Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 23rd, 2006

Help for the cube-farm

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ChatterBlocker is a $20 program that allows you to drown out the noise from nearby cubicles by sounds you tailor yourself:

ChatterBlocker does not use noise-cancellation. Instead it masks unwanted conversations with a soothing blend of nature sounds, music and background chatter.

The goal is to render speech less intelligible, because intelligible speech is often the most distracting sound in the workplace.

ChatterBlocker also offers mindfulness meditation tracks intended to increase concentration, reduce distractibility and minimize the stress response to office noise.

Use ChatterBlocker to tune out disruptions and increase concentration at the office, airports, cafes, or anywhere.

More info at the site.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 6:18 pm

From the family album

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  Pop and pigs  Note on Pop

“Pop” was the universally used family name for my maternal grandfather. The writing on the front and back of this photo is in my mother’s handwriting. I thought you might get a kick out of it.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Daily life

Free-lancers, look

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I was free lancer back in the old days, before Web tools like this. This would have made life much easier:

With Side Job Track you can quickly and easily manage your side jobs with simple, straightforward project tools. Side Job Track’s flexible data entry lets you to decide how to best fit your specific needs. If you have access to a web server, you can even create completely customized estimate and invoice templates.

It’s free, and the guy is also working on the Pro version.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Business, Software

Kitchen tools: knives

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This is a good site: Just Knives 101. Take a look, for example, at their Japanese knives.

I was once mailing a chef’s knife to The Son, and the postal clerk asked what was in the package. I said, “A knife,” and she got all queasy. God knows what she used in her kitchen to cut things. She even asked someone if it was okay to mail a knife! (I bought it by mail, as I told her, but she was determined that nothing so dangerous as a knife would slip by her.) :sigh:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 11:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Housetrucks

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The Wife has a dream of getting a small housetruck or RV and hitting the road with Sophie, singing in harmony as they drive along. Here are some housetrucks to think about.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 11:27 am

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Animated knots

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The one merit badge I learned as a Cub Scout that turned out to be useful was the one on knots. Knowing a variety of knots comes in handy a lot more often than you would expect. This Web site teaches you how to tie knots by animation. You should at least learn:

Bowline, sheetbend, Carrick bend, reef, figure-8, timber hitch, clove hitch, cleat hitch, double fisherman’s, sheepshank.

Learn those first. There will be a test—but you never know when or where.

This would be fun for the Older Grandson, I bet.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 11:22 am

11 free programs for your Pocket PC

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The Wife is taking my Pocket PC with her to Paris so that she can use the wireless functions for email and the like. Maybe she’ll see some programs here that look good:

1. ADB Idea Outliner
2. ADBWeather Plus
3. Agile Messenger
4. Audiopod
5. Avvenu
6. eReader
7. Kevtris
8. Magic Button 2.0
9. Orb
10. PocketMusic
11. Skype for Pocket PC

For full descriptions and links, see the link. And, of course, there’s also Fitaly, which provides a keyboard optimized for stylus input.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 11:11 am

Posted in Software, Techie toys

Micro-expressions tell what you’re feeling

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NOT what you’re thinking. Here’s the explanation:

We do it automatically. As soon as we observe another person, we try to read his or her face for signs of happiness, sorrow, anxiety, anger. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong, and errors can create some sticky personal situations. Yet Paul Ekman is almost always right. The psychology professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, has spent 40 years studying human facial expressions. He has catalogued more than 10,000 possible combinations of facial muscle movements that reveal what a person is feeling inside. And he has taught himself how to catch the fleeting involuntary changes, called microexpressions, that flit across even the best liar’s face, exposing the truth behind what he or she is trying to hide.

