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New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera wants to see as many of the state’s schools in person as possible, and on Wednesday she paid a visit to Raton.

“I’ve never been to Raton,” Skandera said. “I’m a big fan of seeing schools, visiting folks and getting outside of the Albuquerque-Santa Fe circle, seeing the rest of our kids.”

Skandera briefly toured some of the Raton schools and visited with Raton schools Superintendent Dave Willden about some of the district’s programs. Skandera said her visit wasn’t about discussing state policies but rather about learning what is happening in school districts, what their needs are and what the state can do to help.

“It was nice and appreciated,” Willden said regarding the visit. “I’m glad she was here and saw some good things happening here. Hopefully, she can help us move things forward.”

While visiting students at Kearny and Longfellow elementary schools, Skandera — who described visiting schools as “my favorite part of the job” — said she could tell that the teachers were focused on the students and have them “headed in the right direction.”

“It was all (about) the kids,” she said. “Each one of those kids was proud and willing to learn, and that’s a sign of a good teacher.”

The Raton visit not only allowed Skandera to talk to students, teachers, and staff, but to learn about the district’s desire to build a consolidated elementary school. While touring the schools, Willden filled Skandera in on some of the building issues with Kearny and Longfellow, at which district maintenance staff have implemented some short-term measures in hopes a new school building will eventually be achieved.

The district put a bond issue before voters in 2008 but it failed to pass. Willden has since steered the district’s efforts toward a lease-purchase arrangement, in which the district would use its operational savings — from the closure of the existing three elementary schools — to pay for its share of a new consolidated elementary school, but the district has been unable to get backing from the Public Schools Facilities Authority.

During Skandera’s visit, Willden explained that the district could save about $500,000 per year by consolidating the schools. Skandera told The Range that seeing the schools firsthand helped her understand the situation and that “anyway I can, I’d like to help” the district, particularly when the administration is trying to be “fiscally smart because it means more dollars for our kids. I want to support that any way we can.”

Willden also discussed the district’s partnership with Virgin Galactic, the focus of which is a plan to implement an aerospace career pathways program. Willden heads up the New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Educational Alliance.

“This is awesome,” Skandera remarked after hearing from Willden about the aerospace-related initiatives. She suggested the district might be able to receive career technical education funding through the state to help the effort.

“This is something I want to see (happen),” she told Willden.

Skandera said many officials at the state level have discussed the importance of schools partnering with businesses and the Raton school district’s work with Virgin Galactic is a good example.

“The schools are the suppliers of employees,” she said, adding that the aerospace career pathways program is one example of how schools can respond to the needs of businesses and get students prepared to enter the workforce.

“It helps the students to see what is possible (for their future) and how to be prepared for a career,” Skandera said.

  • Things that happened in 1972:
  • The Watergate break-in.
  • M*A*S*H premiers on CBS.
  • Atari is founded.
  • The G.711 standard is released by the international telecommunications union.

So maybe that last point is lost on a lot of you, but for those of us in the telecom and technology game, it’s a pretty big deal. The G.711 — the most common codec (a device or program that decodes a digital stream or signal) used for VoIP communications — is 42 years old. That’s like, 200 years old in tech life.

In those 42 years, we’ve seen an explosion in the tech industry. Companies like Google, Facebook and Skype are bringing new disruptive products to the marketplace revolutionizing the way the world communicates (the founders of these companies are all younger than G.711, by the way). Amazing leaps in technology have been made since the standard was released, yet most of the VoIP world plods along with G.711 or, worse yet, uses compression.

So what’s come along that should be replacing this already-aged technology? Successful voice products for the next 42 years will embrace codecs with a couple capabilities:

First is a high-definition voice. Several different codecs can do HD voice, with the most widely supported being G.722. The picture quality on your television has improved greatly since 1972, it’s time your voice calls took the same jump.

Second is adaptive bit rates. This takes HD voice a little bit further. Codecs such as SILK can change their bit rate in real time from as high as 40 kbit/s (5 times higher than g.711) to as low as 6 kbit/s (lower than g.711). Voice is shifting from phone-centric to application-centric. This means more and more calls are being made from PCs, tablets, and other smart devices. These devices are going to be expected to work anytime, anywhere and over any network. Being able to change the bitrate on the fly gives the codec the ability to automatically react to changing and poor network conditions while maintaining an acceptable quality of service.

