What do you do when you’re unemployed/free ranging ?

I have recently found myself in a situation where I have a lot of time on my hands because I was terminated from work. Here are some tips to keep your sanity while your are free ranging.

Losing a job is one of the top stressful “life changing events”, along with death in the family and a divorce. At first you might feel a sense of relief, but the danger lies after that feeling subsides and you start feeling sorry for yourself.

I have been through one divorce, both of my parents dying and having been through three job loses in the last decade or so and have developed some coping skills for this.

Here are some things you can do to help.

File for unemployment

The first thing you should do is file for unemployment. The rules and how to’s vary from state to state. Go to your state’s unemployment service’s website and find out how to file. By now, I think, most if not all states will have a way to do this online.

This will get the bureaucracy machine started. While you are there, get registered for the state run job board and find out if there are funded training opportunities that are available for you.

Renew any documents that are going to expire soon

Again, this will get the bureaucracy machine started. Get out you wallet. Does your drivers license expire soon ? How about your passport, licenses, etc… Make a list and note when the document expires, and when you can file for renewal. Set aside the money for doing this now in an envelope, along with the list.

If you haven’t made a cloud type service account, like Google, open one now. Use the calendar function, setup a private mail account that you can use for your job search (most companies will not communicate with you through your Twitter or Facebook). Put  all of your expiring documents on the calendar. While there, put everyone’s birthday, anniversary you know on the calendar and put all your contacts there as well. This will insure you can access them from anywhere, in case something happens to you computer, cellphone, or other device that you might be storing this information on.

Other things to store there, a copy of your resume, cover letters, etc… If you are using an Android phone, you can sync it with your Google account, you can setup similar service with you Apple based phones/devices.

Exercise

Most people, like me, probably worked a desk job and have not had that much time to really get in shape. If you are lucky, you may had done some exercise at lunch or during breaks, like going on a walk or riding your bike to lunch. Don’t stop ! Keep doing that, but now that you have some extra time, don’t feel like you’re limited.

If you belong to a gym, take advantage of your membershop, maybe hire a trainer. Explain what your objectives are, i.e. do you want to lose some weight, gain some muscle mass, increase your stamina. Not only is it healthy, but exercising releases endorphins, which are necessary to help battle depression especially when dealing with a job loss. This is a good opportunity to kick any bad health habits, like smoking/vaping, etc…

So, go out for a walk right now, ride a bike, do some Yoga; just do it.

Eat right

Eat less carbs, more protein and fruits/vegetables get a “how to” book on nutrition. Learn what a healthy diet is. Many of us have fallen into a junk food habit at work. We go to fast food restaurants, raid the snack machine. Instead, keep a fruit bowl with apples, bananas, etc… If you belong to a gym, many offer classes on nutrition and have trainers that are experienced.

This is one of my weaknesses, I’m a grazer and it’s difficult for me not to grab a snack every time I go in the kitchen. Of all the things, this is the most difficult things for me to curb. Having only healthy snacks in the house, helps. I.e. I’ll graze on carrot sticks just as well as chocolate. Avoid soft drinks. Drink water instead.

Sleep well

This is also difficult for me. Follow some of the common recommendations, establish a bedtime pattern, go to bed at a regular time, ban TV/Electronic devices from the bedroom, keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Avoid caffeine in the latter half of the day.

I find that when I exercise properly and eat well, I find it easier to sleep well. Avoid sleeping pills, if you can help it, they are addictive. Drink a glass of wine before bed, it can help calm nerves. Get evaluated for sleeping disorders, like sleep apnea. Try neural/bio feedback techniques.

Look for new opportunities

Sign up for Linkedin, and job search engines. Check on a daily basis, scan the local job ads, Craigslist and develop contacts with companies and organizations in the  fields you are interested. Make sure you let people know you’re are looking for a job or opportunities, don’t assume everyone knows you’re looking. Refresh your contacts on your status, but not too often.

In many search engines you can setup a notification service where it will email or text you a job listings for things you’re are interested in.

Take some small jobs that friends/neighbors/family might have to offer. E.g. some home improvement task, fix a motorcycle, baby sitting, running  errands. Make sure it’s for some return. Don’t be too proud to accept money or a free dinner, etc… Yes, it maybe charity, but they are trying to help you, you would do the same for them if the table is turned.

