Axle Wrapped: Performance Review & Stoicism

You may not know I am on a global work assignment in Japan from the United States. I get to have two management teams, one in each country, and two performance reviews! Ain’t I lucky?

My US manager sandbagged me with my review. I woke this morning to a meeting request for my review at 21:00 JST. There was no warning and no notice.

My history with these types of activities is complicated. I won’t go into detail now. Suffice to say I find little value in these lazy “one size fits all” retail approach to HR. A good leader does not require such a complicated artificial construct, nor do truly empowered and well lead employees.

Never the less, I’m shackled with this time consuming obligation. I need to take time and reflect on good old fashioned stoicism to get my head right. It would be great unwrapping myself from around my HR axle as well.

First, it’s important to remember at the moment my career path, goals, and objectives align with my employer. The alignment is temporary.

Second, my employer’s goals and objectives reflect what is right for the company. There is nothing requiring me to like or even agree with the goals and objectives. Gainful employment encourages my active engagement toward them, yet my gainful employment is not the object of my life.

Third, the common theory of “you will get out of the process what you put in” is false. It is not true in physics, engineering, romance, cooking, finance, politics, small appliance repair, Pokemon Go, or much of anything in life.

Fourth, these retail HR systems are more and more geared toward meaningless concepts and platitudes which fail to bolster any concept of anti-fragility or resilience. Anecdotally friends and peers shared ratios of three or more positive comments to every negative comment in reviews. Others shared “the bell curve” – in any team the manager plots the best and worst performers on a chart and scores everyone else somewhere in between because “you can’t have a team of all above average or below average” members. Arbitrary artificial constructs like these try to pave over the world’s variables (I’ve seen plenty of teams with no above average performers, typically in non-critical roles) plus fail to offer employees any tangible constructive feedback (i.e., “You were rated a 2 out of 5 because there are too many 3s and 4s on the team already.“)

Fifth, companies want some degree of fragility in their employees. They cannot rely on loyalty any more, especially in the US and other countries with at-will employment. Employee retention is usually a balancing act between enough training, team building, and encouragement to make employees feel empowered & add value while subtly keeping them just fragile enough to fear change.

Stoicism and Us | New Republic talks about these concepts in other contexts, such as the cancer diagnosis in the opening paragraph.

What matters, in good times or bad, is not whether you have a job, an income, a family, or a home, but whether you have the inner strength to realize how little such things matter.

This quote, Dear Friends, helps me unwrap my mental axle.

Stoicism is having a moment in the robot revolution | The Financial Times talks about a new book by Svend Brinkmann, Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze – Kindle edition by Svend Br…. Full disclosure: I have not read the book yet. This article however talks about a few of the concerns I laid out above in the context of the current stoicism fad in Silicon Valley. This neo-stoicism smacks of exuberant exceptionalism without embracing the negative things in life. The side bar about this in relation to Ryan Holiday’s writings (which I enjoy) intrigues me.

This idea of embracing the negative leapt to my attention today when I read Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse | Berkeley News. This study (full disclosure: I have not read it yet) seems to reinforce the concept of the negative things in our lives can make us better at living our lives.

This long, rambling screed flowed fairly quickly. I feel better about my impending US performance review (and the soon-to-follow Japan review). I remain bearish toward the whole process, but at least I can get on with my day. And I hope to learn something more about dealing with things like this in the future.

What do you think? Am I off-base? Do you agree? Have I missed the boat entirely? Add your tempered, well reasoned thoughts in the comments or on the social media.

Date: 2017-08-15 Tue 11:54

Author: Paul Jorgensen

Created: 2017-08-15 Tue 13:55

Validate

[TokyoGringo] Fun Japan Fact – all cell phones’ cameras have a shutter sound

I tried to get service for my US iPhone 6S+ here in Tokyo. The delightful woman helping me warned me, “You know, if you swap this out you will get a Japan phone with the shutter sound. Are you sure?”

Oh. No. Not sure, and not by a long shot.

I recalled my first US trip with my JP colleagues where their shutter sound constantly disrupted slide presentation after slide presentation. I volunteered my phone for hundreds of silent slide pictures of decks later offered for download.

When I returned to Japan I found the sound ever present. I assumed the shutter sound a cultural choice, what with the Japanese camera stereotype and all. I filled it away as an annoyance like on-line banking and moved on.

I embrace my education. As I stated regularly on the PVC Security podcast, there is a certain freedom in knowing you will screw up at least ten times per day.

