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Comment Re:Pointless (Score 1) 311

Yes, but when I was in high school back in 1989 we had 1 classroom with PC's and a 4 of 5 in the library. So the student to computer ratio was about 1:100.

Now they want a computer in every classroom for every student. And then one on every teachers desk, and another high end lab in the library. The student to computer ratio is now approaching 2:1 in favor of the computers.

And adjusted for inflation, the cost of managing 25 standalone pc's running DOS and a copy of some math program that resides on a pair of floppies is nothing compared to the cost of 25 pc's running windows 7, connected to the internet, with few dozen apps.

Computers are great and all, but I have yet to see a good study that showed that the kids with ubiquitous computer access were better off than those who had limited computer access.

Comment As others have said... (Score 1) 569

Start with an iPhone 4s or Android equiv (http://www.pcworld.com/article/241955-2/smartphone_camera_battle_iphone_4s_vs_the_android_elite.html)

Once you run into the limits of what that platform can do, then get a better camera. But by then you will have a better idea of why the phone does not work for you. If it is focus speed, go high end DSLR; if it is image quality, go 4/3rds or low end DSLR, etc.

For my chosen field (sports photography), a Nikon D300+MB10D w/ 70-200mm/2.8, 17-55/2.8 and SB-900 is entry level (sports photography) but comes at a high cost (as in $4-5k). For others, maybe a mirrorless system (4/3rds, Nikon 1, etc) would be a better option and a full system would cost less than one of my lenses.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 382

Don't take personal offense but step back and look at the client -> agency -> contractor relationship and how fundamentally screwed up it is.

Most importantly, ask yourself if your primary purpose in being at a clients site is to make the customer happy or if it is to make your employer money.

We all want to say our primary job it is to make the customer happy, but in reality our primary job is to make the employer employer money (or else you wont be in business very long. Customers are usually happier if you don't charge them).

Now are you doing your employer (the folks who sign your checks) any favors by reducing the long term amount of work that needs to be done?

You may say counter by saying that if you do a good job then the customer will hire you back and it makes your employer more money in the long run. In reality, if the customer was qualified to determine if you did a good job (fix it permanently) vs an adequate one (patch it), then you would probably not be there to being with (otherwise they would do it themselves). As others have said in the past, "adequacy is sufficient, all else is superfluous."

Yes, this is a very Machiavellian view of the contracting world.

This has nothing to do with how you as an individual approach a given situation. You may have a higher personal ethical standard and want to go well above and beyond the call of duty. I've met a number of consultants/contractors/perms/temps/whatever who are like this. I like working with these people, mostly because they will work as a team and do what is right for the project as a whole and not just their department or group.

But I also have to face the reality that the contracting environment as it is setup today is fundamentally flawed in that it financially encourages mediocre work.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 382

On average I'd say 2/3rd fail to make it past the first month. We have had some that didn't even make it past the first week. (HINT: do not make sexist comments to your female coworker. )

We don't try and trap them, but it seems that their inflated sense of self worth and job skills are such that we think that they actually go out of their way to screw up and then argue with us about how they didn't screw up. We typically give them a 2nd chance to fix it once we point it out to them. The thought is that if they can learn from their mistakes then they have hope. If not, well.... Next...

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 382

I see reading comprehension is not one of your strong points, but I'm happy to say that you are very good at jumping to conclusions.

As I said before, as a fed contractor, I was restricted to working more than that. I could want to have be there for 80, but the higher ups told me to not screw up the accounting, and not to even think about going off clock since an audit would nail them. When I left they back fill me with two new folks. My former co-workers bitched about my leaving, but the 50% pay raise was too much to ignore and I was bored out of my mind there.

So I jumped to a consulting firm in the middle of the dot com boom days. In one year I billed almost 3000 hours. Take out the vacation and 2 weeks from having a kid and I'm over 70 as an average. Add in the crap that was off the clock and it is higher.

If you have been around for 20+ years you should know that on average you get most of your work done in the first 20 hours of the work week. After that its an exponential decay. After 60 you are just taking up space and consuming coffee. (The occasional crunch time is one thing, but I'm talking averages). But when you are a consultant billing $300/hr, the company who is cutting your checks really does not care as long as the customer is happy.

