Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The fall of a kingdom

There were lots of public celebrations in Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal, after the announcement about the abolition of the Nepalese Monarchy. A constituent assembly voted to remove king Gyanendra (and the whole royal institution that he represented) from power, and to turn Nepal into a republic.

Not everything were celebrations and jubilation, as some groups loyal to the king and the Nepalese royalty allegedly reacted violently to the decision. Regardless, the days of the Nepalese Monarchy come to an end after 240 years, and king Gyanendra was requested to leave the royal palace that will eventually become a museum.

An interesting fact is that a political party that claims to have a Maoist tendency will be ruling the new republic. It is not clear yet whether the new republic will follow a communist system. It is true that Nepal is leaving an absolutist system in which the king's will was the law. However, supposing that Nepal will indeed be ruled in a communist fashion, then we should really wonder how beneficial was to overthrow the Monarchy in the first place, as many communist regimes around the world have proved to excel in violations of human rights, censorship of freedom of speech, and brutal repression of ideologies that differ from the ruling party's. However, these are only scenarios that may happen, and by no means I am guaranteeing that this is the way things will work in a foreseeable future.

In any case, congratulations to the people of Nepal for finding a peaceful way to transition, and I sincerely hope that this change comes for good for their nation.

Read the full note from BBC News

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Odds of making a hole-in-one are low, but...

Ah! Scoring a hole-in-one... the dream of every golfer. They are rare events, and sometimes golfers who are able to score a hole-in-one (or "ace") receive cash prizes and other rewards. And that's exactly the point where hole-in-ones become an expense to golf courses and organizers of golf tournaments.

The odds of scoring a hole-in-one are not very high. According to estimations made by actuaries from insurance companies, the odds of an average golfer (just like myself) to make an "ace" are quite low: 12,000 to 1.

If that's so, then I should consider myself lucky of having made a hole-in-one today. It was on the 7th hole, par 3, 77 yards. It is very strange, and it is even more when you consider that my skills in golf are slightly lower than the average weekend player. But I just got lucky... and got my ace. Too bad I didn't get any sort of cash prize for it, but at least I got a certificate from the golf course and a pin that reads "Hole in one, Henderson Park Golf Course" (picture on the left side, my apologies for the poor resolution) to make the feat memorable. Pretty cool.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Instant messaging: The evolution

Once upon a time, back in the days when instant messaging was an incipient concept (i.e., in the mid 1990's), an Israeli company named Mirabilis launched a product to the internet. It's name was ICQ (which didn't stand for anything at all; the choice of those three letters was only to represent the sentence I-seek-you), and it became the most popular instant messaging tool in the web for many years. ICQ was a key factor that attracted people to instant messaging, to the extent that a great amount of users signed up for the service and they spent a fair amount of their time (free or otherwise) chatting. But the times when ICQ was the standard of instant messaging came to an end when Mirabilis got purchased by AOL, which also ran its own instant messaging service (AIM) that exists until today.

By the time when AOL ran simultaneously ICQ and AIM, instant messaging was already popular enough to be considered a business with a promising growth potential. But AIM was not the competitor that brought ICQ down from its throne as the king of the instant messaging services. It was not even Yahoo, which became a company known for its innovation and the reliability of its services. It was Microsoft's Windows Messenger. Microsoft found an excellent opportunity to gain a considerable market share of the instant messaging industry by including its messaging program on their Windows operating system. They were successful in becoming the standard for instant messaging.

It looks that the industry is taking a new twist again. As I have been having more spare time than usual lately, I have also had more time to surf the internet and explore what new tools are there available to allow users to keep in touch with their friends and contacts. My surprise was immense when I logged into my Facebook and I noticed a small green dot in the bottom right corner of the screen. Yes, it is true: That dot was Facebook's new chat system!

Well, the idea of adding an instant messaging tool to Facebook is very good, due to the high volume and the profile of users subscribed to such service. Even though their instant messaging service's interface is still rather rudimentary, it looks that the service has been welcomed by users and they're utilizing the service the same way they use Microsoft's Windows Messenger.

There are two big questions that come to my mind at this point:

  1. If we consider that employees (especially teenagers often doing entry level, retail positions) were already spending a considerable time in their jobs to surf through Facebook, will the addition of this feature have an impact in their overall performance, and hence in their employers' businesses?
  2. Will Facebook's instant messaging take a chunk of Windows Messenger's (and the other well-established) instant messaging services market share? Or will it rather be a complementary service to it?
The answers to these questions will definitely be reflected in the long term. For now, all we can say is that these types of service through the web keep evolving and flourishing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why is job hunting nightmerish?

