(Hard) Work

Taming office workers hooked to the net

One advantage of connecting an office to the broadband Internet is that communication and research tasks would be less tedious. Gone are the days when there was only one computer machine connected to the Internet on dial-up service and workers had to follow the queue for their turn to use that machine.

DSL connection fees have been cheaper than before so offices have their way to avail of the service 24/7.

But with broadband connection comes the temptation to get hooked to the Internet like a drug. I, for one, cannot live without at least four hours of Internet connection, except in situations when it is impossible. Most of my office colleagues use the Internet to communicate with their friends and loved ones, in addition to office-oriented tasks. In other words, they are avid users of Friendster, YM, YouTube, and the like. Indeed, social media have permeated the four corners of the offices. They have blurred the line between virtual and physical offices.

Spending unnecessarily more time for the Internet is a concern, if not a problem. At least, a government agency has come out in the open revealing just that. Most of its employees use lunch break to play online games and connect with friends through Friendster and chatrooms. Which is permissible. But what cannot be condoned is the fact that they extend their Internet activities even to office hours. Officials have called the employees’ attention regarding this. They don’t want to impress on the public that government employees spend more time to the Internet than to public service.

I bet that there are much more government agencies in the same situation. And non-government offices are no exempted.

It’s not only that service is defeated. The employees’ home duties and face-to-face social functions are distracted as well.

What are the best ways to keep the hooked employees at bay? My unsolicited tips:

  • Develop and sustain the sense of service among employees. When in office, employees must devote most of their time for office tasks. They must only be allowed to use up to 30% of their working hours for personal concerns.
  • Disable client internet service before and after office hours or during the defined off-hours.
  • Regularize offline activities. Aside from staff meetings and the like, introduce ones that are fun for the employees, e.g., weekly or fortnightly jamming sessions and night-outs
  • Institutionalize daily to weekly deadlines (with a clearcut carrot-and-stick policy) so that staff will not procrastinate.
  • Develop a system wherein staff won’t suffer from “disconnected syndrome” (a situation where s/he feels inutile or incapable of working further when disconnected from the internet for various reasons). Some of the ways are:
    • Saving webpages to offline versions using Scrapbook
    • Asking the staff to maintain a to-do list of online and offline tasks
    • Calling for sessions (the more fun, the better) during offline situations.
  • Formulate and disseminate a policy indicating the above, making sure that the employees are consulted or leveled off first.

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An appeal to President Arroyo to stop agrarian violence

My organization was able to see print (on Philippine Daily Inquirer, Feb 16 issue, page 10) a paid-ad statement on the Philippine agrarian violence and killing of farmers. It was a success also because we were able to convince church leaders, personalities, and the human rights community to sign in to the statement.

Excerpts from the statement:

Madam President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo:

From 2001 when you assumed power to 2006, 38 farmer-leaders were slain in cold blood. Two more were killed since — TFM’s Pepito Santillan in Negros Occidental on January 25 and UNORKA’s Joseph Matunding in Iloilo on January 30. KMBP’s Heliolito Abrenica could have been the third had he not survived the bolo-hacking by a goon identified with a big landowner in San Francisco, Quezon. He, however, lost his left hand.

More limbs and lives are likely to be sacrificed unless you act quickly and resolutely. Records of PARRDS indicate that there are 2,342 leaders and organizers whose lives are threatened by goons and security guards of big landowners and plantations as well as others in their service, including policemen, barangay tanods, and members of so-called revolutionary forces.

The farmers have experienced five years of murders, frustrated murders, arson, physical assaults, grave threats, forced evacuations, harassment cases, destruction of properties, and strafing of houses, especially in agrarian reform hotspots like Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Iloilo, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Sarangani, Mindoro Occidental, Batangas, Quezon, and Masbate.

The signatories asked the President to:

  1. Make public the report of the Melo Commission, especially the results of its investigation of agrarian reform-related killings and violence;
  2. Prosecute all perpetrators of agrarian-related human rights violations, whether they be private sector goons, police forces, or agents of so-called revolutionary groups; and,
  3. Implement agrarian reform speedily and fairly especially in contentious landholdings, taking into consideration the rights of the legitimate farmers.

