May 17th, 2011
I’m in the market for a whole new rig for my office. What do you recommend I do to stay classy?
There’s a lot of ways you can approach this, but allow me to provide a list of tips:
- For obvious reasons, avoid tacky “gamer” oriented cases and the like. Obnoxious ricer-esque LED illuminated cases may have looked cool back when we were all playing CS 1.6, but nowadays they look tacky and somewhat cheap, and in many cases, their cooling is abysmal. Invest in a case with good construction, excellent cooling, and no silly decals or graphics — you want something stylish and inoffensive, not massive and ridiculous. Mini-ATX cases are great in this regard, because in many cases they hide away on a nice desk well, but obviously you lose quite a bit of flexibility and lose many features. Don’t worry about spending too much on a case — good cases last years, bad ones last months.
- Second, silence is everything. The ideal office is not overwhelmed by loud, annoying 90mm fans going full blast trying to cool down an overheated computer. On top of investing in a good case, make sure to get a substantial heatsink and a nice and quiet video card. Not only will this be more pleasant when you work or game, but it will (in certain circumstances) result in less heat on your parts and thus a longer lasting computer.
- Third, invest in a good keyboard, mouse, and monitor. A well structured office absolutely requires good tools, so don’t skimp on what you will be using the most. Get a nicely constructed, well built, and long lasting keyboard and mouse, ideally ones that fit your hands well. Additionally, get a good monitor — find one large enough to provide plenty of desktop space, bright enough to be easily visible, and with a contrast range enough for movies and other visual effects.
- Fourth, simplify your peripherals. Don’t buy extra peripherals if you can consolidate your needs into one form factor. For example, a USB hub built into a keyboard or monitor is a great way to have access to nearby USB plugs (which allows you to hide your PC case away) without purchasing an additional USB hub. A cheap bluetooth card obviates the need for game controller or cell phone dongles/cords. Speakers built into a monitor save valuable desk space. It should be noted, however, that sometimes simplicity sacrifices quality — a built in webcam might not be easily configured, built in speakers may be of less quality than independent ones, and wireless keyboards might be less responsive than corded ones. Your mileage may vary.
- Finally, install things right. When you build your PC, take the time to zip-tie down all cords to the case, opening the case up and allowing plenty of air flow (and making cleaning with compressed air a hell of a lot easier). When you place everything around your desk, use velcro ties to bundle together cords and keep them out of your way. The goal here is to make your PC work for you and to give you as much free space as possible — don’t let your computer dominate your workspace.
These are admittedly vague tips, but building a PC involves a lot of factors unrelated to the classiness of a PC. Thus, insofar as building a nice, classy office is concerned, your main concern is simply keeping things simple and functional. Everything else is up to you.
February 16th, 2011
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have received a number of e-mails recently asking me how to handle what most people now call their “online reputation”. From what I gather, a number of Well Cultured readers have discovered that a lot of friends, potential employers, and even potential schools have been doing amateur background checks on them via Google — and that’s something of a scary prospect to many of us, who grew up on the ‘net and probably have more forum accounts than we do pairs of socks.
With that in mind, here are some tips to ensure your 12 year old MMORPG account “DBZRocks1985″ is safely buried away in the annals of time.
Destroying a bad reputation
In most cases, the issue with online reputation isn’t what isn’t online as much as it is what is online.
Unfortunately, the reality of the internet is that, due to the proliferation of bots and mirror websites, online history is remarkably difficult to “kill”. Websites like archive.org regularly archive forums and websites, essentially creating irreversible encapsulations of stupid forum posts, comments pages, and game profile pages. Obviously, because these websites don’t have a policy of removing things merely because they embarrass you, it is fairly certain that you can’t do much about them.
In a similar vein, there is very little you can do about what other people post about you. Blogs, wikis, and websites run by small dedicated groups are usually set up to prohibit removal of embarrassing information, which both provides interesting content and, in some instances, personal embarrassment. Like the above, there’s little you can do about these websites.
Fortunately, you can handle virtually every other website. The vast majority of forums, social networking websites, and video games have account removal functions of some sort. These functions are typically buried deep into the website to disincentive their use, but they nonetheless exist. Moreover, even if the websites do not allow the removal of accounts, most contain deleting and editing functions that allow you to remove (or replace) the vast majority of content connected to your account. Because most larger, potentially more embarrassing websites (Facebook, MySpace, DeviantArt, et al) have these functions, this means that the vast majority of the embarrassing information on the web is removable.
So what can you do?
- Remove accounts you do not use and keep them dead. The best thing you can do is empty, but not delete an old account. By doing so, you not only remove any incriminating content (like stupid posts or drawings you made when you were 12), but you also ensure another user cannot take the same account name and pretend to be you.
- Periodically clean up accounts you do use, particularly Facebook and MySpace accounts. Social networking accounts are troublesome because they oftentimes can be embarrassing or degrading for reasons out of your control — an angry or foolish friend can easily make your Facebook wall look childish and ridiculous. If you must have these accounts, keep them as low-key and inoffensive as possible.
- Create dump e-mail accounts and switch around as much as possible. Because providing an e-mail address is a requirement for most forums and games, create and utilize spam-only e-mail addresses that are not connected to your professional image. Doing so not only prevents the harvesting of your information, but it also keeps your other e-mail inboxes clear. If you can, change the e-mail address itself every so often — doing so will ensure you never go too long identified with the same spam e-mail.
- Avoid associating yourself with shady crap on the internet. No matter how tempting it seems, avoid voluntarily signing up for unnecessary contests, programs, “free video games”, and the like. While some of these services now have privacy policies, the vast majority of them (especially contests and groups on Facebook) use your personal identity in order to market goods and services elsewhere.
- Remove embarrassing/inappropriate pictures, comments, names, titles, etc. This is self-evident.
- Be nice on the internet. Seriously. As silly as it seems, try to keep a sense of decorum, especially when using an account that can be traced back to your personal information. Getting angry about things that happen on the ‘net is ridiculous. If you did have a particular blog or forum post whining or crying about something, delete (or edit) it as quickly as possible.
- If you have a serious issue with defamatory comments, contact the site owner and/or a lawyer. In very very limited circumstances, you may be able to contact a lawyer and have defamatory posts and content removed. This is very dependent upon the content itself (specifically if it is intentionally/recklessly false), the harm to your reputation (specifically if you can prove it), and the like. This avenue is a last resort, and should be used incredibly sparingly.
