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Rotsa Ruck Senōr – The evolving role of the CIO

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Kai-Fu Lee, Google's ex-head of China operations

As Dr. Jerry Luftman pointedly mentions in his book, “Managing Information Technology Resources,” (2009 Edition, page 157), in 1985, to be a Chief Information Officer (CEO), you had to be a “hierarchical kingpin, a dictator, a Technology guru, a mainframe bigot, having 20 years prior experience at IBM Laboratories, and possessing a Ph.D. at MIT.” In other words, being a big brain with a nasty attitude, having a high level of education and working at a niche company that’s unrelated to the current business for a certain amount of years, no matter how miserable you may be there. As well, one just having IT knowledge without being able to speak a word of business language to communicate effectively to other organizational members would “put one on top.”

Today, the CIO is a lot more. The CIO today must be a “visionary leader, a relationship manager, a marketer, one that’s open-systems oriented, having 20 years at LOB (line of business) management jobs, possessing just a Masters, and a minority (such as Spanish or Chinese).”

There are some big reasons for this change, which I will explain further.

One reason is that in the past, CIO’s were so ineffective in communicating with other organizational members and providing leadership that they had earned some derogatory nicknames. Names for CIO’s like “Career is Over,” “Career in Overdrive,” “Curious Information Obsession,” “Coding is Overrated,” “Cautiously Inspecting Outsourcers,” “Categorically Impossible Occupation,” “Chief Ignorance Officer,” “Crisis is Outgoing,” “Couch in Office,” “Curtailing Internal Operations,” “Confusing Indecipherable Occupation,” “Cafeteria is Open,” and “Career in Obscurity” (book, page 151) have abounded. Communication is of key importance, as is proper leadership. I can cite countless examples where things went wrong due to improper communication.

Being a visionary leader/relationship manager over a hierarchical kingpin is also important. A CIO who’s a hierarchical kingpin/dictator may mandate that processes are structured in a manner such that to use the washroom, one would need to impersonally fill out a “washroom usage form” (sic) with at least 20 signatures, no matter how badly one has to go. Suffice to say, the company’s progression in technology will go slower than a snail. There’s too much control, too much constriction, and many employees won’t appreciate that, save for not being motivated enough.

Being a minority while possessing just a Masters degree, today, provides one with a major advantage over one who has a Ph.D. while being a majority for one very simple reason. Culture in the US practically demands faster work done at a cheaper price. Being a minority, for better or worse, practically means that one can and will get paid less than someone born in the country where the services are being performed.  Why else do large like Microsoft outsource much of their work to countries like India and China (more so India since they speak British English, due in part to being heavily influenced by British culture throughout the first half of the 20th century)?

As well, naturally, one having a Masters degree will invariably earn less than one with a Ph.D. for the sole reason that earning a Ph.D. takes longer time, is much more difficult to earn, and  therefore warrants more money for the time invested.

So, one who’s a minority with a lower level of education will be cheaper for the employer. Cheap is good. I’m only surprised that Dr. Luftman didn’t mention that in the next 20 years one also will need to be a female since historically, females in a male-dominated society earn less than men do. While there are only 11% of women in CIO roles (source: Week 4 slides, slide 66) thereby making the future CIO requirements list “one who’s a minority, one who’s earned a Bachelors of Science degree, and one who’s a female.”

Is there anybody yet who I have NOT offended?

¿Hay alguien que no he ofendido?

是否有任何人,我没有得罪?

Internet Hell With a Caveman – Long Yet Hilarious

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Warning: Rant Ahead!

It’s usually disheartening to encounter the rare individual today that doesn’t know how to operate with today’s technological necessities. It’s even worse when such a caveman is mean and rude. The “caveman” I’m about to refer to is an owner of a well-known Barbecue and Grill place where he works, therefore I’m not disclosing any incriminating names or places.

