Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sleep Deprivation: Gadgets blamed!

In the good old days evenings were dark, undemanding and quiet. Pastimes were slow moving and relaxing e.g. watching the sun set, playing charades, shadow puppets, card games like bridge and simple activities such as cave-painting, bead-making, etc.

Fast-forward to today. PCs and consumer electronics provide us with a staggering number of things to do at night, all night. Video games, TV, social networking, chatting with friends, editing pictures, writing blogs, catching up on work, etc. These things are compelling and addictive. Getting a good night's sleep has become a challenge and a discipline, something that are not easy and we are not good at.

Poor sleep, or what they call " junk sleep" (sleep compromised by constant waking), is said to affect younger people, teens and twenty-somethings, in particular and who are developing the habit of rarely sleeping well. The truth is that this is the generation brought up on gadgets, global awareness and always-on technology.

Sleep problems hit travelers, too. Jetlag, time zones, unfamiliar /uncomfortable hotel beds /rooms, dodgy drinking water, strange foods that disturb the acid balance of the stomach and other unavoidable realities of travel, can make it very hard to sleep well and rise refreshed, consistently.

Current anxiety about the future and the ongoing effects of the recession is also making sleep more challenging. People are lying awake at night with troublesome thoughts about their 401(k)s, layoffs and the other stressful financial realities we all face.

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep or even a lack of uninterrupted quality sleep, can cause serious problems with your health. Bad sleeping practice is not only inconvenient but it harms overall physical and mental performance, and impacts your memory. What's interesting about this is that sufferers are usually blind to the symptoms, and they think they're doing fine. Bad sleep also triggers an insulin reaction similar to eating a lot of sugar, contributing to weight gain, diabetes and obesity. In conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, this is a very serious situation and can result in life-threatening obesity.

Arguably, gadgets are contributing to this problem but gadgets can help solve it, too. Electronic sleep helpers have been around for quite a while but a new generation of products is claiming to be better than anything that's come before. In honour of the month of May, which has been designated Better Sleep Month (who comes up with these things?), here are some of the newest and most interesting electronic sleep helpers.

New 'Help U Sleep' Gadgets

  • Cell phones are actually very nice sleep devices. If calming music helps you sleep, you should know that some phones have the ability to turn themselves off after a while, so you can use your phone to listen to music as you doze off. For example, on the iPhone, you can use the normal timer to " sleep iPhone" instead of setting it to ring an alarm.
  • Taking that a step further, there's a new iPhone app called A Good Night's Sleep. You can set a series of sounds, including peaceful music or "nature sounds" like rain or ocean waves, followed by silence. One of the settings is called "Night hypnosis," where a voice hypnotizes you into sleeping. You can set the duration and sound volume of each sound separately. A Good Night's Sleep also has a wake-up feature, where you set wake-up sounds that play in a series.
  • Sleeptracker wristwatches monitor and track your sleep patterns. You can upload the data via a USB cable to analyze the quality and quantity of your own sleep. The benefit here is that you can find out if you're getting restful sleep or if you're constantly waking in the night. The watches also come with alarm clocks built in.
  • Another newish offering is Pzizz, an application that helps you create personalized sleeping soundtracks on your Mac or PC and then import them to your mobile device so you can listen to them in bed. The makers of Pzizz claim that sleep improves the more you use their product. Pzizz helps you sleep at night and also get a quick-but-satisfying power nap during the day.
  • Most of the new high-tech sleep aids involve listening to music or other sounds, but wearing headphones and earbuds probably doesn't help you fall asleep. Regular speakers might work fine. You can also buy pillows with speakers built in, such as the Audio Pillow.
  • Makers of the Verilux TwiLight Ultra Blue Light Therapy System claim that their product uses light to convince your body to stop producing a hormone called melatonin. The idea is to regulate your body's circadian rhythms so that when it's time for you to sleep, you do so easily.

Of course, the best advice for getting sleep is to be disciplined and establish a good bedtime routine. Optimise your diet, get some exercise and take steps to relieve stress. If that's not enough, these gadgets might be able to help you enjoy all the sleep benefits that people enjoyed 100 years ago.

Airport Swine Flu (H1N1) Detectors - Smoke and Mirrors

WHEN aviation officials chose Mexico City for a meeting to discuss their response to pandemic outbreaks, they could scarcely have predicted swine flu would intervene. "The irony was amazing," says Tony Evans of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada. "The meeting will probably go ahead in June unless we get another wave of H1N1."

Future pandemics will almost certainly be spread via air travel, with flights capable of carrying a pathogen across the world in hours. The UN's Convention on International Civil Aviation requires nations to "prevent the spread of communicable diseases by means of air navigation". That is easier said than done, given the confined space of modern aircraft and the use of re-cycled unscrubbed cabin air on all flights, as a fuel and cost saving measure.