It also means I will try to get all my future mobile phones in the US (assuming the shutter sound is my major concern).

What Users Should Require in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

We, the users, should stop thinking about software as a thing to own. The direction is toward a service model for better and worse.

What should a keen-eyed shopper value?

  • No data lock-in – the user should own their data and be able to export it at any time through the native user interface without having to jump through hoops (except for encrypted data – see below). The export should be in a common format like plain text, XML, CSV, etc. and not a proprietary format.
  • Direct support – a web interface, email address, and chat at a minimum is required. Any service only offering support through an app store is a major red flag.
  • Multi-platform – unless you only live in Apple’s or Google’s ecosystem any SaaS must at least support your top two platforms. If you are GNU/Linux or Windows on your desktop, this is a must-have for your mobile devices.
  • Multi-cloud – unless you only live in Apple’s ecosystem any SaaS must support Dropbox as a second option at a minimum. iCloud is limited to macOS, iOS, and Windows but the Windows support is abysmal IMHO.
  • Mobile support – must handle landscape and portrait layouts and support tablet sizes. I am surprised at the software that still does not do this basic task.
  • Encryption – must support industry standard best encryption options. If a SaaS offers its own custom encryption RUN AWAY! Exporting encrypted data should offer unencrypted and GPG-passphrase-encrypted options though few do today.
  • Active development – this is easiest to verify if they have a public GitHub or similar repository. App stores will also show when the last update hit. Careful reviews of app store ratings can help figure out the historical time line. Check in Reddit and StackExchange and other public forums.
  • Native (non app store) desktop releases – on the desktop the ability to get the software outside of the Apple or Microsoft or Google app stores is a plus. Even if you prefer the app store version – and most users should for the added security – the developer’s willingness to offer a direct-to-the-customer version of their software with a license is a good sign. Also, any revenue the developer gets from these direct sales is 100%. Apple app store versions costs the developer 30% or so.
  • In App Purchases – not bad in and of themselves, a developer should not “nickel and dime” customers with small features. There should be an option for some kind of a premium bundle which offers all add-ons for a reasonable 1 time fee.
  • Data sync – this is a tough one. Most SaaS developers will come up with their own sync solution after changes to DropBox made it more difficult for developers. iCloud on iOS & macOS works in the Apple ecosystem. OneDrive might eventually for Microsoft and some Android stuff, and Google Drive for the Google stuff. I think so long as the sync adheres to the above you are good.
  • Local storage – some apps like 1Password and TextExpander offered local repository options but deprecated them for IMHO less than compelling reasons related to sync and cloud. Users should have the option to store sensitive data locally and forgo sync & cloud for that data.
  • Feature & scope creep – watch out for Saas that suddenly introduce changes for enterprises and large groups while removing or reducing functionality for individual users in order to accommodate the expansion.

What else should users look for in a SaaS product?

Subcription Victims

Ulysses, the popular macOS and iOS text editor, went to a subscription model. LastPass recently upped their monthly subscription price to $2/month, a 100% increase (among other things). 1Password, TextExpander, and a host of others have done the same.

I’m no fan of the subscription model for software – I think developers overvalue their efforts in many cases. I also understand that the other popular revenue models also suck. Apple does not make this any easier for developers or users.

I do not have an easy answer as I am not a developer. As a user, I am taking responsibility for the cost/value proposition each service (which software is becoming) offers to me. Part of the calculus is how much time and effort and enjoyment (or lack thereof) I will get leveraging another option.

Others take the victim approach to these announcements. In many cases I understand why. There is an increasing trend for revenue model changes happening without notice. Some companies do a poor job on their first stab taking care of existing customers. Others overcompensate for their existing users, alienating new users who think they are getting ripped off because they didn’t buy version 1 back in 2008 (or whenever).

David Sparks made the comment that “What [users] shouldn’t do is trash the app in review because you’re not happy with the business model.” I disagree. A developer’s or company’s behavior is relevant to the app review process as it exists today, especially in the Apple ecosystem. Many application developers act on negative comments in these reviews.

Now, were Apple and Google and Microsoft and other app store overlords to open up the app review process to categories such as technical, ownership, support, etc., my disagreement with Mr. Sparks would fall away. A more nuanced approach to feedback is needed in general. That is another post for another day.

I do agree with the fundamental fallacy of relying on negative app reviews for change. As a user, I recommend applying at least part of your righteous indignant energy toward something more positive for you.

I was in a 7 day cooling off period before jumping on the Ulysses bandwagon when the switch occurred. The initial cost for macOS and iOS before the change was a hurdle. In the new model, I can test it for two months for about $10 (as pointed out by Dr. Drang) before committing.

