Monday, March 30, 2009

Living in a state of Déjà vu

Maybe you've heard this one before but believe me, you haven't. You only think you have.

Mr P, an 80-year-old Polish émigré and former engineer, knew he had memory problems, but it was his wife who described it as a permanent sense of déjà vu. He refused to watch TV or read a newspaper, as he claimed to have seen everything before. When he went out walking he said the same birds sang in the same trees and the same cars drove past at the same time every day. His doctor said he should see a memory specialist, but Mr P refused. He was convinced that he had already been.

Déjà vu can happen to anyone, and anyone who has had it will recognise the description immediately. It is more than just a sense that you have seen or done something before; it is a startling, inappropriate and often disturbing sense that history is repeating, and impossibly so. You can't place where the earlier encounter happened, and it can feel like a premonition or a dream. Subjective, strange and fleeting, not to mention tainted by paranormal explanations, the phenomenon has been a difficult and unpopular one to study.

Now that is changing, spurred in part by Mr P and a handful of people who, like him, have dementia and experience continuous déjà vu, and also by the discovery that there is a group of people with epilepsy who have déjà vu-like auras before a seizure. They are making it possible for researchers to catch the process in action, bringing hope that the secrets of this strange and disturbing phenomenon could finally be unlocked. Surprisingly, not only is déjà vu proving an interesting window on the peculiar ways that our memory works, it is also providing a few clues about how we tell the difference between what is real, imagined, dreamed and remembered - one of the true mysteries of consciousness.

Speculations about past lives or telepathy aside, the first biological explanations of déjà vu were based on ideas that two sensory signals in the brain - perhaps one from each eye or each hemisphere of the brain - for some reason move out of sync, so that people have the experience of reliving the same event. "Mental diplopia", as it was called, is intuitively appealing but the evidence is stacked against it. Information from the two eyes mixes very early in visual processing, long before we perceive a scene. What's more, déjà vu - rather ironically as the term means "already seen" - can occur in blind people, according to Chris Moulin, a psychologist at the University of Leeds, UK, (Brain and Cognition, vol 62, p 264). Then there are the cases of people who have had their two cortical hemispheres surgically separated in an attempt to relieve intractable epilepsy. If the mental diplopia idea were correct you might expect them to have permanent déjà vu, yet there are no reports of this happening.

A second intuitive explanation is some sort of distortion in time perception. Somehow, incoming signals must get misinterpreted and labelled with an inappropriate time stamp, making the experience seem old as well as current. If the brain's memory system is like a tape recorder, it is as if the recording head has got muddled with the playback head. It is an interesting analogy, but it does not appear to have any anatomical basis in the brain.

Now another theory is gaining credibility. Perhaps déjà vu feels like reliving a past experience because we actually are - at least to some extent. Psychologist Anne Cleary of Colorado State University in Fort Collins came to this idea via an interest in memory problems. Keen to explain instances such as when something seems to be on the tip of the tongue, or when we recognise a face but can't place it, she started looking for parallels with déjà vu. "One particular theory of déjà vu is that it may be a memory process," she says. "Features of a new situation may be familiar from some prior situation."

Her first experiments seem to support this. In one, she was able to induce familiarity for images of celebrity faces or well-known places, even if the viewer couldn't place the image, simply by first presenting subjects with lists of their names. In another study volunteers reported familiarity with words that sounded similar to ones presented in an earlier list. Nevertheless, Cleary acknowledges that this can't be the whole story. "Déjà vu is unique in that it is not just another instance of familiarity, it actually feels wrong," she says.

How to account for this? One possibility is that déjà vu is based on a memory fragment that comes from something more subtle, such as similarity between the configuration or layout of two scenes. Say you are in the living room of a friend's new house with the eerie feeling that you have been there before, yet knowing you can't possibly. It could be just that the arrangement of furniture is similar to what you have seen before, suggests Cleary, so the sense of familiarity feels misplaced.

To test the idea, her team produced a large range of images showing scenes such as a bar, a bowling alley, landscapes or rooms from a house. Volunteers saw a subset of these, then they were tested on a new set, half of which were entirely novel and the other half resembling scenes from the first set in structure and configuration but not content. Not only did the similar layouts produce familiarity without recall, subjects also reported a sense of the inexplicable, having been told that all the scenes were different.

Although the familiarity idea appeals to many, Moulin, for one, is not convinced. His scepticism stems from a study of a person with epilepsy that he conducted with Akira O'Connor, now at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. This 39-year-old man's auras of déjà vu were long-lasting enough to conduct experiments during them. The researchers reasoned that if familiarity is at the root of déjà vu, they should be able to stop the experience in its tracks by distracting the man's attention away from whatever scene he was looking at. However, when he looked away or focused on something different, his déjà vu did not dissipate, and would follow his line of vision and his hearing, suggesting that real familiarity is not the key. The fact that an epilepsy aura can cause déjà vu at all suggests that it is erroneous activity in a particular part of the brain that leads to misplaced feelings of familiarity, suggests Moulin.

Hypnotic dissociation

But how? Moulin and O'Connor think déjà vu is the consequence of a dissociation between familiarity and recall. We know that we can have a sense of familiarity for a face or name without actually remembering where we know it from. Using hypnosis, O'Connor and Moulin have been able to create a more mysterious sense of familiarity that leads people to draw parallels with déjà vu. One group of people was given a puzzle to solve. Then, while under hypnosis, they were told they would be given the puzzle again, but would not recall it. Another group did not do the puzzle but were told under hypnosis that they would be given it later and that they would experience feelings of familiarity but not understand why. Both situations produced a sense of eerie familiarity, which some people likened to déjà vu. Moulin and O'Connor hope that their ability to induce a déjà vu-like state in the lab will help them probe the phenomenon. They also believe these experiments support the idea that familiarity and recall are dissociable, and that you can have a sense of familiarity without actually having any prior experience of something.

Studies of the brain also support the idea that separate circuits mediate recollection and familiarity, according to John Aggleton and Malcolm Brown of Cardiff University, UK, who recently reviewed brain imaging and animal studies (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol 10, p 455). They point out that different parts of the medial temporal lobe, at the side of the brain, are responsible for different aspects of memory recall (see illustration). The curved tube-like hippocampus, which runs through the centre of the lobe, mediates recollection, particularly of autobiographical memories. Meanwhile, the studies show that the surrounding parahippocampus, particularly the perirhinal cortex, may provide the feelings of familiarity.

This fits well with the evidence from brain scans of Mr P and others like him, who show huge degeneration of neurons in the medial temporal lobe, and the fact that it is epilepsy originating in the medial temporal lobe that leads to déjà vu auras.

