Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Survey Reveals Most Annoying Terms and Phrases in the Workplace
Companies claiming to create “synergies” in an effort to develop a “value-added” “paradigm” that leads to new “solutions” may want to be strategic in another way: not going overboard with cliché phrases and industry jargon. According to a recent survey, terms such as these are among the most overused in the workplace.

The national poll includes responses from 150 senior executives -- including those from human resources, finance and marketing departments -- with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Executives were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their responses included:

* “At the end of the day”
* “Solution”
* “Thinking outside the box”
* “Synergy”
* “Paradigm”
* “Metrics”
* “Take it offline”
* “Redeployed people”
* “On the runway”
* “Win-win”
* “Value-added”
* “Get on the same page”
* “Customer centric”
* “Generation X”
* “Accountability management”
* “Core competency”
* “Alignment”
* “Incremental”

“Buzzwords and industry jargon are a form of shorthand used by people within a particular company or profession, but they can be confusing or even seem exclusionary to individuals outside of that field,” said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Job Hunting For Dummies® (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.). “When these words are overused, they can lose their impact altogether.”

Part of the motivation to use buzzwords can be attributed to a desire to demonstrate your expertise, but this can often backfire. Added Messmer, “Even though the terms you use may be clear to you, other people must understand them if you hope to communicate your point effectively. For instance, instead of saying a project was a ‘win-win,’ explain why it was successful.”

As society and pop culture evolve, old catchphrases die out, while new jargon is born. Following are some examples of currently popular buzzwords and their meanings:

* Watercooler games n. -- coworker discussions
* Smell test n. -- determining the potential success of a product; formerly “run it up the flag pole”
* Critical path n. -- determining the appropriate steps to take
* Low-hanging fruit n. -- easy opportunities for new business
* Bandwidth n. -- the amount of time and resources needed for a project
* Download v. -- assess the facts of a particular situation
* Brain dump n. -- providing all of the information; typically given when someone is handing over an initiative or preparing a successor

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Apr. 23, 2005. 01:00 AM

Mail-in rebates less than they seem
Stories abound of AWOL refunds


You're shopping for a new computer or digital camera. You find two models with the same price, but one has an attractive rebate offer and the other does not.

Which one do you pick?

Most consumers go for the rebate, but more than half never claim it, according to widely quoted statistics.

People can't be bothered to do the paperwork, cut the universal product codes off the packages and keep copies of everything in case the cheque never arrives in the mail.

There's the rub. Rebates often go astray despite all the work you do to meet the requirements.

Some people wait so long, and get so frustrated, they think companies deliberately don't keep their promises.

Tom Daniel followed all the instructions and waited six weeks for a $50 rebate on a computer monitor.

"Guess what? No record of the rebate request. Now I'm asked to go to the trouble and expense of writing a letter and faxing it long distance to Minnesota."

Daniel got his rebate after we contacted Best Buy on his behalf.

We also helped Brendan Morrissey get a $30 rebate from Symantec Corp.

"I like the product (Norton AntiVirus), but the service really bugs me," Morrissey says, adding that he had problems two years in a row getting the company to honour its rebate.

Both times, he got a card in the mail saying proof of purchase hadn't been received. But he insists he sent all the documents the company requested.

Elynn Wareham, a public relations consultant for Symantec, apologized for the inconvenience the rebate issue had caused.

Dean Finlay waited more than two months for Rogers Wireless to come through with a $50 rebate on his pay-as-you-go phone purchase.

"I contacted the company processing the rebate for Rogers, and they sent me the following message: `Please note: We are waiting for client approval to release the rebates.'

"This implies that Rogers is holding it up. I really don't like the mail-in rebate idea, and it becomes even less tolerable when the offering company deliberately slows down the process," Finlay said in a public message posted at my website.

When he tried calling Rogers to ask why the rebates hadn't been approved, "they hung up on me."

Many product suppliers don't process their own rebates, but hand over the job to an outside firm. This increases the potential for errors.

Heather Armstrong, a Rogers Wireless spokeswoman, says Finlay was given the wrong client message. She promised to speed up the delivery of his rebate cheque.

John Grant caught our attention with his email about "rebate exhaustion" in trying to extract $50 from Best Buy and $70 from Hewlett-Packard Co. on a computer and printer purchased at Christmas.

"After 10 phone calls and four faxes, I have finally received what was rightfully mine," he wrote.

The Best Buy rebate came March 3, after he made two calls to track the money down. That was the easy part.

Hewlett-Packard had no record of his application. Luckily, he'd saved a copy of his product code. But he had to fax it again and again.

He got a cheque on March 15, but only when he asked Best Buy to help him out. The retailer gave him a letter to send to Hewlett-Packard, but wouldn't communicate with the supplier directly.