You can try some fundraising on sites like gofundme.com, etc… It usually helps if you have a large social network on Facebook or Twitter. Explain your situation and what you need money for, etc… Be specific, E.g. you need some money to fix your car, pay of a class, get a certification, etc…

Offer something in return, be creative. I asked for some support to help fund going to a motorcycle race, I offered some customized sticker (common in the motorcycle community) and that some contributors would be listed as sponsor on my race entry. You can offer to mow a lawn, or send them cookies. You’d be surprised by the generosity of you friends. Share you dreams and aspirations. Warning, it may make your heart melt.  Anyway, be honest, don’t overuse or abuse this venue, etc…

Use Craiglist to look for gigs. People often need help with things around their house, or if you have a truck, perhaps move some stuff. Of course, use good judgement to avoid scams, etc…

 

Some of these ideas aren’t really a good source of steady income, however, it helps you network and shows that you are of good character, etc… Try not to accept stuff for free. Offer something in return, even if it’s just a note expressing your gratitude.

Ever thought about starting your own business ? This is a good time to develop your service or product. You can use crowd sourcing websites like Kickstarter to help fund your product idea. You have time to design something, write business plans, write marketing literature, like white papers. You can use Craigslist to test offering your service and/or products, and Facebook to sell products. For artsy stuff you can also try Etsy.

Volunteer

Volunteer work is a great way to network. Volunteer at a animal shelter, a charity, at church, at school, local youth groups, senior centers.  For us techies, find out if there is a maker/hacker space nearby. Volunteer your expertise, mentoring skills, offer to fix stuff, or even just chaperone etc…

If you’re the outdoor enthusiast; volunteer to lead a hike. Do some trail work. Check with the local ranger or park service. You can even get free training, sometimes, like chain saw certification.

Enjoy a hobby

Hobbies are activities you have a passion for. For some it’s the thing they would rather be doing instead of working. Now is your chance. Find a hobby you can be passionate about and take the time to do your hobby. Hobbies come in many different flavors.

Some hobbies are expensive, but you can make it work anyway; you don’t always have to get top of the line gear/supplies. For example, I’m a motorcycle enthusiast. I have had people give me motorcycles (even when I wasn’t unemployed) they no longer wanted. All they needed is some minor work/repairs. Gear can sometimes be found on boards, like Craigslist, when people get out of a hobby they thought they like, or their gear doesn’t fit anymore.

Offer to coach people in your hobby. This can be rewarding and still connects you to your hobby. I have taught three people in the last couple of years to ride motorcycles.

Some hobbies are free. I enjoy hiking, many areas have no fee areas where you can go hiking. Like I mentioned before, offer to lead a hike. There are protocols on sharing costs of gas/toll/parking if you offer rides. This is a good time to plan and execute your next back packing trip that you never had time for. E.g. hike sections of the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail.

Go see a movie

Many movie theaters offer reduced tickets prices on certain days of the week during the slow times (e.g. matinee, dollar tuesday, etc..). Also, there summer series, where they show older movies and second run theaters that show movie at a cheaper rate. Since you are free during the day, you can take advantagce of these specials. Also, check to see if you qualify for senior discounts.

Read a book

Go to the library (yes, they still exist), get a library card and check out some books.If you don’t like to actually read, you can get books on tape/CD as well. Some libraries even offer online books for rental.

Reread some of the books you liked in the past. See if your favorite author has published any new work. Expand your comfort zone; talk to a librarian and tell them what you liked and see what they recommend. Many librarians are not in their job because of the money and thrive when you ask them for advice/recommendation.

Spend time with friends and family

That’s a tough one for many who may not have much family they are close too. If you do, visit, hang out. Spend time with you kids, do projects, go fly a kite with them. Just hang out. Invite a friend for lunch. Reconnect with a family member, etc…

Travel

While gas prices and airlines tickets are not at a all time low, we are currently enjoying a period of slightly lower gas prices. Take advantage and go somewhere, sleep in the car, bring a tent so you don’t have to stay at a high priced hotel. You can usually find cheap hotels or campgrounds within reasonable distance to attractions, were you can make day trips.

