Monthly Archives: May 2011

late Memorial Day thoughts, and links

I thought I’d get around to this post in time to make it a Memorial Day post, but apparently I didn’t. I’ve had some health issues – to put it mildly – over the past week related to an allergic reaction, so I have been distracted from blogging. The good news is that I still managed to slog through some blog posts, and some of my finds follow:

what are the most literate cities in America?

kindle in a moleskine

All of us have some built-in assumptions about parts of America. New Yorkers are liberal, Mississippians are conservative, people in Kentucky and North Carolina love basketball and Texans are football-crazy.  But here’s one you might not have considered before:  what cities READ the most?

Well, the data’s incomplete, to say the least, but Amazon put out some data recently that sheds a little bit of light on that question (at least in terms of Amazon readers; I got this data via Mashable).  Amazon took their records for all book, magazine and newspaper sales in print and Kindle formats since the beginning of 2011 on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents.  The results?

  1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  2. Alexandria, Virginia
  3. Berkeley, California
  4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
  5. Boulder, Colorado
  6. Miami, Florida
  7. Salt Lake City, Utah
  8. Gainesville, Florida
  9. Seattle, Washington
  10. Arlington, Virginia
  11. Knoxville, Tennessee
  12. Orlando, Florida
  13. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  14. Washington, DC
  15. Bellevue, Washington
  16. Columbia, South Carolina
  17. St. Louis, Missouri
  18. Cincinnati, Ohio
  19. Portland, Oregon
  20. Atlanta, Georgia

First of all, I could have made a lot of jokes about which states aren’t included; but I won’t. Second of all, I know that per-capita-buying doesn’t equal quality or actual reading, just buying.  But other than that, a few observations:  university towns predominate, of course, and I wonder if some of the numbers are falsely inflated by students buying mandatory reading for courses.  And this does include magazine and newspaper reading, which in my mind is an entirely different category of ‘reading’ – and I lump my blog in with that category, by the way.  Long-form books are a lot different than reading Cosmopolitan, or even more cerebral fare like Sky & Telescope.

I’m glad to see two Florida cities make it on the list (and two Virginia cities in the area where I have a lot of relatives).I’m surprised that a couple of other places didn’t make the list, although I suppose there might be population size issues: for example, Austin, Texas, which I would have supposed would have a huge per capita online-book-ordering number; but maybe it’s “post-book” there and everyone’s just reading blogs and Twitter on iPads.

It would be even more fascinating to compare these to library numbers and other booksellers’ numbers. But overall, I’d expect most of these cities to remain on the list, simply because of large academic presences, probably significantly larger than other cities (New York has a lot of universities, but as a percentage of the total population I’m sure it’s quite small).  Orlando, for example, has one of the biggest universities in America that you may never have heard of, the University of Central Florida.

I’d also make the observation that my reading rate has soared since getting a Kindle.  Once you realize you can read free books (from Amazon as special deals, from Project Gutenberg and other sources) you really have no excuse not to be reading all the time.  I still go to the library sometimes with the kids, but with a 3G Kindle I can literally have a free book in my hands in seconds if I want it.  And once in a while – rarely – I’ll buy a book on sale.  I generally don’t see the point of a full-price book – for that I’ll head to the library.  But I wonder how much the Kindle and Nook and so on have affected reading patterns for the good (I don’t include the iPad – I suspect there’s a lot more game-playing and web-browsing going on with that thing than book-reading).  So people in places I might’ve expected to be on this list (Champaign-Urbana! Charlotte! San Francisco!) let’s pick up the pace and see you on this list next year!  Get a Kindle!

Quick note, too:  I’ve added a plugin to brip blap which should make it far, far easier to read on your smart phone, no matter what kind you have.  Try browsing to bripblap.com on your mobile and let me know how you like it!

Photo credit Attribution Some rights reserved by Terry Madeley:

near death

hospital bed

Last Monday I was feeling fine in the morning. I had my lunch, which I had brought from home. Nothing unusual – grilled chicken breast sandwich, carrots, chips and an apple plus some seltzer to drink. Shortly after I ate, I started to feel weird. My lips started swelling up and my throat got constricted.

