November 23, 2004

Evil Co-Worker

Thanks to When Scoble's LinkBlog for a link to this page full of evil photos: "When Your Co-Worker is Away".

I think I would have a heart attack if any of these happened to me. But, maybe because that's because I work at home

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2004

Meeting and Class Notes

Cell phones (and by extension, MP3 Players) with sensitive mics will make recording everyday events a reality. Robert Scoble, in Jeremy brings up the typing vs. writing argument describes how easy it is grab an annotated recording of a meeting:

One other thing, why are you taking notes in meetings? Lately I've just been turning on OneNote, starting the audio recording feature, and taking a very brief outline. You know, just a few words about each section of the meeting to jog my memory for later.

OneNote puts an audio icon next to each node in my outline as I write it. Later, all I do is double-click on the audio icon next to each line and OneNote takes me right to the relevant part of the audio.

If you aren't doing this in meetings you are wasting your time.

This kind of recording could work just as well for a lecture or a classroom.

This afternoon I had lunch with a friend who is a school teacher. We were talking about privacy. My friend said she expects classroom discussions will not be recorded without her permission. Unfortunately, I think she is living in the last few years when she can expect that.

The kind of annotated recording that Scoble talks about is too useful to ignore. A cross between an iPod and a PDA could easily record hundreds of hours of annotated meetings, lectures, classes, phone calls, and other conversations.

The annotations make the audio streams easily searchable (something that required brute force speech recognition until now). Think how useful, and powerful, it will be to be able to use your desktop/web search tool to get back the recording of the conversation where a decision was made. With annotated audio, existing desktop search tools could make that a reality almost immediately.

And the more audio the device can capture, the more useful it is. The device should be able to listen to phone calls (Bluetooth anyone?) as well as to meetings and lectures.

I don't think a Tablet with One Note is the ultimate device for this. But I think it is what we have now and it dramatically demonstrates the potential of annotated audio.

It may require the mythical "convergence device" to make this capacity commonplace. You need the audio and wireless capabilities of a cell phone, the annotation capabilities of a PDA, and the storage capacity of a hard drive MP3 Player to make it all work seamlessly.

I would love to do this with a next generation Sidekick that included a hard drive! Are you listening Danger?

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

Defecit Freak Out

A feature article in the WSJ today, What? Spending Restraint?, gives an overview of the state of the federal budget deficit. The upshot? The deficit is going down, relatively quickly, because of economic growth. And that the deficit is not historically out of bounds for a country recovering from an economic downturn:

In equally good budget news, federal revenues are also bouncing back as economic growth continues. Over the long term, federal revenues have averaged roughly 17% to 19% of GDP. They soared to 21% during the late Clinton years, which is one reason the Bush tax cuts were so important. Amid recession and the burst stock-bubble, however, revenues dipped below 16% in recent years. Now they're heading back toward their normal range.

Fiscal 2004 ended with a federal deficit of $413 billion, well under the Office of Management and Budget's February projection of $521 billion. In October, the 12-month deficit came in under $400 billion, and in the (admittedly brief) three months ending in October the 12-month trend was heading toward $310 billion.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the Congressional Budget Office told us that "Economic growth, which we anticipate to be pretty robust, leads to reductions in the deficit from what was this year $413 billion, or 3.5% of GDP. And if you go forward, you're down to about three [percent of GDP] on the baseline next year, and about 2.5 or 2.6 the year after that." In historic terms, that's getting close to normal since the deficit has averaged a bit above 2% of GDP for the entire postwar period. "So I think it is the case that business-as-usual with tight restraint on spending will bring the deficit down over the near term to levels that we've seen," Mr. Holtz-Eakin adds. And all with no tax increase required.

As for the national debt, that's also not a cause for alarm. As the nearby chart shows, overall federal debt as a share of GDP is estimated to be below 40% in 2005, still well below the recent peak of 49.4% in 1993. That is easily manageable by historic standards, and in fact should begin to decline again if the economy keeps growing and annual deficits begin to shrink.

