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“Haven’t seen a poster like that since I lived in a fraternity house.”

I was chatting with my wife over dinner and filling her in on the first day of my new job. The fledgling tech startup didn’t have many employees, but was experiencing strong customer growth. I was brought on board to manage customer service and was excited about the opportunity.

When I had interviewed, I never saw the software developer’s “Coding Pen” which was located in a converted conference room. While giving me a tour of the office on my first day, the CEO brought me in to meet the developers.

The average age was probably 25 and the group was all guys. Pretty typical demographic for developers working for a tech startup.

The first developer I shook hands with was the team lead, Jason, and he was wearing an Orioles baseball cap backwards, shorts, t-shirt and sneakers (no socks). His t-shirt had a silhouette of a curvaceous female with the caption – “Coders Do It Better.”

I said “Funny shirt.”

Jason gave me a serious look and said, “How is it funny?”

After an uncomfortable pause, he smiled and said “just messing with you,” swiveled his chair around and went back to writing code.

My eyes must have visibly widened when I glanced up at the wall above Jason’s computer. Tacked to the wall was a poster of a girl in a red bikini laying on a red Ferrari with the caption “Red and Juicy.”

I’m still not quite sure what it meant, but could probably hazard a guess. The CEO led me out of the Coding Pen and never said a word about the poster. I had to assume he condoned it.

I’ll admit it. The poster made me uncomfortable. Welcome to the world of the Brogrammer.

Perhaps I was becoming stodgy in my middle age. I started out as a twenty-something programmer and worked with mostly men. But the companies I worked for at that time were big companies with human resource departments that would have had a cow if a poster like that was hung in any office.

As I was relating this to my wife (who happens to work in HR), she sighed and said, “Lawsuit waiting to happen.”

Evidently, this was part of the “brogramming” culture. I read a recent article on CNN about the continued rise of the male-oriented tech culture, popularized in the movie “The Social Network” about rise of Facebook. The article defined “brogrammer” as a mash-up of “programmer” and “bro,” the stereotypical fraternity-house salute.

I was in a fraternity and, yup, these peep-show posters were prominently displayed. When you put a group of young men together, this should not be a huge surprise. The difference is that a fraternity is an organization only for men; a software company is not a fraternity.

And sure enough, my first hire was a female. Jane was in her early 20’s as well and she was excited about the laid-back culture of the company.

But Jane also hadn’t been into the Coding Pen for her interview.

As Jason continued with his bravado, Jane just stared at the customer trouble ticket report. Again, I was used to hearing this language when around a bunch of guys, but this wasn’t appropriate.

I broke up the bantering by saying, “Ok Jason, save your girlfriend bashing for another time, we have work to do.”

Before the end of her first month, Jane asked if I had plans for lunch because she had something to discuss. As I bit into my burger she came right out and said, “I love my job, but I’m very uncomfortable working in this sexist environment.”

My stomach sank as chewed my burger. I had known this was coming and missed my chance to do something about it.

Turns out, Jane had talked about her concerns with the only other woman in the company – our CFO.

Jane explained, “Can you believe she told me boys will be boys?”

I thought, oh boy. (I think I know why the saying is “oh boy” and not “oh girl” – us boys cause more trouble in the world.)

Over lunch I did my best to calm her down, assuring her I would talk to our CEO about it. She agreed to wait and see if things changed.

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What Is Hd Voice? And Why Is Phone Call Quality Usually So Bad?

What do you need to enjoy HD Voice?

First things first, if you are going to benefit from HD Voice you’ll need to know how to get it! To support HD Voice, a mobile phone needs suitable microphones and speakers, as well as having the new HD Voice processing software. Even if your phone is ready for HD Voice it won’t do any good if the person you’re talking to does not have a HD Voice ready phone. Therefore, all participants in a call need to have a HD Voice compatible phone.

There isn’t an easy to find directory of phones that do and don’t support HD Voice, but you should be able to find out via your network carrier’s website. On the bright side, it would be difficult to find an Android handset that doesn’t support HD Voice these days.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 supports HD Voice over LTE networks

In addition to HD Voice ready phones, you also need to be talking on a network that supports the standard too. This is because it requires a new way of translating your voice into digital ones and zeros (i.e. a “codec”). In the UK, Orange, T-Mobile, Three and Vodafone have all launched HD Voice support, leaving only O2 to catch up. In the US, only Sprint has announced HD Voice support, but is using a completely different codec to the standard that the rest of the world established, and so your HD Voice phone may not be compatible anyway. Therefore, if you live in the US, don’t expect to be enjoying HD Voice any time soon. However, things are looking better if you live in Canada.

