Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why no share with comment in Google Reader mobile?

Seems like an obvious and relatively simple capability, you'd select Share with Note on your phone and it bring up a text box and you'd submit your comment and it'd redirect you to the article.

Tada Google, make it happen.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Just How Realistic is 'Government 2.0'?" - not

Having been inside many governmental organizations, I can tell you that it will take a LOT more effort to get people to change. One of oft misunderstood positives of a government organization is that they aren't driven by profit or the bottom line. Sometimes lethargy can actually be good in a giant and vast bureaucracy.

One of the main inhibitors to governmental adoption of "web 2.0" technology is the power curve and adoption models. Government tends to not invest in technology until the private sector has done so and figured it out some (though that doesn't help the government much in integrating it well). So until companies can figure out how to profit from wikis and other tools, don't look for it too much in the government. The more important factor is the government workers themselves, who skew old. Many government workers are actually technically savvie. However, getting the majority of workers to use a new set of tools is very challenging.


via HarvardBusiness.org on 5/20/08
I don't doubt that these tools will have some impact on how governmental information and services are delivered. I also don't have any doubt that they will not drive as much change as Don (and his co-author Anthony Williamson as quoted in a CIO Insight article ) apparently believe they will. Don said that "government 2.0" was the most important change for government in more than a century. Williamson (and Tapscott, to a slightly lesser degree) "foresees Web 2.0 technologies being employed to transform service delivery, make smarter policies, flatten silos and, most importantly, reinvigorate democracy."

Of course, there may be a few hitches in this miraculous transformation. One caller who works in the U.S. federal government called in to Don today, saying something like, "I can't even get a replacement for my six year old computer—how will the federal government be able to transform itself with wikis?" Don basically replied, "Sure, there will be some cultural obstacles, but this sort of change is inevitable."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tips from refinancing experts - part 3

NOT my tips, but those from refinancing experts who do this for a living:

1. You will receive a month off your mortgage payment as well which some people will take into consideration when calculating the break even point. In your case this would cover all of your closing costs...you just lose a month of principal reduction (which is going to be almost nothing anyway on a new mortgage).
2. You will also need to pay 9 months of taxes and insurance into your escrow account for a June closing, however, you will receive a refund from your current lender for the full balance of your current escrow account. Because this forces you into a higher loan balance you may want to consider an immediate principal reduction with the refund you receive from your current lender.
3. I'm not sure if you are paying mortgage insurance or what your loan-to-value ratio is but if you're up there you may want to have your lender consider a Lender Paid Mortgage Insurance (LMPI) product for you. This will result in a higher interest rate but the payment will likely be lower than a standard 30 fixed with MI.
4. If you sell within 10 years chances are that you won't have enough equity before that time to get out of MI anyway - assuming you don't have much equity in the property at this time.
5. You could also consider a combo loan to avoid MI and escrows if this is a concern for you and it typically results in a lower overall monthly payment.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tips from insiders on refinaning your home

These aren't my tips, they come from those inside the business I've talked to over the past week:

1) Once you have all GFEs in hand, have every prospective lender update their rates on the same day. We're still experiencing a volatile market and you'll see movement of .125-.25% daily. You need an apples-to-apples comparison to make an informed decision.

2) Don't discount service. Too many borrower just go for the absolute lowest rate and fees without taking into consideration the likelihood of the loan closing on time and under the terms initially agreed upon. Good rapport with your loan officer will give you some confidence in their ability to deliver at closing. I see all too often situations where the bait and switch is pulled at the closing table or the day before. If you see something that's too good to be true, it probably is.

3) Once you have proceeded with a lender request a copy of your interest rate lock confirmation. This will ensure that your loan was indeed locked under the agreed upon terms. It should be locked for at least 30 days.

4) Check out the lender's BBB ratings. Also, if your state requires loan officers to be licensed like we do in Texas, you should be able to find a website where you can search for your loan officer to make sure they are licensed.

What is the value of FriendFeed?

To a novice, it appears to be just another means of aggregating RSS feeds.

The "recommended" people are the most popular/active on the site. Self fulfilling prophecy much? At least Google Reader analyzes my reading habits and makes modestly valid suggestions.

FF requires me to even hide the comments/posts of my friends friends. It is too much noise in the channel to have extra people in my feeds.