Its time for the VoIP world to embrace the newer better options available. The G.711 is reliable, but technology has caught up and passed it by. It’s up to service providers to show clients there are alternatives out there, and more being added every day. If we all make the leap forward, it will ultimately lead to a better user experience all around.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus [HIV] belongs to the family of retrovirus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome [AIDS] in humans which destroys the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. The virus is present in the blood, saliva, breast milk and genital secretions of all the infected individuals irrespective of presence or absence of symptoms. HIV infection occurs when these secretions come in contact with tissues like vaginal mucosa, oral mucosa, anal mucosa, or if the secretions come in contact with blood through a break in the skin, blood transfusion, and injection needles. The most common routes of transmission include having sex with an infected partner, blood transfusion, contaminated needles and transmission of infection from infected mothers to their newborns.

Once the viruses enter the body, they multiply and produce billions of HIV viruses and circulate in the blood. These viruses attack and destroy vital cells of the immune system such as CD4 [helper T cells] cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells. The HIV infection leads to a decrease in CD4 cells when the CD4 cell count is below a critical level, the body loses cell-mediated immunity and progressively body becomes more susceptible to opportunistic infections. When the CD4 count reaches below a critical level, the infected person said to have AIDS. AIDS is the later stage of HIV infection and the infections occur in this stage are called opportunistic infections. Many people with HIV infection do not develop symptoms, within weeks of infection, some people experience influenza-like illness. Early symptoms of HIV infection include fever, aching muscles and joints, tiredness, headache, sore throat and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. These symptoms disappear on their own within a few weeks, the person becomes free form symptoms and this asymptomatic phase often lasts for years. This phase of early symptoms is known as primary infection.

HIV symptoms in men include flu-like illness, significant weight loss, night sweats, fatigue, persistent diarrhea, mouth ulcers, and white spots in the mouth, constant headaches and constant swelling of lymph nodes. In the first week of infection, the person develops low-grade fever [100.4 F] associated with a headache, malaise, sore throat, and pain in joints and muscles. In the second week of infection, the person develops enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck and armpits. Some men develop moderate enlargement of spleen, the condition is known as splenomegaly. The spleen is the largest lymph gland in the body located in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen just below the ribs. Other symptoms of HIV in men include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and persistent dry cough. Men in AIDS stage can develop opportunities infections such as pneumonia, brain infection with toxoplasmosis and yeast infections. The weak immune system in AIDS stage can also lead to other unusual conditions such as Lymphoma [cancer of lymphnodes], Kaposi’s sarcoma [cancer of soft tissues].

HIV Symptoms in Women
Specific HIV symptoms in women are different from symptoms of HIV infection in men, except early symptoms. Within a couple of weeks after the HIV infection, many women experience influenza-like symptoms and some women may not develop any symptoms for many years after the infection. As the infection progresses, HIV symptoms in women include swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, and groins, frequent fevers with night sweats, rapid weight loss, constant fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea and white spots in the mouth.

Specific HIV symptoms in women are subtle and they may not be perceived as warning signs of infection. Often, these symptoms are mistaken for other conditions. Most commonly experienced HIV symptoms in women include recurrent severe vaginal infections, pelvic infections such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease [PID] which does not respond to the treatment, and abnormal pap smears. Other HIV symptoms in women include genital ulcers, genital warts, recurrent vaginal yeast infections, and severe mucosal herpes infections. Pap smear shows dysplasia, the cervical smear indicates abnormal changes in the cervical cells. Vaginal infections are common HIV symptoms in women which include bacterial vaginosis, and common Sexually Transmitted Diseases [STDs] such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and Trichomoniasis. Due to a weak immune system, women develop genital warts which are caused by another type of virus called human papillomavirus. Genital ulcers caused by severe infection of herpes simplex virus can affect a woman’s quality of life. Frequent vaginal yeast infections indicate low body immunity, which are predominant HIV symptoms in women. Vaginal yeast infections are common and easily treated in normal women, but in women, with HIV infection they are persistent and difficult to treat because of low body immunity.

First, A Little Background

I read a lot of information online. I don’t get a paper edition of any newspaper, and I even rarely watch the news on TV because I get all I need online. I enjoy the ability to pick out the articles I want to read when I want to read them and to be able to consume information from sites I enjoy. This means I read a lot of blogs these days as well. Say what you will about the reputability of blogs in general, I find many of the postings on blogs much more than I do many news sites.

