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Archive for the 'Business' Category

Tuesday - April 8, 2014

Rethinking Tattoos

400px-Tattoo_artist_with_latex_glovesAmong some groups in the U.S. today, having a tattoo is becoming more and more commonplace (not unusual; ordinary). A tattoo is permanent writing or drawings made under your skin. Tattoos can be made in almost any shape and size, from a fierce (dangerous; tough fighting) animal or other symbol to words or phrases (often, comically, misspelled or incorrectly written).

About one in five (21%) of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 16% in 2008, according to a 2012 Harris poll. A separate poll found that among people 18 to 29, the figure (number; percentage) is closer to 40%.

While it’s true that tattoos have become more socially accepted in some parts of American society, there’s still one place where you might want to keep them covered: the place where you work.

Many employers (company owners or bosses) prefer to hire workers without tattoos. That’s almost certainly because, for many people, tattoos continue to carry a stigma (negative views and opinions). According to the Harris poll mentioned above, 45% believed that people with tattoos were less attractive, 27% thought they were less intelligent, and 25% thought they were less healthy.

(Apparently (It seems), companies don’t want to give jobs to people who they think are ugly, stupid, and in poor health. For those like me who are all three of things and who don’t even have a tattoo, this is very bad news indeed!)

Many workplaces actually have policies for people who want to get tattoos or already have them. The U.S. Army, for example, issued new restrictions (limitations; rules on what is allowed) last year on tattoos. The new rules say that tattoos are not allowed on parts of that body that aren’t easily covered, such as the arm below the elbow (where the arm bends) and above the neckline (skin area below the neck and above a shirt). Many hospitals require that employees cover their tattoos, especially ones that may offend (insult) people or frighten children.

Do you have tattoos? Are there rules about tattoos in your workplace? What are your opinions of people with tattoos?

- Jeff

Photo Credit: Tattoo artist with latex gloves from Wikipedia

Tuesday - March 11, 2014

Work Would be Great Without the Coworkers

RED # 18355 64-NA-193The French philosopher Jean-Paul Satre once famously said, “Hell is other people.” I’m not sure who poor old (unfortunate) Jean-Paul’s neighbors, friends, or coworkers (people who work at the same place you do) were, but obviously they were not exactly ideal (perfect; the best possible).

There’s no question (no doubt) that getting along with other people can be difficult, especially when you are at your job. A recent article tried to look on the bright side (focus on the positive) of bothersome (causing trouble) coworkers and suggest ways that these types of people can actually be helpful. I’m not sure if I’m buying that argument (am convinced; agree), but I thought I’d talk about a few common terms used for these difficult types of coworkers in the U.S. Perhaps you know someone who fits (is similar to) one of these descriptions:

  • A social butterfly is a person who likes to talk a lot, be around other people, attend parties and other social events, and meet and know a lot of people.
  • A gossip is someone who likes to talk about other people, even if what he says isn’t true. You can have a social butterfly who just likes to chat (talk informally), but who may also be a gossip.
  • A workaholic is someone who works too much, and is always thinking about work, even when not working.
  • Malcontents are people who are generally unhappy and who may find ways to do things they are not supposed to do, or may express their unhappiness in other ways.
  • Someone who is passive-aggressive is someone who shows her unhappiness in small ways, rather than confronting (meeting face-to-face or openly) the person who is making her unhappy. A passive-aggressive person might misplace (lose temporarily) important papers, not return your phone calls, or “forget” to do the things she promised to do for you. So, it’s possible for someone to be a malcontent who is passive-aggressive. Even worse, this person could be a workaholic who is a passive-aggressive malcontent!
  • A narcissist is someone who believes everything should be focused on him or her, believing his or her own ideas, views, and beliefs are the most important. A person who is a narcissist might attract people who are suck-ups.
  • A suck-up is willing to say or do things — such as compliment someone a lot or say how great he is — to get an advantage in the workplace.
  • Backstabbers are people who pretend to be friendly with you, but make critical (disapproving) comments or do things to harm you when you’re not around.

Who do you think are the most disruptive (interfere with your work or cause the most problems) where you work: social butterflies, gossips, workaholics, narcissists, malcontents, suck-ups, backstabbers, or passive-aggressive people?

