Evolution being reworded in Georgia

I find this to be probably the most ridiculous thing I have heard of in a long time. The state of Georgia is planning to replace the word “evolution” with “biological changes over time”. How dumb is that? My favorite quote is from a Republican who opposes the change.

“If you’re teaching the concept without the word, what’s the point?” said Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican. “It’s stupid. It’s like teaching gravity without using the word gravity.”

I could not agree more. Obviously Mr. Franklin and I differ on how the teaching of evolution should be handled, but we both agree that merely rewording the teachings really does not change anything. In fact, Georgia does not plan to force schools to buy new books or even ban teachers from using the word. What a waste of time.

Offshoring meets resistence

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last year you know that a hot topic in the tech industry is the idea of “offshoring.” A lot of large tech companies are sending high tech jobs to areas that feature lower labor costs, such as India and Russia.

I have mostly ignored the news because I don’t code for blue chip companies, nor do I really care to. However, I do admit that the trend is a little scary as I am about to move back to the center of the tech industry and it could hinder my job prospect should I decide to join the workforce again. Recently, Dell moved its call center back to the states from India. Dell cited the fact that customers were dissatisfied with the technical support they were getting. This magnifies one of the major concerns when outsourcing: cultural/language barriers. If you cannot understand the person on the other end of the phone or the code they produce is commented in another language it makes it very difficult to do your job stateside.

While the topic is a hot one, I’m not completely sold that American companies trust their Intellectual Property in the hands of people they have never met half way across the world. They might not have to worry about that now that legislation is cropping up around the country that would keep companies who offshore from winning lucrative government contracts. I, personally, think this is great for a couple of reasons (the economics majors out there will be yelling at me for sure).

  1. When a government agency specs out a project they do so in American dollars at American prices. When they send out an RFP there is an understanding that the proposal won’t come back in Yen or Pounds.
  2. As a taxpayer I fully expect that my tax dollars be put back into the American economy. The government is the single largest spender in this nation and it should stay that way. I don’t think that my tax money should be spent funding some other country’s economy.

As for the private sector I could care less. If you think your company would benefit from offshoring then go for it, but expect there to be costs well beyond the low wage costs. That last article points out tons of hidden costs and quotes one person as saying that if you pay a person in India $10k a year it could end up being more like 4 to 5 times that much when all is said and done.

I hate driving

I hate driving. Actually, I hate driving behind you. I hate driving behind the person going 35 in a 45 and I hate driving behind the people with their blinkers on. I hate driving down the road while you roll through a stop sign and almost broadside me. What I hate most is when we are at a red light and you wait until it is green before turning right.

Lauren will tell you I’m a horrible driver. This is probably the case, but it does not mean I enjoy the experience any more than she does. I tend to road rage a couple of times if I have to spend more than 10 minutes in a car. Why? Because you suck at driving. Who are you? You are everyone one who drives an SUV that barely fits in the lanes. You are the person who drives in the middle of two lanes with your blinker on for a mile before making up your mind (and forgetting to turn off your blinker). You suck.

Refocusing on my Health

Lauren and I made a commitment to lose weight after the new year. It’s not an uncommon resolution by any means nor one that I hadn’t already been half-heartedly working on. As you may remember I had previously lost some weight towards the end of the summer. I was working out about 5 days a week and doing well on the diet.

Problems arose, however, with the diet. Mainly, I wasn’t getting enough fiber while on the Atkins diet. The result was some digestive problems that I couldn’t kick. Instead of adding some fiber and working through it I pretty much quit working out and dieting for about two months or so. What a dumb mistake. The result was that I gained all but 5 of the 23 pounds I had lost and much of the cardio gains I had made.

In the last 5 weeks I’ve lost 14.5 pounds and I’m back working out. The workouts aren’t as frequent as I’d like as I’ve been working a lot more than I’d like. However, last night I ran across a couple of websites that have caused me to refocus my workouts and my dieting. The first one is a site about a guy who lost a ton of weight and put on a bunch of muscle in about a year. I figure if he can do that in a year at 35 I should be able to obtain my much more modest goals as well. The second site is a vitamin site called http://www.animalpak.com. While I don’t plan nor wish to be as large as the guys on that site they do have some great info on the site. First off their workout logs and example workouts are great. Secondly, they make a kick ass vitamin pack that I’m now using. In just two days of using it I feel much more alert and awake, not to mention more intense workouts. For the record I’m running a slightly modified version of their introductory workout with both time on the bike and treadmill for cardio.

