Monday, February 16, 2009

Preparing for Your Impending Layoff From AOL

Welcome! You've got layoffs: A preparation guide for AOL employees.

joetux2005Welcome, soon-to-be-former AOL employee! I'm Joe Loong, graduate of the AOL Layoff Class of October, 2007, and I'm here to offer you a few bits of advice gleaned from my own personal layoff experience.

I hope that these items will help you prepare for your own imminent layoff, and ease your transition into the job market during this worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

This guide is primarily written for Northern Virginia worker bees. Employees from other locations and pay grades are welcome to add their advice in the comments, which I will integrate to the guide.

Things You Should Do Now
Hey, it's not personal. It's just business. Except when it's not. Regardless, whether you volunteer or are "asked" to leave, whether the layoff happens on the 24-25th of February or March or any other damn time, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:

* Update your resume and online profiles: Hopefully, you've been doing this all along, but if not, now's the time. Especially important these days is your LinkedIn account.

* Detach from your corporate e-mail address: Speaking of LinkedIn, Carles, an AOL alum now over there adds, "Add your personal email account to your LinkedIn account, and then make it your primary LinkedIn email. It is heartbreaking when people are laid off and lose access to their email, and then can't recover their LinkedIn passwords. Don't let this happen to you."

Good tip: If you were silly enough to register for any accounts or profiles using your address (which you don't get to keep), make sure you update them with a personal e-mail address that you control. The same thing goes for any snail mail you got at work that you cared about. (I admit I still give my old cube address and phone extension whenever I don't want to hand out my real info, like for supermarket club cards and such.)

* Search for yourself: Google your own name -- if people are searching for you, will they be able to find you? If not, take steps to improve your own search results.

Doing a vanity search will also let you know if you need to sanitize your Facebook profile to make yourself appear more employable. (And if you're still using your Myspace page -- come on now, you're a grown-up.)

* Find your old performance evaluation forms (whatever it is they're using now, formerly GOALign, FPR, etc.), because this is the one and only time they'll come in handy -- they're useful for figuring out what the hell you did (if anything) during your career.

Thanks to the guidance of your manager, your annual evaluations should be chock-full of impressive-sounding numbers and metrics. So what if they're meaningless, or even completely made up -- you can still use them to spice up your resume. ("Programmed the home page, where my promotions were ignored by literally billions of impression eyeballs.")

* Take screenshots. Sure, maybe not every one of the products you ever touched has been sunset. You might still want to screenshot or sitesuck some examples of things you worked on.

* Use your employee discounts. Now's the time to take advantage of your employee discounts -- the Apple store, the Philips store, etc. But, don't go too crazy -- after all, you may be losing your job.

* Take advantage of your health benefits: Make appointments for checkups and any needed health, dental and vision procedures. Sure, you've got 18 months of COBRA, but you might as well use your benefits while you still have them.

Also, regarding your
Health Care Flexible Spending Account [suggested by anonymous]: I never participated, though my paperwork said you could continue files claims against your HCFSA balance under COBRA through the end of the current calendar year (there are some costs associated with it).

reports that employees laid off in 2008 had a day to use or lose their remaining balance, though I have no additional information about that -- you're going to have to find a member of the Class of 2008 to confirm or deny that, to figure out if you're going to want to draw down what's in your account before the big day.

* On making a copy of your ID.
I'm not saying you should do this. But if you did, it should be only for sentimental reasons.

* Stock up on office supplies. I'm not advocating wholesale theft. But some of those pens are nice. Also the ubiquitous Ampad Project Planner notebooks.

* Make a copy of your Fitness Center workout chart. This will help you track your descent into sloth and give you a sense of all the ground you need to make up when you start caring about working out again.

* Backup any personal files on your work machines. This includes anything that you have on share drives (not that you should have personal files on share drives). A portable or luggable hard drive is good for this.

IMG_0667* Have a plan for your swag. You've probably accumulated a lot of AOL-branded swag over the years. Like, say, commemorative leather and brass Circuit City coasters. (Oh, the irony.)