Building a good reputation
Once you have your bad reputation in check, it’s time to build a good reputation. This is, compared to trying to remove information, arguably the more enjoyable and worthwhile endeavor.
The core concept in building a good reputation is reputation control. Because the ‘net is diffuse and somewhat wild, an online reputation tends to spawn from random sources (like forum profiles and the like) if there is nothing “solid” for it to spawn from, like a personal website or the like. Thus, the best way to build a good reputation is to deliberately create things like personal websites and website profiles in order to gain control over what pops up on Google and other search engines.
- Make a personal website, or at least a personal profile. Google Profiles, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other websites allow you to create and micromanage personal profiles as they are displayed to the public, which is an essential tool in crafting an online reputation. Sign up for all of them, connect them together, and as I mentioned above, check on them (and update them!) often.
- Consider running a blog on something you know. Blogs can be both profitable and low-maintenance, and in many cases allow you to propagate your desired image to the world. Legitimate blog websites like WordPress are invaluable for such endeavors; Livejournal should be avoided like the plague it is.
- Sign up for websites and projects that will positively reflect upon your reputation. Public member lists can be beneficial if you sign up for the right groups. Being listed as a member for a charitable organization is always a plus. Still, be careful about signing up for highly political organizations or causes — unless you’re willing to be associated with anything and everything the group does, don’t “endorse” them online.
In Closing: Who cares?
Unquestionably, one’s online reputation matters right now. However, to be honest, this article may become obsolete in the future: the internet’s simply too ubiquitous to be considered embarrassing in its own right, and most adults over the age of 18 have been using the ‘net for quite some time. Though at the moment accounts on World of Warcraft may be a source of embarrassment or derision, at some point it will become fairly standard to have a “history” of internet use — be it a history of MMORPG playing, stupid alcohol-fueled picture galleries, or flamewars.
Until then, however, maintaining your reputation is an unfortunate part of life. A little bit of work right now can save you a lot of strife in the future.
September 2nd, 2010
I drink a ton of energy drinks (amp, red bull, 5hr energy). They help me stay focused in class. Should I stop drinking them to be healthy? How do I get more energy?
Short, too hyper to pay attention and read the entire response answer: Yes. Get caffeine other places, sleep lots, and eat well/exercise.
Energy drinks are generally not good for your health. From a general nutrient perspective, energy drinks contain a huge amount of sugar and calories. Just like you would gain weight eating a bunch of doughnuts every day for “energy”, energy drinks will add fat to your body. This can also happen incidentally because energy drinks are like soda, and thus do not properly hydrate your body like normal water would. From a general health perspective, energy drinks can also unsafely ramp your energy up and force it to plummet down quickly, creating a “yo-yo effect” that ultimately hurts you more than it helps you.
Energy “yo-yo”ing is something that really can mess up your efficiency overall. While you might feel energetic while you drink energy drinks, the inevitable crash (which happens one to a few hours later, depending on your metabolism) will pull you down hard, making you ultimately less efficient over time than you would be if you had never drank the energy drink in the first place. If you don’t manage this “yo-yo effect” properly, it can also really screw up your sleep cycle and make you even more tired, making you drink more energy drinks and perpetuating the vicious cycle. Trust me: I learned a lot about this as a freshman in undergrad, and it’s rough.
So what can you do instead?
First off, if you really want a boost of caffeine, drink coffee, tea, or take caffeine pills. Good old fashioned coffee, pending you don’t load it up with sugar and calories, is a great way to stay alert, hydrated, and healthy. Green tea is even better in some respects. If you want your caffeine in a more potent and convenient form, caffeine pills are also a great option. While I don’t entirely like endorsing it (both due to the price and due to the fact it’s still an energy drink), 5 Hour Energy is also a choice you could consider.
Second off, get more sleep. For some reason, lots of students (even graduate and professional students, despite the fact that they should know better by now) don’t get enough sleep, and this forces them to obsess about getting more caffeine. If you genuinely want more energy overall, sleep well — don’t sleep fewer than 6-7 hours, and don’t sleep more than about 9. Good sleep will help you learn better (seriously, your memory will improve), it will help you develop muscle and burn fat better, and it will help you have more energy throughout the waking hours of your day.
Third off, eat and exercise better. Proper diet and exercise will give you all the energy you need. Don’t eat excessively greasy and/or carb-loaded foods — they will make you groggy and slow, two things that undoubtedly make you feel like you need more energy. Light, healthy, protein-packed meals do a much better job. Exercise will also give you more energy. Though it seems as if you might lose energy hitting the gym periodically, overall, exercise gives you more energy and stamina, thus allowing you do to better in class.
So the basic message here is to not buy into the $5/bottle energy drink phenomena. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of unhealthy “yo-yo”ing that you can entirely avoid with healthy life choices.
January 10th, 2010
Though the stereotype exists that most people on the Internet live in their mother’s basement and eat nothing but packaged noodles, this is increasingly far from the truth. A good number of Well Cultured readers live on their own or plan to do so fairly soon- so here are some tips on how to make the experience easy, safe, and relatively pain-free.
Living Room/Office Tips and Optimizations
- If you can, connect your TV to your PC (or have a similar system set up). The technical specifications of this can be either very easy or very complex, but the core idea is to have the two set up in a way to watch your movie collection, listen to music, and access the absolute plethora of online movies and TV shows available online from places like Hulu. Some consoles can handle this, and most video cards also have the ability to do S-Video out. If you’re connected enough, you could entirely go without normal cable TV.
- Organize your cables. Cable ties can be purchased relatively cheaply and will keep your place cleaner (and easier to clean).
- Though obviously hard-wiring is preferable in some cases, because of the advances of wireless technology, try to invest in a wireless router. Most apartment complexes are not wired for (and frown on you trying to wire them for) ethernet. Obviously, password the thing, don’t be stupid- even though WEP and the like are easily cracked, it’s worth it.
- Depending on your monitor, try to build a monitor stand. Raising your monitor, in certain cases, will feel more natural and keep your head at a natural level, in addition to giving you further desk space underneath the stand.
- That being said, this is a bit of a controversial statement, but look into an all-in-one PC, especially if you are willing to take the minor hit in gaming functionality and the raise in price. Their cleanliness (and the ease of moving them) sometimes makes them worth it- the pain of moving a full ATX tower and a widescreen monitor (with all cords) can be a pain.