Ekman, 72, lives in Oakland, Calif., in a bright and airy house near the bay. As I talked with him there, he studied me, his eyes peering out from under bushy brows as if they were registering each brief facial tic I unknowingly exhibited. Does his talent make him a mind reader? “No,” he says candidly. “The most I can do is tell how you are feeling at the moment but not what you are thinking.” He is not being modest or coy; he is simply addressing the psychological bottom line behind facial expressions: “Anxiety always looks like anxiety,” he explains, “regardless of whether a person fears that I’m seeing through their lie or that I don’t believe them when they’re telling the truth.”
The professor calls the ever present risk we all take of misreading a person’s visage “Othello’s error.” In Shakespeare’s drama, Othello misinterprets the fear in his wife Desdemona’s face as a sign of her supposed infidelity. In truth, the poor woman is genuinely alarmed at her husband’s unjust, jealous rage. Othello’s subsequent decision to kill Desdemona is a fatal error, and Ekman wants to make sure that police, security personnel and secret service agents do not make the same mistake. “Arresting the guilty is a good thing,” he acknowledges, “but decreasing the number of innocent people who are falsely accused is just as important.” His system for understanding the emotions that faces portray, and his expertise in applying it, could help all kinds of law-enforcement and legal personnel in their work. It could also help the rest of us better negotiate how our family members, friends and colleagues really feel. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 10:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Malware anti-virus program

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Via the Younger Daughter comes this warning:

Are you using a Microsoft Windows machine to cruise the Web but don’t have up-to-date anti-virus software installed? No worries: A sophisticated new breed of malware identified this week will silently download and install a legitimate anti-virus program on your computer if it manages to sneak its way onto your machine.

But this isn’t a good thing, as the malware is really intended to make it easier for spammers to do their business. For several years now, the top method for sending spam has been to infect Microsoft Windows machines with malware that turns the PCs into “zombies” (or “bots”) that bad guys can use to anonymously relay junk e-mail. Tons of malware in circulation today will actively search for and remove other hacking programs that may have already set up shop on infected computers. The goal for the spammers is efficiency — they want to ensure their bot networks are not cluttered with competing malware that might otherwise slow the machines to a crawl and alert the victims to a problem.

A new class of bot programs seeks to accomplish that task by downloading and installing a pirated version of Kaspersky Anti-virus, according to research published by Joe Stewart, a researcher for Atlanta-based SecureWorks.

“Although we’ve seen automated spam networks set up by malware before … this is one of the more sophisticated efforts,” Stewart wrote. “The complexity and scope of the project rivals some commercial software. Clearly the spammers have made quite an investment in infrastructure in order to maintain their level of income.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 10:09 am

Posted in Software, Technology

Convertible tables

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In The Moon Is Blue, a 1953 Otto Preminger comedy starring William Holden and David Niven, there’s a coffee table that Holden lifts, twists, and opens and—voila!—it’s a dining table. Ideal for a small apartment. (The link is to a VHS tape for $6. Amazon also has it in DVD, but in PAL format, so you need an all-region DVD player that can handle it.)

So I asked Tiny Living if they had such a thing. Not yet. So I looked in AskMeFi and found an answer that includes a lot of links—such as:

The X-Table

A bunch of tables

Up&Down Iegno

Esprit Coffee/Dining Table

Mascotte Table

Crescendo Table

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 10:05 am

This American Life podcasts

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For you pod-people, This American Life now provides podcasts of its programs.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 9:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Media, Software

Health questions? Go ask Alice

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Very cool site with lots of health-related information.

Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s health Q&A Internet site! Alice is glad you’re here, and hopes you’ll browse the archives in search of the answers to your health questions.

To help you navigate the site, Alice recommends that you start at the About Go Ask Alice! FAQ page to learn more about how the site works. More Go Ask Alice!-specific info can be found by clicking here. It’s also a good idea to check out the seven category pages — Alcohol & Other Drugs; Fitness & Nutrition; Emotional Health; General Health; Sexuality; Sexual Health; Relationships — to get a feel for the types of questions answered. And, familiarizing yourself with definitions of common GAA! terminology (listed below) will be a helpful guide on your GAA! adventure.

Go Ask Alice! is here for you, so that you can be connected, inquisitive, informed, and healthy.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 9:16 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical

Hiring a STAR

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I had occasion to post this little piece on interview techniques elsewhere, so I thought I might as well blog it. If you are hiring someone, this offers guidance on the kinds of questions to ask. (Here’s a PDF file of the following.)

How to Hire—and Be—a STAR

A STAR is someone who sets or accepts a goal, determines the tasks required to reach the goal, and develops an action plan to ensure that the tasks are scheduled, assigned, managed, and accomplished effectively to obtain the results desired. Some or all of the tasks are self-assigned and self-managed. Obstacles encountered along the way are reviewed and creatively overcome.

Who would not want to be a STAR, and who would not want to hire a STAR?

S = the situation: the goal, the problem, the focus.

