even have a smartphone (though that may change).

What I do have that the paycheck to paycheck folks don't? Savings that we use sparingly and restock regularly. Retirement accounts that I won't touch until I use them for retirement. What I don't have? Debt. Other than my house, everything is paid for. Money isn't spent unless we actually have it to spend. That sometimes means delaying purchases on things you need—or want.

Bottom line: I don't even try to keep up with my neighbors. That said, I live a comfortable lifestyle I can afford today and, with a lot more saving, will be able to afford when I retire.

The One Thing You Can Steal

From If You Want To Be Successful, Learn How To Steal:

We are too busy trying to steal things that we cannot keep, and forgetting about knowledge. Instead of trying to steal someone’s success, learn how they built it. Steal their knowledge and build your own. If you didn’t build something, it is never yours.

Calling it “stealing” makes it seem so illicit, so immoral. And yet, all great ideas were built upon other great ideas that came before.

Sadly, knowledge too does not last until our last breath, as we all grow old and forgetful eventually. When compared to other things you can “steal,” it is the one thing that cannot be taken back.

How I Failed Gracefully Early In My Career

A post on Medium, along with my recent thinking about the early part of my career got me reflecting on the less than auspicious beginning to my career. From the author of the Medium post:

Here’s something that I think everyone needs to learn and learn young. How to mess something up with grace and maturity and not let it destroy your life and your work. I’m not talking about learning to fail – although that’s useful – I’m talking about learning to accept and respond in a positive way when you make a bad decision. When you make a decision that is really indefensible and possibly even totally stupid.

While in the senior year of college, I managed to get a job with a company within walking distance to where I lived at the time in Santa Cruz. The job was as a sysadmin, which I had been doing while I was in an Engineering lab at Santa Clara University, so I had some experience. The company knew I was still in school when they hired me and accepted that, at least for the few months I had left before I graduated, that I would be part-time.

That job only lasted a grand total of three weeks. Let me tell you, being fired at the age of 21 when you think you’re all that and a bag of chips was a humbling experience. The walk home I took with my exit paperwork and final check, while relatively short, was a walk of shame.

Meanwhile, as I still had a couple months left before I graduated, and I still needed to pay some bills. That meant asking for my job back at the Engineering lab. That was yet another humbling experience: asking for a job back that I had left in a manner consistent with someone who was full of himself and lacked grace. Thankfully, I got it back, but I probably didn't deserve it.

The lessons I learned from this experience that have served me well:

  • Most mistakes aren’t fatal. In fact, shortly after making whatever mistakes I made with that first job, I felt like it was the best thing that ever happened to me (to that date). I can’t explain why I came to that conclusion at the time, but it ended up being a good thing for me in the end. Accept responsibility for what you did, acknowledge that which you can not control, and move forward.
  • When you quit working someplace for whatever reason, make as graceful an exit as possible (i.e. don't burn any bridges). You never know if or when you’ll come back. This specific lesson served me well two years later when I made the decision to return to a previous employer after only five months. Ironically, I was discussing a return with said employer the very day I got laid off. Talk about fortuitous timing.

Needless to say, these were valuable lessons to learn when I did.

Who Decides What Is Hate Speech?

From Facebook, Google, Twitter agree to delete hate speech in 24 hours:

Germany said on Tuesday that Facebook, Google and Twitter have agreed to delete hate speech from their websites within 24 hours, a new step in the fight against rising online racism following the refugee crisis.

The government has been trying to get social platforms to crack down on the rise in anti-foreigner comments in German on the web as the country struggles to cope with an influx of more than 1 million refugees this year.

The new agreement makes it easier for users and anti-racism groups to report hate speech to specialist teams at the three companies, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said.

The question this articles does not define is an important one: who decides what is hate speech and what will be removed by these three companies?

Personally, I don't think this is a good policy, because I already know what will happen: the "hate speech" will simply get driven underground where the disinfecting rays of sunlight cannot reach it. In other words: it will make the underlying problems worse than they are.

Then again, I'm starting to think that's the point of this move—to keep us uninformed and fighting with each other so the thugs in charge can solidify their positions of power over us.

