Friday, October 31, 2008

Holiday Hack - Hallower Part II + Diet Tips

This post is a follow up to yesterday's post, which offered three resources to use when planning an extra special halloween. Here are just a few hacks covering some different aspects of the same general topic:
  • Pumpkin Carving 101 - This is a great site containing any information you'd ever want about pumpkin carving. Not only does it include information on actually cutting the pumpkin, but it also explains the activity's history, gives neat tricks and ideas to use, and has a photo archive of some stunning works.
  • Halloween Tips - This links to halloween jokes to use wherever you may go to night. These are a great way to spur conversation or humour at a party.
  • Fearful Films - Here's a list of horror flicks perfect for tonight. The movies are categorized by specialty and you can choose from your favorite.
  • My Great Kid - This blog includes a number of links to hacks not mentioned here. This is a great place to look for fresh ideas.
  • Halloween-Website - This links to seven recipes for fake blood for those deadset on looking gruesome tonight.
Of course, candy and sweets are an important part of the holiday. The most important thing to remember when eating is simply to use moderation and eat to content. Still, here are a few tips to keep diet slips to a minimum:
  • Set a candy limit and stick to it
  • Pace yourself - You could even set rules such as one small piece per hour.
  • Eat calorically sparse foods earlier in the day - A good way to do this would be to focus on lean protein and vegetables.
Finally, control yourself but enjoy the night. Have a good Halloween.

Post-Script: Did you end up using any of these hacks?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Holiday Hack - Halloween Part 1

There are a number of different areas to consider in order to make one's Halloween better, spookier, wilder, even healthier. Costumes, candy, jack-o-lanterns, and more are should all be taken into account when planning for a great day. Here are just a few useful tricks and tips to use tomorrow, with more to come tomorrow in part two:
  • How 2 Heroes - This website videos and narrates the process of carving of pumpkin pictured above. The carver offers insight and personal anecdotes on the experience.
  • Lifehacker - The reader's of the well-known site share various costumes they've created, describing the different steps in detail. You can also check out the post's backlinks which offer hacks I won't get into mentioning. Here is just one of many spook-tacular costumes:
    • Instructables - This resource reveals how to create "realistic facial prosthesis," picturing and explaining each step of the process. The article specifically references this prosthesis:
    Tomorrow, I'll conclude this post with part two, filled with more hacks and also dietary tips for the day. Moreover, after the election, I'll continue and regularly update my "Health Hack" series.

    Post-Script: So what are you doing for Halloween?

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Political Hack - Obama Relations/TV Special

    I realize my posts have been getting a tad repetitive, even monotonous. Keep in mind though that I'm writing with the intent to keep you completely informed. Being over prepared for a decision which will dictate your country's course for the next four years - not including probably repercussions of government actions - is hardly a predicament. Nonetheless, this post is going to be less about a "political hack" and more so on the topic of Barack Obama's genealogy and television special.
    One unexploited way in which John McCain could further distance himself from George Bush, would be to state the obvious in that he is not of blood relations to the president - unlike Obama. As strange as it may sound, the Senator from Chicago is a distant relative of both the former and current Bush presidents. More startling is the fact that Obama's "connections" don't end there. A study by the New England Historic Genealogical Society revealed the presidential candidate "can call six US presidents his cousins: both Bushes, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman and James Madison. The society, a non-profit organisation, found he is also related to Churchill"(Source). Brad Pitt and Madonna are also among Obama’s connections, altogether trumping McCain’s family. In fact, McCain cannot claim relations to even one former president. For further reading on the genealogy of the two candidates, check:

    As many of you may have heard or even watched, the Obama campaign aired a television special tonight, renting out several major networks, such as NBC, CBS, and Fox. “Barack Obama: American Stories,” culminated with Senator Obama delivering a final argument for his candidacy, while also giving him a platform to address certain political issues. Here, you can watch as much of the 27 minute video as you desire.

    Tomorrow, I’m going to be posting the first article in a series of “Holiday Hacks.” It will concern tricks, tips, and entertaining ideas for this Halloween including directions for carving jack-o-lanterns and making spooky costumes. Don’t be spooked if Friday is on the same topic. Then as final run for this election, Saturday through Tuesday I’ll be discussing a few more “political hacks” and voting tips.

    Here's a preview for tomorrow: "Obam-a-Lantern"

    Post-Scripts: What are you dressing up as for Halloween?