Caveman #1: The Grilled Food Store-Owner

A number of years ago, when I had recently graduated from university, my uncle had approached me about a website opportunity for an acquaintance of his. This person was in the grilled/barbecue food industry, and was clueless about the first thing on how to operate a computer. At the time, the business lacked a computer, and for that matter, internet access. Their current business model revolved around two aspects: walk-in, paying customers, and a fax machine. Those that wanted their orders filled out took a form previously taken from the store, filled it out and faxed it to the place. It was indeed a primitive way to operate.

My uncle negotiated with the person, explaining that he needed a website to market to today’s generation. The fact that the owner had no computer, nor did he have the space to store one, wasn’t going to be an issue: the site would have a feature where a user submitted a form, and the form data faxed to his machine by using a custom fax-to-PDF method, which came through a 3rd party service. This site would cost approximately $1,000 for development. This was agreed on based on a handshake with no formal contract detailing what would be done – big mistake. Anyways, I then went to work, initially thinking that this was a lot of money (how wrong I was). Due to my inexperience at the time, I foolishly forgot about domain name and hosting registration costs, which for this person, at 2 years hosting and 10 years to own the domain name, came out to over $200 extra. I decided that, over the phone, I would pocket the costs and talk to him later about it.

I spoke with the owner a few times about it, and initially he agreed to pay the extra costs. Later on, he started to play dumb, repeatedly stating, after repeated reminders, that he “thought this was included in the cost” (which of course it wasn’t). To make matters worse, once the site was completed and ready for testing, he verified that the form-to-fax service indeed worked since he always “needed to find his wallet.” Also, since he didn’t have a computer, I had to print screenshots of how the site looked and fax it. When he complained that he wasn’t getting any online customers, I explained that he needed to market his website. In other words, he was looking for every excuse not to pay me (such manners). I guess that to him, I was a kid that he could withhold payment from as long as possible, and he being computer-illiterate, failed to appreciate the amount of work that it took to create the form and the Fax integration.

After not being able to receive payment from him, I asked my uncle, who initially arranged the partnership, to please pick up the money for me in exchange for a percentage of the pay. I don’t know what happened, but my uncle picked up two checks, one being post-dated for a later date, and mumbled to me that the person’s behavior towards me was just plain disgusting. Anyways, we exchanged monies and we let bygones be bygones.

Fast forward to a year later. I happened to meet a very nice girl, became engaged to be married, and naturally, was under a lot of stress in the process. Family, friends, where the wedding would take place, where we would live, where I would land a new full-time job should we move to location X, etc. Towards the wedding my nerves were shot (as was my bride’s), and naturally I was in no mood to be instigated.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, the owner of the site I built for a year ago calls me up and tells me, “I don’t like what you did! I paid for a service and it doesn’t work. All you know is how to take money.” I was understandably insulted because, in my mind, I provided a service on time that was tested, and payment came much later than it should have. Not only that, I doubted that he even ONCE went to the website. So, I blew up at him, screaming at the top of my lungs to get off my back, that I was getting married and already had enough pressures.

Apparently, the Form to PDF/Fax service failed to work for the online ordering form, but it worked for the main contact form. I decided to call this Form-To-PDF service, and found, to my chagrin, that level 2 support, let alone level 1, was indeed horrible. The people on the other line sounded like underpaid Indians who didn’t understand my question about Form to Fax. Apparently, in their online answer bank, they had tons of questions regarding emails/forms to PDF’s, and even Fax to PDF/email, but they didn’t have anything regarding a PDF that would do the reverse: go to a fax machine. After all, who operated with only a fax machine these days?

I tested the online form a few times, as well as the regular contact form. One worked, and one didn’t. In one of my testings, I submitted a mock email basically saying “Nu, I need more money!” The owner of the store, apparently disenchanted with me as well as having an “internet site,” as he put it, cancelled the form-to-fax service, rendering the form non-workable. When I called him about it, he told me, rightfully so from his end, that the service didn’t perform what his business requirements were. As a service, I disabled the form on the site, only keeping the “home” and “about us” pages intact. I also took on the hosting, using it for my domain names. Once the hosting package expired after the 2 years, I renewed it under my own credit card and as a service, hosted this person’s site for free.

