Corra Daily Planet » 2006 » August

Jobs in the Dog Days on the Rise for the Autumn Season

Thu, August 31st, 2006 - 11:33 am - By Gordon Basichis

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We found this article on Topix.netOnline Recruiting Rebounds in August

Online job recruiting bounced back in August following a seasonal decline last month.

Monster Worldwide says its employment index climbed eight points, with seven out of nine regions showing stronger levels of recruitment.

There was increased demand for workers in retail trade and in the education, training and library occupations, all of which declined in July.

At the same time, the hiring environment for white-collar professionals remained solid with continued heavy recruiting in business and financial operations and IT-related occupations.

While the Monster Employment Index is 22 percent higher than it was a year ago, the year-over-year increase is the lowest since its inception.

Monster’s Steve Pogorzelski, says that suggests a more moderate rate of economic growth, due partly to rising energy prices and a cooling housing market.

With summer ending and retailers and other businesses getting ready for the changing season, it appears more jobs are available. At least on line there are more jobs being offere in August than there were in July. In fact, while some sectors are down, housing for one, there are others that are enjoying a hiring frenzy. Regionally speaking, it is a mini hiring frenzy in the Gulf States.

Human resource departments almost always endure an increase of stress whenever there is an increase in the job market. Time pressures are greater as the HR people are pressured by department managers to hire people and get them online. There is always the temptation to move more quickly than common sense will allow.

Corra stresses that acquiescing to pressure may cause your HR group to move precipitously and allow the wrong kind of candidate to pass into the workplace. Be careful. When you order a pre-employment background check on your new candidate wait for all the essential information to be returned, before you let him into the workplace. Even in cases where employers will accept candidates with misdemeanors or lesser felonies, you want to be sure there are no red flags, like patterns of drug abuse or, worse, violence.

And if you are among the increasingly fewer companies that are still not ordering background checks, we would suggest it is time to get on the ball. As the new season comes about and you conetmplate your number of hires, realize that pre-employment screenings are you best defense against liability, rehires and myriad complications in your business. Most of these are not only dangerous but quite expensive.

So, remember, check them out before you hire.

Brain Drains and Online Dating

Wed, August 30th, 2006 - 3:31 pm - By Gordon Basichis

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We found this article on Money Web.

Hoping to overtake its rivals, Yahoo stocks up on academics Economists and search gurus fill new research team; data-rich fantasy land.

Michael Schwarz earned an economics doctorate from Stanford University before spending five years as an assistant professor of microeconomics at Harvard University. His research papers include, “Synchronization Under Uncertainty.”

These days, Mr. Schwarz is thinking about how to use economics to save attractive women from unwanted solicitations on an Internet dating site. One idea employs the concept of “scarcity,” rationing the number of free messages each lothario can send. Another uses full disclosure, by displaying how many people a suitor has already approached.

The Russian-born theorist, 36 years old, is at the leading edge of a push by Internet giant Yahoo Inc. to beef up its business by hiring prominent academic economists and other researchers. The company, which offers consumer services ranging from email to fantasy sports, is betting that sponsoring fundamental research will help it tackle some of its biggest challenges, including battling the technological prowess of Google Inc.

Yahoo was blindsided by Google’s sophisticated Web search. One of Yahoo’s advertising-sales techniques also underperforms its rival’s, and when Yahoo said last month that a revamp would be delayed, the company’s stock fell 22%, its largest-ever one-day drop. Despite having one of the world’s biggest user bases, Yahoo hasn’t fully benefited from hot phenomena such as online video and social networking, a service offered by sites such as MySpace.com.

The research push, “has huge consequences for the business if we do things right,” says Usama Fayyad, Yahoo’s chief data officer.

Central to Yahoo’s goal is its ability to record what millions of consumers do every day, and to study how changes to the company’s Web services affect their behavior. Internet companies in the past have largely lacked the systems and focus to mine data for research, but now they’re viewing it as a key competitive pursuit. For economists, Web operations are data-rich fantasy lands where they can observe in real-time the behavior of millions of consumers in varied marketplaces far more effectively than ever before.