It is possible that both Moulin and Cleary are correct. The perirhinal cortex may store information about spatial relationships, rather than time, place and sequence of events, and so normal familiarity feelings could come largely from layout and configuration, backing Cleary's findings. Indeed, there may be many ways to produce false familiarity, according to psychologist Alan Brown of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, author of The déjà vu experience (Psychology press, 2004). His own experiments indicate some other possibilities. For example, he has induced the feeling by distracting volunteers while they saw a glimpse of a scene and then moments later giving them a good look. "If you take a brief glance when distracted, and look at the same scene again afterwards, it can feel like you've seen it before but much earlier," says Brown. He has also induced it by showing people images of things they had forgotten. "Just as a stomach ache can hurt the same way but be caused by lots of different processes, it could be the same way with déjà vu," he says.

The real problem with explaining déjà vu, however, is not how we can get familiarity without recognition, but why it feels so disturbing. "We'd get it all the time if it were just familiarity with real experiences," says Ed Wild from the Institute of Neurology in London. He suggests that mood and emotion are also important contributors to the sensation of déjà vu. We need the right combination of signals, not just the layout of a scene but how we feel at the time, to believe something is familiar when really it is not.

A matter of degree

Moulin agrees it may be matter of degree. The regions thought to mediate recall, familiarity and emotions are all extremely closely linked. A small amount of stimulation could produce a mild sense of familiarity, while a stronger stimulus could spread into neighbouring emotion regions producing a more disturbing feeling, or even the striking sense of doom or premonition some people report with déjà vu.

Cognitive neuroscientist Stefan Köhler from the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, believes the role of emotion is even more central in generating the sense of weirdness that accompanies déjà vu. He recently had the chance to image the brain of a person cured of epilepsy with déjà vu auras by removal of a large tumour that was triggering the seizures. The excised areas consisted of parts of the hippocampus and perirhinal cortex, but also included the amygdala. It suggests that this region, which is known to be heavily tied up with emotion, was also involved in creating the déjà vu. Köhler speculates that without the appropriate emotional arousal, perhaps the brain cannot recognise a person or place we have encountered before as truly familiar. On the other hand, inappropriate emotional arousal may make us believe something is familiar when actually it is not.

The final element of déjà vu, a sense that it feels impossible, probably comes from the reasoning parts of our brain. According to Köhler, when our rational knowledge tells us one thing, but our emotional instincts tell us another, it can feel very wrong. This final element is missing in people with dementia, including Mr P, who accept their experiences as perfectly normal. Köhler suspects this may be because neurodegeneration in these individuals has caused a disconnection between the temporal lobes, which are generating sensations, and the frontal lobes which are continuously interpreting them.

Our brains are looking for associations all the time. Déjà vu is interesting, says Kohler, because it points to a brain mechanism that helps you interpret what you are doing. When you are having a memory, you have the sensation of recollection. It feels like having a memory, and doesn't feel like daydreaming or current reality. "Déjà vu is a fault in a kind of cognitive process that is going on in the background all the time. When it goes wrong, it's very striking," says Moulin. At the extreme, patients with permanent déjà vu - dubbed déjà vecu, for already experienced - actually make up stories to make sense of it.

While déjà vu is starting to divulge some of its secrets, there is still a long way to go before we understand how we actually decide what is real, imagined, dreamed or experienced, and how these various tags lead to such different conscious experiences. One anecdotal finding that came to light while working on this article is that people who think a lot about déjà vu are more prone to it. I had déjà vu about reading about déjà vu, and researchers have had déjà vu about having déjà vu. It certainly retains mystery enough to justify further study. After all, says Wild, "déjà vu is one of weirdest brain experiences that normal people have".

Stranger becomes stranger yet

  • About 10 per cent of people claim never to have experienced déjà vu, while some individuals report having it regularly.
  • Children first get it at around age 8 or 9, suggesting that a degree of cognitive maturity is required.
  • Déjà vu happens less as you get older and more when you are tired, anxious or stressed.
  • It is particularly prevalent in people with certain conditions known to produce problems in time perception, such as schizophrenia and epilepsy.
  • Although there is no gene for déjà vu, it is possible that certain versions of genes associated with epilepsy make some of us more prone to it.
  • Just reading this article could give you déjà vu.

Article appeared in New Scientist on 25 March 2009 by Helen Phillips

Thursday, March 12, 2009

LinkedIn and Beyond: More Sites to Help You Network

LinkedIn, Facebook and Myspace can be useful tools for networking with consumers and peers, but there are other social networks on the web with more specific purposes or narrower audiences. The list is almost endless and the variety equally so. Here is a selection of other popular sites. Tap into an affiliate marketing revenue stream by promoting products and sites on your business profile, and get paid for the friends you refer. (This is not the same service as Google's ADSense) Join your local (US or UK) business community to connect and collaborate with nearby entrepreneurs, and find out about local seminars and events.

Entrepreneur Connect & Women Entrepreneur Connect: Share ideas, join groups, publish content and promote your business on (Women) Entrepreneur's own network. Create a profile, product listings and blog, and take advantage of e-mail marketing and virtual trade shows. Their website is also available in German, Spanish and Chinese languages. Get serious about fast growth in this startup community focused on finding funding, talent and expert advice. Build a network among other startup entrepreneurs and launch your own branded network when you're ready. Twitter friendly! Connect with other business owners while promoting products and services in the marketplace. Search this global site for business partners, contacts and professional opportunities. Multiple European, Chinese and Asian languages supported

This list is for information only. I am in no way recommending them over any others. Explore and enjoy but make up your own mind about how useful or otherwise, they are to you.

NB: many of the above sites are US or UK based, but some have multiple language support and may have a separate more localised, website for your country. If not, well, you now have an opportunity to develop something for your city, region or catchment area.

If you are already connected and using the above sites, I would be very interested to hear your comments and feedback on them. As well as your links and suggestions for bigger and better networking sites.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eurozone Says No to Fresh Stimulus

European Ministers reject U.S. calls for budget injection as "not to our liking."

Eurozone finance ministers yesterday rejected calls for increased economic stimulus measures, despite a worsening outlook for the EU economy. They also rejected any easing of the requirements for joining the Eurozone.

Speaking after a meeting of the Eurogroup, which brings together the finance ministers of the 16 Eurozone countries, Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister and finance minister of Luxembourg, said: "We don't feel we need to pile deficit on top of deficit and add further to our debt."

Juncker, who chairs the Eurogroup meetings, added: "We would not want to give the impression we are considering putting together other recovery packages."

His remarks followed comments from Larry Summers, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, in an interview with the Financial Times, that governments should pump more public money into their economies to fight the recession. "Recent American appeals" for a European budgetary effort are "not to our liking," Juncker said.

Juncker said ministers had rejected any relaxation of the criteria for joining the euro, including the length of time that countries have to spend in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II. "There is no question of changing the criteria," Juncker said. "The credibility of monetary union is at stake," he added.

Both Juncker and Joaquín Almunia, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said that assessments of Europe's economic outlook are now worse than they were earlier this year. Juncker said that the recession is "certainly deeper than what we saw at the beginning of the 1990s." Almunia said that "the recovery will take longer than we were expecting a few months ago," and that he now expects a "gradual recovery" to start in 2010.