Anyways, with so much on my mind, I didn’t think twice. I married, quit my low-paying job, settled in Toronto, and moved on.

Caveman #2: The Owner’s Wife

3 years later – yes, 3 years – after becoming more comfortably settled in, the owner’s wife, who knew how to operate a computer only a little better than her husband (although that didn’t say much), called me and left me a voice message commanding that I teach her how to use the “internet site.” I tried calling her back twice, leaving voice messages, but she didn’t get back to me. One day, my uncle calls me specifically to request that I speak with the wife, as he wasn’t hearing the end of it. He met the wife and asked her what happened. She explained that there was “phone tag” going on. He asked her when would be an available time for her to speak with me. She said she didn’t know. He asked her if her schedule was THAT hectic, to which she replied “ohhh yeahhh….” like she had a million and one things to do and therefore something that SHE was requesting had to be put on hold.

A few months later, the owner’s wife calls me, demanding that I teach her in a matter of minutes how to operate a website, something that took me, well, a lot longer than 5 minutes to learn. Out of courtesy, I spoke with her over the phone for not 5, 10 minutes, but close to 3 hours! She called me out of the blue, without asking if now was a good time for me, and made life unbearable for me. I failed to mention that I had a 30 page paper due for graduate school the following week, and with work, I valued my time very much. When she had a million things to do, that was important. But when I had a million things to do, everything had to be pushed aside! She mentioned that she was ready to learn how to use the site if it killed her. Never mind if it killed me!

This wasn’t a “how are you” conversation. This was a “how do I move my mouse” conversation, literally. She wanted to know how to enter data into a JPEG (I’m dead serious), edit HTML files graphically by default, and with that amount of knowledge, wanted to know how to upload files and pictures to her internet site. I directed her to FileZilla, gave her the username/password to her husband’s site, and attempted to teach her to upload/download files. Simple tasks like locating her downloads location, her desktop relative to her filesystem in the FileZilla interface, etc. alone was a 1 hour chore.

I could have suggested a CMS (content management system) for her needs, but a) it was doubtful that she and her husband would have paid the extra money for it, and b) training someone who wanted to enter data into a JPEG how to use a CMS, long-distance no less, would have been just as difficult . One of her children, during the phone conversation, came over and was amazed at what the mother was doing, to which she nonchalantly replied, “well I’m speaking with a professional, so he’s guiding me what to do.” Well, to be honest, it was more like pulling a leash on a dog that decided to sit rather than walk!

Needless to say, it was hell. The conversation ended rather unpleasantly from my end, and I just asked her to email me the pictures she wanted uploaded. She was about to email me….. until she realized that she didn’t know where the attachment button was! Apparently, after 10 minutes of deciphering, it was found that she was using iGoogle for Gmail, rather than logging into the main Gmail interface. Her settings therefore didn’t permit her to upload attachments from iGoogle.

Again, it was hell. The next day I received some more emails with “do this for my website” kinds of questions. Again, I wasn’t paid for any of this. I’m telling you, where was this person raised? In a barn? The one thing she and her husband had in common were manners – the each lacked them.

Here are some of those emails (with names and places changed):

  • Thanx a ton for your time and patience.  Please remember to change my (FTP) name to BerkOWitz.
  • Did you get the email yesterday?
  • I want to also send photos thanx
  • Did you get the email yesterday?

I called my uncle and told him “uncle, uncle!” Nah, but close. I asked him what should I do? He replied that, get this monkey off my back, I should offer her the option to pay for my services in time stamps, and that she would have 30 days to decide until I choose to take the website down for inactivity. I sent her the following email:

Mrs. Berkowitz,

Per your requests yesterday, I went ahead and added the menu pictures to the site. On website.com, you would go to “view menu,” then go to “Menu Picture.” Below that will appear a number of links where you would go to choose which menu you would like to see. As well, I’ve added the FTP user “mberkowitz” with the password “Berko123” (case-sensitive).

