I'm heading off on my two-week vacation, and I am so excited!
Millionaire Mommy Next Door has generously offered to host the Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance, so you can stop by and see it this Thursday the 23rd. (Submit your posts here!) It'll be back here on September 6th.
I may or may not sneak in a post or two from abroad, depending on what kind of internet access I get and what sort of inspiration strikes me. But I will definitely be back Monday night September 3rd and ready to start posting again after that. In the meantime, if you don't want to keep checking back here to see if I've posted, now is a great time to subscribe to my feed or sign up to get posts by e-mail:
Monday, August 20, 2007
I'm heading off on my two-week vacation, and I am so excited!
Posted by Britt at 8/20/2007 09:32:00 AM
Friday, August 17, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Saturday, August 11, 2007
One fantastic way to have a good time at little or no cost is star-gazing. Whether you make it a romantic couple's night, a family affair, a gathering with friends or an opportunity for solo enjoyment, it can be a truly special experience.
One of my favorite childhood memories is lying in the front yard in the dark with my dad and sister, looking at the constellations and watching for shooting stars. We did all sorts of stargazing and amateur astronomy, but the Perseid meteor shower every August was always a favorite. And this weekend it comes around again. We're very lucky this year, because the Perseids' peak (Sunday night the 13th, although Saturday night is good too, and the meteors will continue through August 22) matches up with the new moon, meaning a darker sky and great visibility.
But while there's something particularly wonderful about shooting stars, there's a lot to enjoy about the night sky whether or not there's a meteor shower going on. Here are some tips to make your stargazing experience memorable, for the Perseids this weekend and in general:
- Minimize light pollution. If you live somewhere relatively rural, this may just mean turning out all the lights in your house and stretching out in the yard, or finding a local park. If you're in a city, it may involve more of a trip. Of course, if you can't get away from the city, you can still enjoy the sky, there'll just be less visibility.
- Figure out the best direction to go to put the city lights behind you. For example, the Perseids are in the northeast sky, so you'd want to head northeast; if you went southwest, you'd have to face back towards the city to see the meteors.
- Dress in layers. Even in August it can get chilly at night, so make sure you're warm enough. You don't want to be distracted from the skies by the temperature. Hats are especially helpful for keeping your body heat in. Warm blankets are nice too!
- Stock up on good food and drinks. Hot cocoa, sandwiches, pretzels, chocolate chip cookies... whatever your pleasure, it makes the experience more complete.
- Stay away from alcohol and tobacco, though-- they impair your night vision.
- Try playing music. You may prefer the sounds of nature, or of good conversation, but music can also be a fine accompaniment to stargazing.
- Bring the bug repellent. You will be spending an hour or two outside, after all.
- Do some research ahead of time. What constellations will be visible? What planets will be in the sky? Where in the night sky can you see them, and when? Find some star charts online (or take out books from the library).
- Use a red light (some red plastic over an ordinary flashlight works), if you're bringing reading materials to reference. It makes it easier for your eyes to stay adjusted to the dark.
- Pick the right time of night. Depending on what you're looking for, timing can make a big difference. For example, you can see the Perseids best between midnight and dawn. The constellations and planets will rise and set at different times throughout the year. And in its first quarter phase the Moon rises early-- good for inspecting its craters, bad for picking up stars in the surrounding sky-- while it rises late during the third quarter.
- Bring binoculars, if you have them. Telescopes have greater magnifying power, but binoculars work well too, and are cheaper and easier to use. With basic 7x binoculars you can see craters on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter, and many more stars than with the naked eye.
- Learn the stories behind the constellations. This is especially fun to share with kids, but enjoyable for adults too. The most familiar stories are the Greek and Roman ones, but nearly every culture has stories about the constellations, many of which are much more interesting!
- Understand the real story of what you're seeing. For example, meteor showers come when the earth orbits through the debris of a comet-- in the case of the Perseids, Comet Swift-Tuttle-- and the debris burns up in the atmosphere, causing "shooting stars." The Pleiades star cluster has 7-14 stars to the naked eye but about 500 in total! The scientific stories of astronomy are often just as interesting as the mythological ones.
