Stolen Identity and Next Steps

Well, it’s finally happened. Some enterprising twat has used my identity to do something naughty and it’s causing no small amount of consternation.

Like many in Washington, my information was used to file a false unemployment claim.  Some pseudo-human got hold of my social security number and my email, went to the ESD, and said they were me and that I was unemployed and “I can haz money now?”  I heard about this from my employer, who wanted to know if I really had filed for unemployment, while still employed.

  • Of course I couldn’t concentrate on anything after reading that email.
  • Of course I went and put a credit freeze with all three bureaus.
  • Of course I changed all my passwords.
  • Of course I filed this as a fraudulent claim with the ESD.

There’s a couple more things I didn’t realize I should do (that I have since done):

  • I have filed a police report (this can be done online!).
  • I’ve documented it with the FTC.

Going through all of this is a hassle of course, and on top of other things right now it’s quite unwelcome. Here’s the thing: I have resources, and time, and a really great employer who identified it and let me know it was happening, along with specific guidance on what to do next.  Given the size of this fraud (there’s thousands of fraudulent claims for state of WA right now) there are literally thousands of people dealing with this, and not all have time to deal with it or guidance to deal with it. So, if you or someone you know has discovered some sort of identity fraud, here’s some links and things to do:

  1. Put a credit freeze (free to do, and can be done online) on your credit with Equifax(yes, that Equifax), Experian, and TransUnion.
  2. File a fraudulent claim with the entity that was defrauded (in my case, it was the Washington state employment office– and it was filed online)
  3. File a police report (also online, non-emergency).
  4. Document it (online!) with the FTC.
  5. Call (or email, or go online) your banks and let them know, so they can guard on their end.
  6. Change all your passwords and/or your password algorithm.

Will this make you bulletproof to future fraud? No — shit can still happen. (Murphy’s Law is a law for a reason). No sense in making it easier for the assholes that do this.

Advocacy

The freeway between Centralia and Vancouver, WA is actually quite pretty, despite the gray drizzle that is the hallmark of October through April in Washington. Either side of the freeway is lined with trees, broken up occasionally by pastoral lands and the occasional body of water. The morning drive was shortly after dawn, the evening drive at night: without the benefit of scenery I listened to Snap Judgment podcasts.

I was bouncing between these two fair cities because my mother lives near one, and the 2014 Annual Washington State PTA Legislative Assembly was in the other. This is a departure from previous years, where the Assembly has been held in Seattle; in an effort to make things more equitable for non-Puget Sound schools the PTA has moved the event. Although to be frank I’m not certain how moving it to a far corner of the state benefits most. If we want to put everyone to equal inconvenience, I think we should hold it in Yakima next year. It’s wine season then, and odd years are not voting years.

The purpose of the two-day Assembly is to have representatives from each school PTA across Washington caucus and vote on the top issues the PTA Legislative Team will work on in the coming two years. To clarify: Of the 15 issues presented, we pick the top 5, which represent where the lobbying dollars and effort go.  There are educational opportunities as well – yours truly attended an eye-opening seminar on the capital budgeting process used by school district to figure out what they need in and for a new school – but the primary focus is to get together and vote your conscience or your constituency, and to influence others to vote your way.

It is an exercise in diplomacy that I find a constant challenge.

My school had four issues it cared very, very much about; the largest overlap with my own concerns was Funding McCleary. (To read more about McCleary, see this. And maybe this too.) I participated in a caucus and I opened my mouth to indicate that people like facts and data to support rhetoric; I found myself then scheduled to speak at the microphone at night. It was slightly over one minute, I spent it reminding myself that I should not speak too quickly, and I pelted people with facts.  I was one of 4 “pro” speakers, and there was 1 “con” speaker… and only one “no” vote at the end of the day.

