Friday, September 30, 2011

Twitter saves Amazing Race contestants

Las Vegas showgirl contestants who lost a passport on the first leg of 'The Amazing Race'
I haven't seen the point of Twitter in the past. It seems like a bunch of random shouts into cyberspace. (Unlike this blog which is a somewhat less random shout into cyberspace that uses a lot more words) but I saw it save a couple of contestants of The Amazing Race on Sunday.

The pair of Las Vegas showgirls dropped one of their passports in a gas station parking lot on the way to the airport. Amazingly, they not only discovered that they had done so but figured out where they dropped it and went back to the scene. Unfortunately they asked around at the gas station to no avail; nobody had seen their lost passport. What to do? Lost passports have always meant immediate eliminations to teams on previous seasons.

They chose to go to the airport anyway, hoping that the passport was being brought to them there. Not a bad choice. Whenever a plan goes awry, the best bet is, if you can't pick up the lost thread, continue with the original plan by moving to the next step. 

After the brief meltdown and recriminations in the airport, they got some fantastic news. Someone had indeed found their passport and brought it to the airport. But why they did so is the real story here.

The man who found the passport is a Twitter user who posted that he had been briefly filmed on Amazing Race and had found the passport.
So #TheLife gets crazier so after being randomly filmed on amazing
race I see that one of them dropped there passport. (sic)
Some Amazing Race super fan picked up his post on an RSS feed and realized the importance of this information. She replied to Storms that the contestant needs the passport and directed him to get it to the airport so she could continue with her race.

Meanwhile producers found the post in Taiwan, the next destination, and sent word to LAX to warn the host that he may not need to perform an early elimination after all.

Check out the details in this article.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Nineteenth Excerpt of 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym had been busily writing this all down on the parchment. “Here are the requirements for this tower:"
The following day Athelstan arrived with five grizzled veterans. Fred and Gwilym sat down with them on rough stools and a plank board and started to discuss the tower. The shipper and the farmer were already in disagreement about the location of the tower but Gwilym assured them that this could not be moved. It was primarily a watchtower and this decreed the location. The secondary purpose of silo must be subordinate.
“How do ye expect us to deliver our grain to the top of a tower?” complained the farmer.
“How do you get water from the bottom of the well, you fool?” replied the shipper. Gwilym suppressed a grin.
“And where do you weigh our grain?” asked the farmer of Athelstan.
“Ve vill veigh it as you off-load it from your vagon. Den ve vill bring it up to de top viz a pulley.”
“Then you’ll need a path that leads from the main road to the tower and then continues around and back up to the road. We will all be coming near to the same time and no-one likes to back up a cart.”
The men all looked at the building site and agreed that this could be done.
“And pave the road! It will get too muddy here with all these loaded carts coming through at the same time.”
“Since ven does it rain at harvest time, farmer?” complained the carpenter.
“You don’t want to see what a mess it will make if it does, believe me!” replied the farmer.
Gwilym intervened. “I think we’ll be throwing off a lot of stone chips from the masonry work, won’t we?” He looked at Athelstan and received a nod. “Let’s make sure that we place all the waste where we want the road to be.”
“I’m happy,” said the farmer. “When can we start bringing in our harvests?”
“Well I’m not at all happy!” argued the boatman. “The farmer can bring his carts to the foot of the silo. How can I bring my ships? Will you dig a stream for them?”
The men looked out to the river. It was a good hundred yards from the river and ten feet down to the water. They looked back at Gwilym expectantly. “The Romans use plumbum and clay to make channels for the grain to move. But others make aqueducts out of hollowed-out logs. I believe we could use that technique to move grain down this hill. We’ll build the main channel out of clay, then use a hollowed out log to move the grain from the silo to the main channel and from the channel to the boat. As you get richer, you can always dig that stream.”
The shipper and the masons nodded their heads.
Fred murmured to Gwilym, “Seems like every time tha solves one problem, three more appear. What can tha do about it?”
“I write them down, Fred. We have to burn them into this scroll.”
Gwilym had been busily writing this all down on the parchment. “Here are the requirements for this tower:"
·         60 foot tall tower with roof dedicated to a watch and signal fire
·         Walls 20 feet wide faced with 2 foot of stone
·         Barracks inside with 600 square feet of living space (Three stories rather than one)
·         Stairs inside barracks allowing two men abreast to run up or down
·         Reinforced doors at second level of barracks
·         Strength of walls equivalent to tower at Huish
·         Stone wall separating silo from barracks
·         Clay-lined interior walls in silo half
·         Circular drive leading to foot of tower on the North side. Covered in stone chips
·         Entrance near top of silo on north side
·         Pulley system leading to top entrance of silo
·         Various doors near bottom of silo on southern face to allow for removal of grain from various heights
·         Channel system, lined with clay to send grain down to ships
·         Hollowed-out logs to move grain from silo to channel and channel to ship
Then men looked over these requirements, added some, refined others and came to an agreement about what was required for all to be happy about this tower. They shook hands all around and Gwilym nodded to an expectant Bleddyn who brought around a jug of ale and many cups. These were passed around and the men drank to the agreement.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clever solar power project

