Category Archives: work

Making Do With Less

Four years ago I fell into the abyss that would come to be known as the Great Recession. In a matter of weeks, jobs were lost, paychecks vanished, and my lifestyle changed. Read more…

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Facing Reality

Censored!

I created a Facebook page because I realized it was the most annoying thing I could do to my kids. Kids don’t want their parents on a social network they consider their own, and grow especially uncomfortable when their classmates send friend requests to their parents.

Since I’m too old for spring break and too tired to attend many all-night parties, I wasn’t worried about any embarrassing photos showing up on the site. So I was somewhat surprised to realize, with or without business questionable images, that Facebook could create potentially sticky issues. Continue reading

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Numbers Game

If you want to buy or lease real estate, find a broker. But if you just want to get a full picture of the real estate in a specific geographic area, then find the census enumerator that worked the block.

Enumerators walk from property to property, block by block, verifying addresses and sorting residential from commercial properties. They count apartment units, look for hidden units and conclude, in some cases, if a seemingly uninhabitable space is really some body’s home.

It’s a necessary, though time consuming job that legions of temporary workers perform nationwide every 10 years, in advance of the Decennial Census.

The task has remained virtually unchanged since the first US census in 1790. But the tools used to perform it have changed significantly–and the history of those changes effectively mirror the history of technological change.

When the first census was taken, slightly more than a year after George Washington became the nation’s first President, US marshals supervised assistants appointed to collect the data. The enumerators had no printed data sheets to guide them and had to provide their own supplies, including paper and pencils.

More than two centuries later, enumerators are using hand-held computers (HCCs) and GPS to plot, record and update the information on every possible living space in a significantly larger United States. It’s not the most sophisticated technology: the HCCs have little computing power. They’re slow and prone to intermittent freezes. As for the GPS, enumerators concur it’s not the best geographic  positioning system on the market.

Even with its problems and glitches, the technology represents a huge advance over the days when every piece of data was collected by hand. It helps standardize the data and make it somewhat more reliable.

It’s useful…but it’s no substitute for the enumerators themselves. They still have to walk from property or property, counting, evaluating and using their intuition as much as their technology. It confirms what everyone in real estate already knows: technology is only as good as the judgment of those who use it.

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Human Unpredictability

Humans aren’t rational. So why should financial theories assume that they are? That’s the question writer Chelsea Wald posed in Crazy Money, in the Dec. 12, 2008 issue of Science. It’s a reasonable question, she explains.

Even the experts seem bewildered by the current economic crisis. Quantitative analysts (quants)–the whiz-kid financial engineers whose algorithms have dominated Wall Street trading in recent years–have watched those algorithms fail. Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan acknowledged in October that there was “a flaw in the model that I perceived … defines how the world works.” Continue reading

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Stopping Mobile Spam

Commercial real estate professionals love their smartphones…and so, apparently, do spammers.  “The convergence of unlimited messaging plans, enhanced capabilities on mobile devices and the lack of messaging security at many carriers create a perfect opportunity for mobile spammers,” said Jamie de Guerre, chief technology officer at Cloudmark, a company that markets SMS security to wireless  carriers.

A recent Nielsen Mobile report estimates the  typical US  mobile subscriber sends and receives more SMS text messages than phone calls. In the second quarter of 2008,for instance, the report said there  was a  450 percent increase in text messages over the same period in 2006. Continue reading

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Online Property Scam Raises Questions

Technology has changed the way properties are bought and sold. But it’s also created a world of opportunity for fraud and scams. Just recently, the National Association of Realtors warned that its name is being used as part of a property rental scheme. Continue reading

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30 years, 30 Life-changing Innovations

Public Broadcasting’s Nightly Business Report and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania just ranked the top 30 innovations of the past 30 years. The list includes the Internet, of course, along with personal computers, mobile phones and e-mail. But some of the other items on the list may surprise you.

“The pace of innovation has been so hectic in recent years that it is hard to imagine which innovations have had the greatest impact on business and society,” the NBR and Wharton researchers conclude. What do you think–and what, if anything, did they miss? As a commercial real estate professional, you may have your own ideas. So here’s the challenge: If you could create your own list of top 30 innovations, what would it include?

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