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Political Hack - Choosing Your President

    As mentioned in the last several posts, there is still a disconcerting number of undecided voters, now with just seven days until the election. To add to this fact, Newsweek declared in this week's magazine that there are some 75 million uninformed voters who can be easily swayed by the media or the propaganda they encounter. Whether you are undecided, unsure, or even deadset on your choice for president, Scott Ber Kun details the crucial steps of the process in his post "How to Pick a President." Kun begins the article with a brief overview of election history and important facts that his reader should ascertain. There are several gems in the article, as well as overlooked, but nonetheless important aspects to consider such as:
    • Voting Mistakes - For instance, Kun points out the faults in "voting for self-interest" and giving to much "weight to superficial things."
    • Decoding Political Coverage - This offers insight on analyzing the often biased media we encounted on daily basis and more.
    • The Decisiong-Making Process - Kun describes the necessary steps to finish with a worthy, fulfilling choice.
    Kun closes with an invaluable action to consider before voting, but I'll let you discover that yourselves.

    Post-Script: All followers say "I".

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Political Hack - Three Resources for the Undecided

    Tomorrow starts the one week countdown until the election and Obama is ahead in the polls with a sizeable lead. Still, the majority of political analysts argue that McCain has a chance on November 4th. Due to reasons ranging from a large number of undecided voters to the Tom Bradley effect, the current polls mean very little. 
    In the case that you are one of these undecided voters, here are a few links to helpful and interesting voting hacks, along with an informative article on the topic of the health care plans of each candidate.
    • Google US Voter Info: Using this special application of google maps, you can check the voting sites nearest you. It shows not only their locations, but each site's distance from your home or work address. Finally, after choosing your polling station, you can easily search and print step by step directions.
    • Political Streams: Apparently, the ATF just uncovered an assassination plot which targeted Barack Obama, as well as several other african-american political figures. Shocking and sickening, I only uncovered this information because of a site called Poltical Streams. The service is made available by Microsoft Live Labs, keeping tabs on breaking political news in four major categories. It tracks news, blogs, people, and places attention, delivering them in an easy to read interface and with nifty markers indicating popularity and "freshness".
    • Health Care Comparison: An increasingly important topic in this election - which was scantly covered in the televised debates - is that of healthcare. It is ultimately a government sector which will have large, lasting reprocutions on all US citizens. Therefore, take the initiative and become educated on the promised health plans of each candidate. 
    Remember to check the previous political hacks as well, as they will help in you decision making process.

    Post-Script: How are you voting? Absentee? Early? Standard? Etc...

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Political Hack – Discover and Compare Presidential Candidates

    The election is a mere nine days away now, yet there are still a plethora of undecided voters. Many voters will not finalize their choice until the day of the election when they are forced to make a decision. The reasons for holding out on a verdict are wide-ranging and plentiful. Appallingly, some simply do not take the time or effort to research their options. Being informed of the policies and promises of the potential presidents is key in making an educated and satisfying vote. If you are one of the many who have not committed to a particular candidate (or to not vote), consider using two useful resources to learn about and compare your choicse.

    Google runs its own comparison website called In Quotes. The site archives thousands of quotes of Barack Obama and John McCain and lets users search their database, sorting the information into select categories. Such a website is very useful when comparing the opinions of the two candidates. It is especially valuable in that it has quotes not just from this election year, but since 2003. Therefore, a person can look at how a candidate’s stance on an issue has changed in time, and more importantly, in response to the election. If you’re not a US citizen, you can also benefit from the site by using it for elections in other countries such as Canada or India.

    Another different but nonetheless useful website is that of Select Smart. The resource not only documents the opinions, history, and voting records of the presidential candidates on a broad range of issues, but also does the same for non-presidential figures. The list includes political leaders such as Senator Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg (New York), and Libertarian Bob Barr. You are also given the option to put two policymakers head to head and analyze the histories of each.

    These are just two of a number of political resources and hacks available for this election. There will be several more “political hacks” before the election and post-election articles regarding the subject when helpful.

    Post-Script: Who are you voting for and why? 

    Political Hack - Get Paid (Or Time Off) to Vote

    It's almost frightening to think that roughly half of all eligible voters in the United States didn't vote in the last two presidential elections (Source #1). 48.7% and 44.7% of the group neglected a chance to influence their government, and in turn, their own lives, in the 2000 and 2004 elections, respectively.  In actuality, many ignore this opportunity for good reason. In one-sided states such as California, there simply are better things to do than take the time to vote. School, work, and even fun take precedent over the voting process. Statistically, just less than 50% of non-voters disregarded the privilege due to conflicts or believing that their vote would not matter in the November 1998 elections (Source #2). Additionally, there are those who dislike the selected candidates and therefore withhold their ballot. If you are going to vote or are looking for a reason to, you'd benefit from checking your states "employee voting rights." 

