A lost art

April 30, 2011 – Cursive handwriting is on the decline according to a recent article in The New York Times and could be in danger of becoming extinct.

Handwriting can be hard to decipher at times, and some signatures … well forget about trying to read them. But to say that cursive handwriting isn’t a necessary skill for the 21st century as the article claims is absurd.

We live in an age where our younger generation has already lost the ability to verbally communicate with each other, as text messages are preferred by most of them. To take another skill away will limit their abilities further. Can you imagine a future generation not able to read important documents like the Declaration of Independence unless it was typeset on a piece of paper or in a book?

As a graduate of Catholic school, cursive handwriting was ingrained in me from an early age. It’s printing that seems so foreign. I can print, but my handwriting is more legible.

Does the end of cursive handwriting mean that beautifully penned wedding invitations are on the way out too? Or love letters? I keep envisioning Daniel Day-Lewis and those wonderful thank you notes he wrote in The Age of Innocence. That lovely calligraphy was almost a character in the movie, and it wouldn’t have been the same if he simply printed his name on one of those cards instead.

And what about signatures? How will future adults approve tax forms, loan documents and important other papers that require you to sign your name?

Will they simply print their name or place a large X over the signature bar? That could be easily copied, and your signature is supposed to be a unique identifier.

Perhaps we’re not far away from scanning our retinas or using thumb prints to give our approval.

That’s even more depressing than the thought of losing the art of cursive handwriting.

Fiction Friday: Modern fairy tales

April 29, 2011 – Today the world watches as a modern fairy tale unfolds in England with the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

In honor of the event, and in conjunction with Fiction Friday, here are two sites that feature short fiction, or rather fables and fairy tales of the modern and classic variety.

And for those who have an urge to send personal well wishes to the happy couple, you can upload a video or message on youtube.com courtesy of the Royal Channel.

As for William and Kate, may their happily ever after be anything but fictitious.

It’s all in the name

April 28, 2011 – I thoroughly enjoy reading the genre of fiction referred to as chick lit. I just don’t care for the name.

I realize this genre often gets a bad rap in literary circles, though I’m not exactly sure why. Aside from the name, which is insulting, most of the books I’ve read in that category are amusing and sometimes compelling. Yes, that’s right…I said compelling.

Jennifer Egan, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction for A Visit From the Goon Squad recently gave several interviews where she insulted chick lit authors by calling them “banal and derivative,” claiming these authors should “shoot higher.” She took particular offense with Sophie Kinsella, an English author who penned the Shopaholic series of books, which I didn’t care for because the main character was nerve-wracking. But her other work, especially The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me, Can You Keep a Secret and Twenties Girl were witty and charming. As a writer, I’m proud to say Kinsella is a role model. Making people laugh is a very difficult thing to do and she manages that quite nicely. Who wouldn’t want to emulate that?

Another role model, Jennifer Weiner, has taken the attack on chick lit authors to heart with her snappy tweets, such as “How seriously should I take an article that thinks that chick lit authors chose and embrace the term ourselves?” and “Dear literary writers: hate on me/chick lit all you want, but pls stop making fun of my last name. Take Egan’s advice. Shoot higher.” Weiner is a terrific, witty writer, and I look forward to her new releases with the same intensity as I did with Sidney Sheldon’s back in the day.

The literary world has always been filled with snobs who put down the work of other authors they deem unfit for the industry. It seems to  be the only art form that doesn’t respect its participants, loves to criticize, and kicks its writers to the curb. However, I admire anyone who can write and publish a book because I know how difficult that is. It may not mean I’ll buy it or want to read it, but I respect the art and the effort. After all, some authors write for the literary few, and some write for the masses. What’s wrong with that?

I’m proud to say I am a reader with varied tastes. Sometimes I read Virginia Woolf, and sometimes I read Helen Fielding. It depends on my mood.

Perhaps Egan would call me a Philistine for defending chick lit. And that’s OK. I don’t mind at all.

The big day (and a big storm) closes in

April 27, 2011 – Prepare the tea and scones, set your alarm for 4 a.m. EST and dust off your tiara. The royal wedding is only two days away.

Heavy rains are expected in London on Friday morning and may keep some well-wishers away, but plenty of diehard fans will still line the streets to watch William and Kate’s covered carriage pass by.

While it’s reported that all of the hoopla will cost Britain’s taxpayers plenty – they could be on the hook for about $35 million – they don’t seem to be complaining. Rather, they are enjoying their time in the spotlight.

