Saturday, May 31, 2008

Check Those Statements—Part II

The last post chronicled the story of a dishonest receptionist whose shenanigans were foiled because my wife and I take the time to match every item on our credit card statement with its receipt. An item in the statement which does not have a corresponding receipt bearing the same total sends up an immediate red flag.

This saga is a little more complex. Every month, you send money to the mortgage company. Does the proper amount get credited to the principal and the proper amount to interest? Could some of it simply be disappearing into a black hole? How would you know?

Recently, we refinanced our mortgage to take advantage of a substantially lower rate being offered. Several months later, my wife noticed the balance on the principal was hundreds of dollars off from what our records showed it should have been. Phone call after phone call to the mortgage company produced little results. Rather than having the motto, “The customer is always right,” it became painfully obvious this company operated under the assumption that “The customer is always a bird-brain.” If our records didn’t agree with theirs, it must be something wrong with our records—end of story.

If you ever find yourself dealing with a company whose representative is supposedly taking copious notes about your problem so that they can pass them along to the person who will solve your problem, try this technique. On your next call, ask the person to whom you are talking to pull up the notes about your problem and read them to you. I never cease to be amazed at how incomplete those notes can be. We certainly found this to be the case with our mortgage company.

Interestingly enough, during two calls, a semi-helpful employee examined our history and mentioned a transfer of hundred of dollars from our account made on a certain date by “Tiffany” with no explanation of why the funds were being transferred or to where. (I have omitted the last name to protect the identity of the guilty.)

On a hunch, my wife called the mortgage company and asked to speak to that particular employee by name. There was a sudden silence on the other end of the phone. It seems Tiffany “no longer works here anymore,” and with good reason. Within a few seconds, my wife was transferred to the head of the department who personally got the wheels turning to fix the problem.

How many other people were victims of Tiffany’s scam and to this day do not know it? Obviously, Tiffany was the major player in this game of cat and mouse. But what about the other employees to whom both my wife and I had spoken? What about the lack of follow-through on the part of two different employees who saw the “Tiffany” transaction, found it odd there was no explanation attached, yet did nothing about it? What about the executives who fired Tiffany, yet made no concerted effort to find and correct these transfers of funds?

Yes, there are some great businesses in the world and some extraordinary people who work for them. At the same time, there are those companies who are at the other end of the spectrum who masquerade as the “good guys.” When dealing with them, keeping good records is a must. Examining and questioning statements is a must. Caveat emptor!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Check Those Statements

Part of dealing with the U.S. mail each day is handling the variety of bills and statements which come our way. In this post , I gave some tips on how to organize all of the paperwork.

The question I have today is this, “How closely do you examine those statements for accuracy?” In a world where we are slow to disclose our social security number yet all-too-quick to hand over our credit card to the 18-year-old at the local restaurant, keeping an eye on those statements is your only defense in avoiding your hard-earned money being taken by someone else. In this post and the next, I will describe two situations from my own experience which illustrate what I mean.

Several years ago, my wife opened one of our credit card statements and began to ask me about a purchase to a “home shopping network.” After all, she did not make the purchase and neither of our Shelties knows how to use the phone, so it pretty well narrowed the culprit down to me! As I was trying to explain my innocence, my wife noticed two other charges to other home shopping networks totaling in the hundreds of dollars.

In addition to these three bogus charges was a small but interesting charge--$20 to a doctor. My wife had visited that doctor, and the visit appeared on the statement. On the following day was a $20 charge to the same doctor even though my wife had not visited that doctor a second time. On each of the next three days, a charge appeared for the home shopping networks.

Could that $20 charge have something to the do with the hundreds of dollars being charged to our credit card for purchases we had not made?

Our calls to the home shopping networks enlighten us as to the how well their employees are trained to give very little information. “Your records show I made the purchase and you are shipping the merchandise to me? Well, what is the address to which you are shipping it?”, I asked. You will not get an answer to that question—unless you happen to stumble upon an employee who is very new and didn’t know she was not supposed to be quite so helpful. That is exactly what happened with one of the three home shopping networks we telephoned.

A quick Google search of that address revealed the name associated with it. My wife was astonished to see that the name on the screen was exactly the same as the name of the receptionist at the doctor’s office!

It seems that the receptionist had been copying down names and credit card numbers from the doctor’s customers and was using them to rack up quite a treasure for herself. Not only was she the one who handled the credit cards, but she was also the one who both prepared the deposits and then took them to the bank. Her practice was to take any cash paid to her and pocket it. She would then charge that amount to one of the credit card numbers she had stolen. Nobody ever realized that no bank deposits were ever being made, because she alone handled parts of the process which under good accounting practices would have been divided up among multiple people.