You're going to have enough to deal with, and packing up your things on layoff day is going to be stressful enough. And you really don't want to have to take multiple trips out to your car. So have a plan for what you're going to take with you, and what you're going to leave behind. This includes consumables, like food, sodas, beers, etc. -- either consume them beforehand, or plan on leaving them behind for whoever's left.

* Planning on leaving on your own accord? [suggested by Kevin Lawver]: "...if you're planning on leaving, wait a couple months and see if they'll take volunteers. I missed out on the whole severance, outplacement stuff by about a month..." (He has more to say about upper management in his comment.)

Things You Should Do on Layoff Day (Etiquette and More):

* Assuming you know what day things are gonna get real, dress in a manner appropriate to the occasion:

Layoff day, October 2007.

* Sequester Your Laptop: Bill Kocik suggests leaving your laptop in your trunk until you know you're safe -- this is to buy yourself more time in case you were slack and didn't back up your personal files. (Also, Verisign is looking for Java devs.)

* Twittering your layoff: I wasn't on Twitter for my layoff, but a lot has changed in the intervening time. Instead of giving exclusives to bottom feeders who justify gawking at mass layoffs as an "interesting sociological event," consider using the hashtag #AOLLayoffs09 for your layoff-related tweets and mobile updates. (You can also tag your subsequent blog entries, photos, and other associated media with "AOLLayoffs09")

If you aren't yet on Twitter... well, that wouldn't surprise me. Now would be a good time to start.

* Try not to toss your cookies:

Remnants from the Dec 2006 Layoffs

* For Blackberry users [from anonymous]: If you were issued a Blackberry and ported over your personal cellphone number instead of getting a new one, see if they can do a reverse port (so you can keep your cellphone number.)

* Take your time leaving. You're not being run out of town on a rail. Take your time and make sure you have everything you need. Check your mailslot, even if you've never seen it before. Say goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to.

* Send your farewell e-mail. Now is not the time to settle scores. Don't burn your bridges. Thank people you need to thank, and make sure they have your contact information. I offer my own valedictory e-mail as an example.

Oh, and you get to keep your screenname (unless it has something that identifies it as an AOL business screen name).

* Look behind you at least once on the way out.

* The afterparty:
First, let me know where it is. I recommend Clyde's in Ashburn. That place is huge, so don't listen to any nonsense rumors about it being closed by the Fire Marshall due to overcrowding.

If you're going to hit up your former cow-orkers for sympathy nookie, or otherwise get toasted and sloppy... hey, what are they going to do, fire you? Just try not to burn any bridges, and make sure you have a ride home -- getting a DUI is not what you need at this point.

* Call your parents. Tell them not to worry. You'll be fine.

DSCF3405.JPGSo, You've Been Laid Off -- Things to Do Afterwards:

* Read your paperwork: There are some things you'll need to sign, and dates you won't want to miss. If you need to talk to an employment lawyer, talk to a lawyer.

* Transition/Outplacement: Whatever transition assistance they offer (if they do), take it. Maybe you want to open your own consulting shop, or need resume help, or just want to get out of the house and touch base with other members of your graduating class. At least see what they have to offer.

* File for unemployment [suggested by anonymous]: I didn't try to collect unemployment. Pride, stubbornness, stupidity, something. Don't let that stop you: Virginia | Maryland | DC

* Keeping in touch: You will lose touch with your work friends. At least a little bit. That's to be expected. The question is, do you want to be the aging alumni who hangs out at the old school way too much and too long, Wooderson? ("Awright, awright, awright.")

The thing about the DC Metro area is that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a former AOL person. And some of us aren't completely useless. You're probably networked better than you know, just by being a cog in a big machine that's lost a lot of parts.

- On Facebook, join the AOL Reunion - DC Metro Area (they just had a reunion last week), and the other AOL groups and networks.

- There's also an AOL Alumni Association group. And of course, don't forget LinkedIn, Google Groups, etc.

- If you're staying in the area, network and participate in local events, like events listed in,,, and

* Join a gym: The perk I miss most was the convenient onsite fitness centers. I really let myself slide after my layoff. If you have a home setup that you actually use, or can come up with a bodyweight, biking or running routine that doesn't require a gym (and that you'll stick to), you can skip this, but for everyone else, don't wait too long -- join a gym. (Here are the Reston options I looked at -- I never considered Gold's.)