What is HD Voice anyway?

Here’s the science part! To start with, a “codec” is short for “coder-decoder” and is how an electric signal that has been digitized is encoded for transmission between a sender and receiver. For example, consider the last MP3 you bought. The musicians created an analogue signal through their microphones which was then digitised into a series of ones and zeros by their recording equipment. That raw digital data was then put through the “MP3” codec to compress the amount of data and make it ready for you to download to your smartphone. Part of the digitisation process depends on how well the microphone captures audio. In other words, over which frequencies does it respond the best? The question of frequency respond also applies to the equipment that the audio is played back on, like your earphones or speakers.

The newly announced Sony Xperia T will also support HD Voice

Similarly, when two mobile phones are communicating across a cellular network they have to do the same thing, except that the microphones in use are far inferior to what you would find in a recording studio, and the standard codec strips away far more data than MP3 does. That’s why we sound so awful to each other on the phone. The standard codec for mobile phone calls is called Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR), and is designed to work with a frequency range of 300–3400 Hz. In contrast, the HD Voice codec, Adaptive Multi-Rate Wide Band (AWB, AMR-WB) works with a much wider frequency range, 50–7000 Hz. That means much more of your voice is retained and sent to the person you’re talking to. There’s a variant of AMR-WB called Variable-Rate Multimode Wideband (VMR-WB), which is compatible and works in much the same way.

In both cases, the HD Voice codecs use the same amount of data [as AMR] to communicate a much richer block of audio, and they do this by cleverly adapting the rate at which they sample the incoming audio. For simple audio signals, either codec ‘spends’ less data on describing the signal to the receiver. However, when the audio becomes much more complicated, either codec can increase the sampling rate, i.e. the resolution, and use much more data to represent the audio signal, thus maintaining a higher quality level than before.

As a very basic example of this kind of variable sampling rate, see the diagram below to show the effect of going from a constant sampling rate (i.e. how often the recording equipment measures the loudness of the audio), to a variable sampling rate, and the details that are gained when the sampling rate can change.

AMR-WB is also said to have superior noise cancelling technology, although this appears to be part of the patented secrets of the technology. It’s because of the greater frequency range handled by AMR-WB and VMR-WB that smartphones need superior microphones and speakers. The hardware has to be able to respond to, and express, the full set of frequencies that the codec is made to handle.

And finally

Here’s a demo that was conducted by the UK branch of Engadget when HD Voice was launched by Orange in the UK.

Why Are We So Bad At Producing The Right Flu Vaccines?

Everyone loves to be the stickler who points out how ineffective the flu vaccine is, or how poor our track record is on predicting the right match. The shot has to protect against three or four distinct viruses, each with their own unique genetic profile, and often the annual prediction is off. Cue the naysayers.

And they’re not wrong. Why is it so hard to know what kind of vaccine to make? And how can we get better?

The flu is a sneaky little devil

Influenza viruses are tricky. Unlike more stable diseases, the flu is constantly morphing into ever-so-slightly different forms to evade our annual vaccine campaigns. This is at the core of our need for an annual shot—there’s always a new genetic variant. It’s somewhat akin to antibiotic resistance. Viruses tend to have more genetic mutations because their replication method is prone to errors. To more complex organisms, constant mutations would be problematic (it only takes a few key ones to give humans cancer). But the flu virus thrives on mutations. The abundance of mistakes means that at some point, one of the strains is different enough that vaccine-induced immunity stops working.

Most viruses undergo some form of this evolution, but the influenza virus is especially speedy (HIV is even quicker—it can adapt to evade a new drug in a single day). By the time the flu has spread from China to the U.S., it’s already taken on a totally new form.

Because of this constant change, the World Health Organization has to wait to make the call on what vaccine should be available until the February before the Northern Hemisphere’s flu season. This gives pharmaceutical companies enough time to manufacture the shot, but is hopefully close enough to the season’s start to get the prediction right. But six or so months is a lot of time for the virus to evolve, so sometimes the vaccine ends up being a poor protector. If we could manufacture shots instantaneously—or know what the virus would look like each winter—we’d get it right more often. But we don’t.

