"God Bless the Dream, the Dreamer and the Result." 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Let Employees Roam the Web

Protecting against viruses and encouraging productivity is all well and good, Farhad Manjoo writes on Slate, but “locking down” company computers isn’t the way to go about it. Companies that “block the Web and various other online distractions on the theory that a cowed workforce is an efficient one” are actually losing out. Research shows that workers who can surf freely are 9% more productive than those who can't.

“Why?” Manjoo wonders of the study. “Because we aren't robots; people with Web access took short breaks to look online while doing their work, and the distractions kept them sharper than the folks who had no choice but to keep on task.” Firms that focus more on results and less on policing are at the vanguard of tech innovation. If IT wants to stem the virus threat, they can educate workers instead of employing paternalistic tactics. Otherwise, let the mind wander and reap the bounty.

Recession Will Pass, but Dollar May Be Doomed

The American economy is heading out of recession, but the long-term fate of the dollar may not be so bright, writes the Wall Street Journal. Growing numbers of economists and investors, including Warren Buffett, say that stimulus spending and rate cuts will boost inflation and weaken the greenback. At the same time, emerging economies like China and Brazil are using the crisis to diversify their reserves out of the dollar.

A weakening of the dollar would have to take place over many years; China, which holds more than $1 trillion, is still buying US debt and would suffer huge losses if it started selling its reserves. But anxious investors said yesterday's White House prediction of a $9 trillion budget deficit to 2019—$2 trillion more than first projected—is the latest sign that the American currency is in trouble.

Law School Grads Scramble as Big Firms Slash Hiring

Top law school grads are competing this fall for just half the number of entry-level positions big firms offered last year, in what the New York Times calls the most difficult employment season in half a century. One of New York's biggest firms has cut its hires by more than 50%, while a respected Philadelphia firm has foregone hiring completely. At top-ranked Yale, many leading law firms aren't even bothering to recruit.

Students who took on heavy debt to attend prestigious law schools, with what the Times calls an "implicit arrangement" that they would land a high-paying job, find themselves scrambling to land jobs in lower-paying markets, in government, or public-interest firms. “Had I seen where the market was going," says one who went to Penn, "I would’ve gone to a lower-ranked but less expensive public school. I’m questioning whether law school was the right choice at all.”

Got a YouTube Smash? Now You Can Share Ad Revenue

Think you’ve got the next “Chocolate Rain”—or any other recent viral video—in you? Well, now there’s a chance you could actually make money off of it, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. YouTube is rolling out a new Partnership Program that will offer one-off “monetization invitations” to sufficiently promising videos. Before now, only prolific posters—like the chipmunk-voiced Fred, for example—could snag such deals.

Videos will be chosen based on number of views, “virality,” and compliance with YouTube’s terms of service, says the company’s blog. Auteurs simply enable revenue sharing, and YouTube does the rest, selling advertising and tossing a share of the profits into the creator's Google AdSense account. One-hit-wonder “David After Dentist,” for example, has already made its creator more than $10,000.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Best of the Web 2009

Overwhelmed by the stream of new, powerful sites constantly emerging to suit every taste? Time picks 50 you should explore, if you haven’t already:

Etsy: “The long-haired, Birkenstocked love child of Amazon and eBay,” and the place to go online for handmade crafts, from housewares to clothing.
Hulu: The television industry’s answer to the music industry’s pirating troubles. It gives the people what they want, at the price they want—free.
Propertyshark.com: For prospective homebuyers who want to know what the agent won’t tell them. The site provides “price history, comparables, tax-roll information, flood and fire maps, and more.”
Flickr: Figured out an ingenious way to sort photos: “collaborative tagging.” With everybody tagging everybody else’s pics, they get sorted organically.
Academic Earth: Lets you go to college without paying tuition by watching lectures from schools all over.

Companies Use Recession to Stomp Hurting Competition

When the recession hit, Bed Bath & Beyond saw an opportunity. Chief competitor Linens ‘n Things was laden with debt, so Bed Bath & Beyond “decided to destroy them,” says one analyst. It matched every Linens’ discount, issued a barrage of coupons in Linens’ key markets, and, sure enough, Linens soon went bust. It's one of several canny, cutthroat companies that saw the recession as a chance to grab market share from wounded competitors, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Ford gained share by touting its self-reliance as its rivals filed government-backed bankruptcies. Builder Toll Brothers, which stopped buying land during the bubble years, is now scooping it up at a discount. New York Life, flush with cash and stable, no-nonsense insurance policies, boosted its advertising budget 24% to tout its financial strength, and swiftly blew past AIG, Hartford, and Lincoln National. “This is a crazy environment,” says its president, but “we’re built for times like these.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Niche Colleges, Priced Right

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to college. Mother Jones runs down 10 schools that “may not bother to juke their stats to make US News' short lists, but they still have plenty to offer—and for a lot less dough.”