Job hunting is not a pleasant experience by any means. It may become extremely frustrating and boring, sometimes even painful, and from time to time the job hunter can reach the point in which it appears that their hunt will never end. It's not something to be glad of, and it doesn't look that the evolution of the labor market is really easing that.

From my experience, I believe that I found the reason for which job hunting is such a nightmare sometimes. It is not always related to the applicants and their skills set. There are quite a few factors that make the job hunting process a very unpleasant time for people looking to get a job (not necessarily the job of their dreams, but any job). They are related to the poor commitment of potential employers to ease the conditions for job seekers. Here are a few examples of that:

  • When looking for jobs, one of the most annoying phrases to read at the end of the job descriptions is: “We would like to thank all applicants, however only those under consideration will be contacted”. If I had to rank that from the scale from 0 to 10, 0 being not annoying at all and 10 being the most annoying level, I would place it right in the most extreme point of 10. Would it be too much hassle to at least notify applicants that their application was received successfully? Instead of that, employers do not notify anything, and they are giving the clue that “if we don't like your resume and cover letter, we will throw them to our garbage bin without further notification”. Nice.

  • As if the point above was not annoying enough, there are quite a few employers out there who add the following instruction: “No phone calls please”. This means that applicants will not only not be notified whether their application is being reviewed by the company or it went straight to the organization's recycle bins, but they also won't have the opportunity to follow up their case. In other words, they are giving the following message: “send your application and wait forever to find out whether our company is interested in your services or not. Don't phone us to ask directly, because we won't tell you”. Phew.

  • It is very understandable that companies are trying to pick the best people to work for them. But there is a difference between setting requirements to hire the best of the best, and setting requirements that are beyond all reality. It doesn't make much sense that companies ask applicants to have “3-5 years of experience, proven success in doing certain tasks, a master's degree, and a combined technical and business background” for entry-level positions that will pay low wages, and for which mainly new graduates will apply. How do they think that new grads will gain the years of work experience that they ask for, when all the companies out there want experienced people as well? There are very few companies that are really giving new grads a chance to gain experience, the one that all of the companies require applicants to have. At the end of the day, an applicant should better have some years of experience after graduation in order to have any aspirations to find a job afterwards... who knows how will they achieve that.

Normally employers make their best to let people know that applicants are the only cause for which they cannot place themselves, but they don't consider that they don't do a lot to make the process easier either. But well, that's the world of job hunting, everywhere. It is not a nice experience, but it appears that we all have to visit that dark chapter of life from time to time. To people who are out there looking for jobs, keep working on that, and have my best wishes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Only 'voices in your head'?

Next time you hear voices in your head, it might not only be your imagination: It may be hypersonic sound targeted at you.

A note published in a newspaper reports the development of a new technology, called hypersonic sound, that allows to send sound messages in open places (e.g. a mall, the streets, a park, etc) to a specific recipient. The interesting part is that only such intended recipient will hear the sound or message; the people around won't hear it. The trick is that sound waves are sent at a very low pitch, which can't be perceived by the human hear. The waves restore their normal pitch when crashing an object, or a person.

This concept sounds partly cool, partly frightening. As some groups advocate and fear, this can be used by marketers to flood target audiences with advertisements and other undesired messages, effectively invading people's privacy. But on the other hand, it might have other useful applications, such as in certain types of alarms intended for only a specific person or group of people.

Although the development and application of this technology in a wider sense looks to be coming in a few years, the idea (and the results of the first tests) are already being controversial. Hopefully, this kind of technology can be used for really useful purposes, and not only to flood people with marketing campaigns.

Click here to read the whole note from the Times Colonist

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The $0.15 donut drama

This is the story of a coffee-shop employee, a baby, a $0.15 donut, and a huge corporation -- and the tragicomedy that mingled them all.

As a bit of background for people who are not from Canada, Tim Hortons is the largest Canadian retailer of coffee and baked products, such as donuts and bagels. This restaurant chain is extremely popular among Canadian consumers, to the extent that it is very scary to pass outside one of their locations in the morning hours, as you can literally see lines of people around the block waiting to get served coffee and donuts there. One of their most widely-known products are the Timbits -- which are nothing more than donut centers (see picture below). That is, each Timbit is about the size of a golf ball at best, and they are normally sold in boxes containing 10, 20 or 40 units. However, it is possible to purchase each Timbit by piece, and the price is about $0.15 dollars each.

