Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Web Modernization: Updating Personal Website


With my current job as a technology analyst I spend a lot of time evaluating new technologies and following the latest standards of the web.

With the 2010 court case that demanded Government of Canada websites become accessible, many in the tech analysis fields going back to basics.

My approach to learning about technology and standards is usually to implement it. Over the last number of years I have managed the websites of personal projects of mine including sites for Computers for Communities and Freeheelers United. These two sites use the content management systems (CMS) Drupal and Joomla respectively. These CMS's tend to take care of a lot of the backend HTML coding and therefore I have grown to trust the machine.

My personal website http://davidsampson.ca however, is just a collection of HTML pages with CSS styling. When I first started my website a number of years ago I did not use, nor did I likely know about CSS. The last time I refreshed my HTML skills I upgraded my site to HTML version 4 and started using CSS.

Lately in my job we have been discussing various approaches to web architecture, web interoperability and web accessibility. Also, websites for governments are becoming more complex with feeds, audio, video, blogs and social tools.

This new perspective of the web means that you can shoe-horn old standards to fit the new situation or update the standards you are using. When we look at the basics of the web we are now talking about HTML version 5, CSS version 3 as well as JavaScript.

So to re-aquaint myself with the basics of the web as they stand today I have undertaken an overhaul of my personal website.

This means updating my personal website. My goals right now are:

  • Use a text editor to avoid erroneous markup from editors
  • Migrate from HTML 4 to 5
  • Remove remaining styling from HTML
  • Ensure CSS conforms to version 3
  • Strive for WCAG 2.0 AA standard
  • Learn and implement JavaScript from scratch
In order to find some guidance in implementing these standards I have been exploring many resources. To date I can confirm that there are many differing opinions on implementing HTML5.

The two schools of thougt I have come across include:
  • Strict HTML 5 that will pass validation
  • Loose HTML 5 that is easier to understand with slimmed down markup but still interpreted by browsers
  • Some are HTML centric
  • Others are XHTML centric
My solution is to find sources that:
  • value structured markup, 
  • will validate against the standards
  • accomodates cross browser implementation
  • separate content (HTML) from style (CSS) from logic (JavaScript)

I will continue to update my progress through my blog and will keep my readers posted on my progress. I will also announce any new site launches that demonstrate implementing my above stated goals.

Cheers
 

Disclaimer:
The content of this post does not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or priorities of the authors employer as is written from a personal perspective.





Monday, January 3, 2011

Moving on over.... to the other side..... of Barrhaven

Well the last number of months have been pretty busy with life.

One major activity that my wife and I have been working on is house shopping. My wife enjoys checking out MLS on a regular basis and until recently we were only casually house shopping.

Well, sure enough a couple of houses came up we liked a lot and fit our price range.

We checked out houses mainly in the west end, Barrhaven and Kanata. Anything inside the greenbelt was outside our price range but we liked the bigger lots, mature tress, the unique house models and looks of the neighborhood. But despite these likes it just was not worth it for us.

At the same time new houses seemed to increase in price weekly. Sure enough they were soon out of reach. A few good points about this is that modern home owners tend to not want a backyard, front yard or even a driveway they own themselves. We saw plenty of large interior houses but they were mainly townhomes with shared driveways and postage stamp backyards.

This process really tested my personal environmental ethic though. I have been and continue to be an environmentalist, but perhaps more moderate than my days of living in a tent and paddling around northern Ontario 4 months of the year.

Now I do own a house, have a 2 car family, a dog , a cat and a loving wife. But I still have a nagging feeling of making the wrong environmental choice. After all we should be decreasing urban sprawl, decreasing commuting distances and trying to live better.

Ottawa does have its 20/20 vision city plan, and a strategy to increase intensification. However how this plan is panning out in reality does not look too friendly. Barrhaven is still a bedroom community, I still work for a government department not planning on moving away from its current location, the bus system still has little incentive and town homes just are not that appealing.

Driving throughout Barrhaven there are plenty of examples of where townhomes loose their appeal. Here is my running list, although not exhasutive it gives you an idea of what I mean:
  • Neighbours separate their driveway using cinder blocks
  • Some choices in colours of siding and exterior paint just should not happen
  • Some driveways are painted on one side and crumbling on the other
  • As far as I can tell there is no FIREPROOF firewall separating neighbours.
  • The houses in the centre of the row need to use a "right of way" to get to the backyard with the lawn mower, but the end units block it off.
  • The backyards are just too small
  • current occupants still hear noises through the walls
In an appartment or highrise you rarely run into these issues from my experience. So these issues seem like a big gamble with an expensive piece of property. I would have hopped that the housing market and industry would have innovated more to overcome these challenges.

Among other reasons as well we opted to not buy a townhome. We also opted to by previously owned. I fully expect our next house to have issues. I mean who wouldn't expect something wrong? But we already know the major issues with it.

As friends that have bought new have shared, a new house does not mean a perfect house. The house settles, cracks appear, things shift. At least with a previously owned house it has done most of its shifting, cracking and settling.

Construction material was another issue for me. I am one of those "weak" people with those "environment" allergies. You know the kind caused by off gassing of carpet adhesive, mold and dust in air ducts or a poorly ventilated house cased in plastic.