One potential obstacle to collecting and analyzing a vast amount of data is customer privacy, particularly in the wake of concerns stirred up by Time Warner Inc.’s AOL unit earlier this summer. It inadvertently released a slew of information relating to users’ search queries.

In addition, tech companies have a mixed record of translating research into profit. Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center is widely credited with inventing several key features of modern computing in the 1970s. But it was Apple Computer Inc. and others that capitalized. Google, with such cautionary tales in mind, sprinkles researchers through its product groups, supplementing a small, standalone research unit. Some Yahoo staffers question whether the company’s engineers have the time or inclination to implement ideas from the research team.

A Yahoo spokeswoman won’t say how many economists or researchers the company plans to hire. A person familiar with the matter says Yahoo aims to build a team of more than a dozen economists. In the past year, the company has snagged leading talents in microeconomics, Web search and artificial intelligence from universities such as Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, and industrial labs including those of Microsoft Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. It has opened lab facilities in Berkeley, Calif., New York, Barcelona, and Santiago, Chile, and has begun scouting locations for a lab in Asia.

Until now, university economists typically have had to rely on limited sets of historical data to test their theories. At Yahoo, they can tweak market conditions and watch what happens to the company’s roughly 500 million monthly visitors. The result is faster, and probably more useful than traditional methods such as surveys. Researchers inside and outside these companies also believe collating Web activity can be used to predict future events, such as box-office openings and home sales.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to validate theories that have been floating around for a couple of decades,” says Cornell University Computer Science Professor Jon Kleinberg, who cites as an example ideas about how innovations spread throughout society. Prof. Kleinberg has collaborated with Yahoo’s researchers.

The big push into research dates to March 2005, when Yahoo Chief Executive Terry Semel confided a concern to top lieutenants that the company risked missing long-term developments. Who in the company is considering what might happen in three to five years, he asked, according to one executive at the meeting.

Mr. Fayyad, 43, the company’s head of data, is leading the effort to answer that question. In April 2005, he sold Mr. Semel on an ambitious plan to fund fundamental research. Mr. Fayyad recruited Prabhakar Raghavan, a former IBM Research veteran who was also wooed by Google and Microsoft, to head the push. Mr. Fayyad told Mr. Raghavan he would be disappointed if Yahoo’s effort didn’t produce a Nobel Prize.

Messrs. Fayyad and Raghavan agreed Yahoo Research would tackle just a handful of areas, including search, the interaction of users online and an artificial-intelligence field known as machine learning, which involves analyzing past data to learn about the future. “The intent isn’t to gaze at the skies,” says Mr. Raghavan, 45.

Instead, researchers are looking at the information Yahoo collects about its users’ activities. That starts with nearly every click and includes what services consumers use in what sequence and which color of buttons they click on most. The company records over 12 terabytes of data daily — the equivalent of about half the information contained in all of the books in the Library of Congress, according to some estimates.

Yahoo and other Internet companies already use some of what they know about consumers’ online habits to target Internet advertising: A user who searches for “Ford Explorer” might see an ad for a sports-utility vehicle when he looks at a news Web site.

Mr. Fayyad co-founded a startup in 2000 that became Revenue Science Inc., a firm that specializes in such behavioral-targeting technology. The technology observes what a consumer does on a site in order to decide which ads to display. One trick is to generate good matches — looking at an article about an ax murderer doesn’t suggest the reader is interested in buying axes. Another challenge is not to creep out users with blatant matches that serve as a reminder they’re being tracked, such as switching all the ads to those for credit cards if a user clicks on a card offer.

As the recent AOL firestorm highlighted, there are big privacy issues in this line of work. AOL apologized when its data, which were originally intended for use by outside researchers, were made available on a public Web site. While individuals searchers weren’t identified, the words they searched for — such as their names — allowed some to be tracked down without much effort.

