Thursday, July 26, 2007

Target Follows Blockbuster and Goes Blu Ray

 Follow up to my June 20, 2007 post. Looks like Target is following Blockbusters lead and supporting Blu Ray...
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Target plans to carry only Blu-ray high definition DVD players through the holiday shopping season, a move that boosts the Sony-backed technology and may deal a blow to rival HD-DVD.
In a statement on Thursday, Sony Corp. said that Target will exclusively carry Blu-ray players "at least through the holiday season" and will also expand its inventory of Blu-ray discs.
The move begins in October with Target's sale and promotion of Sony's BDP-S300 unit, which sells for about $500.
It was the second major retailer in as many months to throw its weight behind Blu-ray in the industry wide standards war reminiscent of VHS and Betamax. Blockbuster, the largest U.S. provider of home movie entertainment, in June set plans to line its shelves with Blu-ray DVDs, saying that Blu-ray rentals are "significantly outpacing HD DVD rentals."
HD DVD is developed by Toshiba Corp. and backed by Microsoft Corp. and film studios including Warner Bros.. It competes with Sony's Blu-ray which is built into its PlayStation 3 game console, and supported by companies such as Samsung Electronics Co., Apple and Dell.
Earlier this month, the HD DVD camp said its stand-alone video players have outsold rival Blu-ray players by a three-to-one margin in Europe's main markets so far this year.
Mass market acceptance of high-definition video is still some way off, due in part to the high price of the devices, and the fact that some movies and programs are available on one platform and not the other.
(Reporting by Franklin Paul)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Interviewing Tips Continued...Questions to Ask

While were on the topic, I found this article (also on BNet) with a well organized list of questions to help you stage the interview...

The 7 Interview Questions You Must Ask

There are no magic bullets when it comes to job interview questions, but the way you structure your queries is important: It's the interviewer's job to create a framework for the discussion and prevent it from running off the rails. Every company's needs are different, but a good basic strategy is to ground the interview in questions about past job performance. Then throw in some situational questions to evaluate practical decision making, and learn a little bit about how the job fits in with a candidate's biography.

Question #1: "How about those Yankees?"

Purpose: Develop the rapport needed to get the interview off the ground.
Every interview should begin with an icebreaker. It helps nervous applicants calm down and builds a sense of trust. If you have a 45-minute interview, you should spend at least the first five minutes trying to connect on a neutral topic. Make the person feel at ease and you'll solicit better information—and much more honest responses.
Alternate Version 1: "Did you go to the industry conference last week?"
Alternate Version 2: "Were you affected by the heat wave/cold snap?"
Alternate Version 3: "Did you have a good holiday?"

Question #2: "Talk about a time when you had to overcome major obstacles."

Purpose: Get a clear picture of the candidate's past performance.
Variations on this question should actually comprise your next several questions. Don't hesitate to guide the candidate through the variety of tasks (both tangible and theoretical) necessary to perform the job, and listen carefully to how he or she has handled such challenges. Pay attention to intangibles: some people are better at performing in interviews than on the job. If your candidate continually plays the role of hero or victim, that's a red flag that you're probably not getting the whole story.
Alternate Version 1: "Tell me about a time when you wrote a report that was well received. Why do you think it was successful?"
Alternate Version 2: "Describe a time when you hired (or fired) the wrong person."
Alternate Version 3: "If you had to do that activity again, how would you do it differently?"

Question #3: "What interests you about this position?"

Purpose: Find out how the candidate feels about the job and the company.
People apply for jobs for plenty reasons besides the obvious ones. Asking a candidate why he or she wants the position gives insight into their motivation. The answer may be personal (such as a narrative about what spurred them to seek a new job), or it may connect the candidate to the company: her experience with the brand, the mission statement, or the organization's role in the community. Any of these answers (or some combination) are acceptable—a personal answer can communicate trust, and a connection to the business indicates loyalty and a sense of ownership.
Alternate Version 1: "Where does this job fit into your career path?"
Alternate Version 2: "If you had to convince a friend or colleague to apply for this job, what might you tell them?"
Alternate Version 3: "What motivated you to apply for this job?"