The chart attached to the artricle gives a very usefu overview of Federal Debt as a share of the GDP since 1940. The rise in the deficit in the early 90's was worrysome. It was an outgrowth of the economic problems that cost Bush 41 his job. The drop in debt levels in the late 90's is a function of that era's booming economy. If, as this article suggests, the US economy continues to chug along, the debt pciture shoudl turn continue to turn around this time as well.

More worrisome than the federal budget deficit is the balance of trade deficit. Ultimately, that will get solved by a reduction in the value of the dollar and in an increase in interest rates at home. That could lead to inflation and a stalling of US economic activity. The Fed will be walking a tight rope over the next couple of quarters to keep the trade and dollar situation from becoming a drag on the economic recovery.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004

Dog Bites

Slate published Dog Bites Man by Jon Katz. The focus is about the responsibilities that dog owners have. The central tragedy is described here:

Spice was a sweetheart, gentle with kids, the best pal of my border collies, generous with her toys and snacks, happy to play tug of war and chase endlessly across suburban lawns. Her owner Jan, an ad executive in my northern New Jersey town, was deeply involved in dog rescue. She believed it immoral to spend hundreds of dollars for a purebred dog (like mine) when so many dogs are in shelters facing death. Accordingly, she had plucked Spice—a 3-year-old mix of pit bull, Labrador retreiver, and probably a few other breeds—out of a Brooklyn animal shelter days before she was slated for euthanasia. Jan didn't know anything about her history, except that she'd been found on the street, half-starved and beaten, and that "because she was a pit, she didn't have much of a shot at being adopted."

So Jan bypassed calmer and easier shelter dogs and brought Spice home, trained her conscientiously and consistently, loved and pampered her. Spice proved a wonderful pet—obedient, easygoing, affectionate. I had no hesitation about her playing with my dogs, and I listened sympathetically as Jan complained about harassment and what she called "breed prejudice"—that fear of pit bulls that caused people who encountered them to grab their kids and dogs and cross the street.


Last fall, while they were walking in a park, a Pekingese slipped out of its collar and dashed toward Spice and Jan, growling and barking. Spice, startled, almost reflexively grabbed the dog's head in her mouth, bit down, and hung on. Neither Jan nor a horrified dog owner passing by could get Spice to loosen her grip. The smaller dog yelped, then went still. The Peke's owner, a woman in her 60s strolling with her 5-year-old grandson, screamed and rushed up to intervene. Spice had always been friendly and reliable around children, but now she was aroused, almost frantic. People were shouting. The boy cried and screamed in fear.

It all happened in a few seconds. Spice bit both the woman, who required 30 stitches in her arm, and the child, who after surgery still had small but permanent facial scars and most likely some psychological ones. The animal-control authorities seized the dog. Local ordinances meant near-certain euthanasia.

The moral question that Katz explores is if Jan was at fault for the tragedy. Jan seemed to have done everything right. Spice wasn't mistreated and seemed well trained. But was Spice so dangerous, because of her breed and unknown background, that Jan was exposing her community to an inappropriate risk? Are some dogs and breeds just too dangerous to allow out in public?

This seems like an extreme viewpoint. But I have some sympathy for it. Spice was found "...on the street, half-starved and beaten." Jan had no idea of Spice's history. Spice could have been (and seems to have been) a time bomb waiting to go off. It is possible that no amount of training by Jan could have stopped the tragedy.

I like stories about people who sin and then redeem themselves. The idea that people would like the feeling of seeing their pets redeemed makes sense to me. However, I'm not sure it is a rational feeling. And in this case, the cost of Jan's attempts to redeem Spice was unfortunate.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2004

Condi, Bush's Work Wife?

Timothy Noah, in his Slate article, Prexy Sks Wrk Wf - Condoleezza Rice's promotion creates a void describes an interesting relationship...

With Rice departing the White House for Foggy Bottom, President Bush isn't just losing a national security adviser. He's losing his work wife.

Now, normally I get annoyed at pendants psycho-analyzing people from a distance, but Noah's article is both interesting in a general sense and somewhat convincing concerning Bush and Rice.

The entire subject of a "work wife" or "work husband" is an interesting one. Previously, I worked a lot in the male dominated world of computer games. Now I work out of my house. I didn't see much of the "work spouse" phenomena in either case.

