Life goes on. Mon, 29 May 2017 20:53:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When To Undergo Skin Tag Removal Surgery Mon, 30 Jan 2017 17:18:43 +0000 skin-tag-surgerySkin tag removal is a medical procedure that does not need to be urgent. This means that people having it may or may not undergo the procedure because skin tags do not impose health conditions. However, there are times when skin tag removal is necessary. You may consider getting a tag removed because it affects your self esteem and it is not good to look at. Aside from that, there are skin tags that snag on the jewelry or clothing and tend to bleed later on. Hence, undergoing a medical procedure to remove of skin tags would be recommended to eliminate the bleeding and avoid possible infection.

Physical and mental health is often affected by the presence of skin tags. Removing tags will enhance the self-esteem of the individual and eliminate the chance of pain. Undergoing a medical procedure will require the individual to pay for it but this is not an invasive type of procedure. It only takes a couple of minutes to remove the skin tags, but one should remember to keep the area dry and clean after the process skin tag removal. As much as possible follow the advice of the doctor in avoiding the growth of skin tags.

See: Factors To Consider When Removing Skin Tags

Why Some People Consider Skin Tag Removal Surgery

Skin tag removal procedures are not very common because some people just don’t want to bother. Aside from the fact that they do not impose a medical condition, they are also painless and do not cause discomfort in many cases. However, there are some people who choose to remove the skin tags for different reasons.

First, their self esteem is greatly affected. Skin tags grow on areas like groin, armpits, neck and even under the breasts. Their presence can be bothersome, especially if it the tag is large enough to be rubbed by clothing. This is why these people invest on skin tag removal procedures in order to uplift their self-esteem and have a clear and smooth skin later on.

Second, some people undergo a surgical removal of a skin tag because it bleeds easily when rubbed. This may be due to the frequent friction caused by tight clothing or wearing of jewelry on areas where it is present. When this is encountered, it is very important to seek medical help because there is an open wound already. Avoiding infection and further irritation is the primary concern in this stage. Hence, skin tag removal should be done under the supervision of a licensed doctor or dermatologist.

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How To Fail In Business – An Essay Fri, 15 May 2015 20:36:06 +0000 I run a one-man consulting business called dh Engineering. I’m a mechanical engineer specializing in finite element analysis (FEA), a service I offer to companies (such as Xerox and Kodak) to aid in the manufacture of products. My analysis requires specialized software that can solve hundreds of thousands of simultaneous equations. My professional field may be specialized, but I think my business problems are common. The main problem has been bringing in business, which is something all consultants have to deal with.

fibFollow me through my start-up and first six years, and use me as a great example of what not to do. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned by making mistakes. Here is some advice that may help self-employed people, or those contemplating quitting their current jobs to begin the long, hard journey into self-employment.


Six years ago I quit my warm, comfortable position at a Fortune 500 company without a clue as to how I was going to stay alive! That was not very smart. I just wanted to run my own business, control my own destiny, and maybe make some money. I thought I could simply “hang out my shingle” and watch the jobs roll in. They didn’t. After a few months, the fear of never getting any business gripped me. My thoughts ran wild. What was I going to do? Finally, after six months, I landed my first job.

This entire scenario could have been avoided had I done my homework and gotten my ducks in a row before saving goodbye to that nice, steady salary. Not every new business needs a full-fledged business plan, but you must do some kind of advance planning before you have a farewell lunch with your employer.


The best suggestion I can offer is to start your new business on a part-time basis. This may not always be possible, but give the idea a lot of thought before you discard it. A part-time business allows you to keep the benefits of employment with your current company while letting you check out the potential of the new business.

My father ran a part-time printing business for five years before he quit his job and committed to it full-time. He continued his printing business for the next 25 years, supported his family, and made enough money to retire a 62–not rich, but comfortable. Yes, running a side business means working nights and weekends. But if the new business doesn’t work out, you’re not left hanging.

In my own situation, an association with an established consulting firm would have helped me understand the business and make contacts. I could also have bought into an established consulting business, which would have lowered my profit potential, but would have made me reasonably certain of getting some clients right off the bat. Or I could have tried to land some part-time analysis projects with small companies.


Not only did I leave my job without having a plan–I left without getting as much of a cushion as I could have. My employer offered “reduction-in-force” policies almost once a year. If I had beem more patient and had maneuvered in the company until I qualified for a reduction-in-force layoff, I would have had more time to plan my move into self-employment. Of course, if you’re fired without notice, none of this advice helps.

If your current company offers reduction-in-force opportunities, take them. Most planned layoffs give you weeks of severance, medical coverage, and insurance.

Another note about leaving your employer: Never, ever burn your bridges. Even if your former boss is a complete jerk, leave the company on good terms. Your past employer can often be a source of income or references. I left my company with a smile and a handshake, and I’ve done contract work for them since I left.


Be realistic. Don’t expect anyone to help you. Take all advice (including mine) with a grain of salt. Promises of future business need to be written in a contract before you quit your job and start out on your own. I had several promises of consulting work when I started, but nothing on paper. It turned out that only one person actually gave me any work–and that was after six months had gone by. Welcome to the real world. It’s easy to become mesmerized at a large company and lose any idea of what life is like on the outside. Be careful not to fool yourself into thinking that the way you work inside a company will prepare you for life “outside.”


No matter what type of business you’re in, you must generate sales. Without sales you die. How do you get sales? The only way is to inform potential customers of your product or service.

The most effective method of selling my consulting services is networking. This often means I have to make cold calls. I never feel comfortable doing this. But it has to be done. If I don’t make calls, my business dries up.

In the first days of my new business, I would always find some excuse not to make phone calls. It’s possible that I was relying too heavily on work from my former employer and didn’t think I really had to get on the phone. My business finally declined to zero before I was willing to make calls on a regular basis (at least once a week; better yet, once a day). Now, I know that if I make 15 or 20 calls, I’ll probably get a lead and maybe a job.


Doing direct-mail promotion, placing advertisements in papers and magazines, sending out news releases, attending professional meetings, writing articles, and holding professional conferences are some of the methods I’ve tried to attract new business. None of them worked for me. Maybe they will work for you. I used to do direct mailings to a list of 1,500 people. (Some names I bought, some I acquired through contacts.) I’d send out a brochure (at $1 a shot), a letter, and a business card, spending well over $2,000. But I can’t remember a single response that led to income.

I ran a $1,000 ad in a technical magazine, hoping to draw a good response for a finite element analysis conference that I had put together. Three people responded, and not one of them attended my conference. At least I hadn’t spent $5,000.

I’m sponsoring the conference for the third time this year, and I will break even on it. But it’s not leading to any consulting work, which is the whole point. Last year I hosted 65 engineers representing different companies and got no overflow work.

In my third year of business, after lots of trial and error, I finally discovered that I get the best response from postcards. The people who receive these postcards take a quick look and decide whether to throw them away or keep them for future reference. My prospects don’t want to take the time to open a letter and read through several pages, only to find out they aren’t interested. To stimulate new business I send a marketing postcard to 1,500 contacts four times a year. This has yielded a response of about one-half of one percent.