Let’s hope that President Arroyo listens. Although, the writer himself doubts that will happen.

For the complete text, you may download it here -> An Appeal to President Arroyo on Agrarian Violence

Open source techie, how much is your work worth?

I just inked a contract with an electoral and political reforms NGO wherein I will develop a LAPP (Linux, Apache, PostgreSQL, and PHP) architecture for an election monitoring project. This is inclusive of developing a user interface for encoding and retrieval of data coming from field reports, training of staff (of course) and uploading data to a website. And do you know the price of this contract? P10,000.00.

Before I reason out why I accepted this contract, let me ask this question: How much does an open source hacker/system administrator/programmer/developer/web developer/network administrator charge for his or her work?

In a mailing list of my Linux community, there is a thread regarding compensation of open source technical employees. The posting by one member regarding a hiring of a systems and network administrator for a certain monthly salary provoked a heated discourse. The posting said:

We are looking for Systems and network administrators

Typical duties:
* Perform independent monitoring, troubleshooting and diagnostics.
* Work with support staff to diagnose, troubleshoot and resolve
production system issues.
* Work outside normal working hours when required.
* Take in general IT projects.
* Other Duties as assigned.

* Able to handle any Linux, any BSD and any Windows version.
* Knows in and outs of x86 hardware.
* Demonstrated knowledge in programming.
* Experience with managed switches and network devices (ie. 3com, cisco).
* Knowledge in networking with strong basics in TCP/IP and security.
* Strong analytical and communication skills.
* Independent, resourceful and able to complete assignments with
minimum guidance.
* As much as possible a jack of all trades.

Salary ranges from PHP 20000 to 30000

One immediate response to that announcement was this:

A company should pay their professional employees with Professional fees or salary. For an IT who knows about Networks, Windows OS and UNIX they should be receiving at least more than 50,000 pesos depending on their experience in the Philippines. I know they will be worth more than 5,000 US Dollars outside Philippines.

The debate is interesting. To summarize the points:

  1. The company reserves the right to peg monthly salaries according to scales that it can afford.
  2. If someone bites to the offer, fine. If none, then the company may have to up the offer. (If you don’t want the offer, then, don’t apply.)
  3. The applicant (given his/her qualification for the job offer) should be creative enough to accept the offer and then show the company his/her worth and negotiate afterwards. Thinking and looking professional will help.
  4. Aside from monetary compensation, the company may be providing other benefits that are worth inquiring about.
  5. Geeks are geeks. They are concerned about their work (machines and conducive environment) more than the money they are paid.
  6. Hire a FOSS advocate to run the tech department. (Ughh!)
  7. Reality is that many Philippine companies pay their techie employees within the range (P20,000-P30,000).
  8. So sad that some companies resort to FOSS because it’s free. And because it’s free, they value their FOSS employees very low.
  9. Some companies believe in technology, so they pay their techie personnel high. Others don’t, so..
  10. Techie people should maintain a blog to ‘advertise’ their stuff: Personal branding.

Quite interesting.

My take on this is that it depends on who you are, your values and your passion. If you do FOSS for a living, then you deserve to be paid high enough to make both ends meet. If you do FOSS as your side task, then please don’t overcharge. Chances are the entity that is negotiating with you is an NGO and has other items in its operation that must be funded as well.

If your take on FOSS is as political as technical, then you deserve to have a negotiating power (note: negotiating skill is required) with the other party. In a negotiation, integrity, trust, openness, and compassion are crucial.

I’m an NGO manager and ICT activist, who happens to be a techie (in my own right, of course) at the same time. I believe in the role of technology to uplift the lives of the people. When I enter into a contract, I always see the situation of the contracting party, its advocacies and financial capacity. If the advocacies measure up with mine, great. If it can pay high enough, very good. If not, fine. Maybe next time, given the inflation and what not, I’ll be compensated more.

Now, need I explain more why I accepted that P10,000-worth of contract?

Concatenating with PostgreSQL and MySQL

I got a table named mrhs84 with fields lname, fname, and section. I want to string them together into a single query field that looks like this: Calmada, Dong (A).

