Monday, January 30, 2006

If You Had €30m to Eliminate Grumpiness...

I'm not usually the first to make references like "get with the times, its 20xx man!", but for this I have a willing to use it.

Get with the times, its 2006 man!

In (early) 2005 you could have forgiven a leader for describing blogs as "the toilet walls of the internet". But the head of an advertising agency?

In 2006 you know that blogs have influence, no matter how you feel about them. And if you are large enough to make yourself a notable target them you must treat the medium with respect. Else you begging the blogging population to ridicule you and generally make your life hell. How many more people are going to learn this lesson this year?

Bless Jean-Remy von Matt, for at least he knew he made a mistake and apologised for it, albeit through barbed teeth.

The Du Bist Deutschland campaign is a great idea. Oh but what a chance missed. €30m, pissed up the wall by most accounts. The notion is fantastic, a non profit campaign to help Germany help themselves in the time of a troubled economy. Sadly, that little money was never going to cut it a national scale on such a great introspective issue.

To get a meaningful message like this through requires interaction, infiltration, penetration. Not wall plastering.

How many mentors could have been drafted in to talk with the people, work with the people and graft a true meaning in people's lives of this message? Train a few thousand people to live this philosophy and be successful and the viral effects will manifest themselves soon enough.

Great idea, I think it was just explored in the wrong way through the wrong medium.

Hat tip Shel Holtz.

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Pay off Debt or Save?

This question has been bugging me for months now so I thought I'd put some effort into figuring out the answer.

Disclaimer:
These are based purely on my calculations that I am using on an unverified workbook.

Factoring in the amount I'd use to pay off debt as quickly as possible, opposed to paying off a fixed amount that would have it cleared in less than two years, here's what would happen if I placed that money into a long term saving account:

Paying off the debt early would save £250 in interest/insurance premium (assuming that I do not use any rate tart tricks).
Having that 7 months worth of capital placed in the savings account will add the equivalent of £1100 to the pot when I turn 65. And that's using a base of 4% inflation, 1.6% above its current rate. At its current rate the sum is closer £2000!

Even if I put a considerable margin of error on these figures, the choice is still clear when comparing short term debt to long term saving.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

On Financial Independence

There are two ways of looking at reaching the time where you do not need to work for money:

  1. Retirement
  2. Financial Independence

Both terms are used quite frequently on the internet (more specifically, the blogosphere) and I subscribe to the latter perspective. I want to achieve Financial Independence as soon as possible, but have no plan to retire early. Seeing how much I enjoy statistics, research and problem solving I couldn't see me giving up "work", even with a substantial lottery win.

Ramit Sethi is a great inspiration to me in this goal. And if you didn't know before, go there and he will ram it (no pun intended) into your skull that compound interest is the vital thing to think about.

If you're 25 years old and you save $100/month until you're 35 (for only 10 years, then you never save money again), and your dumb friend starts later--saving $100/month from age 35 to 65 (that's 35 years compared to your 10 years)--you will have way more money (over $50,000 more) than him at age 65. Start early and you'll be rich.

I light of all this, rather like my life review sheet, I've started work on a Financial Independence Plan workbook to work as motivation for starting young where the end result is in the great distant future. It's not currently in a state for public display but I will put up a template when it is ready.

So far, it works on these five factors:

  • Interest on savings/investments (percentage | constant)
  • Inflation (percentage | constant)
  • Increase of annual net income (percentage | constant)
  • Yearly expenditures
  • Annual net income

Using these constants means that the end results are of course illustrative but not necessarily accurate.

However, it transpires that if all remains the same and I maintain this standard of living and receiving the same region of annual net income increases I will be truly financially independent at the age of 58. I.E I will no longer need to work and in fact I will actually continue making more money because the amount I receive in interest each year outweighs what I spend, becoming a millionaire (in sterling) at the age of 67 (which would be about £360,000 in today’s money).

Based on:

  • Inflation = 2.4%
  • Interest on Savings = 6%

Considering I do not even bring in the average (or median for that matter) wage that a gentleman in this country does, that is not a bad set of stats. This isn’t even using a pension scheme.

