Recruitment Agents

Recruitment agents, taken collectively, are sharks and snakes. I’ve spoken to a number (a very small number) of friendly snakes, and I know of at least one shark who sees fish as friends, not food. But they’re a tiny minority, and they’re still sharks and snakes.

Just thought I’d get that off my chest. Draw your own conclusions about how the job hunt is going.

Politics and Economics

“Pickles and a .45”

No-one does a good rant quite like Karl over at Word Soup. Today sees one of his best ones:

Obviously Saddam, who was the sole mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and was planning bio and chem attacks on the U.S. (right? RIGHT?), was coordinating the Iraqi resistance with a hot-dog and some fig newtons in a fucking hole. I mean he was dangerous pre-war, what with his army and airforce grounded, Inspectors coating the landscape and the CIA up his ass, but he was super-EXTRA dangerous hiding in that fucking box with pickles and a .45.

I haven’t written much about politics lately because I don’t want to embarrass anyone with the bubbly enthusiasm I tend to run over with whenever I get on the subject. But take Karl’s post, rotate it across the Atlantic, and you get to pretty much where I’m at right now. Sign me up for that Paypal fund, dude.


On being laid off

There’s obviously no such thing as a good time to be laid off from work. Some times, however, are worse than others. Five weeks after joining a company, two weeks before Christmas, and a month and a half before your new baby is due has got be hitting the red zone of the bad-o-meter. I’m curious, therefore, why I don’t feel utterly miserable. I mean, I’ve been pretty down for the last few months anyway–why hasn’t this tipped me over the edge into gloom and despair?

Yes, I’m bummed out about 40,000 people suddenly finding themselves without home insurance, and I feel really bad about all of my colleagues who had been at Tribune a lot longer than I had. I hadn’t been there long enough to build up any kind of real attachment to the company, but there were a lot of people there who were very bitter and angry about being let down in this way. I spent an hour and a half yesterday afternoon alongside now-former colleagues, queuing in the cold outside the company’s closed doors, waiting to fill out redundancy papers. There were some laughs and joking around, but it was gallows humour.

Yet I feel like a cloud has been lifted from me. It makes me wonder how happy I really was there. While I was looking for jobs in September, Tribune was the first company to offer me a position, and (after a certain amount of talking) I accepted it. I wonder if I might not have been too hasty at the time, choosing a good offer quickly rather than taking my time to wait for the best offer. (If there is such a thing.) At the time, though, I wasn’t feeling too good about myself. My self-confidence was at a pretty low ebb, and I was finding it hard to believe (really believe, rather than just hoodwinking myself with the available, reasonably positive evidence) that anyone would want to employ me.

Things are different now, though. Even though I was only there for five weeks, I did some good work at Tribune–work that I felt good about–and that has gone a long way to fixing some of the doubts I had about myself and about my future in the computer industry. Ignoring for a moment the financial constraints imposed by the lack of a job, I’m looking forward to having a short break from work. (Because let’s face it, the chances of finding anything before New Year are pretty slim.)

If there’s anything I’ve felt short of recently, it’s time. Time to play with Alex, time to read some books, time to work on this web site, time to prepare for Christmas. (Christmas, argh. I can’t remember the last time I felt so unprepared for the holiday season, and so completely devoid of any kind of seasonal cheer.) I know I’m going to have to devote a lot of my free time to looking for a job, but there’s a big gap in my mindscape where the nine-to-five used to be, and that feels extraordinarily liberating. Its absence won’t last, but I think I’m in a good position right now to do two things: 1) enjoy the space and time while it’s there, and 2) fill the gap with a job that will really work for me.

When live gives you lemons, you’re supposed to make lemonade, or lemon meringue pie, or lemon curd, or something. I’m certainly trying.

Update: Another reason to feel glad about not working at Tribune any more is that essentially, they were a bunch of crooks. It looks like one of their major underwriters stopped backing their policies about a year ago, and yet Tribune continued to sell policies. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it doesn’t just get overlooked at a monthly board meeting. Senior managers must have known that they were operating illegally, and that makes them crooks.

The story is hitting the national news now:

Personal Ramblings

The Sorry Tale of Tribune Insurance

Tribune Risk and Insurance Services Ltd. was established in 1998 to fill a certain niche in the insurance market. At the time, big British insurance companies were starting to focus more on selling directly to the public, and were gradually cutting back on the services they provided to mortgage brokers, independent financial advisers, and other insurance agents and brokers.

Tribune saw an opportunity to act as an intermediary between these agents and insurance underwriters. They created Tribune-branded insurance packages (primarily home insurance) that were actually backed by third-party underwriters. Tribune built up a network of agents who would re-sell the insurance packaged to their clients (homeowners).

The homeowner would only see “Tribune” on their insurance policies. They would pay their annual or monthly premiums directly to Tribune. Tribune paid a commission to the agent, and then took a cut of the premiums before passing the rest back up to the underwriters. If the homeowner made a claim, they would deal with Tribune in the first instance. Tribune had delegated authority from the underwriters to deal with claims up to a certain amount, above which the underwriters would send in their own loss adjusters to review the claim.

Tribune was most definitely not an “insurance company”. They were a “provider of insurance-related services”. By not providing insurance themselves, they avoided all of the messy costs and overheads that come from being governed by regulatory bodies.

It all came to an end today. The Financial Services Authority didn’t like the way that Tribune was semantically sidestepping general insurance regulations. They also found out that Tribune had been avoiding the bit where they actually got a third party to underwrite their policies. Policyholders were thus unprotected by any kind of guarantee beyond Tribune’s own solvency, which turned out to be minimal. The FSA petitioned the Scottish Court of Session to have Tribune shut down. Yesterday afternoon PriceWaterHouseCoopers were assigned as liquidators by the court. This afternoon about 100 staff were informed that Tribune had been declared insolvent, and that they were all redundant, effective immediately. Tribune is not expected to pay any outstanding wages. About 40,000 homeowners with Tribune insurance policies are going to have to find new cover, and the unlucky few (hundreds?) with outstanding claims are, well, screwed.

Remember the New Job? Well, it was nice cycling to work for the five weeks that it lasted….

Related Links

Food and drink

Hearty French Onion Soup*

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 6 onions
  • 2 litres / 4 pints of beef or vegetable stock
  • 125g / 5oz butter
  • 1 glass of sherry
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 thick slices of fresh white bread
  • 50-100g Pargigiano Reggiano, or Gruyère cheese, or a mixture


Peel the onions, cut them in half, and then slice them into thin semi-circle rings. DO NOT CHOP. Put the sliced onions with the butter in a large, thick-bottomed soup pan. Gently sautée the onions over a low heat for about 30-40 minutes, until they have turned nicely brown and partly caramelised. Add the stock, bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for about 1.5 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Before serving, splash the sherry into the soup, and bring it back to a gentle boil until the alcohol has cooked off. Cut the slices of bread to a size that will fit inside your soup bowls, and toast them until dark brown on both sides. Chop or grate the cheese, and sprinkle a generous handful over each slice of toasted bread. Then put the slices under a grill/broiler (or use a kitchen blowtorch) until the cheese is all bubbling and melty. Pour the soup into bowls, place a slice of the cheese-covered toasted bread on top of each bowl, and serve immediately.

* Authentic Dutch recipe


Bad Taglines

Idly thinking about bad realistic taglines for IT service companies….

  • We Care Because You Pay Us To
  • It Depends
  • Fast, Good, or Cheap: Pick One
  • When You Can’t Afford Anyone Better

Come on…go to the comments and give me some more….