My cup runneth over!

Le vin de Bourdeau at its best!

In these strident economic times, chaos and budget cuts abound. You realy need to check, align and re-check your outlook and perspective.

A pessimist sees the glass as half empty; the optimist sees it as half full.

From a management perspective, these are both wrong. The true realist's perspective and arguably the right way to look at it;

You have failed to recognise that, when there is excess space above the contents of the glass, the solution has not met the client's requirements, and their expectations need to be reduced and managed accordingly!

Take Control - Shorten the Layoff

It's easy to view a layoff as an end-of-the-world situation. Few experiences are scarier than losing your job and the risk to your financial security that it brings.

The emotions; fear, loss and desperation, that grip you after you've been laid off are unhelpful and potentially destructive emotions. They drain your energy, distract you from picking yourself up and effectively prevent you doing the work you need to do to find a new job. You know you cannot allow these emotions to consume you and must work at battling through them.

Dismiss and fight the thoughts that unemployment is the end of the world, it is only the end of a small chapter in your biography. It is a good opportunity to improve yourself and to open another fresh chapter. Find out what you enjoy doing and what you do well, it is possibly different from what you were doing. You have an opportunity to be better off and stronger, than you were before, both emotionally and economically.

The key to success is maintaining a positive attitude. This is especially so in an interview situation. Potential employers can detect a candidate's fear and desperation, as easily as a shark can smell blood. Keep a stiff upper lip and play the most positive role of your life, being you.

Here are seven tips you can consider for getting through the initial layoff feelings, even in a bad economy;

1. Negotiate for the best package, for you.
Don't think that you have to accept whatever severance package your manager or HR puts in front of you. Your severance package (everything) is negotiable, don't feel pressured to immediately sign on the dotted line. Take the time to read the severance package, even if it's 20 pages long.

Your employer gives you a hard time but hold your ground and tell the manager that it's unreasonable and unacceptable for the employer to ask you to sign something, without first reading it in detail.

Beware of the covert threat, 'If you sign this right now, you'll get your best deal. If you don't sign it, you'll get a worse deal.' You do not have to agree with their flawed logic. Tell them you have to sleep on it and take the document away from the office. This should not surprise them and they would be foolish to try and stop you. It is important that you study this document in detail and in a relaxed atmosphere. Seek objective and knowledgeable advice.

To help you prepare for severance negotiations, consult your contract and HR manual for information about what kind of severance package you should expect from your employer. That way, you can plan ahead of time what other elements of a severance package (e.g., career counseling, health insurance) you might need or can request.

If you require more information than what's included in the HR manual, then seek out and politely ask other employees who've been let go, what they received for severance. It would be a good idea to form an ex-employee support group.

When it comes to actual negotiations, negotiate one perk at a time, whether it be the money, healthcare or career coaching, rather than going after the whole package. You will always get more if you look at one thing at a time. Your mantra should be, 'I just want to be treated fairly and receive the support and benefits that I am due.'

Initially conduct negotiations on your own, without a lawyer, not just because of the expense but also once you get lawyers involved, it's taken out of your hands and it becomes lawyers talking to lawyers. Its always better to try to work things out with your company in a congenial and rational manner.

2. Don't defeat yourself
Remember that after you've been laid off, you will feel vulnerable. When you feel vulnerable, it's easy to look to far ahead into a gloomy scenario and to sink into depression. It is difficult to resist those negative thoughts but for your own well-being and the success of your job search, you have to fight against it.

Do not dwell on all the reasons why your employer might have selected you for a pink slip, remember that the fundamental reason you lost your job economic not personal. Your employer was having trouble competing during this economic downturn, not because you're a bad worker. Remember that high numbers of talented, hard-working professionals are getting laid off and that you are not alone in this. You still have great potential and will be a valuable employee at another more stable company.

There are still a large number of companies that are in desperate need of highly experienced, quality employees. There is something else out there for you, a great opportunity that will improve your future. You may have to work for it. You may have to study for it. You may have to manage the change.

3. Examine your finances, closely
If you have Excel or similar, build a spreadsheet model of your personal finances. Closely examine your outgoings, expenses and your savings, to determine, exactly how much money you'll need to cover your expenses during the time you're unemployed. You can hope for the best but plan for an extended period of time e.g., more than three months.

If you know your budget i.e. how much money you have on hand, it may put some of your anxiety to rest. It will be a bit of a reality check but if the exercise of planning your finances sends your anxiety levels and blood pressure through the roof, then try and turn it around to give you strong motivation to find a new job.

4. Make job-hunting your new job
Do not consider yourself a vitim and you are certainly not a prisoner in your own life. Stay active and take regular light exercise, it will help dissipate the negative feelings and increase your circulation. Now, its important to devote the time you previously spent at your old job to looking for a new job.

Your new job is 40 hours a week looking for employment. Stay busy and focussed on your task. Your mood and motivation may be a bit cyclic at the beginning. Be aware of this, recognise it but don't lie down to it. Make a plan, build job seeking activities and keep a routine going.

By continuously working toward getting a new job, you bring structure and discipline to your life and you'll feel better about yourself because you have stopped seeing yourself as a 'vistim' and you are taking control of your situation.

If you do this, you'll find that you have less time to dwell on your recent layoff and less time to sink into the negative thought patterns that are associated with it. If these thoughts continue and become a problem do not hesitate to seek help and advice from your doctor. Short term, event driven depression is a well documented condition and can be readily treated but, like all illnesses, it needs to be diagnosed and treated early in its onset.

5. Expand your search
Do some research. You may have been out of the job market for some time. Find out what's going on in your field or expertise, geographocal location and beyond. Find the success stories, the well-funded organisations, the new, new thing, etc. Its out there and it needs to be developed, manufactured, sold and supported. Where would you fit into this cycle?

Make a long list of industries and organisations in your chosen location(s), preferably those industries where you could put your skills and experience to good use. Don't worry too much about who are advertising vacancies and might be hiring, just develop a long list.

You cannot de-select companies because you don't want to work for them. You are just shrinking your pool and greatly reducing your opportunities. Be realistic, put yourself in a stronger negotiating position in the event one of those firms suddenly has a position for you. Simply consider them as a shorter term opportunity. Somewhere you can gather knowledge, experience, and extend your network. I guarantee you will meet some very good and interesting contacts, wherever you work.

6. Online applications and search firms
Although the Web is an invaluable resource for researching companies, it's not always the best medium for submitting job applications and résumés. Some say that its not an original or unique way to find work, 'If you can do it, about a million other people can do it, too." Companies can get hundreds, even thousands, of résumés for one posting. That is not the best way to get a job but don't dismiss it.

Explore your network to make contact with senior people and hiring managers inside the companies where you're interested in working. You are looking for friends of friends or colleagues of colleagues. People who can introduce you directly to key managers.

Recruitment and search consultants may yield some help in connecting you with a new job but they are generally geared up for buoyant economic conditions, when there's lots of competition for labour.

