Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Employees Cheating Time... But What Can You Do About It?

According to a recent survey released by time-clock vendor Kronos, your employees are cheating your timekeeping systems. The survey reveals that employees routinely steal pay from their employers for time they have not worked. Such thievery includes clocking-in earlier or clocking-out later than scheduled, having someone else clock them in or out, neglecting to clock out for lunch or breaks, or adding time to timesheets.

Is anyone surprised that your employees might try to cheat your timekeeping system to steal a few extra bucks? Now that I've reported on what should be obvious to anyone who runs a business or works in HR, I present a more practical issue—what can you do about it?

Here's what the law says about the use of time clocks for payroll purposes:

Time clocks are not required. In those cases where time clocks are used, employees who voluntarily come in before their regular starting time or remain after their closing time do not have to be paid for such periods provided, of course, that they do not engage in any work. Their early or late clock punching may be disregarded. Minor differences between the clock records and actual hours worked cannot ordinarily be avoided, but major discrepancies should be discouraged since they raise a doubt as to the accuracy of the records of the hours actually worked.

In practice, this rule, coupled with these survey results, places employers in a bad position. Because employers have to keep accurate records of the hours their employees work, routinely failing to pay employees for inaccurately recorded time might cause the Department of Labor to distrust the validity of your recordkeeping, which, in turn, could lead to a costly recordkeeping violation of the statute. Refusing to pay employees per your recording system also opens your business to a potential Department of Labor investigation or class action lawsuit for unpaid wages. The Hobson's Choice employers face in this area—as a result of the web woven by the FLSA's anachronistic rules and regulations—is either to grind your businesses to a halt through strict compliance, or to roll the compliance dice and hope that the Department of Labor or a plaintiffs' class action lawyer will not come knocking on your doors.

As a solution, I offer a three-pronged approach:

1.    Create a culture of honesty in your business, and train your managers and supervisors on the importance of honesty in timekeeping and the consequences that will result from dishonesty. You cannot hope to change employees' dishonest behavior without first creating a workplace gestalt of honest behavior.

2.   Pay per your timekeeping system, which may result in some employees receiving pay for un-worked time. It is usually not a defense to a wage and hour lawsuit that you did not authorize work that the employee performed. If it's documented as time worked, pay for it (but see number 3 below).

3.   Discipline—routinely, consistently, and with sufficient warning—those employees who are caught falsifying their time records. Just because you have to pay for recorded time does not mean that you lack recourse against employees you reasonably believe are being dishonest. Discipline or termination will reinforce your culture of honesty by creating consequences for those that breach.

Following these three steps cannot prevent dishonest employees from trying to steal pay for time not worked. But, it will create the appropriate workplace environment to encourage greater honesty in time recordation, which should pay exponential dividends by spilling over into other facets of your business. 

Jon Hyman is a partner at Kohrman, Jackson & Krantz. He is the author of the nationally recognized Ohio Employer's Law Blog and tweets about employment law issues, follow him at @jonhyman. His colleagues affectionately refer to him as "Social Media Guy." He parlayed his status as a social media early-adopter to author and edit Think Before You Click…, the first book to address the evolving intersection of human resources and social media. He also appeared on an episode of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', but lacked the fastest fingers. 

Thanks to Jon Hyman / Fistful Of Talent



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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Embracing Change From Both Sides

One of the great difficulties in shifting an organization from a hierarchical, command and control structure to a more networked wirearchical one is that you have to work both ends at once. Strategic guidance and high level models are rather abundant; for instance we generally know that organizations should be flatter, information should be democratized and risk & failure should be made more acceptable. Examining a business and looking at how it can be more social, innovative and agile is not really that difficult. From both inside and outside the organizations, most gaps are easy to identify. But the main challenge is what to do about them. Consultants, and even key internal staff, can often identify the problem (at the time) but then they move on to the next problem before much change has happened.

Complexity theory tells us that complex problems need to be probed through action before any sense can be made of them. Changing to a social business is complex. Dave Snowden has operationalized this with the Cynefin framework (Probe-Sense-Respond in complex environments).

