Friday, September 27, 2013

A New Life for an Old Dell Dimension Desktop

I recently acquired an old Dell Dimension 4300 desktop from the 2001 era. This old computer was running Windows XP and when it booted up, I was presented with a password protected user log in. Por fin! (Finally!) I ran to my box of computer supplies and found a disc labeled Windows XP password recovery or hacker or something. A friend had given me the disc and I'd never had occasion to use it before now.
Unfortunately, the disc failed. Ahhh...
No worries. Google is my friend and helped me discover that booting into Safe Mode will get you in with administrator privileges sufficient to modify the user accounts as needed. Nice.

I played around with the machine, but ultimately decided that short of a fresh install of Windows XP Home, to which I did not have a handy installation disc. The product key was taped to the side, but I wasn't in the mood to go through all that, especially when I had a Ubuntu 12.04 LiveCD lying around just begging to get installed somewhere.

The LiveCD disc was left to beg a little longer. I read up on the web that the minimum requirements for 12.04 were probably a bit too much for this old heap. Not to be beaten, I ran back to my box of computer supplies and pulled out an even older LiveCD I picked up years ago: Ubuntu 5.10.

I promptly installed Ubuntu 5.10 and then went to work to see if I could install OpenTTD.

This Linux n00b quickly found out that Linux is 'super easy', but only if you're recently updated. I read through numerous forum posts and toyed with the idea of what it might take but retreated to the 12.04 disc instead.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that the 12.04 installer was incapable of recognizing the hard drive. Weird. The 5.10 installer had no problem, and while running in trial mode the 12.04 environment could detect and mount the hard drive. However, as soon as the installation process was started in 12.04, the hard drive was not listed as available installation targets. (Only my USB drive was recognized.)

Back to Google.
Turns out, Ubuntu comes in several flavors. Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu to name a few. I quickly settled on Lubuntu. But, again, another road block, I'm running low on blank CD's!
No problem. That's why they built tools like 'unetbootin'. You can use it to put/install/write/make? your .iso files onto a USB flash drive and then you can go to your target computer and tell it to boot from your USB device instead of the optical drive. Hurray! See this HTG post for more details.

Oh, no! This old machine doesn't have the option to boot from USB.
No worries. Turns out they built another tool, called PLoP, to solve this problem as well. See this HTG post for more details.

Success, right? Not so fast. The troubles kept coming. In fact, I almost posted this question to the askUbuntu forums while I was trying yet again to install Lubuntu 12.04 via the alternate installer, for the second or third time.

Linux n00b. I have only used Live CD's in the past for various things. These are my first install attempts.
I have a 2001 era Dell 4300, to which I successfully installed Ubuntu 5.10, as the live CD for 12.04 appeared too sluggish. (These were the two discs on hand.)
I decided that 5.10 was a bit too outdated to be able to do what I wanted (install openTTD).
Hoping to get a lighter desktop I then sought for Lubuntu 12.04. Rather than burn another CD, I used unetbootin and plop for boot from usb support.
However, the installer for Lubuntu 12.04 failed to detect my hard drive, similar to this thread. ( same results from the ubuntu 12.04 disc, too.) During a live session the hard drive is visible. Start up the installer, however, and only the USB drive is listed as available locations.

I then went and downloaded the alternate installer for Lubuntu and tried again. However, now I think I'm getting Bug#658865.   The solution listed there is to start the live session and make the file change and then launch installation. This doesn't work for me since the installer on the desktop version doesn't detect my hard drive.

If someone can illustrate how to upgrade Ubuntu 5.10 to Lubuntu 12.04 - that would be great. However, after spending all day on this, I'd also like to know how to be able to install Lubuntu 12.04.

While composing the question, I also figured out that you'll have much better luck, like I did, if you don't have a USB keyboard attached to the computer you are trying to use PLoP with to boot from USB. It just doesn't support USB peripherals at this time. Ohhh, see, it helps if you read all the instructions first.

Turns out, I was able to try installation again, this time with a ps/2 keyboard and successfully navigate through installer and things worked. So, I never posted the question I composed above. Almost though.

Oh, and Lubuntu 12.04 works great! Many new adventures in Linux are just waiting to be discovered! Well...first things first. I have to go download openTTD now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How to Scan for Windows Viruses using Linux

Apparently, lots of people have this question: How can I use Linux/Ubuntu to scan for viruses on my Windows hard drive?
And yet, lots of the forums are filled with people praising Linux for its lack of viruses and the lack of the need for virus scanners. Well, that's nice and all, but it doesn't answer the question all that well.
Luckily, HTG (HowToGeek) answered the question and they did so very well.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Upgrade Your Hard Drive Without Re-Installing Windows Again

This is another tech support post where I'm just recording my notes for future reference.
A desktop computer running Windows Vista again, but this time, the desire was to just swap out the hard drive with a newer one. How do you do that if your computer originally shipped with a recovery partition and didn't ship with discs? What if you really do not want to re-install Windows again?

