A Few Answers To Questions You Always Wondered About

January 31, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: Answers


What’s it like to get chemotherapy?

I have to admit, chemo is a real snoozefest. Literally! Let me explain. For my particular cancer, I would go into the treatment center every three weeks to receive a dose of two different types of medicine. When I arrived each time, I was led into a large room with big comfy reclining chairs with about 15 or 20 other patients who were receiving treatment. They would take my blood first to make sure all my white blood cell counts are stable. Once I got the all-clear, the nurse would put an IV in my arm (still my least favorite part of my whole cancer experience) and that would administer a hefty cocktail of pre-meds to ease my body into the hard stuff. This is a mixture of Benadryl, Ativan, and steroids to get you nice and loopy. Bye, bye, brain! Having Benadryl pumped directly into your veins is like playing a game of trying to remain coherent, which I would undoubtedly lose. But it’s a good thing because each of my chemo meds had to drip into my veins for two hours. That’s four hours of chemo fun that I would just as soon sleep through, thank you very much. All total, I was usually there for six hours but practically unconscious for about four of that.

Besides the prick of the needle, the actual process isn’t painful. The effects afterward have some pain associated with it, but the drip itself is very gentle. The pre meds are designed to prep your body in a way that the side effects don’t hit you until days later. But I did have an instance where I got sick during a treatment. Fun fact: Taxotere, a common chemo drug, is made from the bark of a tree. Turns out, my body hates this tree. During my second treatment I had an allergic reaction to the drugs. I was minding my own business, right about to settle into my Ativan haze, when my chest and throat closed up, my whole body and scalp turned red, and I got so dizzy the room started spinning. They immediately stopped the drip, but it was a scary few minutes. We changed that drug to Taxol for the next time and stayed with that for the remaining four sessions.

Each person’s side effects are different. There are some consistent ones, but everyone reacts uniquely. For me, the major side effects were nausea, bone pain, insomnia, and neuropathy with the occasional rash thrown in. And, of course, a shiny new scalp. One thing that’s nice is that the effects are fairly consistent for each treatment. I kept a diary and was able to track each cycle pretty accurately. I would get a treatment on a Thursday and leave feeling fine and basically normal, thanks to the pre meds. Friday, I would be tired because I couldn’t sleep but would feel mostly normal. But on that day, I would get a shot that would stimulate the white blood cells that are being diminished from the chemo. So by Saturday, hello, bone pain. It’s the worst. The cells are getting stimulated inside your marrow so the inside of your bones hurt. Remember getting growing pains as a kid? It’s like that, but someone told your bones they need to be Shaquille O’Neal overnight. Then by day four, the nausea really sets in, but the anti-nausea medication I was prescribed helped tremendously. The neuropathy would come into my feet a few days after that, which made it hard to walk. The body is attempting to rid itself of the chemo by releasing it through your pores, so your hands and feet take the brunt of this “great escape.” I had acute pain and redness in my extremities, but once I realized that, I stayed off my feet. Then, voilà! It’s Thursday again, and I would feel basically normal.

What surprised me the most was how normal life could be surrounding chemo. After the week of feeling crappy, I would feel completely back to myself. It was as if I was living a double life. So you can still act the same around your friends with cancer. Give them some space if they feel yucky that day, but as soon as they feel good, they are going to want some normalcy. And in my case, a large pizza.



What is Mult-Level Marketing ?

A toy company convinces you to sell some of their toys to your friends and classmates. You get some compensation for the amount of toys you sell. Then they toy company tells you that if you can recruit your friends to sell toys too, you will get some compensation for all of the toys they sell too. And your friends can get more compensation for recruiting their friends. Which you also get compensated for for recruiting your friends. And so on, and so forth.

The Truth

You can see how this starts to look like a pyramid scheme where you get paid just for recruiting more people and those people recruit more people. And basically in all common sense of the term, multi-level marketing is just a re-branded pyramid scheme. However, the companies get away with it (pyramid schemes are very illegal) because there is a requirement of actually selling some units of whatever the product is. If you don’t ever sell anything, you don’t ever get paid.

The big problem with multi-level marketing is there is usually a high cost of entry. You are usually required to pay entry fees, purchase “training materials”, pay to go to “training seminars”. A lot have research as been done  and conclude that 99.6% of participants lose money.

MLM is a scam that’s just barely in the realm of legal. They are the modern form of a pyramid scheme.

The reason you can’t get a straight answer about it being a pyramid scheme is because it’s not technically a pyramid scheme. They also don’t want to scare you off. A legitimate business would be able to flat-out tell you it was legit & not have to make excuses.

It’s also naturally destructive to your relationships. Because you’re meant to recruit people to work underneath you, EVERYBODY YOU KNOW BECOMES A TARGET. This is unavoidable – especially if you believe in the product/service the MLM provides, like religion, you think you’re doing people a favor by offering them a great opportunity.

The reality is that most people feel ill about MLMs, but even more so; people do not like to be solicited… especially by someone they’re close to. By approaching people, it just cheapens the relationship.



How Does Working on Wall Street Compare With Working in Silicon Valley?

I began my career on Wall Street and subsequently have worked for more than a decade in Silicon Valley startups.

There are three main similarities: You work with smart and engaged people, there are large potential payoffs, and the work is interesting and “sexy.”

The differences are in the types of smart and engaged people:

Work hours and perception

On Wall Street people love to brag about how hard they work. People exaggerate the number of hours they work, and it’s considered a badge of honor to pull all-nighters and work throughout the weekend. Face time is critical, and generally people do not leave until they are told they can. Managers expect their team to show up before they do and to leave after they do. It’s OK to go to the gym in the middle of the day, and “hours” are more flexible than many people on Wall Street make them out to be, but nevertheless hours spent at the office (working or not) are long.