We’re finally developing forecasting tools

In recent years, there’s been something of an uptick in the tools available to predict the flu. The Epidemic Prediction Initiative, run by the Centers for Disease Control, takes predictions from 28 different models and monitors how well each is able to predict the flu season. EPI also combines those models into one uber-model, which is generally more accurate than any individual estimate.

Each model takes different factors into account and predicts specific variables. Some focus on the timing of outbreaks, others on which strains will dominate. One system from Carnegie Mellon University took weekly polls from volunteers and attempted to predict outbreaks based on the wisdom of the crowds. That model did almost as well as their other system, which used machine learning to analyze data from the CDC. Both outperformed the combined model.

Other universities have also joined the forecasting fray, but so far none of the systems are solid enough to base real decisions on.

Taking virus evolution into account could improve forecasts

In June 2024, unbeknownst to the public, researchers at the University of Chicago were predicting how many flu cases would turn up in the upcoming season. Their system uses standard epidemiological data, but it also includes information about how much the virus is evolving. That extra component allowed them to accurately predict the severity of outbreaks during the 2024-17 season. They published their results in Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

A quick note of caution: this particular analysis only focused on one region of the U.S., and it didn’t look at outbreak timing at all. That being said, it did outpace all of our current forecasting methods. Right now, we’re reliant on data as it comes in during the flu season, whereas this model was able to make a prediction the summer before. That’s not early enough to affect the vaccine choice, but it could be early enough to allow health care systems time to prepare better. If particular areas were known to be high risk, we could provide more vaccines and other supplies.

This is all preliminary—we’re not going to be forecasting next year’s flu with any especially high degree of accuracy—but it’s all important progress in fighting an annual battle that we too often lose. People don’t tend to take influenza very seriously, even though it kills around 40-50,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. If we had better predictions, we might motivate more people to get vaccinated—and maybe save a few lives in the process.

Just How Green Is Earth, Really?

These images were taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership, a satellite run jointly, as the name suggests, by NASA and the NOAA. In these shots, the satellite is using a Visible-Infrared Imager/Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, to see the difference between vegetation-rich and arid land. It bounces beams off Earth and detects changes in its reflection, allowing it to see vegetation, since vegetation reflects infrared and near-infrared light in a different way than other materials. But it’s even more useful than that; VIIRS is used to monitor not just the existence of vegetation, but how it changes and expands and contracts over time.

Check out the gallery above to see just how green various parts of the globe are.

NASA

The Whole Earth

The entire planet, with green (obviously) representing plant growth and vegetative matter.

The Everglades

Here are the Everglades and the rest of South Florida, which includes a substantial tropical wetland often known as the “River of Grass.” (So, lots of vegetation.)

Iran

The blank space here is the Caspian Sea, which lends humidity to the region directly to its south, in Iran. Hence the green.

The Tigris and Euphrates

The area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in Iraq, is an enormously important historical region often known as the Fertile Crescent–though it doesn’t look that fertile to us.

The Mississippi Delta

Another subtropical microclimate, this is where the mighty Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana.

The Nile Delta

Another, vastly different delta: this one’s where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean. It’s also a valuable agricultural and cultural region, partly because it’s surrounded by so little vegetation.

The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is a confluence of extremes: it’s a rainforest surrounded by either the ocean or several forbidding mountain ranges.

Good Copy, Bad Copy: The Magic Is In The Headlines

So what happens when the traffic gets there?

With only a few seconds to grab the attention of your site visitor and pull them into your site – your headline is the most important element of your website (this applies to email subject lines, headlines on ad copy, and headlines on articles – really all of your marketing)

Many people think of their website as a store, and they open with “Welcome.”  While it’s nice to welcome people and that is what you would do if someone walked into a physical store, it is not the same for a website. Let me explain.

When someone lands on your site, they are not actually in your store yet.  This important fact is something most people don’t realize.

When someone lands on your homepage, they are really standing outside your store – they are looking at the sign and the window display and trying to decide if they want to come in.

Your headline is your sign and your window display – it has to entice visitors to come in and browse!