Question #4: "Is there intelligent life in outer space?"

Purpose: Find out what kind of thinker the candidate is and how he deals with surprises.
This is your curveball, designed to make the candidate ad-lib instead of just reciting well-rehearsed answers. How much will he or she play along? As long as it's not too short or too long, virtually any response is a good one. But pay attention to attitude, the way the candidate approaches the problem, and the ease or difficulty they have in coming up with a response.
Alternate Version 1: "How many phone books are there in New York City?"
Alternate Version 2: "How do they get the cream filling inside a Twinkie?"
Alternate Version 3: "Why do people climb mountains?"

Question #5: "Imagine we've just hired you. What's the most important thing on your to-do list on the first day of work?"

Purpose: Learn about the candidate's judgment and decision-making skills.
This is an example of a situational question, which is like a behavioral question in that it's designed to assess judgment, but it's also like a curveball question because it illuminates the candidate's thought process. You want to see whether he demonstrates the competencies and priorities that are important to the job.
Alternate Version 1: "Say a coworker tells you that he submitted phony expense account receipts. Do you tell your boss?"
Alternate Version 2: "How would you handle an employee whose performance is fine but who you know has the potential to do better?"
Alternate Version 3: "What would you do if you got behind schedule with your part of a project?"

Question #6: "Why did you get into this line of work?"

Purpose: Measure the fit between the candidate's values and the culture of your company.
It risks a long, drawn-out answer, but this type of question will help you select candidates that fit your company's culture. It's not about finding people like you, or people with similar backgrounds that led them to your company, but about getting a sense of their values and motivations. Concepts like values and culture can be subjective and difficult to define, but you should be looking for someone whose work ethic, motivations, and methods match the company's. This isn't a quantitative measurement so much as a qualitative one. Coke and Pepsi may seem the same to people outside the soft-drink industry, but each houses people with different approaches to making cola and running a business.
Alternate Version 1: "What do you like best about your current job?"
Alternate Version 2: "When did you realize this would be your career?"
Alternate Version 3: "What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?"

Question #7: "But enough about you. What about us?"

Purpose: Find out if the candidate has done his or her homework.
It's a cliché to end an interview with the standard, 'So, any questions?' But the fact remains that you really do want to let the candidate ask a few things of you. Reversing roles communicates that the company seeks an open a dialogue, and it helps you ascertain just how curious and knowledgeable a candidate is about your company. If he doesn't ask any questions about the job or the business, it's a safe bet his heart isn't in it. Listen for insightful questions that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the circumstances of the job, the company, the competitive landscape, or the industry.
Alternate Version 1: "Where do you think the company should be in ten years?"
Alternate Version 2: "What's your opinion of our new product?"
Alternate Version 3: "Have you seen the company's new ad campaign?"

Interviewing Tips (From Managements Side)

I haven't had to do it very often, but I have told people that interviewing someone for a job is almost as nerve racking as being interviewed. This article I came across on BNet has some very useful tips...

10 Mistakes Managers Make During Job Interviews

1. You Talk Too Much

When giving company background, watch out for the tendency to prattle on about your own job, personal feelings about the company, or life story. At the end of the conversation, you'll be aflutter with self-satisfaction, and you'll see the candidate in a rosy light—but you still won't know anything about her ability to do the job.

2. You Gossip or Swap War Stories

Curb your desire to ask for dirt on the candidate's current employer or trash talk other people in the industry. Not only does it cast a bad light on you and your company, but it's a waste of time.

3. You're Afraid to Ask Tough Questions

Interviews are awkward for everyone, and it's easy to over-empathize with a nervous candidate. It's also common to throw softball questions at someone whom you like or who makes you feel comfortable. You're better off asking everyone the same set of challenging questions—you might be surprised what they reveal. Often a Nervous Nellie will spring to life when given the chance to solve a problem or elaborate on a past success.