And people keep blathering about how this is going to go mainstream. First, there's no chance my Aunt is going to use this, let alone my 28 year old wife. If we can't bridge that ~40 year age gap, let alone get someone who has grown up using a computer to use a more basic version of the tool, how is this not the next SciFi channel? (popular with tech dorks, and no one else)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Insiders secret tips to refinancing - part 1

This is the first of 2-4 segments on tips I've gathered in the past week on refinancing a home mortgage. These are tips from people in the business, who were kind enough to share them with me. And I'm dumb enough to share them with everyone.

Why share them? Because I frankly don't trust lenders. While a lot of effort has been put into an attempt to make the process seem logical and clear to the layperson, the reality is that this is confusing as heck.

My personal tip: The top hits you receive for "mortgage refinance calculator" will return some good options, but few and far between are the tools that remember to account for taxes and insurance. This is very important, as they are key components to your monthly payment.

The first set of tips come from someone within the lending business:
  1. Get a legitimate Good Faith Estimate to firm up your expenses.
  2. Understand that rates may fluctuate from one day to the next, and even from hour to hour.
  3. Is it the type of loan you want? 30 Fixed or ARM and so on?
  4. Make sure you check on the proposed changes to your property taxes and you home owners insurance.
  5. Do something with the savings that accumulates wealth over time.
  6. Make sure that your prospective lender is able to refinance you now. There MAY be issues with what is called "title seasoning". Title seasoning basically amounts to the time you have been in your home and many banks require at least 12 months. Some allow 6 but many require 12. DO NOT pay for an appraisal or application fee for a mortgage unless you know for sure the title seasoning will not impede your loan closing.
#1 is key. ALWAYS get a GFE. This is akin to a lender's draft contract. It is a standard format proposal that shows you where all the money is going. The GFE is how you compare "apples to apples".

#2 in the current market is important as rates absolutely change from day to day, and very well may change from AM to PM, or hour to hour. I'm still not sure how the whole "rate lock in" part works, but when you hear a rate you like, lock it in, and make sure it's on your GFE (see #1).

#3, a no-brainer. Check the GFE for the type of loan and for its period. Be careful when the lender says "let me send you some more creative options". Typically this is when the dreaded term "ARM" gets used. And don't go from a 30 year to a 20 or 25 year unless you plan on paying off your loan. It's not worth it.

#4 this goes back to the GFE, you need to make sure your escrow payments cover the taxes and insurance. There are some accounting elements to this that I'll cover later on.

#5 This SHOULD BE why you are refinancing. If you don't know what you are going to do with the savings, then well, you're an idiot. Pay off your car. Pay off your credit card. Budget for 401k contributions. Make a ROTH IRA contribution. Start a 527. Do something smart, don't buy a new tv...

#6 "Title seasoning" issues are rare, but you need to call your current lender. And also check with them what the loan payoff amount will be. If you owe them even just $1000, you'll have to pay them more than that. It just works that way.

Please feel free to follow up with comments and questions.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"In Favor of Charter Schools?"

The key to this post is its last sentence/paragraph. We have to delve into the demographics to understand what is going on, and who these succeeding students are.


via Urban Planning Blog by Pratik on 5/14/08

The destruction caused by hurricane Katrina allowed for revamping New Orlean's public education system. In the aftermath of the disaster, the local school boards have been replaced by charter schools that are although are publicly financed are run independently. This experiment is seemingly working as test scores are increasingly significantly. Does this indicate a shift in favor of reforming the public education system?

But it might be too early to declare success. Perhaps comparison to school populations with pre-Katrina demographic mix would be a better indicator either in New Orleans or elsewhere.


Things you can do from here:

Tuck School of Business Interview, "Information as Strategic Asset"

Lame acutely describes this interview. Trite catchphrases and meaningless questions using buzzwords, notably "web 2.0" abound.

Paul Barth, the interviewee, even goes so far as to reference Nick Carr's "IT Doesn't Matter"...

Sent to you by ckstevenson via Google Reader:

via Radio Tuck on 4/21/08
Paul Barth discusses how companies can see information as a competitive weapon, manage it as a strategic asset, and use it for innovation. (Interview by Aram Donigian T'08)

Things you can do from here:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Change toilet paper direction to keep toddlers from unrolling too much"

Consider me a zealot of the "over the top" method for TP. But this was a good/interesting tip.

Grrrr. TP the wrong way, it's not American...

Sent to you by ckstevenson via Google Reader:

via Parent Hacks by Asha Dornfest on 5/13/08

Duane, you're a brave man to put forth a definitive argument for toilet paper direction.