I went back to work and kept on working, assuming it was just something minor that would go away. I felt worse and worse and then started to feel very, very hot even though my skin temperature was getting very cold. My blood pressure started rising and my pulse got very very fast. But I stayed at work and assumed it would pass. And it lessened slightly, so although I was uncomfortable I decided to grit my teeth and push on through.

That evening I went home and by the time I arrived home I was feeling – to put it mildly – awful. I checked my blood pressure and it had gone up to approximately 200 over 110, which is the point at which organ damage starts occurring. I took a leftover blood pressure pill (I have not taken them in months, and after my physical last week my doctor said it wasn’t necessary anymore). This was at 7 pm. We left Little Buddy and Pumpkin with our neighbors, who are good friends.

Bubelah and I went to the emergency room where they continued to monitor my blood pressure. I then saw a nurse and a doctor who told (lectured) me on the following: I had had a severe, near-fatal anaphylactic shock and failing to treat it immediately I had actually defied the odds in living long enough to get to the emergency room. Apparently my body managed to fight off the allergic attack at the cost of nearly giving me a heart attack/stroke. They said someone with a similar level of shock had died earlier that week at the hospital of strangulation. They were emphatic that the level of shock I had experienced was usually fatal. I was ordered to keep Benadryl accessible 24/7 and if similar symptoms started again to drop everything and get to an emergency room as fast as possible.  They monitored me until my blood pressure was back down in the 130s/80s which was normal. They released me around 10:30 and we went home, got the kids, and went to sleep.

So I’m in the dark as to what happened. Nothing I ate was unusual – I had eaten everything there before. The nurse told me I may have developed a new allergy – or somehow a peanut-related product had contaminated a container or something.  I have to assume that my peanut allergy is far more severe than I had assumed, OR I have some strange new allergy which can’t be determined without a visit to an allergist. Today I felt more or less recovered, although tired and sore all over from tense muscles, swollen lips and throat and a beaten-up psyche.

I’ve read a million articles, seen dozens of movies, read dozens of books, etc. where someone has a near-death experience or survives cancer or otherwise cheats death and goes on to tell everyone that they “cherish every day.” I’ve understood the idea while realizing you can’t ever really have that perspective until you’ve undergone some experience like that (or if you can, you have a great deal more emotional discipline than I do).  But I did realize, after being told how serious it was, that my last day on earth COULD have been leaving the house snapping at Little Buddy to calm down. And I’m sure I will again, of course. But you do get a tiny bit of perspective when you realize you could have dropped dead at a desk at a client at 2:00 pm on a Monday and that would’ve been it for your life story. Not a pretty thought, and although it didn’t prompt me to quit work or take some other drastic action, it does give me some food for thought. If you died today, would you be happy with your obituary? I wouldn’t hate mine, but I suspect I’d feel better with it being a little bit better and a whole lot longer.

photo Attribution Some rights reserved by markhillary

Highly Effective Ways To Pay Down Credit Card Debt

lolcat credit card

If you have run up your credit card bills and wonder how you are going to catch up and pay them off, you are not alone. Millions of Americans are in way over their head when it comes to credit card debt. The good news is, it’s not impossible to pay off credit card debt, even though it may seem like it right now. With discipline, you can become debt free and use the experience to improve your long term financial situation. Paying off debt does take sacrifice, determination and hard work – there are no easy fixes. Here are some of the most highly effective ways you can eliminate your credit card debt quickly and get yourself back on track financially:

You Really Can Give Up Cable TV

Sacrificing cable TV is not something people really want to do – but if you have a pile of credit card bills that you want to pay off quickly, this is a great way to get started. Cable bills can run into the hundreds of dollars per month, so if you temporarily give up cable television or at least reduce your subscription cost you can put that extra $100 or so toward your credit card debt. If you’re worried about missing some of your favorite shows, check out the network websites – many of the shows you watch are probably available online. If you’re just a little bit technical, you can even connect your computer and tv and even watch your shows on your television instead of your computer monitor.

Giving up cable television is a bit of a lifestyle change for many families, but think about how that extra $100 or so per month will speed up your debt repayments.

