Employees jumping ship is….good?

More employees jump ship as economy improves (AP)

This is excellent news.  The fact that people have enough confidence to quit their current jobs in search of new ones is incredibly heartening.

As we worked our way out of this recession, companies cut back on everything they possibly could to get the bottom line out of the gutter.  The broad positive earnings across the board released last quarter are proof that they were effective in their efforts.  A big effect of these cuts was a greater workload for those who did not get fired.  Productivity skyrocketed because people with jobs were just happy to have them, and worked extra hard to keep them.

Still, unemployment stayed relatively high since companies felt less need to hire given the greater productivity they were enjoyed.  Fortunately employee confidence has risen and people feel they can find better jobs.  Companies across the board will have to give their employees a break or risk losing them to those who will – and this means hiring more people to take off the load.  Good news for job-seekers and excellent news for the economy.  

Now if we could only get over this European debt thing…

Search for Google MyMaps

When looking for something in Google Maps, sometimes it’s nice to browse.  Say you’re looking for a campground in a certain area, or all of the restaurants in a city, or the location of the nearest amusement park or apartments nearby.  Or say you’re curious about all of the nuclear waste repositories in the world or the locations of all cities that have hosted the Olympic Games or all of the locations with free Wifi in Wisconsin.

Google MyMaps allow users to organize locations into collections and share them with the world.  To search for MyMaps that fit what you’re looking for, go to Google Maps, click the link for “Show Search Options” and select “User-created maps” from the menu.  Have fun!



Distraction and Web browsing through life

I heard an interview the other day with Nicholas Carr, author of the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  The basic idea is that the brain is a flexible machine that grows and improves itself based on how it is used.  If you spend a lot of time practicing an activity, like playing the piano, your brain is designed to emphasize those skills so that it’s better suited for each subsequent try.  While the brain is improving in one area, however, those that remain unused don’t get the same type of attention.

Mr. Carr’s argument suggests that throuh years of surfing the web and becoming daily more immersed in the online experience, we have trained our brains to be good at that type of interaction.  Reading an article, we expect lots of links and widgets pulling in and exposing lots of information at one time.  The very activity – “surfing” – expresses the flowing nature which is really good for absorbing a broad range of information at once.  This breadth, however, comes at the cost of depth.  Just as Nicholas describes, we find ourselves leaping from thing to thing without the same kind of focus and dedication as we might with a long news article or chapter of a book.


Conversations come in short chat or text messages, squeezed in between or layered on top of other activities.  At any given time, I have access to huge wealths of information, but not the time or focus to get into any of it.  It takes real work to hone in on the details of anything and we’ve been training ourselves to do be bad at exactly this.  Skimming the surface can be great, but it comes at a cost.  It will be a sad day when generations begin to grow up in a world of hyper-experience, without the grounding of concrete and focused interaction with the world.


NPR Interview with Nicholas Carr

 

Google Public Data Visualizations


I was thinking to myself this afternoon that it’d be wonderful to have a Google Maps or Google Finance  -style view of economic data.  What have unemployment numbers looked like recently and historically, for instance?  Well, boy was I happy to find that there is exactly such a thing.


Google Public Data provides an interface into some interesting statistics about the US and the world.  Zoomable graphs and animations that show how data changes over time gives you a chance to hone in on the information you need.


While the actual number of datasets available at this point are limited (just 15 at this point), it’s a cool tool that I hope will be expanded to include even more value information.

What’s the market going to do?

I started investing in August of 2008 – right before the crash for those keeping track.  I watched my investment shrink by as much as 40% over the course of those six months, wishing I’d waited a few months to put money into the market.  Since then, I’ve made back those losses and made some decent gains, allowing a bit more calm and focus to step back and think about what’s going on.

“What’s going on” is possibly the most interesting several years of financial history I’ll experience, and it’s a fantastic chance to learn how things work.  I don’t like superstitious technical analysis, rather, I want to understand why things are behaving fundamentally as they do.

Following huge gains that brought the Dow up by 1500 points, there’s a lot of guessing about what will happen next.  Can we sustain such incredible gains?  Will we hit a second pullback or full-blown double-dip?  It’s hard to say but there are a few factors that I think will make a big impact.  I may be entirely wrong in every respect, but I feel it’s important to get things down in writing to force the ideas to be at least halfway thought out before they drive important financial decisions.

When things toppled, the first thing to go were jobs.  Human resources are the most expensive kind a company usually has so it’s a logical choice.  That works in the short term to cut costs, but to maintain some form of growth and sustain revenues, companies needed to find ways to make do with what they had.  Large parts of this came from coaxing greater contributions out of personnel who were just happy to have jobs.  Large parts also came from innovation from a technological and managerial standpoint.