Luckily, there exists a simple solution. I almost took the more risky solution though. Both solutions that I considered (among several other options) involved Linux. Yeah, you're guessing it. I was reading up on the 'dd' command. Which, surprisingly, is nicknamed 'disk destroyer' because so many people get it wrong. Yeah, that's enough to pause and make you think twice.

What is the 'dd' command? It's essentially a command line tool that does what more expensive tools like TrueImage will do for you - clone your hard drive. And that's exactly what I wanted to do. I used a LiveCD for Ubuntu 12.04 and was nearly convinced I had the correct command. Instead, I went and burned a CD with CloneZilla on it and took that route instead.

If you are going to use CloneZilla, do yourself a favor and boot into BIOS first to verify which disk is which, or look at the disk physically and take note of it's serial number because CloneZilla will likely identify your disks this way. I didn't do this first and had to stop the process and start over because my two disks were very similarly named WDC (Western Digital). Getting it wrong in CloneZilla is just as bad as getting wrong with the 'dd' command in your linux terminal.

CloneZilla worked great. The new hard drive is happily in its new home and thinks it shipped straight from the factory.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Inspiron 1545 Problems Booting Windows Vista

A friend recently asked me to help fix a Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop that would no longer boot into Windows Vista. There were a few files that the friend did not want lost either. What follows are just some of the notes that I took while surfing the web that helped me in my efforts to restore this laptop to working condition. 
How to recover your Windows Installation from the recovery partition when you have no windows installation currently on your drive, or when you get the Bootmgr is missing, or you've nuked your drive using the Ubuntu LiveCD.
 I actually did use the Ubuntu LiveCD to find and recover any personal files as my first order of business. Using the LiveCD I was able to expand my fledgling Linux skills a bit more and explore the contents of the drive. I found the files and saved them off to a USB stick for later. 

I used all the drive diagnostic tools, available from BIOS to Windows repair, to check out the drive because a particular error was coming up and several Google searches were indicating that the actual hard drive might be flaking out.

Error code 1000-0142...unit 4....Drive Self Test Failed..status byte 75.Is this the indication of a bad HDD?
That means the file system is corrupt and there may be bad sectors on the hard drive.

Try this:
1. Boot the computer with the Windows disc.
2. At the "Welcome to Setup" screen > press R to start the Recovery Console.
3. When prompted type "1". (if you have a multi-boot computer, select the installation you want to repair.)
4. When prompted > enter the Administrator password. If there is no password, just press ENTER.
5. Now you should be in the recovery console.
6. Type chkdsk c: /p /r > press .
7. When the disk check is done: Type Exit > press .
8. Take the Windows disc out and reboot.

If that doesn't work the hard drive has to be replaced.
 (I think I found the above on

Ultimately, I reached the end of my time to troubleshoot and attempt fixes and just set it to restore from the factory partition. I know, lame, but that's all the time I had to devote to this issue. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Take Five

Take Five is a concept, an idea.
It was born during my early college days and was partly inspired by a great jazz song of the same name. (Although, the version I listened to was original to a group of university students that went by the name, In One Ear.) Below is the hand written notes that I saved from that day.

I feel stressed a lot of the time to accomplish many things and feel bad that I do not complete those things of which I feel are also important to me. Some of those things include the following:
Piano, Trombone - Personal Talents
Scripture study, Institute classes - Spiritual
Roommates, Work, Friends, Dating - Social
Exercise - Physical

Now that I write them down, I see they incorporate all aspects of a well rounded life - and yet I find myself running first to accomplish first my homework. And it never ends, and I hardly have time for it - so how can adding more help? But will i have really reached my goal and feel satisfied if in the end my goals were left alone by the wayside?

I do not believe so.
So, if I can just "take five" maybe I can achieve my goals with faith and hope and trust in help from God. I believe if I "take five" and then work diligently I can produce results and pray that my intellect can be enlightened to work quicker, more efficiently.

Work. Be obedient. Be more like a missionary. Plan and then work towards that goal by properly scheduling your time and developing Christlike attributes.

I came back to this concept and revisited it again a few years later.