T = the tasks that address the situation: steps to reach the goal or solution.

A = the action plan: the overall strategy that will direct the tasks. The action plan ensures that the work is done proactively toward the goal rather than reactively in simply solving problems, some of which may be unimportant or irrelevant.

R = results, both the end-result and the results achieved along the way that may suggest course corrections. To obtain results is to have some measurement system in place that provides on-going feedback so that you’re not flying blind. Results are also used to evaluate the process and its effectiveness: the lessons-learned document.

Hiring a STAR

This straightforward method allows you to hire STARs, because you look for evidence that the applicant uses this method. In effect, you apply the STAR method to the interview process:

S = the goal of hiring a STAR

T = determine the applicant’s accomplishments (Review the résumé; accomplishments are usually stated in the form “increased revenue by x% in y years” or “decreased defects by x% in y years.” If the résumé contains no specific accomplishments, that is already a sign that the person is not a STAR—they have not applied the STAR method to creating their résumé.). Then determine whether the applicant used the STAR techniques to achieve these accomplishments.

A = review the résumé as above, then ask the applicant to explain how they achieved the results described in the résumé. If the applicant does not explain the specific steps, you’re not talking with a STAR: STARs know exactly what they did and why: they’ve been there.

R = hire the best of the STARs.

Examples

Interviewer: “You mention that you increased revenues from $800,000 to $3,200,000 in 5 years. How did you do that?”

Applicant: “I got in there and worked with the sales people. When they required motivation, I motivated them. If they didn’t know what to do, I trained them.”

Int: “What steps did you follow?”

App: “Well, I listened to them, and worked directly with them. I observed where they had troubles or problems, and helped them.”

Int: “Did you have to train them?”

App: “Oh, yes. Quite a few needed training.”

Int: “How did you do that?”

App: “Well, after working with them, I would know what each one needed, and I’d see that they were trained on that, either by me, or by other workers, or sometimes by sending them to a course.”

Int: “Did you do any of the hiring?”

App: “Yes, indeed. As people left, I would hire the replacements.”

Int: “How did you decide whom to hire?”

App: (after a pause) “Well, really, gut instinct. If I felt good about the person, I’d hire them.”

Int: “Right. I think we all go with gut instinct. But to reach that, you probably talked to them, asked them questions, and so on. What were you looking for to make the hiring decision?”

App: (another pause) “I was looking for people who would like the work, I guess. People who were ready to jump in and do the job. And people who gave me a good feeling that they could succeed.”

Int: “Thank you for coming in. We’ll get back to you.”

This applicant is not a STAR. At best, she or he is a troubleshooter and problem-solver, who can be assigned to a group in trouble and help them resolve the problems in what they’re doing. But she doesn’t have a systematic method, doesn’t apply a systematic strategy, and can’t list the specific steps that led to the results. Her focus is on the problems, not on the goal, and so she will address the problems reactively: a problem surfaces, is fixed, and on to the next problem that surfaces.

She can take a process that’s not working and help make it work better, but she won’t know whether the process is even needed or might better be replaced altogether.

A STAR’s answers would be different.

Interviewer: “You mention that you increased revenues from $800,000 to $3,200,000 in 5 years. How did you do that?”

Applicant begins with a description of the product and its application, and then says:

“It seemed clear that the best bet was to go to those markets that put a high value on data security. I divided the teams to focus on data administrators in three fields: medical, financial, and legal. This was our focus. We also planned to start with telephone sales—we just didn’t have the capital to field a face-to-face sales staff at the start.

“I then recruited people who were articulate and had some technical understanding. We trained all new sales people in the application, and then trained each team—medical, financial, and legal—separately on the applications in the specific vertical-market area.

“I wanted to encourage the teams to cooperate—for example, share information on effective sales approaches—so we avoided competition. Each market team was compensated with incentives based on the total revenue from that market. That is, the medical team was incented on all sales to the medical market. Meeting goal resulted in a bonus, with higher incentives for sales above the goal. Goals were set quarterly, since the sales cycle was about 60 days.

“To help share the knowledge, especially in the first weeks, we had a weekly pizza long-lunch where team members got up to share new ideas and approaches that resulted in sales. In this case, I did encourage some competition here: the team that came up with the most new approaches got some sort of prize that varied by week—tee-shirts, clipboards, pens, etc. After a couple of months we dropped the prizes, since we pretty much had established the best approaches, and just had the lunches as a morale builder and a chance to swap war stories.”