Berea College, Kentucky: The price is right—$0—and eco-conscious students live in "environmentally friendly housing" complete with "a contraption that makes sewage so clean you can swim in it."
New College of Florida: In-staters pay just $4,700 a year for classes near the beach, but don't underestimate them: Since 1995, the school has "cranked out more Fulbright Scholars per student than Harvard, Stanford, or Yale."
The University of Minnesota-Morris: Just $8,830, and by 2010 none of that tuition will go towards carbon energy. An on-site wind turbine will produce all the energy.
The College of New Jersey, Ewing: In-state do-gooders pay $8,718, all of which can be offset with a public service-commitment.
California State University-Monterey Bay: Surf bums can study on the cheap—$3,845—and the bay offers a wet classroom for the Enviromental Science program.

Millions Face Shrinking Social Security Payments

Millions of older people face shrinking Social Security checks next year, the first time in a generation that payments would not rise. The trustees who oversee Social Security are projecting there won't be a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the next 2 years. That hasn't happened since automatic increases were adopted in 1975.

By law, Social Security benefits cannot go down. Nevertheless, monthly payments would drop for millions of people the Medicare prescription drug program because the premiums, which often are deducted from Social Security payments, are scheduled to go up slightly. "To some people, it might not be a big deal," says a former congresswoman. "But to seniors, especially with their health care costs, it is a big deal."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pissed Airline Passenger Back on YouTube

Dave Carroll, who so memorably commemorated his terrible experience with United Airlines in the YouTube sensation United Breaks Guitars is at it again, Consumerist reports. The singer/songwriter/guitar-rights activist has released a more ambitious video cleverly titled United Breaks Guitars: Song 2, with a slightly more conciliatory tone. And don’t worry, fans—it’s just the second in a planned trilogy about the careless airline.

Pissed Airline Passenger Back on YouTube

Dave Carroll, who so memorably commemorated his terrible experience with United Airlines in the YouTube sensation United Breaks Guitars is at it again, Consumerist reports. The singer/songwriter/guitar-rights activist has released a more ambitious video cleverly titled United Breaks Guitars: Song 2, with a slightly more conciliatory tone. And don’t worry, fans—it’s just the second in a planned trilogy about the careless airline.

Insurer Urges Employees to Protest Health Care Reform

UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s second-biggest health insurance firm, has been encouraging employees to attend events protesting health-care reform, Talking Points Memo reports. In a clear-cut example of “Astroturf”—fake grassroots action—a memo to employees urges them to call an “advocacy specialist” who can provide talking points for a letter to an elected official or information on protest events in the employee’s area.

A source who called the hotline was directed to a list of events hosted by the conservative America’s Independent Party, and specifically advised to attend a “tea party” protesting health care outside the office of Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Zack Space. It also says that participating employees may be contacted “during business hours” by members of UHG’s advocacy team. Click the second link to see the letter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fired Disabled Woman: Abercrombie a 'Sweatshop'

The 22-year-old British student with a prosthetic arm who won nearly $15,000 in a discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch compares its working conditions to a sweatshop. “I found it disturbing,” Riam Dean tells the Daily Mail. “There were so many people in such a tiny space. People were on their hands and knees, or carrying huge piles of clothes. It was hot and sweaty.” But Dean says she consistently refused Abercrombie’s attempts to settle her case because she wanted to teach it a lesson for firing her over her disability.

“People come in different shapes, colors, sizes, and disabilities,” says Dean, who was born without a left forearm. “I hope they realize that beauty lies in diversity rather than perfection, and if they don’t, I’ve still helped a lot of disabled people realize they shouldn’t take what people say to them. I’d rather live with my imperfections than promote their ugliness. It should be ability rather than disability that counts and I wanted to teach them that lesson.”

Rather Digs In for Legal War With CBS

Dan Rather is still out to prove that CBS sacrificed him to appease its corporate backers and conservative allies, the Los Angeles Times reports. In a $70-million lawsuit filed 2 years ago, Rather claimed that CBS, caving to Viacom and the Bush administration, forced him to retract a controversial story on President Bush's National Guard service. But the suit appears to be as much about Rather's legacy as it is about a single news story.