We all know that adding solar panels to buildings can result in huge electricity savings but the initial investment is so huge you need to help over that first hump. Governments have provided incentives up to about 70% in the past but money is tight now. I looked into a company that would buy and install it for free for me and take 90% of the savings for the first ten years until they had recouped their investment and then I would own the panels. (Unfortunately, I had too much shade on my roof to qualify)
One of my friends bought the units outright (After the 70% rebate) and expects to pay it off within seven years.

But look at this new project being financed by the likes of Richard Branson. It was detailed in this recent article in the Times. The process is complicated: read below for how it works. Essentially, the owner of the old building gets a loan for upgrades that result in energy savings. The building is worth more so property taxes are raised. The interest in the loan plus the additional property taxes are less than the savings he recoups. Pretty simple, huh?

Ygrene and its partners will gain exclusive rights for five years to offer this type of energy upgrade to businesses in a particular community. They will market the plan aggressively, helping property owners figure out what kinds of upgrades make sense for them. Lockheed Martin is expected to do the engineering work on many larger projects.

The retrofits might include new windows and doors, insulation, and more efficient lights and mechanical systems. In some cases, solar panels or other renewable power might be included. For factories, the retrofits might include new motors or other gear.

Short-term loans provided by Barclays Capital will be used to pay for the upgrades. Contractors will offer a warranty that the utility savings they have promised will actually materialize, and an insurance underwriter, Energi, of Peabody, Mass., will back up that warranty. Those insurance contracts, in turn, will be backed by Hannover Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies.

As projects are completed, the upgrade loans, typically carrying interest rates of 7 percent, will be bundled into long-term bonds resembling those routinely issued by governmental taxing districts. Barclays will market the bonds. Retirement funds have expressed interest in buying these bonds, which will be repaid by tax surcharges on each property that undergoes a retrofit.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Are women worse off after the Arab Spring?

While ridding the Muslim world of the dictators who made life difficult for men living under their iron fists was good for the men, what has this done for the women? Women who were briefly given equality during the Russian occupation in Afghanistan were rudely torn away from their jobs and education as soon as the Mujaheddin took over. Women professors in Iran were fired once the Mullahs took over Iran from the students who started the rebellion and were forbidden to teach.

The story is repeating itself in Egypt and Libya. There have been a spate of articles detailing the disenfranchisement of the women who were equal partners in the rebellion but have been shunted to the sidelines as the men consider enforcing Shariah law.

In this recent NY Times article, the women who aided the rebellion against Qaddafi are being given no place in the emerging leadership. "Libya’s 45-member Transitional National Council includes just one woman. The council’s headquarters does not have a women’s bathroom."