Rememeber to attend as many conferences or networking event as possible, somewhere you have the opportunity to make personal connections.

7. Stop reading bad news
Don't pay too much attention to the news about the economy because the news is, by definition, always going to be attention grabbing; shock, horror and downright bad. It does make people very discouraged at a time when they need to stay optimistic. Your attitude, in the form of discouragement, negative thoughts and lack of stamina, is the biggest obstacle to finding a new job.

Employers want people who are flexible, resilient and open to and understand the need for change. Variety is the new constant!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What will you do to Save Your Job?

Man the Lifeboats !
Executives at the helm of your financial services companies are reeling from the subprime mortgage losses and to appear empathetic, they are opting to relinquish their multimillion dollar bonuses (for this year only) to save their jobs or their public image.

I can foresee the day when CEOs will be down to 1 0r 2 cases of Dom Perignon a week. Quelle dommage! Man the reflective glass barricades on the ground level, the stockholder wolves are at the door!

John Mack, the CEO of Morgan Stanley, announced during his company's fourth quarter earnings conference call on December 19 2007 that he would give up his bonus, that year. Unfortunately, even this strategy of trimming some of his own fat and lightening the executive load, as the ship sinks past the first fathom and goes deeper, doesn't always work.

Bear Stearns the investment bankers - Their CEO James Cayne, along with his CFO, Sam Molinaro, announced that the entire executive committee would not be getting their bonuses, this year. Unfortunately, this 'too little too late' gesture did not have the desired effect. It did not placate the shareholders, as they had hoped.

Bear Stearns announced on Tuesday that Cayne had resigned from his post as CEO of the investment house. To soften the blow, Cayne will remain in his humble position as chairman. In 2006, Cayne earned a cash bonus of $17 Million. Where did all this money come from? Your investments, of course. It makes you wonder why the annual bonus on your investment was restricted to a few hundred dollars. Well, an important man has overheads, he has to drink and eat, regularly! Oh no, wait, that's all on 'expenses'. I wonder what his expense account looked like that year?

Giving up their bonuses is not a job-saving strategy, it is a "face saving" strategy. An executive 'garage' sale, except what they are giving up is not theirs in the first place. It belongs to the shareholders and investors. An empty gesture when so many employees and investors are getting a raw deal; substantial financial losses, no bonuses and faced with being laid off. The executives are simply doing something politically correct by not walking off with five million to 17 million dollars, depending on who you are.

There is a big difference in the multi-million dollar bonuses that executives slice off for themselves and the few dollars being offered to placate investors, employees and shareholders. Investors and employees normally require 'bonuses' to earn a living wage. A far cry from the executive feeding trough, with its frenzy of snouts and diverse income streams. Don't be concerned. Most senior executives can live very happily on their 'expense' accounts, which can include the rent, energy bills and maintenance of a fine downtown apartment, close to the office and some petty cash to pay for the taxis, parking and maid service.

If they can struggle through to retirement, then they have a nice half million dollar pension per year to see them through and a large comfortable preferential stockholding to sit on.

The irony is, these executives may not have been elligible for bonuses this year anyway, given that their companies displayed such poor performance. That was certainly the case at Bear Stearns and many others. Like the sub-prime mortgage bonds and options themselves, its all just another illusion from the masters of hype, rhetoric and corporate magic; fireworks, smoke and mirrors to entertain the masses, and to distract them from the truth.

It would appear that we have learned nothing about leadership from the sinking of the Titanic and the lifeboats are still for executive use only.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Laid-off! Oh No! What now?

Crystal Balls

The USA reported that 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, with 524,000 axed in December alone. Unfortunately, the situation isn't expected to be any better in Europe in 2009. People who invested years of hard work, loyalty and dedication have been shown the (back) door. Now they find themselves out in the street, left wondering what their futures hold.

Discard Pride and take Courage
The newly unemployed can't afford to miss a beat. Yes, the economy has deteriorated. Yes, more layoffs are coming. Yes, it's harder to find a job now than it was a year ago but while some will react badly, smart job seekers will get tough and get going. They'll brush up their résumés, hit the job boards, work their social networks and polish their interview skills . Remain calm, collected and focused on finding the next opportunity.

Resting for the Hunt

Finding a new Job is Your Full-Time Job
You might not be fully employed, but you do have a job. Your job is to find a new position. Remember, you have been released from you current commitments, you have not been granted permission to take time off and lick your wounds.

Some people may feel they have enough savings to live off for a month or two, before they throw themselves back in the market. Sadly, if you let yourself slip into the "let's call it a break" mentality, you seriously risk losing your edge and when you do decide to actively pursue a job, it'll be that much harder to get back into the working harness and the pace of things.

Job hunting race
Secondly all your colleagues are now running ahead of you in the job hunting race. You may even find that you have competition from some of your old colleagues, the ones that are not being laid-off. These are the 'jump before you're pushed' brigade. The ones that have seen some scarey writing on the wall near to them and this has provoked them into finding a more secure company to work for.

If you start to pursue a new position immediately, you'll be much more fit and prepared to seek out and find the right opportunity. You will still be hot from the fight. Your readiness will show in your interview attitude, from the way you present your résumé, to the way you conduct yourself while under scrutiny and in your ability to negotiate, confidently.


Keep Your Spirits Up
This is not a license to drink more whiskey, not that I want to discourage you. Being laid off in today's economy can send any level-headed person into a panic. That's why it's important to keep your priorities in check, preferably a reality check. Keeping your spirits high keeps you motivated to get back out there with the level of enthusiasm you need. Did you ever walk over hot coals? as part of a team-building course. Well, if you did then remember the state of mind you assumed at that time, face forward, focus and take that first step.

Step up out of the trench
Professionally speaking, your layoff could be a big blessing in disguise. You know that you felt unappreciated, stifled or bored in your old job! The company politics were dragging you down! So, now is the time to stop whining and find your true calling. Take advantage of this time for expansion, self-discovery and growth. Re-build, renovate and re-invent yourself.

Find a job or position that really challenges you in new and exciting ways. We are all the sum of multiple characteristics and talents that grow and change with knowledge and experience. Look at the different aspects and elements of your complex character. Train and develop some of these and allow others out for some exercise and experience. Try something new. Pick up on an activity that you used to enjoy, something you already know and can expand.

Hail! Friends Countrymen!

Network, Network, Network
When the going gets tough reach out to everyone you know and maybe some that you don't.

Looking for a job is no shame on you and you, like everyone else need to be supported.

Clearly, people don't like to talk about their sudden unemployment but remember that everyone knows the economy is down. Through no fault of your own, you find yourself in the growing army of newly unemployed people but YOU are one of a kind.

Tell your friends. Tell your family. Post updates on social networking sites. Let people know you could use some help, and ask them to put you in touch with people they know are hiring. Make sure everyone knows you are in the market, you are developing new skills and have something more to offer.

New Skills! New vacancies!