Today is Saturday and tomorrow is Sunday. I was just thinking how good it would be to wake up and study the scriptures and kind of fill this personal spiritual low when it occurred to me. I thought of how improbable it would be since I am home, family is home, I have commitments, etc. If only I had a few days without the world... but that is what made me realize that the one important principle is not to just strike it rich, get it all at once, but rather stay the course, little step after little step, mundane, boring, but always steady. What am I saying? If it be our level of spirituality, time spent with a certain activity - studying reading to kids, etc, or money and debt - these all need one principle to achieve success - A little everyday - constantly.
Winning the jackpot or sweepstakes  or receiving an inheritance or having that one day may seem nice but you cannot grow spiritually all in one day, you cannot read all the children's stories to your child on one day, you cannot practice for one day and become great, you cannot pay off your debt in one day - and believe to be happy.
It is that little five minutes so mundane and almost seemingly worthless that is applied each day after day after monotonous day that we stick with it and though it all that journals are written, debts are paid, time is cherished, and we grow. God sent us to live a life here on Earth - not just experience an instant.
I share this in the hopes that you, too, can find five minutes in your life and apply it to that goal that is almost forgotten, to striking out into a new area and trying something new, to sharpening the saw, to read to your kids, to do whatever it is you wished you could do more.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Zig Zag Book Review

From the introduction:
Creativity doesn’t always come naturally to us. By definition, creativity is something new and different; and although novelty is exciting, it can also be a little scary. We’re taught to choose what’s familiar, to do what’s been done a thousand times before. Soon we’re so used to staying in that well-worn rut that venturing into new terrain seems an enormous and risky departure.

I mentioned this before, we’re afraid of change. It frightens us. However, embarking into new territory need not be feared, but rather practiced. Keith Sawyer, the author of Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity declares that practice is all that is needed to become a more creative person. From his own creative works, “Creativity did no descend like a bolt of lightning that lit up the world in a single, brilliant flash. It came in tiny steps, bits of insight, and incremental changes.” All his experience has been distilled into eight steps. In fact, after reading through this book once, I feel like it is meant more as a go to resource, like a home remedy book for writer’s block, or perhaps it could be the Schaum’s Outline for your Creative Genius class next semester.

The eight steps that you can practice daily to encourage more creativity in your life are these:

1. Ask

2. Learn

3. Look

4. Play

5. Think

6. Fuse

7. Choose

8. Make

The reason why I liked this book, is because it motivates you to stretch yourself. Don’t be content to travel the same rut. Experiment. Find out what life is like outside the rut. What does it look like? How does it alter your concentration? The book is filled with examples of successful creativity based on the application of the methods and practices that are detailed with each step.

This book is a wonderful resource. Don't bang your head against the wall anymore. Learn how to be more creative today and how to practice until the ideas just flow to you. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay Book Review

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by author Frank Partnoy, is probably the perfect book to read as a follow up to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, my review here.

Wait is another book about decision making. Whether you are a CEO of a billion dollar company, or just going out with friends, we all could benefit from a better understanding of what impacts our abilities to make decisions.

Partnoy, acknowledges, Gladwell's recent book, but criticizes his emphasis on thin-slicing being only two seconds long.

"Stop for a moment now and think about the idea of thin slicing. When we thin slice we detect patterns in an event even if we see only a narrow portion of that event. The key to the concept is that we reach a conclusion even though we don’t have the full picture. Thin slicing is driven by the unconscious system because it takes the lead over the conscious system in decisionmaking during such a short period.

But thin slicing is almost never about just two seconds. In fact, not even the titles of the leading articles on thin slicing are about two seconds. The revolutionary paper by Ambady and Rosenthal is entitled “Half a Minute.” John Gottman’s coauthored study of video tapes of couples is called “Predicting Divorce Among Newlyweds from the First Three Minutes of a Marital Conflict Discussion.” Minutes, not seconds."

Despite the criticism, the concept is sound. More recently, Ambady and other coauthors defined a thin slice as “any excerpt of dynamic information less than five minutes long.”

Lest I lead you to believe this book is just written in retaliation to Gladwell, let me address some of the other points that I found relevant and interesting.

To which I must say that any author that quotes Douglas Adams gets a gold star in my book.
"One of the main reasons why “Don’t panic” is such valuable guidance is that the sudden onslaught of fear we label panic can seriously interfere with our ability to decide on the best course of action. Panic makes it difficult for us to use logic or reason. Panic shuts down our conscious system 2 and leads us to rely on our primal automatic system 1. Relying on system 1 is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if we are experts."

Partnoy also graciously assuages my guilt of procrastination. "active procrastination is smart: it simply means managing delay, putting off projects that don’t need to be done right away. In contrast, passive procrastination is dumb, equivalent to laziness."