Those of you thinking about attacking your fat with the Atkins diet I give you one word of advice: find a low carb store near you. What people forget (including me) is that Atkins isn’t about cutting out carbs – just cutting out *bad* carbs. For instance, I have awesome whole weat wraps, soy milk and whole weat bread that is low carb and tastes great. What I’ve cut out are the sugars and starchy foods. You can find the bread and wraps at any low carb store. Hell, I even have granola bars and cereal. If you’re thinking you can’t live without ice cream or sweets go get some sugar free Jell-O or Breyer’s low carb ice cream. Also, you should seriously think of switching from red meat to chicken.

For those of you wishing for a good recipe for Atkins here is my aweseom chicken ranch wrap that will surely fill you up and satisfy your taste buds!

  • 1 whole weat low carb wrap
  • 1/2 cup of cooked and shreaded/chopped chicken (vegetarians substitute cucumbers and bell peppers)
  • A handful of shreaded lettuce
  • A couple strips of bacon (optional)
  • A handful of mild yellow peppers and/or jalepenios
  • A few black olives
  • A squirt of your favorite ranch dressing

If the thought of eating that thing doesn’t wet your appetite then I don’t know what will. In reality the only time I find myself wishing I was not on Atkins is when I go out to eat and that is only because you are limited in what you can eat. Although, Friday’s now has an aweseom Atkins menu – the salmon and broccoli is by far my favorite.

My final note in this entry will be on supplements. If you think you are going to lose a ton of weight and hit the gym hard without supplements you are kidding yourself. If nothing else, take a good multi-vitamin and some vitamin C. If you are doing weight lifting and find yourself sore the next day after workouts I highly recommend a protein shake with glutamin after your workouts (don’t plan on eating a big dinner after downing one of those puppies). My current supplements include an animal pak a half hour after lunch and a soy-mega whey protein-gulatmin shake after my workout.

All this talking about working out and dieting has suddenly made me want to hit the gym.

State of the Onion

Bush came on TV last night and gave what could be his final State of the Union Address. I could only bear to watch about 10 minutes of it. The disgust that fill me everytime I see that smug smile of his is enough to make me want to move as far away from America as I can. There are so many things he said and proposed that I’m not sure I can completely cover what an idiot he is in a single post.

Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. (Applause.) The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. (Applause.) [Smug ass smile] Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens. You need to renew the Patriot Act. (Applause.) [Beaming with smugness]

Yup, you heard that right. He might as well got up there and asked them to repeal the Bill of Rights. The Patriot Act is an evil document that was passed without your Congressmen even having seen it (it was Top Secret at the time meaning most in Congress didn’t have the clearance to view the document before it was voted on). The EFF has a good analysis of the Patriot  Act on their site.

Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America. (Applause.)

So let me get this straight. The reason we invaded Iraq was so that we could point to Iraq and say “See what happens when you try to ignore our demands?” Oh man, this ranks up there with his dead-or-alive and bring it on comments. What scares me more is the fact that there are a boatload of arrogant Americans out there eating this shit up.

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

This is his direct quote about gay marriage. I, for one, could care less who marries who. In fact, not caring what other people do and what other people do is their business are the founding principles of this country. In a country that has deemed porn to be art and racism protected by free speech you would think they would care less about same sex marriage. It is a sad day when the country of freedom feels it necessary to declare who is and is not fit to be declared legally married. What’s next? How long until one of YOUR oddities, quirks or outright taboos becomes taxed or outlawed?

Tonight on every channel President Bush gave his State of the Union Address to the nation. Yup, every channel except the Cartoon Network. That’s correct, the Cartoon Network was airing Pokemon. But, don’t worry, President Bush has TiVo! — Conan O’Brien

A new blog

Thanks to http://www.debris.com I’ve found a new blog that I plan on keeping up on. You can read up on it at http://beyondthepale.us/. This is big news in my world as I, currently, only keep track of exactly three blogs on a daily basis (http://www.debris.com, http://www.simplebits.com and http://www.rumblestrip.org). These blogs are part of the elite, in my opinion, of the blogging world. I used to be a big CamWorld reader as well (http://www.camworld.com), but he is currently on hiatus working on Wesley Clark’s campaign.

All of the above blogs are witty, fun to read and generally cover topics of interest to me. I read debris.com because Matt has an uncanny ability to make the most trivial things seem funny. He’ll take an offhand thought you usually don’t tell anyone or even remember and make it a hysterical blog entry. Rob G. at rumblestrip ranges from funny as hell with his fixation with his PVR to sincere with memories of his grandfather. I follow simplebits.com because he pushes the CSS evenlope that I’ve barely even opened.

Today’s newcomer is witty. Funny remarks and fairly wide open discussion covering everything from his youth to his battle with weight. He also makes a good point in his about section that having an anonymous blog is a good idea – I couldn’t agree more, which is why you may not see me blogging here anymore.