Consolidate Your Phone Lines

Most families have multiple cellular phones and a phone line or two installed in their homes. Do you really need all of them? Cell phones have become part of our world and most of us can’t imagine life without them but believe it or not – people survived without them just fine a few years ago! If you really can’t give up the convenience of your cell phone, consider downgrading your plan, texting less, skipping the data plan and using the phone for communication only to reduce your monthly cell phone bill. You can also consider whether you really need the home telephone line if you have your cell phone available all the time – it may be less expensive to upgrade the cell phone plan to an unlimited plan and cancel your home phone. Look at the different scenarios for your phone bills and find the option that will save you the most money and still meet your needs for communication. Apply the savings to your debt repayments.

Think About Trading In Your Car

For people who are in over their heads in debt or are just serious about changing their ways, trading in your car may be an option. The American way is to have a new shiny car every few years, but the result is generally a car payment that never ends. When we finish paying off one car loan or lease, we turn the car in for a new one and start our payments all over again. You may consider turning your car in for a less expensive, reliable used car that has a lower monthly payment or better yet – one you can pay for in full. If you do this, make sure you apply the full amount that you used to send to your car payment to your debt.

Cook Your Meals From Scratch

You might be in sheer panic with this one, but home cooking does not have to take hours of your time and it can save you a small fortune over eating out or buying prepared meals each month. Also, eliminating unnecessary items like junk food and soda or other beverages can really help reduce your grocery expenses each month. The money you save on food can be applied to your debt to pay it off faster, and once paid off you can decide to return to your favorite foods – but you may find the side effect of this sacrifice is living a healthier lifestyle!

Stop Shopping

Except for necessities like groceries and items your kids absolutely need, take a break from shopping. This means no unnecessary spending for several months at a time. Most of what we buy we don’t need anyway, and if you want to tackle debt, not spending is a great way to have the money to do so. You would be surprised at how much money is wasted each month on items we forget we buy. If you don’t believe me, keep a 90 day record of every penny coming in and every penny you spend, and then look at where the money is going. At the end of 90 days, add up everything on the list that isn’t essential, even the pack of gum or cups of coffee, and see just how much you spend without realizing it! Most people find this to be a very eye opening experience.

Radically changing your spending habits is not easy to do, but your debt can take years longer to pay off without making these lifestyle changes. You don’t have to give up these little luxuries forever – just make temporary sacrifices to free up money so you can pay off debt and stop paying interest and fees. Once you’re out of debt, you can better decide how to spend your money. Chances are good if you commit to these changes until your debt is paid off, you’ll learn strong money management skills that will ensure you don’t make the same mistakes again. Jump in with both feet and give it a month or two. You may find out that you actually enjoy the lifestyle changes and you certainly will feel less stressed as your debt begins to disappear.

Jennifer Davis blogs about reducing credit card debt with balance transfer credit cards at SmartBalanceTransfers.com, a consumer education website designed to help people find 0% APR balance transfer deals.

 

Photo:  Attribution Some rights reserved by Tony Webster

around the web

 

Despite my bursts of silence here, I am popping up around the web from time to time. There’s an interview with me over at Blog Spotlight: 10 Questions With Steve of Brip Blap at Rather-Be-Shopping. I reveal my desert island CD choice, and the bizarre contents of my fridge.

And over at Lazy Man and Money, Lazy has a post, LinkedIn Goes Public: Reviewing the Valuation, in which he takes issue with my thoughts on LinkedIn’s recent IPO.

I’m still working on a few book reviews which I hope to post soon, and also a post on my (medical condition) near-death experience earlier this week which was, to put it mildly, awful.

just try, and links

moby:into the blue

Chlorine is still stinging my eyes.  Pools bug me.  It’s like taking a bath with the public, plus toxic chemicals.  I haven’t enjoyed the pool in 20 years.  I’d much rather swim in the ocean, simply because it’s less “chemical.”  But the kids love it, so I decided I need to grit my teeth and get over myself.

It’s one of the toughest things to do, I think: to get over yourself.  I was a bachelor living on my own for about 14 or so years.  I didn’t really have to do anything I didn’t want to.  Sure, I had work, and sure, I had girlfriends or family or other pressures to do things I didn’t like, but by and large I set my own schedule.