So far, the legal battle appears to have tarnished his reputation, bringing up his failed attempts to find work at major networks and sparking public comments about Rather being a "paranoid nightmare" and "train wreck." But it's also shown that CBS executives clamored to appease right-wing critics after the story broke. And Rather, who is paying for the suit himself, says he won't back down: "I don't think anybody who knows me would say that there's any give-up in me."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Immigrants Fill Dugouts of Minor League Teams

Foreigners, willing to work for less money, are taking American jobs … on the baseball diamond, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ever since George W. Bush signed the Compete Act in 2007, which essentially gave baseball teams unlimited work visas, teams have been snapping up foreign talent at a record pace. The Cubs, for example, have 142 immigrants throughout their major and minor league system, compared to 86 before the law.

Foreign players often come a lot cheaper than American prospects, who routinely command six-figure signing bonuses. “I signed for $1,000, before taxes,” says one Spaniard in the Padres system. “Basically, I signed for a plane ticket and a work visa.” The result is a surprisingly diverse minor league system. Though the majority of imports are Latin American, others hail from such disparate homes as Russia, the Czech Republic, and New Zealand.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Job-Rich N. Dakota Lures the Unemployed

North Dakota, not usually known for much other than open space, has suddenly become a job-seeker's paradise. The state of just over 640,000 has 9,000 open jobs and employs a recruiter who works full-time to lure workers, the Washington Post reports. "In North Dakota, it is pretty much possible to do anything, anywhere," she said. One who answered the call is Janet Morgan, a 63-year-old from Ohio.

After months of searching for a position near her home in Ohio, Morgan recently packed her truck and drove 1,000 miles for a call center job in Bismarck. "I'm half-tempted to call this all a big mistake and turn around," she said. But she stayed. Within a day, she had purchased a three-bedroom mobile home—for $7,500—and started work.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Economy Is Only Recovering on Paper

If you’re the glass-half-full type, recent economic indicators look good: Unemployment fell last month, the savings rate is up, and productivity hit a 6-year high. But that same data proves that ordinary people aren’t likely to feel the good vibrations anytime soon, the Washington Post reports. “It's going to be a recovery only a statistician can love,” said a Wells Fargo economist.

Higher productivity, for example, means that companies won’t have to hire more workers, meaning that a "jobless recovery" will likely follow this recession, as it did in 2001. Unemployment fell because 400,000 people left the labor force, not because businesses were hiring. And the high savings rate may seem frugal, but it really means people are scared to spend—and consumer spending makes up 70% of the economy.

US Grads Turn to China

Large numbers of American graduates shut out of the job market at home are turning to the East for opportunities, the New York Times reports. A surge of young Americans have left to try their luck in Shanghai and Beijing in recent years, attracted by the strong economy and the chance to jump a few rungs on the career ladder or make it as an entrepreneur without needing vast amounts of start-up capital.

"It's China’s fault that I’m still here,” said one Harvard grad who set up a thriving consulting firm for just $12,000. “It’s just so cheap to start a business.” Chinese employers, meanwhile, say their American hires provide a vital link to the Western world and bring leadership skills that can be hard to find among the Chinese. "In Chinese schools students are encouraged to be quiet and less outspoken," one exec explained. "It fosters a culture of listening more than initiating.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Women of the Future: Powerful, Stressed

Women are gaining economic clout, but they’re also feeling overburdened, a survey of 12,000 women in 21 countries finds. Women spend some 70% of consumer dollars globally and are set to produce 70% of household income growth in the next 5 years—meaning entrepreneurs who can help them deal with stress stand to reap huge profits, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Women’s stress isn’t just tied to the current recession, as pointed out by a study released in May that discusses “the paradox of declining female happiness.” While quality of life has improved through the years for both sexes, women say they’re feeling less happy. It could be because better job opportunities have translated into greater economic responsibility—while domestic expectations remain high.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Best Cities for Good Eats

Paris is for lovers—food lovers. The city came in first on a Forbes list of the world’s best cities for eating well, based on a 2009 survey ranking 50 cities. Notably absent from the top 10 are New York and London, which don’t boast much of a “local” cuisine. A sampling, along with some favorite regional dishes:

Paris: Steak frites; sourdough; chocolate tarts
Rome: Square slices of pizza with zucchini; gelato; Caprese sandwiches
Tokyo: Sashimi; gyoza; tempura; street food like Gyudon
Mexico City: Tamales; poblano; hot chocolate
Barcelona: Seafood paella; codfish salad; many different tapas
Madrid: More tapas; chickpea stew; hot chocolate; churros
Hong Kong: Dim sum; Tandoori-style chicken; wonton noodles
Beijing: Peking duck; beggar’s chicken; turtle soup; bear’s paw
Milan: The calzone-like panzerotti; charcoal grilled beef; pizza dough draped with prosciutto
Shanghai: Hairy crab; pan-fried buns stuffed with pork and gelatin