Some final notes related to our working lives.
"A second approach is “event time,” where we continue doing something until we finish or some event occurs. For example, you might start work, not at 9 a.m. (clock time), but after you finish breakfast (event time)."

"Efficiency means going fast; effectiveness means being complete, even if it takes longer."

"If we are motivated to accomplish something important in our work, we will be willing to wait decades and understand that jobs we start might not be finished until after we are gone. Hourly pay eats away at this philosophy and ultimately makes work less fulfilling."

This last quote is especially interesting if you consider grandiose achievements of our world. When you read that, what came to mind? I thought about the architectural wonders that took years or decades to create, Notre Dame, Statue of Liberty, or even the iconic LDS temple in SLC. Each was a massive undertaking, but well worth the wait.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Blink Book Review

You are definitely missing out if you have not yet read a book by Malcolm Gladwell. His writing style is easy to follow along and he takes you on a journey that masterfully explains his thesis. Have you ever wondered about your unconscious ability to make 'snap' judgments? Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, is a book that explores the concept of 'thin-slicing' and understanding how much information affects our ability to make good decisions.

Malcolm Gladwell has also written The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference and Outliers: The Story of Success. I read Outliers first, but apparently didn't post my review of it yet. Both Blink and Outliers are investigative stories. Gladwell presents his thesis through the exploration of several different examples.

For example, in Blink, you will read about how months of careful research was worth less than a first impression when trying to validate the authenticity of an ancient Greek sculpture. The psychology behind 'thin-slicing' is that often times, when faced with a decision and available information to aid us make that decision, less is more. Less information may be better. In today's digital age, "we have come to confuse information with understanding". Heaping on the information is not always the best course of action. We need to understand our unconscious mind and what parameters are needed to make it work efficiently.

Blink uncovers how Dr. Gottman can reliably predict marital success based on only 10 minutes or less of conversation, why speed dating works, how a severely hindered Paul Van Riper could defeat an otherwise impressive and omnipotent US military during war games, how doctors can avoid malpractice suits and predict and care for heart attack patients better. For example, there are plenty of factors at play in our lives that might be related to our risk of heart disease.
"All those extra factors certainly matter in the long term...What Goldman's algorithm indicates, though, is that the role of those other factors is so small in determining what is happening to the man right now that an accurate diagnosis can be made without them. In fact - and this is a key point in explaining the breakdown of Blue Team that day in the Gulf - that extra information is more than useless. It's harmful. It confuses the issues. What screws up doctors when they are trying to predict heart attacks is that they take too much information into account."

Blink also explains how tragedies related to police work occur, and more importantly how they can be remedied. Interestingly, as a method to explore the tragic shooting of an innocent person in a rough neighborhood, Gladwell first takes his readers on a field trip to educate them about autism. Autistic people, apparently, miss the emotional cues, and focus on objects. In high stress situations, we need to be able to slow down so that we can still unconsciously thin-slice the faces of people to understand their intentions.

The best example for correcting our snap judgments was revealed when discussing musical auditions. By removing information from the audition, in this case, placing a visual barrier or screen between the judges and performer, better judgements of ability could be made. This simple act alone is credited with the rapid rise of women performers in large symphonies around the world.

If I decide to keep on book on my bookshelf, it tends to be the hardcover version. However, the paperback that I checked out from my local library has a very nice bonus in the form of a very nice afterword by the author. In his afterword, Gladwell explores the book's theme and answer's your questions.
"And what Blink is - what all the storeis and studies and arguments add up to  - is an attempt to understand this magical and mysterisous thing called judgement."
"From experience, we gain powerful gift, the ability to act instinctively, in the moment. But - and this is one of the lessons I tried very hard to impart in Blink - it is easy to disrupt this gift."

Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap. "When should we trust our instincts, and when should we consciously think things through?"  Read the book. I think it is good enough to go on my wall right next to my copy of Outliers. However, I will specifically be requesting the paperback version from

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Battleground Rhino a For Benefit Enterprise

I recently saw an interview on TV promoting a new Animal Planet series: Battleground Rhino Wars.
They caught my attention because I thought they said Battleground 3. (I've not played it personally although I think it looks cool. Besides, I'm more of a strategy and sim gamer: SimCity 2000.) I digress...

Battleground Rhino Wars features four United States Special Forces members training with local South African anti-poaching corps to defend the rhino. The poachers are out to get one thing - the horn - that's all. In fact, poachers have wounded an rhino and stripped its horn while it still alive, leaving the rhino to suffer and die from infection.

One of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, who wrote The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, my review, also wrote about his travels to Africa where he wore a rhino costume to raise awareness and funds in support of Save the Rhino International. Below is a small excerpt about this experience, from his posthumous book, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time .