But, as Dave has reminded me, over half of our probes will fail. That means we cannot create a plan for the organizational shift and then implement it. It has to be designed as a work in progress, or really a series of works in progress.

My experience, especially this past year, is that social business is just a different organizational culture. But you cannot directly change it or implement it. Culture is an emergent property of the many practices that happen every day. Change the practices and a new culture will emerge.

Communities of practice are often where work practices get developed. Even without formal approval, communities of practice exist and have a great influence on the organization. They can be a bunch of workers in the lunchroom or the CEO's inner circle. They learn from each other by modelling behaviour. We may not even realize we're modelling (and adopting) behaviours, but it happens all the time; like keeping your mouth shut when an executive says something really stupid.

So how would you re-focus an existing organization? First you need the frameworks and new ways of talking about business in place. These are based on the concepts Steve Denning, Gary Hamel, John Hagel and others talk about (radical management, management innovation, edge perspectives). Then you need to identify Probes, or what Dave Snowden calls safe-fail experiments. These are designed to be not so large that failure would seriously damage the company.

Next comes the trickier part. These probes have to be supported. How do you take a team that has never narrated its work and tell it to "be more transparent" or "share knowledge with customers". New ways of doing things have to be practised, modelled and developed in a non-confrontational environment. It takes time. Not an inordinate amount of time with good support, but it doesn't happen in a matter of week; more usually months.

For example, we've worked with distributed groups who are focused on improving collaboration. Everyone is onboard at the onset. But after an initial week or two we notice that nobody is sharing information. They say there's no time to do it, but this is not a lack of motivation, it's a lack of skills. However, these types of social skills require much more practice than theory.

During one of these probes, there can be lengthy periods of time coaching, cajoling and modelling, but at some point, things click with someone. This person sees how these new ways of working are really helping get work done. Someone else gets positive feedback from people outside the team. After a period of time there is no more need for outside help and the team becomes a model for the new business behaviours such as taking initiative in delighting customers. Ideas are supported, not shot down. People build on others' ideas. One other thing; the end result of a probe is never what we thought it would be.

Like learning a new language, getting access to the right knowledge is only a small part of the solution. The best curriculum and best designed courses will have no effect if people do not practice. Formal instruction, or lecturing, is minimal in any of these probes. People need to do in order to understand. It's social. Individuals practising on their own will not get the entire organization functioning in the new language either. It has to happen cooperatively. Getting feedback from experienced people, while engaging in peer learning, will help develop next practices in social business. But it requires time, effort and patience.

I've been told that you know you're in a real community of practice when it changes your practice. It's a good measuring stick.

There is no doubt in my mind that you need to work both ends at once: develop a flexible, contextual strategy but also practice new behaviours through a continuing series of probes. Supporting these probes and learning by doing are essential. Engaging in probes where failure is an option can be an extremely valuable learning process. It can even be transformational. Developing a strategy and then following the plan is just another 20th century "change management" process. It is backward looking, based on a plan that is outdated the moment it is published. In the 21st century, the aim is not to manage change, but understand and embrace change. It's shifting to an acceptance of life in perpetual Beta.

Thanks for Harold Jarche / Jarche / Harold Jarche


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Is This Seat Taken?: Random Encounters That Change Your Life

Is This Seat Taken?: Random Encounters That Change Your Life

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Product Description

If you think incidental meetings are just incidental... think again. As a jet-setting executive who frequently travels to varied and far-flung places, Kristin S. Kaufman has had years of chance encounters with strangers. More importantly, Kaufman takes the time to find out who these people are and experience what they offer, be they the clerk at her neighborhood grocery or the executive seated next to her on an airplane. This has allowed for a lifelong accumulation of wisdom from the unlikeliest of places. From these experiences, Kaufman draws different perspectives, insights, and a heightened self-awareness. Now she wants to share these experiences and the provocative nature of the incidental interaction with you. Contained within these pages is a collection of personal stories that offers a refreshing and often humorous reminder to be aware of the random opportunities and people that surround us each day. Kaufman's openness to others allows her to learn secrets of fulfillment from those she encounters. Her diverse tales raise curiosity of what might happen to each of us if we are truly awake and pay attention to those seemingly insignificant encounters in our daily lives. This book is certain to touch anyone who has ever awakened with the questions: Is this all there is? What do I actually want to do? How do I truly want to contribute?