CAPSCA - the Cooperative Arrangement for the Prevention of the Spread of Communicable diseases by Air travel.

CAPSCA aims to help airports in developing nations prepare for a pandemic, and its schemes are now getting off the ground in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Africa. They will be expected to install US manufactured devices and follow the advice of their consultants.

Optimistically CAPSCA state; "When an aircraft arrives with a suspected disease case on board, CAPSCA will make sure you've thought about where you are going to park the plane, how you will deal with the luggage and how are you going to keep in touch with the passengers that haven't got any symptoms (when they boarded the plane)."

All this does is extend the time by which the other passengers and air crew are exposed to the virus and increase the likelihood of them contracting the disease, if they have not already done so on the flight.

Evans says. "You also have to work out which people on the plane are most likely to be infected (if not all) and whether they need prophylactic treatment or admission to hospital. How will you protect air crew and customs officers? Careful planning is crucial and CAPSCA will promote that", Evans explains.

Frankly, this is nothing but hype, rhetoric and grandstanding. People who gather in confined spaces and share the same breathing air for hours on end, will contract the disease. Air crew, airport staff and customs officers, will contract the disease.

Immunisation with Tamiflu and other so-called anti-viral inoculations, is less than effective and will not act as a 'barrier' for air crew and airport staff. The virus, by its nature, mutates regularly and the time taken to develop effective anti-viral drugs and put them into large scale production, is 4 - 6 months. The same time taken for the pandemic to burn itself out, without any human or pharmaceutical intervention. Again, it is the nature if viruses.

In the case of an increasing pandemic, effective anti-viral drugs will only be available on a priority basis. Those who decide the priority, will be the first to receive the drugs. The second priority will be given to the forces that will protect the decisions and decision makers. This is what is meant by 'careful planning'. Everyone else should prepare for a long wait.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Type A and Type B personality theory

The Type A and Type B personality theory is a personality type theory that describes a pattern of behaviours that were once considered to be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Since its inception in the 1950s, the theory has been widely popularised and also widely criticised for its scientific shortcomings.

Type A individuals can be described as impatient, excessively time-conscious, insecure about their status, highly competitive, over-ambitious, business-like, hostile, aggressive, incapable of relaxation in taking the smallest issues too seriously; and are somewhat disliked for the way that they're always rushing and demanding other people to serve to their standards of satisfaction.

They are often high and over-achieving workaholics who multi-task, drive themselves with deadlines, and are unhappy about the smallest of delays. So, because of these characteristics, Type A individuals are often described as "stress junkies."

Type B Personality
Type B individuals, in contrast, are described as patient, relaxed, and easy-going. There is also a Type AB mixed profile for people who cannot be clearly categorised.

In his 1996 book, Type A Behaviour: Its Diagnosis and Treatment, Meyer Friedman suggests that Type A behaviour is expressed in three major symptoms. One of these symptoms is believed to be covert and therefore less observable, whereas the other two are more overt.

Symptoms of Type A Behaviour
  1. An intrinsic insecurity or insufficient level of self-esteem, considered to be the root cause of the syndrome. This is believed to be covert and therefore less observable.
  2. Time urgency and impatience, which causes irritation and exasperation.
  3. Free floating hostility, which can be triggered by even minor incidents.

Criticism of this Theory

Type A/B theory has been criticised on a number of grounds. For example, statisticians have argued that the original study by Friedman and Rosenman had serious limitations, including large and unequal sample sizes, and less than 1% of the variance in relationship explained by Type A personality.

Psychometrically, the behaviours that define the syndrome are not highly correlated, indicating that this is a grouping of separate tendencies, not a coherent pattern or type. Type theories in general have been criticised as overly simplistic and incapable of assessing the degrees of difference in human personality.

Researchers have also found that Type A behaviour is not a good predictor of coronary heart disease. According to research by Redford Williams of Duke University, the hostility component of Type A personality is the only significant risk factor. Thus, it may be a high level of expressed anger and hostility, not the other elements of Type A behaviour, that constitute the problem.

Therefore, Type A theory is considered to be obsolete by many researchers in contemporary health psychology and personality psychology but, make up your own mind.

Friday, May 22, 2009

H1N1: The Hidden or Concealed Pandemic

H1N1 swine flu continues to roam the planet. In the US, cases are thought to be in the hundreds of thousands. In Japan, hundreds of teenagers have caught it, despite no obvious connections with Mexico or the US.

Yet in Europe, health authorities are not testing widely for it and are prescribing drugs as though they could still contain it. And in Geneva, health ministers have fought this week to keep the World Health Organization from following its own rules and calling this a pandemic.

There has been a phenomenal mismatch between quite sensible rules about how to declare a flu pandemic, and equally sensible rules about how to respond. The mismatch was wholly predictable, yet somehow no one saw this coming.

