Planning for a Successful Vacation

Show Notes From CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 15

Note – this podcast was originally aired as a longer, one hour episode (Episode 1). We have been cutting them up and re-releasing seleted parts to make them easier to listen to (i.e. shorter).

To listen to this podcast, visit my Blubrry page here.

To subscribe to the series, click here.

Vacations – we all dream about them, but are they being put to the best use? Half of the therapeutic value of a vacation comes from planning – not just where you want to go, but planning the days leading up to departure date as well as your return to work after it’s done. If you do these right, your vacation will be doubly beneficial.

The Guardian article that I referred to was written by Jana Kasperkevic and can be found here.

Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian writes:

In the U.S, the number of unused vacation days in the US recently was 169 million days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. The reason for this, she writes, is that many employees are afraid to take it, while others just don’t get any at all, in fact she points out that only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. Those who choose not to go fear the face time problem, and they also feel that too much work will pile up while they are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.”

There are three distinct ways in which vacations work as a productivity and time management tool:

  • The most obvious is the vacation itself. It is supposed to be a time when you let go of all of the stresses and pressures of the working year and do the things you really want to do. Most people find the first three days or so to be a major period of transition as they catch up on all the sleep they have missed, and actually gear down from the pace of business. After those first few days, the restorative effects of the vacation start to take shape, and like so many other areas of life, this does not exist only in the mind. It has profound effects on the body, particularly the immune system, as you start to actually feel relaxed and feel good.
  • There is also the anticipation of a vacation to consider. If you find yourself in a stressful work situation, putting in extra hours and dealing with crisis after crisis, one of the best ways of mitigating the stress of that moment is to look forward to a break or vacation on the horizon – this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing there is an end in sight has both a motivating and calming effect on your mind and body.
  • Third, there’s the memory of the vacation. Once you have had some time off, hopefully you have done something great with that time, those pleasant memories of the activities – or just the rest – will stay with you forever. Those are good memories, and feeling good always has long term physiological rewards. As the old expression goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. Great memories flood your brain with endorphins. They make you feel good, and this too serves as insulation against the stressors of the workday.

HOW CAN YOU PREPARE FOR A VACATION?

Your vacation should be treated as one of the most important parts of your job, because that’s just what it is. Consequently, vacation days must be defended if year-round productivity and achievement are your goals. This means you must take the time to plan your vacation period carefully to help ensure a smooth, stress-free departure and a smooth, stress-free return.

First, plan ahead to avoid that pre-vacation crunch. The last few days at the office before a vacation can actually be more stressful than usual, because it seems that all the work that you would have done if you were not going on vacation becomes immediate top-priority. Everyone around you feels you absolutely must get it all finished before your departure. Start planning your departure a few weeks or months before the actual date, and you can influence the timelines of your projects, meetings, and other office events.

Draw a protective barrier around the period of your vacation, especially including the ten business days leading up to it and the ten immediately following it. Make sure those days before your vacation are carefully planned, so that you can hand off responsibilities to others and wrap up your projects. The days preceding a vacation should not be just business as usual for you. They should be about winding down and handing off. If you try to keep on working on your normal tasks at your normal pace on these days, you will simply generate more stress and overwork than the holiday could possibly alleviate.

Plan your return before you leave. Though most people don’t want to even think about their return to work as they start their holiday, a smooth return will help to ease the stress of stepping back into the rat race. The day of your return should not include any meetings. It should be a transition day, in which time is given over to catching up on the events that happened during your absence, returning returning calls and emails, updating your agenda, and getting back up to speed.

Why is this so important? Because too many people simply return to the office and hit the ground running, trying to immediately regain the pace they were at when they left. They return straight away to the stress levels and pressures that they left behind, erasing much of the therapeutic benefits that a vacation brings. Remember: your vacation is a tool for relaxation and rebuilding. It is part of your job. You benefit, your family benefits, and your company benefits. Ease your way back into the momentum of work, just like a runner warming up before a marathon, and you will be better prepared to handle it. Start planning your next vacation immediately.

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ISVs and Future Proofing Your Payment Integration

Here is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote this week for the payment processor Clearent.