Product Details
  • Amazon Sales Rank: #942560 in eBooks
  • Published on: 2011-10-31
  • Released on: 2011-10-31
  • Format: Kindle eBook
Editorial Reviews

No matter how much we plan as individuals or as a company, the random encounter offers unplanned opportunity. Kristin Kaufman will have you looking at chance encounters with a different perspective after reading this book. --Gary Kelly; CEO, president, and chairman, Southwest Airlines

Through real-life stories, Kristin Kaufman illustrates the core idea of being present in the moment and opening oneself up to new ideas in order to become an authentic leader in life. --Stephen R. Covey; Author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Leader in Me

An inspiring and practical leadership handbook. Through powerful personal stories and great teaching points, Kristin challenges us all to be better leaders. --Dr. Noel Tichy; Professor and director, Global Citizenship Initiative at the University of Michigan and Coauthor, JUDGMENT: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, with Warren Bennis

About the Author
Kristin S. Kaufman is the founder of Alignment, Inc., formed in 2007 to serve individuals, corporations, boards of directors, and nonprofits in finding alignment within themselves and their organizations. Alignment, Inc. is a unique services organization that works with companies and individuals to create sustainable success individually and collectively. Kaufman has brought this expertise to hundreds of people since establishing Alignment. During her twenty-five years of corporate experience, she has held executive positions at Hewlett-Packard, Vignette Corporation, and United Health Group. In 2009 Kaufman pursued and was awarded the distinction of professional certified coach from the International Coaching Federation and also achieved the designation of certified leadership coach through the esteemed program of Georgetown University.

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Career Change Advice: 3 Things To Think About When Embarking On A New Path

Is This Seat Taken?: Random Encounters That Change Your Life
After several years at a job, it's common for people to contemplate a new position within their organization, leave the company for something new or even strike out on their own to try their hand in an entrepreneurial stint.

The reasons for their changes often include dissatisfaction with the current organizational culture, lack of promotion, a desire to contribute in a more meaningful way and find opportunities to fully optimize their knowledge and skills.

At some point in our careers, the questions invariably come up: "Now, what do I really want to do?" and "Is this it?"

Career Change Advice: 3 Things to Think About:
Here are some simple ideas as you contemplate the virtual unknown:

1. Find and Leverage the Right Support System:

We really do nothing alone.  We need mentors, lawyers, colleagues, executive/leadership coaches and even family to help navigate the road to change. Often we don't see or hear what we hoped for. Perspectives from objective sources bring fresh solutions and ideas.

2. Evaluate Your Current Position:

It can be easy to become intoxicated with visions of grandeur. Stay grounded and realistic about your currency in the market and how you spend it. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have money to support you and your lifestyle while pursuing this new venture?
  • How do your skills stack up against others in your field?
  • What makes you different?
  • What do you really want to do in this new role?

Don't lose sight of any of these factors and answers.

3. Remember Nothing Is Permanent:

We can make changes, mistakes and missteps as we travel our career roads. We learn through each experience, which ultimately makes us the leaders we are. Be honest about what you are good at doing and what the most challenging aspects are of your profession.

Stretch, grow and remember — the only compass you need to follow is your authenticity and how you want to contribute in this world.

Author: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc., formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. During her 25 years of corporate experience, she held executive positions at Hewlett-Packard, Vignette Corporation and United Health Group. Her first book – Is this Seat Taken? Random Encounters that Change your Life – is slated to appear in bookstores November 2011.