The WHO rules for declaring different degrees of flu pandemic threat are based on epidemiology (how the virus is spreading) for good reasons. This is because any new flu virus to which most of the world has little immunity, and which spreads well enough person-to-person to escape its continent of origin, is very likely to go global, and to cause more sickness and death than flu usually does. That is the definition of a flu pandemic.

The virus's ability to spread is what matters. H5N1 bird flu has travelled across Eurasia, mainly in birds, but it hasn't spread readily in people, so it isn't a pandemic.

The Mexican swine flu H1N1, however, has. When it spread across the Americas, the WHO followed its rules and declared it a level 5 situation; one down from a pandemic. When it starts spreading outside the Americas, through "community transmission" - meaning it crops up generally, not just in people who have visited Mexico or New York recently or their contacts - that means it's got a foothold globally.

A flu that can do that is very unlikely to stop there. The WHO rules make that a full-blown level 6 pandemic.

And frankly, that is starting to happen. As I write, the number of confirmed cases in Japan (and that's just people sick enough to see a doctor and get tested) has jumped by 35 in the past 24 hours, to nearly 300, mostly due to that perennial vector of flu, the gregarious teenager. The main cluster started without any known links to the Americas.

In Europe, countries are deliberately not testing cases that could be community acquired, almost as if someone doesn't want to trigger - 'LEVEL 6'

In fact, Britain, Japan and other countries spent this past week pleading with the WHO not to go to level 6 yet, at least while the virus is still causing mostly mild disease. WHO boss Margaret Chan has now agreed to make the call when she sees "more signals coming from the virus itself or the spread of the disease, including severity."

The problem is, countries have pandemic plans that, rightly, prepare for the worst. Until recently we were worried about H5N1 (we still are) and there seemed a good chance that if it went pandemic, it might start off severe, necessitating major controls from the start.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

28% taking smartphones and laptops to bed for work: survey

More than a quarter of 329 London workers surveyed admit they routinely take their laptop or other mobile computing device to bed to do work.

The same survey indicated that 57% of bedmates found it "a very annoying habit."

More than half of those who do work in bed did so for between two to six hours every week, according to the recent survey.

Eight percent of the respondents also confessed to spending more time on their mobile devices during the evening than talking to their partners.

When asked the question, "What is the last thing you do before going to sleep?" 96% did say it was to kiss their partners goodnight. The remaining 4% (71% of whom were male, according to the survey) confessed to completing work and checking e-mail.

According to the survey, more than half of the workers are routinely uploading and downloading sensitive corporate information to their mobile device while in bed, and most are using a wireless network, with a fifth admitting their network was not secure as they tapped away answering e-mail and other tasks.

In a list of five tips that included good admonitions to use encryption, strong passwords and the like, the last tip was: "Use your bedroom for what it's designed for and if you're not feeling sleepy, your laptop is the last thing you should be turning to!"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Simon says but loses his right to criticise

IF YOU have ever been tempted to call alternative medicine "bogus", chose your words with care. You could be sued for defamation. That's the message from a ruling in the High Court in London that censured science writer Simon Singh for claiming that the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) promoted "bogus" treatments.

I am a big fan of Simon Singh's books and have just finished his excellent book Fermat's Last Theorem. I have also had some good and some bad experiences with chiropractors in the past but I would defend anyone's right to criticise, not only alternative but also established clinical medicine. In this way refinement, development and progress can be achieved.

Chiropractice is a system of alternative and complementary medicine that treats illnesses by manipulating the spine. Singh made the comment in an article in London newspaper The Guardian in April 2008. The BCA asked him to retract the statement, which it said was wrong and damaging to its reputation. Singh refused, so the BCA sued him for libel.

In a pre-trial hearing last week, the judge ruled that Singh was saying the BCA had knowingly made false claims. He rejected Singh's defence that it was fair comment. "The judge has given us a meaning [of bogus] that is very extreme and that I never intended."

The judge has given us a meaning of bogus that is very extreme and that I never intended

Some lawyers and bloggers see the ruling as a landmark as it could restrict freedom of speech to criticise alternative medicine, and not just in England. People from all over the world are using English libel law to silence their critics (see "Don't criticise, or we'll sue").

BCA president Tony Metcalf said he was delighted that the judge had protected the BCA's integrity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gauge your future prospects by the singing in the lifeboats

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want."

Whether you are a believer in inspirational quotes or not, you have to admit that they do have their moments. So, from the one provided we can gather that 'Experience' is a bit of a consolation prize.

If you have reached a cynical stage in your career then you should visit and view the Demotivator's Calendar. A refreshingly silly five-minutes of your life you won't get back.

For the more serious minded classical students amongst you, here is a quote from the 18th-century French philosopher, wit and raconteur, Voltaire; "Life may be a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing heartily in the lifeboats." Now does that not crystallise what life is like in this current recession, with just a hint of optimism and stoicism. Very French!