* On boomeranging: I wouldn't. I know plenty of people who have. Hey, a job's a job, right? Especially these days.

* Go have some fun: I didn't, really. Again, you might not be able to go on an around-the-world trip, but do something. You've got a window -- use it.


That's all I've got right now. I know I'm missing things. Really, I'm still in post-layoff mode myself, even though I've been out for 14 months and am half-assing it around as a social media/online community consultant, just like every other asshole out there.

If you've got tips to contribute to dealing with your AOL layoff, please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook message or whatever and I'll add it to the appropriate spot.

Good luck with your layoff!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The key to saving the Washington Post is more Photo Hunt

In its wisdom, the advertising and marketing people at the Washington Post have decided that the key to turning around declining revenue and saving the newspaper industry is more Photo Hunt -- in the 2/15 edition of the Sunday Magazine, directly adjacent to the usual Second Glance feature, they're running an ad for the Outer Banks, mimicking the photo hunt style:


The answers aren't live yet, but I have, thoughtfully and helpfully, provided the answers:

1. Lighthouse level
2. Barely concealed disdain, envy
3. Asymptomatic congenital heart defect
4. Used condom 2 inches below surface
5. Some sort of blight or fungus
6. Vague sense of existential foreboding
7. Post-racial worldview
8. Proof of global climate change
9. SEO-optimization, Section 508 compliance
10. Ill-advised coastal erosion management project
11. Non-convict labor

The Second Glance feature has been subverted before, so perhaps that was the first step down the slippery slope.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Self-Declared Official Asian Spokesperson on the Stupid Miley Cyrus Scandal

Two ongoing Mideast wars, the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, wildfires in Australia, Israeli election uncertainty, simmering crisis in Gaza, multiple nuclear proliferation threats, and the only thing the celebrity-minded simpletons out there can wrap their silly little heads around is a silly indiscretion by a 16-year-old pop star:

One of these things is not like the other. Also, that is not my chin or jawline.

The whole goddamn thing is stupid. The photo was stupid. The Asian kid in the photo (the original one, that is) is stupid. (Question: Is he still good at math?) Righteously-indignant and morally outraged AZN bloggers are stupid. The apology was stupid. The second apology was stupid. The lawsuit is especially stupid. Miley Cyrus was stupid for forgetting that as a celebrity, she shouldn't do certain things on film (and as a 16-year-old, she can't even claim it was the booze talking). I'm stupid for writing about this.

Let's not forget, various Latin American sports teams during the Beijing Olympics were also stupid.

Friends of mine are stupid for doing almost exactly the same thing (though they were smart, because they are not celebrities), and I'm stupid for taking their picture:


Are they bad people, because they are subverting stereotypes in a manner that could be seen as offensive? (This is a bad example, as they actually are bad people.)

This is the absolute only thing I'm going to say about this. Although, since I linked to multiple times here, I'd like to take this opportunity to share my simple (though non-comprehensive) two-question test to determine if you're a bad person:
  1. Do you work for TMZ?
  2. Do you watch TMZ?
If you answered "yes" to either of these two questions, then, yes, you are a bad person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And now it can be told: Crostonfest

Actually, there's not that much to tell. Saturday was Crostonfest, a surprise thank-you in honor of DC tech scenester John Croston, held just before the DC Geeks Love Wine tasting event at nclud.

While we waited for John, there was Mario Kart:


Looking down:

Oblivious to the passersby gawking.

And the man comes to town:


Not being much of a wine drinker, I did not stay. Instead, I hoofed it over to Amsterdam Falafelshop to grab a bite:

"Falafel: You are chickpeas fried in Love and wrapped in HELL YEAH!"

On the way back, here's a traffic light control box on 19th Street:

When Flashing (You only live once)

On a photo note, I've started carrying my Fujifilm Finebix F30 again, since it has an Aperture Priority setting and I want to get a little depth-of-field in my photos (though I still don't want to spring for a DSLR).

This is after I've installed CHDK (add-on firmware that unlocks features on Canon point-and-shoots) on my Canon Powershot SD1100 -- it's somewhat cumbersome, though playing around with manual focus and aperture override might still be useful.