I know that the direction the toilet paper should roll is a borderline religious debate in some households, but it dawned on me that if you've got a toddler running around who slaps the roll repeatedly to unroll it, then feeding from the back/under side will prevent that. It won't prevent it if he's the sort who likes to grab the end and run around the house with it, but I figured I'll take what I can get.

Related: Cottonelle Kids shows kids how much toilet paper to use


Things you can do from here:

TSD's review of "Born to Buy: Final Thoughts"

I was a "get on with it" reader of TSD. But I think this review series will become increasingly relevant to me as my friends have kids, or I potentially do some day.

The key to his review is the comment about this not JUST being about turning off the TV. The elements of school advertising are quite worrisome.

And the book, and TSD's review, speak to the (warning: overly used business jargon coming at you) "holistic" view a parent needs to have of their kids. It's not just tv watching, it's not just their friends, it's not just their activities, school work etc. It's all of it, it's who they are becoming as a person.

Sent to you by ckstevenson via Google Reader:

via The Simple Dollar by Trent on 5/13/08

born to buyDuring this series, a lot of people wrote to me and asked why I was covering this book in such detail. One reader's comment: "i get the point don't expose kids to ads." Saying that, though, is a really disturbing oversimplification of what's being said here.

The point of this book is not to merely avoid exposing kids to ads. The point of this book is to show how pervasive marketing is in the lives of children. It's not just television - it's movies, video games, magazines, and so on. It's about marketing to students in schools. It's about even using children as marketers by having kids do the marketing work themselves, convincing their friends to try it and also to demand the product from their parents. Just shutting off the television isn't enough.

Here's a checklist of all of the entries about this book:

Introduction
The Changing World of Children's Consumption
Playing Less and Shopping More
From Tony the Tiger to Slime Time Live
Nickelodeon and the Anti-Adult Bias
Pester Power
The Virus Unleashed
The Commercialization of Public Schools
Dissecting the Child Consumer
Inside the Child Brain
Habit Formation
Who's Responsible: Parents or Advertisers?
How Consumer Culture Undermines Children's Well Being
Patterns of Media Use
Consumer Involvement as an Undermining Force
Empowered or Seduced?
Decommercializing Childhood
The Invention of Modern Childhood


Things you can do from here:

"I am paid to work, how about you?"

This is a mixture of several interesting views and suggestions.

The premise is that you aren't working, or at best are getting minimal value produced, when you are reading email. And on the whole, it's correct. It's all to easy for us to count the number of email "conversations" we've had where we should have called a co-worker, had a 45 minute meeting, or walked down the hall to discuss a topic.We are losing our conversational cues from body language and voice inflection.

The tips offered are ok, but not special. The key to business discussions is to know what the right format is for the topic at hand. An email with information might be the perfect preface to an actual meeting. But the meeting must have an established agenda, preferably with a specific decision to be made. Keep "informational only" meetings to a minimum, that's when an email (or a blog or a wiki) are better used.

 
 

Sent to you by ckstevenson via Google Reader:

 
 

via Knowledge Jolt with Jack by Jack Vinson on 4/15/08

Here's another take in the long line of "lots of email" discussions.  This time it is Are You Really Being Paid to Read 200 Emails a Day? by John Care of Mastering Technical Sales.

Email is a wonderful productivity tool – but usually it seems like someone else is being productive at your expense! How do you harness the power of email, without being a slave to your inbox or becoming addicted to your Blackberry? Read on for some proven tips and techniques which will sharpen your communications, put your inbox on a diet, and give you and your team more time selling and less time typing.

John Care does something interesting with this article.  Sure, he talks about the basics of being smarter around processing the email, but he couches the discussion in the bigger picture.  I particularly like the last section where he talks about receiving fewer emails.  This is where the balance of personal effectiveness faces outwards to the group.  John's suggestions in bold.

  1. Exercise your power.  Stop an email thread if it is getting out of hand.  Use other means, like your feet and the phone.
  2. Tell them what you want.  Don't be circumspect.  Don't bury requests in the body or end of a long message.  Clarify what you need up front, then use the rest of the message for details.
  3. Make the subject meaningful.  What is it you are asking for?  Make the subject as clear as possible.  Pretend the subject line is Twitter for the rest of the message (but only ~50 characters).
  4. Make your boss (or client) more efficient.  This is a collection of #2 and #3, but it is repeated for the impact it can have on managing up.
  5. Monitor the email groups you belong to.  This isn't as clear, but if you expand it to "monitor what's going on," it makes more sense.  Basically, if you are aware of current events, there is less chance you will get those red-flagged, emergency emails at the end of the day.  This one requires balance, though.  Too much attention paid to monitoring can feel just like too much time in email.