- This might be a bit fancy for most people’s palate, but look into ambient lighting options, like LED strips. Don’t be ridiculous and invest in “ambient light” TVs or anything- but the idea can be remarkably stylish and a nice way to light an area without using harsh bulbs. The only issue is that few LED strips can be found that don’t require being connected to actual electrical lines (few have plugs).
- Invest in good art. No-one’s asking you to pay a lot of money- oftentimes, it’s cheaper (and kinda cooler) to look into newer emerging artists, or find people through independent sites like Etsy and DeviantArt (though both of those sites are generally more awful than interesting). Worst case scenario, be ghetto and rasterbate an image and print it out for your walls.
- As silly as it sounds to say this, clean regularly. Every week or so, try to do a basic cleaning of your place, but every month or two, do a deep cleaning of your place- vacuum inside your couch, clean baseboards, and do other things you rarely do.
- Try to move to digital where you can. While most are used to collecting and saving DVDs (and more recently, Blu Rays), this activity is increasingly having no purpose. Use services like STEAM, Netflix/Amazon on Demand, and other systems when you can.
Kitchen and Dining Tips and Tricks
- Despite what most may argue, cheap food is not necessarily bad food. Though many claim to be able to “tell the difference”, for a lot of things (notably some produce and meats), there is little to no difference. Do not feel guilty shopping for cheap food.
- You really don’t need a huge number of kitchen gadgets. You probably don’t even need half of what most have. Find yourself a good checklist, and go through it, discarding everything you absolutely don’t need. Even cookbooks can be discarded- the internet is a fine replacement.
- Learn to open a bottle of wine. Don’t buy an overpriced electric offering- a Waiter’s Corkscrew will work just fine. You can also use a variety of other items, including anything from a screwdriver to a plain knife. There are so many ridiculous options that they would require an article of their own- Google is your friend.
- When shopping, make a list and shop when you have already eaten. The former prevents you from making ridiculous expensive/pointless purchases, whereas the latter keeps you from purchasing too much.
- Disinfect. As often as you can. Having mold and germs in your kitchen can be dangerous, and having any sort of meat residue laying around is INCREDIBLY dangerous. Get a good disinfectant and use it.
- Learn to use a really sharp knife. Dull knives are dangerous and pointless- educate yourself. Hell, just learn how to buy and use a knife at all.
- If you like coffee, buy a good coffee maker or french press, depending on the quantity you drink. A french press is a great option for a single person, but if you need both scheduled coffee and lots of it, go for an electric coffee maker.
- Believe it or not, chopsticks can make eating some things (notably salad and smaller meals) easier. Once you learn how to use them, they become invaluable.
- Slightly lazy? Boiling water can sometimes help clean off gunk stuck on the bottom of your sink. Just take boiling water and pour it on- with a little bit of scrubbing, most of everything will come off easily.
- Freeze your meat. If you don’t do this, you probably should- for obvious reasons, it lasts longer. If you buy chicken breasts, for example, place it in plastic bags (with as little air as possible) and freeze it. You can also buy pre-frozen chicken breasts, which are actually a bit cheaper anyway- not as high quality, but good enough for most.
General Safety Tips
- If at all possible, if you live in an apartment complex, try to live on an upper floor. Though it is harder to move in and out, it is generally safer- it is much more difficult for thieves to steal from an upper floor. In addition, it will keep people from potentially shining car lights in your windows.
- If you can, find an apartment with a washer and dryer inside the apartment itself. It may be hard, but it will keep your clothes safer, and be ultimately more convenient.
- For obvious reasons, avoid pasting your name on the outside of your door, your mailbox, or the like.
- Every so often, take an inventory of your possessions. The best way to do this is to make a list of serial numbers of expensive items (game consoles, PCs, TVs, etc), then use a digital camera to take photos of everything in your apartment. Store these online somewhere you can find them later, like an online storage service.
- Leave a light on. While this isn’t entirely eco-friendly, if you purchase a good fluorescent light bulb and stick it in a small lamp, it will be sufficient, and deter possible break-ins.
- If you can, have an alarm system set up. This may not be worth it for small rentals, but for longer-term rentals, it is almost undoubtedly worth it.
- If you feel as if your safety has been compromised (for example, if you may have lost a key, have a vindictive ex-girlfriend with a key, etc), ask your landlord to swap out the locks. It is worth it.
General All-Around Apartment Tips
- Though most tend to believe bigger is better, you may find that a smaller apartment may ultimately be better than a larger one, for both cleaning and general upkeep.
- For things like clothing and books- donate or sell what you don’t use. Not only will this put extra cash in your pocket, but it will eliminate clutter and keep you from needing too much space for extra storage.
- Create or buy a small docking station (or at least a little power station thing) to put your various small powered items, like your iPod and cell phone. Keeping everything in one place is very convenient.
- An ironing board and an iron are two things you absolutely need to have and learn to use. Unless you make a ridiculous amount of money, there is no point in paying someone else to do something so simple. A sewing kit is also something nice to have.
- For both geeky reasons and space reasons, it’s generally easier to have flat screen TVs and monitors rather than traditional CRT tube televisions. Still, the price of the former make them somewhat hard to switch to easily.
- Open windows to allow more ambient light, which is both good for saving electricity and giving yourself a mental boost. Mirrors also help spread light and give the illusion of more space.
- Wash your sheets often- every two to three weeks. This is not only nice and clean, but it also keeps your skin nice. Flip your mattress occasionally.
November 19th, 2009
As many of you are no doubt aware thanks to incessant advertising and store themes, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and everyone is gearing up for what many call the “holiday season”- the sometimes-nasty period encompassing Thanksgiving and generally ending on New Year’s Day. Though these holidays are generally wonderful and a lot of fun, they also easily generate a lot of stress and anxiety- from the amount of food you eat to the presents you buy.
So, to help you prepare for this year’s holiday season, here are 5 ways to prepare yourself and ultimately survive the next month and a half.
1. Buy gifts well and get them out of the way.
Gift-giving has to be one of the biggest problems of the holiday season. While it’s certainly fun to give and receive presents, the fundamental issue is that most people around will be doing the exact same thing- meaning that buying gifts from even online stores is often a chore.