I will continue to publish my findings here as I discover them, because there are a lot of pitfalls here.

For one, inflation is the big, big influencer of these three constants. As just a tiny change (0.6% to make the inflation value 3%) is the difference between having a sum of money that grows indefinitely and can be passed on to sustain another individual (a child, for instance) and being flat broke at age 87…

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google - Lets Get Cynical

I wasn't expecting Steve Crescenzo to be so quick out of the blocks but I did expect him to be quite explicit if he did. In today's offering Down with Google, he doesn't disappoint.

And that sums up the sentiment that is being banded about the internet quite nicely today. 1984 and references to it are springing up like daisies.

I would love to say Google have done their sums right and the choice they have made over this ethically charged issue was the best one. But in order to know that, one of two things has to happen. We reach the end of time and Google is still standing or Google starts losing money and lots of it.

The boycotting bandwagon is well on its way. David Pinto of Baseball Musings (not a blog I read, but prominent on Technorati searches on the subject) has stopped using Google Adsense.
Others have the more confused notion of protesting to the Google decision by keeping Google Adsense on the basis that it takes money from Google's pocket...

Now don't get me wrong. I don't particularly approve of what Google has done, but it doesn't surprise me either. A multi-billion dollar company running on the basis of "don't be evil"? I gave it five minutes.

For emails, I own an account with all of the big three, amongst others. Don't try to pick sides based on ethics when the largest single government market on earth is at stake, you'll be wasting your time. Welcome to capitalism baby.

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Taking Risk and Domain Names

James Bond films have been doing stuff for me since I was 6 years old. Yes, I was brainwashed very young. One from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) has stood with me for the past decade:
"The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."

Never a truer word spoken. Bringing us to our topic, risqué domain names.

Lee Hopkins posted a few days a fine selection of specimens to mull over which Allen Jenkins later disected.

Not being a PR man like these two fine gentlemen, I immediately subscribed to the line of thinking proposed in the comments to Allan's post. What if they actually done it on purpose?

The most obvious site of the selection that is only a guise of a website is www.penisland.net. Consisting of 5 pages (3 of which are identical), saying they are a victim of domain faking spam being shipped in their name, that they have ran out of sample pens after shipping thousands out (anyone that has used them, let me know how they fare) and to tell you to contact their sales@ email address.

Oh and they real it necessary to point out that penisland.org and pen-island.net are impostors. One of which is a TV channel mocking (2 pages, 2 videos) and the other a domain name purchasing frontpage. This place isn't going to sell anything. If I submitted a query to them I'd expect nothing but spam in return.

A couple are less obvious (certainly if you are not at an objective distance) Mole Station Native Nursery, for one. That's just unfortuneate, but should really have been checked first.

Whorepresents.com. Deliberate traffic spiking manouvre in my opinion.

Expertsexchange.Com. A search engine of sorts, no company face. Again, this looks deliberate and closer to genius than the others.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

It Pays to Read What You Write Aloud

I have held the internet, and indeed real life, presence of Dan Hill of the Flying Aqua Badgers (or as previous records may hold: D.) for many months. Being cited as such by the illustrious Lee Hopkins, Ben Hamilton and Chris Brogan in their blogs never struck my as odd. That's the way of the medium if you introduce yourself as such on your homepage.

What did strike me, was when Lee verbalized it on the latest FIR: Hobson and Holtz Report referencing my post on the transparent generation. When you never hear out loud what you have written for a great time you really should pay attention to whether it works or not.

Thanks to podcasting, you have to make sure your message and brand sounds right as well as reads right. For instance, in my case, my branding tells me I should really be funnier than I actually am, for who can take a Flying Aqua Badger in all seriousness.

Lee, thanks for the lesson and hope you feel better before you're out of Dubai.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Bridge between Internal Comms and Employee Base

Reading one of Steve Crescenzo's latest posts about a friend of his having a hard time dealing with internal problems generated from a "Customer First" campaign, it has got me thinking about how employees prefer to be interacted with.

There are online publications, company magazines/newsletters, emails/enewsletters, presentations addressing a full auditorium... to name a few.

I don't ever recall hearing the question "How would you like us to communicate with you?" either in person, though show of hands or other survey.