If you know someone you trust in a similar business, pick his or her brain for ideas on bringing in new customers. I could have saved myself time and money by doing some research up front.


I spent too much time and money on prospects who really had no intention of buying anything. You may be born with the instinct to determine who’s a real prospect and who’s not, but I wasn’t. I soon discovered that not every contact was a buyer. In fact, I learned that in my field people often take six months or a year to make a decision.

After making several out-of-stage trips, I began to ask prospects very pointed questions: Are you really serious? (Convince me.), When will you buy? Do you have the authority to sign a purchase requisition? (If not, then who does?), Is the money in the budget? What is your schedule for this project? You need to ask real questions to get real answers. A large company may have lots of money to spend in “probes”; a small business like mine can’t afford it.


When I left the large company I was working for, I received about $50,000 from my retirement fund. Some of this went to pay taxes; about $6,000 was used to pay off debts. But I put most of it into the start-up of my new business. I thought I had enough money to live forever. Wrong! Although I had attended many seminars (along with reading books and magazine articles) on how to start and run a business, I was not prepared. Initially I figured I’d need $2,500 a month out of my nest egg to live on, but that projection was worthless because I attracted no early business. My retirement money paid for day-to-day living expenses. My lack of planning was coming back to haunt me. By the time I landed by first consulting project, the retirement money was gone, and only new business would keep me from going under.


In my fourth year, I decided to move from a home office to commercial space. I wanted to run computer-training programs for engineers and didn’t think I had space at home. The overhead on the office was about $5,000 a year, and I never got my training programs going. Moving to the office took a leap of faith; I figured I’d gain in the end. But it didn’t turn out that way. The overhead and the 45-minute commute were a burden. After three years, I moved my office back home last month.


With too little work and too many expenses for the office and failed marketing efforts, I got into a disastrous habit of borrowing money to live–robbing Peter to pay Paul. Credit cards became my livelihood. Lack of proper planning, no marketing skills, and poor financial habits are the burdens that have kept me stuck in a morass of debt. I have remortgaged my house three times to pay off debts.

There is no one to blame but myself. In the beginning, I spent money foolishly in many areas. I took business trips that were not fruitful, overspent on insurance, mishandled tax money, and borrowed to go on vacations. In short, I bought things I didn’t need with money I didn’t have. I attempted to maintain the lifestyle I had been accustomed to, even when the money was not available.

I was not honest with my family or friends about my financial situation. Had I been truthful, perhaps the pressure I put on myself would have eased, and the truth may have set me free to be who I was–not who I wanted others to think I was.


Poor time management has caused me problems. The few times I did get two or more projects due at approximately the same time, I attempted to work around the clock to get the work done. As a result, I didn’t have enough time to check the work properly and often generated a poor report for the clients. My rationale was that I needed the money, so why pay someone to help me? Wrong again! I lost one client because of a foolish mistake that I don’t believe I would have made had I taken the time to check some simple calculations.

Now, I always take the time to recheck these same calculations. And, if two jobs come in together, I hire a part-time analyst to assist me with the most time-consuming tasks.

Hiring a helper also allows me the time to continue with my sales activities. It’s easy to let sales calls slip, either because you don’t want to make the calls or because you convince yourself that you don’t have the time. You must continually generate income. You must set aside time for these important sales activities. The heart of any company is its ability to generate sales. Don’t worry about too much business.

I’ve since learned to time-slice several projects and produce results much faster than any large corporate analysis group can. If a client comes to me on Friday afternoon and needs a job completed by Monday, I’ll get the job done, weekend or not.


Lacking a business plan, I never had a backup to rely on if the business went sour. When your normal business starts to fall off, it’s important to have some other type of endeavor to help take up the slack. If you run a service business, is there a product or service you might be able to sell to supplement you income? Are you a writer? Think of these options before you start your new business.

One new area I’m now trying is retail software sales. I wrote two programs that I’m marketing on a small scale. One looks like it’s going to bomb, but the other may generate some sales. I wrote it because I needed a utility to type simple things (like addresses on envelopes), but I couldn’t find a product on the market. This little program has saved me a lot of time in my own business, so I expect any business would find the same time savings. Again, the problem is getting the word out to prospective buyers. My advertising budget is very small, so not much has happened yet; but with any luck, some money will roll in.


We tend to hear only the success stories. There are thousands of independent businesspeople like me struggling to make a living. Last year I made $30,000; the year before, $50,000. That’s not bad, but I’ve got overhead and debts to pay. And this year may be even worse than last year.

I’ve got a few irons in the fire. I’m negotiating with a big company to conduct in house computer training for engineers. I’m sponsoring another FEA conference. Maybe I will “make it” someday, maybe not. That depends on what making it means. To some it’s having money; to others, position–or it could be simply staying in business. For me, making it will mean being as successful as my father–out of debt and able to enjoy my golden years. You must define success before you start dreaming about a new business adventure.

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The Personal Touch Mon, 04 May 2015 20:37:24 +0000 I’ve been digging through a stack of mail and paper on my desk, sorting it into READ NOW, READ LATER, FILE, and CHUCK piles. I find that I often judge a letter by its envelope. Once inside–if I make it that far–I often judge the person or company by the letterhead.

Before it even delivers its message, business stationery acts as a billboard that advertises the style and character of the sender. The billboard can demand attention–or it can go unnoticed. With so much paper on everyone’s desk, businesspeople have to do a marketing job just to get their letters noticed and

In this age of computerized mass mailings, it’s amazing how much a personal touch stands out. For example, I recently got a handwritten note saying, “Thought you might be interested in this,” along with an article entitled “More Execs Work at Home.” I was interested, and I will remember where it came from–an ad agency called Horton Ahern Bosquet in Providence, Rhode Island, that I had visited a month earlier.

I know the sender was using the clipping as an excuse to put his name in front of me. Nonetheless, his somewhat transparent ruse worked because he delivered useful information, which means that he took the time to figure out what I needed.

The envelope was addressed by hand, too, which encouraged me to open it. A lot of condensed-type mailing-label envelopes leave me colder than a sailor en route to Newfoundland. It’s not that the labels look so bad, although an address laser-printed directly on the envelope instead of on a label certainly looks better; it’s the sense that the letter on my desk is one of hundreds of similar letters on other desks. As far as labels go, I’m much more attracted to one with a return address and a logo–that is, a personalized label rather than the plain-vanilla kind.

Of course, a hand-addressed envelope only makes a good impression if there’s a personal note inside. A real business letter with a scrawled address can leave the impression that the sender can’t figure out how to get an envelope through the printer or that he is too lazy to take the time to do so. When I was using a dot-matrix printer, both of those statements could have described me. With a laser, I’m much more likely to print out than write an address.

Some businesspeople even use envelopes to describe what they do. I’ve got one on my desk from Pamela E. Berns. In the spot traditionally used for the return address, Berns describes her service: Management Writing Workshops. She puts her return address on the bottom of the envelope. Michael McCarthy keeps his return address in the traditional spot and delivers his message along the bottom of the envelope: Champion Speed Learning Systems, Active Reading Techniques, Brain/Mind Research, Seminars/Consulting. These envelopes serve as an introduction to the sender and prepare me for the message inside.