The simplest way to handle this process is to merely avoid it and get it over with as early as possible. Do not wait until the last minute to buy gifts- it often means you have to take whatever you can get, and is an ultimately thoughtless procedure. As early as you can (even before Thanksgiving), begin planning out gifts and, as much as you can, purchasing them at a reasonable pace.
Doing so helps you avoid the infamous Christmas rush at stores and even online, and it also assists in that it allows you to plan out thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list, rather than simply buying what seems to generally “fit” them.
2. Exercise and keep up with healthy eating- but feel free to splurge.
Exercising and eating right throughout the holidays is incredibly important- many people tend to gain weight during the holidays, a depressing gain that is often never lost afterwords. Do everything you can to avoid this trend.
Most gyms and fitness centers stay open most days of the holiday season, generally every day except for Christmas. Take advantage of this. Many (good) fitness centers and weight lifting joints all over provide month passes you can purchase, which are perfect if you plan to go to relative’s or friend’s homes for the holidays.
Still, don’t feel like you have to torture yourself over the holidays. While the cookies and cakes and pies will kill you, simple things like turkey and ham are not inherently bad whatsoever- like any meat, they are phenomenal sources of protein. Additionally, if you are hitting the gym on a regular basis, you shouldn’t feel too terribly guilty about splurging on a slice of cake or pie once and a while- after all, you will work it off.
3. Avoid common sources of stress.
Even though it sounds obvious, it’s something very important to remember: avoid common sources of stress, be they family issues, relationship issues, or even silly things like reservations. Plan early and relax.
If you are working or in school, try to get a lot of work done very early in December to allow yourself to relax for the rest of the month. If you have a lot of different errands to do, do them early. Plan what you want to do on the holidays as early as possible. Give yourself plenty of time to relax and enjoy life during the holidays as well- don’t overschedule. If there are significant family rifts in your family (black sheep, etc), then try to avoid exacerbating any problems.
Additionally, though I hate to note this as it should be VERY obvious, avoid drinking excessively at parties and other social functions. One drink is usually sufficient- if you can’t handle that, then simply do not drink. Very little good ever comes from getting drunk during the holidays.
4. Prepare a few good outfits.
If you plan to show your face at Christmas/other holiday parties, you’ll probably want to wear something nice.
As a general rule, it is presumed in most countries celebrating the “holiday season” that it will be cold- so even if it’s only tepid, feel free to layer and play around with heavier knits. Tweed or heavier knit suit jackets/blazers, sweaters, dress pants, and nice shoes are always good options for any sort of function. Scarves are always amazing to accent an outfit. Wool coats are a great accessory.
Don’t wear Christmas sweaters or other “themed” items- that’s always a little bit grandma-esque. Rather, stick with classics, and if you want to throw a bit more of the “holidays” into them, do it with color. For example, a nice deep red sweater is all you need in terms of “theme”- otherwise, avoid being too silly. Leave that to the crazy women with 20 cats.
The simplest yet most important rule: simply relax.
The “holiday season”- Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and everything surrounding- is meant to be a lot of fun and a way for people to get together and enjoy life. Ultimately, these are made for you to feel closer to other people and enjoy a period of the year. Religious connotations or not, familial obligations or not, do not feel as if you need to “sacrifice” yourself in order to make for a “good” holiday season- rather, try to make sure that everyone enjoys themselves and you don’t end up ruining yourself to do so.
Oh yes, and listen to this. The Vince Guaraldi Trio freakin’ rocks.
May 4th, 2009
Though I personally find the movie a little bland, I’ve realized recently that the movie “Yes Man”- something of a desperate attempt to revive Jim Carrey’s career by reviving the whole “Liar, Liar” concept- is actually an interesting movie. Built on the premise that Jim Carrey must say “Yes” to everything, he watches as his life explodes in new, fun, and interesting ways- and that his normal, incredibly limited life, sucked horribly. This is actually not too far from the truth- while there’s always an advantage to being smart and restrained, more often than not, your average Joe gets caught up in doing the same old stuff every day- and it makes him a very boring, uninteresting person. Here are some ways to combat that.
5. Do something you normally would never do.
Sure, you may have a lot of hobbies and interests- but are you really stepping outside of your comfort zone? Try doing so as much as possible- even if it seems awkward and stupid (which is often the idea), you grow from it much more than you ever would doing the same thing every day. This isn’t saying you should go immediately go bungie jumping or go sign yourself up for the military- rather, you should simply find ways in which you can do stuff you normally don’t do. Go to a play or an opera. Learn a new language. Go skydiving. Go to a party you would normally never go to. Do something that you would normally never do in your life- you might be pleasantly surprised at how much fun you have.
4. Cut down on the sweets/junk food and drink more water.
As I (and many nutritionists) have said incessantly, drinking/eating excessive amounts of junk food and sweets- be it candy, chips, baked goods, etc- will make you fat, sluggish, and uninteresting. Everything works in a vicious cycle- as you eat more junk food and the like, you feel tired when you don’t eat said food- and the taste grows, you eat more, you get fatter, you have less energy as the food isn’t giving you anything nutritionally, and you become a proverbial couch potato. Trash the candy and chips and drink more water and eat more vegetables- it will help you in virtually evry aspect of your life, give you more energy to do more with your day, and slim you down.
3. Plan a Trip and get out.
Stop being locked up in your state/country/continent. Pack only what you absolutely need and get out- go traveling in Europe or in Asia, see what you want to see, do stuff for fun. Don’t get stuck on a saccharine trip with a tour guide and the proverbial condom of safety associated with having someone dictate things for you- go out and find things on your own. Make a temporary itinerary of stuff to do, and break it as much as possible. Get lost. Put yourself in an environment away from your computer, your work, and the safety of air conditioning and heat- you will become a better person for it.
2. Clean, consolidate, and eBay.
Chances are, you don’t need everything you have. Don’t be too much of a pack rat- it means you have too much in your life. Don’t get caught up in the frenzy of being an obsessive “collector” of things- though you may find it important to have all the movies/games/books you could ever want, sometimes it’s better to be mobile, relaxed, and open rather than to cram your apartment full of things you don’t need. Trash old stuff you don’t need anymore. Get digital copies of music and old video games (legally, please) and sell the hard copies. Sell or donate old schoolbooks and old clothing- someone else could use them much more than you could ever do so. With some of the money you get back, you could always buy new, better, much more useful things!