[found via Steve Johnson at the Pragmatic Marketing Blog.]


 
 

Things you can do from here:

 
 

Monday, May 12, 2008

Competitor or Cohort - newer employees in a small company

It's week three at the new company (M). I was employee #15 (maybe I should start a new blog called "Employee #15"?) and #16 just joined up today. Seems very smart and capable, should do great work.

Once he signed all his papers, I got a little jealous. He was the new guy, not me. He was having the most recent "Here's our strategy" talk with the President. And while I'm sitting here doing internal M work, he's rushing off to go start making money with clients.

So is he a competitor of mine, or a cohort? Peer would have been a better word, but it doesn't start with a "c".

If the company is run well, I want him to succeed. His success means our company does better, which means there are more opportunties for me, a bigger bonus pool, bigger salary increases etc.

But what if he actually is better than me? Yup, color me green, I'm envious. Most type A's have that competitive streak in them, and I know I do. I hate the though of the new go rising up the ladder faster than I do.

So how do I learn to view my coworkers as a colleague (thanks thesaurus.com)? Here's where a good blog would list a bunch of well thought out steps and techniques...
  • Determine what I can learn from him to expand my skillsets and knowledge base - in this way I view him as an asset, someone I can utilize to help myself
  • Connect into his network - maybe he has past associates that could be helpful to me in new business or staffing a project etc
  • A new ally within the company - this new employee is another person who might help me champion some new initiatives (such as finding a new office space with free parking and a free gym)
  • A new sounding board - she will have experiences and viewpoints I don't, so they can help me develop new ideas and solutions that I otherwise couldn't have seen myself
And those are just 4 off the top of my head.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How to use FriendFeed instead of Google Reader in my 22 minutes of free time?

Dear Mr. Scoble,

I love your blog, and I actually love your shared notes via your Google Reader a LOT more than I did your previous shared feed. Having that context of your thoughts means a LOT (I will read things more often if your comment gives me reason to pause).

I have read a LOT about FriendFeed, but am having a hard time figuring out why I would spend my fleeting personal time on that instead of Google Reader. Can you concisely explain (and hopefully blog on this)?

I think I represent 90% of the working world, I use my "coffee" and '"smoke" breaks for mental sanity and checking up on feeds and the news. I don't have time to review 4000 tweets etc. Around 200 RSS posts a day works real well for me (I can breeze through the chafe via "J" quite well, and I star things I want to read intently later).

If I get paid to actually do work during the day, how can FriendFeed fit into my daily productivity system? (since I know you love Lifehacker and Lifehack so much)

- Chris


PS: I CC'd my blogs email, please feel free to reply to my blog directly with a post (my blog is NOT worth linking to, I'm a nobody)

"Who Do You Work For?" - everyone

TSD covers the topic of who he works for, trying to explain it to an eighty (based on a typo) year old woman.

Based on this criteria, we all work for ourselves, though most of us know that to be not true.

 
 

Sent to you by ckstevenson via Google Reader:

 
 

via The Simple Dollar by Trent on 5/7/08

Yesterday, I made a feeble attempt to explain what I now do for a living to an eighty eight year old woman as we stood in line at Fareway. The line was pretty long and I had helped her earlier in the store to put some cat litter in her cart, so I said hello to her and we struck up a conversation. When she asked what I did, I told her I was a writer, but when she asked "For who?" the only answer I could think of was my audience. That didn't seem to be much of a good way to make money and so she basically just started pretending I wasn't there, thinking I was some sort of crackpot or something.

Me being me, though, I couldn't help but think about her question. Who do I work for? It's a question that seems to have an easy answer, but it gets complicated really quick and it gets into some interesting personal finance territory.

At First Glance, I Work For…
When I first look at the question, the answer seems fairly obvious. I work for my readers. You guys are in many ways my boss - if I don't keep writing compelling stuff, you stop visiting. In that sense, I aim to please - I usually try to select ideas that will interest you guys and try to curb at least some of my tendencies away from that (and towards quirky humor or my own personal beliefs).