The downside, of course, is my F30 is bigger, heavier, and pretty beat up -- the case is dented and has a visible gap from being dropped so many times, and the shutter button sticks sometimes.

Afterwards, I had some time to kill before going to Ragtime to see Scott's band, so I went to work out at the still-shiny-new Fitness First in Arlington (on North Courthouse, coincidentally across the street from Ragtime) -- despite being a somewhat half-assed workout, I was still pretty tired, but I managed to stay awake with the help of a chai tea latte.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Things That Are Upcoming: Gigs, Guns, and Blogs

Here are a bunch of things I'm looking at over the next few months. I say this in spite of the fact that I passed on tonight's Over the Rhine show at Birchmere (so very tired). And this may not include events that I can't talk about, should they exist:

* Tonight, Feb 9, 7:30pm: DC area Tweetup, Indique Heights in Chevy Chase. Indian food and good conversation amongst some of DC's Twitter elite. (Twee-leet?) Free, all welcome.

* Tuesday, Feb 10, 5-9pm: AOL Employee Reunion, eCitie in Vienna. Given the economic and employment outlook (for the industry as a whole and AOL in particular), current employees might want to check in on this, too.

The venue also provides a bit of irony -- eCitie opened during Dotcom Bubble 1.0, and during the heydey, they took great pains to make sure the Lambos, Ferraris, Bentleys and such were parked prominently and ostentatiously out front.

Also Tuesday, 7:30pm: The Puppini Sisters, who I will be missing, yet again, at Birchmere.

And, from Feb 10 to Feb 15, the muppet musical Avenue Q plays the Warner Theatre. Tickets start at $45. Also, the Internet is for porn.

* Wednesday, Feb 11, 9pm: College basketball, Duke vs. UNC. Not sure where I'll be for the game, but I'll be somewhere.

* Feb 13-15: Nation's Gun Show, Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly. Notable if only for timing (Valentine's Day), and because this is just after the Virginia legislature just killed a bill to close the so-called gun show loophole (which would have required private sellers at gun shows to conduct instant background checks, just as federally-licensed firearms dealers are required to do.)

* Sun, Feb 15, 7:30pm: Cowboy Junkies, Birchmere. Sold Out (I snoozed, I losed.)

* Wed, Feb 18, 7pm: February Washington Blogger Meetup at RFD in DC. We had an okay turnout last month -- a lot more "yes" RSVPs than actually showed up. I know I'll be hitting up the Wordpress folks for some Blogger-to-Wordpress transition advice.

* Thurs, Feb 19, 6pm: Bloggers for Good Meetup, O'Faolain's in Sterling. Networking with the proceeds supporting charities. More info here.

Also, 7:30pm, Fountains of Wayne play an acoustic gig at Birchmere. Sold Out.

* Sat, Feb 21, 7:30pm: DC 10th Anniversary Fark Party at The Black Rooster Pub in DC. Drew Curtis will be there -- this is part of his extended bender world tour celebrating Fark's 10th Anniversary.

DC Fark parties are always fun, though the appearance of Drew will undoubtedly bring out all the lurkers and superlurkers (folks who read Fark, but don't even have accounts).

* Thu, Feb 26, 6pm: TechCocktail DC 4, at LeftBank in Adams Morgan. This is a new venue, relocated from the now-closed MCCXXIII.

Looking out a little farther:

* Sat, Mar 14: Shamrockfest at RFK.

* Fri, Mar 20, 8pm: Ting Tings at the 9:30 Club. I already have my ticket, so call it a definite unless something unexpected comes up.

* Thu, Mar 26 (all-day): My birthday.

* Fri, Mar 27 (7pm happy hour) and Sat, Mar 28 (all-day): Government 2.0 Camp (more: Facebook | Eventbrite)

* Sat, Apr 4, 8pm: Mates of State, 9:30 Club (soft sale right now, it's not on the main page listing yet)

* Sat, Apr 11, 8pm: Demetri Martin, Warner Theatre. Just saw this listing. Call it a maybe -- perhaps seeing his new series on Comedy Central will sway me.