Anyway, in my perusing, I have read many a rant about terrible experiences with customer service. These range from not being able to close down your AOL or cell phone account, to a complete inability to get a service agent that has a clue about the service you are needing help with. I feel for these people, and the situations they are often describing sound horrific. I have had my own customer service woes and even one shocker that made me want to reach through the phone and strangle the rep on the other end of the line.

A Personal Example

In my extreme situation, I was trying to cancel a credit card that had gone past its promotional period and had lost its usefulness for my situation. I had other cards and this one had been for a business startup that I didn’t need to carry the card for any longer. So, like the average consumer, I looked up my statement and called the number provided. After wading through the menu options, I finally arrived at a live person and made my request to cancel the account. I expected a few “save sale” attempts, and my expectations were met. I politely declined and waited for the rep to get the job done. Instead, the rep took it upon himself to ridicule me saying things such as “So, are you just a freeloader then? You just got our card for the zero interest period and then you’re off to get another card?” I was floored. The comments continued for a bit until my blood pressure rose and I had a few choices yet calmly worded things to say back to the rep. I had never been so insulted in a customer situation before and I really was at a loss as to what to do. I requested his name, agent number and to speak to a supervisor at which time he hung up on me. I’m not sure if this was a prank or if he had not taken his medication that day, but he was way off base and out of line. I called back, got a supervisor, but there was no record of the call (of course) and I had no identifying information to help track down this imbecile.

The Customer Is Not Always Right

Throughout my life, I’ve always heard the phrase “the customer is always right” as a mantra to how service should be given by “good” companies. Though this may have worked in some previous generation, I am here to tell you that the customer most definitely is not always right; in fact, in my industry, the customer is often wrong, and not all that intelligent either. I know, that sounds pretty harsh, and I’ll give a few details to soften that statement a bit.

I work for a company that sells informational products online, most of what include a monthly membership that customers can keep for as little or long as they want. We offer a free 14-day trial on most of our offer pages that allow the customer to check out what we have and decide to keep it or not. We make this very clear in the process that if the customer doesn’t want to keep the product, cancel (by phone, email or online) and they are charged nothing more. If they want the product, they get charged automatically each month until they cancel. Think of Columbia House Records, BMG, a monthly gym membership, etc. Not that hard to understand, right? Apparently not.

We get the craziest people calling, irate that they have been charged for a membership, and they have the widest variety of excuses, claims and outright lies they give to try and get their money back. We have come to know that these customers usually fall in one or more of the following categories:

  • Forgetful – they don’t remember what they sign up for online
  • Fraud – the favorite among most is to claim that they never signed up for this and someone has stolen their identity (even though we have all their info correct, even the IP address of their ISP that points right to them has actually done this)
  • Scammers – those that are trying to get something for nothing with online offers, or even worse, try to trick you into giving a refund when they have also charged back the transaction to try and double dip against the company to get some “free money”
  • Angry people – will try to bully or scare you into refunding everything ever charged because of how angry they are
    Bluffers – threaten legal action of every possible kind to get their $1.87 shipping fee back
  • Selectively illiterate – they can’t read the important facts of what they are signing up for, but they sure can pull out that credit card and enter the number into the right boxes
  • Imposters – will act like they are someone else, such as a bank manager, police officer, etc. to try and sound official to get you to refund fees for the “victim” they are helping
  • Victims of a disaster – some major catastrophe in their lives has happened, so you must feel obligated to give them a refund on anything you ever charged them.
  • Liars – fall into any of the above categories, but they can get even more creative when pressed for details.
    The list can go on, and on, and on, and you get the idea.

The Vocal Minority, Again

To temper the above description, I happen to know we hear from the lively, noisy with apparently the time on their hands to check their bank statement daily go to battle with customer service over a few bucks, but not enough sense to use that time to actually track the obligations they signed up for. We have thousands of clients, and the majority of them either a) cancel using one of our easy options, typically online or by email, during the trial period if they don’t want the product or b) use the product for as long as they want and then cancel when they are done. Who we hear from are those that simply do not want to take responsibility for their actions and want you to “make it right” by giving back the money rightfully charged to them because of their choice to buy something.

These people drive me, and our entire customer service department crazy, but they are 99% of the people they get to deal with. You may wonder why it bothers me because I don’t work in customer service; my office is right next to them though, and I often overhear the conversations or the summary they share with each other on the particularly ridiculous gems.

More to Share

So, one series of posts I’d like to start sharing are some of these “gems” as I call them. Where possible, I might even share some recordings of the really good ones, but we’ll see on that. Just the summary alone should be comical enough that you’ll enjoy reading them. Either that, or you’ll simply shake your head at the type of people we get to hear from.