In the final analysis, we did not pay one dime of the bogus charges. A couple of the calls to our credit card company constituted the extent of our time and energy involved. The receptionist was arrested, and life was good again.

Yes, looking at that credit card statement and matching up the receipts takes a little time. It is, however, our best defense. People make mistakes. People sometimes attempt to rob you blind. A little awareness go a long way.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

And Then There Was the Blog

The Friday Memo did its job well for 8 years. It was good, but in the back of mind was something better.

I had been maintaining the blog you are reading now for about a year. The simplicity was appealing. I could compose it from anywhere. People could read it from anywhere. It required no paper, no ink, no toner. It was self-saving. Where to "file" the information was a non-issue. It was already filed in cyberspace, and the click of a mouse could take you to any post from the oldest to the newest.

When school began in the fall of 2005, the Friday Memo had been replaced with a blog dedicated the faculty and staff at our school. That initial post is here.

Posts appeared weekly throughout the school year. I tried very hard to maintain the same concept as I had with the Friday Memo. There would be one post which would contain all of the information people would need to know for the next week. Checking the blog just once a week was enough.

At the end of that school year, I moved on to a position at the central office. The blog was not something that was maintained after I left. It does remain as a sample of how a principal can communicate with faculty and staff in a paperless manner.

Furthermore, the blog offers a huge advantage over e-mail. I find few people who have mature systems for managing the information they receive via e-mail. This blog provides a medium that is focus and is maintained in a single place. Information from a week ago, a month ago, or a year ago is retrievable from any computer.

In a world where far too much is far too complex, the blog is something easy enough that I will actually maintain it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Friday Memo

For those who may be interested in the kinds of information I included in the Friday Memo, I have posted a set on GoogleDocs. You can see that collection here.

A great deal of formatting was lost in the process of saving to GoogleDocs. Each issue of the Friday Memo consisted of a single page with a header at the top. The text appeared in two columns.

If you would like to see the a set for the year as it actually appeared, e-mail me, and I would be glad to send a pdf to you as an attachment.

Sunday, May 25, 2008 Browser Buttons - Custom comment codes for MySpace, Hi5, Friendster and more I had talked about why I use in this post. I had also referenced a short video explaining the concept of social bookmarking. That video is here.

One of the time-saving components of is the set of browser buttons. This short movie explains how to get them.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Time Management for College Students

High schools across America are holding graduating ceremonies, and high school seniors are now becoming college freshmen. With college comes more freedom, more choices, more opportunities to succeed, and more opportunities to royally mess up.

To say the least, time management is a key to success in college. Fiona King sent me this link to "57 Time-Management Hacks for College Students." I hope you will find it interesting

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Focused or Fragmented?

Communication is easy these days. With one quick e-mail or one quick phone call, you or I can get the thought that is in our heads to the other person.

Is that a good thing—or a bad thing—or both?

To fully answer the question, I think we have to look at the scenario from the receiving end. How many e-mails are you getting during the course of a day? How fragmented do you feel as the result of re-focusing your attention from one topic to the next?

How truly significant are those e-mails? If the author had to wait a day before sending it, would the significance still be there? Would he have thought through the problem in his own just a little more before asking you to solve it for him?

How truly significant are those phone calls? Just because the person on the other end had a few spare seconds in the grocery store line and a thought in his head, does that mean the thing to do is interrupt something potentially more significant you were doing?

As I look back over the past decade at what really “worked” for me, the “Friday Memo” was one of those key elements for me. As an elementary principal, I composed a one-page memo and placed it in the mailbox of every employee every Friday. On that one page was everything I needed to tell them for that week. Announcements, birthday greetings, calendar events—they were all there. What did not make it on this week’s Friday Memo waited until next week. Save the Friday Memo throughout the year, and you had in one place everything I had told you all year long. Not sure how much a box of copy paper was going to cost when requisitioned from the central office? Look back at a Friday Memo from the fall and you find your answer.

A year into my principalship, we established e-mail accounts for our faculty and staff. The Friday Memo, however, continued to live. Why?

Even though I am a digital person and quickly latched on to the benefits of e-mail, I realized its ability to fragment communication.

How well can the average person put his hands on information from e-mails or phone calls? My experience is “not very well.” E-mails tend to be fragmented bits of information. One line of substance is accompanied by a paragraph of pleasantries and an obligatory closing.

What if we were to hold off for a moment on that e-mail? What if we were to wait a day of so and include several questions in that one e-mail? What if we waited to make that phone call and called tomorrow to talk about several topics? What if other people did the same for us?