1. Improve your Resume
The problem with even the most successful people is invariably they end up getting stuck in a “rut”- once they get out of school and get a nice job, there is this overwhelming feeling of “I’m done”-ness that makes them, well, boring. Amusingly, graduate schools and employers are now less and less looking at the “normal” things such as your GPA and your class rank- oftentimes, they look at extracurricular activities and previous employers- which, unfortunately, sends such “boring” people to the back of the proverbial line. If you have the opportunity/availability, go out and get yourself accredited in whatever you may know how to do- for example, go get an A+ certification for your computer knowledge, or get certified as a personal trainer if you’re a health nut. Go out and do freelance work or donate your time for extra references on your resume. Take classes on the weekends. Do SOMETHING- with this economy, anything is good.
In general, though, the message of this article is simple- consolidate, work harder, and live better. Color outside of the lines occasionally. When you get caught up in the idea of doing everything normally- being the “right” person who does everything to form- you often miss out on the bigger picture in life. Even if you’re 60, you still have a free ticket to live your life like you should- don’t live your life like others tell you that you should. By all means, you should work hard- but play hard too.
December 31st, 2008
2009 is going to be a different year. For most of us in the West, the economy has gone to hell in a handbasket- leaving many of us without jobs or fighting for those we have. Socially, the world is changing- especially in the US, where the entire government has been handed over to the opposite party and subcultures are growing and growing. This year, seemingly moreso than 2009, is going to be a year about recovery and optimization- making ourselves more better than we were before to weather any kind of economic or social situation.
Frankly, there is very little room for error in the West anymore. Where a few years ago one may be able to survive (to some degree) without a job and with a lot of room for error schooling-wise, we are no longer going to have such freedom. Many college graduates are very quickly learning that there simply aren’t that many jobs anymore- and many budding entrepreneurs are learning there isn’t the money to hire anyone anyway.
In a world like this, the strongest and the most savvy will survive- and when it comes to this sort of competition, being a well cultured individual will save you every time. Knowing how to look professional, dress well, handle yourself in a pleasant way and how to excel at your job is crucial- and here are ten new years resolutions you should follow to do just that.
10- Clean your life “history” now.
Few people really realize how much information can be found out via the Internet, especially by employers. Personally, a variety of information can be found out about me- from my school to even some of my political affiliations, people I’ve worked for, old friends, and embarrassing overweight pictures of myself. The worst thing is, a savvy individual can find some horrible stuff on me- namely, some posts about me from an old stalker, and an accusation of me being a mentally deranged homosexual. These constitute what I call a life “history” online- and just like your internet browser history, they can be fairly normal or very embarrassing, depending on what you do and how much you make public.
If you can, “optimize” your history. Get rid of old forum accounts. Delete old blogs. Remove (or untag yourself from) old photos on Facebook. Make sure no-one is talking about you, if you can help it. There’s nothing wrong with having accounts on websites, just realize that if they connect with your real name, they can harm you- which is why people often joke your name on the internet is a “Power Word”.
Worst case scenario, there are “cleanup” companies that specialize in fixing issues like unsatisfactory posts and the like. Employ them if you must.
9- Build connections everywhere.
Connections are how most people become rich, not by pure savvy. Sure, having intelligence is important- but knowing the right people who can help you (and who you can help in return) is incredibly important.
One of the easiest ways you can build a connection is to make yourself an address book- be it online, written out, or even on your cell phone. Websites like Linkedin and Facebook help, but not everyone in the world is on there- find a somewhat neutral way of cateloging who you know, from where, and their contact info. Store business cards, if you have to.
Remember, though, you have to reciprocate the help you get. Be willing to help out friends- use your skills for their benefit. Really good business connections are made on mutual need, not necessarily on your ability to exploit the other person into getting you what you need.
8- Date more.
I’m very serious. This will help you.
Dating is marketing yourself, no matter what others may say- just, instead of asking the other person to hire you and give you money, you are asking the other person to like you. Dating lets you refine the skill of marketing yourself- both in the sense of getting to know others conversationally (understanding how to be social with near-strangers), but also understanding yourself a bit better- and how to explain yourself to others. You’ll also find yourself less nervous about interviews and other kinds of meetings- if you know how to woo women correctly, you shouldn’t be too worried about being causally friends with men.
As well, the bonus is you could always find an awesome girl- there’s nothing wrong with finding a girlfriend for 2009.
7- Optimize your computer to get things done.
This is the fun geeky part of the resolutions.
Optimize your computer for work. Sure, we all absolutely love to optimize our computers for play- cleaning up our harddrives and buying new parts for faster gaming- but there’s also a benefit to optimization to get things done.
First off, provide yourself simplified ways to manage your e-mail and calendar. Google provides a lot of these tools for free and in high quality- both Gmail and Google Calendar are excellent tools for management. Google Calendar, my personal favorite, allows you to not only make your own calendar, but share them with other users- synchronizing youself with everything from school schedules to football games.
As well, organize and back up your work. For both schoolwork and literal work, make an organization system that will allow you to store your files safely and in a way where you will know where they are. I personally find that my best method is to have a separate hard drive in my PC devoted entirely to bulk storage- allowing me to reformat and play around on my main hard drive without worrying about where my other files are. This also often saves my rear when I destroy Windows in some way or other.
Oh yes, and if you do decide to optimize your computer, as one geek to another, keep or rollback to Windows XP if at all humanly possible. Despite recent advertisements, Vista is not a productivity system whatsoever. Worst case scenario, if you cannot find XP drivers for your system, consider some flavor of Linux.
6- Go to school- or get certificates for what you already know.
Unless you have already gone, if you are not currently in a form of College/University, you need to apply pronto. As I have often mentioned, High School educations simply do not cut it anymore for jobs- you need to specialize and be smarter. Some people can certainly find jobs after highschool because of their skill- but for the average joe, that sort of luck rarely comes. Get a degree in something- and study your ass off for a good GPA. There are many companies now that do not even briefly consider potential hires unless they have the minimum of a Bachelor’s degree.
Some people are surprised at the ridiculous amounts of accrediation you can get for very little work. Many certifications- computer certifications such as the A+ Certification, various personal trainer certifications, and other similar certificates can be had for relatively cheap. These boost a resume for virtually any job, and always provide an extremely good way to make extra cash on the side.