Yahoo says it has multiple protections to guard against an AOL-type mistake. The company says it strips out any personal identifying attributes before handing the information over to researchers. In any case, it says, Yahoo’s researchers are interested in the behavior of mass groups, not that of specific individuals.

Guarding against violations is a group that’s known internally as the “Paranoids.” T-shirts worn by Paranoids at one point read: “We worry so our users won’t have to.”

Yahoo submits all outside requests to look at the data to a review committee. It says it has never provided search-related data to outside researchers. Information it has shared include data related to music preferences, based on millions of anonymous ratings.

Technology companies have rarely before placed such a focus on fundamental economic research. Microsoft Research, which employs 700 researchers, says it has no economists on staff. Lucent Technologies Inc.’s Bell Labs has a team of about 30 economists, but their work mostly involves using theory to solve nuts-and-bolts industry problems.

“Right now we’re at the golden age where there’s a lot of work that’s going on that is really lending insight into real-world problems,” says Hal Varian, a University of California, Berkeley, economics professor, who is a consultant to Google.

In 2001, Yahoo started charging for its online dating service — which surprisingly resulted in an increase in membership. Mr. Raghavan thinks the switch increased the value of Yahoo Personals in the eyes of consumers and encouraged them to use it more. While the move predated Yahoo’s recent research push, it’s an outcome economists might have predicted: The fee deterred users who weren’t serious about dating, making the service more efficient for those who were.

Mr. Fayyad says Yahoo Research has already more than covered its expense with a project to better target Yahoo’s advertising for its own services, such as Yahoo Mail and Personals, on the Yahoo site. The team tweaked the algorithms that decide when to show such ads, which beefed up the response rate.

Yahoo believes research might help it with other Internet services whose design, and success, are currently determined by intangible factors. With the help of the research team, Yahoo designed an incentive system for Yahoo Answers, a service where consumers post questions, to which other users respond. Under that system, users receive points for answering questions, and get more points for answering questions that are well received. The top-ranked answerers are featured on a leaderboard and the ensuing competition has improved the service’s quality.

Yahoo is continually tweaking the rules for points, such as by raising the penalty for people asking profane or abusive questions.

One of the team’s biggest challenges is finding ways to improve Yahoo’s ad-auction system, in which advertisers bid to have their ads shown to users who search for relevant keywords, such as “Orlando hotel.” The advertisers pay each time consumers click on the ads.

Yahoo’s ad system gives the most prominent placement to the advertiser that bids the most per click. By contrast, Google weighs additional factors, such as the frequency with which consumers click on each ad, to determine the order the ads are displayed.

Google’s approach generates more revenue per search, since the most popular ads for any query appear more prominently, increasing the likelihood consumers will click on them. Compared with Yahoo, Google brings in roughly 45% more revenue on average for each search query it handles, according to Majestic Research Corp., a research firm based in New York. Yahoo executives concede the structure of its search-ad system has cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Yahoo has consulted with economics professors and its own research staff for a project called “Panama,” the company’s ongoing attempt to revamp its search-ad system. Mr. Raghavan vows that economists will be involved alongside Yahoo computer programmers in building future services, so as to head off future mistakes.

The use of incentives is one of the research areas that interests Mr. Schwarz, the economist who begins at Yahoo next month. He’s currently writing a research paper about economic markets where one side of a potential transaction is eager to profess its preference for the other side, as is often the case with hiring and online dating. The unequal relationship makes such markets complicated and unpredictable. The research has clear applications for Yahoo Personals.

Mr. Schwarz also co-wrote a paper examining search-ad auctions. It concluded that Yahoo’s system doesn’t encourage people to bid what they think the ad is worth to their business, something that caught the attention of Yahoo executives. They expect Mr. Schwarz to work on future versions of their ad systems, a task he has already embraced.

“This is the type of problem economists have been studying for the past 60 years,” Mr. Schwarz says.

Undoubtedly, Michael Schwarz and his expertise will be of prominent value to Yahoo as they quest after the future of the Internet. However, we were struck with the fact that one of Schwarz’s assignments is to “use economics to save attractive woman from unwanted solicitations on an Internet Dating Site.”