Thanks for Kristin Kaufman / FeedBlitz, LLC

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Six Tips For Landing Your Dream Job

Do you have a job that's just like everyone else's? Are you looking for a 9-to-5, but wish you weren't? Do you wish there was another option, one that would lead to an exciting, unique and fulfilling line of work?

I recently interviewed more than 100 people who currently hold their dream jobs as research for a new book called How'd You Score That Gig? These individuals, who are travel journalists, event planners, fashion designers, forensic scientists, interior decorators, Internet business owners and more, have one thing in common -- persistence.

As unattainable as a dream job might sound, with the right amount of forethought and preparation, you can make the move as well. Following are six tips to get you started.

Learn About Yourself 

Take time to do a self-assessment of your values, how you like to work and what you'd be compelled to do even if you never got paid. Research careers and industries that map to your skills and interests. Hit the Internet, set up informational interviews, take relevant coursework and arrange to go onsite at a company in your chosen field.

Don't Be Deterred by a Lack of Experience

In developing a resume and other promotional materials for the field you want to pursue, think about how your current skills and talents apply to the responsibilities you'll hold in the new job. For example, knowledge of project management, client relations, information technology and sales will take you far in most types of careers.

Ease Into a New Career One Foot at a Time 

Perhaps this means earning a paycheck at your current job while doing a part-time internship in your new field, or taking an adult-education class or workshop on the weekend. The only way to find out if you're passionate about something is to try it -- ideally with as little risk as you can manage.

Remember That Any Progress Is Good Progress

Even confident people stay in unsatisfying jobs because they feel safe, and because they're afraid of making a bad decision.  But in the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, though, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing -- like emailing a networking contact or attending an event -- that moves you a bit closer to your big-picture goal.

Start Early

Twenty- and thirty-somethings have more flexibility when it comes to test-driving different careers. The process of self-discovery is much easier when you're unencumbered by family responsibilities and substantial financial burdens, and when you haven't yet reached a level in a career where it's tougher to turn back. That said, it's never too late to pursue your passion. More and more Baby Boomers are leaving the world of traditional employment for alternative career paths that will fulfill them well into retirement age.

Have Realistic Expectations 

Even if you're lucky enough to hold your dream job, there's no such thing as the perfect work situation. Every job has its ups and downs, and aspects we love and aspects we don't love. And "dream job" doesn't mean "cushy job." As your mom always told you, anything worth having in this world requires some effort. There will be some days you feel like shutting the alarm off and going back to sleep, but many more where you feel more energized by the prospect of work than you ever thought possible.

Alexandra Levit is the author of How'd You Score That Gig: A Guide to the Coolest Careers -- and How to Get Them. She speaks at corporations, universities and conferences around the country about workplace issues facing young employees, and her career advice has been featured in more than 800 media outlets.

Thanks for Alexandra Levit, for Yahoo! HotJobs / Career Advice Monster / Monster

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Copying A Professional Resume? Watch Out For These Pitfalls

Recently, I was contacted by a job hunter who wanted an update to his existing resume, a service I offer to former clients in my practice.

The resume looked strikingly familiar on some level, but the name didn't resonate.

Then it hit me: I HAD written it—but for someone else.

Professional resume writers encounter this scenario all the time, and for the most part, it's flattering to think our work is compelling enough to be copied (at least if we can ignore the obvious part pertaining to copyright law).

However, here's what worries me when I spot a copied rendition of a professional resume (mine or anyone else's): the copier rarely grasps the branding and building process that went behind it in the first place.

Therefore, he's doing himself a grave disservice by borrowing the format, writing style, and tone, then pasting his career story in between that of someone else.

The worst part? The "borrower" often fails to understand this context, and goes right on using it as if it were a coherent and targeted document.

So, if you're determined to make your resume look like the masterpieces that you see on sites like mine, here are 6 likely problems that you'll encounter in doing so:

1. You can easily unravel the original brand strategy… and be left with nothing.

So… you think you have the same career path and can therefore just "tweak" a word or two? Not so fast.