Recruitment agencies can help
Talk to recruitment agencies, whether you are looking for full-time or part-time employment. These agencies have already seen a noticeable increase in clients who have never used a staffing company before now. You can be sure that they have already planned for this increase in demand. It's their job.

Advice from friends is helpful, but staffing professionals know the ins and outs of local employment and can propose or suggest that you follow a new direction, one you had not been aware of or considered. Even more importantly, recruitment agencies have established good relationships with local companies. Listen to what they say.

Skills Gap Analysis
Recruitment agencies are also a good source of information regarding what key skills are most sought after, by the market. If you have good current skills they will be able to tell you how to package and market them. If your skills are out of alignment with the market, they can give you good advice as to how to change or tune your approach to a better fit.

No Demand for Zeppelin mechanics!

Take it on the chin if they say you need to re-train entirely and get out there to find the cheapest smartest way to do this. The web is a good source of free online tuition and again your friends and network can help you here too. Seek out the one's that have current skills or work with others who have them.

Consider working for FREE for a short introductory period.

It would be a great advantage to you to find work as an intern or assistant with a company who have, and use, the key skills you need to learn or develop! Remember there has to be value on both sides or it won't work. So you need to have something to offer them. You will short circuit many of their reticence and objections if you offer your time and experience for FREE! In return you get some valuable training or much needed exposure to a new skill, methodology or application.

Clearly working for nothing is a short term activity and you cannot allow it to continue for long. You need an income and you have only a small window of opportunity before you go broke. So, once you are in-situ, you need to learn as much as you can, gaining real hands-on experience and as quickly as possible. Poverty is a great motivator!

You never know what might come from this and it will keep your morale high, maintain your social interaction and extend your network. 3 very important considerations but beware of abusive persons that will try to exploit your position.

Social Networking helps
Don't hesitate to put your professional face online. Make sure you are on LinkedIn and your profile is up to date. Your online presence is often the first place potential employers will look. If run correctly, your social network could be that extra boost your résumé needs. Exercise caution and restraint, because, depending on the content, it could also be detrimental. Post articles you've written or details of a project you're particularly proud of, not the pictures of you mooning your mates on last year's trip to Cancun.

Consider Contract work and Consulting
Although you might be leaving a full-time, "permanent" position, don't rule out the idea of consulting. Many workers overlook the option of consulting because they don't like the relative insecurity and the idea of impermanence.

The use of Contractors and contracting
In fact, many cautious employers now are showing great caution when taking on new staff. They don't want the long term commitment in such a dynamic marketplace. They want to be able to grow and shrink as the work dictates. They do this by using contractors and they manage the uptake of contractors by issuing short 3 month contracts in the first instance, with the 'potential' to extend.

From my experience it will take you 6 weeks to settle into a new company and it will be 3 months before you will become truly confident and start taking the initiative in that position. From your side, you are set to go. From the employers side, they know who they are dealing with and they have assessed your worth. They can now decide whether to 'extend' you for a more agreeable period of time e.g. 6 months or 1 year, to completely 'domesticate you by offering a Permanent contract or to 'release' you back into the Wild.

If you dismiss contracting as an option, you could be slamming the door on your career.

Once you are established as a contractor, it is not uncommon to stay with a company for 2 years or more. Years of relative security and certainty, the same pay and benefits. Remember that a short consulting assessment is often the only way into and organisation but could potentially lead to a (semi-)permanent position.

Go Girl Power!

Cultivate Suppleness and Flexibility

Consulting also has a number of benefits you won't find with a permanent position. It provides a vehicle for flexibility. That may be the flexibility to spend more time with your family, or open up that business of your dreams. Consulting usually generates a higher salary than a permanent position. It can also stimulate you business sense in a way that a more sedintary position does not.

Just say 'No!'
As an independent consultant, you always have the option to say 'No' to a project if it doesn't appeal to you. Can you imagine saying "no thanks" to your last manager? (out loud). There are a huge array of jobs available to contractors. This makes it possible to not only choose where and when you work, but what you're doing and how you do it.

The Postman earns more than you do, now
A contract or temporary position with a company keeps some income flowing while you search for a more permanent and satisfying position. It could be the key to keeping you and your family fed and healthy.

Benefits? What Benefits?
Do remember that temporary workers and contractors do not have access to the same benefits within organisations. No health insurance, no pensions, no sick pay, short notification of termination periods, etc. So, its not all plain sailing and lots of money but its something you will know in advance and can deal with. Remember what your Grannie told you, save up and put aside something for the leaner days.

With grim determination and a willingness to grow and open yourself up to new experiences, you will not be a Statistic very long!

Indian outsourcing fears being burned

Indian outsourcing firms are turning down business out of fear of their customer companies going bankrupt and leaving them holding a bad debt.

As a result of the current economy and the rush to reduce costs, there is an upturn in companies sending work offshore to places like India. So you would think Indian offshore companies would be happy about the potential new business opportunities and be very aggressive about going after them. Unfortunately, that is not the case and the Indian companies are very aware of the fragility of the world economy. They do not wish to be the one's left holding the cheque.

Only a few Indian offshore companies are chasing these new deals because of this, according to Partha Iyengar, vice president and regional research director at Gartner India. In a Reuters story published March 3, Iyengar went on to say that "Indian firms need to focus on revamping their sales models to help generate cost savings and add value to the client's operations," but not everyone agrees with this reason for not chasing potential new business.

In a follow-up comment to the story, one Indian commentator brought up the concern that clients could go bankrupt by the time payment is expected, a very plausible and valid point. Although offshore outsourcing does provide some cost savings to client businesses, it doesn't guarantee they'll come out of the recession in one piece.

The Indians have proved themselves to be excellent and well respected business people over the centuries. Therefore, it seems like a sensible and justifiably cautious approach by the Indian outsourcing companies that they do put themselves in a vulnerable position that may get them dragged down with someone else's sinking ship.

Probability - Birthday pairs

With my love of subjects around Probability and Risk, I find myself reading Simon Singh's book; Fermat's Last Theorem. I am a big fan of Simon and would certainly recommend his Book of Code to any intellectual IT persona. Coincidentally, I also bought the Book of Cod and the Book of God, both by completely different authors. Although both of these were entirely 'off subject', they threw an interesting light on the fishermen's pursuit of the Cod and mankind's pursuit of spiritual belief.

Let me provide you with an interesting story about counterintuitive Probability that I was reminded of, after reading Simon Singh's book. What is the probability of 2 people, at a party or sports gathering, sharing the same birthday. With 23 people on a football pitch or 23 people at a party you would imagine that the probability of 2 people in that group sharing the same birthday would be unlikely, given that there are 365 days to choose from. Most people would guess that there is less than 10% probability.

I will not keep you in suspense unnecessarily. The answer is just over 50%. Surprised? Well it is true. The likelihood of 2 people in a group of 23 sharing the same birthday is more than 50%. It is a counterintuitive dilemma with a counterintuitive answer.