In a way, you don’t grow if you set your own schedule. If you ONLY do what you want to do, you may never be pushed to try something new or do something different.  I was badgering into trying sushi by a fraternity brother – now I love it.  I was pushed to try a cruise by my girlfriend-at-the-time-now-wife and was surprised that I enjoyed it.

Now, there are some things that you can reject. I still hate beets.  I’ve tried.  But I do.  I don’t like opera.  I’ve tried.  I fell asleep twice at opera performances.  But I tried.  And don’t get me wrong – sometimes you should pursue what YOU want, whether or not that means rejected other reasonable options.  I’ve established for myself that I love reading fantasy literature – and I’m not going to stop reading it to pick up mysteries at this point.  But trying something new has to be attempted from time to time.  That effort – trying – is part of being human.  If you aren’t trying, you’re just a robot.  It’s easy to avoid the new, or the different.

On to the links….

How to Get Retiree Health Insurance Before 65: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – it’s the great shame of America that we even have to have this discussion.  No other advanced Western country has blog posts about how to avoid medical bankruptcy, or deal with being old and not being able to afford health care, or being too sick to afford health care.  The recent reforms tweaked some of the problems, but the fact that Americans live in financial terror of medical conditions – rather than medical terror of medical conditions – is absurd, shameful and frankly ridiculous.  We have a brilliant, entrepreneurial, productive country that’s being killed by silly things like health care costs and worries over retirement. Argh.

The ERE book has now sold 2500 copies :  Jacob was kind enough to give me a copy of this book.  I’m still working on a review, but my short review is:  read it.  It’s thought provoking.  I don’t agree with 100% of it, but it gave me a lot of food for thought, and maybe it will for you, too.  Perhaps I’ll do a giveaway if anyone expresses interest.

 

And more…

Photo credit: visualpanic

5 Time Management Quotes by Brian Tracy

Time management skills are essential for anyone who wants to breed success. How you manage your time will determine how fast you will succeed in your endeavor. Brian Tracy, author of books on time management and personal productivity, says one of the differences between successful people and average people is how they manage and value their time. After reading many of his books I’ve gathered five of his best quotes on time management.

1. “If you have two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.”

Eating a frog is an analogy of doing your most important tasks first thing you wake up. Brian Tracy got it from the saying: If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long! By doing your most important task first you will less likely procrastinate on the other tasks later in the day. By getting the biggest task done first you also set the tone for the rest of the day for getting work done.

2. “One of the most important rules of personal effectiveness is the 10/90 rule.”

The first 10% of time that you spend planning and organizing your work before you begin will save you as much as 90% of the time in getting the job done once you get started. This is not to be confused with the 80/20 rule which is about determining your most valuable tasks. The 10/90 rule is about planning when and how you do your work. Without a game plan of how you are going to tackle the tasks at hand or not even knowing when you will do it will make you more likely to procrastinate. Whenever you start a new task or project, think about the 10/90 rule. Plan first, then start.

3. “The fact is that you can’t do everything that you have to do. You have to procrastinate on something. Therefore, procrastinate on small tasks.”

Let’s be realistic here; everyone procrastinates. If you have to do it, you might as well creatively procrastinate on things that aren’t as important. It’s a good idea to make a separate list of tasks that are not important but have to get done at some point. For example, organizing your bookshelf or cleaning out your closet are not really important but have to get done at some point. Whenever you feel like procrastinating, look over this list and see what you can knock off without much effort. You still get work done even when you feel like you are procrastinating.

4. “There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing.”

Brian Tracy also calls this the “law of forced efficiency”. Today we are overwhelmed with information and things we need to do. You often hear people say “I wish I had more time” when they feel overwhelmed. What he is saying is that if the task is really important, you will get creative and find time for it to finish. Sure, you might really have too many things to do but that is not the core problem. Instead, you want to ask yourself “what is the most valuable use of my time, right now?” and work on that right away. Anything else in comparison is relatively unimportant.

5. “The purpose of time management and getting more done in less time is to enable you to spend more face time with the people you care about and doing the things that give you the greatest amount of joy in life.”