4. You Fall Prey to the Halo Effect (or the Horns Effect)

If a candidate arrives dressed to kill, gives a firm handshake, and answers the first question perfectly, you might be tempted to check the imaginary "Hired!" box in your mind. But make sure you pay attention to all his answers, and don't be swayed by a first impression. Ditto for the reverse: the mumbler with the tattoos might have super powers that go undetected at first glance.

5. You Ask Leading Questions

Watch out for questions that telegraph to the applicant the answer you're looking for. You won't get honest responses from questions like, "You are familiar with Excel macros, aren't you?"

6. You Invade Their Privacy

First of all, it's illegal to delve too deeply into personal or lifestyle details. Secondly, it doesn't help you find the best person for the job. Nix all questions about home life ("Do you have children?" "Do you think you'd quit if you got married?"), gender bias or sexual preference ("Do you get along well with other men?"), ethnic background ("That's an unusual name, what nationality are you?"), age ("What year did you graduate from high school?"), and financials ("Do you own your home?")

7. You Stress the Candidate Out

Some interviewers use high-pressure techniques designed to trap or fluster the applicant. While you do want to know how a candidate performs in a pinch, it's almost impossible to recreate the same type of stressors that an employee will encounter in the workplace. Moreover, if you do hire the person, they may not trust you because you launched the relationship on a rocky foundation.

8. You Cut It Short

A series of interviews can eat up your whole day, so it's tempting to keep them brief. But a quick meeting just doesn't give you enough time to gauge a candidate's responses and behavior. Judging candidates is nuanced work, and it relies on tracking lots of subtle inputs. An interview that runs 45 minutes to an hour increases your chances of getting a meaningful sample.

9. You Gravitate Toward the Center

If everyone you talk to feels like a "maybe," that probably means you aren't getting enough useful information—or you're not assessing candidates honestly enough. Most "maybes" are really "no, thank yous." (Face it: He or she didn't knock your socks off.) Likewise, if you think the person might be good for some role at some point in the future, then they're really a "no."

10. You Rate Candidates Against Each Other

A mediocre candidate looks like a superstar when he follows a dud, but that doesn't mean he's the best person for the job. The person who comes in tomorrow may smoke both of them, but you won't be able to tell if you rated Mr. Mediocre too highly in your notes. Evaluate each applicant on your established criteria—don't grade on a curve.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Accounting Basics: Accounting and The Accounting Cycle

What is accounting? My old accounting text book defines it as: "the process of identifying, measuring, and communicating economic information to permit informed judgments and decisions by the users of the information." The text distinguishes between accounting and bookkeeping. Whereas bookkeeping involves the mechanical process of recording economic activities, accounting expands on that to include analysis and interpretation of financial information as well as preparing financial statements, conducting audits, designing accounting systems, etc.

Since this is a web based forum, lets look at Wikipedia's definition: the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information primarily used by managers, investors, tax authorities and other decision makers to make resource allocation decisions within companies, organizations, and public agencies. The terms derive from the use of financial accounts. Accounting is the art of measuring, communicating and interpreting financial activity. Accounting is also widely referred to as the "language of business".

Any way you look at it, accounting is a process. It is a process of identifying economic events related to a business activity, recording these events, and subsequently reporting on this business activity with some means of financial representation (financial statements or other reports).

Accounting can be represented as a cycle:
  1. Observe events.
  2. Identify those events which are economic events.
  3. Measure the economic events.
  4. Record measurements.
  5. Classify measurements.
  6. Summarize measurements.
  7. Report business activity in financial statements or other reports.
  8. Interpret the contents of financial statements and other reports.
What really adds value to an accountants services is the ability to supply items #7 and #8.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Small Business Advice - Vacation Policies

Good article with tips on establishing a vacation policy to keep your small business running smoothly:

Vacation Policies Needed for Small Biz

AP Online via NewsEdge Corporation :
NEW YORK_Holiday weeks and peak vacation periods can be a trying time for small business owners, especially if they haven't formulated a policy about employee time off.
This scenario will probably sound painfully familiar to many company owners: Several staffers all want the same day or week off, and when the boss says yes to some and no to others, there are hard feelings, complaints of favoritism, maybe even someone calling out sick in protest.
Human resources consultants say there are ways to resolve this kind of crisis _ although as in many other situations small business owners must contend with, it's best to plan in advance and prevent such a predicament in the first place.
Rob Wilson, president of Employco, a Chicago-based human resources firm, said that if too many people want the same time off, an owner might consider negotiating with one or more, asking workers if they'd be willing to forgo the day or week in return for something else.
"Maybe you can throw in something extra ... let them come in late or take a half a day off, something that everyone in the office doesn't have to know about _ a thanks for helping me out," he said.
Leigh Branham, owner of Keeping The People Inc., an Overland Park, Kan., human resources consulting firm, suggests drawing employees into the problem-solving process.
"Have a meeting with them, and ask how is the work going to get done?" Branham said. "Create a sense of ownership among the employees. Each person has a responsibility."
He also suggested, where possible, hiring temporary workers to fill in. Or, if it's not entirely necessary for an employee to be physically present in the office, if one or more of the vacationing staffers will agree to be available by cell phone for help or consultations.
This kind of approach to the problem can help employees feel more valued, Branham said. "It's a chance to be more a part of the team."
But the bigger question is how to make sure vacation conflicts are kept to a minimum. HR consultants uniformly advocate creating a written vacation policy, one that ideally is part of a broader employee handbook. Policies and handbooks serve an important purpose _ the more that staffers understand what's expected of them, and what they can expect to do, the better off the workplace will be.
A vacation policy needs to spell out not only how many days an employee is entitled to take and at what point in the staffer's tenure they can be taken _ for example, how many days a new employee can expect to have in the first six months or year, and at what point is he or she entitled to a full week, two weeks, three weeks, etc.
It also needs to specify how far in advance time off needs to be scheduled and how conflicts will be resolved, whether by seniority or on a first-come, first-served basis, or a mixture of both. An owner also needs to consider whether time off includes sick days as well as vacation time and personal days.
Owners who need help in putting a policy together might talk to other business owners in the same industry or the same geographic area, to see what the norm is. Branham also suggested, "Get a good benefits person to give you some guidelines."
As they formulate a policy, owners need to remember that vacation and time off policies can help make companies more competitive in a tight labor market. Businesses that can't afford benefits like health insurance might want to consider more flexible time-off policies _ keeping in mind that increasingly, workers are looking for a better work-life balance. A good candidate for a job might be turned off by a vacation policy that's too stingy or too rigid.
Still, there are some businesses that have to hold the line on vacations _ for example, restaurants in popular beach or resort areas. In such cases, employees need to know even before they're hired that time off is likely to be limited at certain points in the year.
Wilson noted that his company found as it grew that the last week of the year was one of the busiest because of tax law changes that were taking effect Jan. 1. So Employco's vacation policy had to be adjusted to let workers know that no one could take time off that week.

Summary of Health Spending Accounts

I found this article which gives a good little summary of available options for health care spending accounts (at the very least, it defines the acronyms):

What's an FSA?

Biotech Week via NewsEdge Corporation :
2007 JUL 11 - ( -- Health insurance is confusing enough. And then we're expected to understand all of those acronyms. What's an FSA? An HRA? An HSA?
David Ewers, Boise district manager for PacificSource Health Plans, thinks it's important to talk to people in plain English. "How can you make good choices if you don't understand your options?" he asks.
Today, many employers are encouraging their employees to take a more active role in managing their own health care -- and their own health care costs. That trend has led to a whole new array of health care plan options, along with a new set of acronyms.
Such consumer-directed plans help employers control healthcare costs while giving employees more control over how their healthcare dollars are spent. Plans vary but all consumer-directed plans include a low cost, high deductible Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan plus a healthcare spending account.
Among these spending account options are Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). FSAs let employees make pre-tax contributions to pay for dependent health insurance premiums and such foreseeable out-of-pocket healthcare expenses as unreimbursed medical expenses, dental and vision care and prescriptions. These plans offer tax savings for both employees and for employers.
Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs) are similar to FSAs but employer contributions to employee accounts are not taxable and funds may be rolled over from year to year.
Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) may be funded by either or both employers and employees and, again, there are tax advantages for both.
Ewers says it's worth wading through the sea of acronyms to get the most out of your health insurance. Don't be afraid to ask questions and you'll enjoy all the benefits your insurance plan has to offer.