5- Make more money- put your skills to work.
As I mentioned above, easy skills can be a great cash crop. Personally, I have found that basic tech support and design work provide me a steady stream of extra money for clothes, dates, and other kinds of frivolities- as well as a great way to augment rent if I need to.
Your “skill” doesn’t even have to be something incredibly complex- there are many party planning companies and restaurants that sometimes need extra hosts. If you have the looks for it (or the lack of self-respect to do horrible fetish photography), modeling is a very reasonable way to make cash.
What I will say, though, is to be careful. From the work I’ve done, as well as hearing stories from friends, there are many scams that exist for temps- not paying the right amount, expecting more than they listed, and that sort of thing. Always have something in writing- even an e-mail or two confirming the job and the pay- to back yourself up.
4- Eat healthier- no more junk food, period.
There have been countless articles posted online and published in newspapers/magazines about junk food and it’s bad effects, yet it still is purchased by the proverbial truckload by the average family. This is ridiculous. While sweets and chips are fine in moderation, you may not really realize how many calories, grams of fat and grams of sugar you are ingesting every day from a casual snack- and how much effect it has on your system.
Eating poorly makes you sluggish, irritable, sleepy (but often makes it harder to actually fall asleep), sexually weak, and it can give you horrible skin. Worst of all, it makes you fat. Why eat it?
Eat junk food in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with having a bag of chips or a soda every now and then- just don’t go overboard. If you eat a lot of junk food (say, during a Christmas party), exercise it off- don’t consider it a lost cause. Sometimes, the best way to ensure you don’t eat it is to simply not buy it- and, in the long run, it will save you money, too.
3- Dress better- buy clothes that are eternally stylish.
Of course, this being a fashion website, we always love talking about new fashions and how to wear them- it’s our “thing”. The problem is, with the economy going to hell, it’s hard to buy good fashions that are actually affordable.
The answer to this is twofold. First off, go for sales. With the economy as bad as it is, many clotheirs are cutting back their prices and holding sales like crazy- take advantage of them. I’ve seen $300 jackets go for $50 this Christmas- a bad thing for retailers but a good thing for you.
The second part of the answer is that you should buy long-lasting, not transient, fashions. Well-made suits, leather shoes, high quality jeans, and nice coats are all the kinds of clothing that will last you years- so buy them well and in fashions that are established, not extremely cutting-edge. Modernize your wardrobe with a few small pieces, but largely keep yourself traditional in fit and style- doing so will allow the clothing to truly last years, rather than look outdated in one or two.
2- Start a weekly exercise routine- preferably three times a week.
The reverse of junk food- exercising makes you look good and feel good. Beyond just being fit, exercising will make you look better (both in clothing and naked), it will give you more energy, allow you to focus more, and in general will make you a better person overall.
Of course, don’t get into a “rut” by focusing exclusively on weight lifting or running- branch out and make your routine encompass a little bit of everything. Fundamentally, you should try working on a little bit of the “big three”- strength, stamina, and flexibility- by finding activities and exercises to promote all three, rather than one or two. If you exclusively weight lift, try to build in some cardio as well- you’ll find it beneficial both to your weight lifting stamina and to help slim fat off your body- and if you do nothing but cardio, try weight lifting to blast away pudginess and show lean muscle off.
1- Manage your money.
Obviously, I’ve been mentioning money a lot this post, and number one is all about money.
No matter how old you are or what financial situation you are in, it is imperitive that you begin to manage your money closely. Know where your money is coming from and where it is going- and keep it from blasting away on ridiculous expenditures.
One very important thing all people over 18 should work on is building credit. Even if you do not need one, having a credit card (and using it for a small expenditure monthly) is a great way to build up a credit score and prove you can handle small term loans. This will help immensely in the future with larger loans- such as car loans or home loans- which often require you have a demonstrated history of, in colloquial terms, “trustability”.
Arguably the easiest way to manage your finances is to buy cheap and only when you must. Other than things you absolutely must have (groceries, a roof over your head, etc), there are many things you simply do not need to spend so much money on. If you can manage it, avoid paying monthly fees for video games, upper-tier cable channels, personal trainers, and other amenities, especially if you do not use them.
I’ve listed a ridiculous amount of pointers today, but my point is incredibly simple: manage yourself tightly this year. 2009 is going to be a year of tight funds and even tighter employers- so you will have to bend to avoid breaking, if you pardon the metaphor. I can guarantee that even if you pick up one of these resolutions, 2009 will be just a little bit simpler- and hopefully, we’ll all survive just a bit better than the next guy.
June 16th, 2008
Let’s face it, a lot of us are poor. Well, not eat-off-the-floor poor, but the vast majority of us aren’t rolling in cash, and many of us find ourselves in a position where we have to find money- and manage that money well lest we starve. And, as our forums show, many of us are college students with one big issue: Money.
So, in the interest of answering some questions and collecting some ideas, here’s a quick list of habits that will help you survive college life without major debt. Unfortunately, no answer will make your tuition debts completely go away, but… we can imagine.
Basic College Life
- Stay in a school that has what you want: remember, it’s not much different than hiring a service. Don’t get caught up in the concept of sticking at a school because of arbitrary means (such as “I like the name” or something like that). Remember: You are (probably) paying an exorbitant amount of money to attend- work hard for what you want, and if it’s not what you want, go somewhere else.
- Be wary of clubs and organizations. Don’t hide from them by any means, but some groups and organizations on campus (ESPECIALLY Fraternities and Sororities) expect dues to the tune of $1,000 USD or more. Either prepare for it or stay far away.
- Avoid going out to bars. Trust me, even if you like that scene, plenty of parties will have free beer in one form or another, and you don’t need the alcohol THAT badly. Modern bartenders take your credit card hostage and charge like there’s no tomorrow- they do so for their own safety, which is fine, but it also keeps you from realizing how much expensive crap you’ve guzzled down.
- Get good grades and keep out of trouble. You will be eligible for school-sponsored scholarships if you do- stuff that can knock the price off significantly.
- Become a “Scholarship Whore”. Apply to everything you hear about. While it’s taxing, you can do it in your free time. Who knows, you might get something.
- Take the PLSAT/PGMAT/Whatever as much as possible. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out your scores, and it’s a good way to figure out where you stand for both graduate school and some of your college strengths. Expect it to be rough- the PLSAT is roughly the equivelant of mental molestation, and the PGMAT even more so- but you need to take it. Most colleges let you take it for free.