    Many states are required to provide compensation to workers (time, money, or both) if they do, in fact, choose to vote. The laws vary between states, with benefits ranging from time off, to paid time off, to both. Moreover, the time is precise at somewhere in between one and four hours or is vague, labeled as “sufficient time to vote.” Unfortunately, a few states do not have any laws in place regarding voting and employee rights. Nonetheless, in most cases the laws are advantageous to employees. For instance, in my home state of California, voters are allowed two hours of paid leave to cast their ballot at the polls. The only requirement is that the person notifies his superior at least two days prior to the election. Wily voters could even vote absentee and either go into work late or leave early on November 4th. It is important that you research you’re states rules though, before planning a shortened day.

    For a full posting of your states' laws, you can check here.

    Post-Script: Who are you voting for and why?

    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Health Hack - "Whey Cheap" Supplements

    Before getting into a valuable resource to use when buying supplements, I want to preface the post with a warning. Very few physique-oriented supplements are, in fact, scientifically proven and able to live up to their claims. Therefore, it’s important to research and analyze any potential supplement purchases before following through with them. Jumping on a great discount is ultimately a poor choice if you’re left with an unneeded, useless product.   For example, NO products are a popular choice among today’s bodybuilding enthusiasts. While such products do enhance the “pump” one experiences in a workout, they do nothing to improve that person’s aesthetics or body composition. But I digress: I will eventually get into quality supplements and how to choose which one’s to use, but I’ll save that for a later date. I’ll also be posting more “health hacks” on topics including weight training, diet, and fitness tricks.

    Supplement stores and websites are aplenty in the times we live in. Still, some are better than others. One online store which goes largely unheard of is that of Whey Cheap. Unlike most retailers, Whey Cheap offers just one product each day – at a massively discounted price. For example, today the site offered a container of Scivation Xtend, discounted 63%, for just $12.99. Additionally, about two weeks ago, a 10lb container of Scivation Whey Protein ran for a mere $53.99.

    There are two minor caveats in using Whey Cheap to consider. The posted supplements aren’t always a bargain or even worth purchasing. Therefore, you should compare prices and determine if the product is indeed substantiated by science before acting. Also, there is a limit to the amount of a given supplement to sell each day. Therefore, be sure to check the site near each deal’s post time (2 pm on the west coast everyday). Regardless of its flaws, the possibility of buying a quality supplement at an unusually low price makes worth the few seconds it takes to check Whey Cheap each day.

    Post-Script: What do you want to learn about in regards to weight lifting, dieting (or gaining weight), and supplements?

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Resource Hack - Custom CD Cases

    With the resources and technology we have today, it's not uncommon to download most, if not all, of our new music off the internet. Going to a store and buying a cd is a thing of the past, as it is almost second nature for today's generation to obtain their tunes via the internet. Subsequent to downloading the music, of course, is burning copies of it for friends and family. Because today's cd's are generally bought in bulk without a case for each individual disk, plastic bags or envelopes are the default means of enclosement and transportation. Here's where a Paper CD Case comes in.

    The site offers a medium to make customizable paper cd cases which you can create and print right at your computer. The basic cover allows the user to choose the title, artist, up to 16 tracks, and the appearance of the case, while the advanced option adds a plethora of other aspects to alter. Additionally, the save and search features give you the ability to keep and therefore reuse any case projects you create, as well as the ability to browse through the site's archives. 

    Be it a present or favor or even a giveaway cd to promote one's own music pursuits, a memorable case adds a dimension of uniqueness and sentimentality that will be valued by all. This is especially worthwhile considering the little amount of time and expense the process takes.
    *Disclaimer - I do not condone the downloading or burning of illegal music.

    Post-Script: Do you guys have any ideas on things for me to look into and post about?

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Resource Hack - Printable Paper

    With the advancements and abilities of the technology we have today, it isn't unusual to go a day without writing anything down on actual paper. Instead, we have computers and blackberries and a number of other digitized tools to get down text, communicate, or read. Paper is not yet entirely extinct, though. There are times when being able to hand write or draw is best the way to do something. There are also situations when special types of paper are helpful or even a necessity: measured paper is helpful when needing precision in size of text while graph paper is needed for math problems or charts. 