So much for your assessment of my abilities.

And the odd thing is that the group that I now work with in a local county government (all direct) is by far the best damn group I have ever seen or had to work with. Based on your off the cuff assessment, we should not exist. We should all want to leave for more money and the thrill of working long hours.

What you fail to understand is that it not the type of job you are in. I've seen good and bad groups of contractors, consultants, government workers, education, commercial, etc. I've run into incredible people in places I least expected to. I've also run into some real idiots in spots where you wonder how they ever survived there. You name an industry or group and I'm sure somebody will toss out an example of a good team and an example of a crap team. In the end it is the people you work for and with. Good people want to work with other good people. Its a positive feedback cycle. A good group knows when they are talking to other good people. The flip side is also true. Bad people work with other bad people (and the dunning-kruger effect is in full effect in those environments)

And please don't confuse productivity and quality with 60+ hour work weeks, or even 45+. We had a security guy who did 70+ every week. He was a hard worker and knew the talk but fundamentally lacked any real skills. When he left to become a consultant we replaced him with a few small shell scripts. (he spent 20+ hours just creating new user accounts; by hand in ldap. One guy wrote a script and it now takes us 10 minutes a week, if that) The firm he now works for has no clue that he has no clue, because the entire company has no clue. But the owner knows some folks with three letter titles from the golf course and they get security assessment gigs because of it. C'est la vie.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 1) 382

Disclamer: I was a salaried contractor who worked for Northrop who was sub for Lockhead who worked for the USAF. A typical oversized, multi-year, multi-billion dollar contract.

Northrop could not replace me at any time they wanted without cause any easier than my current government employer could. (my current employer is a local county.) Nobody in that entire building ever got fired "just because." Its often bantered about, but given that most of the contractors were ex-military in their 40's (I was one of two exceptions) it never happened. Once they got you in there, it was simply too expensive to swap you unless you royally screwed up and the customer wanted you out of there. And I got full benefits from Northrop, including vacation, sick, medical, 401k, etc, etc. I get more or less the exact same benefits from my current employer (401k, no pension).

I was salaried, but I had to declare all of my hours to the project for billing purposes. They did not want me to burn hours faster than what was allotted in the contract, so they really didn't want me there more than 40 unless something major came up. My current job is also salaried, and on average I probably work the same average number of hours.

Now, individual situations can alter this perception. Maybe you worked for SAIC or some other warm body shop in a contract from hell that had high turnover. But in all of those cases, the issue was not that folks got fired, it's that they all left the second they found a better paying job because the contract went to the lowest bidder, and SAIC only wanted to pay 1/3rd to 1/4 of the rate to the actual person doing the job to cover their "overhead" ($60/hr for a system admin to SAIC results in $20/hr to the actual contractor. Any takers for a unix admin with a security clearance for @$30-40k/yr? No? Didn't think so.).

We do use contractors/consultants at my current job in two cases:

1) Very short term 'in, do xyz, get out' implementation or staff augmentation projects. Basically, install this software, train the IT staff and get out. Those are all $250+/hr consultants and we limit how long they are in house. They are very expensive ($500k/yr) but we only use them to get over critical staff shortages or crunch periods.

2) Contract to hire for new folks at the help desk. Mostly because we can, er, fire them faster. That said we have yet to do it "just because." In all cases the idiot screwed up not once, not twice but three times within the first two weeks and got walked. But when you get here those conditions are very explicit. Going through the interview phase is a pain in the ass for us (we'd rather be doing real work) so once somebody is here we'd rather it work out than not. It actually cost us more to go that route but the process is faster so nobody cares.

Comment Re:Really? (Score 4, Informative) 382

Sorry, I've worked both sides of this fence, and you should have stopped before you even typed the first word.

The contractors for the fed/military/etc do not work day to day, twice the hours or have triple the productivity.

They are given year+ long contracts, work the same hours, and have the same or less productivity. The perms face the exact same thing, their entire division can be wiped away with the stroke of a budgeting pen.