Now your site has to sell them – your content acts as your sales person and describes the benefits of the items you are offering.

So often people think they don’t need a headline – they think they have great content and great quality information and it will “sell itself”.  To be very blunt, that is a mistake and one I see site owners make far too often.

A lot of time, effort and research (testing) have gone into writing the perfect headline over the years.

Do you know how much testing magazines do to come up with the headlines you see on the covers each month?  It’s shocking!  (Tip: take a look at headlines on Vogue and Elle and other magazines and try using their formula for your own headlines – they’ve spent a ton of money getting those headlines right so use them as a guide!)

Creating The Best Headline For You:

There are different headline approaches – which headline is best really depends on your product or service and your audiencet.  Is it an ad headline, a Blog post, an article headline, headline text on a corporate web page, or a headline on a sales page?

If you want to go with a strong headline but don’t want too much hype, then you should go with a benefit-oriented headline that promises something but isn’t too over-the-top.  You can also create some curiosity.

Here are a few samples:

The Real Truth About SEO

What You MUST Know Before You Hire An SEO Firm

Insider SEO Secrets To Increase Rankings and Traffic

You’ve created curiosity, you’ve told them what they can expect to learn and you’ve kept the hype to a minimum.

These headlines are strong and effective but sometimes you need to pack a little more power.  If your competitors are all promising the same info, then yours isn’t really going to stand out so you need to step your game up.

Before we go into some more power-packed headlines, let me address a common concern I hear all the time…

“But I know my audience/customers/readers/industry and they just don’t like this over-the-top hype”

While you do know your industry/clients/readers and you do know what they like, unless you are a trained copywriter that has tested tons of different headlines, you don’t really know what will work.  The truth is most people are afraid to get bolder in their marketing.  No one wants to offend their readers or harm their credibility.  But the truth is, this stuff works!

There is definitely something to be said for knowing your audience and targeting your copy and there is definitely merit to doing that but there is also a time to push the envelope and see if you can improve your response.

OK, back to some other headline examples:

Other effective headlines are ones that talk to people’s pain – they tap into whatever emotion people have based on their need.  It taps into their worry, fear, frustration, anger etc.

(Tip: Fear of loss is a greater motivator than desire to gain! That means people are more often motivated by missing out on something than they are by the thought of gaining that same thing.  The end result is the same – they acquire an item – but it’s how you present it – Get This versus Don’t Miss Out On This.  When you word it like they may be missing out on something it motivates them more.)

Here are some headlines that tap into the “pain” (the emotion behind the need).

Stop Banging Your Head Against The Wall To Get Top Rankings – Don’t Miss Out On Insider Secrets To Make Your Quest For Rankings Easier.

I’ve addressed their pain and I’ve also promised a benefit and played up the fear of loss angle.

Another sample headline:

Stop The Insanity: Easy Link Building For Beginners (Including My Top Secret Link Building Strategy You Won’t Want To Miss)

Tired Of Wasting Time On Twitter?  Learn How I Used Twitter To Generate $39, 872

(Notice the specificity of the number. Claims are always more believable when they are very specific)

Please remember that you too should test different headlines and find out what works for you.

For those that want to play around with what I’ve already shared, go ahead and get started.  If your appetite has been whetted and you want to delve a little deeper, here is some more in-depth information on crafting compelling headlines.

You may be familiar with AIDA.  It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.  To break it down further, it means you have to remember to: capture your reader’s attention, arouse their interest, increase their desire and lead them to take some kind of action.

So, what does it mean to increase their desire?  What it really means is to elicit an emotional response from them.  People buy based on emotion.  So, the key to remember is that you want to illicit an emotional response for the reader.

Look at this headline “Discover The Top 3 Crucial Tips You Must Know To Create Powerful Headlines ….” – the first part can cause people to feel uncomfortable (fear) – they don’t want to be the only one that doesn’t know!

Improving Step By Step

I’ve worked with clients to get them to jazz up headlines and create more impact and it’s often a process.  They often start with something that is scaled back and more comfortable and then I push for more impact.  Here are a series of headlines that show how you can go from basic to dazzling with a few tweaks.

Draft 1…

Information You Need About Headlines

This is short, to the point and tells people what they can expect.  However there is nothing exciting, it does mention information “you need” but it just doesn’t have enough of an impact to really cause people to feel they are missing something.