- Jeff

Photo Credit: Photograph of the Division of Classification and Cataloging

Tuesday - December 10, 2013

The Peer-to-Peer Economy

774px-Albert_Anker_-_Stillleben_-_UnmässigkeitIn the past few months, I’ve been reading more and more about services that match (put together; connect) people who have something to sell or some service to provide with the people who are looking to buy it. This newer way of doing business, what people are calling the peer-to-peer economy, bypasses (goes around) the middleman (person between the seller and buyer, usually a salesperson). (A peer is someone who is like you in important ways, such as being the same age or with the same status, being in the same grade in school, having the same skills, etc.)

For a few years now, people have been using websites like Airbnb that match people who have accommodations (a place to sleep and stay) to rent for a short time with people who are visiting a city and want a place to stay. It could be as simple as a free sofa, bed, or bedroom to an entire apartment or house. This often cheaper and more roomy (with more space) alternative (other choice) to hotels is appealing (attractive) to many people.

More recently, people have begun to use smartphone apps (computer programs) to give and get rides (transportation in a car or other vehicle), similar to a taxi service. Instead of calling a taxi, you go on the app to see if someone in your area is available to give you a ride. In Los Angeles, for example, actors, musicians, or other people in the entertainment industry (business) with time between auditions (interviews for a performance job) or jobs can make some money this way. There are now companies that screen (check; investigate) a driver’s and car’s records and make sure the person has a proper license, registration (properly registered with the government), and insurance (an agreement with a company to help pay for damages or healthcare costs in case of accidents). Like renting a room in someone’s house, this type of ride service is typically less expensive than using established (already there) services.

New to me until recently are services that allow people to sell a place at their dinner table. Let’s say you’re visiting a new city or a new country and you want to eat some authentic food of that place, perhaps a home-cooked (meal cooked in a home, not a restaurant or bought from a store) meal. You can use these new services to find someone wiling to cook you that meal, or allow you to join them for a meal, and experience what it is like to eat with locals (people who live there) the type of food that a local eats.

For people who are struggling (having difficulty) in the poor economy of recent years, this type of peer-to-peer service helps to make ends meet (earn enough money to pay for the necessary things to live). For others, it’s a way to supplement (add to) their earnings (pay).

Are these types of services available where you live? Have you participated in the peer-to-peer economy? If not, would you consider renting out a room in your home, giving someone a ride in your car, or cooking them a meal in your own home?

- Lucy

Image Credit: Albert Anker-Stillleben from Wikipedia

Tuesday - September 10, 2013

Headline English: A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

Peaceful_ResolutionLet’s talk about a business headline today. This one comes from a recent issue of Bloomberg Magazine, one of the largest business magazines in the United States. Here’s the headline:

A Modest Step Toward a Grand Bargain

The news story is about the president of the United States trying to negotiate (work out; come to an agreement over) a deal (agreement) with Congress. In the U.S. political system, as you probably know, Congress is a group of elected representatives in charge of (responsible for) passing or approving laws. After Congress approves a new law, the president has to sign or agree to the law. (It doesn’t always work exactly that way, but that’s the normal process.)

Now, one of the problems that we have in our modern American economy is the same as in many economies: how much should people pay in taxes? That is, how much money should businesses and individuals have to pay the government for the government to do its job?

The headline is about negotiations between the president and Congress. It begins with the words “a modest step.” The adjective modest usually refers to a person who is humble, a person who doesn’t brag, a person who doesn’t like to talk about himself or herself. If someone compliments (says something nice about) a modest person, that person might say, “Oh no, that’s not really true. I’m not very good at that.”

In the headline, “modest” is used to mean something slightly different. It means a very small amount of something. In this case, we’re talking about how much progress is being made toward a certain goal. A step is normally a movement of your feet, moving one leg in front of the other to walk. You have to take steps in order to walk, but we also use that expression, “to take steps,” to mean to make progress, to do things.

So, a modest step is a small amount of progress toward some destination, some goal. The goal in this case is a grand bargain. The word bargain can have a couple of different meanings. One meaning for bargain is a good deal, a cheap price for something that you’re buying. But a bargain can also be an agreement. To make a bargain is to agree to do something. That’s the meaning that is used in the headline.

Finally, we come to the word grand. “Grand,” like modest and bargain, has a couple of different meanings. Here, it means something important, something large, something that is very complex and complicated that is going to solve a lot of different problems at once.