It's something I constantly see in marketing material.

Daytime telephone number ..............
Evening telephone number ..............
Mobile telephone number .............
Email address .................
What time of day do you prefer to be contacted?
Do you wish to subscribe to our newsletter?

The effort to communicate with employees and customers is somewhat skewed. Where a small number of people are dedicated to talking to employees and their time is typically scarce for low level staff, many multiples more are dedicated to talking to customers/potential customers.

Reluctance to communicate internally may be due to many potential factors, amongst them:
• seen only as a necessary evil
• expense
• confidential information
• poor communication skills
• intimidation

This reluctance must hold back organisational effectiveness and staff engagement.

It runs similar to dressing up; you'll go the extra mile for a public appearance in front of complete strangers, but wear your slacks at home for your spouse.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Is "going forward" Appropriate?

There was a post from Donna Papacosta titled Why is everyone "going forward" ? that I have been meaning to address for the past couple of months.
I can think of so many combinations of words that are much more effective than "going forward." How about
1. From now on
2. In the future
3. From this point on
I'm not a fan of the term but I've been exposed to it so much that I can at least define what it means to me:

Going forward - This is the end state that we want/have to achieve at a near point in time.

For this reason from now on or from this point on are not appropriate replacements, since going forward is used when referring to a process or action that cannot immediately be done.

In the future to me has always indicated pipe dreams. The picture of the future is typically seen as distant and subject to change. Therefore the word future conjures an air of disbelief or uncertainly that this state will be reached.

I suppose in the near future would meet the definition "going forward" has come to mean to me and reduce the amount of eye rolling...

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Transparent Generation - You May or May Not be Getting Noticed

Way back in May last year when I first made the decision that I was going to blog I had two choices:
  1. Post as myself, the real Dan Hill
  2. Post as my netname which I've been using for the past 5 or 6 years previous

I voluntarily stepped up to be part of the Transparent Generation. It wasn't named that at the time, in fact is was only recently coined by Steven Silvers. But still, google was a verb and every in touch website giving career advise warned about being googled by your boss or potential employer.

Recently, this has started being thought of as a good thing, certainly by me. If a CV and covering letter is good enough to grab the attention of a potential employer then I am more than happy to have them find this blog.

Commonly touted in the circles I find myself in is the concept of being professional where you leave your name online. I prefer the mantra of "be real".

This post was inspired by John Wagner's post Attention, Transparent Generation -- that college party pic might just keep you from getting hired.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Child Support Agency - What a Mess

The Child Support Agency, a sub section of the Department of Work and Pensions, is in the headlines again. The scandalous figure of costing £12m to chase down £8m of child maintenance brings a damning verdict that this system doesn't work. £3bn allegedly remains unclaimed. If this was a department in any business there would be a project team set up in seconds refining a better method for doing this "must be done" task.

The CSA website is very helpful in revealing how the agency works. The essential details they need are already in the hands of the Inland Revenue Revenue and Customs agency. All the applicant needs to provide is the "non-resident parent’s” National Insurance number then there's no way that the person can earn a legal wage without being identifiable.

Would a parent really go that far underground to avoid making maintenance payments?

This is all provided that the Inland Revenue Revenue and Customs agency is drafted into the process. The government wouldn't have to chase money to reallocate it, it comes straight to them. All the CSA need do is process the claims and chase up the troublesome cases where the legal parentage is disputed.

As for passing the buck onto profiteering debt collection firms… preposterous. Anyone that thinks the CSA is bad, your typical debt collector is much worse. I’ve had dealings. They haven’t got a clue, the communication that occurs between themselves and their client is appalling and their agenda compromises the whole situation anyway.

The minister that makes that decision needs the sack instantly. Money that belongs to parents with children that need food, clothing and a roof over their head has no place in the coffers of a collection firm.

Sure, Revenue and Customs have got their own problems, but they always will have because the nature of their task is so large. Trust me; anyone that fears Revenue and Customs messing this up hasn’t been on wrong end of a debt collector with poor intelligence.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Life Review



Recently, I have been feeling the need to put some visuals as to where I see myself. In Excel I have drafted a grid which I use to score myself on effort/success and importance in specified areas of my life.
As I say, it's only a draft so I haven't formulated any weighted scoring as yet and even the subject areas are probably not complete. However, it is always better to be doing something opposed to nothing.