In 'Three cups of tea,' Mortensen writes that to lift a village out of poverty, one must educate the girls. They return to the village and rise it up out of poverty. The same must apply to a country. We must encourage the countries that emerge from the Arab spring to ensure education of women to bring them out of poverty and into the first world.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eighteenth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym shifted his gaze to the pile of building materials stacked behind him and turned back. “I have a solution.”
They traveled for nine days without incident, up the Roman roads, through the cities of Bath and Cirencester, and the ruins of Leicester and Lindum, finally arriving on the south bank of the Humber, where the road plunged down to the ferry. There were small settlements on either side of the river. Fred took the cart across on the ferry to the settlement of North Ferriby, where they spent the night.
The next day they followed the road along the river to the west until they reached the smaller ferry that crossed the Ouse. Once on the far side, they easily found the building site. There were logs and stone aplenty lying in neat stacks on the banks of the river, with a man guarding them. The man was tall and fair haired just like the ferryman and, as Gwilym looked around the town, he realized that this area was entirely occupied by Saxons! Now that he thought of it, so had Ferriby. Had he crossed the enemy lines by mistake and entered an occupied city?
Gwilym hailed the man and introduced himself. The man replied in heavily accented English. “Ya. I ben Wulf. I guard de supplies until Project Manager comes.”
The supplies looked as though they had been there for a long time with no signs of any work in progress. “Where are the workers, Wulf? I am the Project Manager.”
“Dere is no more money to pay dem so dey go avay. I vait only for Project Manager to come so I get paid and go home.”
“Show me the books please, Wulf.”
Gwilym looked through the scroll with all the annotations showing purchases and budget and realized what had happened. The person in charge of all these projects had purchased supplies for far more than they were worth and had not left any money for the construction of the actual tower. He counted up the supplies and found that they tallied exactly with what was shown on the scroll. He could calculate how much he owed the guard and realized that, after paying the man his wages, he would have enough left to pay Fred's and his expenses but none remaining with which to build the tower.
Gwilym counted out the right amount of silver, then added enough for another week, and asked Wulf to stay on guard while he rounded up the workers. Wulf seemed quite relieved at receiving this money and smiled broadly at Gwilym. He recommended a clean and quiet rooming house for Gwilym’s family and Fred. They drove off, Gwilym feeling quite disturbed.
They spent the remainder of that day finding a woman to take care of the babies during the day and a series of activities to keep Bleddyn occupied. Gwilym gave him a quest. “We were told that the Saxons were cleaned out of this area. Yet here they are. Find out how and why, where they come from, how many remain in Saxony, are more coming, why or why not. Find it all out slowly and carefully and tell me. Don’t let them know what you are doing. Oh, and learn their language while you’re at it.”
After settling his family and Fred in the rooming house and paying for the next month’s lodgings, Gwilym showed Fred the scroll Wulf had given him. “Do you recognize this scratching, Fred?” He pointed out a series of signatures next to the purchases of supplies.
“Why that be the sign of Tarrant!” Fred exclaimed. “What be that old devil doing here?”

The following morning, Gwilym and Fred surveyed the job site and asked Wulf to gather the laborers for a lunch meeting. Meanwhile,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten Steps to Nail that Interview

So you finally get called by one of the companies you've been targeting or even some place you've never heard of. They're interested in you and want to interview you. Congratulations! The resume has done its job, the company found where you posted it, now it's time to get to work and land that job.

1) Get to a land-line: I know that a lot of young people today don't have land-lines but consider this: They are looking at you and nine other people to interview for that job. They're looking for a reason to eliminate seven of you so that the hiring manager thinks the recruiter did a good job of finding her people who match the job description without burdening her with more than three interviews. What are they going to do with the person who is trying to shout through bad reception, while driving or in an area with a lot of background noise? If your cell-phone is on your resume and they call you at an inconvenient moment, there is nothing wrong with saying something along these lines: "Sorry. You caught me at a bad time. Can I call you back at this number in half an hour?"