As far as fax cover sheets, which are primarily designed to deliver nitt-gritty information (phone numbers and number of pages), the shorter and less obtrusive the better. At least that’s what I thought until I got a cover sheet with a quote from advertising guru David Ogilvy, which made me focus on the page and notice the company logo at the top. The fax came from Dennis Chambers of Chambers Communications. The quotation, under the heading THOUGHT FOR THE QUARTER, sits quietly at the bottom of the page, but it impressed me so much as a marketing device that I called Chambers and asked how others respond to it. “People like it; they sometimes call and ask me when I’m going to change the quotation,” says Chambers. “I’m trying to do everything I can to indicate that there’s someone with a personality running this business.”

I find that an icon or graphic on the letterhead or envelope can also deliver a sense of personality. I got a letter from Anthony S. Policastro that had a small line drawing on it showing a hand writing with pen on paper. The image, combined with his tag line, COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE COMPETITIVE MARKETPLACE, says to me that in a high-tech world Policastro can deliver old-fashioned personalized service.

The old-fashioned, manual motif may be overused these days, but as long as the image is attractive, that doesn’t really matter. I’m looking at one letterhead with a stylized pencil and another with a quill. They both add zip and color, as graphic elements are designed to do.

A lot of professionals design their own letterhead and print it with a dot-matrix or laser printer on plain white paper. In almost every case, I think a professionally printed letterhead looks better, often just because the paper is of better quality. People would make a better impression with homemade letterhead if they used a heavier bond with some color in it.

One problem with thick paper, of course, is that it absorbs more ink. Thus, if your ribbon is old or your laser toner is low, the print will be too faint or spotty for business use. It’s amazing how many people ruin snazzy letterhead with a weak printing job.

Using electronic mail is one way to finesse the need to look good. Almost everybody’s electronic mail messages look alike–plain text on a computer screen. But that’s changing. It’s possible, with some services and some software, to attach voice and graphics to electronic mail. Someday I’ll be able to sort through electronic mail just as I do paper mail. One thing’s certain: The amount of information landing on our desks is increasing, and that will make the way it’s presented all the more important.

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Print Campaigns: The Best Way To Do Them! Wed, 29 Apr 2015 20:39:05 +0000 When faced with the choice between selling to thousands of your best prospects all at once or selling to them singly over a long period of time, which would you choose? If you’re like most home-based business owners with limited time for selling and little in-office backup, you’d choose to reach thousands of prospects at once, hands down. This can be done through print advertising.

Print advertising helps you target your best prospects. More important, you control the content of your message and the context in which it appears, as well as the month, week, or even the day on which your prospects will be exposed to your message.


pepadOnce you have produced effective print advertisements, you’re ready to begin buying space. You must be careful to select the media that best target your audience. Where do your potential customers get information? Where can you afford to advertise with enough frequency to achieve effective reach?

Identify customers and markets. First, create a profile that approximates your best customer or client. Consider demographic factors such as age, sex, and household income. If you are marketing to other businesses, you may wish to target them by type or size of business.

Next, identify your market’s geographic area. Is it local, regional, or national? This is vital, since in order to reduce overall waste and media costs, you will eventually choose only those publications that have the bulk of their circulation in your primary selling area.

Janice Leaman is president of Tender Loving Cat Care, in Germantown, Maryland. Leaman and the 12 people who work with her to provide in-home pet sitting serve a small suburban area near their homes. So the publications Leaman uses to generate leads must all have a local circulation.

Newspaper ads.

Leaman depends on newspaper display and classified advertising. “I wouldn’t have a business without it,” she says. Your own city or town’s daily or weekly paper may help you reach either consumers or businesses. Some papers even offer zoned editions for distribution in designated locales in order to provide a more efficient buy to advertisers with smaller market areas.

Major dailies provide something for everyone through special-interest sections. Select the section you believe your audience will look to as a source of information. Leaman knows her target audience is composed predominately of female, middle-income pet owners, so she advertises in the Living section of her daily newspaper.

Newspaper sections that regularly carry a particular type of display advertising are, like classified sections, considered search-corridor vehicles. Search-corridor media offer the opportunity to reach your best prospects–those who are looking for information when they have already made a decision to buy.

If you’re selling a business product or service, consider advertising in a local business newspaper. These are generally weeklies with fewer readers and ad pages and, consequently, lower advertising costs than major metropolitan dailies. Business newspapers, of course, are the best way to reach certain businesses.

Don’t overlook classified newspaper advertising as a part of your media mix. When she first began advertising, Leaman concentrated solely on display ads. But the number of responses improved dramatically when she began adding classified ads in the same issues. They are usually typeset by the publication, so you needn’t spend money producing camera-ready art. However, some publications offer you the excellent option of running camera-ready artwork in the classifieds. By using logos and graphics as well as type in a larger point size than in other ads, your classified will have the impact of a display ad. And it will stand out on the page surrounded by a sea of smaller type.

Magazine ads.

Stuart Smith, co-owner of the Churchtown Inn, uses a schedule of well-targeted magazines to reach potential guests for his historic Pennsylvania bed-and-breakfast. After some trial and error, Smith narrowed his basic media mix to two magazines, one regional and one national. He stopped advertising in local newspapers and magazines after achieving poor results. Says Smith, “Our business has increased 30 percent during the recession”; he attributes some of this to magazine advertising.

Magazines, like newspapers, can help you reach either consumer or business audiences. Since magazines exist to address the special interests of their own particular readers, there are national magazines for people who buy everything from model airplanes to organic fertilizer. Select magazines that carry advertising for products or services similar to yours and contain articles on topics of keen interest to your target audience. And look for annual “directory issues,” which readers may save for as long as a year or more.

If you don’t wish to reach business or consumer audiences across the nation, some national magazines offer regional editions or demographic buys to target specific buyers or narrow geographic markets. If you’re selling a product or service locally, consider city magazines. Most are consumer oriented, although some major metropolitan markets have excellent business magazines devoted entirely to local business news.

One of my clients’ main questions is: Which directory issue should I advertise in? The answer is simple: Always choose the directories your best prospects will use the most. Often, these directories don’t charge for listings and are extremely comprehensive; they also contain the largest number of advertisers. For example, if you are a sales rep for an industrial manufacturer, you’d want to look toward the directory issue of a trade publication such as Modern Metals. Placing your ad in a highly competitive and often cluttered arena may seem a surefire way to get lost. But running a terrific ad in that environment will have a much better chance of producing results than running the same ad where there is little or no competitive advertising—out of the search corridor of your prospects.


One of the best places to begin the process of choosing the fight newspapers and magazines is a large public library. There, you’ll find the Standard Rate and Data Service directories, which are updated monthly. SRDS lists both business (or trade) and consumer publications by category. Publication listings will tell you about their readers, basic editorial content, frequency of publication, and advertising rates.

Make a list of the publications you’d like to consider. Then contact them and request media kits. These kits are the primary means publications use to sell space to agencies and advertisers. They contain rate cards, editorial calendars, descriptions of merchandising benefits, samples of the publications, audit statements, and other supporting data such as readership studies.