That said, I feel that now I must clarify that our 2 hour phone conversation yesterday was a courtesy one, as was the time in adding the pictures. Therefore, since there wasn’t agreed on, none of my time yesterday and today was charged. Moving forward, though, please understand that I must bill you for my consulting time. “Consulting” includes any phone conversations longer than 10 minutes, as well as any time uploading files/making changes. My normal hourly rate is at $XX per hour. What I can offer is “time blocks” in hours which you can purchase, and during those blocks my time is dedicated solely to maintaining your website as well as any other computer-related services I can provide over the phone.

If you feel that this rate is in any way shape or form unreasonable, or if you wish to go with somebody more local, then please feel free to try someone else. However please note as well, that for the past year and a half your website hosting package had in fact expired and that during this time I’ve hosted your website under my web host space (which I’m currently renting out, it’s not cheap) for free.

Therefore I am providing you 30 days to decide what to do. After this time period, should you not decide to use my services, the site will no longer be hosted on my server for free like it has until now. I can mail you the website files on a CD, if you’d like, but that’s about it. Otherwise, my offer still stands. If you would like to pay me online, I can accept Paypal. If you don’t have an account already, I can help set you up with one, but keep in mind that the time in doing so will cost extra.

Please understand that I don’t mean anything personal by what’s stated. I feel that my time is valuable, and that this is practically my means of livelihood. Why should I therefore work for free?

Best,

Me

To which she replied:

Again I want to thank you for the time you gave for free. I really appreciate it. I will need to make some inquiries and figure out where I want to go from here. Thanks. Please do come in for a free meal when you are in the area. Thanks again.

Conclusion

That was that. I sent a few reminder emails, to which she didn’t respond. It’s one thing to not understand how to operate a computer, but to be rude, self-imposing, and expect this kind of service for free, is just Chutzpah and caveman-like. Good riddance.

Lessons learned:

  • Don’t ever start work without a contract, if anything one detailing what you will do so that you and the client can reference it at a later time.
  • Learn when to “fire” the client, be mean if you have to. Don’t let the client or his wife ever take advantage of your time or professional experience, which you have worked years to attain.
  • Work with clients that “want” to learn the industry, even though you’re being paid to be the professional and in charge. Some willingness from their end is extremely important.

From Men to Boys in Business

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There used to be a time when a person’s word was as good as gold. Someone said something and it was done. Promises were kept, and handshake agreements were accepted as valid. To give someone you know “the business,” you would pay just a little bit more out of courtesy.

In today’s day in age this is a mere fantasy. My experience has taught me that people, most of whom have limited vision, can and will try to get the best deal for a product or service. When you offer a product or service that’s a little more expensive than what the person next door is selling, you’re out. Never mind if your quality is better or that the user experience is much different. Today, if people think they see a deal, they will take that. That is business today. People will do what they can to purchase a Lexus at Kia prices, and won’t bow to reason. For some reason they expect work to be done for them for free. Imagine how the person on the other end feels!

What makes things worse is that some people, rather than say straight to your face “I don’t want to do business with you since you’re too expensive, etc.,” will send emails and phone calls behind back in rather secretive manners. If you don’t get a phone call back, expect the answer to be “no.”

This may have to do with childish fear and lack of backbone with today’s “men.” Well before the advent of the telephone, and even before the invention of a telegram or letter, the only means of communication was to either appear in front of the other person and tell him yourself, or tell another person to do your dirty work. Either way, there would be some sort of shame involved.

With a telephone, or even better, emails and instant messages, communication can now be conducted in a non-personal manner. Electronic devices certainly don’t have feelings. And, if one perchance meets another in a public place, all one needs to do is lower ones head and turn the opposite direction.

It would be very interesting to see how others respond to this post.

Classic “Do Work for Free” Request

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Client: I don’t understand. I recently paid a certain person money to get us on Page 1 on Google and I still don’t see us up.

Us: Well, organic SEO takes time – about 3-6 months.