The three biggest factors for determining your happiness are your health, wealth and relationships. With the right time management skills you can free up time so you can not only feel happier but also you can actively spend time on doing things that make you feel happier. Relationships with friends, family and your significant other are important for feeling happy so make sure you spend time with them.

Thanh Pham is a productivity nerd and he writes on his blog about time management and productivity.

Why Routine Living Can Leak Your Money

As we get older and more set in our ways and daily routines especially with a family, there is a tendency to live within a zone of comfort that could ultimately be costing you a lot of money. Like budgeting, your financial life is a living, breathing element of your life that needs to be updated and refreshed on an ongoing basis.

Here are just some of the ‘living comfortable’ money leaks you may be overlooking in your household:

Bank Accounts

You may have had the same bank accounts for years and be proud of your loyalty. Perhaps you use the same bank for so long because it is convenient. Whatever your reasoning for sticking with the same financial institution is, you might want to do some investigating to ensure you are getting the best deal. Compare two or three other bank’s terms and incentives against yours. Pay special attention to the fees being charged for the services you use most. You may be able to save hundreds of dollars in a year by transferring your banking services to a new company. Consider online accounts where the perks are particularly competitive. You may also want to check in regularly with your current bank to see how competitive they agree to be.

Grocery Choices

Many people go to one store for the same brands of products time and time again. However, by not branching out you can be spending hundreds –even thousands –more than you think. There is a significant increase in the popularity of discount grocery stores and the amount of money you can save over time on non-brand named products can be large. Keep your eye out for fliers from markets and stores you don’t normally visit and plan to do some test shopping. Try selecting items you haven’t tried before to incorporate some less-pricey food options into your life. You can always stick with some of the routine items you get from your regular store but venture out from time to time to see what else is out there.

Credit Cards

Similar to the comfort zone you may have with your bank, it may be time to look over your current credit card benefits compared to newer cards on the market. Credit card providers have been streamlining their services to cut down on the risk but there are still many new perks being offered to keep companies competitive. You may have a rewards card from 10 years ago still earning airline miles you never use. Look into getting a cash-back credit card or one where the reward benefits actually fit your lifestyle. A key thing to remember here though is never close the old credit card accounts. Doing so can hurt your length of credit history which can drop your credit score.

Budgeting Methods

You may have been working the same numbers month after month for years but there are many more resources available now to help you increase the efficiency of your budget.  A free online budget calculator and other personal finance software can be instrumental in adding perspective to your financial goals. There may be new ways for you to save more money and reach financial goals more efficiently that you are missing out on. Sure it can be good to stick with what has been working but it also doesn’t hurt to step out of the box and see what other tools are now available (especially for free) that can help you better manage your money.

There are many other areas of our lives where our comfort zones prevent growth and money-saving opportunities. Take the time to regularly review how you manage your money, where you are spending, and how better your income can be spent. When it comes to money, a little change can go a long way.

Debbie Dragon is a professional freelance writer, specializing in personal finance. She frequently writes for Vertex42.com which offers a large selection of free spreadsheet templates and financial calculators.

growing blogs and vegetables, and links

About a month ago I wrote a post giving my thoughts on blog monetization, and talked about how I was going to aggressively monetize my blog but try and keep some of the personal aspects alive. As an experiment I put up a few guest posts and decided I wouldn’t worry about revenue and just write creatively on any topic I chose. And I found that it wasn’t really happening – I can’t just start talking about politics or my thoughts on travel locations or whatever. So I’m going to go back to trying to stick to personal finance and productivity and career for the most part. I’m really waffling on all this, but I guess it’s what happens to most bloggers four plus years in. Plus I’ve found some of the writing energy I used to throw solely into the blog being sucked up by Facebook and Twitter, which is an interesting phenomenon (neither good nor bad).

On the plus side, we’ve been saving a lot of money: our little garden is yielding a HUGE crop of vegetables, meaning lots of fresh salads: we have dozens of tomatoes, cucumbers, salad, peppers, jalapeno peppers, etc. etc. right now not to mention abundant herbs. We didn’t have much luck last summer but so far this year we’ve had a bumper crop.  So we have some nice salads:  here’s a simple one.  Plus I’m having jalapeno egg white omelets every morning – one of my favorites.

salad

On to the links:

parenting moments

I originally wrote this post about 3 years ago when my son, Little Buddy, was starting to talk fairly well. I was cycling through some old posts and thought this one was nice enough to republish.