What would it take for all of this to happen? In my way of thinking, it would require us to have a system that would trap those thoughts. Rather than making the phone call to get the thought off of our minds, we could let our system take that responsibility. Rather than fire off the e-mail because something was one our minds, we could let our system handle that responsibility.

Please do not get me wrong. I am all for picking up the phone on the spur of the moment, but not to simply transfer the responsibility for some bit of data from me to the other person. Meaningful, enjoyable conversation on the spur of the moment. That is something I enjoy giving and receiving.

More later on the Friday Memo and its digital replacement—the blog!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Workshops Offered This Summer

Listed below are some of the workshops I will be conducting this summer:

June 5-“Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders.” This full-day workshop is being sponsored by the University of Montevallo Regional Inservice Center and open to teachers in that region. Details of the workshop are here: To register on PDWeb, “Search the PD Title Catalog” for UMINS. Montevallo is purchasing copies of the book that they are giving free to all who attend.

June 10-“Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders.” This full-day workshop is being sponsored by the Jacksonville State University Regional Inservice Center and is open to teachers in that region. To register, go to Jacksonville is purchasing copies of the book that they are giving free to all who attend.

June 18-“Your Own Blog in 10 Minutes or Less.” (9:45) This one-hour workshop is being presented at the Alabama Educational Technology Conference. Presented at both AETC ’06 and AETC ’07, this workshop has inspired the creation of many blogs at the personal, classroom, and school level.

June 18-“Get Organized With Outlook.” (11:00) This one-hour workshop is being presented at AETC. Outlook is the most popular and powerful time-management software. Whether you are new to Outlook or have been using it for quite some time, you are sure to learn something new. If you are tired of staring at on overflowing e-mail Inbox, you will leave knowing how easy it is to get “In” to “Empty” every day!

June 18-“Get Organized With Outlook.” (1:45) In this three-hour hands-on workshop at AETC, participants will learn the program from scratch.

June 19-“Get Organized With Outlook.” (8:30) This is repeat of yesterday’s three-hour hands-on workshop.

June 19-“Get Organized! Managing Digital Data With Ease” (1:45) Every year, more and more information comes our way in digital form. Our ability to organize it, put our hands on it when we need it, protect it from loss, and do all of this with ease is becoming a critical skill set. Nobody ever taught us how to handle the digital tidal wave. This workshop is designed to help provide that answer.

June 30-“Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders.” This is a repeat of the full-day workshop held on June 5 and is being sponsored by the University of Montevallo Regional Inservice Center It is open to teachers in that region. Details of the workshop are here: To register on PDWeb, “Search the PD Title Catalog” for UMINS. Montevallo is purchasing copies of the book that they are giving free to all who attend.

July 18--“Get Organized With Outlook.” (8:15) This workshop is being presented at the Mega Conference in Mobile. It is a repeat of the three-hour hands-on workshops from AETC.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Paul Sings Nessun Dorma

Talent we have not discovered is all around us, and perhaps within us. This video is one of those heart-warming examples. Looking at Paul, a seemingly average man engaged in an average life, who would have expected the musical gift that he displayed?

Doesn't it make you wonder what treasures are around you which have yet to be discovered?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Introducing Animoto

I read about a site called and gave it a try. If a picture is worth a thousand words, probably the best way to tell you what the site is all about is to show you:

After creating an account (which takes less than a minute), you can create your first video:

  1. Upload pictures from your computer or other source (such as flickr). You must have at least 10 pictures.
  2. Select the music. Animoto lets you choose the genre and choose from a list of music within that genre.
  3. You upload the video.

It takes a little while for the site to put your video together, and you know what they say about a watched pot. So, go and do something else and before you know it, you will have an e-mail telling you it's ready and giving you a link to your video.

The site is free if you are creating short videos (around 30 seconds). To create longer ones costs a fee. You can save your video to your computer. You also have the ability, as we show here, to embed the video in a blog.

The demonstration video I put together, using photos of our dogs, took less than 5 minutes to create. Most of that time involved waiting for the computer to complete the upload of the pictures.

I shared this site with Pattie Thomas, principal at R. L. Young Elementary School, and by the next morning, she had created a video of her own and posted it to her school blog.

If you are looking for a time-saving way to create a short "commercial" presentation, Animoto is a good one.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Podcasting in Plain English

We have all certainly heard the term “podcasting.” This short video explains how to do it:

A special thanks to those at Common Craft who produced this and other outstanding instructional videos.

Monday, May 05, 2008

So What Is "Creative Commons"?

On the right-hand side of this blog, you see the message "This work is lisenced under a Creative Commons…License" What does that mean? This short video tells all about it.