The issue we have as humans, is that we tend to consider the problem as more complex than it is. We think that there are 23 people and 365 days in the year, so the answer must be some multiplicity of that but it is not.

The better approach is to consider the issue from a different angle entirley. The question is about pairs. How many pairs are there in such a group? To save you counting let me tell you, there are 253. The first person can be paired with 22 others, the second person can only be paired with 21 others because we have already paired up the first person. Thus, reducing the pool by 1. The third person can then be paired with 20 others and so on until we reach 253.

The odds of pairing increases dramatically when the number of people at the party increase. You will by now realise that the number of pairings with increase accordingly. The knowledge of these counterintutive issues is well known to mathematicians and your local bookmakers (bookies), one from a problematic view and the other from the view of economic gain.

So, the next time you are at a slow party, you may take the opportunity to gain kudos with the other partygoers or perhaps make some chump change. Good luck!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Calculating the odds of being paid off - First step

"Will I still have a job tomorrow? and in the tomorrows after that"

With the world economy claiming to be in a far-reaching recession and companies announcing layoffs seemingly every day, the question of continuing employment looms large in every thinking person's mind.

Clearly, some employees feel that they are at greater risk of losing their jobs than others. What's not so clear is how to calculate that risk. So how do you become your own Risk Manager and carry out a risk assessment on yourself. Consider how you can devise a good method that would help, not only yourself but also other IT professionals, get a relatively objective handle on the odds of getting laid off.

You may be wondering why anyone would want to determine the likelihood of their losing a job. You may also believe that a 'layoff' risk assessment method could be a very helpful tool. Depending on your circumstances, outlook and character, many people worry unnecessarily about getting laid off and others who do get laid off, are often taken completely by surprise.

A risk assessment for layoffs could help IT professionals determine whether they are in the red zone (high) or the green zone (low) risk category, when job losses come around. Low-risk professionals will then be able to rest easy and carry on with their work and the high-risk employees can be proactively defend and entrench their positions, whilst actively preparing themselves emotionally, professionally and financially, for the moment when their jobs get cut.

As a first step, let us propose a list of possible variables that could indicate someone is likely to get laid off. Let us also propose another list of variables that could indicate someone is unlikely to get laid off.

Our goal is to develop an accurate and plausible assessment, one that will really help people get a grip on their futures. Coming up with such an assessment, can be difficult, for a whole variety of reasons. One of these reasons would be an incomplete or inappropriate list of variables.

If you examine the lists below and identify which of the variables are appropriate to your circumstances and discard those that are not. You can also weigh a certain number of the retained variables more heavily than others, because of their importance or criticality.

Examine also how the assessment is structured. Structuring it as a questionnaire would allow people to assign points for each negative variable (e.g. each strike against them) and subtract points for each positive variable. The conclusion would be easily calculated and greatly simplified. People with high scores are more likely to be laid off than people will lower scores.

Remember that the goal of this assessment is to help and support people, not to frighten them.

Variables that Could Indicate Someone Is Likely to Get Laid Off

1. Your employer is not meeting its financial plan. (he's broke!)
2. Your salary is at the high-end of the pay scale for your profession or function. (so much for ambition!)
3. A position or function you help support has been eliminated or restructured. (the horse died!)
4. You work on a project that has been cut or that you sense is going to be cut. (Zepellin restoration)
5. You gossip or complain a lot. (no wonder. Look at the previous options on this list)
6. The work you do is mundane or repetitive in nature (e.g. re-setting passwords or setting up routers) and could be outsourced to a third party. (or monkey with learning difficulties)
7. Your work is not customer-focused. (but I work in Security)
8. The function you work in is well/over-staffed (full of "fat" cats that need a trim)
9. You don't "fit in" with the 'culture' of your department. (You are sober)
10. Your company could find someone to replace you at a lower cost with relative ease (e.g. going to the bus stop line, rather than hiring a head hunter)

Variables That Could Indicate Someone Is Unlikely to Get Laid Off

1. You've demonstrated your ability to adapt to new strategies. (Flexible as Yoga)
2. You have good relationships with different people throughout your company. (married to the boss?)
3. Your position is cross-matrixed to different leaders. (you are a bigomist)
4. You have a good rapport with your boss, and your boss is regarded highly by senior management. (you still own the negatives from the office party)
5. You work on multiple projects that are critical to dealing with existing business conditions. (your wife sleeps around)
6. Your skills are up to date, in demand and align with the IT organization's current and future needs. (you have killed all the competition in the office)
7. Your company would have difficulty finding someone to fill your shoes. (you are overweight)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Staying afloat - develop buoyancy

Straighten up and Fly right!

With the economy said to be all at sea, what can an IT professional do, to stay afloat?

1) The first step is the easiest one of all. Keep your technology skills fresh and take advantage of every training opportunity, e.g. there are plenty of free online courses and certifications. "Free" is important, this is no time to ask your employer for money but also you may want to consider investing a little of your own cash on yourself, and your future.

In fact, you will find that when you are employing your own cash to buy training, you will become more discerning about the content, as well as the real relevance and necessity of attending a particular skills training course. Now suddenly you see it from your boss's position. Where is the payback? Do you have th ecourage to put your money where your mouth is? Are you willing to pay for the training and have the company reep the benefit. It would make you more secure and your boss would see you in a different and better light.

Something that is strangely inexpensive. You can always gain knowledge and get a head start on a new techie subject by 'reading a book' or three on the subject. I know, I know, its not very techie or 'out there' to be 'reading' and it will make some of your nerdy friends point at you and laugh, 'Oh, look guys! We've got a reader!' but tough times call for tough measures.

2) You could always leverage your technology expertise to help the company perform better. Wow! Is that possible you say? Yes! You might want to develop an application that helps the company's sales professionals (the suits), unlikely but possible. It's important not to be afraid to take the initiative. Develop your ideas or speak to the suits and see how their needs could be better met, especially if there is a techies slant to it.

Look seriously at mutually beneficial options, for both you and the company. Structure a rough 'business' plan showing how, by the use of new technologies (tools/ applications/ whatever), that you are willing to develop and learn the company can readily,

  • save /make money or
  • reduce overheads /wastage or
  • get into new markets / challenge their competitors, or
  • out manouvre them entirely by implementing more innovative approaches.
Some study in advance and a bit of prior knowledge here would be helpful in re-enforcing your pitch. Also brush up on your presentation techniques and I don't mean the Powerpoint style tools. I mean the, well dressed, standing at the front of an auditorium and speaking clearly and assertively, presentation skills.

These skills are some of the most important ones that you will need for the future and its vital that you get help with them. Your public performance can be easily made more structured, effective and carry more impact if you seek the advice of a professional tutor or toast master. Unfortunately by the sheer nature of this skill, it cannot be done online. You will have to go into the real world to speak to people about it. They will be wearing suits and maybe by that time, so will you.

Remember, you are the one best placed to know what new tools and technologies are out there and how best to apply them to the benefit of your company. So, why don't you tell them and put yourself forward as the co-ordinator and developer for the project. Cometh the hour, cometh the geek.