We are not talking about day labors here, all federal contracts are long and well defined. While your project may get canceled with the next _YEARLY_ budget, the odds of it suddenly going under are next to 0.

As a fed contractor, I never put in more than 40 hours a week. That is what we had in the budget, and to do more than that would have resulted in issues. The "cost+" contracts that would let me work 80 hour weeks and have the contracting agency get paid for it are few and far in between. Most are fixed at the rates and the number of hours, it does them no good to have you work more than your scheduled rate.

The productivity thing is pure bullshit. I've seen incompetent admins on both sides, but most are on the contracting side because the contracting firm wants to keep a larger % of the cut to themselves, and thus toss inexperienced newbies into the slot in the hopes that nobody will notice. The real kicker is that as a contractor you have an incentive to not really fix things, but to just patch them. After all, why fix something once and for all when your job depends on the customer needing to have you around to constantly fix something?

Comment Re:It needs to be a simple tax. (Score 1) 705

But its not just by zip: its zip, street and address. Tax districts can vary house by house. 100 Main St. can be in a different tax district than 101 Main St. We have a road named, aptly enough, 'County Line Road'. Homes on one side are in one county, homes on the other side a different county. Both use the same zip code because the post office does not care.

Now as a business you can use a simplified zip = X% mapping but if you under collect then you are screwed. (If you over collect nobody cares).

Back in the day companies could get away a simple lookup table and hope for the best simply because nobody was really looking. We (fyi: I work for a county) now have an app that integrates with our gis parcel data and geocodes the entire thing and then sends the State a bill for what they owe us based on what they collected. In its first month of use the app has 'saved' us about a 100k in what was unclaimed funds because in the past we were just keying off of the zip code.

Comment Re:It needs to be a simple tax. (Score 5, Informative) 705

There is, but it involves geocoding every single address. And then updating it every time any one of the 60,000 tax districts change their boundaries or rates.

Here is the problem, you can have two houses on opposite sides of the street be in two different tax districts. So a simple 'if zip == xxxxx, then tax = Y' type of lookup table will not work.

You then have the issue of the corporation needing to potentially apply for a sales tax license in jurisdiction before they can collect the tax.

Then you have the issue of having to possibly send the check to 3 or 4 different groups on different schedules for each customer in a different.

And finally there is the question of what gets taxed. In some states, some items are not taxed (usually basic food). So if I order a 10lb tub of powdered gatorade from amazon.com it may get taxed in one state but not another, both of which have a sales tax.

To call it a mess is an understatement. This is the main reason why the courts tossed out the states requirement to collect the tax: the burden was simply too much. If memory serves me correctly, that same court decision left the door open to enact a simplified sales tax scheme (if shipping to NY, then charge X% and send it to Y address and be done with it).

Comment Re:HP (Score 1) 557

Same here.

I picked up an HP LaserJet 4100 (with duplexer and jetDirect card) for $25 at a used pc sale run by the local county government. I also got an HP 8150DN (duplexer, network and 2000 sheet feeder tray) at the same sale for another $25.

The things are built well and everybody supports them. Because they were so common, toner is easy to find. Not that I'll need it, the 8150 came with two full cartridges rated at 20,000 sheets each.

Comment Re:Wait a little more (Score 4, Insightful) 492

Oh, and nobody goes on holiday without contact for over 24 hours, do they? I bring a laptop and a smartphone with me wherever I go. Even when I visited Northern Africa, I made sure to get online at least once a day to check, act on, and reply to my email.

Its not a vacation if you can find me.

I leave my cell, laptop, etc home. For my last trip, I told my co-workers what park I would be in and that if something went south that they can call the park ranger and then hope that they can find me.

I want to get away from the the regular grind, not bring them with me :-)

Comment Re:Oracle? (Score 4, Informative) 327

Technically, at this time oracle does not own sun.

They have announced that they will purchase them and the sale is pending, but until that time the two companies are totally independent and functionally must continue to operate as such.

So sometime this summer the oracle logo will be correct, but currently it is wrong.

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