- Count the meteors, if you're so inclined. Some people feel it's distracting, but it can be fun to keep track of what you saw and perhaps enjoy a friendly competition with your companions. For the Perseids, you ought to be able to see roughly one shooting star per minute.
- Take pictures. This only works well for meteor showers if you can set your camera for an exposure of several seconds or more, but if you catch a meteor shooting across your screen it's well worth it. For meteors and anything else in the sky, you'll do best if you can use a tripod and/or set your camera to take the picture without touching the button, so you don't shake the camera. Experiment with astrophotography and have fun!
- Take advantage of meteor showers and other special events. Besides the Perseids in August, other big showers include the Leonids every November and the Geminids in December. Other celestial events include eclipses and "opposition," when planets are at their closest and largest in the night sky.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Hi folks, and welcome to the Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance! Without further ado, let's get to the posts:Editor's Choice:
- Patrick presents Slot Machine Pays Out 10 Times Too Much - Is It Stealing? posted at Cash Money Life. This one really made me think!
Values and Priorities
- Millionaire Mommy Next Door presents Frugal Millionaires? The Key To Wealth Accumulation posted at Millionaire Mommy Next Door
- ChristianPF presents Was Jesus a tightwad? posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog.
- Silicon Valley Blogger presents Who Buys Fake Goods? Plus How To Spot Counterfeit Products posted at The Digerati Life.
- bdurfee presents Don't Even Get Rich Quick posted at Thinking-Rich.com
- ISPF presents Condemning Our Future Generations To Be Born With A Plastic Spoon In Their Mouth? posted at Grad Money Matters.
- Betsy Teutsch presents Kids' Birthday Parties: Parents! Get a Grip!
- Steve Faber presents - How to Save Money on Your Kids posted at DebtBlog.
- Jimmy Atkinson presents How Will My Divorce Affect My Credit? posted at Ask the Advisor.
Business and Ethics:
- Charles H. Green presents IQ, EQ and the Next Billion Banking Consumers posted at Trust Matters.
- Leon Gettler presents How to prepare codes of ethics posted at Sox First.
- Warren Wong presents My Partner?s Not Doing Enough Work! posted at Personal Development for INTJs.
- edithyeung presents The Money Series – How to Manage and Maintain your Bank Account? posted at Edith Yeung.Com: Dream. Think. Act..
- Sagar Satapathy presents All You Need is Love and a Good Financial Plan: 17 Finance Tips from the Beatles posted at Credit Card Lowdown..
- Eric Hudin presents My Estate Planning Career Blog » Blog Archive » Selecting a Good Trustee - Factors to Consider When Choosing a Trustee posted at My Estate Planning Career Blog.
- Frugal Panda presents Frugal Summers: 101 Ways to Entertain Yourself and Your Family posted at Frugal Panda.
Okay, now here's an important announcement for next time-- two weeks from today, I will be on vacation, so we need someone else to host on August 23rd if we want a carnival that day. Otherwise I will be hosting the next edition on September 6th. Either way,
submit your posts here.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Want to give 4-10% back on your online purchases to the cause of your choice, at no extra cost to you? Check out Rovr, a plug-in for Firefox (the IE version is coming soon, apparently).
Rovr takes advantage of websites' affiliate programs by directing the kicked-back earnings towards a beneficiary of the shopper's choice (from amfAR Aids Research to freecycle to Hillel to Code Pink to Rainforest Action Network to AlterNet, and many more.)
When you shop at any of dozens of eligible websites-- including heavy hitters like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Overstock.com, Buy.com, CompUSA, etc-- this little guy shows up in the upper left corner of the site:
You can click on the icon to change your beneficiary organization, get info about your previous purchases, change your settings, etc. Once you make a purchase, Rovr will insert the affiliate code for your beneficiary of choice, and the retailer sends its percentage to said beneficiary.