Magazine and newspaper sales reps are also excellent sources of information. They should be able to provide clear answers to any questions you have. And don’t hesitate to contact some of the companies who already advertise in the publications. Reps may even assist you in this by supplying references.

In general, costs are based on the projected number of readers who will be exposed to your advertising message. However, other considerations also affect costs, such as a unique, highly qualified, or otherwise hard-to-reach readership.

Here are just a few terms you’ll need in order to evaluate costs.

Circulation refers to the total number of copies sold or distributed. Select those publications that reach the highest percentage of your target audience with the least amount of waste. But be certain they are publications your audience reads actively. Over time, Leaman has come to rely on three weekly suburban newspapers that blanket her small market area. She doesn’t use her major metropolitan daily, because its wider circulation would force her to pay to reach many thousands of readers she cannot serve.

Reach is the percentage of a given market or percentage of the universe to which you are selling. For example, when evaluating magazines, Smith wants to know what percentage of those people who fit his target audience profile will be reached.

Frequency does not mean the total number of ads run. Instead, it’s the number of times the average audience is actually exposed to your message. Many readership studies indicate that the average ad page in a trade publication is noticed by 70 percent of its readership base. Frequency is one of the keys to any successful advertising campaign.

Cost per thousand is a means of comparing publication efficiency for any medium. For example, if two publications with similar advertising and editorial environments each reach 300,000 members of your target audience, but one has a cost per thousand of $13 and another $7, then the latter will be a more cost-efficient buy.


The policy on rate negotiation is determined by the management of each newspaper and magazine. While newspaper space is rarely negotiable, magazine. space increasingly is. When developing a magazine advertising schedule, consider negotiating for rates, premium position in the magazine, additional merchandising benefits, and bonus ads.

Placing ads. Insertion orders are the standard form used for placing ad space. And the minimum information your insertion order must contain includes run dates, ad sizes, and costs. Most publications will ask you to sign standard contracts. From your point of view, a contract is only essential if it guarantees you a reduced cost per ad as your frequency rises.

Tracking ads. Creating a media schedule to track your insertions and camem-ready-aft due dates can be as simple as jotting the dates down on your desk calendar. Or it can be plotted on any spreadsheet or word-processing program that lets you see or print a schedule for 12 months. Smith places and tracks his magazine schedule himself, since he uses only two publications on an ongoing basis year-round. Leaman, with her complex, multinewspaper classified-and-display campaign, has her printing company create insertion orders, track insertions, and check billing.

Evaluating ads. To grow a business long-term requires ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of all marketing programs– including media advertising. A productive campaign should not only produce leads, it must produce leads that convert to sales. From the inception of your media campaign, plan to track and record the sources of incoming leads and, over a period of time, review and evaluate your conversion rates by publication. Black-and-white ads are easily keycoded by publication and month? Responses or leads are then tracked for each ad and issue of a publication in which that ad appeared.

When keycoding isn’t feasible, be prepared to ask all prospects where they learned about you, and then fine-tune your advertising accordingly. Leaman says, “I ask clients where they heard about me on every call.” She tracks conversions to sales and has adjusted her buy based on response rates. Although, as she says, “I wait quite a while. I may run an ad as often as 30 times before making this decision.” Over time, tracking leads will result in the most costeffective advertising program, help you weed out the less effective publications, and may even provide greater insight about your best customers or clients.

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How A DB Pulled A Company Together! Mon, 27 Apr 2015 20:31:23 +0000 Five years ago, when he took a chance and started his own business booking rooms for drivers and their crews at auto-racing events, Donald Douglass knew he had a winning idea. But like many home-based entrepreneurs, he faced a formidable task: organizing a mammoth amount of information. As an added twist, the software he chose to accomplish this task had to be easy to set up and run, because Douglass had little computer know-how.


hacpabAs a driver and official on the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) circuit, Douglass learned about the lodging problem firsthand. He was acutely aware of the chaos created by the scramble for the few decent rooms near major racetracks, especially in rural areas with little other tourism, like Sebring, Florida, and Watkins Glen in upstate New York.

“Travel was an awful mess,” he explains. “So after a couple of years, I decided I’d try to make a business out of it by bringing some order to it.”

He culled a list of small hotels and inns that most travel agencies didn’t have the time to ferret out. The hotels were happy to give discounts on blocks of rooms if Douglass would handle the continual revisions that racing crews always seem to require. So he was able to give teams not only a wider choice of rooms closer to the tracks than general travel agencies but also lower prices.

Douglass arranged to hook into the airline computer system SABRE by modem, so he could book air travel and rental cars for his clients from his home office in rural western Massachusetts. He uses a correspondent travel agency in Florida to write the tickets. (The SABRE system signals the agency by computer when tickets need to be written.)

The fledgling business, Travel Torque, Inc., took off in a flash. From a gross of about $50,000 in 1986, its first year, Torque topped $1 million last year.


Torque Travel managed this rapid growth without collapsing under the strain because Douglass was able to juggle a lot of data, including races, hotels, teams, credit-card numbers, contacts, number and types of rooms booked, payments owed the hotels, and more, using two IBM-compatible 386 computers, a modem, a fax machine, and a database program called Professional File (Software Publishing Corp.).

He chose the software because it was easy to use. As he began to design his system for organizing data, he saw that he could keep the information manageable by breaking it down into small files, and then using the lookup function to share information among them. This function, common to many flat-file database programs, lets him look up and draw in data from one file while he’s working within another.

Douglass quickly realized that he could reap four major benefits by using lookups:

1. He didn’t need to go to a more complicated (and more expensive) relational database to link information.

2. He could sort, retrieve, and update more rapidly, since files could be smaller.

3. He could save time and increase accuracy by not having to retype the same information, such as names, addresses, and credit-card numbers.

4. He could use database forms to fill out customer invoices and fax covers at the touch of a key.

Taking advantage of these benefits, Douglass created a well-integrated group of nine separate files that share information and save him lots of typing and cross-checking time.

Although Travel Torque’s database task involves matching hotel rooms with race teams, the general principle of dividing data on customers and inventory (or other information) into separate files then pulling some of that data into a third file for orders is one that can be applied to almost any business. Here’s how Douglass tailored the divide-and-conquer-then-link concept to his individual needs.


Races. Douglass keeps track of all the year’s races in one separate file. As soon as dates are set, he enters them here, along with information on track contacts and the types of cars included in the race: GTP, fancy prototype cars; GTO and GTU, which look like street cars but are pure race cars underneath; or Firehawk, which are slightly modified street cars.

Teams. In another file, he records companies and individual clients. Most date entries are drivers and their crews, but a few are media people, suppliers, and freelancers, like the guy who sells souvenirs. This is where Douglass keeps fax and phone numbers, addresses, and credit-card numbers for up to three contacts per company. He uses this file to send out mailings, informing teams of which hotels and special discounts are available for each race.

Hotels. In a third file, Douglass records each hotel he’s scouted, with phone, fax, address, contacts, miles from track, number and type of rooms, average rates, comments on the quality of rooms and proximity of restaurants, and directions both to the hotel from the airport and to the track from the hotel.


Those three files hold most of Torque’s necessary information. However, Douglass added two more files that draw data from the basic three.