Corra suggests that to eliminate at least the first line of creeps from one’s online dating site, the site should be conducting comprehensive background checks on every member. While this is no guarantee that attractive women will no longer draw the solicitations of annoying suitors and potential predators, it will help eliminate a fair share of the jerks no one wants to deal with.

We wish Yahoo luck in its new research pursuits. We also say that common sense dictates the smartest way to eliminate the threat of intrusion is to eliminate a good share of the intruders. This is done with a background check as the first line of defense.

Remember, check them out before you date them.

Love Springs Eternal, When You Are Dating Online

Fri, August 25th, 2006 - 3:35 pm - By Gordon Basichis

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We found this release on Yahoo and thought it was worth noti

TRUE.com Surpasses 10 Million Members This Week
DALLAS, Aug. 24 /PRNewswire/ — With more than 1,400 online dating sites in the nation to choose from, TRUE®, the leading scientifically based online relationship site, is excited to announce that more than 10 million singles have chosen to meet on their site. This marks yet another example of TRUE’s leadership in the online dating industry. The site was started by Founder and CEO Herb Vest in 2003 with a commitment to safety and compatibility, aspects customers are increasingly demanding in online dating services.

“We are so excited that TRUE has eclipsed the 10 million member mark and continues to maintain that growth, signing up nearly a thousand new singles per hour,” says Herb Vest, founder and CEO of TRUE. “Our entire TRUE crew is dedicated to helping every member find TRUE love and romance, and we wish all the happiness for every one of them.”

In addition to this announcement, Hitwise — the world’s leading online competitive intelligence service — ranked TRUE the leader in the Lifestyle- Dating category — as the No. 1 Web site in this category for three months in a row. TRUE not only ranked first out of the more than 1,421 sites that Hitwise reported data on in July 2006 for the dating category, but TRUE remained one of the top 100 most-visited sites among U.S. Internet users, with a rank of 72nd as measured by Hitwise.

“It just makes more sense for singles to use TRUE. We’re the leading scientifically-based online relationship site. We are No. 1 in our category according to Hitwise, and we’re increasingly recognized as the safer place to date online,” says Ruben Buell, president of TRUE. “We are honored that people continue to choose our site and that Hitwise acknowledges us month after month. It is proof of our hard work and dedication. We’re committed to helping our members find the love they’re looking for, and our members show their trust by continuing to choose TRUE.”

To paraphrase an old adage, news of the death of online dating appears to have been greatly exaggerated. Hope still springs eternal, fueled by that double edged motivator the desire to full in love. True it seems, like other online dating sites hawking their own particular methodology. True’s compatibility testing has apparently been endorsed by pop psych icon, Psychology Today.

Where True is especially notable is in its mandate that applicants submit to background checks before they are granted membership to the service. While there has been a glitch or two, any online dating service that has compulsary background checks as part of its policy certain deserve our praise. Naturally, with True having ten million people onboard, Corra only wishes it has True’s account.

Nevertheless, as a background checking service that sees much of the bad news, we couldn’t recommend that every serious dating site have their members commit to background screenings. No, we don’t believe it should be the law; we just believe it should be common sense. And given the recent headlines, if you are a single parent responsible for young children, you have to be out of your mind not to check out those romantic prospects you let into your house.

Anyway, we deslighted that there are still legions of hopeful romantics out there and that True has managed to engage some ten million of them. We wish them well, as we wish you all well in your pursuits of romance and happiness.

Just remember–Check them out before you date them.

Who’s In Charge of Your Child’s Day Care?

Thu, August 24th, 2006 - 2:25 pm - By Gordon Basichis

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We found this article on CNN Online.
Alabama officials say Karr was licensed for home daycare

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — John Mark Karr bragged to his landlord’s family that “sexually, I am like a wolf,” and said he preferred girls to women when he worked in Costa Rica as an English teacher, his former housemates told The Associated Press.

