Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Not To Handle Criticism

Everyone who works in a service industry, such as insurance, will at some point in time work with the public. After all, they are the ones who ultimately pay our salaries by purchasing the services or goods we as a company offer. Even if you're not in a position where you directly deal with the public on a routine basis, such as customer service, you need to have the proper people skills so as to follow the old axiom: don't mess with the meal ticket.

Sooner or later, you're going to face criticism of your work. It's easier said than done to simply shrug it off if you know you're doing the right thing the right way. However, it is a necessary skill to have if you're going to last for very long.

The above comes to mind when contemplating one Jacqueline Howett. She is an author who recently released his first full-length book titled The Greek Seaman.

Now, something everyone who puts a piece of work out there, be it creative or work process-oriented, has to accept is that others have the right to criticize their work. You take it for what it's worth. Some people offer a critique out of sincerity, while others do so out of spite and/or malice. In either case, it comes with the territory.

What's the one thing you never do in the face of criticism?

Have a public meltdown.

Which brings us back to Ms. Howett.

A review of her book was posted on a blog devoted to such things. In the review was this:

If you read The Greek Seaman from the start until you click next page for the last time I think you’ll find the story compelling and interesting. The culture shock felt by the newlywed bride, Katy, who finds herself far from her native England, living on a cargo ship with her seaman husband Don is a good story in itself. Katy adapting to this all male environment with a crew of mixed nationality, most non-English speaking, is compelling. Whether Katy and Don will survive the criminal conspiracies the ship owner and captain have planned is yet another conflict that should keep a reader in suspense to the end.

However, odds of making that final click are slim. One reason is the spelling and grammar errors, which come so quickly that, especially in the first several chapters, it’s difficult to get into the book without being jarred back to reality as you attempt unraveling what the author meant. At times, you’ll be engrossed in the story when you’ll run across a flowery description of the emotions Katy is feeling about her situation or her husband. These are numerous and sometimes very good. Chances are one of these sections originally pulled you so deeply into Katy’s world. Then you’ll run into one that doesn’t work and get derailed again. Reading shouldn’t be that hard.

Shortly after this was posted, Ms. Howett responded. Repeatedly. A sample below:

My writing is just fine!

You did not download the fresh copy.... you did not. No way!

As to annoymous

Al was given the option of a free copy from smashwords the following day to download in any format he preffered.

Look AL, I'm not in the mood for playing snake with you, what I read above has no flaws. My writing is fine. You were told to download a new copy for format problems the very next day while they were free at Smashwords, so you could choose any format you wanted to read it in and if their were any spelling mistakes they were corrected. Simply remove this review as it is in error with you not downloading the fresh copy i insisted. Why review my book after being told to do this, and more annoying why have you never ever responded to any of my e-mails?

And please follow up now from e-mail.
This is not only discusting and unprofessional on your part, but you really don't fool me AL.

Who are you any way? Really who are you?
What do we know about you?

You never downloaded another copy you liar!
You never ever returned to me an e-mail

Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors.

Your the target not me!
Now get this review off here!

The reviewer responded with very detailed, gracious comments pointing out the errors he was referencing.

To which Ms. Howett responded with language that cannot be repeated here.

I'm thinking she most likely isn't improving sales with this approach.

P.S. Here is the book's description as written by the author:

What is an eighteen year old doing traveling on a massive merchant ship anyways, hadn't she gone to Greece on tour in a ballet as a dancer? These are questions Katy asks herself while traveling the high seas with Don, her chief officer who she marries. However, little do they know, a smuggling ring is also on board for this ride, on a blue diamond exchange, and when explosions and threats to sink the ship also happen, they must try to save themselves. True story.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Not To Do When Writing

We're currently finishing up our annual report. It recaps the events of 2010, providing numbers and details about what took place at CSE this past calendar year.

Given that accuracy is of utmost importance when detailing company activities, the report has been read and re-read by several pairs of eyes, making sure no factual errors slip through. It's also being proofread to make sure no errors of the written word variety make their way to the printed report.