Unfortunately, a lot of the participating websites are big corporate sites, although Rovr does include Alibris, an online network of local independent bookstores which is a good alternative to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. Rovr is very new, though, so I'm confident that in time it'll expand to other cool independent options. And they feature a catchphrase that's "bad for business" but warms my heart:
Buy less. Buy local. But online, make every purchase count.
Exactly! I'm not urging anyone to shop Amazon.com for the sake of using Rovr. But if you've already made your mind up to buy something there, why not send a buck or two to a good case while you're at it?
Sunday, August 05, 2007
In Part 1, we looked at the environmental records of the big gas companies. In Part 2, we'll consider how they treat their workforce, before moving on to Part 3 which will explore their human rights records.
Only one gas company makes it into Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list-- Valero Energy, which comes in at #22. According to Fortune, Valero has 11 of the top 23 safest refineries in the U.S. offers 100% health insurance to all its employees, and has never laid off a worker. [Valero also does business as Shamrock, Diamond Shamrock, Ultramar, Becaon, and Total.]
Discrimination and Justice
Back in this post I talked about the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, which looks at U.S. companies' record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Here's a more detailed look at the gas companies on the list:
- 100 (perfect score): BP America and Chevron
- 85: Shell
- 78: Conoco
- 0: ExxonMobil
- ExxonMobil is one of only three companies on the whole 446-company list with a score of zero; actually, its point total added up to -5, but HRC doesn't give sub-zero scores.
- Sunoco and Valero are unrated but there is information in HRC's website database that suggests they would fall somewhere in the middle on the rankings.
- Valero includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression in its non-discrimination policy, and extends a whole host of benefits to same-sex partners.
- Sunoco has a similar non-discrimination policy (sexual orientation is included, gender identity is not) but no domestic partner benefits.
- In 1996 Texaco's $170 million settlement became the largest racial discrimination settlement to date. (The gender discrimination lawsuit was settled in 1999 for $3.1 million.) Texaco has apparently made significant progress in the years since.
- In 2004 Sunoco settled a racial discrimination lawsuit for $5.5 million; Sunoco settled a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the Deparment of Labor for $250,000 in 2000.
An explosion at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 people in 2005, and an after-the-fact OSHA investigation found over 300 health and safety violations. By some measures, BP's safety record is the worst in its industry (including the highest number of fatalities), although BP claims that some of the measures used by critics are flawed... here's one exploration if you're interested.
Valero is seen as a leader on worker health and safety; however, there are still injuries and deaths at its refineries as well.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
One of the great things about summer (and spring, and fall, depending where you live) is the ability to go out and enjoy a great picnic in some lovely spot near you. And one thing I find is that the more I picnic, the less I eat out at restaurants, which translates into some nice savings over the course of a few months.
What are the reasons for going out to eat? At least for me, a lot of it is about the change of scenery, doing something different and more enjoyable than the usual meal at home. Leaving the house and breaking the routine turns a meal with a loved one into a date night, something special to share together. The atmosphere in a nice restaurant feels attractive, relaxing, indulgent.
But I find I can get a lot of the same feeling out of picknicking, too. Sitting in a scenic spot in a park, by a beautiful fountain or lake or garden, makes lunch or dinner instantly out-of-the-ordinary. Sitting outside with my boyfriend without the distractions of home gets us focusing on ourselves and the experience. Meeting friends for a picnic is a fun way to socialize that doesn't involve any of us having to host at home. Munching on food in the sunshine and fresh air is a treat in itself.
Of course, part of the allure of dining out is replacing the work of preparing a nice meal at home with the luxury of someone else making it for you. But sandwiches are easy and taste great outside, especially if you use good bread. All sorts of great salads, whether based on veggies, fruits, pasta or potatoes, are pretty easy too and can even be made ahead of time. And if it's spur-of-the-moment, you don't have the right ingredients at home and/or you just don't want to be bothered, you can stop by a grocery store or deli and pick up some ready-made food there.
How often do you picnic? Do you substitute it for going to restaurants? And, of course, please share your favorite picnic foods/recipes!