Back from Vegas and nothing to show for it

This is a good thing.

We thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of Vegas, but we didn’t waste any money on gambling. Although I missed playing blackjack, I couldn’t justify gambling when the economy is so rocky and we have no idea what’s around the corner. Having my own business has made me much more conscious of my spending just because I don’t know when I’ll get another project.

Luckily, Vegas isn’t all about gambling. We loved getting a chance to sip hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s again. Specifically, the italian hot chocolate in the hug mug. However, $3 for my two-year-old to drink a third of a cup of milk out of the Alice cup was a little outrageous and frustrating to deal with (a cup with no lid for a two-year-old is just asking for trouble). But this is the new Vegas, where food is double the price of what it would normally be. It almost felt like being back in Sydney, except that we knew if we ventured off the strip, we’d hit normal-ville again. But where’s the fun in that?

Other delights? Not that I’m all about food, but I was all sorts of excited when I saw Serendipity 3. Frozen hot chocolate! Yes! Unfortunately, the wait to eat and the slow service meant we had to skip dessert to get little J back to the hotel and to bed. We never did make it back for our frozen hot chocolate. My husband wasn’t impressed with the place, so I couldn’t drag him back to partake of the real attraction of Serendipity. Maybe another time.

By far, the best part of the strip was the Conservatory at Bellagio. I just adored the whimsical displays. This was my favorite:

Flower painting at Bellagio

It’s a painting made from fresh flowers. Spectacular! I’ll add more photos when I upload them from my other camera. The Bellagio displays knocked my socks off. They’re always impressive, but this time, I just wanted to sit on a bench and absorb the sites and fresh air. It’s now my favorite hotel, although I’ve yet to stay there. Maybe next time.

Never start work until you’ve signed the contract

One of my customers contacted me about a new project that had a seriously aggressive deadline, so I scrambled to put together a proposal and doc plan and started contacting the developers for more information. I was hesitant to put much work into it because I didn’t have a contract, but it was a customer I’d worked with before and I wanted a head start on the project.

Over the next two weeks, I was in constant communication with the Director, Marketing, and devs, but I still didn’t have a contract. I had less than a month to finish the project, which included a new Developer’s Guide and updates to the existing Administrator Guide and User Guide. It was the Developer’s Guide that made me the most nervous because I was working with unfamiliar information.

I completed my research, but I still didn’t have a contract. I was putting off the heavy writing, but I was starting to run out of time.

I contacted the Director to go over the contract, and he finally asked me to update our previous contract with the information from my proposal and submit it for approval. For whatever reason, it got stuck in the approval chain.

Then everything fell apart. When I asked for an update on the contract, the Director told me he was leaving the company for a new opportunity. I’d already dedicated a significant number of hours to the project, and now there was a possibility of that work going unpaid.

In my congratulations email, I asked the Director whether I should continue working on the project, who was my new contact, and whether the contract had been approved.

I agonized while waiting for his reply. Although I still didn’t have a contract, I had to decide whether to go forward or not. There was still a lot of writing to do, and the deadline was getting close, I was beginning to doubt whether I could meet it.

I decided to go forward.

There were several factors that led to this decision:

  • I enjoyed working with this department and wanted to continue working with them in the future.
  • The research I was doing for the Developer’s Guide was opening a whole new world for me.
  • The company still needed their documents updated, and they had limited in-house resources. I figured there was a good chance they’d want me to finish the project.

So, I started writing. Two days later, the Director got back to me with the signed contract.

Lessons Learned

This was a somewhat painful situation from which to learn, but I took a couple of things away from it.

  • Don’t start work until the contract is signed.
  • Include pricing for work delays (if you’re going to have to work 15 hour days to meet the deadline, you should get paid for it).

Lucky for me, it all worked out. But I’d much rather avoid that unnecessary stress in the future.

Gmail hacked; Robbed at gunpoint and stranded in London?

Not so long ago, you might have gotten an email from me that stated I was robbed at gunpoint and stranded in London with no money. If so, you probably figured out that my gmail was hacked. What you might not have figured out is that I’d rather be robbed at gunpoint and stranded in London than have been hacked. Not only was it heart wrenchingly strenuous to recover my gmail, but I lost thousands of email messages, had to set up extra security for gmail, still haven’t figured out exactly how I got hacked, and had to send an embarrassing email to the hundreds of people who got my London spam (most I hadn’t talked to in YEARS) when I’m one of those people who should know how to avoid getting hacked.

I thought I was impervious. After all, one of the lessons I learned from working at was how to create strong and unique passwords. I generally have passwords that are alphanumeric, mixed capitals, unique to each account. But once one account was hacked, it was easy to hack into the other account because they were the recovery email for each other.

On the bright side, although both my Yahoo! and gmail accounts were hacked, my Yahoo! account was mostly complete when I recovered it. Gmail, however, was decimated – thousands of messages deleted from inbox, contact list gone, spam sent, settings changed.

Recovering Accounts

When I found out I’d been hacked (both my Yahoo! mail and gmail), I began trying to recover my accounts. I started with gmail, and what a convoluted process that was. If your gmail was hacked, I strongly recommend you read about the account recovery process here: How to successfully recover a disabled gmail account. This guy goes into all the detail you need, including recommendations for avoiding this situation in the future. The only update I have to his information is that it can take longer than 15 minutes. I recovered my account 1.5 hours after submitting the recovery form. I actually thought my recovery was going to be rejected, it took so long.

What helped me the most was having my gmail inbox still open on my laptop and using my iPad to recover my account. This helped me name four of my most frequently named labels and the email addresses of five frequently emailed contacts (although I could have recovered email addresses from my phone, if needed). The other thing that helped me was remembering the approximate year I joined gmail and the person who invited me.

Recovering my Yahoo! mail was so much easier. Although all of my account information had been changed, including my gender, birth date, birth year, and security question, Yahoo! allowed me to go back to the security questions I’d set up before the hack, I answered them, and I was in.

Setting up extra security

I absolutely do not want to ever ever go through this again. So, after recovering and cleaning up the mess, I set up Google’s Two-Step Verification. Lifehacker covers it best: Set Up Google’s Two-Step Verification Now for Seriously Enhanced Security for Your Google Account.

So what happened, anyway?

Virus scans didn’t turn up anything suspicious on my computers. My best guess is I managed to duplicate a password somewhere. Considering the crazy number of sites that require accounts, I can see how duplication can eventually occur.

Going forward, I’ll be more careful to avoid duplication. And I’ll file my email messages so I don’t lose thousands if I ever get hacked again. Leaving messages in the inbox is just a bad habit anyway.