Information / Data Security

I hope that a person that commits a theft such as this is punished as severely as a criminal would be for bank theft or robbing a convenience store at gun point. I'd like to gather some of these articles and track what the outcomes are (don't know if time will permit). This is a big issue today whether you work in accounting, medical, retail... All company's really need to do is apply some basic accounting controls to their data (separation of duties, access to assets vs. access to records, etc.), follow through with some physical controls, then let the technology experts advise on data security techniques. Probably more complicated then I'm making it out to be, but if a company can keep its valuable trade secrets then they can protect their valuable customer data.
DATA SECURITY: 2.3M consumer records stolen, sold

Miami Herald via NewsEdge Corporation :
Fidelity National Information Services, the electronic-payment processor that agreed to buy EFunds for about $1.8 billion last month, said an employee stole 2.3 million consumer records and sold them to a data broker.
Certegy Check Services, a Fidelity unit which helps businesses clear checks, sued William Sullivan in a Florida state court to retrieve the information and end its use. The personal, bank account and credit-card data were resold to direct marketers, the Jacksonville company said.
"We don't anticipate losing any business as a result of this situation," Renz Nichols, president of Certegy, said on a conference call. "We have seen no evidence that any credit card or bank account information was used for anything other than marketing."
Banks, financial firms and retailers are focusing on data security after system breaches led to consumer lawsuits and losses. Retailer TJX Cos. said in March that hackers stole at least 45.7 million card numbers, the biggest theft of such data. MasterCard and Visa reported in June 2005 a security breakdown that exposed 40 million cards to fraud.
Certegy also sued Sullivan, formerly a senior database administrator, for misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of confidentiality agreements. The complaint didn't specify the amount of damages sought by the company.
Certegy fired Sullivan after it discovered that the information was sold, Michelle Kersch, a spokeswoman for the subsidiary, said. Sullivan was one of five workers with access to the records, Nichols said.
Lawyers for the firm said they didn't have an address or telephone number for Sullivan, who couldn't be reached by Bloomberg News for comment through directory assistance or computer searches.
The stolen data included names, addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, as well as bank account and credit card information, the company said. After receiving the information, the data broker sold names and addresses, but not customers' entire bank account numbers, to the marketing firms, Nichols said.
The Secret Service, a branch of the U.S. Treasury Department that investigates fraud, is "actively investigating this case," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the agency's Tampa field office. It's a felony to transfer, possess or use private customer information for unauthorized purposes, he said.
Shares of Fidelity National fell 8 cents to $54.70 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The stock has gained 36 percent this year.
"It's the responsibility of institutions like Fidelity to strictly limit access to data, to make sure the people handling the data are people we can trust," said Adam Levine, chairman of Identity Theft 911, a financial services firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Certegy, which employs about 1,000 people, is notifying consumers about the data theft, and has alerted credit reporting agencies as well as the Visa and MasterCard networks to be on the look out for fraudulent transactions, Nichols said. As far as the company knows, "no one was financially harmed," he said.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Disappointing state of affairs for the U.S.

I hate to say it right after the 4th of July festivities, but this disappoints me to no end. Have we priced ourselves right out of the US car market. It is hard to find a decent American made new car for under $25,000. If China is able to cost effectively build a quality auto and sell it here for $10,000-$20,000 this could be the beginning of the end for US auto manufacturing (actually may have passed the beginning already). Quality issues including numerous recalls plague US auto manufacturing. Sadly, one of my last two auto purchases happened to be my first foreign auto purchase. I was looking for a low cost, quality, gas miser car. The model I was looking at from Ford was riddled with recalls, Chevy's option was poor all around, I ended up with Hyundai and it has given me 135,000 almost trouble free miles. Chrysler, Ford, GM lets step it up a bit...I want to buy American but with limited money, I have to get the most bang for my buck.