Those new fancy pre-fab 'I' beams created using woodchips and resin? Not only do they love to off gas (yes there are high quality ones that are better), but they also drasticaly decrease your escape time in case of fire. They tend to melt instead of burn. And when all these new resins burn you'll be lucky to survive the toxi gases in the case of a fire let alone the heat.

You CAN still build a house with "natural" materials (wood, concrete, steel), but you'll pay for it as an extra from the major builders.

So after all this critique of new home construction, the cities dimming 20/20 densification vision and neighbours who have a difficult time getting together to drink beer and figure out how to co-exist what did we do? Where did we go? Have we sold our house yet?

Well we currently live off of Claridge drive near Woodroffe by Farm Boy and we found a nice place over on the older side of Barrhaven on Kennevale by Marry Honeywell school. We take possesion on Febraruary 28 and have yet to sell our current place. This is stressful for sure, holding tow mortgages does not sound like fun.

Our daily mantra includes the following positive self talk:
  • We bought our current house, surely someone else will
  • For 15 years someone has lived here
  • It is a great starter home
  • Thanks to the Home Reno tax credit we upgraded a bunch of stuff
  • and finaly... IT ONLY TAKES ONE BUYER.

So the waiting game continues. I may provide more updates as time goes on.

Good luck if you are shopping for homes, do some research into house design and building you'll learn a lot.

Cheers

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Energy Audit Part 2: The computer room (Desktop Computer)

So after yesterdays post concerning the fact I paid a lot on my electricity I thought I would start my energy audit right in front of me, in my office.


Audit Items:
So my office is one of those tech related ones. I have the typical gadgets:

* Computer
* Printer / Scanner
* 2 monitors
* Desktop Speakers w sub woofer
* DSL modem
* wireless mouse / keyboard with a backup wireless mouse

I also have the usual things in a spare bedroom:
* Ceiling fan
* 3 Ceiling lightd (CFL's)
* 1 desk light (CFL)

That's about it.

Questions:
So I have set out to answers these questions:
* How much power does my office consume
* How much does it cost to run my office
* What are the potential gains on reducing energy in my office

Equipment:
 The equipment I will be using for my energy audit investigation includes
* Computer (ironic?)
* Spreadsheets (google docs / Open Office)
* Web related research
* EM100 Energy meter (Canadian Tire)
       * There are 171 Kill-a-Watt meters available through the Ottawa Public Library (press release)



Abreviations:

V- Volts
A- Amps
mA = miliamps
W- Watts
kWh- Killowatt Hours
h- hours
* - multiply
/ - divide



Equations:

W=V x A
A = 1000 mA
kWh = W * h /1000


Desktop Computer:
So today's investigation is concerning my computer. Because I built this system from a bare bones kit from Tiger Direct there is no model number. I would have to itemize each component. That is out of scope for this post.

After 17.75 hours of moniotring I found the following info from the meter:
Voltage (V): 123 (snapshot in time)
Current (A): 1.6 (snapshot)
Max Current (A): 1.95 (over time)
Power (W): 6 (snapshot)
Max Wattage (W): 204
Time (hrs): 17.75 (@ 0.065/kWh)
Cost ($): 0.023



So we learn a few things from these numbers. First computers range in current and thus power consumption over time. Therefore any snapshot generalized over time will be less than accurate.

I ran the meter for an hour yesterday and then let it run over night, and probably for the rest of today. The longer sample time you have the more accurate your forecasting will be. This exemplifies the benefit of having an energy meter like the EM100 or Kill-A-Watt meter.

Second, we learn that snapshots also fail us perhaps with the math.

1.6A x 123V = 196.8 W

The meter says it is only consuming 6 W of power, but the math suggests it should be closer to 196.8 W. I have to better understand this meter and how to use it. The next lesson here besides learning the gear is to double check your assumptions.

The next thing to consider is that we purchase power by the kWh, not by the instance of consumption. So we take:

196.8W * 1 h /1000 = 0.1968 kWh

0.1968 kWh * $0.065/kWh = $0.012792

$0.012792 * 24 h = $0.307008 (31 cents/day)

However, if we assume the meter is accurate with the cost estimate then lets use this.

17.75 hrs = $0.023
1 h = 0.023/17.75
1 h = 0.001295775
1 day =  0.001295775 * 24 h
1 day= $0.031

so my math using a snapshot compared to the meter over time is off by a factor of 10. otherwise, my math failed somewhere (quite possible). So it either costs my 3.1 cents or 30 cents a day to run my computer.

I will assume that someone smarter than I and better at math than I designed the EM100 and will conclude it costs me 3.1 cents a day to run my computer.


Annually = $11.35
Monthly = $0.95

As this is an insignificant percentage of my monthly bill I will assume this is not a big issue.


Monitors
I run dual monitor setup. For those of you not familiar with this set up, essentially I have two monitors where the desktop spans two screens. If you spend a lot of time with computer related projects I would recomend a dual screen layout.

For anyone spending much time in the tech industry doing application development, data processing, Computer Aided Design, Graphic Arts, or spend any amount of time at the Command Line Interface.

I took the EM100 and did a couple of things. I have both moniotrs hooked into a powerbar for surge protection. This is a different power bar than my computer and other peripherals. Some suggest this delivers cleaner power to the monitors and reduces flickering.