Court is in Session

Last night I did something I haven’t done in a long, long time: I played basketball competitively. For those of you who don’t know I used to play hoops while growing up. Actually, you could say I ate, drank and slept hoops growing up. There was a point I was playing between 60 and 80 organized games of basketball a year (regular season, summer league, camps, etc.). All of that came to a screeching halt when, at a summer basketball camp, I blew out my knee. Not wanting to do things half ass I not only completely tore my ACL, but I also put a half inch tear in my lateral maniscus (the cartilidge in your knee that acts as padding between your upper and lower leg bones). For the most part this was the end of basketball for me.

That is until yesterday. My friend Josh plays in a few leagues around here and he managed to talk me into playing on his team from work. I played about 2/3 of the entire game and didn’t score a single point, but, then again, I was never known for my prolific scoring ability. A few things I did accomplish was a block or two, more than a few rebounds, my fair share of fouls (a whole other blog entry) and burning a few hundred calories. Most importantly, despite us losing, I had fun. It was nice to get out on the court and run plays, throw elbows and generally run around with the little orange ball I had spent so much of my younger years attempting to master.

As a side note, it looks like I will have to look into purchasing some goggles. My glasses just don’t hold up and, while my vision is good enough to be somewhat effective, I can’t seem to hit the outside “J” (jumper for you non-bball people) without them on. I guess it’s off to D.O.C. sometime this week. Oh, and I need to get a patella brace (I get bad jumpers knee since the surgery – an after effect of having half of it grafted for my new ACL).

Going Independent – Things I've Learned

For those of you who don’t know I went off on my own as an independent contractor about 7 months ago. It’s been a long and somewhat bumpy ride and I’ve learned a lot about how to and how not to do things in this type of business. Luckily I had a few people who had been there before (thanks to Dave and Dana!). This is going to be a rather lengthy article of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Before you start

  1. Find someone who has been there before who is willing to mentor you. Without the knowledge base of Dave and Dana I’m not sure I would have made it this far.
  2. Save up enough money to pay all major bills (rent, car, utilities) for at least three months. This leaves you enough padding if you don’t land a contract right away.
  3. Try to have at least one decent contract lined up before you bail on your day job. I recommend something small enough to handle in three months, but large enough to make it another three months.
  4. Get a DBA (Doing Business As) from the county clerk and set up a checking account in your business’s name.
  5. Get some accounting software. I chose the online version of QuickBooks, which works quite nicely for my needs.
  6. Become an expert in the area of 1099 and 1040-ES forms. They will either be no big deal or your biggest nightmare depending on how you approach them.
  7. Create standard employment contracts. If you have pre-existing software you plan on selling make sure you have a license to have your customers sign.
  8. Get a fax line and make sure you have a computer laying around that can aptly read/write Microsoft Office documents and PDF’s.
  9. Set your hourly rates and stick to them. I originally set my rates somewhat low only to realize that demand quickly outpaced availability (a good thing). It also will bring a sticky situation when you have to raise your rates.
  10. Get a PO BOX from your local post office (about $15 a year).

Once you take the plunge

  1. Make sure you get everything in writing and signed (and possibly notorized) for any major work (ie. anything over $1k).
  2. Don’t let your customers hand you crappy RFP’s. I’ve seen six figure contracts based on 5 page RFP’s that end up turning into a nightmare because the feature set was not outlined in black and white before the contract was signed.
  3. Create a filing system and keep hard copies of everything (invoices, contracts, licenses, receipts, etc.).
  4. Buy an all-in-one copy-fax-scanner-kitchen sink printer. I have a nice little Lexmark X5150 that cost about $100 and I literally use it every day.
  5. Get business cards made up, set up a decent looking website (ie. hire a graphics person to do it right). Hand out the cards freely to friends, family and strangers.
  6. Sign up to one of the many freelance sites that exist out there. Another good place to drumb up work is any of the many professional mailing lists as well. I’ve landed at least two contracts through such mailing lists.
  7. Save every single receipt you get. You can write off many things you never knew. For instance, computers, digital cameras, printers, printer paper, office supplies, mice, phones, cell phones, etc. are all write offs.
  8. Save 30% of all revenue for taxes. Save another 10% for safe keeping. Keep these numbers in mind when you bid on contracts.

Once things are going well

  1. Do what you can to vertically integrate. I make webpages, but I now also resell domain names, SSL certificates and web hosting. This is a great way for me to not only get reocurring revenue, but also a good way to control the environment in which my software is deployed.
  2. Become incorporated through either articles of incorporation or an LLC. This limits your liability and costs under $1k. This is one of the first things I plan on doing this year.
  3. Get an accountant that knows their proverbial shit. The money you spend here could literally save you thousands come tax season.
  4. If office space is cheap and readily available in your area you should get an office. My productivity is crap when I work at home, but at the office I do quite well. Also, having an office looks very professional to local customers and lends credibility to your business.
  5. Sign up for Vonage or a similar VOIP carrier. I’ve saved hundreds in cell phone bills since switching.