From previous blogs, you will know that I am in favour of establishing strong leadership skills in these troubled times by developing the potential and talent already visible in the new executives. Perhaps a hint of that same lifeboat spirit would help strengthen the resolve of our future leaders and younger executives.

There are difficult questions to be asked. Are you using your current business challenges as a learning experience? Are you addressing the difficult decisions leaders must make to adjust to this dynamic ever-changing environment?

It is so easy to let the development and management of talented performers sink to the bottom of the priority list, especially for many companies today. Remember, the next generation of leaders is developing around you, whether you want them to or not and whether your helping them or not. The risk is that those who "self-select" into leadership roles aren't necessarily qualified enough to succeed in their aims, certainly not without strong guidance and/or appropriate mentoring.

This crippled economy, wrecked on the reef of bad management and greed, is giving the emerging IT leaders of tomorrow some unprecedented opportunities to stand out and step forward. In turn, we must remember it is our role to keep the chorus going in the lifeboats, loud and strong.

The leadersof tomorrow should be true captains of industry, able to plot a safe course for tomorrow's adventure and navigate the dangerous shallows of short term gains and diminishing returns.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Strictly Confidential: The Cloud of Silence

The Cloud of Silence! No it has nothing to do with the Triads and it's not a criminal organisation, it's a privacy concept that has been considered for many years by sci-fi writers, film makers and Machiavellian managers.

The problem: how can you hold a confidential conversation in an open office without everyone overhearing? The answer that is being considered here is a device that will create an intimate 'cloud of silence' around the selected participants.

The proposed modern cloud of silence, we are assured, will work as it says on the box. It is being patented by engineers Joe Paradiso and Yasuhiro Ono of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Patented solution
Their idea, revealed in US patent application 2009/0097671 on 16 April, is to make confidential conversations possible in open-plan offices and canteens, the two places most regularly occupied by US employees. It will even let a conversing group move around a room and still remain in a secure sound bubble, like a 'cloud of silence'.

"In open-plan offices, the violation of employees' privacy can often become an issue, as third parties overhear their conversations intentionally or unintentionally," the inventors say in their patent. Their aim is to relieve people of that concern. Presumably the intentional eavesdropper is going to have to make other arrangements or choose a new hobby.

The Plastic Dome scenario

Initially people considered using plastic domes, this was temporarily attempted but quickly fell out of favour, partly due to the obvious suffocation risk and the unbearable humidity. So, the idea of the plastic dome was scrapped but the name and the concept clung on, regardless. The need was still strong in them.

The Modern Solution
In the modern 'cloud of silence' they use a sensor network to work out where potential eavesdroppers are, and mini speakers to generate subtle masking sounds, at just the correct audible level.

It sounds simple, but it needs quite a bit of smart infrastructure. The walls of the room must be peppered with light-switch-sized units that include a microphone, a speaker, an infrared location sensor and networking circuitry connected to a server. When somebody wants to activate what the MIT researchers call the "sound shield", they do so on their desktop computer.

By responding to the position of the computer, the sensors identifies the person's location and maps out the locations of the other people around them. Smart software assesses who is so close that they must be participants in the conversation and who might be a potential eavesdropper.

The array of speakers then aims a mix of white noise and randomised office hubbub at the eavesdroppers. The subtle, confusing sound makes the conversation unintelligible or more unintelligible, depending on which of your colleagues is talking. Good luck! with this new system guys and success in replacing the older low-tech ways.

Low-tech solutions
Clearly, as a human, you will be able to see which of your colleagues around you is wearing their headphones, staring closely at their screen, whilst pounding the keyboard and is completely unaware that they are in the office at all. For convenience, we will call this colleague Troy.

From his behaviour you can quickly determine that he is not listening in on your chat. To further disguise your conversation and to drown out your voice completely, you should encourage Troy to sing along to whatever Country & Western album he is listening to. This is what is called 'white trash noise.'

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic update

Chinese health inspectors and officials prepare to transport quarantined Mexican passengers to Pudong International Airport, ready for repatriation (Image: View China Photo / Rex)

Chinese health inspectors and officials prepare to transport quarantined Mexican passengers to Pudong International Airport, ready for repatriation (Image: View China Photo / Rex)

Swine Flu Panic conceals surge of Q fever

No! I don't mean Desmond Llewelyn aka 'Q' from the James Bond movies

Q fever is a disease caused by infection with Coxiella burnetii, a bacterium that affects both humans and animals. This organism is uncommon but may be found in cattle, sheep, goats and other domesticated animals, including cats and dogs. It is the most infectious diseases known to man!

The infection results from inhalation of contaminated air-borne particles, and from contact with the milk, urine, feces, vaginal mucus, or semen of infected animals. The incubation period is 9-40 days. It can be considered the most infectious disease in the world, as a human being can be infected by a single bacterium.