Bookings. The first is the Bookings file, where Douglass records the discount rates he’s negotiated and how many rooms he has reserved at each hotel using a simple grid with four rows of room types (single, double, and so on), headed by each day of the week of the race.

Douglass customized the form for this file, using formulas in certain fields. Thus, for example, when Douglass enters the number of rooms of each type reserved on a Monday night, he can press a key and the Totals field adds up all the rooms in each category and enters the sum for that night. Lookup formulas contribute another level of automation, telling the software to go to another file and pull information into a specific field. For instance, the Bookings file finds the exact dates of the event in the Races file as soon as Douglass enters the name of the race. Likewise, it pulls contacts and phone and fax numbers from the Hotels file when a hotel name is entered.

Orders. Whenever a client phones or writes to request room reservatios, the Orders file is called on-screen. It contains a grid exactly like the one in the Bookings file. When for instance, Jim Steiger from Spice Engineering calls Torque to order rooms for the Sebring race in March, Douglass adds a new record to the file. The exact dates for each day of the week are pulled from the Races file, and credit-card numbers, team name, contact, and phone and fax numbers are pulled from the Teams file.

All Douglass has to do is key in codes for the race and the team, add first and second hotel choices, and record the number of rooms needed for each night.


Many businesses could stop here, using the Orders form as a customer invoice when the order is filled. However, because Douglass has strict limits on inventory, he’s added a third level.

Confirmation. The main database in this level is the Confirmation file. Here Douglass pulls together information from the five previous files into one confirmation record that he prints out and sends to his client. From the Bookings file come the rates for rooms. From the Races file come the dates. From the Orders file the grid is filled in with number and type of rooms the team requires for each night. From the Team file come the team’s full name and address. From the Hotel file are drawn its address, phone number, and directions from the airport and to the track.

The number of rooms at each rate are automatically calculated. Totals are multiplied by the rates to come up with a total room charge. A service rate is multiplied by the room charge to calculate the service charge owed to Torque. (Teams pay their room bills directly to the hotels.)

Three more files. In a final step, Douglass pulls information from this Confirmation file into a Faxes file (which pulls the fax number from the Team file) and an Invoice file (which pulls information from the Races and Bookings file as well), quickly printing out invoices to be faxed with the confirmation statement to the client.

He faxes a full list of registrants and room assignments to each hotel almost daily for two weeks leading up to each event. He keeps those in a Roomlist database, updating them manually. (Fax and contacts are drawn by lookup from the Bookings file.)

Douglass has worded his Confirmation, Faxes, and Invoices forms so they can be printed directly, avoiding the extra step of merging data through a word processor. Many businesses can use this trick, which is especially handy when mailings like invoices and follow-up letters are sent on a client-by-client basis.


The missing link for Douglass is the ability to subtract the rooms ordered from his inventory of booked rooms.

“My problem,” says Douglass, “is that I haven’t had time or experience to move to the next step. A relational database would subtract the confirmation [in the Confirmation file] from hotel inventory [in the Bookings file], and I just haven’t gotten to it. So what we constantly have to do is print out reports of orders for each day for each hotel, then I have to go back and check how many rooms we’ve booked as inventory. Right now it’s not a big deal, but if we get bigger it will be an absolute necessity.”

He’s put a lot of thought into the problem and has tried many ways to solve it. “If we have 20 two-bed rooms on this night,” he explains, “and Jim from Spice has taken 12, that has to go over to an inventory file and be subtracted from the booking file.”

A hint of frustration creeps into his voice. “And then, obviously, it would be very good to build into the system a blockage where you type in a 10 when, say, Joe from Nissan calls, and the system says, ‘Whoops–you don’t have 10 on Tuesday,’ while he’s placing his order and I’m keying it in.”

At this point, Douglass books only IMSA races. However, using the same tracks at different times of the year are other racing conferences including CART, which runs the Indianapolis 500 cars, Sports Car Club of America, and vintage race cars–which may use the same tracks as many as three times a year. So, theoretically, he could be booking hotels four or five times a year that he is booking only once or twice now. But to expand that much, he has to automate matching inventory to orders. He would be swamped otherwise, and Douglass admits that this problem is beginning to restrict growth.

Probably the easiest way around this problem is to redesign the Orders report. Douglass already has it sorted and subtotaled by hotel, showing him in a glance how many rooms are needed. But he is still checking that list against on-screen records in the Bookings file to see how many rooms he has available at each hotel. If he used a lookup formula to pull that information from the Bookings file into his Orders report, he’d save himself some cross-checking time. Right now, Professional File’s lookup capabilities in reports are limited to three (six with a little finessing), making it tricky to get totals for each day of the week. However, the same principle can be applied to other flat-file database, such as Q&A, that allow for more lookups in reports.

Subtracting orders from inventory as they come in, however, is something you need a relational database to do. In the words of one of Professional File’s tech-support people, P.J. O’Keefe, “There’s a very fine line between a relational database and using lookups in a flat-file program–and right there’s where you start to cross it.”

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Cellular Action! Thu, 12 Mar 2015 20:24:35 +0000 The world of cellular communications has come a long way since the days of $3,000-to-$5,000 car phones. Gone are service charges stiff enough to prompt humorist Howard Stern to remark that Donald Trump’s famous $475,000-a-month allowance was “almost enough to pay his car-phone bills.” Today, cellular phones actually provide affordable communications.

Everything is different now. Instead of car phone, think briefcase or pocket phone. Instead of $5,000, think $500 or even $50. And instead of paying an arm and a leg for service, think of fingers and toes: still painful, but worth it to anyone who values time at more than minimum wage.


caThe concept of a nation linked by point-to-point wireless communication came to the attention of many in the nightmarish James Coburn movie The President’s Analyst, which revealed an Orwellian Ma Bell plot to implant phones in everyone’s brain.

Today’s pocket phones represent a communications model that is far less invasive in terms of privacy, not to mention surgery. Think of it as a consumer version of Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio. How did this expensive technology once reserved for bulldog-jawed crime fighters and radio cabs come to the masses?

First of all, the reason private radio telephones have been so long in coming is that the airwaves can accommodate only a limited number of radio frequencies. As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) divvied up the airwave spectrum among TV and radio broadcasters, aviators, mariners, police, and so forth, little was left for private, point-to-point uses. What there was went to the highest bidders–commercial users such as radio cabs. Each city had a few radio channels devoted to private use, and that was that. Cellular phone frequencies were taken from channels 70 through 83, which the FCC converted to cellular-mobile use.

Each transmission area is called a “cell,” and by adding computer control to the system, a cellular phone moving from one cell to the next can automatically switch from the old cell to the new one, allowing calls to continue without interruption.

The FCC has divided the country into 305 metropolitan service areas and 428 rural service areas. Two carriers, one of which is usually a local phone company, are allowed to operate in each area–to create some kind of competition. As cellular technology becomes cheaper and more popular, cells, according to theory, will get smaller and smaller. But what is actually going to happen is far more clever. Instead of endlessly increasing the number of cells or increasing the number of channels, carriers will increase the number of conversations per channel. Several schemes have been developed, the most advanced of which use digital signal compression and digital transmission. Systems will gradually adopt digital operation, and owners of today’s standard (analog) equipment will be served long into the future.