First I attached each monitor individually and came up with similar readings. They are Both he same HD Monitor make and model by eMachines. These readings came back:
V: 123
A: 0.25
W: 30.75
kWh:0.03075

Assuming that monitors do not fluctuate much (a little surge on power up) we can use these numbers to estimate an hourly usage:

0.03075kWh * $0.065/kWh = $0.00199 (0.2 cents)

Lets assume my monitors are on an average of 4 hours a day:

4 h * 0.00199 = $0.008
Annually = $2.92
Monthly = $0.24

Now multiply that by two for a dual monitor setup:

4 h * 0.00199 *2 = $0.016
Annually = $5.84
Monthly = $0.48



To compare with a computer running 24 hrs a day:

24 h * 0.00199 *2 = $0.09552
annually = 

Therefore 1.7 cents difference between running

Conclusions:
The purpose of this blog was to start investigating my energy usage. I started with something I use all the time and an appliance that runs all the time (computer). This was my first intro into doing an energy audit. I had to review some basic high school physics

Running a computer 24hrs a day with monitors tunred off is not a significant consumption of power. The cost of running a computer as a server at home is cheaper than using external hosting services. The fact that servers are running in a virtual environment on one physical box may also contribute to savings.

Running monitors when not in use is a significant consumption of power. It is easy enough to turn the monitors off or flip a switch on a power bar before you leave your computer.

Unfortunately I already turn off my monitors before I leave the computer and the computer needs to remain on for it runs servers that are required by others. So I do not see any opportunities in changed behavior in order to reduce consumption or costs.

The peripherals such as scanner/printer, wireless mouse and keyboard, desktop speakers and DSL modem will be investigated later. We may or may not be surprised.

The rest of the room such as desktop lights, ceiling lights, and ceiling fan may not represent much savings. The lights are turned on when required and are all Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL's). The ceiling fan will be hard to figure out and might need a volt meter on the switch. In any case ceiling fans are recommended to help decrease heating and cooling costs.

In conclusion we discovered that a computer and 2 LCD monitors is not all that much to operate:
Monthly: $0.48 + $0.95 = $1.43
Annually: $17.16

On to the next location in the house. I am wondering about our fridge.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Initial Energy Audit: What happend to my electricity bill?

My Latest Electricity Bill...



Well the time has come where we are getting closer to paying the true cost of power. Despite my confusion in my recent bill, in general I am one of those crazy people who believes we should be paying a higher cost for our power. A cost that represents the true cost of electricity for one. So despite peoples attempt of making this into a political issue I will try and make sense of it.

I find that if I understand an issue more then my resistance to the change is lowered. And if I understand what my options are then I will be more willing to change my behaviour. My end goal is to pay less for electricity while learning how I can decrease my usage.

Last months energy bill from Ottawa Hydro spiked out at a whopping $339.57 from July to September. This is a big jump almost doubling our usual bill ($176 to $339 = $163). And for a household of 2 people this is getting a little ridiculous. For a tree hugging techie environmentalist this is also confusing. So of course it is worth checking into.

Maybe there is a leak in our power lines and we are electrifying our grass blades. I thought our lush lawn was due to the compost and ample rain this summer.

Even though our bill almost doubled (92% increase) our usage did not double. It went from 2046 kHh (Killawatt Hours) to 2438. This is a change of 392 kWh or 20%. So this raised a question why so high. So of course I call Ottawa Hydro and these were the following reasons for they gave for the increase.

* Everyone's bill increased due to air conditioning usage
* The HST now applies to Electricity
* We are billed extra outside our base 1200kWh at a higher rate
* Rates increased in May

So lets look at these and see where the issue is. Beyond this point I assume no responsibility for any of the math. I like to keep things simple (lots of rounding). A decimal point here and there can alter things substantially. I highly recommend you verify the math and apply it to your own bill. The idea here is to highlight where the changes are coming from.

Furthermore, with respect to the equations I am not trying to replicate the info on the bill. I am trying to learn what is not on the bill. There are many elements that have affected my bill so many assumptions are made. For instance I use mainly the current rates for comparison. A proper scientific approach would be to calculate a new bill for each of the variables listed above. This may help you, but I am trying to move on quickly from a sore spot on my bill.

Air Conditioning
Our air conditioning usage did probably increase, this is a challenge to track as it is automatic. We do however adjust for day and night usage and also for weekend usage. We thought this was going to decrease costs, so perhaps we would have been worse off without this change. I would like to learn more about tracking our use of AC and also heating and Hot water (heating and Hot water are Gas related issues for another blog).

Did we double our air conditioning usage though? If we did that would be reflected in an increase in kWh of which only changed by 20%. At the increased premium above 1200 kWh that would work out to 392 kWh * $.075/kWh = $29. So we are not quite there yet.

Lets assume for a moment that all of our other habits remain the same, a change in air conditioning usage only accounts for $29 increase or 18% increase in cost. Where are the other $134?

Inclusion of HST in Electricity Bill
So of course we had the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) added to the electricity bill. But do remember we already had taxes applied to our electrivity bill. Ottawa Hydro did warn us of this additional tax in the Summer issue of their Currents publication.

So before HST we paid 5% in tax and now we pay %13. So a change of 8%. If we apply this to our total usage of 2438kWh at a rate of $.075 then we see that we now pay an extra $14.63 . So this $14.63 increase is roughly 8.9% of our new bill. So we are still hunting for $119.37

Changed Electricity rates

The Ontario Energy Board sets both natural gas and electricity rates in our province. You can check out current and historical rates through their website.