Like, for example, not including proper punctuation...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going the Extra Mile

One of our traditions here at CSE is whenever disaster strikes, we move swiftly and directly to help our insureds who have been touched by tragedy. In recent years, whenever firestorms rampaged through southern California the top people from our company were there when the embers were still warm, finding our customers and handing them checks to get them started on the road to recovery. We're proud of that.

However, when it comes to going above and beyond the norm in the face of disaster, one man has recently set the bar about as high as it can go. His name is Hideaki Akaiwa.

It was just a few days ago; March 11th to be exact. Mr. Akaiwa was at his office working away on a Friday afternoon. Everything seemed normal.

It wasn't.

You see, Mr. Akaiwa lives in Ishinomaki, Japan. A port city in the north-eastern part of the country.

Where the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck.

Making things worse, a half-hour later the tsunami hit Ishinomaki, washing away cars and buildings like they were autumn leaves floating down the gutter after the rain, completely devastating the entire city. Mr. Akaiwa, having made it to higher ground outside the city, watched helplessly as the torrent of water ripped through Ishinomaki, crushing and sweeping along everything in its path.

Somewhere in the midst of this destruction and horror was Mr. Akaiwa's wife.

To which he reacted in a manner that makes Chuck Norris look like Barney the dinosaur.

Somewhere, somehow he managed to find some scuba gear. The news stories about it don't say exactly where.

Once outfitted, Mr. Akaiwa made it down from where he had been, out of the tsunami's path...

... and dove into it.

Sometimes wading and sometimes swimming, Mr. Akaiwa dodged the broken glass, broken timbers, cars, houses, and most everything else imaginable that was floating in the water. Which was hardly still; it continued to violently rush through the city.

Didn't matter. He was going to find his wife.

Eventually, through sheer tenacity and determination he made his way to what was left of his house, which although still standing was almost totally submerged. He forced his way in and found his wife, alive but trapped on the upper level with barely enough room to breathe. She couldn't have lasted much longer. Mr. Akaiwa would have none of that. He managed to get her free and out of the house.

However, they were hardly safe.

The water was still rushing. It was getting dark. The couple would have to fight their way through the destruction. With only one underwater breathing apparatus they'd need to share.

After all they'd been through, you think they'd let minor annoyances like that stop them?

They made it back to dry land.

And the story doesn't end there.

Mr. Akaiwa was still missing his elderly mother.

For four days he searched through the shelters that had been hastily thrown together. Nothing. The search and rescue teams were doing the best they could, but the water was still so deep in what was left of Ishinomaki progress was extremely difficult at best.

So, Mr. Akaiwa did what by now came naturally.

He put the scuba gear back on and dove into the water.

Yes, he found her. Like his wife had been, she was alive but trapped in the upper level of her house.

Yes, he got her out safely.

And yes, even with his wife and mother now safe Mr. Akaiwa is still diving into the water, looking for survivors.

Now that is going the extra mile.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is Order Breaking Down In Japan?

One of the facts often commented on by Western observers of the Japan earthquake and tsunami's aftermath is how even in the midst of unimaginable destruction and horror, there has been no rift in the country's orderly society. Victims wait patiently in line for food and water. There has been no looting whatsoever. People have remained calm.

Most people, anyway.

Reports by Japanese users of Twitter have started to surface concerning outbreaks of unruly behavior. A rough translation is as follows: "Mad rush for food. Fighting over scraps. Devastation after riot. Marauding gangs."

The tweets continue, "Is this the reality of Japan? Do not look! DO NOT LOOK!"

Now, photos have appeared in conjunction with the tweets, confirming these ugly truths. Please be forewarned the photos are not for the faint of heart. In order to protect the innocent from these images, I have placed them well below.

If you have the courage to look, scroll down...

Mad rush for food!

Fighting over scraps!

Devastation after riot!

Marauding gangs!

And before you ask, yes, this is actually going around Japan on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream

It's difficult to find something to smile about these days, as every hour brings a fresh batch of bad news. The destruction wrought by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Bloody civil war in Libya. A family brutally murdered as they slept in Israel. No sources of comedy in any of these.

Yet it is at times such as these we most need humor, something to laugh over or at the least bring a smile. Humor is our great defense, the thing that provides momentary escape and relief from the news that otherwise can crush our spirit. There are so many desperately unfunny situations in life. We should seize the opportunity for laughter whenever we can.