When given an assignment to publicly speak I find that I don’t do it well on my feet. I spend hours finding data, drafting text, practicing, rehearsing, etc. In previous jobs where I had to present in front of 80 or 100 people I would carefully prepare, sometimes days in advance, or sometimes on the redeye between Seattle and London. Extemporaneous speech is not something I am good at, and it makes me sick to my stomach for the period immediately preceding and following.

The purpose of advocacy – and of acting as a representative of your school and constituency – is to speak up even when it means you are going to be personally discomfited, to be personally challenged, and to be publicly opposed.  As PTA parents we advocate for kids who are still learning to advocate for themselves, and frankly for an educational society that is often oblivious to their need of advocacy. After my brief spotlight that night I had to call the male person and calm down before I could take the wheel and drive the 100 miles home to my mother’s house.

All-Inclusive

Greetings from my mother’s house, where there is plenty of food, coffee, wine, heat, and relaxation. Except there is no internet.

Because of an eccentricity of where they live, my parents are in a pocket where there’s no easily-accessible internet. There are no cable services here, so nothing to bundle. The phone service does not offer traditional internet but does offer an Air Card, however said Air Card doesn’t like to work with my two laptops and so when I am here I can either tether to my iPhone or elect to go without. Therefore this Sunday morning finds me internetless, with coffee, and a large selection of magazines. I tethered to bring you this rant. You are so very, very happy about this, I can tell.

By virtue of some excess mileage points my parents have subscribed to a variety of magazines, some of which I have historically subscribed to and some that never held much fascination for me (Redbook, anyone?). Buried in the four-inch deep stack I found an old friend, a copy of the latest edition of Money Magazine. Back in my formative twenties (oh, so very long ago) I subscribed, gave up, and re-subscribed in my early thirties. (I followed this pattern with Martha Stewart Magazine, too). The reason for the spotty subscription is simple: after about two years, the content is not new. The same old concepts get recycled and rehashed (here’s how you figure the trade-off in percentages when evaluating interest on debt borrowed vs. money saved!); after a couple of years it’s like watching a predictable movie.

As it has been about six years since my last venture through Money Magazine I opened it with honest curiosity. I can tell you right now, just to ruin this particular feature, that yes, there was very little new content. OK, fine. But here’s what struck me: I am not this magazine’s audience. Not at all. This was driven home in the first five minutes of perusal, and it’s something that either was not made clear in my previous reviews of it, or has changed recently in the editing.

Like this:

The cover is telling me how to reach $1M, 5 best moves to climb to real wealth, etc., all standard personal-finance magazine stuff. So far, so good. The first ad on the inside is for a Mazda, all edgy and black. That’s fairly neutral. The next one is for Capital One, ok, appropriate for a finance mag. Then we have the table of contents, another bank ad, and then the first non-bank, non-car ad? For Axiron, a low-testosterone treatment. A really hot older guy is showing staring off into middle distance as he applies it (it goes on your underarm area, like a roll-on deodorant) and the fact that his arm posture during this is like a man flexing his bicep is not lost on me. The only other picture of him is playing baseball (very, very manfully).  Everything else is tiny letters telling you how to get this to boost your testosterone.

Aside from the dubious joy of seeing a hot guy battling the failings of time this tells me that I am, if I am reading this magazine, somehow interested in this.  Ergo, if I’m male, I may have a testosterone deficiency. If I’m female, my husband obviously may have one: look at how manfully the hot guy is flexing.  In truth I am neither of these things, and this ad alienates me.

But hey, it’s just one ad, so let’s keep reading.

Letter from the Managing Editor (Craig!) telling us to not worry much and be a little happy.  Standard stuff.  Then the write-ins from readers. Nathan, Anu, Jared, Christopher, Jared. All dudes. The Facebook quotes are even more interesting: these are online responses to “Best Money Advice Now”. Cavonta (assuming female here) tells you to fold it up and put it in your pocket (saving). David talks about equity in your company to make real money (strategy). Rachel tells you to learn to cook (spend your money on experiences). Michael tells you to leave emotions out of investment decisions (strategy).  Marina tells you (I kid you not) how to shop (spending again). The message? Strategy is for men, and then how to employ that strategy is for women.