For a resume to be effective, the strategy is set (prior to any writing) based on how well the candidate fits the desired role and the potential for screen-out factors based on his or her personal career path, age, industry preferences, and a host of other factors.

I often compare a client's career path and achievements to others in the industry, pulling out any areas of strength or weakness in credentials (including education and former jobs) to make decisions about word choice and emphasis.

The writing process itself only starts after lengthy data mining and analysis of the job goal. Then, content is wrapped around and woven through the strategy, along with personality traits, resulting in a total picture and unique value proposition.

Given this process, any changes to the resume by someone who doesn't understand the candidate will create problems in the message…and while these nuances may go unnoticed by you, they are all key factors in whether a resume gets read or dismissed.

2. You might slide into generalizations that blur the message.

Here's what one candidate did with my power summary that described market-leading achievements (including a 70% rise in revenue over 2 years, a totally restructured team and profitable turnaround effort, plus a total obliteration of the competition):

"Dedicated and hard working professional with over 12 years of experience in the food service sales and marketing industry, Successful experience in strategic planning, analysis of results, and international media relations."


Now, if you haven't read lists of overused words for resumes, it might be time to do so.

Words like "hard-working" or "successful experience" are both no-brainers and would not be taken seriously by employers… plus, they're a dead giveaway the writer doesn't know what he is doing when trying to describe himself.

3. You could repeat yourself.

And put words like "created," "spearheaded," and "developed" in the document so many times that they'll lose their meaning.

Hopefully, you'll refrain from describing all your achievements as "successful" and reference a thesaurus to avoid using the same word four times in one sentence (as I recently saw in a copied document).

Here's where training in power verbs can really save the day.

Not convinced? Most professional writers count word occurrences (yes, really) and tend to scan documents for our favorite words, just to ensure employers remain fully engaged in your resume.

4. Your changes can mess up the formatting.

Professional resume writers are masters of presentation and formatting, to the point that they'll incorporate tricks and nuances into a resume that escape your untrained eye.

In fact, just moving a sentence or two will often throw an entire page into disarray, because you'll be challenged by figuring out how to adjust headings or change point sizes for spacer lines.

Worse yet, you might feel the need to shrink the font below 11 points. This should only be done for certain sans serif fonts, and then reviewed on different monitors to verify that the over-40 crowd of employers can read your document.

5. Your writing might suck up space (or not make sense).

Professional resume writers specialize in something your English teacher never approved of: sentence fragments. That's right – we boil ideas and full sentences down to the most minute of details in order to avoid that font problem that I just described.

Best practices in journalism (you didn't know that resume writers use the Associated Press Stylebook, now did you?) dictate that sentences must be short, conveying meaning in the first 5 to 10 words. (25-word sentences are held up as the holy grail.)

So, with minimal practice in tight writing, your sentences might be as long as the one I just reviewed in a copied resume: 79 words!

It's close to impossible for your resume to pass a 10-second scan with a dense paragraph like this.

In addition, lack of parallel sentence structure is a dead giveaway that your resume wasn't professionally written. Parallel structure means that your sentences are written in alignment with each other (such as fragments that all begin with nouns, or verb forms that consistently appear in past tense).

6. There won't be any way to update your "work" professionally.

Your personal work style and energy will rarely (if ever) show up in someone else's document. So, you're already operating at a severe brand disadvantage before even trying to have someone update the resume for you.

Think about it: you started with someone else's strategy, brand message, tone, and presentation, and tried to plop a mixed bag of verbiage over the original text.

Now, it really doesn't represent you, and this will make it difficult for a professional resume writer to make sense of it without starting fresh (which would have been my advice in the first place).

In summary, you can certainly TRY to adopt a professionally written resume as your own, but the pitfalls that can trip you up along the way can actually hurt your job search results.

You're better off pulling in some formatting styles that appeal to you, and writing about your own career history—from scratch.

Laura Smith-Proulx, founder of An Expert Resume, is a resume expert & former recruiter who wins interviews for C-Suite leaders using powerful personal branding and resume strategies.