- Stay off of JuicyCampus and other gossip rags. Some colleges have been known to severely punish students for doing such things.
- Avoid excessive spending. You do not need a 50″ plasma screen in a 10′x10′ room. Similarly, you do not need to walk around in the latest fashions driving a Porsche. Most people in college are too busy to care.
- Take advantage of free stuff on campus. Often, colleges will hold various free seminars and functions for students. This can range from being able to hear a famous speaker to getting a 100% free Flu shot. Keep your eyes peeled.
- Network like crazy. Your first job may come from someone you met in college- so don’t dismiss the idea of talking to everyone you can and networking with as many professionals as you can handle. Even taking business cards is a good start.
- Figure out your Library policy and abuse it. Taking an English class with 20 books and you have no money? The Library will probably have copies- and some older texts can be found online. Similarly, services like JSTOR and LexisNexis are usually free on student networks- abuse them if you can.
- Mass Print in “Fast Draft” mode. If you have it, use this mode for any/all required readings you have to print out. Your printer will thank you when it doesn’t have to chug out 300DPI scans of some stupid report (I know this, I killed a new printer in under 6 months doing this).
- Even if you feel academically confident, still use free tutoring services. If you have the free time, why not? It’s free lessons. Double up the time someone’s instructing you on a subject you are poor at and you have a hell of a lot better chance of passing. On many campuses, it’s free.
- Re-use notebooks or use loose leaf, if you can. Don’t waste the money to buy a huge notebook just to constantly scrabble “This Professor Is An Idiot” all over the first three pages to never use the notebook again.
- Hungry? Find a party or a gathering and feign interest. The moral nature of doing such a thing is questionable, but crazy political interest nutcases can make a good burger.
- Cut back on the Soda, Red Bull, and Vitamin Water. It’ll make you fat- even Vitamin Water (check the label if you don’t believe me). The worst thing is, that kinda stuff tends to make you jumpy and retarded. From personal experience, studying and drinking nothing but Red Bull (and eating Gummi Worms) for two days straight gives you Kafka-esque hallucinations.
- You can go cheaper than the cafeteria. Most upperclassmen learn this quick: get the minimum meal plan and buy stuff on your own. Cafeteria food gets old, and it obviously is kinda pricy for what you get. Cans of soup, sandwiches, and similar items are equally as tasty and are much cheaper. Hell, if you live off campus, brown-bag it.
- Don’t smoke or drink alcohol if you can avoid it. Yes, it sounds prudish, but that stuff is insanely expensive.
- Living off campus may be cheaper in the long run. Do some searching when such an option is available- as crazy as it sounds, it may be cheaper to share an apartment with some friends (or even go on your own) rather than staying in a dorm.
- Fight for a dorm room you want. Many colleges charge roughly the same for a triple, double, and single dorm room, so fight for the one you want. Raising hell, within reason, can result in nice extras.
- Mooch. If you have roommates, more than likely they will have various other things you may need- such as televisions, new video games, etc.- if you split up the costs in the long run, everyone will have the same enjoyment without the high costs.
- Use the Library for movies and games. Check your library- they may have more interesting things than you think. Many Professors seem to have a love of modern movies (mainly for “teaching”, in the loosest term), so many libraries stock up with the newest films. It’s a lot cheaper than renting.
- Keep the place clean. Damage bills can be ridiculous.
- Make friends with the IT guys, if you can. Please an IT guy sufficiently and you will magically find yourself with more bandwidth and more blind eyes to your browsing habits.
- Carpool. Don’t go off on solo trips if you can. If you live in a dorm, no doubt some friends will need food too- everyone can pitch in for gas and collectively save money.
- Be frugal about laundry. Many articles of clothing can admittedly be worn multiple days- and when you do laundry, avoid using tons of detergent.
- Lock your credit cards away. If you play your cards right, there will be few times you will genuinely need a credit card, especially on campus.
- STAY AWAY FROM ON-CAMPUS LENDING GROUPS. If you do decide to utilize them, be CAREFUL. Many of these groups are rather predatory, meaning if you are too loose with your funds they will tear your credit history to shreds before you even graduate.
- Read the terms of the “Campus Cash” (or equivalent) deals. Many colleges allow you to place money on your ID card for miscellaneous purchases, such as for drinks and the like. Some do not allow this money to “roll over” to the next semester/year. If that is the case, either put as little as you can on there, or buy everything in sight right before the year ends.
- Shop around for financing options for your tuition loan. Various states offer different things- even the federal government gets involved on occasion. Shop around.
Getting Extra Cash
- Sign up to be a tech adviser/repairman on campus. Trust me, they don’t need A+ Certified pseudo-geniuses- most campuses hire general “Dorm Techs” to do the basic work (like plugging in Ethernet cables). You can be paid for this.
- Find a job in your major department. This is the ideal- not only do you get money, but you get offhand learning experience AND the opportunity to bond with your Professors.
- Find a job ANYWHERE on campus. Most colleges will hire you and then work around your class schedule, which is amazingly great.
- Do miscellaneous things for students on campus. One of the brightest ideas I’ve heard in a while is that the makeup group Mary Kay is hiring girls on campus to sell to girls on campus. That’s a money machine. While I doubt you can go around hawking makeup, there are many similar things you can do.
May 8th, 2008
Another question from the readers:
Hello, I’m starting to get out on my own, and I’m heading off to college next semester. One of my co-workers has suggested that I get put on the books so that I can start to establish my own credit history. Honestly, I don’t know anything about credit, credit scores, or credit history, so I turn to you guys to hopefully steer me in the right direction to manage the meager amount of money I’m going to have as a college student.
Your coworker is actually pretty sharp. Credit histories take some time to build up (properly, at least), so it’s good to have a general game plan when you enter College.
When you enter College, you will probably get an insane amount of credit card applications- even from your college. While it’s something of an ethically questionable practice, many colleges (especially private ones) connect with local banking institutions to provide their students access to credit cards and banking resources. That being said, now is the time to start building up a credit history, it just has to be done carefully.