    This brings me to a resource which bridges the golden age of technology with the stone age. The websites make it easy to print off different types of paper when need, rather than keeping stacks it unusued or going to the store to buy it.

    Printable Paper offers a wide variety of options ranging from lined paper with different spaced lines to graph paper with different sized boxes. More unique offerings include music paper, bowling score sheets, and dotted paper. Here is a screenshot of a few different options:

    Another similar, but nonetheless, great resource is that Print Free Graph Paper. The website allows a person to print customized paper according to four characteristics: type of graph paper, paper size, measuring units, and graph sizes.

    All in all, both websites can save both time and money while also freeing up precious office or home space otherwise used to store paper. I'd like to conclude in mentioning that this is the first in a number of Resource Hacks. There will be several more regarding paper aids, as well as resources in other areas.

    Post-Script: Was this helpful? Was it new or something you already knew about?

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Shopping Hack - Sam's Club Membership Deal

    I've been writing more news and entertainment posts than I initially planned, but I like the direction I've taken. I'm going to make sure to tie all posts into the goal of helping my audience - be it through having more information or resources or "hacks." I'm also going to be starting different "hack series" this next week with subjects such as health hacks, finance hacks, productivity hacks, and more. This post is the first of many in a series of shopping hacks. The series will range from everything from special deals to buying tips. 

    Wharehouse stores, such as Sam's Club, Costco, and BJ's (on the east coast), give customers an opportunity to buy in bulk and therefore save money. However, a shopper needs to take several factors into account before choosing which club to choose and the products they will buy at that club. He or she must also ponder whether the club's membership fee will ultimately be offset by the savings they receive. Basically, they need to plan to use the service enough to make it profitable. Recently, WalletPop detailed the total cost of a shopping trip at the three main clubs and showed BJ's coming out on top with Sam's Club trailing by a few pennies and Costco in a distant third. The article can be found here

    On that note, I want to share with you a new deal Sam's Club is offering. For the next 10 weeks, the membership price has been slashed to just $1 dollar per week for a 10-week trial (full membership is $40/year). This is a great way to try out the bulk buying system and see if you can save from it. Be smart, compare prices from different stores, find the best deals, and take advantage of the offer. Further details can be found here.

    I will go into more detail on how to buy in bulk in order to save money, as well as a more in depth comparison of the wholesale chains, but each are for future posts.

    Post-Script: For those of you who are members of a club: Do you find it profitable? What tips do you have to exponentiate savings?

    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    Internet Hack (In the Works) - Ubiquity

    This is going to be a relatively shorter post on a new web browser I came to learn about yesterday. This weekend I'll post at least one, if not two, in depth hacks.

    The aforementioned web tool is the beta browser Ubiquity for Firefox. It's an experiment and still underworks, but as far as I could tell, very promising. It will do things that no browser has done before. With innovation and creativity, it's going to revolutionize how we surf the internet, making the process easier, faster, and more dynamic. I admit, I did switch over to Google Chrome after being an avid Mozilla user for quite some time. Nonetheless, I believe I'll be quick to switch back for Ubiquity, as many will be. Here is a link to an overview of the browser which presents its goal and several new applications via video. 

    One more thing: Obama just gave a great, humourous speech at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner, which was aired live from New York. If you get a chance to see it, you will definately enjoy it. You can find it on youtube here.

    Post-Script: What do you guys think of the content and writing level of the log thus far?

    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Entertainment/News - Dustin Kensrue

    I know I said this next post would start the hacks and helpful content portion of the blog, however I'd like to clue the audience in on some new information regarding instead. I admit, I'm swaying from my original plan due to lack of time and too much work, but I do want to stay true to the 20 day trial I originally conceived. So without further adue: Thrice's singer Dustin Kensrue announced today that he's releasing his second solo album this November. This was a largely unadvertised and surprising move and I'm sure any fans reading this will be pleased.

    If you haven't listened to either Dustin Kensrue or his band, Thrice, I strongly suggesting trying them out. They have music for all types ranging from soft, slow songs to hard, heavy beats. The announcement can be read here, at the band's blog. 
    Stay tuned for the next post - an actual hack.