The bacteria is an obligate pathogen and was difficult to study because it could not be reproduced outside a host. Therefore it is more common in the rural areas but can be transferred from human to human.

The number of cases of Q fever reported among humans in the Netherlands has risen 'explosively' over the past few weeks, the Volkskrant reports on Wednesday. The paper says that over 200 cases have been reported in recent days, half of them in Noord-Brabant province.

Q fever was rarely known among humans until 2007, when 168 cases were reported. Last year there were more than 1,000 instances in the Netherlands.

The disease, which leads to spontaneous abortion in sheep and goats, causes flu-like symptoms in humans but can lead to lung infections. Therefore it is dangerous to vulnerable groups e.g. asthmatics, cystic fibrosis sufferers, the elderly and infirm.
The dose needed to infect 50% of experimental subjects is one, via inhalation — i.e. inhalation of one organism will yield disease in 50% of the population. This is an extremely low infectious dose, making C. burnetii the most infectious organism known to man.
The disease occurs in two stages: an acute stage that presents with headaches, chills, and respiratory symptoms, and an insidious chronic stage. Anyone who feels they may have been exposed should consult their doctor and discuss appropriate treatment.

Twitter for Business users

Here are some tips on how to use Twitter effectively for business. Plus a few precautions.

1. Don't automate it

If you've got a blog that's connected to your business, you can use a service such as TwitterFeed to directly channel your new blog posts into Twitter posts. It sounds impressive but don't do it. Your business's primary Twitter feed ought to be hand-fed. If you publish a flood of impersonal links, your Twitter account will just seem like a faceless promotion machine and that's not a good way to engage people on Twitter.

Link to the very best stuff on your blog, as well as relevant information that you see elsewhere on the web, and also post items that don't contain links at all. (Don't forget to use a URL-shortening service such as tinyurl,, or for your links.)

2. Be conversational

Your business's Twitter account should talk like a person, even if it's a collective "person" representing your company or brand. Think of your Twitter account as a character in an Internet play, it's a walking, talking personification of your company. If you feel like it: Use the first-person ("They're putting my stuff on sale again!"), invent a personality or just use the royal "we" and "our", "Our editors have the latest on so-and-so" but be chatty.

Some companies prefer to disclose members of their team when they're tweeting from the company account. This is also a valid approach. Par example, the clever group-tweeting service CoTweet (currently in beta) can automatically append your initials to the tweets you make while representing your company. (Macworld is testing out this service to see if it makes it easier for a group of our editors to jointly operate our various Twitter accounts.)

3. Follow people who are relevant

  • Follow everyone on your staff who uses Twitter from your Twitter account.
  • Follow colleagues in related companies and in your industry.
  • Follow relevant brands and journalists and pundits in your market, even those who compete with you.
It's professional and polite to follow people and by following people you are creating an ecosystem. People will see who you are following and consider those as suggestions for users they should follow as well.

4. Make sure your people are on Twitter, and refer to them Remember that individuals tweet different things than companies. It's acceptable for your company's employees to talk about making waffles or going out for drinks, as well as what they're working on. Not everyone will embrace Twitter, but many of them will. Even the most personal stuff that leaks on to Twitter can help make stronger personal connections with colleagues and audience members alike.

Having said this, you need to be aware who your employees are and make them aware that everything they write on Twitter (unless they're using a "protected account" that limits access) is public. If there's someone who works for your company whose Tweets are a bit risque, you should consider whether or not you want to refer to them from your company's account. An alternative is to ask employees to create two Twitter accounts, one for work matters and one for their sordid personal lives and keep them separate.

Once your people are on Twitter, they'll be able to mention what they're working on and reference the brand via Twitterspeak. Par example: "Just wrote a cool story for @macworld about the iPod shuffle." That will drive followers to your company's Twitter account.

Likewise, your brand's account can drive followers to your people. For example: "Our very own @vacuumdood thinks the new Dyson sucks awesome:"

5. Answer your mentions
People will refer to your company's account as if it were a person. You should reply to tweets that mention you, when relevant. This will give your account more personality and will make those people feel engaged directly with the brand. For example, a person might ask you a question directly: "@macworld Hi. Do you know when Apple will enable SMS message forwarding on the iPhone? Thanks." "@janevans35 Apple's not saying, but we hope it's with the next major software release!"

6. Search for your name

Beyond mentions, which are specific references to your Twitter account, there are probably people using Twitter to talk about your business. Use Twitter's powerful search features to find those references, either from the Twitter Web site, a Mac-based Twitter client program such TweetDeck or Tweetie that supports saved searches, or even via your RSS reader by subscribing to the RSS feed linked to from every Twitter search results page. There are a lot of companies offering great customer service and support on Twitter by watching what people say about them. When I groused on Twitter about my bad luck finding a JetBlue flight from Oakland to Boston, within a half an hour I had received a reply from the JetBlue Twitter account with an explanation.

