Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Middle of the Road

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way" - William Blake. I was reminded of this quote when I read this short editorial in NY Times by Maura J Casey. In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today, says the author. Difficult to digest, yet absolutely TRUE.

NY Times Editorial

When I saw employees of my small Connecticut town digging around a tree near my home, I feared they were getting ready to cut it down. Thankfully, they were just replacing a nearby street sign.

The tree is an ordinary maple, but it stands at the juncture of two roads. Not at the side of the road, mind you. In the middle. When you turn from one street to the other, you have to drive around the tree, which is at least 60 years old, and grows smack in the center of the pavement. It is a reminder of a slower time that always makes me smile.

The road is one of the few remaining lightly traveled ones in town. Once, all of this town’s roads were lightly traveled. Tractors and milk trucks ambled in greater numbers; now today’s busy commuters whiz by. The traffic — which at certain times of the day can be near constant — forced the town to install its second stoplight about five years ago, followed soon after by a few fast-food franchises. A Chinese restaurant moved in, and now we can pick up kung pao chicken without having to drive 15 minutes to the small city nearby. Such are the privileges and the constraints of civilization.

That’s why the site — and sight — of the tree, the silent, leafy sentinel of a slower time, is at once amusing and comforting. Sometime, decades ago, town officials decided to pave around the tree instead of cutting it down for the convenience of cars despite the fact that it probably made more sense to remove it while widening the road. But it was a perfectly good tree, and someone argued, successfully, that it be left alone. In a world with little tolerance for eccentricity, it is hard to imagine that decision being made today.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How Bad Are iPods for Your Hearing?

Today, iPods (or) products similar to iPods are quite common. But will this lead to hearing loss? Does listening to loud music through headphones lead to long-term hearing loss? Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children's Hospital Boston, explains how much damage your headphone habit might cause — and how to mitigate your risk, in this interesting article in Time (July 28, 2008). Some highlights from the article -

"... I don't want to single out iPods. Any personal listening device out there has the potential to be used in a way that will cause hearing loss. We've conducted studies of a few MP3 players and found very similar results across the MP3 manufacturers.

Some in-the-ear earphones are capable of providing higher sound levels than some over-the-ear earphones. That said, studies we've done on behavior show that the type of earphones has almost nothing to do with the level at which people set their headphones. It's all dictated by the level of background noise in their listening environment.

When we put people in different listening environments, like flying in an airplane — we used noise we'd recorded while flying on a Boeing 757 commercial flight, and we simulated that environment in our lab — 80% of people listened at levels that would eventually put their hearing at risk. On the subway system here in Boston, the ambient noise levels are very comparable to the level on an airplane, although it sounds very different.

The noise is sufficiently high that it induces people to listen to their headphones at excessively loud volume. But in order to listen as loud as you want, you need to be careful about how long you're listening.

I would also strongly recommend that people invest in better earphones that block out background noise. Some of the research we did studied earphones that completely seal up the ear canal. These are passive sound-isolating earphones, as opposed to the ones that are active noise cancelers that block out some of the noise.

As far as I can tell, both would allow people to listen to their headphones at their chosen level — and more likely at a lower volume than if they were using the stock earbuds...."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Social welfare organisations liable to pay minimum wages

Business Line (July 9, 2008)
reports that the Madras High Court has held that payment of minimum wages would stand irrespective of whether a work undertaken by an organisation was on voluntary basis.

Citing a decision of the apex court [in Sanjit Roy vs State of Rajasthan (1983 (1) SCC 525)], Mr Justice K. Chandru ruled that neither the Government nor any other authority could evade payment of minimum wages on the specious plea that they were running a social welfare organisation.

Non-payment of minimum wages to workmen on piece rate basis, would amount to forced labour
is the key decision.

'Don't Touch My Perks': Companies that Eliminate Them Risk Employee Backlash

Managing people and their expectations is a difficult job. I read an interesting article in Knowledge@Wharton (July 23, 2008) on employee perks. A few highlights -
  1. Once you have the perk, to take it away is seen as a violation of a psychological contract you have with your employee.
  2. Inexpensive, or no-cost, perks -- such as casual-dress days, free coffee and food discounts -- may not add much to employee morale or productivity, but they don't hurt the bottom line much either.
  3. It helps a lot if the need is something driven by factors outside the firm. The need to improve share price isn't going to satisfy a lot of people.
  4. Some executives turn away cash compensation in favor of use of a company car valued at much less money because of emotional reasons.
  5. Often you have to keep these deals quiet so others don't feel their [own] deal is bad.
  6. Cell phone companies, local restaurants, and other businesses are eager to offer discounts to employers who, in turn, pass along the discounts to their employees. Employers win because they can provide a benefit to their employees that costs nothing.
With difficulties cropping on the economic front, it will be interesting to watch how companies are going to respond. May be if there is a threat of job loss, then employee(s) may compromise and say reduce salary or benefits but don't resort to job cuts.