Here’s what I recommend: Get a credit card and use it only once a month for a meal or something. Credit cards are massive pains (and many argue against their existance as a whole), but you generally need them for various purchases, so it’s important to play the game early and build up a reputation (which is manifest in your credit history). However, as I’m sure you’ll notice in college, you can easily way overcharge crap on your credit card and get into massive debt- and it can ruin your future job opportunities. Too many people graduate from College with huge amounts of debt- debt from credit cards AND tuition.
Long story short, get a credit card to “officially” be using their services, but never use it except once a month (so it stays active) and pay it off immediately. If you need to carry a card with you, carry a debit card- and only when you absolutely must. While you will build up your credit history, you will stay out of debt, and essentially begin earning free services from the credit card company. Naturally, the company will be making SOME money off you (off of the people you buy from, rather), but in the long run, they’ll be giving you a free ride to a solid credit history.
So far as general money management, it isn’t that hard so long as you learn to budget and watch yourself:
- Drinking in college is expensive and stupid. Nowadays, bartenders will actually expect you to hand them your credit card and let them charge away as you drink away. If you want to drink, go to parties or whatever and grab what’s free. This also applies with food and “major/minor parties”, though professors will get angry at you for that (I know this from experience).
- Some campuses will be more expensive than others. On some, living on-campus is cheap, others will charge you an arm and a leg to do so. Figure out what’s cheap- if you live off campus close enough to bike, then you can save lots of money- always check prices.
- Avoid nasty fees. Private universities love to tack on “bad” parking charges and/or food charges to make up what they spend on the football team, so avoid bad practices.
- Build a budget and stick by it. Let’s face it, all you really need is food, water, clothing, a roof, and, in college, an internet connection. I’m not supposed to really say this, but you can download so much stuff now, it’s useless to buy most entertainment-related things.
So there you have it. I kept it fairly simple, but hopefully it should be straightforward enough to help. Good luck!
March 29th, 2008
I really enjoy having lots of video games, posters, and all sorts of other stuff available to me. But sometimes, it’s a bit too much. At this point, virtually every average joe has a DVD collection of some kind, a game console or two, and some general crap that just needs to be organized. Here is 8 ways to do that.
8. Let everything have a “place”‘
nuff said- your gaming stuff belongs in a specific location, your books in another, etc. One of the biggest flaws of most pads is that they tend to mix up in one jumble- avoid it. If you have work or schoolwork in your place, make sure it is in a special location where you know where to find it.
This makes sense both from a physical and mental perspective. If you know where things are, you will naturally not only be able to find them better, but it will begin to make sense- and you will feel less overwhelmed when it comes to general clutter. It’s always much easier to mentally “know” when it’s time to work when you go to your desk with your paperwork on it- or when it’s time to screw off when you go to your couch to play a video game.
7. Open up floorspace
This is simple- get rid of tables and things that obstruct your ability to walk around freely in your place. Never stick chairs and other objects in your way- not only is it a safety hazard, but it’s just stupid. If you can’t walk from one end of a room to another with some path without tripping over something (or having to step over it), then you have a problem. All this requires is a bit of reorganization.
6. Make those decorations classy, not crappy
Repeat after me: Posters should never be taped to the wall, nailed to the wall, stapled to the wall, or otherwise stuck on a bare wall.
Poster frames are cheap and easy to acquire- use them. If you like having movie posters around, get the ones you like and get decent quality frames- it will look leagues better and less college student-esque. More so, avoid going overboard on other forms of wall decorations- the general rule of thumb is, nothing out of a magazine you tear out, and think stylistically before fanatically. As spartan as that sounds, it will help.
5. Get better, more suited furniture
Ditch the childish “gaming chairs” and related junk. You do not need a special “gamer edition” desk to properly enjoy video games- you just look like an idiot. If you are over 15 years old, inflatable chairs are childish. Similarly, never use multipurpose furniture (see: folding tables) for furniture- it looks bad and unprepared.
I do know furniture is expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it. There’s nothing stupider than seeing a 20-something with a living room comprised of bean bag chairs.
4. Pack and store away (or throw away) stuff you don’t need
Box it and toss it, give it away, or put it away. Some things (winter clothes during summer, various photo albums or the like) don’t need to be out all of the time- so put it away, label it, and don’t worry about it. If you don’t intend to wear an article of clothing again, donate it to charity. Shit, if you have furniture you don’t like, donate THAT to charity.
3. Toss old game consoles, emulate
We all love old games- however, it’s come to the point when none of us can really fit a NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, PS1/2, Dreamcast, and XBOX into our everyday lives. The nice thing? All of what I listed (and more) can now be emulated with a decent computer with some good tinkering, and you can enjoy your games on one system.
This takes a bit of work, but pays off for it in the long run. While it may limit your ability to play multiplayer, the ease of getting many good multiplayer games via new consoles makes it ridiculously simple to enjoy old games with friends. You can easily set up an emulator on your existing PC, or even go so far as to make a cheap Linux box for your media center that plays all your favorite games- it all works. And it’s all sweet, and a lot easier than having a ton of stuff crammed into your cabinets.
2. Get organizing solutions
Stop jamming clothing into boxes, DVDs into random bags, and books into drawers. If you enjoy making a collection, it should be no surprise that you need to invest in good ways to organize your collection- ways that don’t risk you losing your stuff, or even worse, harming it due to improper storage.
There are plenty of storage solutions for anything you might have- from CDs to DVDs to anything in between. For DVDs, invest in shelving that specifically fits DVDs as closely as possible. For books, invest in typical shelving, but make sure it can hold the weight of the collective books. For clothing, get a nice dresser or shelving solution, and never neglect your closet- get uniform, nice-quality wooden hangers.
Let’s put it this way- if you don’t keep it organized, you might lose it. And that would suck.
1. Sell old technology for better stuff
One of the silliest things I’ve seen in recent days is someone who had a fairly powerful PC (8000 series nVidia, etc) using a huge rear-projection television at 1024×768 for “hardcore gaming”.
Old technology is big, bulky, and most important of all, useless. Unless you are a collector, there is no reason why you should have hundred pound CRT monitors or large bulky PC cases. Sell what you have and spend the cash getting something nice and worthwhile. For example, large rear-projection TV sets can sell for $400 or more- the same amount of cash you could use on a sweet 1080p flatscreen. Similarly, huge off-white PC cases can easily be replaced by a tech for smaller, sleeker cases that don’t take up a desk of their own- it isn’t expensive or hard.
Yes, this does require a bit of cash, but it’s worth it.
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