7. Consider creating sub-accounts for sections of your business or customer base

If you're part of a big enough company, consider creating smaller, more targeted accounts. Starting a new section of your site devoted only to fans of the double bass? It might be worth starting a new @joesmusicbass account, then Tweeting about it from your company's main account: "Bass lovers rejoice! Welcome our new friend, @joesmusicbass to the party!"

8. Use Twitter to ask your customers questions...and get good answers

Twitter is a great way to get answers to questions. Trying to figure out what your customers want to see or are interested in? Use Twitter to ask them. Sure, it's not a scientific survey, but it can give you an immediate snapshot of the zeitgeist. This can be both instructive and productive.

9. Be a good Twitter citizen Can you persuade your Twitter followers to promote you to their followers? Sure, but be mindful: He who has the most followers doesn't necessarily win. If you get people to promote you to their friends to win a prize, you may end up creating a harmful backlash.

Recently, a software-deals site offered a free program to anyone who would tweet about its bundle to his or her friends. The people who tweeted were rewarded, but many of their friends felt like they were receiving spam. Even though the people who tweeted were complicit in the act, it was the company that induced the tweeting that received the bulk of the criticism. The etiquette of Twitter is still evolving, be aware and be wary.


Even if you're not the type of person who uses Facebook or Twitter yourself, there's no denying that these new forms of connection and communication are powerful and becoming increasingly important. That's why your business should be on Twitter now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recession's Impact on Recruitment

Innovation: The dilemma

Innovative ideas are not always popular. It takes hard times to open our minds to innovative ideas. When things are going well enough there is no need to be innovative because innovation means moving outside our comfort zone.

If you believe you are an innovator, then now is the best of times. Remember, you need to be tough because you will cause discomfort and you will not be popular. If it is popularity you seek, then this is the wrong path.

With all the talk about innovation we forget that not everybody can be an innovator. Your most successful innovations in the long run will make you very unpopular in the short run. You’ll upset the established order and cause discomfort to those who depend on that established order. Don’t look for approval, its not there. You must be an innovator only because you have to be and you need to be tough enough to handle the slings, arrows and disapproval of those you threaten.

Remember that Innovation is an art, not a science. Jean Cocteau an innovator in the arts, was an innovator in many fields; in poetry, writing, design, theatre, and film-making. He made himself unpopular in the short run and kept on doing what he did anyway because he was different and he had to. Eventually, he became famous and accepted as part of the 'establishment'. The curse and dilemma of all innovators.

Cocteau said, "Anything of importance cannot help but be unrecognisable, since it bears no resemblance to anything already known." So don't confuse innovation with merely making incremental improvements to existing ways of doing things.

He also said: "Listen carefully to the first criticisms of your work. Note carefully what it is about your work that the critics don't like, then cultivate it. That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping." Do you believe in what you are doing, enough to persevere in the face of veiled threats, withering criticism or deafening silence?

Beware of so called innovators who become very popular very quickly, their easy popularity is a signal that whatever it is they are doing, it is not innovative.

Executive Pandemic Preparation

With the H1N1 swine influenza spreading across the world, it's a good time to discuss and update your pandemic plan. If you do have a plan. If you don't have one, you are putting your organisation at great risk.

There are measures that can help organisations and that will guarantee the continuity of their operations but for organisations with outdated or without pandemic preparedness plans, the first step is for the executive management team to establish 'the policy'; guiding principles for the coming weeks and months which address duty of care responsibility and then to communicate this policy and those decisions, to the workforce.

There are also policies and protocols that can have a strong impact in countering a pandemic emergency.

Organisations should ask themselves the following ten questions:

1. Have you defined reliable information sources that you will monitor for situational awareness in the event of an influenza pandemic?

It is essential to ensure that the information sources you choose are reliable, appreciate nuances and bring a degree of expertise and analysis to these types of events. The information gathered from these sources will be critical for your decision-making process and you want to make good decisions based on the best possible knowledge available.

2. Has top management documented a "policy"? A set of guiding principles that outlines:
  • The commitments the firm will make to protect employees and ensure duty of care
  • The types of programs the firm will keep in place
  • The budget available for planning
  • The executive person responsible for implementing these programs
When considering guiding principles during a pandemic, there is a variety of options companies can take. It is important for companies to confirm their guiding principles early on, to control and guide the planning effort.

3. Does the firm have in place a robust Crisis Management & Communications program that will allow executives to make key decisions on a timely basis and communicate messages to both internal and external stakeholders?