At a glance

Date > Lower Tier (cents)> Tier Threshold (kWh) > Higher Tier (cents)
May 1, 2010 > 6.5 > 600 > 7.5
Nov 1, 2009 > 5.8 > 1000 > 6.7

These rates change throughout in May and November. Check their site for more historical prices. But for now back to our situation. So lets assume we are looking at cost for the upper tier to keep things simple. We increased 392 kWh from 6.5 cents to 7.5 cents and 5.8 to 6.7. That is an increase of $0.0080 per kWh for the first 600kWh and $0.0090 for the second tier.

This represents an extra $9.60 on our first tier and $11.14 on our second tier. In total the increased rates represents approx $20.75 on (12.7%) or our new bill. So we are now hunting for $98.62

Other Charges
Well we addressed for the mian part the three main reasons cited by the person on the phone at Ottawa Hydro being increased hydro usage due to Air conditioning (18%), HST (8.9%) and increased rates (12.7%). For the remaining $98.62 (60%) of the bill we look at the extra charges section. This includes Delivery Charges, Regulatory charges and Debt retirement. HST is listed as an extra charge but we already looked at that one.

Delivery Charges increased from $52.62 to $96.03 (83% increase)
Regulatory Charges increased from $7.71 to $17.26 (123% increase)
Debt Retirement charges increased from $7.81 to $16.36 (109% Increase)

So these two fees I don't quite understand. I look at the back of the bill and they provide "explanations". There is a severe lack of info such as  a basic equation. So I check out the Ottawa Hydro Rates and Conditions site to find some more info.

Delivery Charges
Transmission                                         $0.0109/kWh
Hydro Ottawa Delivery                           $0.0206/kWh
Hydro Ottawa Fixed Charge                    $10.20/month
Low Voltage Services Charge                  $0.0002/kWh
Total:                                                    $10.20 + $0.0317/kWh

My bill should be: $97.69
My bill is : $96.03

A possible math error on my part (should use a spread sheet next time). Almost forgot that I got charged $10.02 twiche for the two month period

Regulatory Charges
Regulatory Charges: $0.0068725/kWh
Admin fee: $0.25

My bill should be and is: 17.26

Again, almost forgot the second 25 cent admin fee. But I guess my math isn't that bad after all.

Debt Retirement
Debt Retirement Charge                           $0.00694/kWh

my bill should be $16.92
bill is: $16.35

This difference must be in the amount of decimals they carry or something in their calculations. A $0.57 gift is alright I guess. But I wish things would be consistent so my math works out so I can better understand what is happening.


Conclusion

This is the most in depth I have ever looked at a hydro bill. Perhaps the most thorough look at any utility bill.

After this excercise though I am curious if I can replicate the numbers in a spread sheet. As I mentioned above a more accurate scientific approach would be to evaluate the change of one variable at a time. So maybe some day I will do that and see what variable changes the bill the most.

The HST is here to stay so that won't change in the future I hope. This is something I have no control over, so maybe looking at my income tax to find some mechanism to increase my tax credits can offset this.

The rate changes will continue to increase over time, so that is to be expected. This is something else I can not control. So maybe I need to start getting some energy stock that can help offset the increase in costs. I think they call this a hedge fund.

The amount of energy I consume seems to be the only thing in my control. This opens up many questions related to how I can decrease my energy costs. So I started an energy audit of my house today and will share some findings as time goes on.

My first finding that I will share is my computer. After gathering numbers from a EM100 Energy meter for 5 hours I learned my computer, running 24 hours a day for a year costs a mere $5. This is ok because I run a virtual machine on it for my non-profit Computers for Communities. So I consider that a donation for operating costs. Much cheaper than web hosting, even if I upgrade to using a UPS.

So let the hunt begin for the power monsters in my house. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Python helps non-profit Process Structured E-mail applications

One of my sideline gigs is that of founder and Executive Director of Computers for Communities (Canada). As a start up non-profit I often find myself playing many rolls. We have done a great job recruiting skilled and motivated volunteers that have helped out with so much.

Even though we continue to recruit more volunteers there are still the regular communications that need to occur. For me I currently receive 10-20 new volunteer inquiries a week. This is largely due to our membership with Volunteer Ottawa. They provide us a venue to market our volunteer opportunities to a large pool of volunteers.

The process is quite ingenious. We pay a modest membership fee and in turn we get access to a pool of volunteers. We get a chance to post our volunteer opportunities and volunteers find us through various search criteria.

If they find a position they are interested in they click APPLY and an e-mail is sent off into the web for the gnomes to carry around. They happen to ultimately land in one of my many e-mail boxes. Each e-mail needs a prompt response or else we might loose a volunteer before meeting them.

As the opportunities grew so did my e-mail pile. Since we posted opportunities in January we have received over 100 inquiries.

I started with individual responses to each inquiry. That is after all important right? Sure is. But at the cost of a couple minutes per e-mail. Then I track all the volunteer info in a spread sheet, which takes another couple of minutes. So lets say 5 minutes (easy) per email and 15 emails a week. that is 75 minutes a week replying to volunteer applications. Then there are the other tasks a director and president need to handle to keep an organization going.

My first streamlining was to compose generic responses. I would then go through a process of :
* Open e-mail
* copy name, paste to spreadsheet
* copy phone number, paste
* copy email
* open new e-mail,
* open canned response
* cut response,
* paste in e-mail
* copy e-mail address
* paste in TO field
* send e-mail

I got pretty good at this, and having dual monitors help. But still 2-3 minutes per email and 30-60 minutes a week.