When heaven opens up....

Yesterday Little Buddy woke up and called out for me, as he usually does.  I was downstairs and heard the standard declaration on the monitor:  “Papa, I’m awake!”

I went upstairs, and since I was already partially dressed for work he immediately asked me – even before leaving the crib – “Papa, going to work?”

“Well, yes, Little Buddy,”  I replied.

“Why?  Stay home,”  he shot back in a plaintive tone.

“I can’t.  We need money,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  I have been explaining the concept of money to him slowly – probably a little bit too much for 2.5 years old, but why not?

“Because we need money to pay for things – all the good food Little Buddy eats, the house…” I said.

“Need money to eat?”  he asked.

“Yes,”  I admitted, in a drastic but not at all untrue simplification.

He paused and considered.  You could almost see the light bulb explode in his head.

“Papa, today Little Buddy no eat.  Papa no need money, no go to work, stay home, play all day.”

These are the moments that both break and exalt a parent’s heart.
photo credit: multi_everything

Russian Victory Day

Since I didn’t have a post planned for today (surprise!) at Bubelah’s request I’ll post this photo in honor of Victory Day. It’s the celebration of the end of World War II, which Russians call the Great Patriotic War. It’s sortof Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day rolled into one day. So thanks to all veterans of that war who fought for the Allies – Russian, American and hundreds of other nations.

Is it Possible to Learn a Foreign Language as an Adult?

Having tried and tried again to learn various foreign languages since graduating from a very expensive college, I have resigned myself to the fact that it is nearly impossible. But then, when I take a minute and start to think about all the men and women who learn foreign languages as a result of a work requirement (in a short period of time to boot) or because they are married to someone of a different nationality, I begin to wonder, is it really that difficult? Research shows that except for minor considerations such as hearing and vision loss as a result of age, an adult learner is not handicapped when it comes to language acquisition.

So, this begs the question, what seems to be the problem? Linguists would agree that there is a “critical period” during which there is a heightened ability to learn a second language. However, what that period is has not been defined. Back to the question at hand: Why am I unable to pick up anything other than my mother tongue? The answer, in my opinion, is all about context and emotion.

First, the context in which adults learn has a major influence on their ability to converse, read, and write in a new language. Many times as adults, we become hooked on the idea that to acquire a language, we must learn it. In other words we must know the grammar rules, syntax and construction. However, this is not how we were taught as children. Before we entered our first English class, it is safe to say that most of us had a decent command of the English language and could converse with our families. We did that by listening. Children learn inductively and through interaction. As children we listened to those around us speaking and over time began to understand and recognize patterns. Then, we started to form sentences and soon after, began to speak. Acquiring the language, therefore, took precedence over learning it.

After having tried and failed many times to speak another language, I believe that it is essential to be immersed in an environment in which the language is used. The few times I have made significant progress in my foreign language aptitude was when I was visiting that foreign country for an extended period of time. Just because we are adults does not necessarily mean we need formal lessons – sometimes informal teaching goes just as far.

Second, as an adult, the idea of learning another language can be a psychological challenge. As young children, we are not nearly as affected by what others think or as worried about failure. As adults, we fear failure and sometimes lack the self-confidence to really take the plunge. We worry that our pronunciation will be off or that people will not understand us. To address these feelings, adult foreign language teachers must be able to reduce anxiety and build self-confidence in the learner.

Finally, it is impossible to ignore aptitude. Just as some of us are destined to be mathematicians or physicists, some people are just better at picking up foreign languages. Perhaps it is the way their brain is wired. All in all, learning a foreign language requires time and dedication. One must also understand what method of learning works best.  That means in an attempt to succeed you might have to purchase Rosetta Stone, take a language class at the local university and travel to Spain for six months. It is a very individual process, the only caveat being the last of these choices would certainly be the most fun.

This post comes from Michael, chief editor of DoughRoller.net, a site that helps consumers manage their finances and obtain their free credit score

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