Client: Ok, so can we then get this service from you for free for 1 month? Then I’ll decide if I want to pay.

Web Designers: NEVER Work for Free, or Less Pay

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For some reason, most clients fail to see the value and effort it takes to make a GOOD website or logo. Depending on the website, one can expect to pay anywhere from a $200 you-get-what-you-pay-for website to a $100,000 fully fledged e-commerce web application. Many clients for some reason expect to pay $1,000 or less and expect the sun, moon, and stars handed to them on a silver platter, when in reality that sun, moon, and stars costs at LEAST 10-15 times more.

Then comes the client that expects work to be done for free. The same person who wouldn’t dare skimp on paying for groceries, clothing, or bills somehow finds ways to short-change the hard-working web designer simply because he FAILS TO SEE THE VALUE. Someone with limited knowledge of the internet naively assumes that a website guarantees instant wealth and power (mwahahahaha!), has them expecting to have the traffic and revenue of a site like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube rolled in one, without any business model whatsoever, and is disappointed when they find out that JUST A LITTLE more work needs to be done to get even a fraction there. ClientsFromHell.net is littered with cases like that, many of them being true stories.

Some classic client lines (borrowed from the ClientsFromHell.net website):

  • “Also, I will pay you when my website becomes popular like Facebook. For now, you can just work on it.”
  • “It’s kinda the same idea as facebook, with functionality more like Twitter, but with the innovation of Microsoft.”
  • “We want Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Twitter and E-Commerce rolled into this one site.”
  • “I want it to be like Facebook… I need to get it done for under $500.”

On a related note, Steve Jobs of Apple and Pixar has already determined for years that the typical client is a complete bozo with limited vision, possessing an IQ in the double-digits or less. He therefore came out with certain technology before others conceptualized it. He came out with a floppy-less iMac during the turn of the century when most people were relying on the Floppy drive. Instead, he had the futuristic-at-the-time USB ports inserted. Jobs saw that people were going to eventually move away from the archaic floppy drive, and he was right. Most people protested against him, but he refused to listen to them. His team of testers historically consisted of one person, himself, and ignoring client requests. The same can be said with Henry Ford when he came out with the Model T automobile during the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Ford once said that “if I had listened to what others said, they would have simply requested faster horses.”

Let’s face it: most clients do not know what they want, period. They rely on us, the experts, to tell them what to do. Otherwise, if they knew what they were doing, they would do it themselves. That said, being that they don’t know what they’re doing, they can’t possibly appreciate why building a website or logo can cost in the thousands of dollars. Not only is the effort that much greater for a harder-to-build website, but the potential ROI (return on investment) is greater as well.

In spite of everything, what is still admittedly amazing is that some clients expect web design work to be done for free. What makes things worse is that, while they rely on the professionals, they often challenge their work. As dumb as a client is, that is still a big insult to ones intelligence. The designer has every right to look at the prospective client with a hint of that mix of nausea and surprise.

Therefore, while the customer may always be right, the designer MUST be able to say “no” from time to time. Which is better, to have a plethora of cheap/free projects where the clients are always hounding you, or to have fewer higher-paying projects where the client is appreciative of your work and understands the value of high-quality work?

At This Time….. Moving Forward…

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0c0344bSome classic lines that translate into “you’re fired.” Heard of these before?

  • “At this time, moving forward, we have decided to go a different direction. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to let you go.”
  • “I can’t keep you.”
  • “Moving forward, we cannot foresee you helping us in the long run.”
  • “I can’t keep you.”
  • “We’ve decided to terminate your tenure with our company.”
  • “You’re too junior for this position at this time.”
  • “You’re too senior/overqualified for this position at this time.”
  • “We don’t see you fitting in with our corporate culture.”
  • “We don’t like you and would like you to leave.”
  • “We don’t have the work right now to keep you busy and there it’s not worthwhile for us as a company to keep you when we aren’t making money.”
  • “You’re Jewish and wear a Kippah beanie on your head, observe the Sabbath and are just plain…different.” (Ok, maybe not THAT blatant.)
  • *** slight shoulder shrug, pressed lips, constipated look ***
  • And last but not least, “You’re fired!”