"I only spent a week on the walk. I didn't get to climb Kilimanjaro, though I did get to see it. I was very sorry not get to go up it, though having seen it, I have to say that I wasn't very, very sorry. I did get to see one rhino, briefly, out of the thousands that used to roam in this area, and I wondered if it had any sense at all that all was not right with its world. Human beings have been on this planet for a million years or so, and in that time we have faced all sorts of threats to our survival: famine, plague, warfare, AIDS. Rhinoceroses have been here for 40 million years, and just one threat has brought them to the brink of extinction: human beings. We are not the only species to have caused devastation to the rest of the world, and it must be said in our favour that we are the only one that has become aware of the consequences of its behaviour and tried to do something about it."
 We've tried to do something about it. And now it appears that Animal Planet is also supporting this cause in an interesting way. Here is a for-profit company engaging in for-benefit work. As long as there are enough viewers to generate a profit, this company will provide a positive benefit to the world.

This idea of for-benefit companies has been growing slowly. Traditionally, when dealing with taxes, there are two types of companies: For-profit and Non-profit. But what about a different company that is still engaged in profitable activities which evolve from socially beneficial themes? They don't qualify as a non-profit and so cannot take advantage of the tax breaks, yet they are also not strictly a for-profit corporation. It's this blending of the two that opens up a whole new sector in our economy worth investigating.They are also known as B corps. B corps use the power of business that to solve social and environmental problems.

Personally, I hope that Battleground Rhino Wars is widely successful and that it runs for many seasons. Capitalism will protect the Rhino as long as we all tune in to watch the show. What are other scenarios where we can deploy/employ retired soldiers to solve a social or environmental issue?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Technical Analysis DeMystified Book Review

I like the idea of Core and Explore investing. If you're not familiar, the approach is to safely invest the core of your retirement, +85% into low cost index funds across an appropriate asset allocation model that fits your age and risk level. The small remainder is set aside to allow you to flex your personal investing prowess. It is not money that you use to bet the farm, but money that will allow you to try your hand and test your knowledge. Your type of exploration can be fundamentalist driven or technically driven.You can still buy index funds, it's up to you.

I lost a chunk of my Explore fund with the demise of the market in 2008; and due to my inexperience and lack of sufficient study. I was disheartened, but not broke because my Core was still intact and chugging along just as it should. I am now in a position that I want to begin working proactively in my Explore fund once again. Note: This is not due to recent market sentiment and the major indices reaching new highs, but rather the re-establishment of the cash in my Explore portfolio. While I love the idea behind ShareBuilder and their automatic investing plans - it is also wise to consider transaction costs. I've read that transaction costs should not be more than 2% of any trade. If you invest at ShareBuilder, at a $4 automatic trade, it is suggested that your minimum buy order should be $200, otherwise you're losing too much to transaction fees. But I digress...

I checked out the book Technical Analysis Demystified: A Self-Teaching Guide by Constance Brown. Because of my previous investment history, I was already vaguely familiar with some of the technical indicators that are available to help you examine a stock chart and understand and predict the price movement therein. Nevertheless, I knew that I didn't know enough. It should be understood that Technical Analysis differs from Fundamental Analysis. Technical Analysis is the study of the charting and claims that the chart will hold all the price information you need to trade. Trading based on chart analysis and price projection is known as market timing. Warren Buffett doesn't follow this method. His method is that of company valuation, the Graham number, P/E, and a long term buy and hold approach. I recently reviewed a book about Buffett's investing style.

Constance Brown, however, has written several books about Fibonacci analysis, the Elliot Wave Principle, and more in depth books than this beginner's guide, Technical Analysis Demystified.
In fact, there are so many technical indicators that are covered in this book that it feels like browsing the buffet line - endless choices but not enough time to really sample any one sufficiently to form an opinion about, let alone establish any appreciable skills.
The technical indicators covered in this text include several from momentum, breadth, and sentiment. The author stresses that a trade should have two of his three non-correlated methods giving permission to enter the trade. 

For the novice trader, this book will open your eyes to another dimension of trading. The author, graciously, is not a hyped up salesperson trying to convert you. While profitable trades are set up and explained, caution and understanding and risk assessment are all equally stressed. The author quizzes your intent to make a trade.
"Do you have confirmation in other stocks in the sector?
Do you have permission from your indicators at a key support or resistance level? 
Can you find evidence to support your opinion in other makrets that correlated? Can you establish a postion risking less than 3 percent of your portfolio? Do you have a minimum 3-to-1 win-to-loss ratio?"