In Silicon Valley people may work these same types of hours (often even longer), but instead they like to brag about how quickly they came up with the solution or about the shortcut they found. Nobody likes to be seen as working throughout the weekend but rather wants to be seen as someone who takes advantage of his or her time off. Being in the office is not nearly as critical as getting work done. Managers are unlikely to care where you got your job done or what time you come and go; they care more about the work you deliver.

Credentials and perception

On Wall Street nearly everyone asks what college you went to. You will know who went to Harvard, Stanford, etc. Many people have MBAs, and this information is likely to come first on even the most senior employee’s resume. People on Wall Street generally dress well, and you can tell where someone is in the organization by the clothes that they wear and they way they look. Executives and managing directors carry leather briefcases and wear well-tailored suits, Rolex watches, and Ferragamo shoes. People generally drive fancy cars and live in nice apartments.

In Silicon Valley people rarely talk about what college they went to or make it a point to ask others. Education is unlikely to be the first thing mentioned on a résumé or in a job interview. People at top-tier startups generally have similar alma maters as those on Wall Street, but there are fewer MBAs in Silicon Valley than Wall Street. Executives and directors wear jeans, sweatshirts, hoodies, Apple watches, and sneakers. It is often hard to tell the executives from the interns at first glance. People often take Ubers, and few people live in fancy apartments.

The large potential payoffs

Money on Wall Street is generally made on the annual bonus. For people making the big bucks, bonuses are often more like commissions and tied to some clear-cut money-making activity such as trading or investment banking revenue. Big bonuses one year do not always mean big bonuses another year, and there is a lot of focus on making fast cash rather than on the longer-term viability of the company.

Payoffs in Silicon Valley generally take more time. It is rare to “score big” in one year. It can happen, but most startups don’t pay large bonuses; rather, employees get stock options, RSUs, and the like. Stock packages are necessarily tied to a concrete activity. Employees are going to make money if the company succeeds. So a massive underperformer who got into Facebook at the right time is going to make a lot more money than a rock-star performer who worked for VebVan. This is generally not the case on Wall Street. If you are a good trader or investment banker who brings in revenue, you will make money even if the company is going under.

The interesting and sexy work

Work on Wall Street is generally more defined than it is in Silicon Valley. I had a job trading commercial paper, and that is all I did. It was easy for me to know exactly what I was going to do on a given day. It was rare for me to do anything other than what I was hired for. Trading is exciting, and the adrenaline certainly pumps when you win and lose money (and I did plenty of both). However, there are a lot of established rules and regulations, and working on Wall Street is a more certain path. Clients pay for experience and expect a certain level of service. It is hard to move up quickly without “paying your dues.” People generally don’t like change, and it isn’t considered helpful to suggest new ways of doing things.

Working at a startup, I did something new almost every week. I wore a lot of hats and was expected to do whatever I could to help the cause. It is easier to move up fast, and promotions are more a result of performance than anything else. Work can change quickly as companies pivot, and you are unlikely to be doing what you were hired for at a startup even six months later. You are expected to think of new ways of doing things, and established rules and “ways of doing things” aren’t really taken seriously.



What’s it like to work in a coal mine?

This is not how we mine coal!

I graduated from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!) with a BS in Mining Engineering a few years ago and I’ve been coal mining ever since. I get asked a lot if it is a 4 year degree – yes it is. We have to study everything other engineers learn including thermodynamics, electrical theory, statics, dynamics, deforms. Some coursework in my major included mine design, blasting, ventilation, geophysics, and engineering economics.



Many people ask if I have to crawl around all day long – nope! I drive an F-150 underground. Speed limit is 25, but I’ve never gotten pulled over down there (all the trucks have governor chips set to 25). Some mines in the Appa-latch-in Mountains are only 4 ft. high, but I’ve never worked there. The walls are white with “rock dust”, this prevents coal dust from being breathed in and coal dust is also combustable – you don’t want it floating around.


We don’t mine with pickaxes!

This is the backbone of any high production coal mine – the longwall shearer. It moves back and forth cutting out massive amounts of coal which is then transported via conveyor systems all the way out of the mine. Some mines are only accessed by a shaft (vertical tunnel) and hoist, but I’ve only worked in mines that are accessed by a long slope (you just drive right down to 900 ft. underground). My mine produces 5 million tons of coal annually.

Most of the equipment is remote controlled, so that miners don’t need to be under unsupported roof or near the cutting heads. Maybe someday automation will become so advanced that coal mining won’t require my services anymore – who knows what the future holds?


Safety (and another longwall shot!)

Another thing people ask is how dangerous it is. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt in danger. I read a statistic from the US Department of Labor that says underground coal mining has a lower accident incident rate than grocery stores, department stores, hospitals, and hotels. That being said, people do still lose their lives. Working around heavy machinery in close quarters is inherently dangerous.


Isn’t it a dying field? (front view of a continuous miner)

Coal consumption is still rising due to the high demand for electricity, but it isn’t growing like it has in the past. My company is still growing and my mine is planning on tripling production in the near future. However, many coal companies that were previously “swimming in cash” are now out of business because they can’t survive with the dropping price of coal. Mining coal will be around for the rest of our lives no matter what – good or bad. Coal is required to make steel even if we no longer use it for electricity.

About the image – this is a continuous miner. In mines out the entries (where we drive and set up belt lines and ventilation). Some small mines only use continuous miners, but they have nowhere near the efficiency and recovery rates that longwall shearers have. Most mines use 2-3 continuous miners per 1 longwall shearer.


Wages (and another view of the longwall shearer)

Mining engineering pays at about the same level as chemical engineering, computer science, and petroleum engineering. I started at $70k and moved up from there. The hours are very long though – I start at 6AM and get off at 5PM.


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