Category Archives: links

Working Better: How to Use Your Email Effectively – Business – GOOD

Every three months, GOOD releases our quarterly magazine, which examines a given theme through our unique lens. Recent editions have covered topics like the impending global water crisis, the future of transportation, and the amazing rebuilding of New Orleans. This quarter’s issue is about work, and we’ll be rolling out a variety of stories all month.


Chances are good that at some point, you’ve implemented some fancy email technique that you were certain could rid you of your chronic email anxiety via color-coded folders and an elaborate filtering system. You took the workshop or read the book, and then six weeks after it totally changed your life, you stopped doing it, only to find your inbox even messier than it was before. So what to do? Keep it simple. These strategies are tried and true—and easy as hell to keep up.

Embrace “Inbox Zero,” sometimes. The Inbox Zero model essentially says that an empty inbox is a happy inbox (and a happy you). It might not be practical for everyone to do every single day, but once a week, set aside an hour to make sure every email that demands your attention has received it. Once it’s done, file it away in a folder (something like “Old Mail”). It’s a great example of a little up-front work that makes your life so much easier in the long run.

For work emails, set a tone and keep it short. If you’re always really chatty in your emails, people will come to expect that from you and may be thrown off if, in a rush, you dash off something curt. Develop a consistent email personality for business correspondence that is polite, professional, and to the point—then stick to it.

Change your email settings. Tell Facebook and Twitter that you don’t want to get updates sent to your inbox. 

Unsubscribe. It takes five seconds and clears the muck. 

Check it less. Some productivity gurus advise us to check our email only twice or three times a day. If that seems unrealistic, how about once every hour instead of clicking every time you see the number go up on your inbox icon? Most things can wait at least that long.

Set up an auto reply. If you’re so backed up on email that it’s interfering with your work and offending people, you can let them know with a humble and honest auto reply that says as much. But do this very sparingly. Anyone who emails you more than once will get your bounce-back repeatedly, which can get annoying fast.

If you’re really hosed, declare email bankruptcy. This is a last resort—and a borderline obnoxious one. But if you’re so bogged down in email that you don’t know how to dig yourself out, this is an option. You simply tell every person in your inbox that you’ve deleted their email, and to please resend it if it’s important. It’s basically getting yourself to Inbox Zero without the work. Just make sure you keep up with the new messages.

Good ideas for keeping email a useful tool versus a weighty burden.

Posted via email from pearl’s posterous

What to do when body parts fall off

The first thing you do when a body part becomes detached is control the bleeding. Put direct pressure on the wound and elevate it higher than the heart, advises Dr. Dave Manthey, professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Then rinse off the severed finger or toe (or part thereof).

“You are trying to decrease the bacteria,” Manthey explains. “But don’t scrub it. If you scrub, you’re causing blunt force damage.”

Now get a clean cloth or piece of sterile gauze, dampen it with cold water and wrap the finger or toe in it. Then put the wrapped appendage into a plastic bag and put the bag in cold (preferably iced) water.

Finally, notes Manthey, keep the body part with you. For example, don’t give it to a spouse, who might end up getting separated from you on the way to the hospital.

Tips for what to do if a body part comes detached. Hope you’ll never need it, but as NBC said, “The More You Know”!

Posted via email from pearl’s posterous

Famous last words: “Acceptable Industry Standards”

The Wall Street Journal has a very in-depth look at the decisions and oversights that led to the BP oil rig catastrophe.

BP Decisions Made Well Vulnerable – WSJ.com.

One of the final tasks was to cement in place the steel pipe that ran into the oil reservoir. The cement would fill the space between the outside of the pipe and the rock, preventing any gas from flowing up the sides.

Halliburton, the cementing contractor, advised BP to install numerous devices to make sure the pipe was centered in the well before pumping cement, according to Halliburton documents, provided to congressional investigators and seen by the Journal. Otherwise, the cement might develop small channels that gas could squeeze through.

In an April 18 report to BP, Halliburton warned that if BP didn’t use more centering devices, the well would likely have “a SEVERE gas flow problem.” Still, BP decided to install fewer of the devices than Halliburton recommended—six instead of 21.