I think this was a very worth while read. And while I probably won't be using astrological events as part of my technical analysis toolbox, I did learn that using two oscillators, such as a fast stochastic indicator and a slow moving-average convergence divergence (MACD) indicator, provides only one market analysis approach, not two.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Warning: Following this Advice Will Vastly Increase your Credit Score Rating!

This is a guest post by Ethel Wilson. Short bio is included at the bottom.

Warning: Following this Advice Will Vastly Increase your Credit Score Rating!

You’ll find many so-called experts on the internet claiming they can boost your credit score rating – for a fee of course. The last thing you need to do if your credit rating is low is to spend more money! The methods these companies and individuals use don’t always work either. Many of their methods are short term fixes designed to cheat the system. Like any shortcut there is risk involved, and these “fixes” often come back to haunt you in the long run. You can repair a damaged credit rating yourself; it’s neither difficult, nor complicated. It does take a bit of discipline and a little time (not as much as you might think), but the following methods have been proven to greatly increase your credit score rating. 

Pay your Most Recent Past-Dues: The very first thing you should do is to pay all past due payments on your accounts that most recently fell a month or so behind. The reason for this is that; the more recent a late payment, the more dramatically it will lower your credit score rating.

Apply for a Credit Report Adjustment: Once you have brought you past due accounts up to date, your next move is to contact the creditors who are responsible for reporting late payments regarding your credit score rating. Request that they make a good faith adjustment to delete the late payment information from your credit history files. Not all creditors will cooperate, but asking politely and reminding them that you will continue to be a valued customer, may convince a few to work with you.

Pay Collections Agencies that Will Wipe the Slate Clean: If you have any accounts in collection, pay those off where the collection agency will agree to delete any references to those accounts from your credit history. It is important that you make it clear from the outset that it is a condition of paying off the debt in full. You’ll be surprised how many agencies will cooperate just to clear the account from their books. This strategy can raise your credit score rating drastically in only a few months.

Spread Debt Around: It’s better to have several cards with mediocre balances than to have one or two with a zero balances and another with a very high balance or completely maxed out. Try to spread the debt around so that none of your cards has a balance of more than 40% of your limit. An effective and fast way of raising your credit score rating is to ask the creditor to increase your limit, thus lowering the percentage of your balance. Keep in mind however that you must maintain that ratio going forward to maintain the points you earned by doing so.

Make Sure Your Credit Limit is Reported: If your creditor does not inform the credit bureau of your accounts limits, this negatively affects your credit score rating. The reason for this is that because no limit is mentioned, the system the credit bureau uses to calculate credit scores assumes the account to be maxed out. Your credit score rating could be suffering simply because a creditor has failed to notify the credit bureau of your limit, not through any fault of your own. You could have a lower score than you deserve, so this step is well worth taking.

Apply for a Credit Card from a Major Bank: Of course the best way to improve your credit score rating is to maintain a good credit history over time with a major bank. This is especially true of credit cards issued by them. If you don’t have one, get rid of all of those department and retail store cards that do little to help, and much to harm your credit score rating. They have a much higher debt to limit ratio, and consequently affect your score adversely. Qualifying for a credit card issued by a major bank automatically increases your credit score rating dramatically.

Ethel Wilson is a financial and credit specialist with 12 years experience in the banking, credit scores, and financial industry.  She has advised countless clients on how to improve their credit score rating.  She shares the best of her credit score information as a contributor and editor of

Monday, April 8, 2013

Household AA Battery Recycling

I recycle. Sometimes, I've even been accused of being a tree-hugger for my green ways. However, I'm an engineer, not an environmentalist. In fact, it seemed odd to me that more people didn't realize that "Going Green" wasn't really about saving the environment. It was all about the money, which had the added benefit of saving the environment.

CFL bulbs, rechargeable batteries, we all love them for the money they save us, until they're worthless and then, in the great American fashion - We chuck 'em.
Your remote control forces you to watch the same channel all night long, the clock on the wall runs slow, your daughter's princess piano has mercifully fallen silent. In the end, all those 'AA' and 'AAA' batteries are headed for your trashcan.
Why? Why do we throw away so much stuff that still has intrinsic value? Simple: It no longer has value to me.

It's also very easy to answer that question if you consider the trade-off between fidelity and convenience.
Think about it. You're sitting at your desk at work. You hold a piece of paper in your hand that is suddenly worthless to you. A trashcan sits immediately below your desk and the Paper Recycling Bin sits clear across the office next to the printer. Where does the paper go?
Convenience: trash can, back to work.