There had to be a better way. The short answer is there was....

I drew on my experience of automating repeatable tasks using a scripting language called Python. I had never worked with e-mails in Python before so this was a great learning opportunity. Python is free, it is open source, it works on PC, MAC and of course Linux Operating Systems. Python works great on a desktop computer ( I use Ubuntu Desktop) or can be run from a server.

I won't go into too much technical details (maybe another blog topic) but with Python I was able to automate the whole process. Now the e-mail application gets sent in, my e-mail client (Evolution) send it to the right folder and passes the contents of the email to the python script.

The volunteer applications sent from the Volunteer Ottawa system are e-mails that are all formatted the same. The same headers, paragraphs and line starts with headings such as "name:", "e-mail", etc...

The python script does the following:
* Parses the e-mail for all the needed information
* Dumps the gathered info into a CSV (Comma Separated Value) file, easily brought into any spreadsheet or database
* Evaluates what position the volunteer applied for
* Gets the pre-canned text based on position they applied for
* Generates an email addressing the volunteer by their name and referencing their position
* Sends out the email through google mail and to the volunteer.
* marks the incoming e-mail as read.
* sends me a confirmation that the e-mail was sent.

A few hours of putting together the pieces and voila I reclaim an hour an week for other things.

If you are interested in learning more about the script then leave a comment. If there is interest then I will follow up with another blog detailing some of the ins and outs of this script.

If other groups using Volunteer Ottawa want to collaborate I am willing to open the code and work with other volunteers to generalize the code so other groups can free up their time.

Check out Python the next time you have a task to automate.

Cheers

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Job Hunting Conclusion: How I Landed My New Job

This is a follow up post to my previous Job hunting 1 of 2 and Job Hunting 2 of 2 blog posts.

For those who tripped across my 2 part blog post on the trials and tribulations of job hunting I am glad to report that I have accepted a new full time indeterminate position with the Government of Canada. I have been in the new position since early May. All the work I put into my job hunting was well worth the effort as my new job has re-invigorated me in my career. I hope others get the same opportunity.

I explain a bit about my new position at http://davidsampson.ca.

As Canada's economy is starting to bounce back I still see many professional and personal contacts struggling to either find work or find meaningful and rewarding work.

Sometimes you have to find a job for the sake of a job to pay the bills. I have had few of these throughout my bouncy career(s) but I have had them. They act as jumping off points to new opportunities. Now I feel as though I have a job that fits me, and one that I have the flexibility to evolve with over time.

So what was the secret to landing this job? What was the golden key? The one thing that above all else will work 100% of the time. Good question!

I don't know the one thing but I will share my approach.

What follows is not the perfect recipe, just a documentation of some of the tactics I used.

1. GET PUMPED:
Face it, job hunting sucks, its no fun, you feel low, it causes depression (if you are not careful) and is hard work. So you need to get psyched, pumped and GIVR hard. For me, when I telemark ski I can stand at the top of a slope and get pumped, this is needed when you are pushing the envelope with floppy heels. I also need to pump myself up sometimes before I teach with the Freeheelers United ski school. Even though I love teaching and I would be missing something without it I still need to prime my motivational pump before being in the limelight.

So GET PUMPED and get ready for a roller coaster ride. And don't stop until you win the lottery (unlikely) or find a job (YOU WILL FIND A JOB).

I pulled out the same approach I have used in the past, I set silly goals and make it a game. That's right, a game.

2. The numbers Game:
Many resources will give two sides of this approach. First, some sources say it is a game of stats, the more you dump your resume, eventually you are bound to find something. The other side says to build a strategy and be selective and focus your energy. Well I used both. You make a massive list of select contacts and leads and start knocking them off. And you build as you go. Each contact you meet should provide at least 2 other contacts.

I set silly limits like:
* 10 cold phone calls a week
* 3 informational interviews a day
* build a Contact List of 100 direct or indirect members of your network
* build a list of 300 potential companies (use the Industry Canada search)

There is no method to this approach, the idea is to pick a number, achive the goal and set a newer and higher number. Since my last job search included distributing 300 resumes, 17 informational interviews, 5 job interviews, 1 test (with close to 200 other people) and 1 job, I knew I had to go big again. And really those numbers were pretty straight forward to hit.

I was blown away how quickly my list grew compared to the last time I did this approach though. What is different? Last time I had more time and built it slowly. This time my network that I built every day on the job paid off in spades. In fact some of the contacts I made 3 years ago I went back to this time around. Having a professional and personal network is key, and you have to build it slowly over time and nurture it like a vegetable garden. When you are unemployed or your contract is nearing the end you harvest the fruits of your labour.

Think of your professional networks as a cash crop. Don;t ignore it or else it will wither and die. Don't over harvest or it gets stressed.

3. Get other people working for you:
This may sound lazy, and it may very well be, but it works. Let people know you are looking for work, get them to help you find leads. Ask them if they know anyone that does what you want to do, ask for 10 minutes of their time. Everyone has 10 minutes to share their story. This sometimes turns into 30 minutes, an hour and in my case it eventually led to a job offer.