Some classic lines translating to “I quit.”

  • “I quit.”
  • *** slight shoulder shrug, pressed lips, constipated look ***
  • “I’ve decided to move to another company with better opportunity for personal growth.”
  • “I’ve decided to move to another company with better opportunity for better pay.”
  • “I don’t feel I’m making enough money for the work I’m doing and therefore would like to pursue greener pastures.”
  • “I don’t like you and would like to leave you.”

Most people in the workforce have seen and/or heard one of these variations before, and believe it or not, it’s hard to bear. Not only on the (now former) employee, but also the (now former) employer.

The reasons for firings (terminations) and quittings are numerous. Sometimes

  • The employee isn’t performing in his/her work due to negligence or simply being incapable of handling the rigors and skills of the job at hand.
  • The employee is disruptive to the company, being verbally and/or physically abusive to everyone around him/her.
  • The employee asks for too much vacation time.
  • The commute is deemed too long and/or dangerous.
  • The nature of the job is monotonous, non-productive and/or dead-end.
  • The employer isn’t holding his/her end of the  bargain, refusing or forgetting to issue that raise or promotion previously promised to a hard-working employee.
  • The employer is verbally abusive and therefore disrupts company morale.
  • The employer asks for too many unpaid overtime hours.
  • The employer refuses to issue paid vacation and sick days as entitled to the employee  requesting them.
  • The pay is deemed too low for a higher-skilled employee with a family to support to continue at current position.
  • The employee is threatening the job of someone higher-up, and therefore must be stopped before taking over another’s job.

The point of this entire article is, there are many reasons for firings or quittings. Simply put, an employer/employee relationship is a two-way street: it’s a give-and-take relationship. There has to be proper chemistry between the employer employee to keep a relationship. Long gone are the days where the mentality was that, when the employer, he could pay you whatever he wanted, he could pile tons of work on your plate, and you were grateful for being hired in the first place.

Yes, money talks and is vital to support oneself and ones family. In this economy, especially, it’s super important to secure a steady source of income. But, it’s also important to have fun at what you’re doing. Fringe benefits also help, such as approval to take vacation days from time to time. Otherwise one will eventually break down as a person both mentally and physically. Is the cost of ones health worth the few measly thousand dollars in return?

On the other hand, to just get told that “you’re doing a good job” after 50-60, even 80, hours of work in a week doesn’t exactly pay the bills, either. There needs to be a balance.

From a Jewish perspective, Hillel the Elder once stated the golden rule: that the main message of the Torah is to not do to someone what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Interestingly, a sizeable amount of Judaic laws happen to apply today, and so happen to deal directly with business matters. Perhaps his message therefore was, to be in business, as well as in life, don’t assign unpaid overtime work, etc. if you wouldn’t want these things done to yourself? Who said that you’re better than the next person? Following this simple golden rule will enhance employer-employee relations infinitesimally.

Then again, moving forward might truly be the best thing for everyone!

My Intentions in Starting Raise or Praise

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As this is the initial post on Raise or Praise, I wanted to express what some of my thoughts were in starting this series of blog posts.

Firstly, in this economy, I was debating whether or not it was even worth starting such a blog, for two reasons. One, with so many people out of work today, one must be grateful to even HAVE a job that pays money, no matter the amount and no matter the conditions. Second, I admit that I might be putting myself at risk, should my name go out, of potentially being sued by former clients and companies should their names go out, or possibly worse.

I nonetheless started this for the following reasons. One, even though so many are unemployed, that shouldn’t give employers license to overwork and underpay employees, and certainly not demoralize them in any manner. The same holds true for clients that are trying to “get a better deal” because they assume that the rough economy is on their side.

As for naming names, every effort will be made to avoid particular company names when citing examples or telling stories. That’s not the purpose. The purpose here is to extract insights from actual cases, simply referring clients/employers as “client/employer X.” That way all can learn some valuable lessons without hurting anyone.