Which Phone For Me?

Choosing the right phone is mostly a matter of deciding how much weight you want to carry as opposed to how much money you want to spend: As usual, the less weight, the more money. Bulky phones mean low prices and probable backaches. But keep in mind that bulky phones transmit at a higher wattage, giving them greater range.

At present, you will find three active rungs in the cellular-phone evolutionary ladder: car phones, transportables, and handhelds. The first two rungs seem headed for extinction, so let’s climb the ladder while there’s still time.

Car phones. Cellular was once synonymous with car phone. The demand for communications while on the road was and still is obvious. And the technology is relatively simple: Size and weight are not a consideration, and neither is power–a car’s electrical system can easily power a device that consumes no more electricity than a taillight. A bulky radio transceiver unit can be bolted into the trunk, leaving only the handset in the passenger compartment. Correct antenna placement to make the most of the ‘early, widely spaced cell sites was virtually assured because professional installation was mandatory. This was low-hanging fruit to the cellular business. The disadvantage of permanent car installation is, of course, that as soon as you leave that car, you’re out of touch again.

Transportables. As car phones became cheaper and their components became smaller, manufacturers found that they could join the transceiver and handset with a coil cord and make a unit that could be moved from one car to another by plugging it into a cigarette lighter and screwing on the antenna connector. Adding a big, 12-volt, rechargeable battery and a small antenna creates a completely portable if somewhat bulky phone. Transportables come either as bag phones, in which the components are arranged in a soft vinyl or leather case with a strap, or in hard packs, into which all the components snap to create a relatively sleek unit that can be slipped into a briefcase.

Transportables are dirt-cheap, work well, and, at three to five pounds, are light enough to take to a job site. But they’re still not convenient enough to take everywhere.

Handhelds. Convenience is the hallmark of truly portable cellular phones. The larger handhelds will fit into a purse, a bag, or a coat pocket. The smallest, latest, lightest units are more the size and weight of a scientific calculator and fit into a pants pocket.

Handhelds generally come with rechargeable battery packs that clip on to form the back of the phone. This allows battery packs of different sizes and energy capacities to be used with the same phone. Some smaller packs might allow 30 minutes of conversation on a charge or seven hours of standby operation; larger packs could triple those figures.

Even the largest battery for a handheld is a lot smaller than the battery of a transportable, yet both last about the same amount of time. This is partly because circuitry in the hand-held is more efficient, but mostly because the handheld requires less transmission power. While the handheld units’ lack of power might seem to give transportables an advantage, in most circumstances the handhelds, er, hold their own. As cellular becomes more popular, the cells have become more numerous and therefore more closely spaced–so close that in most urban and suburban areas they are always in range of a handheld, even from inside a car. In fact, to keep your phone signal from interfering with transmissions within nearby cells, the cell you are in usually tells your phone not to transmit at its full power, whether you’re using a 3-watt transportable or a 0.6-watt handheld. In fact, the power can be ratcheted down to as little as 0.003 watts, which means that handhelds usually have considerable reserve power in all but fringe situations.

Even when reception might be a problem, you may still find that you can take advantage of the convenience of a handheld. Many handhelds can be used with car power boosters that put them on an equal footing with transportables and car phones in the reception-broadcasting challenge of calling from inside a moving metal box.

Within the handheld category, phones fall into three weight and price classes. Phones 8 to 12 ounces generally run $500 to $800; 12 to 16 ounces come in at $300 to $500; and 16- to 24-ouncemodels go for a little as $50.


Note that these prices represent heavy discounts compared with the manufacturers’ suggested retail prices in most cases. This is due to heavy subsidies from local cellular-service providers and cutthroat discounting as cellular phones have moved into the mass market. A provider will give dealers subsidies of $300 or more for each phone sold with that provider’s service, since customers who sign up with one provider are apt to remain forever. Only in California and North Carolina is this practice, called bundling, illegal, and even in those states it is done on a wink-and-nod basis. In the rest of the country the practice is legitimate and therefore places legal obligations on you to stay with the subsidizing carrier for a certain amount of time: three months, six months, even a year. Before buying a phone, you should ask your service careers what their rates are and whether they offer special features that you might find especially valuable. An example would be voice mail.

Service costs vary from place to place. In Chicago, a light-usage plan could cost as little as $20 a month for 25 minutes of service. Extra minutes go for 31 cents, or 19 cents weekends and after 9:00 p.m. A heavy-usage plan could cost $150 for 500 minutes, and extra minutes go for about 25 cents, or 12 cents. In New York, a light-usage plan costs roughly $20 a month and 80 cents a minute, and a heavy-usage plan goes for $50 to $80 a month and 20 cents a minute (no time is included in the monthly fee). These figures do not include the various taxes, which can add up, because if you have a cellular phone, of course, you must be able to justify it financially and hence use it as much as possible.

On the following pages, we review 10 cellular phones of varying weight, range, and price. The value of each phone is determined by your needs: portability, packability, and affordability. Within their categories, all the phones tend to be of equal quality.


Which phone to get? Here are the real considerations: Size: The smaller, the better. Price: The lower, the better. Comfort: The greater, the better. Does the phone fit your hand and face? Are the buttons easy to operate?

Sound quality: The louder and clearer, the better. Is it to your satisfaction? In most places you can test a phone while shopping, even if it is not activated, by dialing any number. You’ll get a recording from the service carrier giving you a free sign-up number. If you call that number, you can determine whether the operator can hear you clearly.

Special considerations: Can the phone be used with a car power booster? Can it be used with the modem of a notebook computer?

Durability: The tougher, the better. Does the phone look like it could be dropped on the sidewalk without breaking? Many phones come with cases that should increase their survival potential. Is there a service contract available that covers dropping the phone? Otherwise, you should ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?” and if not, maybe the idea of implanting the phone in your brain isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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Remember – Lest We Forget Wed, 11 Mar 2015 21:51:48 +0000 The story of the Japanese sack of China and Southeast Asia, its treatment of Western prisoners of war, its hegemonic ideology, cries out for retelling. Not to do so–to dwell extravagantly on the dropping of the atomic bombs and to all but ignore the character of the Japanese regime that brought war in the Pacific–would be the equivalent of discussing the end of the European war by dwelling on the bombing of Dresden while saying little about the Nazi regime.

Yet that is what happened. Public and commercial television all but ignored the end of the Pacific war. Neither the editorial nor the op-ed columns of The New York Times marked what was, for the hundreds of millions of people of East Asia, a far more momentous event than the dropping of the atomic bombs. True, aging American vets staged lackluster marches and ceremonials. And a few of their more verbal comrades–James McGregor Burns, Paul Fussell–introduced a note of realism by discussing what a military invasion of Japan might have entailed. But these were minor voices when set against the pervasive silence.