3) Be sure to stay up and alert. Be positive (B+) and become high profile and very visible. Throw off your cardigan and come out of the server room, turn your back on the Zen-like hum of the air-con, look your manager in one of his crazed bloodshot eyes and tell him how you are going to help him and lead him out of this mess. Then step back quickly, because he will become very emotional and may reach out and try to hug you. Not that this is a bad thing but it doesn't help your street cred with the guys.

4) Ensure that you stay busy by volunteering for new initiatives and by not turning down high profile assignments. Qudos and assignment selection is a story for another day, but be careful of being handed a dying star, a runaway horse or a poisoned elf.

Keeping fully occupied is good advice at any time, good or not so good but it is easy to get complacent in the good times and then find yourself out favour and out of position when times are difficult. Ask yourself, 'Am i doing enough to help me keep my job.'

Simple rhetorical phrases like "stay positive" are all very well but it can be tough to put into practice, especially in an oppresive or negative environment. Avoid the negative people in the office they will be the first ones targetted and then fired. Remember that negativity and cynicism are contagious. Therefore, turn off the news during the day. It is a drain on your spirit. Plug it or it will only drag you down and distract you from your chosen task.

If you do all that and you still face losing your job, what next?Who is moving my cheese?

Dust off your old resumé and make sure it is up-to-date, accurate, attractive, concise, well written and contains all of your updated contact information. Then, make sure it is optimized for keywords by describing your skills precisely. Post your résumé on all the job boards, such as Dice, LinkedIn and Monster, as well as the niche job boards, for jobs in financial services, media, etc. Check that the language used in your resumé is in synch with today's recruiters and job market.

If it is not 'reader friendly' it won't get read!

Take advantage of recruiting firms. Remember, when you meet with a recruiting firm, treat everyone with copious respect, because these are the 'gatekeepers'. The people who could help you land an interview and a job. Good recruiting firms and consultants will also work with you to optimize your résumé for the job boards and so also will good friends i.e. the suits not the geeks.

Finally, in this highly competitive dog-eat-cat job world, if you do manage to land an interview opportunity, let the prospective employer know you are available immediately. Don't say that you will be on vacation or only do interviews on Mondays. Make sure you are easily available and show a strong interest in the job; otherwise, you will lose the interview opportunity.

Remember the new mindset that you developed and all those new exercises that you carried out, just to make sure you didn't get fired, well these are the very ones that you can use to sell yourself to your potential employer, at the interview.

When the going gets tough, the tough will be the survivors. Build a plan and Make your own luck!

Develop yourselve into;

  • a stronger, leaner and fitter condition to
  • maintain, strengthen and consolidate your current position,
  • study, re-train and supplement your skills,
  • search out new opportunities inside and outside your present environment
  • GROW!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

H5N1 (Bird Flu) virus - Risky move

IT'S emerged that virulent H5N1 bird flu was sent out by accident from an Austrian lab last year and given to ferrets in the Czech Republic before anyone realised. As well as the risk of it escaping into the wild, the H5N1 got mixed with a human strain, which might have spawned a hybrid that could unleash a pandemic.

Last December, the Austrian branch of US vaccine company Baxter sent a batch of ordinary human H3N2 flu, altered so it couldn't replicate, to Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, also in Austria. In February, a lab in the Czech Republic working for Avir alerted Baxter that, unexpectedly, ferrets inoculated with the sample had died. It turned out the sample contained live H5N1, which Baxter uses to make vaccine. The two batches seem to have been mixed in error.

Markus Reinhard of Baxter says no one was infected because the H3N2 was handled at a high level of containment. But Ab Osterhaus of Erasmus University in the Netherlands says: "We need to go to great lengths to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen."

Building Staff loyalty

You are a manager, therefore you depend on your staff to do their work well. Their success is critically linked to your own success. Team loyalty is not a 'given'. You have to earn and develop loyalty among your staff. If you can build up a bank of “good will capital“, you can then exchange it at a later date, e.g. when those impossible deadlines loom and you have to ask for more flexibility and extra effort.

Here are a few pointers to help you build that loyalty.

1: Be initially neutral regarding concerns about a subordinate

Don’t throw an employee under the bus when someone outside the department complains to you. Do not be judgemental. Do not start by agreeing with that person, before you find out all the facts. Similarly, don’t assume the person is totally wrong, rebuking him or her, and blindly defending your employee. Listen to their concerns, thank the person for alerting you, and say you will check with the subordinate in question. Go and check as promised and provide feedback. In this way, you get both sides of the story

2: Aim for collaboration

The more you can develop a collaborative relationship with your staff, the better the relationship will be. You and your staff do depend on each other, so try to impress that point on them. Remind them that each of you can (and should) help the other to be successful. Remember the saying “One hand washes the other.”

3: Listen to staff concerns

Your staff will have concerns about working conditions, working hours, deadlines, and other matters. You may not be able to resolve them all. However, listen to what they are telling you, because if you don’t, you will lower morale. If there’s little chance that you can resolve the concern, let them know immediately so that they have a proper expectation. Similarly, if you do succeed in resolving a concern, let them know about it. They may not thank you verbally, but chances are they still will appreciate you for what you did.

When listening to your staff, do not interrupting them to explain or defend a position. Let them finish. Similarly, try to remain even-tempered and think before you speak. Your attitude sets the tone for the whole department. Remember the old saying: “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent person overlooks an insult.”

4: Be committed to staff development

Your employees needs training to maintain their skills. That training includes hard skills, such as programming and network design. It also includes soft skills, such as how to deliver effective presentations and how to communicate effectively. In fact, those soft skills often are more important than hard skills in determining career success. Make sure your staff receives such training and when they’re participating in a training session, respect that time. Don’t call and pull them out of class “just for a second,” because they never will return. You will have reduced the ffectiveness of the training and wasted time and money.

5: Fulfill commitments

If you make commitments to your staff, keep them. Otherwise, you lose credibility and will face lowered morale. When you keep your commitments to your staff, it increases the chances that they will reciprocate and keep their commitments to you regarding work delivery.

6: Exhort, don’t belittle

You always want your staff to do more, produce more, finish the project earlier — and for less cost. So there’s often a gap between where they are now and where you’d like them to be. It’s better, generally, to exhort them to reach that point. If you criticize them because they’re not where you want right now, you may create resentment. Of course, there might be one person who does get motivated by being belittled, someone who says, “I’ll show that X$X# manager” and goes on to perform exceptionally well. The percentages are against you, however, because many others will simply “turn off.” It’s far better to say, “Here’s where I’d like us to be, and I know you can do it” rather than, “How come you’re not there right now, you slacker?”

7: When singling out staff in public, do so positively

I’m not saying that you always should praise people publicly. Some people become embarrassed or self-conscious when they’re the subject of public attention. But I am saying that if you do choose to single someone out in public, do so in a positive, rather than a negative way. The latter will embarrass everyone involved.