BP said it’s still investigating how cementing was done. Halliburton said that it followed BP’s instructions, and that while some “were not consistent with industry best practices,” they were “within acceptable industry standards.”

Sounds like those “acceptable industry standards” might warrant a second look.

Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook

Ban Facebook

Let’s all ban Facebook!

Update: Due to the surprising popularity of this post, I feel I should be absolutely clear about my role as VP of Engineering for a Hollywood-based social media startup, BorderStylo. The opinions expressed here are purely my own and are not in any way endorsed by my employer. While I do not see our applications as directly competitive to Facebook, nor have I presented them as such, it would be disingenuous not to mention this.

After some reflection, I’ve decided to delete my account on Facebook. I’d like to encourage you to do the same. This is part altruism and part selfish. The altruism part is that I think Facebook, as a company, is unethical. The selfish part is that I’d like my own social network to migrate away from Facebook so that I’m not missing anything. In any event, here’s my “Top Ten” reasons for why you should join me and many others and delete your account.

10. Facebook’s Terms Of Service are completely one-sided. Let’s start with the basics. Facebook’s Terms Of Service state that not only do they own your data (section 2.1), but if you don’t keep it up to date and accurate (section 4.6), they can terminate your account (section 14). You could argue that the terms are just protecting Facebook’s interests, and are not in practice enforced, but in the context of their other activities, this defense is pretty weak. As you’ll see, there’s no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt. Essentially, they see their customers as unpaid employees for crowd-sourcing ad-targeting data.

9. Facebook’s CEO has a documented history of unethical behavior. From the very beginning of Facebook’s existence, there are questions about Zuckerberg’s ethics. According to BusinessInsider.com, he used Facebook user data to guess email passwords and read personal email in order to discredit his rivals. These allegations, albeit unproven and somewhat dated, nonetheless raise troubling questions about the ethics of the CEO of the world’s largest social network. They’re particularly compelling given that Facebook chose to fork over $65M to settle a related lawsuit alleging that Zuckerberg had actually stolen the idea for Facebook.

8. Facebook has flat out declared war on privacy. Founder and CEO of Facebook, in defense of Facebook’s privacy changes last January: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.” More recently, in introducing the Open Graph API: “… the default is now social.” Essentially, this means Facebook not only wants to know everything about you, and own that data, but to make it available to everybody. Which would not, by itself, necessarily be unethical, except that …

7. Facebook is pulling a classic bait-and-switch. At the same time that they’re telling developers how to access your data with new APIs, they are relatively quiet about explaining the implications of that to members. What this amounts to is a bait-and-switch. Facebook gets you to share information that you might not otherwise share, and then they make it publicly available. Since they are in the business of monetizing information about you for advertising purposes, this amounts to tricking their users into giving advertisers information about themselves. This is why Facebook is so much worse than Twitter in this regard: Twitter has made only the simplest (and thus, more credible) privacy claims and their customers know up front that all their tweets are public. It’s also why the FTC is getting involved, and people are suing them (and winning).

Update: Check out this excellent timeline from the EFF documenting the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy.

6. Facebook is a bully. When Pete Warden demonstrated just how this bait-and-switch works (by crawling all the data that Facebook’s privacy settings changes had inadvertently made public) they sued him. Keep in mind, this happened just before they announced the Open Graph API and stated that the “default is now social.” So why sue an independent software developer and fledgling entrepreneur for making data publicly available when you’re actually already planning to do that yourself? Their real agenda is pretty clear: they don’t want their membership to know how much data is really available. It’s one thing to talk to developers about how great all this sharing is going to be; quite another to actually see what that means in the form of files anyone can download and load into MatLab.

5. Even your private data is shared with applications. At this point, all your data is shared with applications that you install. Which means now you’re not only trusting Facebook, but the application developers, too, many of whom are too small to worry much about keeping your data secure. And some of whom might be even more ethically challenged than Facebook. In practice, what this means is that all your data – all of it – must be effectively considered public, unless you simply never use any Facebook applications at all. Coupled with the OpenGraph API, you are no longer trusting Facebook, but the Facebook ecosystem.