This phrase, “a grand bargain,” is actually quite common in American politics. You will see it in reading about American history, usually to describe how different political groups come to some agreement that solves a lot of  important problems.

In our story, the president and Congress are trying to come to a grand bargain about how much people should pay in taxes. I’m not sure how exactly it will all work out (what the specific result will be), but I’m guessing that whatever they agree to, it won’t be a bargain (good deal) for American taxpayers.


Photo credit: Peaceful Resolution by Nomadic Lass, Flickr CC

Tuesday - August 20, 2013

Your Office May be Getting in the Way of Your Work

800px-OpenPlanRedBalloon1If you’ve worked in an American office in the past 10 to 15 years, you may have noticed a change in its configuration (how things are arranged, including furniture and equipment). In recent years, large office spaces have been built to foster or encourage collaboration, working closely and productively with coworkers.

This has meant fewer traditional cubicles (workspaces with a desk and chair and high walls on three sides, without touching the ceiling). Instead, modern offices tend to have lower cubicle walls or open plans, where people sit close to their coworkers, sometimes facing each other and sometimes sharing one large desk area. The idea is that coworkers would get to know each other better, share ideas more often, and ultimately (in the end; as a result) produce better and more creative work. Not surprisingly, this type of office space also takes up (uses) less room (space) and companies can fit more employees into a given office space.

A recent study reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, says that open plan office spaces may not be helping workers get more work done. Open plan offices tend to be more distracting (for one’s attention to not remain on one thing) and workers find it hard to focus, taking more time to complete their work. The authors of the study say that the best type of office spaces tend to be ones that have a combination of spaces where people can work alone and places where people can work with others, so that they can choose where they want to work at different parts of the day.

I have never worked in an office that had an open plan. When I worked in an office early in my career, I always worked in a traditional cubicle or shared an office with one or two other people. Even with just one or two people working close by, I found it distracting hearing them on the phone or talking to a coworker. I can’t imagine working in a large space with a lot of other people.

Now, working on the podcast, I work in my own office and I can shut the doors when there is too much noise. Occasionally, I’ll go to a cafe to work, but I can seldom write in that environment unless I have headphones (earphones) in to block out ambient noise (noises around me). Even so, I prefer silence when I write or edit. I don’t think I have very good powers of concentration (ability to focus well when there is noise or activity around).

If you work in an office, what kind of workspace do you have? What is your preferred work environment? Do you like working in an open plan workspace or do you like a more self-contained (independent) space?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: OpenPlanRedBalloon1 from Wikipedia

Thursday - February 14, 2013

Dynamic Pricing

800px-Onedolar2009seriesOne thing we are accustomed to (used to) when we shop is prices going up and down with sales and seasonal (different time of the year) deals. But what about prices changing frequently, as much as every 10 or 15 minutes?

If you’re like many Americans, you’re doing more and more of your shopping online (on the Internet). Popular websites are now using dynamic pricing to get the best price for their goods (items for sale) and urging (encouraging) you to buy. Dynamic pricing is when a business uses computer programs with complex (not simple) algorithms (math formula; math rules a computer follows in computing) to figure out the best price for a product. This algorithm takes into account (includes in its calculations) things such as inventory levels (how much of a product the seller has), competitor prices (how much other stores are charging), how quickly the item is selling in a given time frame (a certain amount of time), and your buying history (what you have already purchased from that website).

Dynamic pricing is not new. If you’ve purchased an airline ticket in the past 20 years, you know that you may get a different price depending on when you make your reservation (booking before purchasing). In recent years, some sports teams have begun to price their tickets according to how popular a game is predicted (expected) to be and how many tickets have already sold, among other things, to make sure that it sells the most tickets possible. Now, this practice (way of doing things) is being used for all kinds of products.

I noticed dynamic pricing when using a popular online retailer (seller): Amazon. Amazon’s pricing system is so sophisticated that it’s a mystery to most people. However, if you ever put an item in your shopping cart (list of things you’re getting ready to buy) and leave it there for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll see the price changing, perhaps many times over that time period, depending on the factors I mentioned above and more, including what you buy in the meantime. This use of customer information is somewhat (kind of; fairly) controversial because some critics (people who don’t like it) say that it’s an invasion of privacy (viewing and using of personal information without your knowledge or permission). However, it’s being done all of the time, and not just with large retailers like Amazon.