When a consumer walks into a store or browses an online ecommerce site, very little thought is given over to the “paying” part until the time comes. At that moment, a fast and convenient point-of-sale or checkout experience helps create a positive memory, raising the loyalty factor a little bit. But a less-than-ideal transaction, caused by long lines, a failed tap, or a shopping cart page that crashes and burns, steers the shopper to the competition. No one has time to wait for a reboot or to listen to apologies.

The expectation and the requirement are that the payment system be up-to-date. For that to happen, the merchant and its ISV must be future-proof. What’s the best way to future-proof something as complex as payment integration?  The answer is right in front of you, in the apps inside your phone and your tablet.

To learn more, visit our most recent blog, “ISVs and Future Proofing Your Payment Integration” available right now at CloudTweaks: go to https://cloudtweaks.com/2017/12/isvs-proofing-payment-integration/

How to Buy and Hold Bitcoin

Show Notes From CoolTimeLife Podcast Episode 15

Everyone wants to know about Bitcoin these days. It continues to defy the odds and the pundits to keep climbing ever higher. Do you feel you’re missing out? Well, it might too late to get in on the ground floor with Bitcoin, but it’s not too late to start understanding how to buy it and how to hold onto it. There are many more cryptocurrencies out there as well. In this short ten-minute podcast, I talk about how to buy bitcoins, and the difference between wallets and exchanges.

  • To listen to the podcast, visit my Blubrry page here.
  • Check out my professional blog posts dealing with Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies (I hate that term!) and blockchain technologies at the investment and wealth website ValueWalk.com.
  • Choose a Wallet by checking out the selection at Bitcoin.org.
  • Check out some useful exchanges for buying and holding Bitcoin and other currencies. Be sure to do your homework first, to ensure the rates and terms of any exchange match your requirements.
  • A great review of Canadian Bitcoin exchanges is available at Coinforum.ca.
  • Great resources for learning about Bitcoin include

Bitcoin and crypto investment is risky and volatile, and really requires your daily attention. Don’t forget I am always available to speak to your group or association on how to understand cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Check out my speaker page for more details.

The Shift from Monolithic to Microservices: What It Means for CTOs.

The shift in application development strategies is moving from monolithic design to isolated and resilient components known as microservices. As a result, applications that were designed with platform entanglements such as database and messaging layers have become more complex and costly to operate and maintain. This provides new challenges to CTOs, who must stay aware of the most dynamic, cost-efficient, and secure methods of managing their company’s data, while navigating the inexorable slide toward a microservices economy.

Mike D. Kail, CTO of Security-as-a-Service firm Cybric.io, points out that “with the rise in popularity of Docker Containers, there is an associated belief amongst many that by simply moving an application to leverage containers instead of virtual machines or bare metal, that you then get microservices by default.” But, he says, “that is certainly not true.” Microservices is an architectural pattern, and containers can be part of the technology using that pattern, but containers remain a “thing” while “microservices” is still a “notion.” This pattern can be used to either re-factor an existing application, or more easily leveraged for greenfield initiatives.

Central to the popularity of microservices is the ability to overwrite or replace an individual component without taking down the entire application, leading to less downtime and faster deployment or redeployment of software into an operating environment. Immutable infrastructure also helps with overall security as an APT can be rapidly mitigated by “refreshing the deployment”. This is also a concept shared by microservices – a modular and agile codebase, each part maintained by individual teams.

Microservices is an approach that is still evolving. It is a process being spearheaded by some of the biggest players in the business, like Walmart, Amazon, and Netflix. It is a technological ideal intended to ensure an organization’s ongoing agility and flexibility. This in turn allows faster and more intelligent response to immediate market demands like volume spikes in online shopping or movie watching.

Microservices need not be small, as the term “micro” might imply, but each service is dedicated to a single task or process. This allows for the components to be taken offline and edited, rebuilt, or replaced, without having to take an entire application down with it. This in turn allows for improvement on the fly, with less scheduled downtime, which leads to better business continuity.

The switch away from monolithic applications to collections of compartmentalized or containerized components seems to offer a much more practical approach to managing application development. They can be scaled separately and deployed as needed. They can be designed and programmed separately using different platforms or languages. And testing becomes more affordable, targeted, and frequent.