Well, it looks that an employee somewhere in the province of Ontario, being very committed to providing customer satisfaction and a nice shopping experience for people there, decided that it would be a nice gesture to give a baby a single Timbit for free. It is very probable that the baby got a lot of customer satisfaction from the employee's action, and the employee herself potentially got some satisfaction for making the baby happy. But the store manager, and maybe the whole Tim Hortons corporation didn't find that gesture as nice, so they decided to teach her a lesson: they fired the employee!

This is a new low I never imagined could happen. Does it make any sense that a company that reported a net income of $61.8 million dollars during the first quarter of 2008 alone fires an employee (a single mother of four children) for giving away a product worth $0.15, for the sake of customer satisfaction? Say that giving away products for free is against the policies within Tim Hortons. In that case, why wouldn't the managers instruct the employee to pay herself for the Timbit she gave away, and warn her not to do something like that in the future?

Well, just like you and I, the Tim Hortons corporation realized that firing an employee for an absolutely irrelevant incident didn't make any sense, so they decided to hire the employee again and move her to a different location. At the end of the day, it looks that the only loser of this oddity is Tim Hortons' corporate image, as incidents like these don't enhance their reputation by any means.

Maybe I should start double checking the amount of Timbits I get when I purchase a 20-piece box. Then I could have good grounds to sue Tim Hortons if I ever find out that at least one is missing from my box!

Click here to read the full story from Yahoo Canada

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Oh my! My email made me a millionaire!

Good news keep coming to people's email accounts. Some of us have received irresistible offers to buy medicines and counterfeit products, some others have been selected to answer an online customer service survey in exchange of a monetary gratification from a bank in which we don't even have an account... but only a few of us are fortunate enough to win a lottery prize for which we didn't even buy a ticket!

I felt so lucky a couple of days ago, when I checked my email and found there a new message that got my attention right away. The subject was "Congratulation===Ref:PRLUK/56POLG/02", and it read as follows:

Premier League Lottery Sweepstakes,
Corporate Headquarters,
91 Station Road,
West Drayton, Middlesex UB7 7LT,
United Kingdom.
Batch: 02/78/2010


The Premier League Lottery program held in London 2008.
Happily announce to you the draw of your e-mail address
attached to ticketnumber:512-20658001-034 with Serial
number 0712/04 drew the lucky numbers:20-4-11-19-05-1,
which subsequently won you the lottery prize in
the 2nd category. You have therefore been approved to
claim a total sum of GBP£1,000,000.00 (One Million Great
Britain pounds) in cash credited to file C/9080118308/02.
This is from a total cash prize of GBP£50 Million
pounds, shared amongst the first fifteen (15)
lucky winners in this category.

AGENT: Mr.Gary Rodney/Mrs.Jewel Thompson
Phone: +447031901402

Yours Faithfully,
Mr.Steve Hayes.
Premier League International

Exciting isn't it? But lots of questions came to my mind. For instance, what kind of generous organization was kindly rewarding me with £1 million for just having a free, web based email address? It was very interesting to find out that an organization based in England would be rewarding me with that kind of money, given the fact that I have never been myself to England. And the fact that the name of the lottery company is related to the English Premier Soccer League, along with the poor grammar to build some of the sentences in the message, makes it lose all credibility.

Another interesting detail is in the further actions to cash the prize. The lucky winner, in this case myself, has to contact either an individual named Gary Rodney or a lady named Jewel Thompson, both of whom can be reached in an email address belonging to the domain. In other words, it's a free email account (which anyone can open freely, without any effort, and in a matter of minutes) held in the Yahoo-Hong Kong site. It is pretty bizarre that a company based in England has to open email accounts in Hong Kong, under the Yahoo domain. Is it possible that they don't have enough money to open their own domain (something like when they can give away prizes worth £50 million?

I decided to keep looking for things that didn't make any sense, and I certainly found them. I used some of the most popular search engines to find out more about this email message, and it looks that at least 5 more people 'won' money in this lottery... all of us with exactly the same ticket and serial numbers! What a coincidence. Just impressive.

There have been so many of these scams running through the internet lately, that someone decided to gather a compilation of lottery winning notification emails and publish them on a website. If you wish to have a nice time reading a few of these emails to find out all the incongruities and grammar mistakes, visit that page by clicking here.

I really wonder if there are people out there who can possibly take the bait of these cheap tricks...