Next ad, T. Rowe Price. Very tastefully done, nice coloring, no humans. As a bank should be.

Next, the advice column: what to do when your boss takes the credit you deserve. Margot, Tom, Randy, Craig, Paul, and Ron all responded (although Margot got to advise first). Margot’s advice was about placating (work it out with your boss and ask them to share a little of the love), and the remainder included strategy on how to get the credit.

Next ad: Angie’s List. Something everyone can use (I don’t use it but they have a nice black and white pic of Angie, talking about authentic reviews and uses).

Then we have an Ad for Mutual of America, about retirement. Who’s in it? Grandpa and grandson at baseball. No one else (aside from some other little male children, in soft-focus in the background) is visible. An article about car insurance, some Q&A, an ad for CFP’s, and now we come to:

CIALIS! Free trial for 30 days. There must be a modeling agency for seriously hot older guys because here’s a different one, arm around his female person (wife? Girlfriend? Friend’s wife? We don’t know, no rings are visible and he is not looking her in the eye, incidentally). And then many little words about how you too can have sex-on-demand again. If you’re a guy. Or a wife with a guy who needs it.

(There’s three pages of small print about the boner medication, flanked by a small ad on Weber Grill’s new REAL GRILLING cookbook.)

A couple more small articles, and then an ad for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Now we have hot older guy number 3, looking at himself in the mirror, wondering about if he has Alzheimer’s or not.

A fluff piece on underwater/waterproof cameras, an ad for GoToMeeting (which I have used) AND HAS WOMEN IN IT, OMG! WOMEN! All with long, straight hair, and an equivalent number of bearded, hipster-looking guys. In the meeting, on the screen, someone named Ted is offering Community Management Certification to lady with straight hair number one. Oh, okay. So it’s okay that she’s in some form of technology; she’s doing something “nice” like Community Management. It’s not like she’s a DEVELOPER, or anything. That said, there’s a nice quote from a CEO named “Wendy” about how useful it is.

I am looking at hot older guy number 4, the first non-white hot older guy, in an ad for a shingles vaccine.  Some small articles on the cost of medicine, an ad for CDW done in all red and white, and then an article on how to split the check.

With your “buddies”.

An ad for the magazine itself, and then “How to tell your kid you’re cutting him off”. Presumably female kids don’t need to be cut off.

Then an ad for Edward Jones, with hot older guy number 5 (we’re back to white), who actually believes the retirement goals his financial advisor is helping him with.

At that point, we were at page 35, about 1/3 of the way through the magazine. There were more hot older guys, there were more ways to feel comfortable about your manhood, how you were going to look after your wife and the grandkids, how to marshal financial decisions while grilling meat and talking sports.

I am not a raving feminist (yet), but it bothers me that a genre I’d consider to be (or need to be) gender-neutral (finance) is in fact, male-oriented, still. This is not expecting to pick up an issue of Deer Hunter magazine or what have you and see equal representation of girls and guys, (or Martha Stewart Mag, for that matter). Fiscal responsibility and interest is not something that should (or does) fall along gender line patterns; the knowledge that one of those Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt ads that help your “digestive tract” would kill off subscriptions of the magazine saddens me.

I do not want a magazine that is female-financially-geared in response. It would be needlessly redundant: a LOT of the articles and content in the magazine, particularly if you haven’t read it before, are useful regardless of your gender (and sometimes, your age). But the ad choices in this latest edition are so ruthlessly targeted it’s something I noticed before my first cup of coffee was through, and overshadowed my interest in what the thing actually had to say.  I didn’t expect a nail-polish ad, or an ad by Revlon or for tampons; but having Grandma at the baseball game would’ve been nice. Maybe having a female in the shingles or Alzheimer’s ad? (Not that I’m wishing shingles or Alzheimer’s on anyone, it’s just one of the few ads that targeted an ailment that isn’t gender-specific).

A lot of magazines, particularly in-print magazines, are worried about subscribers and leverage ad sales in order to keep their magazine afloat. I get that, it’s part of the mixed-revenue model a magazine uses. I’m just wondering at what cost are they placing these ads, for their “desired” audience, and missing a wider audience (that is growing).

Or maybe that’s why all the older guys in the ads are hot.

In Defense of Marissa Mayer

Speaking as a working mother who has an extremely flexible schedule I realize it’s going to be a bit odd that I believe Marissa Mayer is doing exactly what needs to be done in removing work-from-home privileges in her organization.

Marissa Mayer’s job is not to be nice to people, her job is to turn around the behemoth that is Yahoo!. By its very function Yahoo! wants to compete with Google, and in its present state it is not able to do so. For big change you need big projects, for big projects you need lots of people working together, and as many of us recall from our formative developer years that means hallway meetings and late night in the office and pizza and early morning scrum sessions. While your work from home days may make *you* more productive, how more productive does it make *your team* — or your project? How many things get held up for “the next time you’re in office”? It’s interesting to note that the interviewee about this issue in this morning’s NPR story was a work-from-home lawyer mother, who spent the first 2 minutes describing how close the washer and dryer were to her desk, and how working from home was more convenient because she could get laundry done and walk the dog. How exactly does this further the company she works for?

It should be noted that the memo indicated people would still be able to take time to “stay at home for the cable guy”. This is not a draconian “you must be at your desk from 9am-5pm every day” mandate, this is good common business sense: work gets done in the office — please be in the office to do it.

Much has been made of the fact that Mayer, as a new mother, built a nursery in her executive suite, which some choose to point to as a double-standard. I disagree. Mayer paid for the nursery with her own money and it means she herself as a working mother will be in-office. Most of us don’t have office (or cubicle) space big enough to install a nursery in, but that (office space) is a function of title and position, and not of preferential treatment. You want to bring your kid to work? Fork up the money to install a nursery in your cube, or, more practically, don’t bring your kid to work. Mayer is using her own funds, of which we can assume she has plenty (relative to her title), to bring her kid to work. For *her* this decision is likely as practical as it is practicable: having made the declaration people need to be in-office, she’s doing so as well. The fact that she can pay to have her kid be there with her (presumably attended to by a nanny or other caregiver) is irrelevant.

Then there is the point that this declaration will harm Yahoo!’s chances in hiring new talent. There’s an inverse to this, too: those working remotely or from home for Yahoo! can choose to work elsewhere. If you’re that good, make a case for an exception, or get a job with a company that will let you work from home. If you’re not that good, you don’t really have a leg to stand on; work to get to be that good. And one of the perks in working for Google (ostensibly Yahoo!’s competitor model) is that there are all sorts of services and amenities *on site*, designed to keep you on campus. Google does not seem to have difficulty recruiting talent; so the rationale is that this ban on permanent work from home will not harm Yahoo!’s chances of getting quality staffers — Yahoo!’s reputation for innovation (or lack of it) will.

As further opinions weigh in, many ex-Yahoo!ians are coming forward to indicate Mayer is making the right decision, because there’s credible evidence that the work-from-home policy was abused, and oftentimes there were people still being paid and essentially not doing anything. It should also be noted that free food and iPhones (and other Google-esque amenities) were offered to in-house employees. Yahoo! has a managerial problem, not a problem with its CEO. As a manager of nearly 200 people and 4 levels, I know that you need to be able to tell via metrics or deliverables if work is getting done. And if it isn’t, you advise, you re-advise, you warn, you re-warn, and then you fire. It’s called “employment”, not “charity”.

