Dream Jobs

January 8, 2011 at 2:03 am (Personal) (, )

I’ve always heard if you love what you do, you’ll never really have to work.

After a wonderful 15 years spent as a Family Nurse Practitioner, for health and other reasons, I had to give up the career I loved  and for which I spent several years preparing. It was quite a career. While working on my Master’s Degree, I was lucky enough to have an internship with a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon and become part of his organ transplant team. The experience was nothing short of amazing. How many people ever get to hold a human heart in their hands or participate in research that has an impact on the lives, and quality of life, of others? Our team performed the first heart-lung transplant. I’ll never forget that young woman, who was quite an inspiration to us. We had a fantastic unit, led by a terrific lady, who was a wonderful mentor to me. I landed a job in her unit where there was always a lengthy waiting list for positions, primarily because we had golf in common…and a love of Greg Norman. In addition to the heart-lung transplant, here were many other indescribable moments over the next few years. It was hard work, and I was often on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But it was very rewarding and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Then, I got sick.  There were days when I probably shouldn’t have survived, when the doctors told my family I wouldn’t survive,  but I did.  The doctors told me that my immune system had taken a big hit and I wouldn’t be able to work with patients anymore because of the risk of infection. Telling me I could no longer take care of patients was like cutting off a limb. It seemed like a part of me was missing. For a long time, I wasn’t sure what I would do.

Then, by a strange sequence of events, I had to go with a friend to the Apple Store.  I chatted with the manager for a bit, and ended up with a job. When Macs first came out, I was just out of college and working for a small-town weekly newspaper. I became friends with the owner of an independent Apple store.  He had service contracts for businesses and schools all over the state. He taught me the ins and outs of operation, troubleshooting, and minor repairs. Then, I worked with him to install the computers and teach others how to use them. I kept up with Macs as they evolved, and doing so had just secured my first non-healthcare job in over fifteen years.

I stayed at the Apple Store for just over 4 years.  It was a great learning experience and I made some good friends, both online and off. It was one of these friends that led to my current position. It’s quite fun, actually. I get to help folks with problems figure out what is wrong with their setup and help them get things running correctly.  I tell people that it’s much like “telephone triage” by email…instead of helping with physical ailments, I help with mechanical ones 🙂

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I can work anywhere there is an internet connection. Is it a Dream Job? Well, you be the judge. I’m typing this from the courtyard of my villa in the Dominican Republic, at a very nice little place called Punta Cana. Our boss gets the whole group together occasionally for a little face time to encourage some social interaction…no mean feat when you consider the logistics of our group!  We’re spread across every time zone in the United States, as well as Canada, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. It’s nice for the group of us to hook up and share some activities. I actually swam with dolphins yesterday, which was one of the most amazing things I have ever done!  Many a brilliant idea has been born of an adult beverage and a hot tub 😉


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I’m a Mac…

April 20, 2008 at 2:46 am (shareware) (, , , , , , , )

I went to a trade show yesterday, and was prepared to purchase some items from one of my favorite vendors. While waiting in line, I happened to look over and see her husband working on an Apple laptop. An Apple laptop that said “Vaio”. He was using a Vaio but had a white Apple logo sticker in the center of it. I asked him what that was about, and he said it was “just to irritate Steve Jobs and the other Mac users” (nevermind that I’m sure Steve has never been anywhere near the same zip code as this guy, but that’s beside the point).

I’m a PC…

Then he launched into the same old anti-Mac rhetoric spewed by middle-aged folks who haven’t kept up with technology…you know the one statement common to all of them: “None of the applications I need run on a Mac”. I asked what he needed to run, and he said he definitely needed accounting software to keep track of expenses. And it had to be something his accountant would use. He looked like a deer in the headlights when I suggested QuickBooks or MYOB. I tried to explain to him that Macs can run Windows now since the switch to Intel processors. He said he didn’t want to use “BootStrap” – I’m assuming he means BootCamp since he didn’t appear to have a clue about either BootCamp OR Bootstrapping Statistical sampling 🙂 He said he didn’t want that program “that they make you use” (he was referring to BootCamp). I told him he was free to use any application he wanted if he had some proprietary software that required him to run Windows. I told him that both Parallels and Fusion worked quite well (clueless again) but that chances were good that he wouldn’t need any of those.

“Donate to my relief fund”

I told him there were a lot of excellent shareware applications available and widely used for both personal use and small businesses now, and that there were a lot of really good independent developers in the Mac community. You know what he did? He laughed in my face. He said something to the effect of “yeah, just donate a dollar to my relief fund and use my application at your own risk”. What a jerk! He obviously doesn’t have a clue about what shareware is. I attempted to explain it, but he cut me off. I decided I would just be wasting my breath anyway. After our brief exchange, I don’t think he really has a clue about much of anything!

The Challenge

He, like most of the other folks at the show, have a small business and they display and sell their wares (jewelry and crafting supplies in this case) while traveling from venue to venue. The apps they need are very basic…just good old common small business applications. I talked to a couple of other vendors who had heard our exchange, and they told me they had been looking at switching to Macs because of the ease of use and because you don’t have to spend countless hours trying to stay ahead of issues with viruses, adware, spyware, and crashes. They asked me to help them figure out what hardware and software they would need that would serve their needs both at home and on the road. Cost was an important factor as they don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend. They wanted to start with something more “entry-level” that they can expand upon later after they see how it works and make sure they are comfortable with the solution.