Thanks to Laura Smith-Proulx / Careerealism


Monday, April 18, 2016

This Is What Happens At Work

Saturday, April 16, 2016

FASTER Meetings

FASTER Meetings. Want your meetings to build team spirit, improve cooperation, and increase productivity? Try a FASTER meeting. FASTER is my acronym for the key components of a weekly or (daily) meeting that is ideal for project teams. FASTER meetings work best for teams with no more than 10 members because the optimum length is no more than 10 minutes. In a FASTER meeting everyone has a turn to talk (many teams hold these standing up). When each team member has his or her turn they address the following:

Finished - What has been completed since the last meeting?

Acknowledgements - Who made their job easier?

Still outstanding - What are they working on now?

Trouble spots - What difficulties are they encountering?

Enlightenment - What have they learned?

Requests - What do they need?

The FASTER meeting provides a status update, allows the lead to reallocate tasks, provides opportunities for self and peer recognition, and builds understanding of the responsibilities of others. Give it a try.

Thanks to Cindy Ventrice / Ventrice and Company

Saturday, March 26, 2016

40 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Dumb

While I like to think I know a little about business writing, I still fall into a few word traps. (Not to mention a few cliché traps.)

Take the words "who" and "whom." I rarely use "whom" when I should -- even when spell check suggests "whom" I think it sounds pretentious. So I use "who."

And then I sound dumb.

Just like one misspelled word can get your resume tossed onto the "nope" pile, one incorrectly used word can negatively impact your entire message. Fairly or unfairly, it happens -- so let's make sure it doesn't happen to you.

Adverse And Averse

Adverse means harmful or unfavorable: "Adverse market conditions caused the IPO to be poorly subscribed." Averse refers to feelings of dislike or opposition: "I was averse to paying $18 a share for a company that generates no revenue."

But hey, feel free to have an aversion to adverse conditions.

Affect And Effect

Verbs first. Affect means to influence: "Impatient investors affected our roll-out date." Effect means to accomplish something: "The board effected a sweeping policy change."

How you use effect or affect can be tricky. For example, a board can affect changes by influencing them and can effect changes by directly implementing them. Bottom line, use effect if you're making it happen, and affect if you're having an impact on something that someone else is trying to make happen.

As for nouns, effect is almost always correct: "Once he was fired he was given 20 minutes to gather his personal effects." Affect refers to an emotional state, so unless you're a psychologist you probably have little reason to use it.

Bring And Take

Both have to do with objects you move or carry. The difference is in the point of reference: you bring things here and you take them there. You ask people to bring something to you, and you ask people to take something to someone or somewhere else.

"Can you bring an appetizer to John's party"? Nope.

Compliment And Complement

Compliment means to say something nice. Complement means to add to, enhance, improve, complete, or bring close to perfection.

I can compliment your staff and their service, but if you have no current openings you have a full complement of staff. Or your new app may complement your website.

For which I may decide to compliment you.

Criteria And Criterion

"We made the decision based on one overriding criteria," sounds fairly impressive but is also wrong.

Remember: one criterion, two or more criteria. Or just use "reason" or "factors" and you won't have to worry about getting it wrong.

Discreet And Discrete

Discreet means careful, cautious, showing good judgment: "We made discreet inquiries to determine whether the founder was interested in selling her company."

Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct: "We analyzed data from a number of discrete market segments to determine overall pricing levels." And if you get confused, remember you don't use "discretion" to work through sensitive issues; you exercise discretion.

Elicit And Illicit

Elicit means to draw out or coax. Think of elicit as the mildest form of extract. If one lucky survey respondent will win a trip to the Bahamas, the prize is designed to elicit responses.

Illicit means illegal or unlawful, and while I suppose you could elicit a response at gunpoint ... you probably shouldn't.

Farther And Further

Farther involves a physical distance: "Florida is farther from New York than Tennessee." Further involves a figurative distance: "We can take our business plan no further."