4. Go public:
Job hunting sucks, and telling the world may feel like defeat. However, the world wants to help. Have you ever helped a complete stranger cross the street, pick up something they dropped or just volunteer for the fun of it. It felt good maybe? Well let others help you, it makes them feel good, it can help get you a job which then makes you feel good again. Then you can give back or thank those that helped you, and then they feel good again.

Imagine paying someone a dollar to receive two in return. Let people give you the first dollar and they will feel good about themselves twice. People like to help other people. It gives them purpose and fulfillment.

5. Build your web personal web presence:
One approach I used was to seriously build a person web site as a marketing tool. I happened to find my name available as a domain name, and so davidsampson.ca became my brand. I plan to keep it for many years to come. After you have a job, update it (I took a few extra weeks, ok months to update mine), then leave it and let it continue building your network.

Some may think a web site is a lot of work for little return. It worked for me to have a site. I actually had a request the other week for a position with a GIS firm in Vancouver. They saw I was an avid member the GRASS community of Open Source GIS users and they found my community profile. My profile pointed to my site, they grabbed my contact info and sent me a request for an interview. So that worked. I just happened to have already landed a job, but it did eventually work. Sometimes these things take time.

6. Brush up on some skills:
A note about my site . It still requires some touch up and is not perfect, or flashy. It serves its purpose.

I took the hard route and coded raw HTML. There are many easier routes, but I had a purpose to my approach, I actually took it as a profeesional development excercise to get familiar with the latest version of HTML markup XHTML. In my day to day job we work with applications on the web that produce their own code or are based on content management systems. Otherwise we prototype without much thought to visual design. So I thought I would re-learn the basics.

I also taught myself basic styling of web pages using CSS. When I first learned HTML the styling was included in the code, now it is separate.

Your Internet service provider (ISP) should provide minimal web space. If not then consider joining a community based Internet service provider like National Capital Freenet in Ottawa. They offer all of their members to publish free web pages. Their DSL service is also inexpensive ($30.95 as of July 1, 2010) for a decent speed (5Mb) and ample download limits (200GB/month). They are also one of the last remaining ISP's offering Dialup modem pools.

So take your pending unemployment as a chance to brush up on your skills, develop new ones and build your web presence.

7. Volunteer:
Job hunting is a full time job, but even with a full time job we need a break. Volunteering helped me get out of the house and away from thinking about job hunting, somewhat.

My ongoing side project is starting up a community technology non-profit group called Computers for Communities (C4C). This takes a lot of my time, anywhere from 5-20 hours a week. Every second Sunday I show up to the hands on workshops and interact directly with the volunteers. This was a great way to get away from it all.

From the flip side, or the volunteers perspective at C4C, we get many people looking to volunteer to get their first Canadian work experience. They already know some of the value of volunteering. The fact some of these bright minds can't find work, blows me away. It is not a reflection of their abilities. It just highlights that finding a job is hard. Sometimes harder than the job itself.

Due to their volunteering activities I get to learn more about them as people and what their passions are. Eventually we forge a trust, and next thing you know I am being contacted as a reference for an interview. Acting as a reference has the added benefit of raising your profile and building your network. Although volunteers are not employees, when I am called to act as a character reference others view me in the same light as another employer. This is actualy building my network while helping to forge the network of the volunteer. We both win.

So go out there and volunteer, it will open many doors. If you are in Ottawa check out Volunteer Ottawa for a listing of opportunities. If you want to learn more about computers here is a list of opportunities at Computers for Communities.

8. Set up a Job finding club:
So I double dipped on this one. Computers for Communities attracts many people in the technology sector either between jobs or looking for new work. It also attracts high school students wanting to get the volunteer hours they need to graduate. C4C also has a growing number of fresh university and college graduates looking to build their resume. So every 2 weeks I encouraged people to bring their resumes and share their experience. The ball was picked up by a couple of people and so we kept it rolling.

Even after having landed a job I am still helping to mentor a couple of newcomers to Ottawa and Canada find their dream jobs by teaching them what I have learned through my most recent foray in the job hunting market.

Those silly numbers above that I used? I now pass them on as "assignments" for other job hunters. Some think it is silly and don't follow up, others smile, laugh and bite. They must think I am crazy. But eventually I am convinced it will pay off.

9. Go to the library
Many people are not educated in the art of finding work. They don't offer Job Hunting 101 at school that I know of. You don;t have to spend a lot of money to get an education. Your local library has a free education in job hunting waiting on its shelves.

The Ottawa Public Library (OPL) has many books worth getting for job hunting. Go to your library and check it out. The OPL lets you build lists to share with others, check out my Job hunting resource list. I highly recommend reading What Color is Your Parachute, the companion workbook, and Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters

I am not a book worm, but I love the library. Free books, free manuals, free music, free movies, and now I am exploring their digital audio books. I have taught myself film and digital photography, computer programming, the Linux Operating system, computer repair, fund raising and how to start a non-profit all from books at the library. I even watched all the Shakespeare videos I could borrow because I figured high school butchered these plays that were supposed to be viewed, not read.

I am blown away how many people I know do not have a library card. If the Ottawa public Library is not a wide enough selection then what about Government libraries and those at universities and colleges. The Ottawa Public Library Smart Card will get you access to all the industry research, government reports and fascinating journals you can shake a stick at. The Smart Card is your universal library pass to many other libraries in Ottawa.

10. Buy some books
For me, my golden purchase was Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters (GM4JH). Many of the ideas I used came from this book. Some of the others came from a job finding club I belonged to 3 years ago.