Draft 2….

The Most Important Information You Must Have About Headlines

This is getting better but it is still not right.  You are implying there is a lot of information out there and telling them that you have the most important information.  It is still too vague though, so let’s take another stab and make it more specific.

Draft 3…

The Top 3 Things You Must Know About Headlines

This is more direct and makes people feel like there are some very important and specific pieces of information they need to have.  This has now created an element of fear – fear that they are going to miss out on knowing the Top 3 most important things.  Of all the things there are to know, these 3 are the things that must know, no matter what.

And finally, the last version…

Discover The Top 3 Crucial Tips You Must Know To Create Powerful Headlines and Stop Losing Sales

I have added another element to be afraid of.  Now people are not only afraid of what they don’t know but they are also afraid of losing sales because of it.  I also added a verb at the start and jazzed up the wording to create more of an impact.

OK, so that covers step 1 (using AIDA)  Now on to step 2….

Use action words – verbs! Verbs encourage readership and guides them.  You can use words like:

Discover

Find

Get

Learn

Join

See

Read

Etc

An example would be:  “Discover Top Weight Loss Secrets” instead of just saying “Top Weight Loss Secrets”.

Give and Get

Another approach is to let people know what they have to give up to get the info you are promising:

For Only $7 Get Insider Secrets From Top Bloggers

For Only 6 Minutes Of Your Time You Can Learn The Number One Mistake Most People Make With Their Facebook Fan Page

You’ll notice the specificity again – I used 6 minutes.  If I had said 5 or 10 there would be less impact.

Get Going

Stay tuned for the next article in the Good Copy, Bad Copy series where I talk about body content, calls to action and getting people to take your MDA (most desired action).

Iphone Doom Developers Speak Up

 iPhone development is a “doddle”, said the developers behind the project to port Doom to the device – revealing the first version of the port was created in just a week.

Behind the ease of development lies the iPhone’s inherent support for a full scale OS. “The iPhone runs OS X. It’s a full UNIX system in your pocket, with brilliant Objective-C frameworks that make coding beautiful and powerful applications a dawdle,” explains Psychochromatic.

Inherent to this is that Apple’s mobile device uses many of the API’s developers already use when designing full-strength apps for OS X, meaning they can develop for the mobile version “with minimal re-learning”. Apple’s shrewd move to introduce the iPhone SDK has also driven many Windows developers to begin learning Mac OS X programming languages (such as Objective C or Cocoa), meaning it will in future become easier for Windows developers to “program for OS X without too much effort.”

Stepwhite, explained that moving to iPhone development caused him to abandon many of the precepts he used in Mac design on account of the size of the screen, but remains full of enthusiasm: “Despite having to throw out a lot of my knowledge, the iPhone provides so much ease for the developers in terms of it’s APIs it’s a pleasure to work with.”

The iPhone software SDK has accelerated development. “It remained difficult to work upon due to problems with the unofficial compiler (causing non-working versions of the game) but with the release of Apple’s SDK it was trivial to get Doom running on iPhone 2.0,” said Stepwhite.

For all this success, there’s a few snags before iPhone users can anticipate buying Doom for the device from Apple’s App Store.

“Our current port of Doom would currently be rejected by Apple if we were to submit it to the iTunes App Store because we use certain APIs for accelerated drawing that are marked as “private”. Before submission, we will have to rewrite portions of it to only use documented APIs; most probably moving to OpenGL/ES for the video output,” explained Stepwhite.

That Apple appears currently to be offering only limited access to these API’s means there’s still a future for iPhone jailbreaks, the developers observed, “some applications need more direct access to the underlying iPhone OS,” they said. Network file access, for example, requires deeper access to certain API’s, the developers said.

“Until iPhone ships unlocked there will still be people needing to Jailbreak the phone to save themselves from some of the miserable tariffs offered by the official operators,” they added.

Both developers seem genuinely excited at the potential future of Apple’s mobile standard.

“iPhone marries Apple’s popular image and brand excellence with the most powerful and fun to use operating system on mobile devices. The possibility of having Apple’s latest iPod also do all your phone and internet in one place is going to be very attractive. Everyone who plays with one wants one, and that alone puts it far ahead of any of the Windows Mobile devices or Nokia smartphones on the market,” observed Psychochromatic.

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