Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fed Beige Books reveals contrast in Southeast and rest of nation

Reading the above title, I’ll bet you thought that the Southeast is doing better than the rest of the country.  That has been the case for quite a while, but not this time.  When one reads the Atlanta District Summary it goes something like this:

Home sales slowed – outlook pessimistic;
Commercial real estate weak;
Manufacturing rate slowed;
Businesses expand temporary hires; and
Tourism reports generally positive – business travel up.

The national summary sounds something like this:

Economic activity increased or held steady;
Manufacturing activity moved up in some districts – automotive suppliers increased;
Retail sales generally positive;
Commercial real estate and homes sales continue to struggle;
Energy sector increased; and
Labor markets improved.

One sure thing to take away from reading the Beige Book is that economic activity is not uniform across the country.  Some areas, especially those with diversified economies, seem to be improving.  Areas that have most of their economic eggs in one basket are seeing a crack here and there.  At any rate, the Beige Book offers interesting and instructive reading.

Using the arts for revitalization

Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Meridian, Mississippi have more in common than first meets the eye. Each has a population of about 40,000 residents, both are over 80 miles from the nearest metropolitan area and both lost population beginning in 1960, although it appears that recently there has been population growth in both places.

What struck me about these cities is how each is using the arts as a catalyst for revitalization.  In Meridian, the Riley Center attracts over 60,000 visitors for concerts, conferences and other events.  In Pittsfield, the Barrington Stage Company is bringing in over 45,000 visitors annually.

For more on how Pittsfield is using arts to revitalize the community, click here to read an article in the online edition of the Boston Globe.  Then check out the Wikipedia entry for Pittsfield and the entry for Meridian to compare the two cities.

Pen and paper or keyboarding?

Books and articles for writers often extol the virtues of putting thoughts on paper with a pen. Some mention the physical connection between the brain and the hand. Some say that it is more natural to write by hand.

Other writers say that keyboarding is far superior, especially if there is a computer around. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the iPad compared to a tablet PC Steve Jobs said that on the tablet “…handwriting was probably the slowest input method ever invented and that it was doomed to failure.”

So, which is better? The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends not just on the preference of the writer, but the time and situation as well. I sometimes feel more productive and creative when manipulating the keys. It’s sort of like playing a musical instrument, especially the piano. When thoughts and ideas are really flowing, writing by hand slows me down.

An yet, some of my better writing occurs when I write by hand, and then enter what I have written into the computer. This method creates a wonderful editing step. Sometimes I yearn for the pen. One thing I like about the pen is that I can doodle. I draw pictures, charts, cartoons and just whatever helps me organize my thoughts. Margins on paper are a great place to put down ideas or things that do not need to be forgotten or that the writer can come back to. I also like underlining, highlighting, arrows, circles, and the like. Using pen and paper to write is also more convenient, especially when traveling by air where it is almost impossible to open a laptop computer.

In short, whichever works better for the individual writer is the preferred choice.

Chilly offices inhibit productivity

Warm workers work better, an ergonomics study at Cornell University finds.

Chilly workers not only make more errors but cooler temperatures could increase a worker’s hourly labor cost by 10 percent, estimates Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory.

When the office temperature in a month-long study increased from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, typing errors fell by 44 percent and typing output jumped 150 percent. Hedge’s study was exploring the link between changes in the physical environment and work performance.

A penny – no, 99 pennies – for your thoughts

The Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, MA announced today that that it is charging a fee of 99 cents to post a comment on a story, according to an article in  The stated purpose is to police comments.  I can certainly understand this action given some of the asinine reaction comments to just about any article in an online edition of the newspaper.  Spam messages also have a way of getting into the comments section. It seems to occur mostly in daily newspapers.
I checked the Sun Chronicle’s Web site and learned that the 99 cents is apparently a one-time registration fee. Also, commenters must use their real names.  This is just another example of what happens when people abuse a system.  I would not mind seeing all newspapers go to requiring real names of commenters.  That’s the same policy as a letter to the editor.  I’m all for free speech, but I’m also for responsible speech.  This policy seems to accommodate both.

Best degree for a CEO job

When adjusting for size of the pool of graduates, those with undergraduate degrees in Economics are shown to have had a greater likelihood of becoming an S&P 500 CEO than any other major, according to research by the Social Science Research Network.
Click here to read the report.