Everyone he talked to had stories about rebates going AWOL.

"My advice to people is to plug away, make copies and don't let the companies wear you down," Grant says.

Whether suppliers don't pay up on purpose or just build in too many safeguards against fraud, the effect is the same. The companies alienate customers and turn loyalty into disloyalty.

Retailers are also becoming annoyed with a promotional tactic so prone to failure and frustration.

Best Buy Co., the largest electronics retailer in North America, will bow to customer complaints and phase out rebates over the next two years, the company said this month.

"We'd much rather have instant rebates, which you redeem on the spot," says Rick Lotman, senior vice-president of merchandising at Best Buy Canada in Vancouver.

"This is a pretty bold step for us since a lot of suppliers like rebates. They let you get a price impression out there without taking the risk."

Instant rebates would be more costly, of course. They would go to 100 per cent of customers, not just the 30 per cent or fewer who now apply for and receive the rebates.

But it's a fair thing to do — and it's long overdue.

"I buy products, and I don't always take advantage of the rebates," Lotman says.

"They add a layer of complexity to a purchase, especially of technological products, that's complex already."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Apr. 4, 2005. 01:00 AM

Retro player lets you digitize an era



Many people reading this began listening to music on vinyl records or 8-track cartridges.

You instinctively recall the sound of vinyl scratches clicking throughout your favourite song. And you remember the weirdness of hearing a song suddenly fade out in the middle as the 8-track tape rolled over.

Why was any of this ever considered reasonable?

Then came — and went — the audiocassette.

It was that in-between technology that fed the ears of a generation. With boom boxes and Walkmans cranked to 11, we watched those tiny wheels spin the thin tape across heads producing the once-magical sounds of Madonna and Michael Jackson.

That was before the whole idea of analog technology imploded and digital audio was born.

Now, long after being relegated to the music store discount bins, the once venerable audiocassette is back. Sort of.

If you're over the age of 30 you likely have a small fortune in weekly allowance and lawn-cutting income invested in a dusty pile of audiocassettes buried in the back of your closet.

But a Korean manufacturer has devised a way to help us rediscover our musical heritage.

BTO Co. Ltd. has developed a tape deck unit for PCs that converts old audiotapes into the contemporary musical currency of digital files.

Plus Deck 2 ($149 U. S. from looks like the old tape decks you used to find in vehicle dashboards before we realized analog technology basically sucks.

But sucks or not, dusting off your old cassette collection can be a reminiscence-filled saunter through the days of leg warmers, big hair and sunglasses at night. The synthetic sounds and cheesy lyrics of the 1980s have the disarming power to both charm and embarrass. And some of that music will almost certainly convince you it needs to be added to your current digital library.

When compiling the soundtrack of your life, some early Loverboy and Manfred Mann are essential, you will conclude. You will also rediscover some true duds that will make you wonder what you were ever thinking. Quarterflash? I mean, really.

Once the filtering process is complete, it's time to make some beautiful digital music.

The Plus Deck 2 requires some installation. First off, you'll need a spare bay slot, a serial port and a 10 MB hard drive in your PC. The process of converting analog sound signals into digital files is actually a bit of a technical marvel that could test your computer.

You're well-advised to install the software from the product Web site ( for the most up-to-date version.

After that, the process of turning obsolete music from obsolete technology into state-of-the-art digital files is actually pretty simple.

The software is intuitive. You control the tape deck from your computer screen. Cue the tape up to the beginning of the song you want to transfer, hit the ``convert'' button and let it happen. You can choose .wav or .mp3 format (up to 256 bit rate).

But let's be clear. No matter the file format or bit rate, the resulting digital file isn't going to sound great. There's a reason why audiotapes went the way of Michael Jackson's career.

My old tapes sound like they were all recorded in a studio where someone in the back room was power-sanding the floor.

Tape, more than digital technology, deteriorates over time. That's another reason to transfer your cassette tunes if you want them preserved.

Plus Deck 2 also allows the reverse process — taping digital music onto audiocassette. It's unclear to me why you would ever want to transfer a superior technology onto an inferior format for your listening displeasure.

But if you're all about rediscovery for its own sake, there you go.

The obvious alternative to all of this is simply purchasing the old cassette music anew on CD or in digital files. It will sound better and save you the time and hassle of installing hardware and transferring the material yourself.

The cost will likely end up being about the same, depending of course on how many tunes are required to replace your lost musical past.

The cheapest option, of course, is getting your retro music collection for free over the Internet. There's no judgment here.

Either way, it's easier than using a newfangled tape deck. In some cases, however, the old songs may not be available on iTunes or Kazaa. There can't be a huge demand for Quarterflash albums, for example.

And that means tape-to-digital transformation may be your only real musical revival strategy.