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Are you ready for the XP apocalypse?

Beginning Tuesday, Microsoft will no longer provide free updates or tech support for its Windows XP operating system.

To help you through what some people are calling the “XP Apocalypse,” the Geek Squad at Best Buy has some advice.

To find out if you’re using Windows XP, click here.

When Tuesday rolls around, you won’t notice a major difference. You’ll still have all the computer programs you use and they’ll still work. But without those Microsoft updates, you’ll be vulnerable to new viruses and you won’t have “patches” to fix bugs or improve performance. You’ll also have little to no support from software makers.

Depending on how old your computer is and how capable its built-in hardware is, you might be able to just upgrade to a newer version of Windows and avoid all of those problems.

To find out if your computer can handle that, download and run the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant, which will scan your computer and tell you if upgrading is an option.

If you really, really want to keep running XP, be aware of the risks and take some steps to protect yourself. PC World has some great advice here.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Airlines are excited about new 23-inch seats. How about you?


If you thought space was tight on your last flight, wait until you see the latest "ultra high density" SkyRider seating designed by Italian company AvionInteriors.


The seats have passengers nearly standing upright, but tucked back into shallow, angled "saddle-type" seats. They take up 25 percent less room than traditional seating, meaning airlines can pack more seats--and more people--onto planes. As a result, passengers will have just seven inches of space between their face and the back of the seat in front of them.


The airlines promise the extra seating will help them cut costs, which will allow them to pass savings on to customers. How low would a ticket price have to be for you to sign on with an airline using the SkyRiders?


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Crisis PR in the Internet age

Director Kevin Smith has brought a firestorm down on Southwest Airlines after being ejected from a flight for being too fat, demonstrating the power consumers wield with social media.

Southwest got some practice implementing crisis control in the Internet age after Kevin Smith sent out a flurry of Twitter messages to his legion of followers. Fans were furious, the media picked up on the story and the rest was history.

Southwest Airlines has apologized in blogs and defended itself in the face of furious Tweets. The fracas brought so much attention, it crashed their feedback page.

So many public relations people diligently make a daily practice of blogging, Tweeting and Facebooking, mostly to an audience of no one. Only when things fall apart is the importance of having those established networks made clear.

But the true test is whether Southwest's spin control was able to smooth the feathers it ruffled. Are you satisfied by Southwest's reaction? Do you think Smith was making a big deal over nothing? Do you think Smith got the reaction he did only because he's famous, or do you think an average consumer could have made the same impact?

Still, Smith doesn't think Southwest handled things very well. But in a situation like this, who gets the last word?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

New signs sneak peeks at shoppers

Score another one for Big Brother.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, a new series of digital signs contain tiny cameras which capture images of people walking by in crowded places such as airports and shopping centers. That footage is synced up with a software program that scans it to determine shoppers' gender and age. Though not 100 percent accurate, the program zeroes in on age within a 10-year range.

That information can then be used to determine when and where certain demographics pass by in order to better target advertising, according to the program's developers at the Japanese company NEC Electronics Corp.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

ALDI beats Porsche

The Porsche family, makers of the luxury sportscar, have fallen off the list of Germany's 10 wealthiest people. 


At the top of the list? Karl and Theo Albrecht, founders of deep-discount, no-frills grocer ALDI.

Sign of the times?

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

How much is a trillion dollars, really?

We've heard some pretty big numbers getting tossed around lately. But have you ever really tried to wrap your head around how much a trillion dollars really is?

This video from free money management site gives it a shot.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann  

Give Me Liberty or Give Me New York State?

Political Scientists at the University at Buffalo and Texas State University have declared New York the state with the least individual freedom in America.


Jason Sorens, Fait Muedini and William P. Ruger published their findings in "Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom" through Mercatus Center at George Mason University. 

Their research named New Hampshire, Colorado and South Dakota the states with the most individual freedom in the country, combining scores for personal and economic freedom. The top states had low taxes and government spending along with moderate levels of regulation and "paternalism."

Alaska was named the state with the most personal freedom.

After New York, the least free states were found to be New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Maryland.

States were evaluated against the following criteria, according to the researchers' data:

Most Personal Freedom: "decriminalizing marijuana, having fewer gun controls, having fewer regulations on home and private schools, permitting same-sex civil unions, abolishing "blue laws" on alcohol sales and having less restrictive rules on smoking on private property," etc.

Most Economic Freedom: "low taxes and government spending as a percentage of the economy, low prevalence of occupational licensing, strict rules preventing eminent domain abuse and few regulations on health insurance and labor contracts," etc.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Survivor Guilt?

When the ax falls at work--and misses you--the initial reaction is often relief. But, experts say, that feeling of good fortune is only temporary and is soon replaced with a feeling of guilt that you made the cut when your co-workers did not.


The folks at staffing agency Office Team offer this advice on how to bounce back after company layoffs:

  • Make yourself indispensable. Focus your efforts on projects that help boost your firm’s bottom line. Take courses to learn skills that allow you to contribute in new ways.

  • Build visibility. In uncertain times, it’s important to be noticed for the right reasons. Volunteer for projects that no one wants to tackle or that fall outside your job description. Also provide periodic reports updating your supervisor on your achievements.

  • Adapt to change. Managers appreciate employees who can roll with the punches and maintain productivity when faced with adversity. Demonstrate your ability to stay positive, motivated and focused on doing good work. 

  • Conduct an audit. Now is the time to be nimble. Evaluate current processes and offer suggestions for cutting costs or saving your company time or resources.

  • Avoid the rumor mill. While increased water cooler chatter is inevitable after layoffs, avoid contributing to the gossip. Also, don’t believe everything you hear. If you have questions about your company’s direction, ask your manager but understand he or she may not have all the answers.

  • Be generous with praise. After downsizing, employees may begin to doubt their abilities and question their own future with the company. If you are a manager, you may not be in a position to make promises of job security, but you can give direct reports positive feedback on their performance in challenging times.

  • Reach out. Offer assistance to those who have experienced a job loss by introducing them to your professional network and helping them with their job search.

  • Look out for yourself. Layoff survivors often experience increased workloads, which can lead to burnout. Talk to your manager about setting priorities, delegating projects or bringing in temporary professionals. 

  • ---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

    Will Bankruptcy Protect Salmonella-Shipping Company from Punishment?

    Peanut Corporation of America, the company shipping the Salmonella-tainted peanut paste that killed up to nine people and sickened hundreds, filed for bankruptcy Friday.


    Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said bankruptcy could shield the company from liability suits filed by victims of the outbreak. The agency called for tougher punishments and an overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration. Shipping tainted products is currently a misdemeanor under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

    "It is unacceptable for corporations to put consumers' health at risk, and then simply declare bankruptcy and go out of business when they get caught," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, in a statement. "We must have an FDA that can oversee food processors so that unscrupulous behavior can be detected, prevented and deterred."

    What do you think?

    ---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

    Company Knew it Shipped Tainted Peanut Butter

    It turns out the company  that distributed peanut paste infected with Salmonella was aware of the contamination.

    Now that two people implicated in selling the melamine-tainted milk powder that killed six have been sentenced to death in China, and knowing Peanut Corp. of America's contaminated paste killed six people and sickened hundreds of others, how do you think punishment of company officials here will be conducted? 


    How much burden does the Food and Drug Administration bear for not catching the problem sooner?

    ---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

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