So, as we say in the South (and that "we" has included me), "I don't trust you any farther than I can throw you," or, "I ain't gonna trust you no further."

Fewer And Less

Use fewer when referring to items you can count, like "fewer hours" or "fewer dollars."

Use "less" when referring to items you can't (or haven't tried to) count, like "less time" or "less money."

Imply And Infer

The speaker or writer implies, which means to suggest. The listener or reader infers, which means to deduce, whether correctly or not.

So I might imply you're going to receive a raise. And you might infer that a pay increase is imminent. (But not eminent, unless the raise will somehow be prominent and distinguished.)

Insure And Ensure

This one's easy. Insure refers to insurance. Ensure means to make sure.

So if you promise an order will ship on time, ensure that it actually happens. Unless, of course, you plan to arrange for compensation if the package is damaged or lost -- then feel free to insure away.

(While there are exceptions where insure is used, the safe move is to use ensure when you will do everything possible to make sure something happens.)

Irregardless And Regardless

Irregardless appears in some dictionaries because it's widely used to mean "without regard to" or "without respect to"... which is also what regardless means.

In theory the ir-, which typically means "not," joined up with regardless, which means "without regard to," makes irregardless mean "not without regard to," or more simply, "with regard to."

Which probably makes it a word that does not mean what you think it means.

So save yourself a syllable and just say regardless.

Number And Amount

I goof these up all the time. Use number when you can count what you refer to: "The number of subscribers who opted out increased last month." Amount refers to a quantity of something that can't be counted: "The amount of alcohol consumed at our last company picnic was staggering."

Of course it can still be confusing: "I can't believe the number of beers I drank," is correct, but so is, "I can't believe the amount of beer I drank." The difference is you can count beers, but beer, especially if you were way too drunk to keep track, is an uncountable total and makes amount the correct usage.

Precede And Proceed

Precede means to come before. Proceed means to begin or continue. Where it gets confusing is when an -ing comes into play. "The proceeding announcement was brought to you by..." sounds fine, but preceding is correct since the announcement came before.

If it helps, think precedence: anything that takes precedence is more important and therefore comes first.

Principal And Principle

A principle is a fundamental: "Our culture is based on a set of shared principles." Principal means primary or of first importance: "Our startup's principal is located in NYC." (Sometimes you'll also see the plural, principals, used to refer to executives or relatively co-equals at the top of a particular food chain.)

Principal can also refer to the most important item in a particular set: "Our principal account makes up 60% of our gross revenues."

Principal can also refer to money, normally a sum that was borrowed, but can be extended to refer to the amount you owe -- hence principal and interest.

If you're referring to laws, rules, guidelines, ethics, etc., use principle. If you're referring to the CEO or the president (or an individual in charge of a high school), use principal.

Slander And Libel

Don't like what people say about you? Like slander, libel refers to making a false statement that is harmful to a person's reputation.

The difference lies in how that statement is expressed. Slanderous remarks are spoken while libelous remarks are written and published (which means defamatory tweets could be considered libelous, not slanderous).

Keep in mind what makes a statement libelous or slanderous is its inaccuracy, not its harshness. No matter how nasty a tweet, as long as it's factually correct it cannot be libelous. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation; you might wish a customer hadn't said something derogatory about your business... but if what that customer said is true then you have no legal recourse.

And now for those dreaded apostrophes:

It's And Its

It's is the contraction of it is. That means it's doesn't own anything. If your dog is neutered (the way we make a dog, however much against his or her will, gender neutral), you don't say, "It's collar is blue." You say, "Its collar is blue."

Here's an easy test to apply. Whenever you use an apostrophe, un-contract the word to see how it sounds. Turn it's into it is: "It's sunny," becomes, "It is sunny."

Sounds good to me.

They're And Their

Same with these: They're is the contraction for they are. Again, the apostrophe doesn't own anything. We're going to their house, and I sure hope they're home.