Have you noticed dynamic pricing used in your online shopping? What do you think of this pricing practice?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Onedolar2009series from Wikipedia

Thursday - January 31, 2013

Yelp It!

In the old days, we learned about new restaurants, stores, and other businesses through word of mouth (one person telling another). We still do that these days, but many people have taken that online (on the Internet) to websites that allow user reviews (comments written by users or customers). One user review website that has become very popular in recent years is

The word yelp means a short, sharp cry that comes out of your mouth when something suddenly gives you pain or surprises you. I associate yelping more with animals, like dogs, than with people, but if someone stepped on my foot, I would certainly yelp.

The website Yelp started in 2004 and allows people to post user reviews about restaurants, stores, services, and even prisons.  What?!  Prisons??  Yes, even U.S. prisons are listed on Yelp’s website and anyone can post a review of these “graybar hotels.” I don’t think anything could induce me (attract and convince me) to check in to a graybar hotel, but it’s interesting to read what former (in the past) or current inmates (prisoners) and those who visit inmates think of the prisons.

More commonly, people use Yelp to read about customers’ experiences before going to a new place or using a new service, and it’s a place where people can write laudatory (praising; complimentary) reviews or gripe (complain) about their experience. It’s so popular these days that it’s not uncommon to hear people use the verb “to yelp” to mean to read reviews on Yelp (or even other websites) similar to the way people use “to google” to mean to search the Internet, no matter what search engine they use.

In the past, I’ve used Yelp to get recommendations on all kinds of places and services: restaurants, car repair, plumbing repair, movers, hair salons, and many more.

Is there a popular user review website where you live? Do you use it, and if so, for what types of businesses or services?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Cele.jpg from Wikipedia

Tuesday - November 20, 2012

No Learning English at Work, Please

Many businesses worry about their employees wasting time (not doing what you’re supposed to be doing; being unproductive) at work when they use the Internet. A common solution is to install (put in) special software that will block (prevent; stop) you from accessing (looking at) websites the software deems (decides; determines) are a waste of your (and the company’s) time. Sometimes the software gets carried away (goes too far; does too much), however.

I recently went to a mechanic (someone who fixes cars) in order to get an oil change (when you put in new motor oil into your car’s engine). Like a lot of places nowadays, the garage (place where you get your car fixed) had wifi for its customers, so I fired up (turned on) my laptop and tried to navigate (go to) a few websites.

Since it was a workday (a day I normally work; Monday through Friday), I needed to check out the ESL Podcast website for a few things. But when I tried to go to, I wasn’t allowed to access it. Instead (in place of getting it), I got a notice (see photo) which said:

Block Reason: Forbidden Category “Education.”

Forbidden means not allowed, not permitted.

Apparently, websites related to education were considered a waste of time by the software.

So, folks (guys; informal for “people”), be careful about learning too much at work. It might be considered a waste of time by your company’s software.


Photo credit: Jeff McQuillan


Thursday - October 11, 2012

Fake Online Reviews

In the old days, if we wanted to get a recommendation for something, we would talk to our friends and acquaintances (people we know, but not well). These days, we go to the Internet. If you want to know about a business before you visit or about a product before you buy, you may look at online reviews, written opinions posted on the Internet.

Online reviews have become a huge influence in the global marketplace (world of buying and selling). Good or bad reviews, for example, can make or break (make successful or unsuccessful) a new restaurant, product, or hotel. It’s not unusual for businesses to post positive reviews about their own business, and even write unfavorable (negative) ones about their competitors (business competing for the same customers). The savvy (knowledgeable) customer knows that this happens and ignores a certain number of glowing (very positive) or very negative reviews.

Weighing (deciding what is useful and what isn’t) online reviews has become harder, however, because writing fake (false; untrue) online reviews has become a business. There are now companies that a book author (writer) or business owner can pay to get fake positive reviews. One company will give you 20 positive reviews for about $500 and 50 reviews for $1000.

Major online sellers do try to spot (find) fake reviews by doing linguistic (related to language) analysis. For example, if the same string of words (words in the same order) appear in multiple reviews, that’s a dead giveaway (an easy way to tell). If an anonymous (without showing one’s real identity) reviewer only writes one glowing review, that may also be a fake review.