There were more ideas than I could possibly use at once. They actually recommended picking a handful of approaches and not trying to do everything. I am comfortable with the web but never used is as a marketing tool, so their suggestions helped me exploit the net as one of many approaches I used. To see what web resources I exploited check out my networks.

Notice how I improvised and used some of the Canadian Governments professional networking tools such as GC Pedia, GC Connex, and GC Forums? These internal networks were great for networking with new government professionals. It also gave me a place to put my professional resume aimed at government opportunities in PDF form. This way I just had to share a link of my resume in e-mails instead of attaching PDF's that may get lost, deleted or forgotten.

The motivation for developing an online brand at http://davidsampson.ca came from GM4JH. It also houses many versions of my resume, each with a specific purpose. The idea of starting this Blog came from there. Updating my facebook, creating linked in account, starting a twitter feed and claiming my profiles at zoom info; of which there were four already, were all ideas from this book.

The authors of this book said that once we find a job we are to share our experience. So I am concluding my job hunting saga by following their request and sharing my experience to help others.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Job hunting 2 of 2

Job hunting 2 of 2:

This blog post started off as a friendly post to the Computers for Communities volunteer mailing list and grew into a small rant and now into 2 blog postings.

The original post (found here: http://list.openconcept.ca/sympa/arc/c4c/2010-04/msg00019.html )

Hey Folks,

As C4C in its by-laws has a component for skills development I thought a short post concerning job Hunting might be of use. It is also handy that I can speak from a personal perspective as I will be out of work on May 14, 2010. I am optimistic I will find work before then, and I would like to share with you what I know about job hunting.

I know from talking with many people on this list, and also the many new potential volunteers, one of the key things people are looking for from their experience at C4C is to build experience to add to their resume so they can either get a job because they are unemployed, or are looking to develop different skill sets so they can move up in their career.

I have shared with some of you already that I have been job hunting since the beginning of March (2010). During this time I still have work as I finish off my term employment with Natural Resources Canada. On the side my usual hoby is getting Computers for Communities off the ground, but right now I am a full time job hunter. A special thanks to the other volunteers who have stepped up to help out in this crunch time so C4C continues to opperate while I find a new job so I can get back to working on C4C.

If you are in the same job hunting boat looking for a job you are not alone. My post became a little long so I turned it into a blog. A blog dedicated to all the C4C job hunters out there and job hunters in general.

Check it out to find out about some of the books I recommend and a bit about my own experience.

...........

So I thought a job hunting post might be good for anyone looking to earn some extra cash or land their next dream job. If you are not looking maybe you can share any tips or tricks that have helkped you in the past.

Seeing as this list is focused on technology the key here is that looking for work in the knowledge worker domain may be different than others.

In brief, if you want to network this Sunday at our workshop (http://tinyurl.com/c4c-events) bring some resumes, print off some business cards and let people know you are looking. Read the books mentioned bellow, and turn despair into a job. If you want some motivation, read on.

Keep in mind the fact that you come out and volunteer on your weekends, work hard and have lots to contribute to C4C makes you marketable for your dream job. However, if no one knows about this hard work how are they going to offer you your dream job. I would expect to see your volunteer work highlighted in your resume.

If you job hunt alone, you will last 2 weeks of job hunting before getting extremely stressed and probably depressed. This happens to the best of us, even us high energy keeners and big dreamers, it sucks when we crash. So avoid the crash. If you have some help you will last 2 months. If you build an army you can last 2 years looking for work. But with an army you will find your dream job in far less than 2 years.

I have always known that without technology, the job hunting process is even harder. In my jobs I have saved 1000's of dollars for employers by leveraging technology. I have increased productivity by factors of 10's by leveraging technology. So why should my job hunting be any different?

When I step out of the house to go meet someone I must make sure that all the tech tools are working 10 times harder so I don't have to. I think of job hunting as something that should take care of itself. Just like a Python script that will automate a process I want to automate my job hunting. But first you need to invest and build the system. Better yet, build as you go.

All through my youth and after University I was almost a professional job hunter. I would get contracts here and there for months at a time so I was constantly on the look out. This time is only different in that I have more experience and know a bit better what I want out of a job. I have also refined my tactics.

If anyone wants to talk about Job hunting or do some networking with the group on Sundays by all means, make it happen. Maybe the job I am looking for someone else already knows about.Maybe they have found a posting for my dream job but they are not qualified or interested, so they ignore it. Maybe one of my contacts is looking for someone just like you, and I am not the right fit and i don't know you are looking. having talked with over 20 people in the last month I have come across lots of opportunities that don't fit me. I pass them to to those I know and trust or discard them and move on to the next target.

As well as networking, part of what I find works best, is not to do what your high school guidance counsellor taught you. Don't only look for job postings and wait for your job to come your way and be called for an interview. They call it JOB HUNTING for a reason. You have to go hunt. It is not called JOB WAITING. Once a job is advertised you are competing with everyone else that sees the add. You need to find the job BEFORE it gets posted.

Think of a big game hunter, maybe hunting for a lion. The hunter does not lie down in their tent and wait for the lion to lie down next to them, roll over and let their belly get cut by a knife. There is a hunt. You are the hunter. Your dream employer is the Lion. Go after it. Better yet, devise a plan and execute it. Don't run all over the jungle, you'll tire, starve and die. Think it out.