2) Get through the phone screen: Remember that the recruiter's goal of a phone screen is to reduce her bank of candidates from ten to three. Don't give her a reason to reject you. Sound eager, available, friendly and professional. Don't box yourself into any corners. If they ask you questions about which of two options you prefer, claim to be interested in both and eager to hear more. Don't give away any personal information that might spark anyone's prejudices. Make the recruiter feel comfortable that the hiring manager is not going to come up to her after the interview and ask, "Who was that jerk you made me interview?"

3) Do your homework: Learn as much as you can about the company before you get there. Check out their website, any news on the Web about them. Find out who the key figures are. There might be articles linked somewhere that a person interviewing you has written. Or speeches that they gave in the past. Flatter them by telling them during the interview that you read the article or know about the speech. Ask pertinent questions about the article or speech. Prepare two questions that you can ask when, at the end of the interview, they ask, "Do you have any questions for us?"

4) On time is late: Make sure you arrive about twenty minutes early. That will give you time to park and get settled before arriving. Then ask the receptionist if there is any paperwork you need to fill out before starting your interview. If so, get it done and be ready five minutes before your scheduled time. If not, just tell the receptionist you are here early but ask her not to announce your arrival until two minutes before your scheduled time. Better yet, find out during the phone screen if there is any paperwork you need to fill out and try to get it in advance so that you arrive with it all nicely typed in.
Never arrive late. If you are concerned about traffic, getting lost etc, allow an extra hour. You can always sit in your car or a local coffee shop for an hour before going to the receptionist.

5) Dress for success: Always dress one step above the way you will dress on your first day. So, if they are

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Our leaders don't understand how bad our economy is.

Graph from Saturday's New York Times showing slow recovery from this recession
Look at the graph above. No wonder so many of my friends are having a hard time finding work after being laid off. 42 months after the start of this recession employment is still down 5%. That's almost four years! Read the article by clicking on this link.

A Gallup poll made public a week earlier provides a striking picture of why nothing is being done about it.
State's optimism about the economy
Notice the big disconnect? While every single of the 50 states is in some way pessimistic about our economy, our oblivious leaders in D.C. think we're doing great.

For more details about the numbers that make up this graph, go to this Gallup website:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mayor Bloomberg able to laugh at himself

Bloomberg during one of his many press conferences assuring the public he was taking steps needed to keep them safe
For those of us subjected to hours of Mayor Michael Bloomberg droning on in front of the television cameras last week, assuring New Yorkers that he was preparing them for the coming hurricane, a lighter moment appeared when he switched to a garbled version of Spanish. Here's a clip:

I wasn't the only one amused. Ms. Levin, a fluent Spanish speaker herself, created an online persona called @ElBloombito, who proceeded to tweet messages to his followers warning them in Spanglish of the dangers ahead. Read the article for details but here are some of the funnier tweets:

“Hola Newo Yorko! El stormo grande is mucho dangeroso!”
“Fill los bathtub con agua por preparando el no agua,”
“Los floodwaters!”

By Sunday morning, @ElBloombito had about 2,000 followers. By Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly 15,000, among them Mr. Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg). Atta-boy Bloomberg! way to not take yourself too seriously.

More tweets:
Saturday night: “Remain in la casa para much rain y lighningo y thundera! El Bang Bang!”
Sunday morning: “Ay Ay Ay! Yo forgoto to evacuato el isla de Rikers!”
Sunday evening: “El FDR es el cerrado por que muy aqua mucho. Necesito un boat de row!”
Monday: “Los trainos y el bussos son muy operation. Go to worko. No excuso.”

On Monday, Mr. Benítez asked Mr. Bloomberg about @ElBloombito at a news conference. The mayor, smiling, said: “Tengo 69 años. Es difícil para aprender un nuevo idioma.” (Translation: I’m 69 years old. It’s difficult to learn a new language.”)