A recent National Public Radio story gave some tips on how to spot fake reviews. Some of these suggestions are fairly obvious (clear; apparent), but may be useful as a reminder.

  1. Don’t just look at the reviews on one site. Look for the same product or business on different websites.
  2. Many sites give special status to people who are longtime reviewers or who are verified (confirmed to be real). Their reviews are more trustworthy (reliable) than anonymous ones.
  3. Don’t pay as much attention to how many stars a business gets. Instead, look for specific information about a visitor’s experience.
  4. Read reviews for specific, helpful information that fake review writers or business owners might not think of, such as how late the swimming pool stays open at a hotel.
  5. Pay attention to what the majority of reviews say, rather than outliers (an opinion that is very different from the majority).

Do you read online reviews, and if so, for what types of products, services, or businesses? In your opinion, what are good tip-offs (pieces of evidence) of a fake review?

~ Lucy

Photo Credit: Stipula fountain pen from Wikipedia

Tuesday - September 4, 2012

Meet Dennis, My Dentist

Why did you decide on your particular career (job; what you do for money)? Perhaps you choose it because your mother or father did the same thing (my father was a teacher, I am a teacher). Perhaps you choose it because someone you admired (had high respect for or a high opinion of) also did that sort of work.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, it was because of your name.

I know, it sounds crazy, but your name can actually effect what you become in life.

For example, as Lucy pointed out a few years ago, if you are a dentist, you’re much more likely to be named Dennis than John or Peter (43% more likely, according to one study). There are more George’s who are geophysicists than Henry’s, and more Henry’s who work in hardware stores than Bill’s. (And although researchers haven’t studied this yet, there are probably more builders named Bill than Johnny.)

Social psychologist Brett Pelham’s research discovered these strange-but-true links (connections) 10 years ago. He called it “implicit egotism.” (Implicit means implied, or suggested but not actually stated explicitly for you. Egotism refers to thinking of ourselves as being very important.)

Could it all be true?

I know an accountant named Abrahams (three of them, actually).

If you ask people, they will say that their names had nothing to do with (no relation to) their career selection (choice). If you tell them it may have, they will probably think you are a little crazy. Or really stupid.

But from a psychological point of view, it makes perfect sense (is very reasonable or logical). We are attracted to things that have qualities or characteristics that we also have. We like people like us.

But there’s even more: All things being equal (assuming all other conditions are the same or the situation is identical), an Eric will more likely marry an Erica and a Charlotte will fall in love with a Charles.

Oh, and your name also affects whom you choose to do business with. My doctor’s first name is Jeffrey. My optometrist’s last name is Matsumoto.

It gets stranger: there are more Florence’s in Florida than in other states than would be predicted by chance (that would happen if the distribution (presence) of first names were random across states), and more Louie’s in Louisiana.

People born on February 2nd (2/2) are disproportionately (more than would be predicted statistically) found in Two Harbors, Minnesota, and more people born on March 3rd (3/3) live in Three Forks, Montana, than you should expect to find there. (Lucy has already reported that names can affect the products we buy and even the grades we get in school.)

Does “name-job similarity” hold (is it a fact) in other languages? I don’t know if researchers have looked at the question, but there is no reason to think it is not true. Will more Pedro’s in Peru become plomeros (plumbers) than Jose’s?  Probablemente (probably).

I don’t want to become carried away with this (try to apply this to too many things; go crazy with it). Perhaps some similarities are just coincidences (things that happen at the same time by luck or chance). Is it likely that I live in Los Angeles and become a linguist because Lawrence is my middle name? (Or, for that matter, did Lucy?)

Did my ancestors (relatives born before I was, many years ago), the McQuillans, go from Ireland to Minnesota for a similar reason? Did my father, Patrick, work part-time at the post office for 25 years due to the P in his name? (He was a physical education teacher, by the way.) Perhaps.

Do you see any of these “unrelated” connections in your own life? In your own job?


P.S. My dentist’s name is actually not Dennis. Her first name begins with an S, so we can’t explain her choice of career from her name. But why did I choose her as my dentist? Could it be because her last name begins with…an M?

Photo credit: Model and film star Megan Fox, with (model) Marilyn Monroe tattoo, Wikipedia CC