4. Facebook is not technically competent enough to be trusted. Even if we weren’t talking about ethical issues here, I can’t trust Facebook’s technical competence to make sure my data isn’t hijacked. For example, their recent introduction of their “Like” button makes it rather easy for spammers to gain access to my feed and spam my social network. Or how about this gem for harvesting profile data? These are just the latest of a series of Keystone Kops mistakes, such as accidentally making users’ profiles completely public, or the cross-site scripting hole that took them over two weeks to fix. They either don’t care too much about your privacy or don’t really have very good engineers, or perhaps both.

3. Facebook makes it incredibly difficult to truly delete your account. It’s one thing to make data public or even mislead users about doing so; but where I really draw the line is that, once you decide you’ve had enough, it’s pretty tricky to really delete your account. They make no promises about deleting your data and every application you’ve used may keep it as well. On top of that, account deletion is incredibly (and intentionally) confusing. When you go to your account settings, you’re given an option to deactivate your account, which turns out not to be the same thing as deleting it. Deactivating means you can still be tagged in photos and be spammed by Facebook (you actually have to opt out of getting emails as part of the deactivation, an incredibly easy detail to overlook, since you think you’re deleting your account). Finally, the moment you log back in, you’re back like nothing ever happened! In fact, it’s really not much different from not logging in for awhile. To actually delete your account, you have to find a link buried in the on-line help (by “buried” I mean it takes five clicks to get there). Or you can just click here. Basically, Facebook is trying to trick their users into allowing them to keep their data even after they’ve “deleted” their account.

2. Facebook doesn’t (really) support the Open Web. The so-called Open Graph API is named so as to disguise its fundamentally closed nature. It’s bad enough that the idea here is that we all pitch in and make it easier than ever to help Facebook collect more data about you. It’s bad enough that most consumers will have no idea that this data is basically public. It’s bad enough that they claim to own this data and are aiming to be the one source for accessing it. But then they are disingenuous enough to call it “open,” when, in fact, it is completely proprietary to Facebook. You can’t use this feature unless you’re on Facebook. A truly open implementation would work with whichever social network we prefer, and it would look something like OpenLike. Similarly, they implement just enough of OpenID to claim they support it, while aggressively promoting a proprietary alternative, Facebook Connect.

1. The Facebook application itself sucks. Between the farms and the mafia wars and the “top news” (which always guesses wrong – is that configurable somehow?) and the myriad privacy settings and the annoying ads (with all that data about me, the best they can apparently do is promote dating sites, because, uh, I’m single) and the thousands upon thousands of crappy applications, Facebook is almost completely useless to me at this point. Yes, I could probably customize it better, but the navigation is ridiculous, so I don’t bother. (And, yet, somehow, I can’t even change colors or apply themes or do anything to make my page look personalized.) Let’s not even get into how slowly your feed page loads. Basically, at this point, Facebook is more annoying than anything else.

Facebook is clearly determined to add every feature of every competing social network in an attempt to take over the Web (this is a never-ending quest that goes back to AOL and those damn CDs that were practically falling out of the sky). While Twitter isn’t the most usable thing in the world, at least they’ve tried to stay focused and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.

I often hear people talking about Facebook as though they were some sort of monopoly or public trust. Well, they aren’t. They owe us nothing. They can do whatever they want, within the bounds of the laws. (And keep in mind, even those criteria are pretty murky when it comes to social networking.) But that doesn’t mean we have to actually put up with them. Furthermore, their long-term success is by no means guaranteed – have we all forgotten MySpace? Oh, right, we have. Regardless of the hype, the fact remains that Sergei Brin or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett could personally acquire a majority stake in Facebook without even straining their bank account. And Facebook’s revenue remains more or less a rounding error for more established tech companies.

While social networking is a fun new application category enjoying remarkable growth, Facebook isn’t the only game in town. I don’t like their application nor how they do business and so I’ve made my choice to use other providers. And so can you.

Thanks to David Harthcock for creating the great “Ban Facebook” graphic.

Food for thought.

Posted via web from pearl’s posterous