How these people are ever given the ability to make financial transactions is beyond me.

Mary, the “mom”

While driving yesterday, I heard a news report about teens and their reactions to their families cutting back spending, including allowances, in the face of the economic crisis. The report indicated that in recent months teens are spending less, presumably because of cutbacks in allowances, although I’m sure loss or unavailability of part-time jobs plays a role as well. Apparently many teens’ reactions to such a situation are to be upset or angry, according to the report. This really caught my attention. My own kids have been remarkably supportive about cutbacks we’ve implemented. In fairness, we’ve been able to avoid cutting the things we know are most important to them, but still, many smaller things have been cut that do affect them. Just as I was getting worked up that it wasn’t fair to generalize in such a way, the report continued that such a reaction from teens was often a sign of fear for their families, as opposed to selfishness. Phew!

But, this raises a point. We need to talk to our kids about money in general and this economic crisis in particular. Even if your family isn’t feeling the pinch, if you’re not talking, your kids may be imagining the worst. I definitely need to sit down with my kids and be more specific than “we can’t afford that right now” or “money is tight”, because who knows what they’re worried about. Apparently, they might be more worried about their parents or their college fund than that new pair of brand name jeans.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to communicate with your kids about economic issues, ParentingTeensOnline has an article, The Money Talk, about just that, and a very helpful article with suggestions for conversation starters. There was also a post on a Business Week blog, Talking to Your Teen About the Financial Crisis.

So, “Dad”, what’s your approach to discussing the financial issue with your teens? Rach, what about you? Do your parents talk to you about money? How do you think parents should talk to their kids about financial stress?

Rach, the “teen”

Most of the teens I know whose parents are struggling with the economy (so, all the teens I know), are reacting really well. Some of our parents have talked to us, and some of them haven’t. Only recently did my parents start including me and my brother in talks about money. That is, we know how lucky we are that our family saved up and planned early for college and other long-term expenses like that.

For most of the teens I know, this means that they need to get more financial aid from colleges, or that they have to give up driving their own car around. It’s also been tough for us in the job market. Most of my friends are unemployed, not because they want to be, but because it’s freaking hard to get a job.

So, I think it’s really important for parents and kids to talk about money issues in the family. Money affects way more than just the parents, and “mom” is totally right – kids imagine the worst. So, be honest with them.

Lauren, guest teen blogger

Many teens are worried about their family and the situations they’re in. The teens that are only thinking about designer jeans probably have enough money that they’re not feeling the crisis going on. So most teens aren’t thinking about it in a selfish way, but teens are feeling it and worrying. Parents who aren’t letting their kids know are certainly upsetting their teens. As a teenager, I know that a lot of the time we pick up on our parents’ and other people’s emotions when they think they’re hiding them well. Parents think that kids not knowing they’re stressed about things will keep their teens less stressed, but really it’s exactly the opposite. So parent’s make sure your teens understand your current situation with money.

Personally, I’m hearing that money is tight on daily basis. We don’t need to be reminded when it’s not at that moment relevant. It can be upsetting to hear so often how stressed parents are. Also, the stress for parents seems to carry over to more than just money. It makes parents stressed about work and life in general. It can make them stressed about things that have never been a big deal before. So you have to find a happy medium. You need to let your teens know about your current situation but don’t make your money situation a huge part of your teen’s life.

Brad, the “dad”

Talking about money has always been a balancing act around our house. My wife comes from a well-off household where she never really wanted for anything, including a college education, and they never talked about money. I came from a small-biz lower-middle-class household where there was virtually no extra cash ever, at all, especially for college…and we never talked about money, either. So we decided from the beginning that we would be open about our finances, whether the news was good or bad.

Easier said than done. The hard part is keeping them apprised in an age-appropriate way without scaring the heck out of them when you have to say, “We can’t afford that,” or “we really can’t pay all the bills this month.” The trick is keeping them in the loop, but going light on the details…and always giving them a sense of hope for the future, even when you’re not necessarily feeling that way.

On the one hand, the girls have responded with wonderful strength and resilience throughout our years of economic roller-coaster, and I think it’s made them far more realistic about the world, and far more appreciative of every dollar we have, without being fearful. On the other hand, I feel constantly guilty – truly, deeply guilty – that we haven’t been able to give them whatever they wanted without worrying about the cost. ‘Cause part of me says that’s what Dads are supposed to do (even if it’s not all that healthy for the kids).