Fundamentally, anything only in the Apple ecosystem is a hard sell for me. I use and like using Windows 10, flaws and all, on my Surface Pro 4. I use my Nexus 6p running Android N almost as much as my iOS devices. If the application or service cannot run on at least one of those platforms, I have no need for it right now. 1Password and TextExpander are cross-platform, by the way, as are LastPass and iaWriter – two apps I am leaving.

By the way, I am doubling down on Emacs and org-mode. I picked them back up recently to help solve a few work related workflow issues. I get infinitely more flexibility with it and it is cross platform on everything but iOS. I learned I can capture and edit org-mode with Drafts.

And I like using/configuring/tweaking Emacs. Bonus.

Extra Medium

While Medium.com works for many it does not work for me. My several month test of the platform left me less than impressed.

While it is nice when someone else takes care of the plumbing, I am not comfortable with the exchange.

Thus I bring my musings and ditherings and blatherings and occasional cogent insights back to my personal site.

Share and Enjoy!

[2017] Emergency Preparedness

I am a big fan of planning for “the Big Dark”, where the power is out for more than 3 days. Analog systems, like printed and hand-written records, will be more useful. 

Remember: Emergency preparedness isn’t only for you. it is also so others can contact you when something bad happens to them.

There are drawbacks, mostly around family dynamics this article assumes are moot when emergencies happen.

Note: These are my recommendations. Your mileage may vary. I look forward to constructive input on how best to prepare in the digital age.

Keep an off-line list of emergency info & numbers with you

There was a time where people either knew important numbers and information or carried a address book – a printed out, dead tree address book – and a much of change to use a pay phone (remember those?) to call people. We need to embrace at least a subset of that.

Your health insurance information should be in here. Insurance providers, policy information, doctors information, and maybe prescriptions information should be included.

In certain countries you may need your ID number as well (though US residents should NOT carry their Social Security card or number).

How about this: keep the numbers of your family and close friends in case your phone dies. I could not call anyone except my children if my phone failed, and they don’t often answer their phones – especially from an unknown caller.

As I’m living in a foreign country I carry a card or two that I can use to get me home. In case you’re traveling, disoriented, or inebriated having a card or two to help you get home can be a life saver.

Carry a bit of cash with you, too, in your wallet.

Keep an off-line list of emergency info & numbers at home

This should be a superset of what you carry with you. Your actual cards and birth certificates and stuff (if they are not in a safe deposit box already) should be in a ready-to-carry locked fireproof box in case of emergency. Bank account information, other financial records, and whatever else needed to rebuild after a disaster should be in here.

Throw some currency in the box, too. While it is in there it isn’t working for you, gaining interest or buying food. But if the power goes out no credit or debit card will help. Having cash will help.

[iOS] Enable Emergency Bypass in iOS 10:

I’ve used the Do Not Disturb feature in iOS since it was introduced. This feature allows you to set “quiet times” when your device won’t alert you with notifications, including phone calls and text messages. It can be activated manually or set to activate at recurring times. I have my set to activate from 10:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m. each day, mainly to avoid “wrong number” calls at all hours of the night.

You have always been able to set a specific group of people you want to exclude from the Do Not Disturb settings. This can be a group you designate in your Contacts or your iPhone’s Favorites list. For years I’ve created a contacts group called “VIP” that I had excluded from Do Not Disturb that included family and a few close friends and other important numbers. While this is handy, it may not cover everyone you want to be able to reach you in the event of an urgent matter. With iOS 10, you have more granular control and can now set contacts on an individual basis to bypass the Do Not Disturb Settings.

To activate the feature select the contact card you want to exclude, edit the contact and select ringtone. At the top of the ringtone menu you’ll now see a toggle for “Emergency Bypass”.

… This is a segment of an article that first appeared in the November Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly on the iPad. You can find out more at https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits/

(Via KatieFloyd.me)

I am not sure if Android offers a similar feature.

[Android] Use Google’s Trusted Contacts App

Trusted Contacts runs on top of a pretty simple concept, with the tap of a button an approved list of people can request your location from wherever they may be. Users will need to manually approve who can request their location, and once a request is sent, the user will have 5 minutes to approve or decline the request before the app automatically approves and sends it.

This app takes things up a notch as well by adding offline support, in a sense. If a user heads outside of active cell service and internet access, the app will report the last known location for that user 5 minutes after a request is sent. Contacts can also “walk each other home,” virtually. This essentially enables one user to keep track of another user’s location as a live feed.