Motivated or Inspired?

From Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action:

Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them. People are either motivated or they are not. Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.

I've gone through periods of time where I have been motivated and other times when I wasn't, or at least so I thought. Maybe it wasn't motivation I lacked in those periods, it was inspiration…

What's In A Social Media Interaction?

I was listening to the most recent episode of This American Life and was quite disturbed by the first part of the episode where several high school student discussed the complex set of interactions that occur around the selfies they post around Instagram, which they do regularly. Commenting versus liking. What you say versus what you mean. It's completely counter-intuitive but when you hear them explain it, it makes a lot of sense.

Contrast this to my teenage son, who has wisely figured out that social networks of all kinds are a complete waste of time. He has a Facebook account, but rarely uses it. He had an Instagram account that he stopped using once he lost his smartphone. He keeps up with this friends using traditional SMS and Skype.

I have to think that most people who use social media are somewhere in the middle of these extremes. That said, everyone has their own expectations about what they share, how they expect their "friends" to react to it, and what that reaction truly means. Even I have my expectations, if I'm honest with myself, but my expectations are likely much lower than those teenage girls on This American Life.

The driving force in all cases is attention and desire to be acknowledged in some small way. I just wonder how often we eschew attention in the real world for attention on social media and what impact that is having on our relationships, both short-term and long-term.

Pursuing What Matters

I don't normally read Shawn Blanc's work. I blame Scott for referring me to it, but not really. It pointed to the kernel of an idea I've had for a while:

In short, if you want to watch more TV, the universe won’t bother you. If you want to do work that matters, it’s going to be a fight.

"Work that matters" is in the eye of the beholder. I know that, when I decide what that is and focus on it, it gets done. It's how my old Check Point FireWall-1 FAQ got built. It's how two books got published. It's how, even during the times where my heart wasn't always in it, I've managed to evolve and stay employed at Nokia for 10 years and Check Point for nearly 7—a man and his family have to eat and have a place to live, after all.

I suppose I should consider myself very lucky. A lot of people have never experienced that sense of purpose that drives them to do anything more than watch life go by. And yet, I feel like I need to go back to the well for another taste, because even though it is hard work, it pays off in the end.

Information Security is where I make my living. In an increasingly digitized and connected world, it is pervasive. There's a lot I have to say about it that maybe other people are saying, but maybe not the right way or to the right people. These conversations are taking place in board rooms, in the media (both traditional and social), and even amongst the masses as yet another major retailer gets their credit card data compromised.

I've spent many years helping Nokia/Check Point customers in a post-sales capacity. I've also been a bridge between customers, sales, and product development. Each one of these players speaks a different language (kind of like the difference between The Queen's English and whatever us Americans speak), and I'm adept at translating as needed.

The last few years, I've started getting more directly involved in the sales process. I've been working with individual customers through specific sales engagements that help identify the areas of greatest risk and come up with a written plan to improve their security posture. It has taken a couple of years to turn this into a framework that contextualizes the findings and recommendations, but more importantly, can drive change.

It has been great to work with individual customers. With a different platform, I could have a greater, more meaningful impact to more organizations. How I move forward is the subject of many thoughts I am not yet ready to elaborate on publicly at the moment.

What I can say is that this matters. I know it's not going to be easy to see this through, but I'm committing myself to do it.

Mass Misinformation

From Skullf*** You Very Much: Cultural Authority and the Dispossessed:

The fact that most experts talking on TV and writing for online “news” media cannot swim in the critical deep end of the subjects in which they claim expertise is masked by the shallowness of the medium in general.

The analysts and experts who are invited to talk on TV about politics spend more time whitening their teeth than they do weaving nuance.

We are living under a media regime where a debate moderator can ask an absurdly complex question like “What will you do about poverty?” and expect it to be answered in less than a minute.

Comcast-owned NBC would not dare upset its nightly prime-time sitcom lineup with in-depth analysis that might upset their Comcast-owned bottom line.

Vox is not going to Voxplain how Comcast captures the media and cable markets both by lobbying for regulative barriers that prevent competition.