Two books I highly recommend for developing your plan and add different tools to your arsenal include:

First off check out "what color is your parachute". Should by a copy in the library and I bought the most recent at chapters. This helps define your key characteristics. I found it quite handy because I always thought of myself as a generalist and jack of all trades. "So what I can program in Python" I would think. This books helped to bring my key qualities to the surface. I am a problem solver, and the Python language helps me as a tool to solve tech problems. I am an idea generator, problem solver and initiator. I am not a maintainer, and sometimes I am a poor follower.

So i need to match my job to what I can offer. I now market myself as a problem solver, project manager and innovator working towards middle management.

Second, "Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 2.0" (GM4JH). When I started Computers for Communities (previously Free Geek Ottawa), I got a hold of another book from the same folks "Guerrilla P.R 2.0". That book helped us as a group get the organization off the ground and word on the street.

It worked so effectively in fact I quickly filled my garage with computers to the roof and ran out of working space. I then used the same tactics to develop the partnership with Boys and Girls Club. We have now outgrown that location. So these tactics worked once. I was curious how it could help my job hunting.

GM4JH has helped me refine my job hunting tactics this time around. The job market has changed since I last looked for work. When I was in university all my buddies were getting high tech jobs that were well paid. I chose a canoe and the wilderness for 4 months of the year.

After school, I jumped around to contracts and short term gigs. Now i have a wife, a house, pets and bills. The game has changed, I needed to learn how to play. That is where GM4JH comes in.

Many of the tools in GM4JH rely on the internet, but only to facilitate you hitting the pavement, getting the face time and making the phone calls. They are too numerous to go through all of them but I will highlight a couple.

I started with revamping my website (hosted by http://nfc.ca) and grabbed my own domain (still in the works). You do not need your own domain, but for $12 or something for the year a new salary will pay that off when I get a job. Check it out:

http://davidsampson.ca

One interesting thing is I receive an e-mail every day with a new video or audio clip or key website as a bonus which is kinda handy. A great bonus included with the purchase of the book. They have even let me share some with you.

This was in todays e-mail "The 30 Day Job Search":
http://bit.ly/UhhsM

This was yesterdays e-mail video of building the ultimate "Guerrilla Resume":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7X6vgEPGas

Lets just say I no longer have a 7 page resume. It was tough letting the long resume die (or at least for now). That resume got me into numerous competitive processes and landed 4 years at NRCAN which were great. I started as an EG-02 and finished up as a PC-02. So a 7 page, in-depth resume works for automated job processes. It does not work for humans.

The books all say the same thing, but I wasn;t buying that a shorter resume would get me more jobs. Here is what taught me that lesson.

A number of months before receiving my letter of termination, I posted volunteer positions for Computers for Communities on the Volunteer Ottawa website (http://www.volunteerottawa.ca/vo-clean/index.php?/eng/i_want_to_volunteer/community_organizations&startwith=&agencyId=867)
As founder, president and CEO of Computers for Communities I wanted to find more volunteers, my target was to grow from 30 to 100 volunteers. So the volunteer postings made sense.

I started receiving resumes, cover letters, references and though it would be great until people sent me their resumes that looked like mine. A month later I was also looking for opportunities of my own and started reading GM4JH. I thought my resume was fine despite what all the books said.

I quickly learned why no human would want to

So I asked managers and co-workers to provide feedback. They kept saying, cut it down, focus, narrow in.

But I do offer multiple resumes in different formats. including one you can see in google earth (KML). Eventually it will show all my locations where I have worked.

http://davidsampson.ca/resume.html

I also developed a fresh outlook on all these gimiky social networking tools that are out there. I now understand how to make them market me and make them hunt for work while I am out on the street meeting with people.

Marketing yourself effectively using todays social network tools is not playing on facebook for 2 hours, but having an effective and consistent PROFESSIONAL network of people that can help you. Now I actualy use those networking tools for networking. I have met with people I had in my networks who work for the companies I want to work for or learn more about

Check my current networks. Each one fulfils a different need. GM4JH explains more:

http://davidsampson.ca/networks.html

When I started this process I googled myself and it took a while to find me. I had bits and pieces all spread out. Now when I google "David Sampson Ottawa" I show up as the second hit for twitter, and fourth hit for Linked in. A few more tweaks and I think I can get my website to the number 1 slot. "David Sampson Canada" I am the first hit with my Linked in Profile, which is linked to my site and my resume. And "David Sampson Resume" I am also the first hit.

Employers and headhunters have lots of tools to use to reasearch you before they ever consider calling you back or responding to an e-mail. Why not control what they learn about you.

Yesterday alone I was talking with 4 people in a position to either offer me a job or provide more networks and contacts. I have a call list of about 50 people right now and it grows by 5-10 people with every new person I meet to talk with.

My last Job hunt included 300 Resumes, 17 cold calls and 10 informational interviews. The result led to finishing off a buddies contract with the government as he went back to school. That experience led to 3 years of term work with Natural Resources Canada.

This time around I trust I will find my next dream job.

So if you want to network this Sunday bring some resumes, print off some business cards and let people know you are looking. Read the above books, and turn despair into a job. The fact you come out an volunteer, work hard and have lots to contribute to C4C makes you marketable for your dream job. If you do it alone, you will last 2 weeks of job hunting. have some help you will last 2 months, build an army and you can last 2 years looking for work, but will find your dream job in far less than that.

See you Sunday