I also am welcoming anyone who would wish to contribute to the blog with posts of his/her own. Please contact me on the Contact page and I would be happy to publish your posts, either under your name or anonymously.

Ten ancient Greek tips for coping with our high-tech world

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The ancient philosophers knew a thing or two about life, and even in the internet age we can still benefit from their wisdom, says the author Mark Vernon

  1. Go with the flow

    To live in a high-tech world is to live in a world of change. It was not dissimilar for the ancient Greeks. The adventures of Alexander the Great reshaped the known world. Technologies that could build the Parthenon were being developed. So, said Zeno the Stoic, don’t resist the change; learn to live with it. If you can go with the flow, you’ll find tranquility.

  2. Remember that less is more

    It’s hard to do when everything is only a click away. Epicurus, who was known as a hedonist, didn’t argue that the pursuit of more and more pleasure was the key to happiness. Instead, he said he had learnt to be as happy as Zeus if all he had to eat was a glass of water and a barley cake. Less is more. That’s the test for a consumer age.

  3. Work to live, don’t live to work

    Cleanthes, who was a Stoic philosopher and also known as the water-carrier, worked by night so that he could do philosophy by day. He was quite clear that he would work enough, and only enough, to support his real passion, the philosophy. In a world of email and 24×7, it is far too easy to work so hard that you miss what you really want.

  4. Beware the transience of the internet

    It can make a hero in minutes, and destroy an individual in hours. The ancient philosophers were not against fame per se. Many, like Diogenes the Cynic, who resided in a barrel and lived like a dog, were not just famous, but infamous. However, they all advised that your life itself is the medium and message that really counts.

  5. Friendship requires face to face communication

    Aristotle is our adviser on this matter. He argued that good friendship – soulmateship – is only possible when friends “share salt together”. He meant that they sit down with each other, not just over the occasional meal, but over the course of their lives. Texting and telephoning may be necessary in modern friendship, but alone, they are not sufficient.

  6. Keep hold of common sense

    It’s easy, in a world of science, to be swayed this way and that with every new theory that’s announced. You see it with food fads. One week red wine is bad; the next it’s called good. Sextus Empiricus was a philosopher and doctor, and he advised his patients to measure new science against common sense. Bread might be made of carbs, but everyone knows it’s nourishing, so eat a little, he said.

  7. Be careful lest travel change you

    It’s so easy to hop on a plane and within hours be in a different time and place. Mostly, we do it as tourists, so don’t allow a culture to change us. However, the philosopher Secundus went travelling as a young man and changed so much that when he got home no one recognized him, not even his mother. A stranger in the places he visited, he’d become a stranger in his own town.

  8. Don’t believe all the rumours

    The web is a haven for them, though whether they are founded on truth is another question entirely. But it’s a vital question to ask. If there’s one thing everyone knows about ancient Athenians it is that they were democrats. If there’s a second thing, it’s that those democrats put Socrates to death. It was the action of the herd. And the great risk of those who enjoy freedom of speech – and a cheap means like the web to express it – is the same: rule by the rumour-merchants and the mob.

  9. Don’t forget nature

    There are all sorts of things you can learn from it. Heraclitus developed an entire philosophy of life based upon his observations of the natural world. He noticed that because the water flowed, so you can never step into the same river twice. That was a metaphor for nothing stands still. He noticed how new the sun feels every morning, and so sought to renew his love of life every day.

  10. Resist the virtual life

    The idea that you can have one – switching gender, looking handsome, becoming perfect – has grown with Second Life and the like. Plato is often associated with the existence of a perfect world, which philosophers call the Forms. But he was clear that this virtual place is not the real world. To live life in all its fullness, we humans must deal with this world’s imperfections, Plato said.

Mark Vernon is the author of Plato’s Podcasts: The Ancients’ Guide to Modern Living, to be published in October by Oneworld. For more information, seehttp://www.markvernon.com