PostgreSQL select mrhs84.lname || ', ' || mrhs84.fname || ' (' || mrhs84.section || ')' as person from mrhs84;
MySQL select concat(mrhs84.lname,', ',mrhs84.fname,' (',mrhs84.section,')') as person from mrhs84;

A totally different world called SEED

The past three days ferried me to a new world called Socio-Economic Enterprise Development (SEED).

On May 29, PEACE sponsored a roundtable discussion on local economy and micro-finance, a kind of forum that it has not sponsored in decades. Participants, a half of whom were community organizers, were pretty confused with concepts that the resource persons talked about. Apart from the two themes of the RTD, terms like Grameen, MABS, ASA, micro-enterprise, and the like, were alien to them. I’m glad that at the end of the RTD, they appreciated the fact that as agrarian reform beneficiaries are also ‘economic’ beings, not just political ones, they deserve economic services from PEACE, too. The proposal was for PEACE to engage in microfinance work, including extending agricultural credit.

On May 30 till 31, we conducted SEED Conference at Los Banos, Laguna. At the conference, the participants united on the institution’s SEED framework, from which a medium-term indicative plan was drawn up. In general, the discourse revolved around the implications of SEED emphasis on the political lives of the ARBs, particularly those still in the process of struggle for land. At the end of the discourse, which was passionate in most cases, there was unity that:

  1. SEED should be part of the consciousness of the community organizers even at the start of their organizing work, or even when the ARBs are just starting their struggle for land.
  2. The transformation of POs into cooperatives or creation of separate organizations called cooperatives should not be done mechanically. The POs must be left to decide, given the options made available to them.
  3. There is a need to reorient the field staff so that land-transfer work is balanced with land-productivity endeavor.

The Board’s special meeting on June 1 punctuated the Conference’s resolve.

Overall, my attitude toward the SEED-focused discussions was that it’s fun to learn the agricultural development jargon and it’s a necessity to address post-land transfer needs of the ARBs at the outset of their struggle for land.

I also thought that COs and office staff are economic beings too. Because they lost the opportunity to engage in economic endeavor for their personal and family needs, there needs to be sufficient compensation package available to them. Likewise, the idea of a cooperative for PEACE’s stakeholders must be revived.

Me and my non-human work mate

donggone dong and his doggone notebook

Originally uploaded by dungkal.

When I'm in Manila and in office, my "work wife" is my computer notebook. I call her isda. The name jibes with the office's workstations whose names are agricultural crops. I chose isda as the name because a fish is always on the move, swimming and flowing to any direction it likes to go.

Isda is with me most of the office time. Almost everywhere I go, she's with me: in a room during meetings, in a corner composing something, in a bed listening to music, and what not.

This picture is the most recent (6 May 2006). I am in my office room. Far beside me are (from left) sugar jar (to sweeten my Milo), a purple mug I had received from the TFDP as my honorarium for talking about agrarian reform in its radio program, an Epson printer that is for service, a triangular banner I got from AsiaSource Camp in Bangalore two years ago, my mattress, and ethnic back bag as a display attached on cork board.

Beside my laptop is a card reader. Don't mind the glue; it's just used as a paper weight.

The man you see is neither Switch nor Neo. He's the man very much caring about his "work wife". (I hope my real wife, Lea, doesn't get jealous. If she did, I'd talk to isda and settle things out. :-)). Or we can just call ourselves work (soul)mates. Well, Trinity, err, Lea, was the one who took this picture. So it shows that she's not jealous, after all.

The relationship is fruitful, though. I've done a lot of stuff because of her. She's rather slow (Transmeta Crusoe, 900Mhz, 512MB memory), yes, but that's just her. I need to understand. She's slow but sure.

When I relate with her for very long hours, I observe she gets madly hot and then thinks very much more slowly. So we "cool off" every now and then.

By the way, isda hates Windows. She loves Linux and finds Kubuntu cool.