    Post-Script: For all Thrice fans: They're touring now and probably coming to a city near you if interested.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Entertainment/News - Philadelphia Mural Arts Project

    Fame, rebellion, self-expression, and power – the four motivational factors of graffiti artists. Graffiti is a problem in just about every large, populated city in the United States. Be it from gangs marking their stomping grounds or artists wanting to express themselves, city and private walls become canvases for both vandalism and occasionally, masterpieces. Regardless of the work created, the act is unacceptable and cities have been working for decades to keep their properties blemish free - and for good reason.

    According to Graffiti Hurts, it is the most common type of vandalism in America, with cleanup costs taking up a large part of local government budgets. For instance, Minneapolis, Minnesota spends upwards of $4 million each year in combat of such defacement. For the most part though, anti-graffiti budgets are spent on ineffective programs such as the graffiti hotline and free volunteer clean-up packages in San Jose.

    While browsing the recently, I came across a different way to fight the vandalism: with more graffiti. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project turns large, targeted walls into stunning paintings. By attacking paint with paint, and constructing monuments, Philadelphia has been and continues detering other from ruining the once worthless walls.

    Here is just one mural, called “The Peace Wall,” and completed in 1997:

    You can find a slideshow of different murals here, posted by the New York Times.

    Post-Script: With my next post, I’ll start getting into different hacks to help you in all areas of life.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Entertainment/News - A Change of Pace

    It’s true, the political policies and promises of both Senator Obama and Senator McCain should be the number one concern of American voters. Still, citizens care deeply about the morals and ethics of our future leader. With the election getting closer and closer, both candidates and their campaigns (McCain’s especially the last few days) have turned increasingly to criticizing the opponent. The constant jabs over character, past relations, and ancient decisions can leave media viewers confused and searching for the truth. It also makes each presidential candidate appear as a corrupt, unprincipled individual with a history riddled with bad decisions. Due to these tactics, I found this article (reposted below) to be rather refreshing. The original story was printed in the Norwegian newspaper, VG, and since then has spread like wildfire by way of the internet and word of mouth:

    "Mary Lacked Money to Fly Home to Norway - He Saved Her Love.

    ÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

    Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.

    At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary’s turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness. You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway, the man behind the counter said.

    Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call. 'I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions,' says Mary. Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy. 'I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, That’s OK, I’ll pay for her.' Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.

    'He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?' Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man. 'He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants,' says Mary. She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

    The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out. 'He was my knight in shining armor,' says Mary, smiling. She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker* in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.

    In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier. In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, Barack Obama writes*:

    ‘I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I’m happy I could help back then, and I’m delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator’.

    The parents sent the letter on to Mary. This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand. 'It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president,' says Mary delightedly. She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign. She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and when the conversation turns to the presidential elections. 'I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change,' says Mary."

    * This is a translation of the reporter’s translation and some conversion errors may have been made in the process.

    Here is Mary Menth Anderson holding her letter from Obama. Her husband is the man in the background.


    I realize that this article is largely insignificant. It won’t (and shouldn’t) impact a voters choice on Novemeber 4th. It tells us nothing about the strategies Obama intends to implement if elected or his experience as politics. And it reveals nothing about his rival, John McCain. 

    What it did do was affect me. I was touched by the story, just like thousands of other readers, and felt the need to share it with you.

    Post-Script: Any comments or thoughts you have regarding the article are welcome.

    Thursday, October 9, 2008

    Blog Subject and Goals


    First and foremost, let me talk about the origins and subject of this blog. At first, I intended to blog solely on the topic of self-improvement - how to become a better person through self critiquing. However, I realized that restricting myself to just one area doesn't fit my personality nor does it seem like something that would remain fulfilling. While I do want to help my readers better themselves, I also want to give them resources, news, and tools that can aid them. I also want to entertain my audience with posts ranging from interesting news articles to humorous findings to occasional muses. With further thinking, I decided to expand the subject area of the blog to anything I deem useful to you, my audience.

    In essence, this blog is going to be a combination of the blogs that I frequent: LifehackerProblogger, and The 4HWW, with a bit of Zen Habits, and even a touch of The Consumerist. I’m also going to write about some of my own interests and hobbies including fitness and music. My blog is going to be a hybrid of hacks to help with your daily life.

    To close, I want to inform you that this post initiates a 30-day trial, with the goal of writing at least one quality post every other day. Additionally, I hope to be informative and helpful in each post, and eventually leave a great enough impact on my audience to have them coming back for more.

    Post-Script: I’m currently working on the theme and format of the blog. Any comments on the content of my posts or the visual appeal of my site is appreciated.