Check for deals on museums, parks, etc… many banks or travel services (like AAA) offer reduced rate tickets. You can get season/membership passes to state, national parks and museums for reasonable prices. Since if you have a lot of time to visit many of them, it will be worth the money.

Go somewhere you haven’t been, or just drive. Plan your cross the country, continent, etc… trip.  Go off the beaten path, take secondary roads, whenever possible, talk to people you meet. Ask them about their city/area, etc… Immerse yourself. Go outside your comfort zone.

Check for bargain airline tickets to various destinations. Southwest has a list of special deals on their front page. Pick a city you have not been to, find out what the history is, see if there are long lost friends who live near there. You can also check the job listing for that area and offer that you can stop by, since you will be in the area anyway.

Around the Home

Many of us have neglected things at home or in the yard. This is your chance to catch up. Maybe you have some boxes that have not been un-boxed since your last move. Go through your stuff, lighten your load, organize, prioritize. You can sell stuff you no longer need on Ebay, Craiglist, maybe have a yard sales, or take it to GoodWill or the local recycling center.

Do some yard work, weed you flower beds, mow/trim you grass, etc… wash your house. Little things go a long way.

Repaint or remodel part of you house. Many recycling centers have a section where construction supplies can be had. Some are takeouts, but sometimes over stock items end up there as well. Find a sink, or vanity, or… Be creative.

Some recycling centers have a hazmat area where you can get old paint. Sure, most likely there is not enough to the whole house, but most often there is enough to do a wall or even a room. Again, be creative.

Camp in the backyard. This is a favorite if you have kids (or not), just pitch a tent, tarp whatever in the backyard and sleep there. It gives a new perspective about your neighborhood.

Write

Keep a journal, contribute to a newsletter, post to a blog, write a letter to the editor, comment on blogs you like or write a short story. So, maybe you’re not the next Michael Crichton, but it’s a great way to be creative and have an outlet.

There are still print magazines. Some accept contributed content. Check the web site for the author’s guide.

Just be yourself and you never know, maybe someone will like your style, personality and there might be an opportunity.

Take some classes or obtain some certificates

Check your community college, local tech schools. Take a class in something new. What about a welding class ? Photography ? Learn a new skill, get a Microsoft Certificate. Most outfitters offer classes in outdoor stuff, like climbing. Take a first aid course, learn CPR, etc… How about a new language ?

How about a art or writing class ? There classes on variety of writing types; novels,  short stories, journaling and media.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas. In the past, I have found that I’m often times busier when I’m between opportunities than when I’m employed.

Dad, were you born back in the day ? Did they have colors or Legos back then ?

Why, yes son, I was born a long time before you were born. We did have coloring books, colored pencils and markers and water colors when we grew up, but it was special to get some of these and we took good care of them. I also had Legos, but they were mostly basic blocks and didn’t have special pieces. I did have a Lego train set with a battery powered locomotive.

We also had kits to build cars and trucks with wheels.

My motorcycle doesn’t start/run, what should I check ?

We have all been there before. The bike ran before you put it away the last time, and now it won’t start, or it runs very poorly. Motorcycles (unless electric) use combustion engines which work on very basic principles. They need air and fuel and a way to ignite it after it becomes compressed. Let’s start with the simple stuff.

If your bike has electric start and it will not turn over, check the charge on your battery  with a voltmeter. If you know it’s low, you might want to charge the battery first. If the battery won’t hold a charge, you should replace it. If you’re sure that the battery is charged and the electric starter just clicks, then the motor might be frozen. This could be due to a more serious problem than we will cover in this post.

OK, so now the motor will turn over either with the electric starter or with the kick starter, but it still won’t fire. Fuel in almost all cases on motorcycles consists of gasoline. Most bikes will run on pump gas, there are a few bikes which will run on race gasoline. We’ll assume you know what you have. If you are running pump gas, and the bike has been standing longer than a few months, you may want to replace it with fresh gas. Modern pump gas has a relatively short shelf life and will attract moisture causing it to be less effective. So as a rule of thumb, if it’s older than a couple of months, drain the fuel and replace it with fresh gasoline.

Next, if you have a carburetor and not a fuel injection system, you will want to make sure that you drain any bad fuel from the carburetor. Make sure the fuel switch on the tank is in the off position. Most carburetors will have a small screw at the bottom of the float bowl to drain the fuel, some carburetors only have a largish plug/screw at the bottom of the float bowl. Place some kind of pan under the bike to catch the fuel and then open the drain screw/plug and let the fuel drain out. Close up the drain and turn the fuel on and try starting your bike again.

