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Should Your Workplace Monitor Your Blackberry?

From the Times:

The Supreme Court agreed last week to decide whether a police department in Ontario, Calif., violated the privacy rights of an employee when it inspected personal text messages of a police sergeant on a work-issued pager. While that case concerns public employees, a federal judge involved in the proceedings asked, “What are the legal boundaries of an employee’s privacy in this interconnected, electronic-communication age?”

As always,’s brilliant Room for Debate blog has a handful of opinions. Some say that employers should respect the privacy of their workers, others see it as a necessity. But one thing is certain: as more communication networks go remote, the matter is only going to get trickier.

Personally, I don’t think it’s right for your boss to be able to look through your emails and voicemails, but it’s not like I’d have anything to hide. In fact, it would annoy me more that anyone had the time to look through my work phone. I mean, don’t you have some real work to do?

Read the rest at Room for Debate.

How Zhu Zhu Pets Became This Christmas's Must-Buy Toy

zhu_zhu_smallIf you’re Christmas shopping, there’s a pretty good shot that Zhu Zhu Pets, a brand of toy hamsters, is somewhere at the top of your list. But how exactly did such a seemingly silly toy become this year’s hot item? The New York Times has the story:

Buyers at Toys “R” Us were first introduced to fake hamsters, known as Zhu Zhu Pets, almost a year ago, at the Hong Kong Toys and Games Fair.

“We saw the potential,” said Lisa Harnisch, a vice president and divisional merchandise manager for Toys “R” Us. Ms. Harnisch and her colleagues knew children adored hamsters — and they sensed that mothers would like fake hamsters that required no care… Read more »

Could Natural Gas Drilling Poison Your Drinking Water?


Natural gas is one resource that’s getting cheaper very quickly, and is environmental friendly, at least when compared to coal. But while its effect on global warming may be less detrimental, is it endangering our drinking water?

The drilling boom is raising concern in many parts of the country, and the reaction is creating political obstacles for the gas industry. Hazards like methane contamination of drinking water wells, long known in regions where gas production was common, are spreading to populous areas that have little history of coping with such risks, but happen to sit atop shale beds.

Whoa! Contaminated drinking water is no good. But on the flip side: Read more »

When Kids Learn the Truth About Santa

santa_clausYes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and, uh, yes he does go to Iraq. Great story from The Mommy Files at the Chronicle by Amy Graff:

“Where does Santa get all the toys?” my daughter asked as I was driving her to school this morning.

Do your kids believe in Santa?

“I think he and the elves used to make the toys themselves but today the elves probably just go shopping,” I told her.

“Then why don’t we ever see elves in stores? Santa must need a lot of elves to buy all the toys.”

“Maybe Santa just orders the toys off the Internet.” (My answer depressed me but I couldn’t think of anything better to say.)

Read the rest at The Mommy Files.

Working the Kids Like Santa’s Elves

santas_elvesDo you think it’s bad to work my kids like Santa’s elves? I won’t make them wear little suits, but I do need them to produce some Christmas gifts this year. Sure, at school they’ll make and wrap a couple of little things for Mom and Dad that they’ll bring home and put under the tree. But what about the gifts that I usually buy for their six cousins, three aunts, two uncles, two grandmas and one grandpa? I can’t afford it this year.

I was at the Village at Corte Madera mall the other night with my kids, not shopping but waiting for my appointment at the Genius Bar in the Apple Store (so I could fix the thing that does my work). The mall was beautifully decorated with the tallest cut tree I’ve ever seen (but maybe it was fake). The lights were aglow, sparkling and shimmering off the red and silver balls. Oversized presents sat below the branches inspiring thoughts of the wonderful surprise they might hold. It all seemed to say, Purchase gifts, get ready, decorate, be festive. Read more »

Holiday Travel: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Long security lines, flight delays, bad weather -- avoiding them might be a Christmas miracle of its own.

Long security lines, flight delays, bad weather -- avoiding them might be a Christmas miracle of its own.

Among all the stressful things the holiday season brings, airplane travel might be the worst of them. Luckily, the New York Times has some fantastic tips on holiday travel. The article is a good mix of surprisingly clever advice and common-sense reminders:

  1. Map out Plan B. Figure out your next best flight options in case your plane is delayed or canceled.
  2. Load up your cellphone with emergency numbers.
  3. Add the numbers of some major hotel chains, like Starwood or Marriott, with airport locations.
  4. Set up a flight alert for yourself and anyone who may need to know your whereabouts.
  5. Pack smart.
  6. Know your rights. This is critical during busy travel periods when flights are often overbooked and confusion reigns.
  7. Check in ahead of time online.
  8. Reserve a parking spot.
  9. Know your airport. If your flight is delayed, you may end up spending a lot of time there.
  10. Be polite. Courtesy definitely gets more results than pushiness.

Read the rest at the New York Times.

Image from the New York Times.

With Head Lice, Persistence not Panic Keys Treatment

It's a monster--in your hair. Photo by Eran Finkle

It's a monster--in your hair. Photo by Eran Finkle

It’s not actually as bad as having lice, but researching and writing this article has made my head itch for two hours. It’s also reminded me of the last time I really worried about these parasites, standing in a long hallway with my third-grade classmates, waiting for a dreaded lice-check. The woman with the blue nurse’s cap and plastic gloves seemed grumpier than usual, probably because this was invariably her riskiest day on the job. While the small brown and gray critters most often inhabit kids’ scalps, they really don’t discriminate. Luckily that day my friends and I were all clear, but then my head rarely felt itchier— not even when I actually had lice—than when I stood in that line. Read more »

Black Friday, Smart Shoppers

The Black Friday rush outside the Apple Store. Photo by Steve Rhodes.

The Black Friday rush outside the Apple Store. Photo by Steve Rhodes.

This year, 195 million people went shopping on Black Friday, up quite a bit from last year’s 171 million. (And just for comparison sake, the voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election was 131 million people.) But while more shoppers were working off their Thanksgiving calories by rushing to their nearest Toys “R” Us and Best Buy, the general trend showed that they were spending less. Early numbers show that sales rose a sobering 0.5% over last year. Even a year into the recession, growth was way below the predicted 1.6% sales increase. Read more »