And so, I'd like to share a dream I had last night.

I was here at the office. It was late in the evening, and I needed to get from one spot to another. So, I went out into the hallway, which became increasingly more maze-like as I was trying to find my way to wherever it was I was going (don't remember that part).

Somehow I ended up in a large, pyramid-shaped freight elevator that was made out of aluminum. I rode the elevator from the ninth floor to the basement, where I exited the elevator and found myself walking... the same maze-like hallways I had been trying to navigate before I entered the elevator.

After a while, it occurred to me that I was no longer in the office, but was in fact aboard the starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame. It was the one from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I saw various crew members scurrying about, and eventually made my way to what looked like a large cavern filled with partying crew members and aliens encouraging them to party some more.

I then realized the aliens were in fact drugging the crew members in order to make them their slaves. Obviously it was my duty to save them, but I saw I was the only non-drugged person on board other than the aliens.

I managed to escape the cavern and made my way back through the ship, eventually entering a room that was an exact duplicate of the server room here in the office. I said aloud (in the dream), "Where am I going to find someone who's innocent and pure, and can't be tempted by the aliens, to help me take back the ship?"

In walked Winnie the Pooh.

Together with Pooh, we realized that phasers were useless against the aliens and we needed to find some other weapon. Finally we did: a pistol from the 1800s that when fired at an alien would turn them into...

... Lego blocks. Which also freed any crew member they had poisoned.

And so, Pooh and I took back the starship Enterprise.

Hope this helped bring a smile.

Monday, March 14, 2011

California Budget Stalemate Continues

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, negotiations between Governor Jerry Brown and Republican legislators on the state's budget woes have ended without an agreement being reached.

State Sen. Tom Harman (R - Huntington Beach) commented that the sticking points included Brown's insistence that the proposed maintaining of what will otherwise shortly expire tax hikes enacted by the previous administration be for a five year period. The Republicans proposed an eighteen-month extension. Other issues included the Republicans wishing to place additional measures on the special election asking voters to extend the tax hikes, which will be submitted to the people in an election on either June 7 or June 14 of this year, that would impose a hard cap on state spending and modify the pension plans of current state workers.

It is expected that Brown's next move in regard to the state budget will be discussions with the "Big Four," a nickname for the Democratic and Republican heads of the State Senate and Assembly. As the Democrats hold a solid majority in both houses, and as per a voter-approved measure in the last election it takes only a majority to pass the budget, the negotiations with Republicans either by themselves or in conjunction with Democratic legislators are little more than a courtesy.

Referring back to the election, there are reports that as a means to cut expenses incurred by a special election the entirety of the election will be conducted by mailed-in ballots, with no polling places being used or set up. This remains unconfirmed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wouldn't Cracking A Joke Have Been Easier?

You remember high school, right? Granted, for some of us high school was so long ago that whenever the kids ask if it's true that in biology instead of dissecting a frog we used a wooly mammoth. But we still remember.

Given that high school is populated by teenagers, and the primary interest of teenagers is... well, other teenagers, a fair amount of doing whatever is deemed necessary to impress and/or get the attention of members of the opposite sex occupies time during high school years. Even at East High School, where no one is over a size 4. (High School Musical reference there.)

Usually, attempts to get attention and curry favor with whoever the one true great and eternal love of a young lad or lassie's life is this week -- stop by next week to meet the next one true great and eternal love as they change often -- are restricted to familiar gestures: athletic or academic prowess, attempts to be witty with occasional forays into glibness and sometimes a dip into suave sophistication provided your acne medication is holding out. That said, sometimes a teen decides to go the extra mile to impress fellow teens.

Or the extra 200 feet.

By jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and living to tell about it:

Frederic Lecouturier, 55, said he was surfing under the bridge when he saw the boy drop into the waves.

"I thought, 'Well, he's going to die,' and then it was a miracle when he popped up alive," said Lecouturier, of San Rafael. "I paddled out there, and he told me he jumped 'for kicks.'