Fidelity, after endless marketing ads, news stories of extremist tree-huggers chained to trees, guilt about global warming and your carbon footprint, and razed rainforests in the Amazon, etc... Fidelity offers you the rich experience of knowing that you've done your part at the high cost of breaking your concentration and flow so you can stand up and walk to the recycling bin.
I believe that more people would recycle, or recycle more, if it was simply more convenient. People that don't care about the environment happily recycle when the opportunity to do so is as easy as throwing it in the trash.
How many of you recycle old batteries?
You don't. Even though they are worse than throwing paper in the trash, you chuck them and religiously recycle your paper because you have a place to put the paper. Where are you going to put two old "AA" batteries?

Armed with this knowledge, I set up a method to give people I work with everyday the opportunity to recycle their old clock batteries, cordless phone batteries, flashlight batteries. I grabbed a cardboard box, printed off some pictures from the internet and instantly created a Battery Recycling Center.

I placed this Battery Recycling Center in our workroom and was amazed at how quickly this little box filled up. Batteries of all types were dumped in my box. Double AA, triple AAA, C, D, cell phone, laptop, cordless phone, camera, drill, etc. I was astounded at what one little box had just diverted from the local landfill.

Even if you did save those old remote control batteries, where can you responsibly dump that toxic waste? I didn't know, and suddenly had 20lbs of Ni-Cd, and Lithium batteries that I didn't know what to do with. I tried, but failed when I learned that Home Depot and Lowes's will accept the large rechargeable batteries that go in power tools. Their bins, however, state that they do not want the common place batteries.
Staples! And you only thought they were good for recycling your old ink cartridges. Staples has a program called Easy on the Planet and they gladly accept your old batteries.(Note: After researching the corporate website online, it states only rechargeable batteries. However, my local Staples was eager to take my box full of assorted batteries, alkalines included. Check with your local Staples.)

I'm an engineer and I tend to frown on inefficiencies. Engineers like to solve problems and do things cheaper, better, faster. Thank you Staples for being a convenient method for the average consumer to recycle common household batteries.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trade Off Book Review

Trade-Off written by Kevin Maney
"Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't"
"The Ever-Present Tension Between Quality and Convenience"

This is a great book to read because it opens your eyes and understanding to things that are already present around you. Things that you might have had impressions about, or figured out if you happened to be studying them, are laid out clearly so that you can begin to benefit from the knowledge immediately.

The premise of this book is exploring the concept of the Fidelity Swap: the trade-off between the fidelity of an experience and its convenience. Listen to an MP3 (super convenient) or go to a concert (very inconvenient but a rich experience).

In the world of business the fidelity swap is key to success. You strive for high fidelity (think Bose) or high convenience (think Wal-Mart). If you strike out to achieve both, you end up chasing a mirage which ultimately sinks you because you are neither convenient, nor high enough fidelity. Kodak fell into this trap. Starbucks did, too, it was an experience, it was expensive, but then it pushed expansion so hard, and sought the convenience of being commonplace. Compact Starbucks stands were nothing more than a glorified vending machine, not a special customer experience.
Apple's iPod went this route. It was first exclusive, and ended up ordinary. Without the development of the iPhone, Apple today would be a very different company.

The dynamic portion comes into play when you consider the effect that technology has on continually pushing and expanding the limits of fidelity and convenience. A high powered cell phone might be high fidelity when it first launches, but then as technology improves, it quickly is surpassed and overcome. Innovation is the key to keeping a business moving towards either more convenience or higher fidelity.

Exploring another example involving IBM and the server business, was this quote.
US Hardcover, pg 145
"Some competitor can always uncover a market just below your fidleity--at good-enough fidelity," Wladawsk-Berger said. "If they discover good-enough fidelity that's way down in cost, they'll kill you. It happens all the time. At IBM, it put pressure on us to either continue to differientiate by improving fidelity, or contininuting to innovate oto offer fidelity oat lower prices--or exit that segment of business and move on. The question often becomes, 'Showuld we go up, down, or exit?'"

Should you read Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don't ? Definitely, if you are in business, either by yourself as an entrepreneur or are in any level of management. It's important to understand where your product or service fits in the market and to properly understand the difference between convenience and fidelity (quality). The book describes numerous examples of success and failure in a compelling way that keeps the reader interested throughout.

If you've read this book, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Warren Buffet Invests Like A Girl Book Review

Warren Buffet Invests Like A Girl
tagline: And Why You Should, Too
Author: Louann Lofton
8 Essential Principles Every Investor Needs to Create a Profitable Portfolio

This was my first book specifically about Warren Buffet. I've perused some of his annual shareholder letters and I've read articles online, but never a book with his image on the front cover.
Louann Lofton works for and outlines the research that emerged about the differences in characteristic traits of men and women and how it affects investing behaviors, and consequently their rate of returns. This through lower trading volume(lower costs), longer time view, patience, less overconfidence.