Anyways, read this article and comment...

Chrysler, China's Chery sign deal to export Chinese cars to United States

Associated Press WorldStream via NewsEdge Corporation :
BEIJING_The next Made-in-China export bound for the United States: cars.
Chrysler Group signed a deal Wednesday with China's biggest automaker, Chery, to launch a low-cost production venture that could export the first Chinese-made cars to the United States.
The first cars will reach Latin America or Eastern Europe within a year and models should be exported to North America and Western Europe in 2 1/2 years, said Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda.
"As part of the Chrysler Group's global transformation, we are finding new ways to bring vehicles to market faster, more efficiently and with less cost," LaSorda said at a signing ceremony.
The alliance offers 10-year-old Chery Automobile Co., based in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhu, an opportunity to realize its longtime ambition of entering the U.S. market.
Chinese automakers already export, mostly low-priced trucks and buses shipped to Africa and other developing markets. But analysts say they lack the technology to meet U.S. and European safety and pollution standards on their own.
Chery CEO and Chairman Yin Tongyao said the deal will help Chery improve its skills as it tries to expand foreign sales of its own models.
"Chery is still young, so we should learn from Chrysler and improve our own competitive edge in the near future," he said, calling LaSorda "my teacher in the automotive business."
The first Chrysler-Chery export will be based on Chery's A1 compact and sold under the Dodge brand, LaSorda said.
A 1.3-liter version of the A1 retails in China for 53,800-59,800 yuan (US$7,100-US$7,900; €5,200-5,800). Export prices have not been announced.
The companies will jointly develop future models, probably with Chrysler styling on a Chery platform, LaSorda and
LaSorda said he had "no concerns at all" about convincing U.S. consumers that Chinese-made cars are safe at a time of warnings about seafood, tires and other goods imported from China. Chrysler will work closely with Chery to ensure the cars meet U.S. and European safety and emissions standards, he said.
The agreement follows DaimlerChrysler AG's agreement in May to sell 80.1 percent of money-losing Chrysler to U.S. private equity group Cerberus Capital Management, freeing the parent company to focus on its truck and Mercedes luxury car lines.
Major automakers have been aggressively expanding production in China, which overtook Japan last year to become the world's No. 2 vehicle market after the United States. But until now, most has focused on meeting red-hot local demand, which has made China a bright spot for U.S. automakers amid lackluster sales at home.
Others also have announced plans to export Chinese-made cars to the United States but none has yet made it to market.
A Chinese automaker, Changfeng Motor Co., said in January it hoped to sell sport-utility vehicles in the United States within two years but has given no details. Chery had a deal with American entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin to sell cars in the U.S. market but that fell through.
Japan's Honda Motor Co. has exported Chinese-built Jazz subcompacts to Europe since 2005.
Last year, Chery reported sales of about 310,000 cars, with 40,000 of those exported. Its target this year is 390,000 cars, including 70,000 units sold abroad.
The company assembles vehicles with partners in Iran, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, Brazil and Egypt. It announced plans in March to open a factory in Uruguay _ its first in Latin America _ with an Argentine partner.
Total Chinese passenger car sales rose 37 percent last year to 3.8 million, while total vehicle sales rose 25.1 percent to 7.2 million, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. LaSorda said Chrysler picked Chery after looking at potential partners in Europe and Asia.
"We researched the world and found they were the best," he said.
Asked whether Chrysler was worried that the alliance might help Chery develop into a competitor that might threaten its U.S. partner, LaSorda told The Associated Press, "No, we're not. With us or without us, they're going to grow. So the question is, 'Are you going to go with a winner?'"
The venture's production could reach several hundred thousand units a year, LaSorda said.
"This is the start of a very long relationship between Chrysler and Chery," he said.
On the 'Net:
Chery Automobile Co. (in Chinese):
Chrysler Group: