Composing Emails for Efficiency

email

(I originally posted this article on Medium on Jan 14, 2014)

Email is a touchy subject for a lot of people. How to organize email for efficiency, for instance, is a much debated topic. The zero-inbox method is perhaps the most popular organizational method. Others will insist on labels and folders and forwarding and archiving and blah and blah blah; I don’t actually care. My email is organized into a single folder with two categories: read and unread. You can feel free to comment about how I am wrong about this, but I have been doing it this way for 20 years, and I’m pretty damn good about keeping up with it.

Furthermore, a lot of people complain about the amount of email they get, that they don’t have enough time to process it all. I’ve a suggestion for you people: UNSUBSCRIBE. If you are receiving more email than can be processed, then you are just wasting precious bandwidth. In fact, this is a classic networking problem: if the processing rate of a given stream is larger than the incoming rate — the solution is to slow down the publisher or the result will be message loss. For example, with TCP, it is the receiving side’s job to throttle the sender. In other words, stop subscribing to things you are not going to read! (I told you this was a touchy subject)

Anyway, I actually come to you today to discuss the content of emails for ultimate efficiency. I happen to work in a job where the major importance for me is emailing customers on how to use and diagnose a highly technical product. For the most part, the people I am emailing are intelligent tech people, however their soft skills leave a lot of room for improvement. Often times, I need to find out a lot of information from a customer to better serve them. After I carefully explain each item of information that I am requesting and why I am requesting it, I often find that the customer will only respond to the first or second question, and ignore the rest of my email that I worked so hard on composing. So here is my first suggestion:

1. Use numbered lists

Numbered lists are a great way to let people know that I want you to look at each number very carefully. When executed properly, the customer will answer the questions inline which just makes me jump for joy. Sometimes, for the very difficult customers, I will put instructions at the top of the email like “Please answer every one of the questions below”. Even with these explicit instructions, I get a few outliers who ignore items. These people cannot be helped, and you will be wondering forever how they retain employment.

Moving on. Like I said, I work with a highly technical product with smart customers. This means that I have to be halfway intelligent myself, otherwise I would not be able to help them. That being said, save the pissing matches for another day. Email is not the time nor the place to prove you are smarter than the other guy, and this brings me to point 2:

2. Be short and direct with information

When you add content for the sole purpose of trying to sound smart, you look like an asshole. Don’t try and blow peoples minds with information they don’t need to know. Get to the point, and get to it fast with clarity.

Finally, how to deal with rude people. You’ve all gotten rude email before, and you always spend extra time thinking about how to respond to it. Rude email is typically not something you should get too concerned over, in my opinion. People act tougher and meaner via email because they’re not looking directly at you. Email is so impersonal that is easy for anyone to be rude. I have two methods for dealing with rude emails:

3a: Be apologetic and shower with kindness.

This passive-aggressive technique is beautifully simplistic, and is a seriously high form of trolling. My wife works in an email-based profession, and this is her technique for dealing with rude people. While I seriously admire the usage of this technique, I tend to avoid it. Instead, I go with:

3b: Be shorter and ruder than them.

This leaves the possibility for two outcomes, 1) They get the point and cool off or 2) the issue escalates to a more serious form of communication, like a conference call. Sometimes, two people are not compatible for email and the only options are to either never communicate or get on the phone. I like getting on the phone, because it’s usually much faster to get to a point and because people are typically much nicer over the phone (again, there are outliers to this rule — some people are just inherently assholes).

Good luck and happy emailing.

Chris Kluwe is Right About Equality; Wrong About the NFL

chris-kluwe
A man for the people – except football people

Chris Kluwe is the former punter of the Minnesota Vikings. During his tenure with the team, from 2005 to 2012, Kluwe holds a number of records for the organization. Later in that tenure, Kluwe became quite vocal about supporting gay marriage – and in awesome fashion. Kluwe wrote an open letter on Deadspin where he told a state delegate from Maryland that married gay people “won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster.”  Unfortunately, his efforts got him release (fired) from the team.

Kluwe reveals in an open letter that he believes he was released from the Vikings for having an open and opinionated view of gay marriage, poking fun at state senators in the process. The Vikings on the other hand claim he was release because of his lack of performance compared to other punters. Kluwe goes on and claims his supervisors were either bigots (for hating on gay lifestyles) or cowards (for not having stuck up for him). I’ll wholeheartedly agree with him on the bigot statement; he claims his special teams coach Mike Priefer at one point during the 2012 season said, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”  But I’m not so sure I can agree with him on the coward statement.

Kluwe works in a high profile type industry, where PR rules the land. The NFL has an “image” of itself that it will protect as best it can, and Kluwe’s opinions and methods for demonstrating those opinions strayed from this image. From the NFL’s perspective, I don’t believe it is a story about whether gay people have the right to marry one another; it’s about not talking about politically controversial things that stray from the game itself. Hell, the NFL does not even like talking about the game itself in some aspects, like the correlation between playing in the NFL and permanent brain injuries. Yet Chris Kluwe acts surprised that he was released, and never picked back up by another NFL team?

Kluwe may think he was blacklisted by the Minnesota Vikings, but I actually doubt that he was. Kluwe blacklisted himself for speaking out and compromising the NFL image. And the people Kluwe labeled as “cowards” were possibly looking out for him, but mostly looking out for themselves. His supervisors are just as (if not more) responsible for keeping the image of the NFL. It’s not a moral responsibility, rather, it is what the coaches are paid to do. It may be a sad reality, but that is the reality of business in America.

Bringing Out the Worst in People

Bad journalism makes Keanu sas
Annoying stories make Keanu sad

By now, you have heard all over your Facebook news feed that some guy on a show you may or may not watch said some stuff which may or may not be offensive depending on your level of sensitivity. If you have not seen it on your Facebook news feed, than you have seen it on Fox News, CNN, the Daily Show, Twitter, where ever – it cannot be avoided at this point. The story is such a “powerful” story because it releases opinions like no other.

The thing of it is, it’s not really a good story. Its “power” lies in the fact that it makes people feel emotional either for or against this guy. But it’s not mind blowing, it is not going to change anyone’s opinions about people, it is not going to bring people together; only the opposite if anything. There is no learning moment to be had, no epiphany of such. It has nothing to do with the constitution, no matter how many times pundits quote it. It doesn’t make the person who made the statement a bad person, and it doesn’t make the company that might fire him a bad company. It is nothing, yet it is so big, right now.

In two months time, it will be forgotten. And the wounds opened with friends and loved one will be for nothing.

Ban SantaCon? Quit Being a Little Bitch

Slutty Santa's? Slutty Santa's
Slutty Santas?? Slutty Santas.

A lot of hate out there this year towards Jolly Saint Nick. First, Fox News’s never-ending “War on Christmas” continues as strong as ever, fighting those who express their subjective aesthetic views of the pudgy gift giver. Fox pundits are basically saying Santa Claus is white, there is no debate. Jon Stewart summed up the whole ordeal quite nicely, noting that the actual Saint Nicholas was practically black himself. Actually, the best part of the segment was when one of the guests said something along the line of “people are bending facts to make a political point”; because Fox News would never do such a thing. But I digress.

Today in a New York Times op-ed, Mr. Jason Gilbert of Yahoo News posted that there should be a ban on a drunken tradition consisting of poorly thrown together Santa costumes, alcohol, and young adults bar hopping from Midtown to the East Village in Manhattan for an event known as “SantaCon”. SantaCon is not something I have ever participated in, but I fail to see how this arbitrary tradition is any different than a number of other New York City traditions like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Halloween in the village, or hell, even the Mermaid Parade where topless woman flood the streets to mark the beginning of summer. Alcohol is as involved in those events just like SantaCon – why don’t we just ban them as well? Traffic congestion is a bullshit reason to put an end to it, because congestion is every weekend in the city for some neighborhood or another. And stop with the bullshit excuse of “[…] neighborhood of kids having to watch simulacra of beloved childhood figures stumbling around”. You chose to live in New York City and raise a family there, that is just how your life is going to be. It is really hard to shield your kids from the ridiculousness of the world, and it is even harder when living in New York City. Either explain to your kids that growing up sometimes make you do strange things, or move out.

Put your life in perspective; if one day of drunken Santa Claus’s are the worst thing to happen to you in the month of December, consider yourself pretty fucking lucky.

Step Aside Show – Lots of Episodes

Step Aside

 

Episodes 99 – 104 of the Step Aside Show are now available. The episodes have actually been available for some time, just have not posted them here. If you want to listen before they show up in blog form, just subscribe in iTunes or watch the RSS feed.

Episode 99 – Generic Episode Number 99

Episode 100 – Clever Girls

Episode 101 – Empty Basement

Episode 102 – No BJs for Old Men

Episode 103 – Forgotten

Episode 104 – Lonely Basement Seeking Hot Attic

Reverse Fear Mongering on Gun Control

Merica!
Merica

It has just about been one year since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with the topic of gun control peaking early in 2013 and simmering down by the summer. But that did not stop gun control advocates and opponents from pushing legislation throughout the year. Obama, took the standard liberal approach, calling for federal gun control measures that were simply dropped the second they left his mouth. Some of the more liberal states, like New York, passed sweeping bills that pissed off the gun-owning crowd to no end. I can say from first hand experience that you cannot drive a square mile in New York State without seeing a “Repeal Safe Act” sign on someones front lawn (NYC metro area excluded, of course).

Regardless of your position on the matter, what happened at Sandy Hook was tragic. If you do not want to blame guns, that’s fine – you can easily blame those with mental disorders and their ability to get guns. Either way, you would certainly expect a positive legislative change regarding either one of the two following the tragedy, yes? Well you would be wrong. In the year since, the 50 states have passed a total of 109 laws regarding guns, only 39 of which are actually restrictions or make if more difficult for people with mental disorders to acquire guns. The remaining 70 laws actually *loosen* gun control laws. What does this tell us? It tells us that those behind the gun manufacturing industry and gun toting citizens have far more influence over lawmakers than 20 dead kindergartners. So much more influence in fact that states were so afraid of gun control measures, they went in the opposite direction to make gun access easier for citizens.

This, to me, says a lot about the current state of government.

Will Work for Beer? Move to Amsterdam.

Dick Sharpe in 10 years
Dick Sharpe in 10 years

Happy 80 years of repeal! What better way to celebrate this glorious memorial than by sharing with you, our dear fans, that there is now a way for you to be homeless AND work for beer. Yes, you heard (read) me right – work for beer! The New York Times yesterday reported a story where homeless alcoholics in Amsterdam can pick up garbage around the city for cans of beer. The program is remarkably simple: 2 cans of beer just for showing up, then 2 more cans for lunch (with free food), and then depending on performance, 1 or 2 cans to knock off a good day’s work. Oh and don’t worry, the program also pays 10 euros (and rolling tobacco) for the days work, which may cover the cab ride back to your homeless shelter.

The idea behind it all is that, you cannot tell alcoholics to stop drinking, so why not put them to productive work rather than having them rot in a park somewhere? Depending on your personal level of social empathy, this is brilliant or extortion of people’s addictive disorders. It’s certainly riddled with controversy, even in a country where social welfare is very high relative to the rest of the world. What are your thoughts on the matter? stepasideshow @ gmail.com

Major League Baseball is Full of Shit

AP_arod_alex_rodriguez_tk_130805_16x9_992
Likely day dreaming about Twinkies – or whatever hot broad he happens to be banging this week

First and foremost lets get this out of the way; Alex Rodriguez is kind of a douchebag. Any by “kind of”, I really mean “is a huge”. But this aside, the man is getting a lousy deal.

Much like the NFL head office, the MPAA, and even our federal government, Major League Baseball is full of shit. For the uninformed, Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for 211 games for violating the leagues drug policy. Rodriguez was named, along with other players earlier this year, in attending a clinic in Florida known for giving professional athletes performance enhancing drugs. Among the other players was once American League MVP Ryan Braun, who besides Rodriguez, got the most severe penalty of 65 games. The typical punishment for first time performance enhancing drug offenders is 50 games, however Braun was subjected to a higher punishment because, well, he was a douche about the whole thing.

So then, why is Alex Rodriguez being given such a huge punishment, for basically being the same level of douche as Ryan Braun? Well just like everything else in the world, it’s purely financial. The New York Yankees were stupid enough to offer Rodriguez an unprecedented contract back in 2007 for almost $30 million a year. Since the signing of that contract, Rodriguez has mostly played like complete shit (which is partially why he is a a douche, see Figure 1 below). The Yankees will just about do everything in their power at this point to keep Rodriguez off the field to stop paying him. Rodriguez being injured was working out great for the team, because it’s well known professional athlete’s pay is covered by insurance when they are unable to play. However once he was better, the league conveniently handed down the sever punishment of 211 games, which would have been the remainder of the 2013 season and the following 2014 season. Rodriguez has appealed the punishment (the only player caught in the most recent scandal to do so), which is finally being ruled on now. Rodriguez reportedly stormed out of the procedure today because the MLB commissioner will not be questioned, which lead Rodriguez to call the process “fucking bullshit”.

Rodriguez’s analysis of the situation is fairly accurate. The commissioner was to be questioned by Rodriguez’s council as to why Rodriguez’s punishment is so much more severe than all the other players. Instead of defending the punishment to the arbitrator hearing the case, he has chosen to not show up at all. Even more suspicious is the fact that the arbitrator is not calling for him to be present either. How can a dispute be settled when one side does not even show up?

Figure 1
Figure 1

A Suggestion to Keep Us “Safe” and Happy

Probably what the NSA datacenters look like - actual photo of Robs basement
Probably what the NSA data centers look like – actual photo is of Rob’s basement

The pursuit of happiness, a fundamental idea most attributed to the founding of the United States. Our government is particularly good at doing the exact opposite. This year, more than anything (including the government shutdown), the coming to light of NSA phone tapping reigns highest on the list of “Government-making-citizens-unhappy”.  It truly is an atrocity for this country. Not only is it a gigantic invasion of privacy, it is an enormous waste of resources. It has recently been reported that the CIA pays AT&T approximately $10 million a year  to acquire call data as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. Since the leaks, the agency says it only targets calls made within the United States to people overseas. But really, this is non-sense. For example, the NSA had been targeting current German chancellor Angela Merkel, hardly a terrorist target.

The effectiveness of these anti-terrorism campaigns is highly suspect. Agencies have reported that they have been able to deter dozens of terrorist homeland attacks, without going into too many details of course. It is entirely possible that these campaigns have saved some lives (probably not as many as proper gun control could save, but lets not go down that road right now), but at what cost?

So, I have a simple solution. All government agencies engaging in this type of eavesdropping come forward with it ALL, and in return, all citizens are entitled to a single line of telecommunication service. Cell phone service is expensive, and I’m pretty sure the majority of modern day Americans would gladly let the government read their text messages if they did not have to pay their monthly cell phone bill (count me in). It would be a new level of government transparency while actually offering a government service most people would be happy to accept. It may not make all citizens happy, but that is an impossible feat anyway.