But I have had several "work friends", people who I shared confidences with during stressful work times. A few of these "work friendships" lasted beyond our term of common employment. Many did not.

Maybe I should look some of them up, just for old times sake?

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 08:00 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2004

What "I do" can do.

The Truth and Consequences of Welfare Reform , is a discussion of DeParle's book American Dream. the book looks at the lives of three single mothers who had to deal with changes from the 1996 welfare reform.

In the discussion, Ron Haskins says,

As Mickey and I seem to agree, the most immediate help (for "working, low-income parents") would come from marriage. A recent study at Brookings by my colleagues Isabel Sawhill and Adam Thomas showed that if the marriage rate today were the same as it was in 1970, the poverty rate would be nearly 30 percent lower. Thus, if you pick unmarried males and females at random from the population and match them on age, race, and education, and assume that they are married, the poverty rate would plummet without any government involvement. It is not ordained by nature that a third of American children and nearly 70 percent of black children be born outside of marriage, that marriage rates (which began to decline precipitously around the 1960s) for black Americans remain under 40 percent, or that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. One consequence of these huge problems with the nation's families is stubbornly high poverty rates. But the toll in human waste goes far beyond mere poverty rates. As shown unequivocally by volumes of research studies, the earnings, wealth, health, and happiness of the adults, and the school performance, chances of teen pregnancy, arrest rates, mental health problems, and even suicide rates of the children are higher because of the dismal status of the American family.

I wonder if discussions like this aren't subconsciously a part of the "values" voters we heard about this year.

The National Center For Policy Analysis has a brief called How Not To Be Poor. Their secrets? Stay in school. Get a job. Get married. And don't have children out of wedlock.

I'm not as sold as the NCPA on the advantages of legal marriage as I am on the advantages of effective marriage, two people living together in a long term committed relationship. But the other suggestions seem like strong ones.

Every one of these choices is driven by the values of the person involved. If many people are making poor choices, and ending up living in poverty, the best solution seems to be to help people get more effective values and not to make the consequences of poor choices less onerous.

And if more people make questionable choices now than they did four decades ago, it is rational for many voters to decide that "values" is an important part of their voting decisions.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 08:00 PM

November 14, 2004

An Avocado Bathroom Will Cost You

Guardian Unlimited Money | Special_reports | How an avocado bathroom can slash your home's value by £8,000

This is a fun article with info from a UK home improvement show. Their findings? Not all home improvements will help your homes value. Teir list ofthe top 20 value destroyers is below. (in pounds, not dollars).

Top 20 loss makers in the home

Problems in selling (sale price loss in brackets):

1 Not dealing with a structural disaster (£100,000)
2 Bad extensions (£20,000)
3 Smell of tobacco smoke (£16,000)
4 Outdoor swimming pool (£15,000)
5 Additions such as "humorous" gnomes and stone cladding (£15,000)
6 Textured finish to ceilings (£14,000)
7 uPVC windows (£12,500)
8 Smell of pets (£10,000)
9 Poor DIY (£10,000)
10 Avocado bathroom suite (£8,000)
11 Nightmare neighbours (£7,500)
12 Toilet in the wrong space (£6,000)
13 Pine furniture (£5,000)
14 Large sofas in small rooms (£4,000)
15 Overgrown gardens (£3,500)
16 Installation of fake period features (£3,000)
17 Floral or flock-patterned furnishings (£2,500)
18 Laminate flooring (£2,000)
19 Themed rooms (£1,500)
20 Carpet in the bathroom (£1,000)

Its too bad that a pool reduces your house value by over $25K. My wife wants to add a pool to our house some day. $30K to put it in, $25K off the value of the house. It adds up!

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 11:39 PM

November 05, 2004


I'm going to be at BloggerCon this weekend. I look forward to learning a lot about how to better integrate blogging into my daily routine.

Right now I find it easier to share interesting items to my friends via an email list than to share them via my blog. I find it easier to follow my favorite sites via my browser than via my aggregator. Maybe I can learn how to be more efficient with these tools at BloggerCon.

Posted by georgegmacdonald at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)