Who's And Whose

"Whose password hasn't been changed in six months?" is correct. Use the non-contracted version of who's, like, "Who is (the non-contracted version of who's) password hasn't been changed in six months?" and you sound a little silly.

You're And Your

One more. You're is the contraction of you are. Your means you own it; the apostrophe in you're doesn't own anything.

For a long time a local nonprofit displayed a huge sign that said, "You're Community Place."

Hmm. "You Are Community Place"? No, probably not.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

26 Pictures Will Make You Re-Evaluate Your Entire Existence

1. This is the Earth! This is where you live.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Image / Via

2. And this is where you live in your neighborhood, the solar system.


3. Here's the distance, to scale, between the Earth and the moon. Doesn't look too far, does it?

4. THINK AGAIN. Inside that distance you can fit every planet in our solar system, nice and neatly.

PerplexingPotato / Via

5. But let's talk about planets. That little green smudge is North America on Jupiter.

NASA / John Brady / Via

6. And here's the size of Earth (well, six Earths) compared with Saturn:

NASA / John Brady / Via

7. And just for good measure, here's what Saturn's rings would look like if they were around Earth:

Ron Miller / Via

8. This right here is a comet. We just landed a probe on one of those bad boys. Here's what one looks like compared with Los Angeles:

Matt Wang / Via

9. But that's nothing compared to our sun. Just remember:

Via Twitter: @maiwandafghani

10. Here's you from the moon:


11. Here's you from Mars:


12. Here's you from just behind Saturn's rings:


13. And here's you from just beyond Neptune, 4 billion miles away.


To paraphrase Carl Sagan, everyone and everything you have ever known exists on that little speck.

14. Let's step back a bit. Here's the size of Earth compared with the size of our sun. Terrifying, right?

John Brady / Via

The sun doesn't even fit in the image.

15. And here's that same Sun from the surface of Mars:


16. But that's nothing. Again, as Carl once mused, there are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth:


17. Which means that there are ones much, much bigger than little wimpy sun. Just look at how tiny and insignificant our sun is:


Our sun probably gets its lunch money stolen.

18. Here's another look. The biggest star, VY Canis Majoris, is 1,000,000,000 times bigger than our sun:



19. But none of those compares to the size of a galaxy. In fact, if you shrunk the Sun down to the size of a white blood cell and shrunk the Milky Way Galaxy down using the same scale, the Milky Way would be the size of the United States:


20. That's because the Milky Way Galaxy is huge. This is where you live inside there:


21. But this is all you ever see:

Via Twitter: @lucybrockle

(That's not a picture of the Milky Way, but you get the idea.)

22. But even our galaxy is a little runt compared with some others. Here's the Milky Way compared to IC 1011, 350 million light years away from Earth:

Via Twitter: @smokeinpublic

Just THINK about all that could be inside there.

23. But let's think bigger. In JUST this picture taken by the Hubble telescope, there are thousands and thousands of galaxies, each containing millions of stars, each with their own planets.


24. Here's one of the galaxies pictured, UDF 423. This galaxy is 10 BILLION light years away. When you look at this picture, you are looking billions of years into the past.


Some of the other galaxies are thought to have formed only a few hundred million years AFTER the Big Bang.

25. And just keep this in mind — that's a picture of a very small, small part of the universe. It's just an insignificant fraction of the night sky.


26. And, you know, it's pretty safe to assume that there are some black holes out there. Here's the size of a black hole compared with Earth's orbit, just to terrify you:

D. Benningfield/K. Gebhardt/StarDate / Via

So if you're ever feeling upset about your favorite show being canceled or the fact that they play Christmas music way too early — just remember…

This is your home.

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is what happens when you zoom out from your home to your solar system.

And this is what happens when you zoom out farther…

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

And farther…

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Keep going…

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Just a little bit farther…

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Almost there…

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

And here it is. Here's everything in the observable universe, and here's your place in it. Just a tiny little ant in a giant jar.

By Andrew Z. Colvin (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Oh man.

Huge Credit Goes to: BuzzFeed