For most people, it's also very easy to answer this question at first glance - it's whoever your employer happens to be at the moment. I work for Ford. I work for Chevron. I work for the Iowa Department of Transportation. I work for the law firm of Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe.

At Second Glance, I Work For…
But that's not really who we work for. Almost everyone has to exchange some of their time or some of their personal value for money. We make that exchange because we get something in return out of it. Among them:

Money This is the biggest thing that many of us work for. That money translates into a roof over our heads, food on the table, and things we enjoy.

Fulfillment Some people are personally fulfilled by their work - I know I am. Their jobs bring them personal joy and make their lives better. Writing is a huge creative outlet for me - most of the time, it leaves me feeling invigorated as a person. There are many others, though, that don't get this kind of fulfillment from their work.

Prestige Others work for the prestige of their job. They like to be seen as prestigious by others and often that becomes a major factor in what they choose to do. "How will this affect my image?"

Other needs There are countless other reasons why we do the work we do. Perhaps it's because of our significant other - we're forced to find work in a certain area because of their job. Maybe it's because of your own specific talents and skills, whether you enjoy the work or not. Some people even choose jobs because it makes their parents happy.

In the End, I Work For Me
These reasons all lead back to a handful of key sources. Maybe the sources are personal in nature, like fulfillment and prestige. Maybe you need to work at this job to keep food on the table for your kids. Maybe you're working to make your parents proud.

Those reasons all have one thing in common: you. Never, ever lose sight of the fact that you're the one in control here. It is your choice.

You work for yourself. You make the decision to work at your job because of a collection of positives and negatives that led you to believe that your current place is the right one for you. If another offer came along with a better balance, would you not take it?

Looking at your job through this lens brings some new things into focus. What are the things you value most in your life? For me, I value my wife and children the most, followed by personal fulfillment and also a desire to help/uplift others. Other issues - personal prestige, the opinions of my family and others important to me, and higher wages - didn't really mean that much in comparison to the big reasons. Once I realized that, I found that switching to becoming a full time writer from my previous attempts at writing on the side while maintaining another career was the right choice for me.

What are the core things that are most important to you? Is your current career situation maximizing those core things and minimizing the negatives? If they're not, isn't that alone a good reason to switch?

Try this exercise. Consider the three most important things in your life. Your spouse? Your children? Your prestige in the community? Enough income so that you can play on the weekends? A flexible schedule? What are the most important things for you?

Then list the positives and negatives of your current job in comparison to these things. For me, my current job leaves me feeling very fulfilled (positive) and it gives me more time to spend with my wife and kids (positive), but it doesn't earn as much which worries me a bit about the long-term future (negative). How big are each of those things? For me, it was an overall positive, because I believe my fulfillment and passion will carry us through.

What about your other career options? What sorts of positives and negatives do they hold? Consider everything - even switching to a convenience store clerk has some advantages (basically no stress and no overlap between job and life). How do those advantages and disadvantages match up with what's personally important to you? If you have an option in mind that's an overall positive compared to where you're at right now, look very seriously at making a switch.

In the end, you work for yourself. That means you call the shots in the end. If there's a better opportunity for you out there, take it.


 
 

Things you can do from here:

 
 

Monday, May 5, 2008

Should I be eating lunch with my boss?

A few folks in the office will take the time away from their desks and sit with the boss in our conference room and eat lunch.

Am I missing out on work place bonding? Some face time? Is there some subtle information being shared?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Fwd: Introducing RSS and Social Bookmarking

Only 3 years after I first emailed them about this!

Way to go McKinsey, you've hit 2004!


From: The McKinsey Quarterly
Subject: Introducing RSS and Social Bookmarking

The McKinsey Quarterly

Introducing RSS and Social Bookmarking

New services make it easier to subscribe to and share Quarterly articles.

When you subscribe to our McKinsey Quarterly RSS feed, you receive personalized headlines with summaries and links to our articles on mckinseyquarterly.com. Once you create a feed, you will be provided with a custom URL to view your feed, as well as an easy way to add the feed to your own news reader, such as My Yahoo! or Google Reader.

Click here to create your personalized Quarterly feed.

create McKinsey Quarterly RSS feeds

Click the RSS icon in our Web site footer to create a feed


Social Bookmarking is a way to share and discuss Quarterly articles with a larger community. The Share tool integrates Digg, Del.icio.us, Technorati, and Newsvine into our article and abstract pages.

social bookmarking on mckinseyquarterly.com
Social-bookmarking tools now accompany every abstract and article
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