My advice: be honest, but tread lightly. And don’t underestimate your kids: they understand a lot more than you realize they do, and they can handle a lot more than you imagine. And yes, absolutely: if you don’t let them know what’s going on, they will almost certainly assume the worst. So talk, already. And teach them how to balance a checkbook!

Competition often goes hand in hand with anger. I have experienced the rage of people in pick up games or all types when they simply lose it. Often this is because trying to prove they used to have some talent at some time and cannot admit that even if they did at one point, they don’t have it now. Their old, flabby never exercised body just can’t perform like their brain thinks it can. Speaking in the arena where I have the most experience, basketball, this is such a common occurrence that I guarantee if you bring up the subject among a group of guys that do or have played, there will be an endless stream of stories.

Let me paint the picture. Mr “I think I’m a basketball star” tries to impress everyone on the court with his aerial acrobatics flying haphazardly through a crowd of people towards the basket. When he misses, which is far more frequent than he makes, he shouts out foul to cover his complete lack of control and ability. Everyone on the opposing team looks at each other wondering who could have touched this loudmouth, and then of course knowing that they did not, start shooting off derogatory (yet fitting) comments about said court maniac. His response is to get in the face of anyone opposing him in an obvious attempt to establish dominance as any bully does, even when they know they are wrong. Tempers flare, at times shoving and even fists fly. This seems to happen almost as often as the injuries that old guys like me get when trying to play at levels no longer sustainable.

There are perhaps many reasons why this happens with the old guys, but you see it as well in the younger crowds. Egos ride as high as most can jump, and perhaps higher. Whatever happened to showing a little class on the field/court/whatever? Sportsmanship – that’s for wimps, at least that seems to be the message most people are getting from professional sports. This is what I think is the root of the problem. Case in point, the recent Nuggets/Knicks brawl near the end of the game. What a bunch of thugs these players showed themselves to be. I could really care less what these overpaid egos are capable of doing on the court, but for some reason, our youth hold them up as role models, so whatever they do gets viewed as the “thing” to do on the local hardtop as well. I loathe these players that have such terrible persona’s, both on and off the court. Kids look up to them no matter what we do, and they emulate everything they do.

I could create a long list of players, almost all of them quite popular to many people, that I just can’t stand to watch. I will often turn off a game if that player is featured. I’ll skip the list though, you know who they are, and I would hate to leave one out. There are a lot of things wrong with modern professional sports, but this is one that I just can’t stand. I think most people are getting tired of it too as commentators, league officials and most sports sites are decrying the actions when they happen. It makes news though, so secretly I think the media side of it can’t get enough.

I’ve had enough though. I’ll still watch an occasional pro football game, but I have all but given up watching pro basketball. I stick primarily to college games. They aren’t missing my dollars because I have rarely actually gone to a game – usually, I just catch what’s on TV. I’m just tired of it and would rather turn off the boob tube that catches a game full of these types. Maybe it’s a good thing (shudder) that I have a bum knee and can’t play basketball anymore; maybe I would just be one of these over competitive guys that make life miserable. Actually, I know better, I’m a good sport when I play. Competitive, but I grew out of my tantrum stage back as a kid. Apparently, that stage lasts much longer for the good athletes, so I just don’t know.

If you have a mail address and have at least one friend in the world, you likely have had some email joke/story/whatever forwarded to you. We all have done it, and we are all more than likely guilty of at some point having forwarded something that ended up not being true. Yep, Urban Legends, fake virus warnings, etc. were all the rage for some time and somehow continue to linger even today.

Because I have been on the receiving end of many very public email addresses, I somehow end up on the mailing list of everyone that still believes these things and forwards them right on through to their entire address book. Adding insult to injury, I get the same message more than once as everyone wants to be the first to let you know that [insert name here] virus is running rampant and you better protect yourself! Thanks, twenty other people have already given me fair warning.
Some of my favorites? Making money from Microsoft/Disney/Oracle if you simply forward this message on to 10 other people. Why is it the email newbie’s believe there is some magic way of tracking the forwards first off, and that these big companies have the power much less the interest in following a chain letter to pay you for doing it?

How about the Nigerian offshore money scam? That one still runs rampant because there are people that fall for it and really they have been selected for the chance of a lifetime to scam some government out of millions. They never stop to ask themselves why would their email be found or if this sounds fishy? No, it must be true, and I’m getting my piece of it, how about you?