Influenza pandemic is a prolonged event and will require management not only to assess and make decisions in response to changing conditions, but to also accurately and effectively communicate these decisions to all necessary parties. Pandemic crisis management requires a completely different perspective, analysis and action-plan than natural disaster crisis planning. The question in pandemic planning, is not how do we pick up the pieces; rather it is how do we live with this emerging situation over the course of the next 18 months?

4. Is there a Business Continuity program in place that documents key products and services that will receive prioritised attention during a time of reduced staff availability?

If only 50 percent of staff is in the workplace on a particular day, which business activities will be conducted and which will be deferred?

Traditional business continuity is based on putting people back to work after sustaining a loss to a building, equipment or other operational systems. Pandemic business continuity planning completely turns this concept on its ear; the building is intact, the systems are functioning but there is a shortage of people. In this scenario, you will have to establish priorities for your reduced workforce and you will have to consider what functions are not absolutely essential to your organization at that moment and defer these functions.

5. Has the firm implemented a robust employee health program that will guide safe workplace protocols, such as facility access, social distancing, and surface cleaning?

In the event of an influenza pandemic, the goal is preventing the virus from spreading. This prevention is applicable for public systems, such as trains and buses, to households and to businesses. Surface cleaning and social distancing both prove effective and can have a major impact. The conventional perspective is that people are universally susceptible to influenza pandemics and we must rely on these approaches to limit contagion.

6. Has the firm documented HR provisions that outline actions employees should take if they become ill and how to handle sick leave and family care issues?

Just as with any other company initiative, people need to know what to do. It sounds so simple, but if you don't provide clear instruction regarding sick leave, employees will show up to work sick and ask whether they should stay or go. You need to remove any uncertainty in the mind of the employee so that they can stay home and get better without risk of spreading the virus to other employees.

7. Are key strategies for remote connectivity of workers backed up by actual IT capabilities in terms of VPN bandwidth and hardware availability?

The 'go-to' solution for many companies during a pandemic is simply to have employees work from home. However, more often than not, there are real IT limitations to this strategy. You need to be realistic and ask whether your existing IT infrastructure can support your entire workforce working from home at once. I can tell you now that the answer will be a resounding 'No'. Business plans need to take into account how the IT systems work.

8. Has the firm prepared guidance for expatriate employees and mobile workers? Does the firm have the ability to re-create travel patterns for employees, to support investigation into risk exposure?

This goes back to ensuring that your sources of information are reliable and establishing your guiding principles. In normal circumstances, the need for travel policies is clear, but you have to determine whether you will restrict all non-essential travel for employees. When considering expatriate employees, you must decide what care you will offer them and at what point will remove them from their current location.

9. Has the firm discussed its pandemic preparedness efforts with key vendors, suppliers and other business partners?

Even the strongest in-house pandemic preparedness program can be rendered worthless if the company has a dependence on a third-party that is compromised. This is true not only for manufacturers, but also for professional services providers. Companies with an outsourced IT call centres or outsourced legal support, etc., could be left without critical business functions if their outsourced operations are compromised.

10. What is the firms position on the procurement and stockpiling of both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical protective measures? If there is a formal program, who is responsible and are all key provisions up to date?

Stock piled Anti-viral treatments are receiving so much attention right now that it is almost tempting to mistake them for a pandemic preparedness program. They are not. You are advised to look closely at your guiding principles, to determine whether these treatments fit your needs and whether you will procure either or both protective measures. The decisions on both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical protective measures will vary from firm to firm and will vary with circumstances.

Remember, a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) normally prepares an organisation for disasters that have a sudden onset but a limited scope, duration and geographic location. A pandemic outbreak by nature is unpredictable, so the plan must be much more flexible.

We know that pandemics are not limited by geographic location. Most pandemics come in waves that can last from four to six months and that absenteeism is the single most serious threat to businesses.

Most official guidelines recommend the following as a starting point:
  • Develop communication strategies as well as preventative and mitigating measures. These should include sourcing supplies to protect employees, pandemic monitoring, and employee education.
  • Have a documented strategy that deals with a pandemic outbreak in emerging stages (detection, regional outbreak, local outbreak, etc.)
  • Have a documented policy and strategy that includes the facilities, procedures, people and systems that are needed to keep your business up and running.
  • Don't just have a plan, test it and update it.
  • Monitor and review the plan regularly to keep it up to date.
  • Secure the services of a Pandemic BC expert and take head of good advice.
The current H1N1 swine flu is not thought to be the most virulent of pandemics, which is great news but it does give us a 'wake-up' call. Let's dust off those old plans and bring them up to date and don't forget the demand on scarce resources that will occur during a 'real' pandemic outbreak.

Monday, May 4, 2009

H1N1: Egypt pig slaughter prompts religious discourse

Egypt pig cull prompts clashes
Egyptian police have clashed with pig farmers after announcing a cull to allegedly combat swine flu. Egypt has ordered the slaughter of 300,000 to 400,000 pigs as a so called, "precaution" against the effect of H1N1 virus, a move the United Nations said was "a real mistake"

These drastic and extreme measures have been taken by the north African country, although it has yet to report any H1N1 cases. This over-reaction could be due to the fact that Egypt was hit hard by bird flu in 2005/6 or there could be different, more fundamental reasons.