When things are good, it’s easy to stagnate and be satisfied with mediocre performance – “who cares if we lose a few thousand, million, billion dollars here and there?  We’ll be fine.”  When things are rough, that’s when people look to unique ways of doing things in order to keep it all going.  Some fail, sure, but some develop remarkable things, and these innovations trickle down throughout the industry.

We’ve had a major run up in terms of stocks and company profits, but this isn’t making its way into peoples’ pockets yet.  Companies have trimmed their excess fat and aren’t eager to hire a bunch of employees back until they know they need them and know that it’s safe to do so without fear of another tumble.  In the next year or so, companies who have their stuff together will have swelled their ranks again, but it’s not going to happen immediately and it’s certainly not happening right away now.  Those numbers are still perilously close to 10% of the US population out of work…

…and yet the markets are exploding with positive earnings released across the board this quarter.  It would seem that things are poised to retreat for awhile until employment and other fundamental elements of the economy can catch up.  In the meantime, however, I believe that those companies that are still around and have proved themselves in leading the charge upwards will continue to do well.

Watch for a dip sometime in the next month or so.  I’d expect indexes to drop by maybe 5% with the Dow falling below 10,500 or even as low as the 10,000 mark, similar to the Jan.-Feb. dip.  At the same time, though, I’ll be ready to ride it down, expanding investment in those fundamentally strong companies that will pop up even stronger when it’s over.

Under-appreciated stocks I’d focus on are COSI, ENTG, DAVE, QCOM, CSCO, and TINY.  I’d even go so far as to advocate for C.  It’s made it through the roughest part of this ride and will wake up in a big way when that fear and paranoia subside.  In general, I think international markets are worth considering as well.  The rest of the world hasn’t had quite the same run so far that we have – which means there’s a lot of room for growth.

Despite the pain felt by Americans across the board, I’d almost go far as to say this was good for us.   When all is settled and done, we’ll be poised better as individuals and as a country to lead the post-recession global economy.  Just my two cents.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Content-Aware Joke

Content-aware is like the hand of God applied to Photoshop image editing.  Simply select a region, hit the delete key, let the software chew on it for awhile, and whamo! It “interpolates” the background content that should be there…

Real or not? Take a look for yourself.

Content-awareness demo 1

Content-awareness demo 2

I’m actually glad things like this don’t exist or any regular person could mess around with these things… kind of like what cheap digital cameras does with photography and blogs do to website content…:)

Stuff

Junk

We are built to accumulate and collect stuff.  We’re wired to want things and validate ourselves based on what we’ve got…car, house, gadgets, and so on.  As a tech person, I’ve built up the typical boxes of cables (Composite, USB, headphones, etc.), most of which I’ll never use.  It reaches a point where it starts to bog you down.  Living in a good-sized one-bedroom loft apartment after college, I shouldn’t have trouble finding room for my stuff, but it’s starting to build up.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from this: The more things you have, the more you have to maintain, and the more you have to keep track of.  It’s difficult to think of an iPod or a car as nuisances, but they can easily become just that.  The iPod starts acting up and you spend time fixing it, replacing it, buying add-ons for it and before long it starts bordering on more trouble than it’s worth.  The car needs maintenance, gas, washing, a place to park…

You can start to see how these things come with strings attached.  Life gets more complicated, and when life is complicated, there’s less time to sit back and enjoy it as is.  A cluttered home makes a cluttered mind.

I’m not advocating life without possessions, but we’ve got to identify when possessions turn from positive sustaining things into burdens.  One of the greatest things in life (in my humble opinion) can be sitting on the porch on a beautiful spring day at sunset – and there are no gadgets, toys or exciting things necessary to get the full value of this.

Global Warming – Straight to the facts, please.

climatedata


I’m reminded over and over again how maddeningly unproductive arguments become when the participants throw around unsubstantiated claims and figures. It seems like this is happening more and more in a fast-paced society where no one has the time to dig into the details of an issue. I’m as guilty as the next person of forcefully defending a position that feels right but which I can’t back up with any hard facts.

David McCandless took the time to do a broad study of Global Warming arguments/counter-arguments and did the background-work to back up the components of each side.  It’s shocking how deeply buried some of this information ended up being.

Perhaps now we can get down to the reality of the matter and move on from there into an argument worth having.

How cranes are assembled

This is really cool.  How cranes are assembled is one of those things that would never have occurred to me to think about. As it turns out, it’s a pretty complex and creative affair.  Engineers must have spent some serious time thinking through the implications of trying to ratchet such a monstrous and durable item way up in the air.

Watch animations of two different types of cranes going up.



Core77 – Animation explaining how they erect cranes