* Sat, Apr 18, 8pm: Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, Warner Theatre. I saw him a few years ago, in Rahway, NJ of all places. Tickets start at $40 and go to $80. If you go, don't be that guy who yells out, "Take Five!" Just don't.

* Fri, Apr 24m 8pm (pre-party) and Sat, Apr 25 (all-day): 2009 Milblogging Conference, Westin Arlington Gateway. $50. I went in 2007 (and blogged about it in my now-dead AOL Journals blog -- 2008 was in Vegas with Blog World Expo, which I didn't attend). In 2007, they were talking about mainstream media lagged behind milbloggers about the Anbar Awakening, curious to see what they're talking about now.

* Sat, May 2 (all-day): Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. Get working on your entry and/or costume now. Mine will have to involve skates. I suppose I should try to post my 2008 photos and video before then. (More info at Kinetic Baltimore)

* Sat, May 17 (all-day): The second-ever Washington Post Hunt. I swear that I got nearly 75% of the way to solving each of the puzzles, by my lonesome. (Except for the final puzzle, which was crazy convoluted.) With a team, I will win. I will!

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Wheel of Fortune Turns Faster These Days

I was in the gym last night on the Stair Master, and Wheel of Fortune was on the TV directly in front of me.

I haven't watched the show in years -- the last time probably found me laid up in bed with the flu, gazing slack-jawed at the original daytime version, where Vanna White still turned the cards by hand (she's still holding up well, incidentally), round winners shopped for stupid ceramic dogs, and they didn't give you R, S, T, L, N and E on the bonus round.

The thing I noticed as I was huffing and puffing away with the sound off, is that the gameplay is so much faster now. They hardly show the contestants spinning the wheel, or even the wheel spinning at all -- they just cut to the last few clicks. They might as well just be pressing a button on a slot machine.

It's a metaphor for the pace of life these days, compared to the halcyon days of my youth.

My lawn. Get off of it.

Anyway, I also tried out the VersaClimber for the first time. The Reston Fitness First has two, kind of tucked away. It wasn't what I expected, though I wasn't exactly on a record-setting pace -- I was just trying to get the motion down.

I will look forward to trying some Tabata Intervals on it (20 seconds sprint, 10 seconds recover, 8 times) -- people seem to rave about them, and a 4-minute burst appeals to me more than 20+ minutes of slogging.

On a final note, I see that the footer of the Fitness First site has a link (unlinked, as yet) for a "Fitness First blog," which makes a lot of sense. I'm surprised that more gyms and health clubs don't do blogs, it seems like a ready-made audience, as seen by the tons of personal trainers on YouTube and such. (They do have a Facebook profile, though not much a presence -- it's overwhelmed by pages and groups about the non-US chain of the same name, which apparently everyone hates.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Advertising on Internet Video: I Don't Get Not Getting It

I didn't watch last night's Saturday Night Live featuring Steve Martin's umpteen-gillionth hosting appearance. However, I did see that BoingBoing's Xeni Jardin recognized Laser Cats #4 as a Wonderful Thing, complete with the embedded video from Hulu:

It's funny because it's ironic. And meta. And DIGITAL.

The video is a bit of amusing fluff, no big deal. But I'm kind of baffled by this part of Jardin's nota bene (not the Latin abbreviation part -- I looked that up):
"...(nb: I hate that I can't find a version of this short without 30 SECONDS OF ADS preceding the content. NBC still doesn't get it.)"
I don't think a 30-second pre-roll on a 4min 27sec video is particularly onerous (granted, I also don't think pre-rolls are particularly effective, either -- I tend to mute and go to another tab for the duration) but I'm really curious as to what "getting it" would entail. Because, you know, advertisers tend not to care much for the ignorable, non-intrusive, dismissable types of ads that we users like so much.

So, pre-rolls are out. Post-rolls? Overlays? Persistant graphic bug in the corner? Interstitials? Premium accounts? Paid product placement? Throw everything out there without ads and hope to make it up on the back-end through increased DVD sales?

I like free and ad-free stuff, too, but somebody has to pay, somewhere, and there ain't no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. I don't have the access, acumen, or arrogance to presume what's going on with the Hulu balance sheets, but I do know that what may work for BoingBoing or South Park Studios might not work for Hulu.