One of the very earliest versions of the email forwarding spoof made popular in the media was a warning about gangs driving around with their headlights off waiting for someone to do the common courtesy of flashing their lights to let them know. The email warned you not do this because if you did they would force you off the road and attack you. I remember specifically receiving this email dozens of times from different sources within one week. Unfortunately, because of the media attention the “joke” received, some wannabe gangs started acting out on it.

Seen the tallest woman in the world? Lead in your lipstick? Shark jumping out of the water to attack a helicopter? The list goes on, and on, and on and….on. About.com lists the top 25 urban legends if you care to see how many you have received in the past. I was actually surprised there were a number of them I haven’t seen.

I actually don’t mind receiving some of the better jokes or feel-good stories out there, but please, if you are going to forward on an email, follow a few basic rules of courtesy. Basic net etiquette, or Netiquette as it has become know. Summarizing a bit of what you can read over at Wikipedia from that link, and adding a few thoughts of my own:

Urban Legends: Please Don’t Send Me Email Hoaxes

Think before passing something along. Is it old news that has been forwarded to death? Ask yourself if it sounds plausible. If something sounds too incredible to be true, there is a good chance it might be.

Do a little research. If you are going to take time to fill up your email recipients on that email, take a few extra moments to check out the credibility of the story. There are many sites providing a great service of pointing out hoaxes, but two of my favorites are
About.com – urbanlegends.about.com
Snopes – snopes.com

Trim the fat. Nothing is more annoying than receiving a forwarded email that has the words “FWD” in the subject a dozen times, all the email addresses and headers of the previous forwarding along with forwarding angle brackets (>) galore. If I see a message with all this detritus, honestly I just delete it. It isn’t worth my time to search through the message to find the meat of it all. Along with my laziness, I figure I’ll get it again sometime soon from someone else.

Don’t make my email public. Worse than actually receiving the message is seeing my email publicized in all its glory along with a hundred others for the world (and viruses ridden computers) to see. I have actually seen some emails of some pretty prominent people this way. Learn the power of the blind carbon copy (Bcc) function. You have to enable this field on some email programs, but please do. By entering emails where you don’t show everyone else who you have emailed to. Simple common courtesy.

Turn off your footer. Along with cleaning out the automatic footers and salutations of previous posters, turn yours off. Nothing is more of a turn off to reading a good story or joke than seeing your company advertisement at the end of it. Is that why you sent it to me, to get me in your downline of whatever you are a part of?

Actually, include a message from you. Yes, I may know you well or perhaps not-so-well, but please write even a short note about why you are forwarding this on. If I just receive the message along with the rest of your oh so lucky recipients with no note from you, I am likely going to figure it is spam and toss it. If you tell me why you sent it along, I may actually give it a read.

Only the good stuff. This is completely subjective of course, but use a little discretion and be selective on what you forward on. Don’t forward on everything that you happen to get. Yes, I realize you may be excited to receive email at all (”They like me, they really do”), I am not that way. I happen to receive hundreds of emails a day, so I prefer not to wade through too many extras. I love a good joke or feel-good story, as long as it is really good. I hope that my friends and family value the fact that if a story is sent to them by me, it really must be worth reading because of I very selective on what makes it pass my filtering. Only the good stuff.

Never use the reply to all button. Just like forwarding on, you may feel inclined to write back on a good email to say thanks for sending it and throw in a ROFL or LOL. Good for you, but please, please only reply to the person that sent it to you. It kills me to not only receive the original email but also a half dozen replies from recipients that feel the need to tell the entire group how hilarious they found the joke. Of course, if the original sender had used the Bcc, this would never happen.

For several years now whenever I get an email that is badly formed or has a hoax that has tricked the sender into forwarding it on, I take a moment to politely teach them these principles. For hoaxes, I include a link to the relevant entry at About.com and ask that they check this site in the future before forwarding things to me in the future. Usually, people are not offending and actually grateful to have been educated. Repeat offenders get a reminder with a little less subtlety 🙂 and continued abuse makes gets them elected to my spam-blocking list. These days I actually get very little forwarded on, and I enjoy the times I get something good sent my way.

I’ll stop there. I could, of course, think of many more bits of advice to give, but I figure you get the point. Sadly I expect that most of the people receiving this don’t need the advice. You’ve likely learned your lesson in the past. I don’t fault anyone for having gone through a stage of bad habits if you have nicked them and participate like a good netizen these days. We all have to learn someday. Now you have a job, teach the newbies.

Back in 1998, very soon after I was offered the job (on a temporary basis, hah) as host of a struggling new NPR quiz show, I had a conversation with Doug Berman, the creator of both our show and Car Talk.