If it didn’t start, you might want to open the drain screw/plug again to make sure fresh fuel has made it into the carburetor when you tried to start it. If here is no fresh fuel in the float bowl, then then you might have a clogged fuel line, or petcock, or fuel filter. Many street legal bikes have a vacuum operated petcock. This petcock will only open when there is engine manifold vacuum, like when it runs or you are trying to start it. Sometimes the vacuum line can be leaky or get clogged. Check and possibly replace te vacuum line. The diaphram in the petcock can be torn, in which case it will not operate. Some of these petcocks have a “Prime” or “Resrve” position that by-passes the vacuum operated function. Try that position. If the petcock will not operate, it needs to be replaced.

We’re sure the fuel is getting into the carburetor, but we’re not sure it’s making it into the cylinder. Take out the spark plug and see if it as some fuel on it, or it smells like fuel. If it’s dry, then the carburetor is not atomizing the fuel into the air. Old fuel that has water in it, will produce by-products that can clog up small jets and passages in the carburetor. Most likely one or more of the jets and/or passages is clogged and you will need to remove the carburetor and have it cleaned/rebuild by someone who has experience in this. You can try doing this yourself, but you should obtain instructions and/or a parts diagram of the carburetor. Many bike die because someone inexperienced will have tried to rebuild/clean a carburetor and not reassemble it correctly, lose parts, etc… Older carburetors tend to be simpler and your success rate will be higher. Modern carburetors can very complex.

If you have fuel injection, you will have skipped the instructions for draining the fuel bowl, and checking the fuel lines/petcock. You should listen for the fuel pump when you turn on the power. If you do not hear the fuel pump, check the fuse(s) for the fuel pump and the ECU. Then remove the spark plug and if it’s dry, fuel is not getting into the cylinder.  If you are adventurous, you can obtain the service manual for your bike and find out how to read out diagnostic codes from the ECU and look up what they mean. Often times, it will narrow down the problem to a sensor that can be replaced.

OK, if your plug is wet, we need to check if your ignition is working. NOTE: DO NOT CHECK IF YOUR SPARK PLUG IS FIRING WITH THE SPARK PLUG REMOVED FROM THE ENGINE. Spark plugs ignite fuel/air mixtures and when the spark plug is removed, fuel/air mixture is pushed out the plug hole and the fumes can be ignited by the spark plug and catch your bike or yourself on fire. Get a new spark plug and install it. If this doesn’t fix it use the old spark plug, plug it into the ignition system and ground the outside of the spark plug by holding it against the engine. You should see a mild spark when you kick over / start the engine. If you see no spark, then try another spark plug, before replacing the spark plug cap, wire and coil in that order.

If you made it this far, the likely cause is a bad connection in your wiring harness/connectors causing the CDI not to function or the ignition coil. It’s unlikely that it’s the CDI unit itself, but they can fail as well. Some bikes use a separate ignition coil in the stator from the battery circuit to power the CDI. Using a DVM you should check the resistance of this coil and compare it the value that the service manual calls out. It should be more than zero Ohms and less than open, usually in the mid tens to hundreds of Ohm value. Replace coil, if necessary.

So, you have fuel and spark, now, there is one more thing to check. Compression is needed by a combustion engine to function properly. Use a compression tester to measure how much compression you have. These testers are be rented at a auto part store and comes with some adapters that are used to screw the tester into the spark plug hole. Follow the directions for your specific motorcycle to test the compression. If the compression is low, then you can check the valve clearance. If the clearance (or valve lash) is too tight, the valves may not close all the way and fuel/air mixture can leak out.

At this point, you have exhausted all the simple things that could be wrong. This is a good place to step back and take a break. Perhaps, get a buddy and go through all the checks again; maybe you missed something the first time through. When you get here, the most likely problem lies within the motor, things like rings or worn valves maybe the cause and require a partial or total rebuild of your motor. You may need to ask yourself whether it makes sense to rebuild the motor, financially. I.e. it may cost more than the bike is worth, especially if the bike is older, but not yet of vintage or collector status.