If you decide to return to working for “the man”

  1. Make sure that you have an exit strategy. Find a few people you know and trust that would be willing to take over your clients if you end up needing to get a “real job”.
  2. Look at your current client list and see if any of them might be willing to take you on full time. I know of more than a few independent contractors who got into a company this way and have done quite well.

This year I’ve done pretty good. I’ve managed to pay all of my bills and live a rather stress free life. There are tons of benefits to working for myself and disadvantages. Here are some of the pros and cons that I’ve come across since I went out on my own.

Disadvantages

  1. There are no regular paychecks. If you don’t land that big contract you don’t get paid this month. This is the reason to find ways to generate reoccurring revenue (retainers, hosting, maintenance contracts, etc.)
  2. You are your own retirement advisor. There are no company 401k’s, profit sharing or yearly bonuses.
  3. You are your own accountant. No one is forcing you to take taxes out or keep track of invoices.
  4. There is no company health insurance. I’ve gone without and paid out of pocket so far because my current healthcare cost is about 1/3 of the cost of yearly insurance. (note: medical expenses, including mileage to and from is 100% deductable when you work for yourself)
  5. Most people have no clue what you do and when they hear you work from home or for yourself they instantly assume you don’t have a “real job”. This can be really annoying sometimes when relatives ask “When are you going to quit fooling around and get a real job?”

Advantages

  1. You work when you want, where you want and how you want. There isn’t anything stopping me from heading over to the coffee shop and working via their WiFi for a couple of days.
  2. Come and go as you please. There is no one you need to notify for vacation or sick days, which is a great thing.
  3. Stress is almost a thing of the past. There aren’t any real deadlines and you have no bosses yelling at you.
  4. It’s much more personal. You work directly with the customers and get all of the praise directly from them and no one else is taking credit for your hard work. (note: this can work in reverse when a client is mad about something).

Despite there being a few more, numerically, disadvantages than advantages you need to weigh them carefully. For me, not having to answer to a boss and having the freedom to work when, where and how I want to outweighed the disadvantages.

Overall, I’ve had a good experience and I continue to learn new things about running a business. Luckily, I’m about to marry a person who is finishing up their Masters in Accounting, which will free me of many of the things I hate about being independent. I hope this helps a few people out there.

Year in Review

No self respecting blogger would end a year without blogging a review of the previous year. The good things, the bad things, and the memorable things. So, without further ado, here is what happened in my life in the last year.

  1. I moved for the fourth time in a year into the fraternity house that I lived in during my freshman year of college.
  2. I spent spring break of 2003 with Lauren in Sanabel Island, Florida.
  3. Upon returning from Florida it became apparent that Lauren’s father, Joel, was not winning his fight with cancer – he died in the middle of March leaving behind two daughters and his wife.
  4. Shortly after Joel’s passing Lauren and I attempted to celebrate our one year anniversary.
  5. In April I (finally) graduated with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration from Eastern Michigan University.
  6. My cousin Gino got married to his long-time crush, who he had been pursuing since High School!
  7. This last summer I took the plunge and went off on my own doing private consulting. If you are interested in a webpage contact me! (shameless plug)
  8. In August I decided that, at 262 lbs (119 kg), I was too fat and went on the Atkins. I lost about 30 lbs with much fanfare. 
  9. I started reading again for my own pleasure. I’ve stuck mostly with political books, but managed to read two of the years best sellers: Lovely Bones and Runnin with Scissors.
  10. In late October Lauren, her mom and I all went to San Francisco. I was there to talk at PHP-Con West, while Lauren and here mom were there to shop and catch som rays.
  11. This fall I launched my first major website since going into consulting. GoLoad.com offers load brokering and has been doing quite well.
  12. I gained back much of the weight I lost on my diet after quitting Atkins in October.
  13. On December 23rd, 2003 I popped the question to Lauren and, thankfully, she said yes.
  14. On December 31st, 2003 I spent the entire night attacking the open bar at Bottoms Up of Cleveland celebrating the new year with Lauren, Linda and Marc.

Yup, it’s been a great year. I’m currently already working hard on my new years resolutions as well. For those of you who are interested, here are my new years resolutions.

  1. Lauren and I are officially back on the Atkins diet. We’ve discovered a low carb store in the area that sells bread and tortilla shells, which should help keep us on the diet.
  2. I’m going to refocus on getting some hosting accounts to boost monthly revenue.
  3. I’m going to redouble my efforts to save up for our upcoming California move.

I hope everyone else’s year has gone as well as mine. There have been good times, bad times and in-between times, but I feel I came out on top.