So What Problems Do Microservices Pose?

According to JP Morgenthal, Managing Editor of Microservices Journal, as applications get decomposed into microservices there arises a range of challenges around managing the sprawl. “In short,” he says, “no one knows the whole picture. They only know what’s wrong with their part.”

He points out that the previous generation of monolithic applications were expensive to maintain because of the high degree of entanglement of the components. Changes required more complex releases and longer testing cycles, yet at the same time, their design fostered simpler operation using fewer components.

“But as we move to polyglot microservices that leverage existing cloud services and are much more elemental, we still see an increase in the number and types of things that impact applications. This in turn increases complexity on the operations of these applications.”

What’s the Diagnosis?

Morgenthal highlights a need for greater involvement of developers in the cycle, specifically, full stack engineers and site reliability engineers. “The factors and attributes associated with design of microservices further increases complexity due to the way data management changes and the nature of discrete transactions.”

Wanted: A New Approach for CTOs in Managing Microservices

The very thing that makes microservices a more practical application development practice – compartmentalization – leads to an incomplete management perspective. “There is now a more urgent need for end-to-end management – something that has never truly existed. We need to break down the silos between organizations and departments, and we need to move from reactive to proactive. This would be the nirvana of modern applications management,” says Morgenthal.

This puts the role of the CTO in a new, indispensable light, as someone who must take complete end-to-end ownership of an application’s life cycle, encourage communication, and understanding across all teams and timelines involved, and be capable of knowing the entire process.

Mike D. Kail of Cybric.io, himself a CTO, adds more. He states, “I believe that the role of the CTO is more relevant today than ever. As with Digital Transformation, every company is becoming a technology company. The modern-day CTO needs to have the technical chops to drive the overall product/platform vision internally and the soft skills and business acumen to drive outward facing initiatives as well as communicate effectively and clearly with the other C-suite peers.”

Overall, the challenge of establishing full end-to-end management of microservices resembles the typical left-brain/right-brain dynamic of a living corporate entity. The logical processes of developing and refining a highly versatile and compartmentalized application need to be balanced with a refined approach to human communication within IT-Ops, upwards to senior management, and outwards to those who will ultimately benefit from it. This requires a blend of political acumen and technological know-how, something that will make CTOs more visible and indispensable as the microservices trend continues to expand.

Labor Day – Bitcoin and Ethereum drop, China bans ICOs

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled What’s Behind The Labor Day Bitcoin, Ethereum Price Fall? is now online. Here is an excerpt:

The PBoC statement slammed the brakes on a large number of ongoing ICO projects in China, causing widespread consternation among investors who urged their clients and colleagues to sell quickly. This contributed substantially to the ongoing drop in Bitcoin and Ethereum Prices. The joint statement also said that “Individuals and organizations that have completed ICO fundraisings should make arrangements to return funds.”

The ruling does not prevent Chinese investors from participating in offshore ICOs, however.

To add further panic and confusion, the statement intimated that cryptocurrencies themselves may become illegal, since they are “not issued by the monetary authorities… do not have legal status equivalent to money, and can not [sic] and should not be circulated as a currency in the market use.”  Others have interpreted this statement as not pointing to a complete ban, but a great deal of uncertainty remains.

To read more, please click here.

I See A Black Moon Rising: Crypto Tokens and the Future of Investment

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled I See a Black Moon Rising is now online. Here is an excerpt:

When companies launch their ICO, they issue crypto tokens in exchange for investment cash. The tokens are built on top of the blockchain platform, and their owners can trade them as they wish.

Sergey Vasin, Chief Investment Officer of Blackmoon points out, “Tokenized funds are more cost-efficient thanks to lower infrastructure and setup costs…This economy is transmitted to investors in the form of higher net return. For the cherry on top, fund tokens are also immediately tradable.”

This new economy gives rise to two major opportunities. First, the token-based investment process should be more transparent and auditable due to its blockchain roots. Secondly, this improved “open book” approach offers the potential to expand the market beyond cryptocurrencies and incorporate fiat currency into the portfolio.

To read more, please click here.