In Cairo, police fired tear gas at farmers and protesters who pelted them with rocks and bottles over fears they had come to seize their pigs. At least ten people were injured in the clashes in Manshiet Nasr, a shantytown on the outskirts of the capital city. Residents burned tyres and rubbish in the street to keep police at bay. Three officers were also injured in clashes with pig farmers in other areas of the capital.

The sad truth is that the H1N1 virus is being spread by people, not pigs. Destroying innocent and valuable livestock and the devastating effect this will have on the owners and their families, is beyond measure. In this poverty stricken area, these people are fighting for their lives.

Some political commentators say that culling swine, which are mainly raised by the Christian minority and viewed as unclean by Muslims, could have different and more sinister undertones, rather than simply being an extremely puzzling and foolish measure to quell rising public panic.

If this is the case, then a more severe backlash will develop over the coming days and weeks. Loosely targeted at the pigs, their owners and their livelihood, it may well plunge Egypt into increased levels of civil disobedience, fueled by bigotry, extremism and political unrest.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New appointment or promotion can be a day of mixed emotion

“Here is a pen and here is a pencil,
here's a laptop and here's a stencil,
here's a list of today's appointments,
and all the flies in all the ointments,
the daily woes a manager endures
take them all, 'cause now they're yours!”

based on an Ogden Nash quotation

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tamiflu & Relenza Resistance is a certainty rather than a risk

Two anti-flu drugs are commonly stockpiled for use in a flu pandemic: oseltamivir, which is sold as Tamiflu, and zanamivir, which is sold as Relenza. Both work by inhibiting an enzyme called neuraminidase (the 'N' in H1N1). The virus needs this enzyme to break down normal cell walls and to replicate using a mutated version of the victims own RNA.

The 2 drugs act on different parts of the enzyme and resistance to one drug does not confer resistance to the other. The Mexican H1N1 strain is currently classed as being 'sensitive' to both drugs. This is not a 'cure' it is simply a 'treatment' and no one knows how long this 'sensitivity' will last.

The Wu team conducted their study after noticing that despite concerns about resistance, many countries stockpile just one drug, usually oseltamivir. There are some exceptions, however, including Australia and the UK, which stockpile both drugs.

Viruses are notorious for their ability to develop resistance to drugs. Last year, an H1N1 flu strain that caused some seasonal flu rapidly developed resistance to oseltamivir. By December, "close to 100 per cent of H1N1 in Australia and the US, and many other parts of the world, were resistant to Tamiflu", says Raina MacIntyre, an infectious disease expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

H1N1 Swine Flu: very weak viral strain

First genetic analysis of how well this virus transmits from person to person concludes that it spreads barely well enough to keep itself going.

The analysis also suggests the virus may have started circulating as long ago as January. But because there have been so few cases to analyse, the calculation is uncertain. It could have started more recently, or as far back as September.

Nicholas Grassly of Imperial College London and Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh, UK, have analysed the rate of spread. Their analysis is based on the small mutations that have accumulated in almost two dozen genetic sequences produced so far, from viruses collected from patients in Mexico and the US.

Freely available

In contrast to H5N1 bird flu, all the genetic sequences of this H1N1 are being posted on bulletin boards like GISAID, where scientists can access them and compare preliminary analyses.

The GISAID system was set up in 2006 by scientists who protested that H5N1 sequences were not being made freely available.

"The limited sampling so far gives rise to considerable uncertainty in the estimate," cautions Rambaut. But if the rate at which genes mutate is about the same for this virus as for other H1N1 viruses, the number of mutations that have accumulated so far suggests it has been circulating since January – or even September 2008.

Weak virus

If the new virus spreads from one infected person to the next at about the same speed as ordinary flu, that gives an idea of how many cases there may have been in that time. A mathematical model permits the calculation of an important variable called R0 – the number of additional people infected, on average, by each case. If R0 is less than one, an infection dies out.

Grassly also cautions that the estimate is very preliminary. But with the data available now, he gets an R0 of 1.16 – enough for the virus to keep going, but only just.

This could be good news. In epidemiological theory, at least, the lower the R0, the easier it may be to snuff the virus out by further hindering its spread.

But it may be too early for celebrations. The 1918 flu pandemic, caused by another H1N1 virus, started with a mild, early wave in spring and early summer. The flu lab at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US estimates that the R0 of the 1918 virus in spring was only 1.45. That shot up, they estimate, to 3.75 when the virus began its lethal second wave the following autumn.

Much may now depend on how quickly the new H1N1 virus from swine adapts to people.