In America, most people claim they don’t care about the upcoming wedding, but Webpronews.com reported yesterday that the coverage here since the engagement was announced in November has been more aggressive than in Great Britain. But that only proves the theory that the media cares more than the American people do.

Many in Ireland are not exactly overcome with joyous feelings for the happy couple, either. Here’s how the folks in the Irish Republic feel about the upcoming nuptials. And in Northern Ireland, there are warnings of possible bomb threats that may coincide with the ceremony on Friday.

Although we don’t hear much about the IRA these days, a new branch called the Real IRA has emerged ignoring the cease fire agreed to in 1997, and causing some recent trouble. They also plan wide protests for a scheduled visit to the Irish Republic by Queen Elizabeth next month, claiming that she should be tried for war crimes.

Still, let’s not lose sight of the real news here. The world be damned; a fairy tale is about to unfold. Let’s just hope everyone lives happily (and safely) ever after.

A beginner’s guide to the economic indicators

April 26, 2011 – The release of a government statistic can create chaos in the economic markets affecting everything from the interest rate paid on mortgages to the prices paid for gasoline and groceries. Government groups including the Department of Labor, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Census Bureau typically release these government statistics, known as economic indicators, each month.

The broadest barometer of economic activity is Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the nation’s total output of goods and services. Other examples of key indicators include Consumer Confidence, which predicts sudden shifts in consumption patterns; the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a measure of the price levels of goods and services; the Producer Price Index (PPI), which measures prices for goods at the wholesale level; and Retail Sales, a measure of total receipts of retail stores.

Key indicators gauge how well the economy is doing or how well it may do in the future. They have one of two different relationships to the economy: procyclic or countercyclic.

A procyclic indicator moves in the same direction as the economy. If the economy is healthy, the indicator increases, and if the economy is in poor shape, the indicator will decrease. Consumer Goods and GDP are examples of procyclic indicators.

On the other hand, indicators that increase when the overall economy is slowing down are classified as countercyclical. For example, as the economy gets worse, a countercyclical indicator such as the Unemployment Rate will increase.

Key indicators can also be placed into three categories according to their timing in the business cycle: leading, lagging and coincident.

Leading indicators typically change before the economy enabling them to be short-term predictors of economic activity. Examples of leading indicators are building permits, money supply and stock prices.

Lagging indicators, such as unemployment, labor cost and interest rates, change after the economy changes, while coincident indicators occur at approximately the same time as the economy. Examples include personal income, GDP and retail sales.

Key economic indicators are among the most closely watched reports in the financial world. While they cannot predict with certainty what will happen, they do help us understand where the economy is presently and where it might go.

How do you handle those tricky interview questions?

April 25, 2011 – What’s the craziest question you’ve been asked at a job interview, and how did you handle it?

A friend of mine was asked how people who didn’t like her would describe her. She replied that she didn’t know because everyone likes her. I thought it was a great answer to a stupid question. What else could she possibly say?

Most employers ask tricky questions to see how fast you can think on your feet. I know I’m supposed to consider it an interesting exercise in problem solving and brush it off. But most times I just end up feeling stupid.

In my last job, I asked my fair share of crazy questions during interviews, and they were designed to help the potential employee relax. I asked one person who they thought they might have been in another life. He answered politely and didn’t look at me too strange, but HR asked that I not ask that again since it could be interpreted as a religious question.

Now the tables are turned, and I am at the mercy of the interviewer. I’ve been on so many interviews this past year and have been asked about a hundred questions or more. While none have been too outrageous – I’ve never been asked what kind of fruit I was – two questions that I had a difficult time with stand out.

The first was what I do when I disagree with an executive about how something should be handled. Sounds simple enough, so I answered that I would state my case and why I believe my way was the right way, but if he or she still didn’t agree with me, the outcome would really depend on who had the power. Unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t care for response asked me the same question over again hoping for a different answer – and I didn’t have one.

The other question occurred in a recent interview. I was asked to walk the interviewer through the process of comparing several Excel spreadsheets to see where there was a duplication of efforts on the projects. I explained that I knew how to merge documents but I couldn’t really walk him through the process without having Excel open in front of me. I kind of got the feeling that everyone else in the room thought the question was just as strange as I thought it was.

The good thing about a question that throws you off-balance is that you can better prepare yourself for the next time by coming up with an answer when you have time to mull it over. The bad thing is it usually isn’t asked again by anyone else.

Here are three tricky questions, with tips on how to answer them courtesy of the team at doostang.com.