Bitcoin And The Future Of Futures

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled Bitcoin And The Future Of Futures is now online. Here is an excerpt:

Some retailers around the world already accept Bitcoin, but they do so on a spot market basis, exchanging the bitcoins for their own currency within seconds of acceptance. Some might say that demotes the status of Bitcoin to a mere novelty version of money, since it cannot stand on its own. Others will say the transaction is on par with any other foreign currencies that retailers might accept at the day’s exchange rate.

Volatility is the problem that leads to the question, “Why can’t Bitcoin be purchased on a futures market like oil?” Oil also has an issue with volatility, as can be seen every time a major refinery catches fire, or an oil producing nation decides to turn the taps off. But with oil and other commodities, futures are based on a delivery of tangible product, like an actual barrel of oil or bushel of wheat. With Bitcoin, there are no actual coins, there is simply the value of those coins, agreed upon by its users and miners, and based on faith paired with scarcity.

To read more, please click here.

WannaCry, Mixers, And Bitcoin Wallets

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk. My post entitled WannaCry, Mixers, And Bitcoin Wallets is now online. Here is an excerpt:

Amid the furor of the August 1 Bitcoin Fork, another interesting thing happened. The individual(s) behind the WannaCry ransomware attack started to empty their bitcoin wallets. The $140,000 worth of bitcoin they originally collected gained about 20% more in value during the split, and it was around that time that the virtual money started to move.

The activity was detected by Keith Collins of Quartz, who used a bot to watch for movement in the accounts. The bot observed the initial withdrawal of $70,000, which was then followed by additional amounts from other bitcoin wallets until all the money was gone.

To read more visit ValueWalk here.

How to Say No to Your Boss

The “No” answer starts long before the question is asked.

My approach to time management, and consequently being able to say “no” to your boss is based on two skills: psychology – specifically the psychology of influence – and project management – the art of planning and managing work.

To say no to your boss, you must take the proactive step, long before, of managing up: setting up a time once per week, for a huddle, in which you can inform your boss as to your workload and timelines, including personal/family commitments. Using a visual tool like a Gantt chart will help as well. Although a manager seems to have the right to ask people to take on extra work, physical visual proof of busy-ness is a powerful tool of influence. It gives you leverage.

The second benefit to regular huddles is the development of a relationship. You can build greater trust with your manager once s/he starts to know you better. Trust and relationship also go far in the negotiation process.

Third, be prepared to offer an alternative. Your Gantt chart/calendar and your positive relationship should go far in terms of offering a time other than the weekend to take care of the pressing task. Often, managers themselves have poor time management skills and think everything must get finished right away.  If you can offer a spot of time next Tuesday afternoon, that might be sufficient.

Fourth, if this type of thing happens often, it’s time to plan for it in advance. I call this crisis management. A request to do extra work over the weekend is a crisis. If this is a regular occurrence, then it should be scheduled into your calendar – as in, 2 hours per week are reserved for the boss’s next crisis. If you know it’s going to happen, then schedule for it now.

Finally, ask yourself why these last-minute requests are happening at all. Again, this goes back to poor planning on the part of the boss. Use that same huddle to help project plan his/her priorities so that the urgency doesn’t have to happen at all.

Comments?

What Is Ethereum And How To Buy It?

I write for the finance and investment website ValueWalk and I posted my commentary entitled What Is Ethereum And How To Buy It? there today. Here is an excerpt:

Let’s start by getting the terminology straight. Ethereum is an open source code designed primarily to govern smart contracts on the blockchain. A smart contract is any contract between parties, especially those that lack a level of trust or credit rating. An example may be the sale of fair trade coffee. How would a wholesale purchaser know the coffee is fair trade? They would feel much more confident if the entire coffee production and preparation process was verified and incorporated into a smart contract that itself is sealed immutably inside a block on the blockchain. Ethereum allows developers to build their own apps on its open platform.

Part of the Ethereum code is Ether, described as the fuel that makes the contracts work. It can also be seen as a currency of sorts, and may emerge as a competitor to, or even replacement for Bitcoin, depending on how the lava flows. Ether is presented in coins, and can also be referred to as an Ethereum coin.

To read more, please visit ValueWalk here.