This represents only me in comparison to myself. As I haven't yet found a self help author that states you should compare yourself to others, I feel vindicated in this approach.

Scoring key:
0 - Couldn't be handling this area worse
5 - Putting in a satisfactory effort
10 - Incapable of doing any more

The grid gives me an overall score of 3.5 out of 10. I think that feels about right. This was judged on Saturday and will form part of my weekly review. Finally measuring these factors has already prompted me into change so this is only going up.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On Course with Holiday Plan

Following on from my plan on dealing with annual leave, posted last month I have now had it signed off and loaded on the work calendar.

As expected my colleagues have shared their comments with me, some in mild admiration and others with accusations of insanity.

Overall, taking all these viewpoints on board, I'm still enthusiastic towards the plan. Due to critical work commitments one of these holiday periods may have to shake a bit, nothing unexpected there though. It is not a problem. I'm one of those type of people that doesn't take any more than a week off at a time through fear I won't remember how to do the job ;P. Worst come to the worst I may have to test that theory...

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Futility in Masking Your Meaning

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed this morning by Andrew Marr on BBC1's Sunday AM, a news review of the week programme.

Being a Sunday Morning at a time before I had breakfast I wasn't paying too much attention, but I caught wind of them talking about party focus in light of the changes being made in Labours' opposing parties.

Paraphrasing slightly, Tony Blair: "A Conservative centre ground will always be leaning towards the right. A Labour centre ground will be more progressive."
Andrew Marr: "You mean, left?"
Blair: "Well, yes."

What was the point in saying progressive? There was no way in hell that Mr Marr was going to let him get away with it. Progressive means nothing in this context. If any party wasn't moving in a progressive direction then they would cease to exist.

It is your own reinvention of spin that taught us to be cynical, Tony. Better to be honest than open yourself up for criticism by being caught out masking your words.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

"I Will Not Work Under a Drunk"

This is the stance taken by 40% of the Liberal Democrat ministers as things stand. Hmmm, doesn't sound particularly liberal to me. The Liberal Democrat party is the third largest party in British politics and has been doing very well for itself under Charles Kennedy's leadership.
Revelations came this week that he is suffering an alcohol problem. It appears he was pushed into confession before some branch of the press published the story, something of a shame.

Still it left me with a puzzled mind. I haven't heard a peep from the leaders of the two stronger parties, mocking the lesser. That is much to their credit and I hope they do keep their noses out of it.

More intriguing is the dilemma faced by the party and the people within it. What is the right course of action for dealing with a confessed alcoholic boss? In the ordinary world: good old fashioned sympathy and support once they plead for help wouldn't go amiss. Time out for recovery one would have thought.

Our greatest minds never make it into the political arena, too radical. Image is everything. Despite how slow things seem to move there is no time to allow a man to recover from illness.

What a testament it would be, to have the party band together to help their lead man, their friend in this crisis. Instead, despite the next general election being over 3 years away the rush cast Charles aside and bring in the new man is the choice taken.

Sadly, the public are thought of (correctly or otherwise) as simple unenlightened creatures. Too unreliable to risk prolonged exposure the problems in the party where they have the chance to excel themselves morally.

I find it hard to foresee how the Liberal Democrats would capitalize on the ground they have made in this position. Can't help but feel they may have missed an opportunity.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Email Etiquette Tip

Through communication specialist John Wagner's blog I have discovered Technology Evangelist Ed Kohler after he commented there.

How to win a place in my heart: tips.

Ed's email etiquette tip number 5:

Multi-Topic Emails: Email inboxes are commonly used as to-do lists. This is done by marking emails as unread, or flagging emails for follow-up that include pending tasks. This is becomes less efficient in emails containing lists of tasks because the entire list needs to be continually reviewed until the last issue is finally resolved. Tip: Make life easier the people on the receiving end of your assignments by sending tasks in multiple emails than one.