Many are worried about “what this means” for other companies. Dire forebodings about how we’re going back to “the dark ages” and the images of Office Space and 9 to 5 come to mind. While it may be true that other companies follow suit, they will have to make the same trade-offs and analysis Yahoo! did: do we need to institute dramatic change, at a potential morale hit and/or dip in prospective employee attractiveness, in order to survive? If the answer is yes then the move is logical. The notion that a company would voluntarily undergo these hits for the benefit of “following the lead of Yahoo!” however is asinine: companies make decisions based on what they need for their company.

Full disclosure: quite a few people on my teams work from home. Many have flexible schedules. I don’t eyeball when people are in the office and indeed if you walk by mine you’ll often see I’m not there (I’m in about 36 meetings in a given week, too). That said, I have a pretty robust framework of reporting and can point easily to the productivity of each person on the team, as well as the quality of the production and the timeliness of it. I don’t need to institute a “Mayer Policy”, because I do not have the same problems Marissa Mayer does.

The Economics of (a Minor) Failure

First, let me point out I’m safe. I am sitting in Heathrow, for the 2nd time today, waiting to get on my flight. For the 2nd time today.

Twenty minutes into flight I realized we hadn’t gone above 10,000 feet. Another minute later all cabin crew were called to the cockpit — over the PA system — and this, if you pay attention at all, and you haven’t had anything to drink and/or have a deep-seated fear of flying you totally forgot about until just the moment you hear this, will make you quietly fret. Then if you pull up the travel map on-screen and discover for the last ten minutes you’ve flown in circles, well… you’re pretty not happy.

We couldn’t pressurize. They tried everything ground crew suggested, none of it worked; so they confessed (our Captain was extraordinarily calming), and flew over the water to dump fuel (fun fact: dangerous to land a fully fueled plane, because the wings are so full of fuel). We spent 20 minutes dumping fuel that vaporized as it exited from the wings, it was both spectacular and appalling (to those of you on the east side of the English channel you may have an odd taste in the air…). Imagine a fire hose strapped to the wing of a plane (on the underside) and then turn it all…the…way…on. For twenty minutes.

After that completed we went back inland and landed.

We were handed 10GBP vouchers. For information, this purchased one tomato-and-mozarella sandwich, one bottle of water, and one glass  of wine. The flight was full (no space), and so this got me thinking about the economics of this little enterprise.

We flew a 747-400, which has a fuel capacity of 57,285 gallons and a passenger load of roughly 416 people (1) (for 3-class version, which is what I was in) but British airways uses 345 for their figure. The plane consumes 5 gallons of fuel per mile (2), at 250 knots per hour and we were up for 45 minutes. The delta between maximum takeoff weight and maximum landing weight is 240,000 pounds, which for fuel means 6.8 pounds per gallon of jet fuel, and therefore 35,294 gallons of jet fuel we had to dump. Currently, jet fuel goes to about $3.30 US as of today (3).

Including flight crew time (time starts when the door closes, for 8 crew members and 2 pilots they probably ran $800, maybe $1000 fully-loaded). I’m not going to include the passenger opportunity cost (e.g., I could’ve done something else for the hour or so this ate up), and they’re going to stick me on another flight that I do not also have to pay for, so they don’t get “credit” for the income of the ticket against the first flight. The rest of this we’ll assume is a dead weight loss.

  • Cost of the meal vouchers for passengers: 10GBP x (345-154) passengers (first class passengers were invited to the lounge for private dinner)=1,910 GBP, at today’s exchange rate is 1.55 USD to GBP, so $2960.50.
  • Cost of fuel burnt (45 flight minutes, which is 3/4 of an hour, at blended speed of 250kph (would actually be a little less, let’s call it 225)is roughly 845 gallons of fuel burnt, at $3.30/gal is $2785 in lost fuel.
  • Cost of fuel expelled: assuming they planned on their burn, they still needed to dump 35,294-845 gallons, which is 35,450 gallons (roughly) at current price is $117,000 roughly.

Total cost: $122,750 (very roughly). This sounds huge to an individual (it is) but in terms of overall expense I’d think it were a rounding error in terms of the bank of overall flights leaving Heathrow for British Airways.