I said, “I want to be clever, smart, edgy, just like [name of well known political commentator/comedian.]

There was a pause. And then Doug said…

“Well, sure. He’s very funny. But he’s also an asshole.”

I remember that conversation because it was the first time I confronted a lesson that I had to learn as I became the host of Wait, Wait… and am probably still working on 14 years later. I had always assumed the most important thing when talking on the radio was, well, what you said. Were you funny? Were you interesting, new, provocative, different from what you or anyone else had done before? That had been my goal during my prior career as a playwright, and I assumed it would carry over into radio.

What Doug was pointing out then — and what became the most valuable and important lesson he ever taught me — was that all of that is far, far less important than simply being somebody an audience wanted to spend time with. Radio, as I learned, has an intimate, long term relationship with its audience. People don’t flick around the dial like they do with cable TV. They tune in to something — more importantly, someone — they like, and they stay with them because after a while it feels like a friendship. We in radio are in your homes, in your cars, in your kitchen, sometimes in your bathroom. Why would you invite someone to those places if you didn’t like them? And why would you listen to someone — no matter how funny, provocative, or clever somebody was — if he or she was a jerk?

I will confess, back then, I didn’t care much for Car Talk. I considered myself way too smart and sophisticated for Tom and Ray and their braying laughter and their silly jokes. But as I struggled with Wait Wait to become even a fraction as successful as they were, I learned to appreciate, and then admire, and then finally envy their ease, the way they were able to project the best part of their characters through the radio, every week, to an audience that loved them for doing just that.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Tom and Ray are exactly who they sound like on the radio, although of course, there’s more to them than their radio personas — Tom, in particular, has Very Strong Opinions, and a profane way of putting them — but getting to know them over the years made me realize that in radio, maybe in life, it’s much more important to be kind than it is to be clever. And that instead of being different every week, it’s more of a challenge, and more of a reward to your listeners, to find a way to be yourself.

Tom and Ray have announced their retirement, but Car Talk will continue with “new” episodes culled from 25 years of archives. And although the material will be familiar, that won’t be a problem for their fans — of whom I am now one, of course — because being familiar was always the point.

Looking to boost your tech skills but hate paying money for things? Then you’re probably going to want to sit down for this. Modern Lessons is a free online learning platform I’m starting up in an effort to bring educators, parents, and school administrators around the world into the modern era of technology.

From learning the basics of Facebook to an advanced course on deploying iPads in the classroom, there’s a whole range of courses for every skill level. There’s a ton of stuff dedicated to beginners though at the start. I’m working on more advanced and intermediate courses though.

Modern Lessons brings free tech skills to teachers
So what are Modern Lessons? Here’s a bit from the site about why it got started and what to expect:

[Modern Lessons] is our solution to one of the biggest problems facing education: lack of technical know-how. The people running schools and teaching our children know less about technology and social media than most students. That makes for a difficult classroom for both student and teacher.

With Modern Lessons, teachers (and anyone else involved in education) has the chance to level the playing field. Think of Modern Lessons like it’s a cheat sheet that lets you quickly build your skillset in hours instead of months.

Let’s say you want to learn the basics of how to use an iPad, spiff up your resume, or launch a BYOD program in your school? You won’t find these courses available on any other site and you certainly wouldn’t find them for free. So Modern Lessons wants to fix that.

We think of our model as a ‘Khan Academy for educators’ and plan on helping as many people as possible. We’re not in this to make a billion dollars. We have much grander goals: to improve education from the inside out.

Modern Lessons brings free tech skills to teachers

So here’s the deal: Modern Lessons is a free tool for teachers, students, parents, school administrators, and everyone else looking to boost their skills. We’re currently specializing in offering mini-courses designed to help those relatively new to technology. We’re also building some premium and accredited courses that will go a bit more in-depth.

We figured it’d be helpful to make this online learning platform as simple as possible, as useful as possible, and as cost-effective as possible. That’s why there aren’t a ton of features (that’s a feature in itself!) and basically, all courses are free.

We hope you enjoy this resource and help yourself to our skill-building courses to improve your life!

So, get excited. The platform is just in its infancy and has already seen more than 5,000 teachers sign up and take courses. In fact, most of those teachers are taking more than one course. Don’t be surprised if you find a new skill that you’d like to learn.

There’s even a ‘request a course’ feature where you can ask, well, me to make a course for you. Doesn’t get much more personal than that!