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wrong Way

The current furor in Wisconsin over state government efforts to eliminate its deficit by placing strict limits on state employee unions is generating a public image unfortunately lacking in reality on both sides of the argument. Let's focus on the teachers portion of the debate.

It has become fashionable in some circles to either universally praise or condemn public teachers. Those who shower nothing but accolades paint a picture of every teacher being a shining paragon of virtue and noble sacrifice, while holders of negative opinions consider teachers one and all to be tax-sucking sloths interested in nothing but their tenure and pension plan. Neither viewpoint is anywhere close to reality.

Let's discard the clichés about teachers and look at the truth. As is the case with any group of workers, there are good ones and bad ones. That said, there are far, far more good teachers than bad out there. They genuinely care about their students. They do their best to teach them well. They make a positive difference in people's lives. And they do not deserve to be tarred with the same brush presently being wielded against those who give every impression of having no interest in anything other than making a living off the public dime.

We live in economically troubled times, in which it is more important than ever for all levels of government to maintain tight controls on their spending. This includes the cost of labor, namely salaries and benefits. That said, lumping all members of any given profession together with those who consider public temper tantrums an acceptable form of behavior is extremely short-sighted. Don't let the few doing it the wrong way lead you into you yourself doing things the wrong way by incorrectly labeling the many.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What Can iPad 2 Do For You?

Now that the announcement has been made and the numbers are known, what can be gained by buying the iPad 2 when it comes out next Friday, especially by current iPad owners?

Answer: plenty.

While the thinner and lighter aspects are nice, the most important improvements in the iPad 2 over the original lie under the hood. The beefed-up processor will result in a huge performance boost, both in running applications and anything involving video. The iPad is already the most ergonomically-friendly device on the market, one that makes the old joke about how people will always rather curl up with a good book since curling up with a good computer doesn't work as well utterly obsolete. Now, the iPad is even more comfortable and easy to curl up with; more personable. Yes, technology that's personable. It's not only possible. It's here.

All well and good, one might think. But what about for business? Here the iPad 2 also shines. In addition to being able to better run existing business apps, such as the excellent mini-office suite Quickoffice and Apple's own word processing, spreadsheet and slideshow presentation software, the addition of forward and back-facing cameras will make the iPad 2 a valuable field tool. If you pick up either the AT&T or Verizon wireless model, using the available data plans will mean you can do field reports from anywhere there is a signal. We've already seen what apps such as CSE's own claims app can do for iPhone and Android users. With the far greater capacity of the iPad 2, even more superb apps for the insurance industry are now possible.

Also, don't forget that in a matter of days a free GoToMyPC client for the iPad will be available. Now, you can enjoy the comfort and freedom of an iPad while being able to tap into your regular computer whenever necessary.

So what can iPad 2 do for you? A lot. It will be well worth the investment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

He Lost His Job For What?

Very few of us sit around thinking about ways we can lose our job, primarily because we know them. Preferably not from personal experience. Not doing the work, dishonesty, theft, unacceptable workplace behavior. All well known, all scrupulously avoided.

It's especially important in the insurance industry to be on the up and up. We have to fight the clichés about insurance, and the people who work therein, every day by our example. How we treat our customers matters. It's as simple as that. And so, we keep it clean by avoiding that which might jeopardize our employment.

As noted above, everyone knows the reasons people get walked out the door. However, there are other reasons one might not suspect could lead to instant unemployment.

Did you know applauding can get you canned?

It's true, and it happened but a few days ago. It's no secret yours truly is a huge NASCAR fan. The 2011 season started Sunday before last as it does every season with the biggest race of the year, namely the Daytona 500. It was a thrilling race, won by an unlikely combination: the oldest race team owners in the sport, the Wood Brothers, and the youngest driver in the sport, twenty-year old Trevor Bayne. Who, for some reason, has become rather the instant fan favorite:

Anyway, at the end of the race, a reporter covering the event for Sports Illustrated was so excited by what had just happened he applauded for a few seconds.

Unfortunately for the reporter, he was in the media center at the time.

A few days later, Sports Illustrated fired him for violating the unwritten law about no cheering in the media center or press box. Ever.

Okay... but doesn't firing someone over it seem like a bit of an overreaction?