When you issue public praise, be brief and specific. Talk about what the person did and why it helped the department, organization, or company. Finally, thank the person. Ironically, the less you smile when praising, the more sincere it sounds. (Of course, you should be sincere to begin with, and you should smile just a little bit.)

8: When giving correction, do so privately

Conversely, if someone messes up, talk to them about it in confidence, behind closed doors. When doing so, focus on the issue, not the person. Try to avoid words like “you” and “yours.” Instead of, “Your program caused the system to crash,” consider, “Program xyz [which your subordinate developed and supposedly tested] caused the system to crash.” Focus on the actions that caused the problem and help the subordinate learn from the situation so that the same issue doesn’t occur again.

9: Serve as a buffer for your staff

Unfortunately, you may run into upper-level managers who insist on micromanaging. They will visit your staff and issue directives that might clash with yours. As a result, your employees will find themselves in an awkward situation, unsure of how to react. When that happens, you must step in and make clear to upper management that the chain of command works in both directions. You wouldn’t want your staff going around you to complain to your bosses. Neither, therefore, should the opposite occur.

Yes, stepping up could be hazardous to your career, so be diplomatic and tactful when you talk to your bosses. Focus on the benefits to them on observing the chain of command, rather than criticizing them for disregarding it. After you’ve had the talk, make sure your staff knows about it. Even though the grapevine probably will have alerted people, it’s still good to remind your staff that you have their back.

10: Don’t micromanage

Just as your bosses shouldn’t be micromanaging, neither should you. If you’ve staffed your team with competent people (and if you’re a first-line technical manager, you have strong technical leads), you should be confident that they know what they’re doing. You don’t have time to do the job of each member of your team anyway.

At the same time, be alert to clues that you might have to step in. Are others talking to you about a co-worker’s performance? Are you getting evasive or unclear answers in meetings or conversations? Do you have an uncomfortable gut feeling about a project? In those cases, you might have to take a more active interest in your subordinates’ work. However, pick your battles carefully.

Both sides of the coin

It’s common to talk about the importance of being a good subordinate. But it’s equally important to be a good boss. If you follow these tips, you can build a loyal following, which only can help you in your own career.

Lock-up your dockers

A laptop is stolen every 53 seconds, and 97 percent are never recovered!

Worse, one out of every 10 laptops will be stolen within the first 12 months of purchase!

Will you be next?

All of your family photos, tax return files, bank statements, etc. at risk. Not to mention all those usernames and passwords that you auto-saved somewhere. You say something must be done.

If you manage a business or work in a corporate environment, the cost will be even steeper than just replacing hardware: think of the public relations nightmare from the theft and legal requirement to alert employees and clients about the information breach.

According to some expert sources, the cost to a company can total €197 per missing record when factoring in the loss of customers, legal fees and the PR crisis management quelling efforts.

Clearly, a few thousand records can quickly add up.

“The loss of a laptop computer may well be quite expensive if it contains unencrypted confidential data,” according to the 2008 CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey. In 2008, 42 percent of all corporate security incidents were because of a stolen laptop, second only to viruses and insider abuse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Babies can't do an adult's job

Walking by the netbook display at PC World, Media Markt and others, you're likely to hear cooing and exclamations of how cute the little baby laptops are.

Beware, if you take one home, your new baby is not yet fully grown and it is barely on solids. It has not built up enough of the resources to do the work that a stan
dard Momma and Poppa notebook or Laptop can do. Its got some growing to do.

Cheeky new Netbooks are just about the only thing these days that are generating any kind of excitement in the hardware market space. The visual appearance and form factor is appealing to many. The idea of having a good workhorse laptop that can carry your workload at half the size and weight is a dream, but I am sorry it has yet to come true.

With a 10-inch screen, these babies are much smaller than the standard-sized notebook, and yes, much lighter. They are also quite a bit cheaper too. Some are as inexpensive as €200, while others can get as expensive as the €1,000 range. Take note, there is a good reason why they are cheaper.

It's hard to walk by a netbook display at a consumer electronics store without hearing someone coo-ing at them and talk about how cute they are, as if they really were little baby notebooks.

Their magnetic appeal to consumers, means that netbooks have been doing their part to boost sales and make PC manufacturers happy. If you look at the earnings report of any PC maker who makes netbooks, you'll notice that netbook unit sales are just about the only thing growing at a healthy pace. This year other hardware sales look positively bleak, with Gartner now forecasting a decline of almost 12 percent in 2009, the worst in IT history.

Although netbook sales seem to be increasing, some in the industry say that netbooks are suffering a greater return rate than other PCs. If that is the case we can predict an increase in th enumber of netbook orphanages opening up. Netbook for sale. 1 disappointed owner!

  • On the consumer side, it's said that once users get the machines home and play with them for a little while, they soon realize the smaller machines can't do all the things that their more Momma and Papa (standard-sized and standard-priced) notebooks can do. The very inexpensive netbooks generally come with Linux, an well respected operating system in the techie world but still a little unfamiliar to the Microsoft masses.
  • On the enterprise side distributors say netbooks have yet to take hold.
So what's the real story? Can that little baby PC do the big jobs you need it to do? Is there a place anywhere for the netbook in 2009? Is it a serious business contender? Consider this;

Screen size. The size really negates th eus eof Windows style operating systems because you only have space for 1 window. Do your users want to run multiple applications and have more than 1 window open at one time? Do they use spreadsheets? Well, while the netbook's small form factor makes it convenient to tote around, but you will not be able to see everything you need to see. Certainly not at the same time and that can get very frustrating.

Storage. To save space, most netbooks are shipped with a small amount of solid state memory rather than a rotating hard drive. This makes sense in a world where memory prices are always falling and solid state, is faster and more reliable. However, many users have become accustomed to more than 100GB of memory and even in netbooks with hard drives, those users may be disappointed.

Processor performance. You would be foolish to buy a PC that isn't dual core, at least. That is, unless your looking at a netbook. Most standard notebooks come with a dual core processor, either from Intel or AMD, but most netbooks use Intel's Atom single core processor. Intel has said that Atom processors have about half the performance of Intel Celeron processors. Party on!

The other features you and your customers have gotten used to have also been downsized or bypassed. You can get the Microsoft Vista Premium OS on some of these notebooks, and you can buy an external DVD player and an additional external hard drive but by the time you have financed that, you could have configured a standard Momma and Poppa low-end laptop that comes with a higher-performance processor.

Some companies are coming out with some interesting new innovative netbooks, including ones with an ARM processor and a detachable keyboard, making it appear more like a tablet notebook.

In Summary. Unless you want what the netbook really is (a lightweight client that functions well in a cloud computing environment for tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing, but is not as capable of heavy lifting) you are probably better off with a standard Momma and Poppa notebook for a few euros more.

If you want something cute and cuddly around the office that can be easily picked up and taken anywhere, there are other more appropriate and interesting things.