It was more than simple anniversary burnout; the roots of this non-observance may be located in the ideological divide over America’s Pacific war. From Pearl Harbor on, the war against Japan found particular support among former isolationists and Republican conservatives; the war against Nazi Germany among New Dealers, liberals and the Left. Revenge for Pearl Harbor (possibly, the Right came to believe, itself brought on by FDR’s machinations), a hatred of the Japanese fueled not only by their perfidy but by their skin color, an ideal right-wing military hero in the person of Douglas MacArthur: all of this made the war against the Japanese the top priority for anti-New Deal Republicans. The war against Nazism, waged in alliance with Stalin’s Soviet Union (transmuted by the alchemy of wartime propaganda into a land of agrarian-industrial reformers), offered comparable satisfactions to New Dealers and the American Left.

These predilections continued in the postwar years. Conservatives raised an eyebrow over the legality of the Nuremberg trials. Liberals had few such doubts–although they had many more when it came to the trials of Japanese war criminals. The cold war only reinforced these inclinations. It produced, on the right, Joseph McCarthy defending the SS perpetrators of the Malmedy massacre of American POWs and, on the left, a Communist-led peace offensive that focused on the primal evil of the atomic bomb.

So, when anniversary season rolled around last year, it wasn’t surprising that the Left stressed the war in Europe and the dropping of the bomb. But why didn’t the Right make more of its ideological patrimony? After all, the anniversary provided an important opportunity to remind Americans that today’s realities of a democratic and pacific Japan, peace between Japan and China, and fifty years of real (not ersatz) co-prosperity in East Asia are not the result of some ancient Confucian ethic, or of the inexorable laws of free trade, but of an American political and military presence now imperiled by post-cold war isolationism.

Of course some of that isolationism comes from the Right. And the silence may also result from an unwillingness, shared by the Right, to offend commercially powerful Japan.

But more important is the fact that over the past half-century the meaning of the victory over Nazism has, if anything, become clearer, more unalloyed. The West’s victory in the cold war reinforced the wartime theme of democracy v. totalitarianism (even if it eroded the illusions of the alliance with Stalin). So has Germany’s confrontation with and repentance for the crimes of Nazism.

Remembrance of the Pacific war has been more complicated. Liberal guilt over the bomb and more general regret at the internment of Japanese-Americans has marred, for some, America’s victory. And there is a continuing ambiguity, a lack of closure, in our relationship to East Asia that prevents a full-throated commemoration. Our cold war with the Soviet Union is over, while our relations with China grow frostier by the month. Nor have the Japanese yet confronted their wartime crimes in any way comparable to the Germans. If the German case is any indication, only when Japan does so will its erstwhile enemies, and present-day allies, join them in serious inquiry into that ugly past. Until then, amnesia will remain a malady in both countries.

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How Is Tax Relief Helpful To People Who Need Help With Tax Debt? Tue, 03 Mar 2015 09:10:55 +0000 trhtpWith the number of people who are struggling to make their business big, the number of tax relief companies also multiplies to catch people who will need help with tax debt. Having a tax debt is a really bad thing. Why? The government is really strict about taxes. It?s funny how they can give delayed salary to their employees but the taxes from the citizens can never come in late. Once you miss even a day of tax payment, it?ll automatically be considered past due or a back tax.

Good thing there are a lot of tax relief companies that offer various services about taxes. Taxes are one of the things that people struggle with. Aside from employment, the other thing every country?s citizen has a problem with is tax. There is never a year that a tax relief company will not receive a call asking for help with tax debt. There will always be numerous people asking for their help with back tax. Thanks to the tax relief companies, people will never have a problem with having bad credit scores because of back taxes. Tax relief companies can make certain arrangements with tax bureau so they won?t give you a bad credit score a day after missing a payment. They can make several arrangements for you.

How Can I Find A Good Tax Relief Company That Will Fulfill Their Promises?

Finding a good tax relief company is hard. It isn?t like simply pinpointing with your eyes closed which one you can hire as your own tax reliever. With the help of internet, you can easily get help with tax debt and you can easily tell which ones are the best. You can also look at the overview of their services for future references just in case you will need them for other services that they may also offer.

There are many people who need help with tax debt especially those who don?t have good amount of income. Asking help from tax relief companies is actually better than saving up for the back tax money until you can pay what you owe. Remember that tax payment reflects to your standing as a citizen of your country.

If you can?t think you can?t make the payment for your tax this month, then hire a tax reliever immediately and ask for help with tax debt. Even if you will or will not be able to make the tax payment, at least you already know where to ask help. Always make sure to check their other services and get counseling on how you can legally lower your taxes.

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Talking Political PR, UK Style Wed, 11 Feb 2015 21:24:11 +0000

Reports that former Labour leader Tony Blair is prepared to drop his opposition to electoral reform for the House of Commons and embrace the alternative vote (AV) system have been widely welcomed by the reform lobby. Even the Liberal Democrats, who advocate the single transferable vote (STV) system of proportional representation, are enthusiastic, saying that the apparent move towards AV indicates that Labour thinking is in a promising state of flux.

And, indeed, the reports do suggest that Blair might be in the process of changing his mind in the right direction. After Labour’s 1992 general election defeat, when pressure from within the party for electoral reform was at its height – with an increasingly vocal lobby arguing for the German-style additional member system of proportional representation (AMS) – Blair was one of the most prominent critics of the reformers, whom he believed had given up on Labour ever becoming a party supported by a majority of voters. And he stuck to this position once he became leader, making it clear that he was not in favour of changing the electoral system for the Commons, even though he backed his predecessor John Smith’s promise of a referendum on electoral systems.

For “sources close to the Labour leader” now to suggest that he is no longer so enamoured of “no change” is undoubtedly significant – not least because there’s a strong case for arguing that AV is a staging-post on the long journey from supporting the first-past-the-post (FPTP) status quo to backing some sort of proportional representation. Many of the Labour figures who are now advocates of PR, including the most senior of them, Robin Cook, stopped off at AV on the way. If Blair is taking the same journey, supporters of proportional representation – among them NSS – have good reason to be pleased.

On the other hand, he might not be doing any such thing. The alternative vote actually has nothing in itself to do with PR: it’s an option in its own right. Under an AV system, used for example for the Australian House of representatives, there are single-member constituencies, with FPTP; what is different is the way that voters mark their ballot papers. Instead of placing a single cross next to the name of a candidate, a voter can rank his or her preferences. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote on first preferences, the last-placed candidate drops out and his or her ballot papers are redistributed among other candidates according to second preferences – and so on until one candidate emerges with more than 50 per cent of votes cast.

The advantages of this system are that it retains the link between MPs and their constituencies, but improves on FPTP because each MP has to secure 50 per cent of the vote. But the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The role AV gives to voters’ second choices puts even more of a premium on political inoffensiveness than currently exists. And AV does little or nothing to ensure that parliament really does represent the spread of opinion in the country – which is surely the most important reason for getting rid of first-past-the-post.

Most experts agree that, under AV, representation of the Liberal Democrats would be marginally increased, but that otherwise the change would have little effect on the composition of the Commons. AV would certainly not give the Lib Dems anything like the share of seats that would be commensurate with their share of the vote, let alone see the election of more minor-party MPs, whether Green, far-left or far-right.