You’re never going to see someone greenlight an in-depth Nightline segment dedicated to demystifying shit ideas like “natural monopolies.”

I've long questioned the kinds of things our so-called "news" covers. Years ago, I started asking the question "why is this news" and mostly stopped caring about it. When the Internet became mainstream, I had a way to find other, less mainstream answers for what was going on in the world. Sources with more nuance, more details, and differing points of view.

Clearly, something is missing in the media. It's hard to get into the "why" of this question without veering off into conspiratorial waters. It’s a narrative I occasionally see being played up by the media, usually by attacking the messenger.

The good news is that I'm hearing more people starting to question the news, particularly when they cover topics they have first-hand knowledge on. The obvious followup question is: if they're wrong about that, what else are they wrong about?

The truth for any subject is out there to find. You probably won't find it in the mass media, though.

Number Sense Makes No Sense To Most People

From Common Core Math is Not the Enemy

We call this new math, but it isn’t new at all.

In fact, it has been around for a very long time. It’s called number sense. And it’s the way mathematicians have been thinking about numbers for centuries.

Mathematicians are insanely smart people. I should know, I got my Computer Science degree in a Math department at a University. They also don't think like normal people do. I should know that, too, as I am often accused (rightfully so) of thinking about things differently.

If I believe what this piece is saying, Common Core math is trying to impart the math wisdom of these really smart people onto the masses. Instead, it comes off as really confusing, even to kids who actually know how to do math. One of my kids who is smart with numbers was deploying different tricks to solve these problems and found whatever it was they were teaching in Common Core confusing. My wife had to re-teach our children basic math after being traumatized by Common Core in elementary school.

It seems to be we are going about this the wrong way. They should teach the basic, tried-and-true methods first, then supplement with number sense to show other, more memorable ways to solve the problem. Or maybe encourage students to come up with their own methods to achieve the same answer and allow them to teach it to their peers.

Of course, there are some people who just don’t have any number sense whatsoever and won’t no matter how you teach it or who teaches it.

The Problem Isn't With Twitter, It's With Us.

From Why Twitter’s Dying (And What You Can Learn From It):

Abuse is killing the social web, and hence it isn’t peripheral to internet business models — it’s central. It has significant chilling effects: given a tipping point, people will simply stop using a network, and walk away…and that appears to be what’s happening with Twitter. Abuse is just as central to tech that connects people as selling beef that isn’t contaminated with salmonella is to an industry that feeds people. For the simple fact is that no one wants to spend their life being shouted at by people they’ll never meet who are angry not at them but at the world for things they barely even said to people they barely even know.

This problem is not unique to any given social network. The real problem is us, the humans that use social media. Some clearly find joy in imposing their world view on others to the point of abuse. Many cannot stand the thought of their world view being challenged, much less be wrong. Lots and lots of squabbling is the result.

What really happens on Twitter these days? People have self-sorted into cliques, little in-groups, tribes. The purpose of tribes is to defend their beliefs, their ways, their customs, their culture — their ways of seeing the world. The digital world is separated into “ists” — it doesn’t matter what, really, economists, mens-rightists, leftists, rightists — and those “ists” place their “ism” before and above all, because it is their organizing belief, the very faith that has brought them together in the first place. Hence, to them, it’s the totem to which everyone, including you, must pay homage, and if you dare not to bow down before it…or worse still to challenge it…well, then the faithful will do what they must to defend their gods. They will declare a crusade against you.

This problem is not unique to Twitter. It’s a problem on any social network with any sort of critical mass. I’ve seen this cycle play out over and over again across many services and several decades. It also happens in person, but there is one thing we get in face-to-face interactions: social cues that have evolved over many centuries. Social cues that a particular sort of behavior is not acceptable. People will either knock it off or suddenly find themselves without many friends, sorting into the same kind of tribes we see and decry on social media.

Humanity hasn't been able to come up with better solutions to these problems in millennia. What makes us think the socially inept folks that develop the social web can solve these problems? Even so, those very same social cues we rely on in face-to-face conversations should have social web analogs and, at the very least, those cues can be developed and refined.

Bottom line, this is not a social web problem, it's a human problem.