There are other things here that should be flagged but are hard to quantify: costs incurred by passengers beyond their 10GBP purchase (which would be a plus to Heathrow but not British Airways), and the aforementioned opportunity costs. There’s also the plus/minus on the experience in terms of word-of-mouth — interestingly most people were jovial getting off the plane. The general feeling was one of “hey, we’re alive, and they let us know what was going on”. It’s interesting to watch people purchase items they didn’t really want to take full advantage of their free 10 quid, by the way. They’d come to the register having purchased their beer and sandwich, ask for change, realize they won’t get it, and then ask what they could get for 1.5GBP or what have you. The apostrophe here in Heathrow is doing a fair trade in bananas and nuts.

Brand New Year, Now, With More Crazy!

As much as I’d love to blog about the FiscalCliff, Cliff 2, Cliff 3 First Blood, Child of the Fiscal Cliff, Return of the Fiscal Cliff, Fiscal Cliff Revolutions, etc., I’m not going to, as others have written much better prose and admonishment of it than I could ever hope to do. Suffice it to say that the “deal” currently discussed in the house (and passed by the Senate) doesn’t address any of the problems that need addressing, and the cliff itself is largely a fabrication of this broken legislature we have and so applauding any sort of garbage-pile-at-the-bottom-save they’ve managed to create is an exercise in self-delusion. I’ll save my self-delusion for better use.

(For really excellent writing and explanations of Why This Isn’t A Save and In Fact Is a Huge Ream of BS, Regardless of Which Side of the Political Spectrum You Are On, see: this and this and this. I also recommend following Heidi Moore and Ezra Klein on Twitter. Their play-by-play is excellent.)

Fiscal-political brinksmanship aside, I find myself as many do, the first day of the year, wincing in readiness for the email onslaught as brought by January 2nd; in full knowledge that school starts tomorrow (for both the boy and I, I get Macroeconomics and the last PreCalc class); bracing myself for the inevitable deluge of resoluters at the gym. All the classes will be full and the instructors will be randomized.

I’ve used the past few days off to catch up on my OCD; my rock collection is now digitized (I can look up rocks by family, size, or color), the undercroft is organized (2 thousand plus books are packed up to go to my parents house), the fridge is cleaned out (literally and figuratively), the study is reconfigured, I finished two knitting projects. In typical fashion, this is because I’m avoiding something.

I am avoiding my annual review.

Every year I am asked to write a series of paragraphs (or oblique sentences) about my performance, and every year I’m startled by two things: 1, how much I (and my team(s), when appropriate) have done, and 2, how it bears no resemblance to what we thought we were going to do. At the onset of each year we craft goals based on the plans of the company, and, in the form of companies everywhere, things change. Constantly. It’s got to the point where we should have t-shirts that say “the only constant is change” or “entropy always increases”. I may do that with my morale budget.

There has GOT to be a better way. 

This year, we have attempted to frame our goals in the context of the purpose of the exercise rather than the exercise itself; instead of talking about creating XYZ report or accomplishing ABC task, we’re focusing on the end result: how do we make the company more successful, which thereby (frankly) increases the bonus pool, which thereby (frankly) makes its way into our own microeconomics. That is the part of this exercise the company wants and needs, and that’s great.

It occurs to me however that a lot of us are thriving off of the variety, the change, and the volume of things to do for the sake of the variety, change, and volume. Each new email brings a challenge, almost baiting you: are you up to it? Some crisis has erupted, can you handle it? Can you delegate it? Can you deal with it? I’m happy to say that in the ensuing year I am confident I can do all of those things, this is the rare comfort of someone who has really excellent people to rely on at work. 

And with that, tomorrow officially brings the crazy for 2013. School, school, work, home, and all the entropy that can increase. There is no room for triskaidekaphobia, there is no room to wallow. And so I will write my review, take a deep breath, and acknowledge 2013.

Bring it!