Bane of my life. As one of these common people where one email is defined as one job, this one sings to me.

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Social Reluctants and Life Online

Roger Dooley recently offered commentary about the success of neopets.com on his post titled The Virtual Life of Neopets.

Here's a snippet:
I find it interesting as a phenomenon - is this the direction in which humanity is headed? Will virtual communities replace physical interaction for all but the most basic human needs? Neopets isn’t the only example - online games like Everquest, discussion and blog communities, chat and instant messaging, all allow interaction with other people who aren’t physically present or even nearby.

To the extent that individuals can interact with others who share common interests by virtual contact, this is a good thing. If individuals completely abandon their local, “real”, communities, though, we could be damaging the fabric of our society.

I first came across Neopets® a couple of years ago when my younger brother was using the site. A natural extension from the Tamagotchi toy it is not surprising that an online version has caused quite a craze.

The extreame that Roger depicts is indeed a cause for concern. Myself, I don't find it particularly scary. Social reluctants will always find a way to entertain themselves away in their own private corner. Television and video games have been around long enough to fuel that concern.

I hoping the major pro and con of these sort of activities will even out.

The pro:
Being online you can communicate whilst you're doing it. Roger also mentioned instant messaging, chat rooms and other online games in the context of the activities on the internet that provide inter-personal interaction without physical presence.
Personally, I'm glad for it. It brings diversity. On the back of a yahoo pool game I played a couple of years ago I have struck up a great friendship with an American who I would never have conceivably discovered if it wasn't for an online game. And this year or the next I have every intention of flying over there to meet this good friend in person.

The con:
It is deeply immersive. This isn't like watching TV or playing video games. You (can) play with real people, communicate with real people. This takes the limits off the closed possibilities. These activities provoke genuine feelings. The feelings some can have online may be better than those they have in 'real' life.

We shouldn't fear this. Even the quiet types love to communicate. I love communicating in the written form. At least online the reclusive have an opportunity to communicate with real people, from a much wider selection of individuals then they would find in their small home community.

Local community spirit has been in decline for some time, the cause of which is far harder to pin down. But that's another post.

That being said, as this topic has been for some time, it's worth keeping an eye on...

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Marketing, Community Building and Other reasons to Blog

On the back of recent posts from John Wagner and Lee Hopkins I thought it would be prudent to again write a little about why I blog.

I look back to my previous posts Blogging Case Study & Unrealised Milestones for the answers I have given before.

I will continue to blog as it is a nice, simple way to figure out who I am and where I am going. For that part, I am one of the eventual billion diarists ‘diaring’.

Diary style weblogs I find are the quickest to die, the easiest to lose interest in. Those that type their posts just to record their thoughts will more often than not lose interest. As a self-improvement junkie, I see blog writing as a tool to evaluate me and my future self.

Lee offers this thought:

So then why blog? I see two purposes:

  • one as a marketing channel for a product, service or ourselves (reflecting the Brand You concept of Tom Peters et al);
  • the other as a tool for community building.

For those that do not host a website it may be purely to build a web presence, to feel validated. As I have said before, I do not believe in anonymity on the internet.

Before I have accepted that people may just like floating in the ether as it were, commenting wherever they come across but not holding a place of their own. However, recent events have prompted me to turn off anonymous commenting to this blog because the people that like to do this tend more often than not to be trolls.

Marketing sounds so deliberate. For better or worse, if you are going to identify yourself on the web then the possibility exists for your present or future employer to read the material. So if you are not marketing yourself you are either missing an opportunity or potentially putting yourself in a spot of danger.

So if you name yourself and narrow down a location, you are marketing yourself, by intention or otherwise, whether you like it or not.

Community building, one of my favourite reasons for blogging. The magic number being banded about on the internet is 150. This is the maximum number of people a normal human can establish a proper relationship with. For the internet, the number is 150 and the relationships may be one-way or two-way.

Back in the olden days, this number would be 151. A community, isolated by geography, where each individual has a relationship with 150 people and each one is reciprocated.

So here I am, offering my voice in my community which I built, because on the net you do not fall into a community the same way as you would in your geographical location, you have to build your own.

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