Karr, now jailed in Los Angeles after his arrest in Thailand, is named in a Colorado warrant as a suspect in the 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.

Karr traveled around the world in recent years, including brief stays in Honduras and Costa Rica, where he rented a room in 2004 from Canadian John Hall, who teaches at a private university in the capital of San Jose.

Hall, 42, told AP in an exclusive interview that he rented a room to Karr through an Internet posting, but asked him to leave after about five weeks because Karr was saying “rude and inappropriate things” to his Costa Rican wife and stepdaughters, then 16 and 20.

“I threw him out because he was causing problems for them,” Hall said.

One stepdaughter, now 22, told AP that Karr said several times that he liked girls.

Odd conversation

“My mother asked him whether he was looking for a girlfriend in Costa Rica and he answered that he didn’t like adult women, only small ones,” she said, speaking on condition her name not be published. “I thought he meant young women, and never imagined he meant girls.”

During his stay with the family, Karr would often either talk incessantly, or sit in his room and listen to dark rock music, like that of Marilyn Manson, something that also bothered the Halls, who are Pentecostal Christians.

After kicking Karr out, Hall remained suspicious enough to do a computer search to see if he was a sex predator.

“I suspected he was a pedophile. I looked on the Internet to see if there was something on him, but I didn’t find anything,” he said.

The following year, Karr taught for eight months at a small primary school in La Esperanza, Honduras, 60 miles from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, a former co-worker said.

Renan Marquez said Karr taught second grade, but left because he had a contract with a school in another country; he didn’t know which. Marquez told the AP by telephone that Karr was always “reserved, shy, responsible, organized and punctual.”

Karr “required a lot of discipline” of his second-grade English students, Marquez said. “I never saw anything strange in his treatment of the children.”

Alabama daycare license

Meanwhile, Alabama welfare agency officials said Thursday that Karr kept children at a home day-care center he operated in northwest Alabama.

The Marion County Department of Human Resources issued a license for Karr to begin operating a day-care out of his rural home in June 1997, said John Bradford, a spokesman with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

He said the sheriff’s department conducted a background check before the license was issued and no problems were found.

Karr didn’t receive any complaints before the two-year license expired in 1999, Bradford told The Associated Press.

“We do know he kept children, but it is really hard to get a handle on the number,” he said.

Karr, 41, has said he was with JonBenet when she was killed in the basement of her home in Boulder, Colorado, in December 1996, but he called her death an accident. (Full story)

Karr was living with his ex-wife in Hamilton at the time of the slaying.

Karr, who was working as a teacher, was arrested last week in Bangkok, Thailand, and flown Sunday to the United States. He is being held in Los Angeles, California.

He has agreed not to fight his transfer to Colorado to face charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of a child in connection with the December 26, 1996 slaying of the child beauty pageant competitor.

While we find the entire Jon Benet murder episode particularly loathesome, we had to point out his ugly example of why you should be running a background check on anyone who is working near your home or who has charge of your children for any amount of time, yet alone the better part of the day.

Apparently Karr was cleared by Alabama for a license. The Sheriff’s department claimed they ran a background check and nothing of consequence registered on the reports. Karr may well have slipped through the cracks on that one. His pedophilliac proclivities also went undiscovered as a teacher. While unfortunate, it is understandable. He had not yet been charged with any crime and, from the official perspective, he had not come under suspicion.
But, overall, the best way to avoid entrusting your children with the wrong people is to run a criminal background check, and include with it a check of the registry of sexual offenders. Every state has a crimnal registery, and so do certain counties. Most sexual registries will report to a central system. While nothing in life is absolute, this criminal background check and the sexual registry are pretty thorough and extremely comprehensive.

Corra always pairs the Sexual Offender’s Registry with the Nationwide Criminal Database Search. We do it as part of our pre-employment screening package, because the last thing we need is to help put a sexual offender in the work place. This search is convenient, cost effective, and it returns quickly. If you are a parent about to put your child into daycare, it’s the least you can do for your child’s safety.

Check them out before you trust them.

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