Warren Buffett's investing characteristics are shown to mimic those of female investors and is credited with the reason for his phenomenal success. Additionally, there are several interviews with prominent female fund managers interspersed throughout the chapters that add real life examples of the principles being discussed.
Warning: Reading this book may elevate your desires to do your own research and try your hand at picking individual stocks for your investment portfolio.
But before you run away, thinking that it is blasphemy to consider investing in something besides a low-cost ETF or index fund, remember the idea of the "Core and Explore".
With the "Core" of your portfolio, i.e. a significant portion 85% to 95%, do the low cost asset allocation with your select ETF's and be happy. You'll be diversified, you'll get market returns, and all is well because you are exercising restraint because you know that you aren't smarter than the rest of the stock pickers out there.
Take the remaining 5% to 15% and "Explore" with it. Warren Buffett didn't become the Oracle by investing in safe, low cost funds. He researched and bought valuable companies that would benefit him in the long run. Try your hand. You might win some, you might lose some. And if you lose, it won't be your entire life savings.
The above principle was touched on briefly in the book, and I've seen variations of it posted before. I like this idea, and have set aside 5% of my portfolio to allow myself to try things out. It's a great learning experience. The key, and the book highlights this, is that when you buy stock, you are buying a piece of that company. Warren Buffett wouldn't consider owning shares of a company for only a few days, or even months. He's focused on the future earnings of that company. Additionally, he would never consider an investment without first becoming intimately acquainted. Research, research, research. If you find a company that is trading at a bargain, it will be the research that will give you staying power if that stock price dips further in the short term. You know you're not taking a risk, because you did your homework.
I found this quote particularly instructive.
US Hardcover, pg91
...Buffett said, "You can't do well in investing unless you think independently. And the truth is, you are neither right nor wrong because people agree with you. You're right because your facts and reasoning are right. In the end, that's what counts."

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rework Book Review

"Ignore this book at your own peril." Seth Godin

That's the tagline on the cover of the New York Times Bestseller, REWORK by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.

I didn't want to risk the peril, so I read it. And if you're intrigued about entrepreneurship, blogging, productivity, the path to success, etc. then you'll probably like Rework, too.

Overall, this is a great bathroom book. My wife laughed when I told her that, but it's because the chapters, if you can call them that, are only a page or two long at most. The book consists of over a hundred nuggets, ideas, truths, rules, that are succinctly explained. In fact, this review is likely an infraction of the "less is more" mentality of the book already.

You don't have to sit down and read straight through, or as fast as you can go. In fact, it might be better to take it piece meal and take the time to ponder the concepts and how you might apply them to make your life or business more awesome.

There are lots of great things to learn, but I'll just highlight four that stood out to me.
"No time is an excuse"
We all whine that we don't have time to be wonderful, we don't have time to write that novel in our heads, we don't have time to exercise. Don't quit your day job yet, they advise. Instead, drop an hour of TV or World of Warcraft, stay up an hour later, not all night. "Once you do that, you'll learn whether your excitement and interest is real or just a passing phase....When you want something bad enough, you make the time - regardless of your other obligations."
I think authors like Rachelle J. Christensen who is a Mom first and an author second is a perfect example of this.

"Make tiny decisions"
"Big decisions are hard to make and hard to change....Instead, make choices that are small enough that they're effectively temporary. When you make tiny decisions, you can't make big mistakes."
This is the try it out mentality. Stop thinking so polar or binary. It's not an all or nothing game changer. Test it out and see what happens on a small level and go from there.

"How to say you're sorry"
"A good apology accepts responsibility. It has no conditional if phrase attached....Here's another bad one: 'We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.' The 'may' here implies there might not be anything wrong at all."
Own up and be sincere.

"Take a deep breath"
This was one of my favorites because it addresses the fact that people are afraid of change. Change means stepping away from the known. This is important to understand in business or in family relationships as well.
"People are creatures of habit. That's why they react to change in such a negative way....So when people complain, let things simmer for a while. Let them know you're listening....You'll probably find that people will adjust eventually. They may even wind up liking the change more than the old way, once they get used to it."
Just consider US Presidential elections. It has become increasingly difficult to oust a sitting President. People know how bad it has been for the last four years, but the idea of change scares them more than the known, or what they are used to and so they accept the status quo of another bad four years.

Rework is a good read. You'll like it. And if you happen to be in management - you're employees will love you' if you learn anything from this book. :)


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