This applicant had no problem in describing the exact steps that were taken to achieve the goal, since she’s lived through the process and thought about it as she developed and refined it. She had a goal, knew the tasks, developed the action plan, and produced the results. Hire her—she’s a STAR.

UPDATE: Here are some other types of questions you might face.

UPDATE 2: One reason this works well is that reality is extremely rich in detail, much richer than fabricated or fictional accounts. Indeed, that level of richness of detail is why, for example, Patrick O’Brian spent years reading British Navy logs and action reports: he could not possibly have made up all the detail, and of course even those written accounts leave out much.

The effect is that someone who has been through an experience can be asked a lot of questions about details and interconnections and answer comfortably, because s/he’s remembering what happened and can draw upon those memories as required. Someone who is fabricating an accomplishment runs into trouble quickly: the details requested come at a slower rate, are not so specific, and after a while start to conflict with earlier recounted details. (This is similar to the way detectives work: asking for more and more details, and comparing the answers from multiple people.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 9:11 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Big Business: disobey the law if you can get away with it

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Even if you brag about obeying the law in question:

When Michigan-based automotive supplier Lear Corp. needed a secretary for its office in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, it placed a classified ad seeking a “female … aged 20 to 28 … preferably single … with excellent presentation.”

And to ensure that it got the right candidate, Lear asked applicants to include a recent photo with their resumes.

In the United States, that ad might draw howls of protest and trigger lawsuits and hefty fines. But in Mexico, where jobs are scarce and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is all but nonexistent, employers routinely select staff on criteria more appropriate to a beauty contest.

Job seekers who are considered too old, too chunky or too dark are screened out by companies that sometimes specify the ideal candidate’s marital status, height, weight, tone of voice, even the part of town in which the person should reside.

What is less known is that many American corporations — including Coca-Cola, Pepsi Bottling and Shell Oil — are engaging in hiring practices that appear to violate their fair-employment policies in the U.S.

They include companies that trumpet their diversity initiatives north of the border, including top-drawer U.S. law firm Baker & McKenzie, and should be familiar with Mexican laws prohibiting discrimination.

“Why are so many of them not complying with the same standards they have to comply with in the United States? Because they can get away with it,” said Los Angeles-based attorney Gloria Allred, known for battling discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 8:53 am

Posted in Business

Bizarre verbal pirouettes

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Somehow the White House has decided that it has never (Never? Well, hardly ever) embraced the idea of “stay the course.” Of course, the White House originated the idea and the phrase, and trying to deny it shows something close to insanity.

Take a look at these two brief videos at ThinkProgress. In the first, Dan Bartlett denies that the White House has ever had “stay the course” as their strategy. In the second, we are treated to a succession of clips of Bush and Tony Snow (White House spokesman) saying that we must stay the course.

These people are barking mad.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 8:08 am

Mac users beware

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Attacks on Macs are on the rise:

Apple computers have long been prized for being relatively virus-free. But as more people use Apple products, experts say the company is increasingly becoming a target for cyber pranksters and criminals writing viruses and other forms of malware.

The threat was highlighted earlier this week after a handful of the company’s iPods were shipped with the RavMonE.exe virus, which targeted iPods used with Microsoft Windows-based computers.

According to Apple, the virus affected less than 1 percent of the video iPods available for purchase after September 12, 2006.

The problem is thought to have originated in the manufacturing process by another company that builds iPods for Apple and isn’t believed to be a direct attack on the widely popular iPod itself.

Moreover, experts say the iPod isn’t likely to become a Petri dish for cyber germs, as it’s not directly connected to the Internet and is easily wiped clean and reloaded. But they do believe viruses targeting Apple’s Macintosh personal computers are increasing.

“As they increase their market share, there will be more of a concentrated effort to write malicious code for the platform,” said Jonathan Hoopes, an analyst who covers Apple for ThinkEquity Partners. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 7:47 am

Time-management tricks

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Read and apply as needed. One cute idea: reading professional literature aloud to your young children as a bedtime story—in an enthusiastic voice, of course. The guys says that his kids really don’t care what he reads, they just want to hear him read and point to words as he reads. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2006 at 7:43 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

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