Also be on the lookout for the accredited course in the near future. Those are going to be paid and very high quality. Just FYI.

Just over two years ago, ASX-quoted Black Mountain Resources’ Chairman, Peter Landau, suggested to an interested lunchtime audience of potential investors and media, including Mineweb, here in London that the company’s New Departure high grade silver property in Montana, USA, would be the next U.S. silver mine and would be brought into production in a matter of weeks and its Conjecture property should be on stream perhaps a month later. It seems that he was being a little over-optimistic as two years later we are still waiting for either of these properties to mine any of their high grade silver!

In the latest Black Mountain announcement the company waxes lyrical about the latest sampling results from its New Departure property reporting that “extremely high grade sampling results surpass expectations with up to 422 oz/ton of silver returned over 1.9m from channel samples – grades never before seen even in the old high grade mine’s historical results” and that “25% of samples taken from the Blue Dot Level showed mineralisation of 3oz/ton silver or above.”

The company went on to note that overall 111 channel samples were taken in total from the Main Drive and Blue Dot Level in line with the company’s strategy to complete its 3-D mine model ahead of production upon securing financing.

Landau stated that “We are focused on delivering high grade silver ounces for production and these excellent results, including a significant number of samples that returned over 20 oz/ton silver, provide encouraging support for this model. With this in mind, as we finalise funding to enable us to meet our production goal at New Departure, we are strengthening our understanding of the historic mine and further sampling will be undertaken in the coming six weeks which will contribute to our 3-D mine model and ultimately the commencement of mining.”

See: Black Mountain – high grade silver production imminent

So two years and around a month after that presentation lunch in London a mine which was back then supposedly due to come into production in a matter of weeks still apparently has an undefined start date!

At the time, Mineweb noted that the geologist who oversaw the then most recent resource assessment on the Conjecture property and was a technical consultant to the Black Mountain board and a great believer in the mine, nonetheless told us that he remained sceptical regarding some of the potential mining problems likely to be faced, particularly regarding dilution, likely overall ore grades and the stated time to be taken to bring the mine into production. It looks like these same factors must have applied to New Departure too.

Landau is perhaps renowned as a perennial optimist – maybe to be in the mining sector one needs to be to stay sane – but nonetheless, if he is going to carry his investors with him he needs to be a bit more accurate in his predictions. Black Mountain’s properties undoubtedly do offer very high grade, but probably small tonnage, potential, but the company still has not been able to provide a market compliant resource statement which can be the kiss of death when trying to raise finance when markets are as depressed as they have been of late.

Resurrection of old high grade properties like New Departure and Conjecture can be a profitable business – as shown by a number of Mexican operators who have succeeded in doing this. But the old miners will indeed have taken out most of the initial high grade material and that remaining is likely to be patchy – and mining narrow channels, even of ultra high grades, is difficult to do without serious dilution thus reducing mill grades substantially. It is perhaps notable that many of the rebuilt operations in Mexico are working largish tonnages of lower grade material left behind by the old miners which have become economic through better mining and processing techniques. It is not certain from drilling and sampling to date how much of this, if any in significant quantities, remains at Black Mountain’s properties which still though have to remain interesting because of some of the very high grades being found to date and perhaps of other silver mineralisation surrounding them and/or at depth. It is presumably still uncertain whether there is enough of this yet to make for a profitable mining operation.

The Conjecture property in particular, though, does offer the interesting prospect of mining the unworked Revett formation – source of considerable amounts of silver in the prolific Idaho silver mines, but this is at depth at Conjecture and would thus require substantial amounts of capital to test out, develop a resource (if it is there) and then mine. It would make for an interesting exploration project for a miner with bigger pockets than Black Mountain presumably has.

The company is noticeably uncomitted nowadays in coming up with a production schedule. It still talks in non-definitive statements. For example from the latest half yearly report released in March: “Commencement of first silver production at New Departure is the Company’s predominant near term goal and in the coming weeks the Company will be focussed on implementing all the necessary corporate and operational requirements in order to reach this transformational goal. With the Conjecture Project due for development immediately following this, we are not far from having two productive high grade silver mines within our stable US portfolio. At this point we will be perfectly poised to undertake rigorous exploration programmes to uncover the proven high grade mineralisation spanning the surrounding patented and unpatented claims, which will be funded, at least in part, from internal revenues.” This looks like junior miner speak for ‘this year, next year, sometime..’ Black Mountain needs to come up with some kind of more definitive schedule to keep its shareholders on board.