Liberations from work

Yesterday, my work colleague made me a compliment for my attire. I was wearing a blue polo, khaki slacks and sandals on black sacks. But she did not say whether I looked blooming or not. Perhaps the positive remark was due to the fact that I have been so glued to wearing t-shirts until that day that everybody should notice.

“You know the feeling? Every after Board meetings, I feel liberated,” I replied, unable to pronounce the last word correctly. I was referring to the Board meeting last Saturday. Before and during every major activity, BOT meetings included, I am preoccupied, almost lacking sleep. But, hey, I don’t forget to breath! I’m conscious of that!

Wearing t-shirts does not only mean I ran out of polo shirts inside my work desk drawer. It means I am too busy to take care of my looks. Wearing polo shirts means that I feel relaxed. It also means that I am ready to be preoccupied again, with the anticipation for being “liberated” again.

Sustaining agrarian reform work

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS, my work colleagues and I were discussing how to propel agrarian reform back to national and global limelight. Obviously, AR, as what agrarian reform is called shortly, has not been a priority for the Philippine government, nor is it a primordial issue for most development assistance/intervention international organizations.

The situation is worse given the political divergences of civil society groups. More often than not, the tension stems from correct analysis and strategies as well as access to funds.

My organization is known for its affinity to agrarian reform. In fact, many cadre staff survived from mid-1990s until now, weathering the organizational and financial crises that they have gone through. The glue that continues to hold them together is the common passion for the struggles of the peasants.

Our intention for social change remains intactly noble. However, given the politics that inextricably defines development work, we have to be more adept at playing it.

Some NGOs, which, even if not having grounding (i.e., grassroots constituents to assist on regular and systematic basis), are excellent in developing projects because of prolific and hardworking writing staff and therefore enjoying the lion’s share of the pie. But this cannot be sustained over time. Other NGOs, which have grounding but do not have the capacity to develop fundable projects, have to make both ends to sustain their mass work. They must be pitied (and eventually assisted) as the “outer world” (the funding agencies abroad, for one) does not know that they exist, if not the fact that the agrarian reform problem manifests down to their own organizing areas.

Fortunately, my organization is a better variant of the latter type of NGOs. However, we need to beef up our capacity to high-profile ourselves, including what we have been doing and are about to do in the future. We need to have staff capable in producing fundable short- to medium-term grassroots-oriented proposals. There should also be staff that can write academe- and policymaker-friendly papers that ably argue the importance of agrarian reform both in the Philippines and other places which agrarian reform is put to great risk.

The important keywords in our development discourse hegemony-building efforts are quality and sustainability.

I cannot wait. I need colleagues to share the energy of putting my organization’s mission forward. I want it NOW.

Finally, PhpWebsite

After testing about ten CMS softwares provided by our web host, I finally opted to adopt the phpWebSite. It’s the easiest to customize, although I miss the per-subject counters of Geeklog and Mambo’s newsflash feature.

With phpWebSite, nevertheless, every portal’s member feels the sense of community as she may participate in any of the following ways:

  1. Submit a FAQ
  2. Upload and download a document
  3. Submit a story or announcement
  4. Vote on polls
  5. Participate in Forums
  6. Comment on articles
  7. Create and use data-entry forms
  8. Create a photo album
  9. Submit events

The only limitations I have encountered with phpWebSite are:

  1. timezone configuration which is set to the server; there’s no way to set the timezone to localtime
  2. FAQs classification which can only be done by categories, not subject matters.

Ghostwriting for my CV

I asked myself if ghostwriting experiences can be included in one’s profile or curriculum vitae. So I googled the phrase “curriculum vitae ghostwriting”. Yes, it can be done. In one site I visited, the format used in presenting it is as follows:

Ghostwriting (speeches, articles) for:
[name of person and her designation]
[name of another person and her designation]

I’m not used to this, but I’ll try. I guess the main consideration for including that in one’s profile is the prestige, if not popularity, of the person for whom she wrote the speech or article. If that person is not of high status (so high that writing is too time consuming, if not a lowly task), then it would be a disgrace to both the ghostwriter (for wasting her time writing for the “medium” [I mean the person delivering the article]) and the “medium” for not taking time to do his piece himself (it’s plain sloth).