I shared with them what works for a few of my friends and me, as we all have a small business of some kind, from consulting to graphic design and desktop publishing to jewelry sales. This is geared toward someone who runs a small business on the road. It could be any number of products, but the folks I was dealing with happen to sell handcrafted jewelry and materials so that others can make jewelry to sell themselves. For example, Missy makes glass beads and does wirework. She sells individual components so that I can go home and make jewelry to sell using the beads she crafted. She also sells the finished products which, in her case, are beautiful earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. With that in mind, here’s what we came up with.

The Hardware

Because they are just starting out, Missy opted for the mid-level MacBook. It comes in three configurations: two white ones, and a higher end black version. The price points were $1099, $1299, and $1499. She went with the middle one. It’s a white MacBook, and it has a larger hard drive and more memory than the entry level version. At $1299, it’s a very powerful computer. Just a few years ago, people traveled with a “dumbed down” laptop…they were slow, had small hard drives, and not much memory. These travelers needed a desktop computer to use at home. These days, thanks to ever-faster processors, smaller hard drives, and falling memory prices, Apple’s laptops carry just about as much processing weight as their desktop counterparts. For a printer, Missy wanted the functionality of an all-in-one so they could easily scan and store important documents and make copies when needed. It didn’t take long to decide on the Canon Pixma MP520. It wasn’t very expensive, especially with the $100 rebate given for purchasing a computer at the same time, and the quality was excellent. Plus, the footprint wasn’t much larger than a standard printer. It also had a bonus feature as far as they were concerned: duplex printing. Granted, because of the volume of printed material they distribute, they use Kinko’s for most of their printing needs. But for the occasional emergency when they’ve run out of brochures, Missy said it’s nice to know that can print them quickly and easily if needed.

The Software

I’d been thinking about what Missy’s needs were regarding software: a word-processing program for instructions and signage, an internet browser to surf for information, maps, weather, etc. while traveling, a financial app, something for project and contact management, and a game or two to play when sales are slow or they’re in the RV between shows. I’ve never seen anyone use a POS app. They just use a calculator and write out receipts by hand on generic receipt books.

Here’s what they could use to get started nicely:

1) Finances – QuickBooks Pro ($169.95) or Moneydance ($39.99). Moneydance would be a good tool to keep track of both their business and personal finances. QuickBooks Pro has long been the gold standard of business accounting software, and most accountants are familiar with it. However, you and your accountant definitely would not have to have the same software. Both apps import and export the common financial forms, and they both download your transactions from your bank.

2) A word processing app such as NeoOffice (free), OpenOffice (free), or Pages ($79, part of iWork ’08) to print instructions, signs, business cards, brochures, etc. Swift Publisher ($34.99) and Pages are both easy to use, inexpensive, and have some nice templates for brochures and business cards as well. MicroSoft Office ($399.95) is the most expensive of the bunch, and the folks I talked to really didn’t need it.

3) Promotion – iWeb (comes pre-loaded on new Mac computers, $79 as part of iLife ’08) could make a nice website for a beginner with virtually no experience. For more control and more choices, RapidWeaver ($49) will make quite a nice site. The developer, RealMac Software, has a very active support community, lots of templates and plug-ins, and the sites look great. Sandvox ($49 regular, $79 pro) is also a consideration, as it has been gaining steam with new users lately.

4) Project Management – SOHO Organizer ($99), Project X ($199.95). I’ve been hooked on SOHO Organizer for several years, since they had a great little app called “Sticky Brain”. You input all the bits of info into it that you’d have all over post-it notes like login info, passwords, serial numbers, account info, due dates…you get the picture. They changed the name awhile back to SOHO notes (I still like Sticky Brain better!) and added a lot of functionality. I upgraded from the notes to the organizer because the organizer has contact management built into it, as well as templates for invoicing, which look really nice. I’ve heard good things about Project X, but haven’t tried it myself. I’ve probably got way too much stuff in SOHO now to ever leave it for another app!

5) Anti-productivity apps (i.e. “games”) – Hey, you can’t work all the time!!! The thing is, there are tons of Mac games out there. It totally depends on what you like. I’m addicted to World of Warcraft, a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) that is played online with people all over the world. I met one of my best friends playing WoW. For quick time-killers, though, I like puzzle-type games such as Bejeweled, Bookworm, and MahJong. Frenzic and Enigmo are addictive, fast-paced puzzle games that are very popular. There are casino and card games such as slots and Texas Hold ‘Em. There are also sites where you can play different types of games online for free. Just do a search for “Mac online games” and you’ll get a lot of hits.

The cool thing about Mac shareware is that they have a “try before you buy” policy. You can download, install, and use the software for a period of time (usually 15-30 days) before you have to pay for it. That gives you time to try out a couple of different offerings in each category to see which apps work best for you. As you can see from the included pricing info, really good software doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. For around $250 you can get a good app in each category and even have enough left for a game or two 🙂 Not a bad deal in my opinion.

The Results

I presented my recommendations to Missy regarding software, and she’s going to try two apps each from the different categories (except she wants to go with SOHO Organizer after I showed her how I use mine!) for two weeks, and that will give her two weekends of shows to use them. That should be sufficient time to see what best meets her needs. These are just suggestions. If you guys have had success with other apps, drop me a line and let me know. I’ll add them to my arsenal 🙂

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I left my favorite vendor without making my purchase. I’m not sure if she knows her husband cost her a few hundred dollars with his bad attitude and ignorance, but she will when I send her a copy of this post! Until next time, cheers!

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