Of course, as Blair argues, there is a real problem with PR, in that it can give minor parties disproportionate influence. But this problem is soluble, through a mixture of thresholds for representation and strict rules to prevent changes of government on the whim of minor parties holding the balance of power. It’s even easier to deal with the other main objection, that PR means an end to the link between MPs and their constituencies or else massive multi-member seats: the additional member system preserves single-member constituencies for most MPs, achieving proportionality by topping up their numbers from regional lists. Of course, AMS would mean radical changes in Britain’s political culture – but that’s precisely what Blair has said he wants. And if it’s good enough for new Labour in Scotland – the party backs AMS for its proposed Scottish parliament – it should be good enough for Westminster too.

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Screw Voter Fraud, Let’s Talk Internet Voting Wed, 21 Jan 2015 21:21:50 +0000

People are busy. Private industry Understands that reality. It has responded with computerized customer service strategies that offer the consumer expanded service options. Service strategies are designed to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they give the customer the power to proactively consume goods and services. Some examples are online banking and World Wide Web catalog sites which allow non-stop shopping in virtual malls.

If the past is any indicator, government customer service strategies will catch up to the private sector in five to ten years. We can quicken that pace by rethinking the election process and implementing online customer service delivery strategies that will make it easier for voters to consume election information and voter services.

Four high-volume services that election offices provide are voter registration, the vote-by-mail ballot request, campaign financial reporting and the dissemination of election results. Those services could be delivered online.

In most states, a person must be registered in order to vote. While registration has been made easier with the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter law), we should take the next step and allow people to register to vote online. There is no legitimate reason why registration forms couldn’t be printed on a home computer, signed and mailed to the Registrar’s Office. (In the near future they will be totally done online with digitized signatures). As the voter prints the voter registration form, a counting device would increment up one in the appropriate party field so the voter could immediately see the result of his/her registration.

Another important online service is the vote-by-mail ballot application. Currently citizens obtain a mail ballot after making a written request to the Registrar of Voters. This cyberstrategy would make a standard request form available online. Prospective voters would complete the form online and print it out. The printed form would be mailed to the Elections Office.

The availability of campaign financial reporting forms online along with instructions on how to complete the forms and answers to the most commonly asked campaign reporting questions would be a significant service for candidates, committees and officeholders who are required to file campaign financial disclosure reports. The required forms could be printed from a World Wide Web site and subsequently used for reporting purposes. If the jurisdiction required electronic filing then the appropriate software could be downloaded from the site and used by the preparer to electronically file the documents.

Complete election results would also be available online. Turnout data could be presented in a graphical way so it would be easily analyzed. Information could be broken down by neighborhoods, precincts and jurisdictions and it could be printed out as raw data and as graphs.

Many other voter services could be made available online. While the services listed above are only a starting point, they would have a significant impact because they are in high demand. The voter education component of the online voter site would enhance and complement those services.

Voter Education

Educating citizens is an important aspect of the online voter services site. Online voter education is a powerful tool and gives the voters control over their own education. It allows them to go online when it’s convenient and study the voter information they want.

A top priority of the online election educational strategy is to educate citizens about who their elected representatives are and what they do. To accomplish that goal, while online the citizen must be able to determine what political subdivisions they are a part of and who their elected officials are. Online job descriptions and the service offerings of a particular office could be provided.

One of the most publicized information sources in elections is the campaign finance report. This report lists the names and addresses of the people who give money to a candidate. It also shows how and where the candidate spent those funds. If all candidates submitted their receipt and expense information on a computer disk, the Registrar could easily make the information available online.

Getting voter information used to be passive. You opened up the sample ballot and read the information you were given. The Internet lets the voter interact with the content. Imagine the educational potential of an interactive electronic sample ballot loaded with video, sound clips, animation, graphics and text. Compare that approach to the sample ballots you have seen recently. Most sample ballots that I have come across are bureaucratic. They do not invite the reader to study the issues. In fact, they do the opposite.

Online sample ballots would include all the required information but they could also contain pictures of the candidates, speeches, press releases, issue papers and a wealth of related information. One important feature of the online sample ballot is that it would allow a voter to look up their exact voting location by inputting their residence address.

First-time voters would find helpful information online. Most first-time voters say they want to have an explanation of their voting options, specific instructions on each of the steps involved in getting to vote and they want to know what to expect at the polls.

Running for a public office, whether for Tax Collector, Congress or the local school board, can be a confusing and complicated process. Currently the only way to know what the rules are is to personally contact the Registrar of Voters and get a paper copy of the Candidates Guide. That resource contains the requirements, deadlines, and rules for becoming a qualified candidate for political office. This information, along with frequently asked questions, would be posted online so that all visitors could benefit from previously asked questions.

Online debates and forums are an integral part of the online voter services site and they play an important role in educating the voter. Imagine what the first online Presidential debate might be like? Online debates, between candidates from all levels of government, could take two basic approaches. One could happen in real time. The other approach would allow candidates to prepare position papers and answers to previously submitted questions.

In ancient Rome, the forum was a public square where people assembled and interacted. On the Internet online forums serve the same purpose. Online public forums would let the voters ask their direct and follow-up questions of the candidates. They would allow for a quality dialogue between voters and candidates so that voters could better understrand a candidate’s position on the issues.

Educating children about their responsibilities in a democracy is important for the future. With all the educational material available outlined above, teachers could use the online voter services site to take students on a cybertour of Democracy. Links to other sites like Thomas, state home pages, and related information could enhance the experience. Kids could play online democracy games, role play being a city council member for a day, learn about America’s history, and communicate with students in other parts of the world.

The educational function of the online voter site is a key strategy that seeks to encourage more citizens to participate and vote. Once engaged, however, citizens in a healthy democracy must be able to easily communicate with one another.

Reignite Citizen Activism

We must discover ways to reignite citizen activism. Good government depends on it! Putting the master voter file online might help us reach that goal because it would promote communications between citizens. While the privacy proponents will immediately oppose this idea, there is another important reason to complete this step.

Putting the voter file online will help level the playing field for modern campaigns. As it now stands, only the wealthy candidates and big-bucks political action groups get access to the voter file because of its high cost. This practice prohibits the grassroots activist from mobilizing citizens for a particular candidate or cause.

At the present, some states restrict access to the master voter file unless the intended use is for political, journalistic, scholastic or other authorized purposes. The online voter file could be set up to recognize these same restrictions and a balance could be struck between a citizen’s right to privacy and the need for public access.

To facilitate communications with voters, a space on the voter registration form should be provided for e-mail addresses. This strategy looks to the future when each of us has some type of electronic address. If this information were available and recorded now, the Registrar of Voters could communicate with voters electronically. If we wanted to make a bold futuristic change, boxes could be included on the voter registration form which would give the voter a choice between receiving election materials electronically or in primed format.

Finally, communications could be improved if all election officials had the capacity to send and receive e-mail. E-mail would allow a citizen to send a message to the Registrar’s Office at any time. And election officials could electronically communicate with their peers throughout the nation.

In short, the cyberstrategy implemented must ensure that communications can easily occur between voter and Registrar, Registrar and voter, voter and voter, and Registrar to Registrar. A successful online strategy will encourage grassroots citizen activism.

The number of citizens involved in governance is too low and many political contests go without a breadth of well-qualified candidates. We must change that situation.

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