… Before you can share your location, though, you first have to go through the process of adding contacts to the application…

How to add contacts:

  1. Open the Trusted Contacts application
  2. If this is the first time setting up the application, Trusted Contacts will walk you through adding contacts
  3. To set up new contacts, either tap on the Add contacts button found at the bottom of the home screen or open the menu by selecting the Menu button in the upper left-hand side of the screen and tap on the Add contacts option
  4. Here you can search through the contacts on your device and select Add next to the individual to send them an invitation to be a trusted contact

(Via 9to5google.com)

i am not sure if iOS offers a similar feature.

Set up lock screen emergency information

This is a old tip but still useful.

Basically take a picture of contact information and make it your device’s lock screen. Tailor the content to provide what is needed without going overboard. Imagine you are passed out on the sidewalk and the only thing people can get to is your phone’s lock screen. What is the critical information you can provide on there that doesn’t open you up to identity theft?

I find this more useful than the login banner message most devices support. One doesn’t have to wait for the message to scroll, where almost all users put the contact email or phone number.

What else?

What other things, simple and inexpensive and effective, that folks should do?

The Japan Migration Continues

I got my Japan laptop this week. I did little with it until yesterday with work and home stuff demanding my attention.

I got email and instant messaging and a whack of other apps going. I also converted my US work phone to get my Japan emails and such. Switching the iPhone was not intuitive or brief.

Today I finally made some time to start customizing my laptop.

I don’t think I properly conveyed to management here how important having proper Japan focused tools are to me and my doing well. Lesson learned.

Fun fact: the Japanese keyboard layout is different from the US layout in significant ways. The cool bits are that the changes, for the most part, don’t interfere with US typing habits and when they do – they make sense!

When typing emails, how great would it be if the @ is an unshifted key? SPOILER ALERT – pretty awesome.

How about taking a page from the old Blackberry, where the $ is an unshifted key? Boom! The ¥ key is direct type – no shift required.
and ^ are first key unshifted, too.

Yes. My typing is a bit impaired right now, mostly with the @ and ‘ for contractions (now shift-7).

Letting Go to Go Forward

I’ve always been a self starter. Give me a knotty problem to untie and I’ll dive in. Give me a multitasking tool and I’ll bend it to my will.

I can’t do this any more.

I missed important information while I was tied up troubleshooting access, delayed further by the fact the text was 95% Japanese. Previous tweaks to glean a marginal improvement in process caused problems when I needed to switch accounts and contexts.

Tinkering won’t do. I need to either bullet-proof-ish my work or get an assistant. Or both.

(Away from) Home for the Holidays

2016 will be the first time I’m away from the U.S. for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

Many years ago I spent both Canadian Thanksgiving and U.S. Thanksgiving around Toronto. Another year I think I was in Austria and Germany at the end of November.

Regular readers and PVC Security podcast listeners know I moved to Tokyo this month.

I don’t particularly care I’ll miss Christmas and New Year’s. I could do without both. Christmas to me means traffic jams and hypo-consumerism. New Year’s is mostly an opportunity to screw up one’s sleep schedule. Unless the calendar is forgiving, all too soon one returns to work.

I used to volunteer to work those holidays, I liked them so little. I won’t miss them here.

Thanksgiving? Well, that’s another thing entirely.

I love the weather in New England and Michigan this time of year. I love well cooked turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, rolls, green beans, etc. I love pumpkin beer (though it’s creep earlier and earlier reduces the draw for me). I love watching football.

Most of all, I love spending it with my family. It can be just me and the kids. It can be the whole clan or something inbetween.

I wonder how I’ll do that day here. Some of my colleagues and friends here have already volunteered to take my mind off of it.

Stay tuned!

And so it begins … in Tokyo

How to follow me on my adventures in Tokyo.

I’m finally here.

The partner leading my consulting practice asked me about moving to Tokyo in December of ’15. I remember I was in my Brussels hotel room just before Christmas when he floated the notion. By February it was more than a mere notion. By April I would be starting “Any Day Now”.

It’s November, week 45 of 2016, and I’m at long last on the ground with all (most all) of my things.

I’m documenting my Tokyo experience, at least the personal side of things, in a few new places.

On Instagram I’m TokyoGringo.

On Twitter, I’m also @TokyoGringo.

On YouTube, I’m not TokyoGringo. I’m just plain old me: pjorgensen.

Follow and comment if you’re so inclined.