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

100 Top Sci-Fi Flicks

Science fiction movies run the gamut from cerebral to "joyful space opera." The writers at Total Sci-Fi run down the 100 best; here's the top 10:

Blade Runner: This "masterpiece," with standout performances from Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer, is "backed up by a real sense of sadness, fear, and longing."
2001: "The film is as enigmatic as the universe itself," and unlike newer fare, "there is a real depth behind the groundbreaking special effects."
Star Wars: "If you haven't seen Star Wars, then, well, you're probably not interested in reading a list about SF movies."
Alien: "Much analyzed by theorists for its portrayal of femininity;" also, "incredibly frightening."
Metropolis: "Fritz Lang creates a dazzling (and much-aped) vision of an industrial dystopia."
The Day the Earth Stood Still: "The definitive 1950s SF flick."
Terminator: The "tantalizing glimpses of the future war are more frightening" than in the remakes, and Schwarzenegger is actually suited to his role.
Planet of the Apes: The ending of this "intelligent allegory" is "one of the most iconic moments in cinema."
E.T.: "Warm-hearted without descending into mawkishness."
Solaris: The "Russian 2001" is "much more than that. It's a hypnotic, minimalist masterpiece."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Unemployed Grad Sues College for Tuition

After months of looking for work, fed up New Yorker Trina Thompson is suing her college for the $70,000 she spent on tuition. Monroe College's Office of Career Advancement hasn't done enough to help her find employment, the 27-year-old spring graduate claims in a suit filed in Bronx Supreme Court.

Monroe officials would like to read the riot act to Thompson. "The lawsuit is completely without merit," said a spokesman. "The college prides itself on excellent career-development support, and this case does not deserve further consideration."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Silicon Valley Unemployed Turn From Tech

After holding its own against the economic tide, the tech industry is hurting—and many jobless in Silicon Valley are heading to other sectors, the Wall Street Journal reports. One group that helps job-seekers grew to capacity this year, from 180 to 225 members, with 450 on the waiting list; some 80% of members worked in tech, and a third of them are looking for work outside the industry, says a group leader.

Silicon Valley’s jobless rate was below California’s average last year, sticking close to the national average. In June, however, it surged to 11.8%, compared to California’s rate of 11.6% and a national rate of 9.7%. Clean energy and health care are popular destinations for the job-seekers. “I'm looking at this as an opportunity to look at other fields,” says a laid-off worker.

Career-Switchers Flock to Teacher-Training Programs

With unemployment soaring, interest is booming in teacher-training programs for people switching careers, the Washington Post reports. This year, a 20-city retraining program saw applications climb 30%; in many areas there’s more interest than jobs available, outside of science, math, and physical education. The surge could help avert likely shortages when baby boomers retire.

Alternative certification programs for people without backgrounds in education produce about a third of new teachers. Those who come from other careers can offer “maturity” and a solid knowledge of their subjects, the Post notes. “If you get rid of the hoops and hurdles, you can get some fantastic people to come into teaching,” says an expert. But others warn that the programs must be careful not to drop new teachers immediately “in the deep end of the pool.”

Best Sites for Foodies

Aspiring foodies have thousands of resources available to them on the Internet, and Mashable lists 15 of the best sites for buying, cooking, and eating food:

For locavores: Foodzie and Foodoro are online marketplaces for small, independent producers. Local Harvest connects users with farms in their area, while the Locavore iPhone app does the same thing on the go.
For gourmet lovers: You might be surprised, but Amazon’s Gourmet Food section offers great variety of options for foodies. If you’re in the market for recipes, Epicurious tends toward the fancier. Or find a supper club featuring gourmet cuisine on the Ghetto Gourmet.
For aspiring chefs: Rouxbe is a high-quality online cooking school. Or, if you’re just getting started, learn the basics at Foodista’s wiki. Just looking for recipes? Try AllRecipes, Nibbledish, or the Food Network site.
For restaurant addicts: Yelp and FriendsEat feature user ratings and reviews, while Urban Spoon adds critics and food bloggers to the mix—or join the foodie discussions over at Chow.

1.5M Jobless Will Lose Benefits by Dec.

As many as 1.5 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits by the end of the year, reports the New York Times. Some 9 million Americans currently receive an average of $300 a week in unemployment, and many in the current recession have failed to find work for a year or more. Several groups are calling on Congress to extend benefits again this fall.

Economists generally oppose long-term unemployment benefits as a disincentive to work, but in the current job market—unemployment is 9.5% nationally—the supply of workers outstrips demand. One Ohio mother of four, whose benefits run out next month, has been unable to find work despite steadily interviewing for jobs. She's now facing the prospect of homelessness: "I can't find a job, and you can't survive if you don't work," she said.