By Lauren Sigel on July 29th, 2009 • Cancer, Life, Tanning, Life

I have always had a less-than-favorable attitude towards tanning beds. Why would I want to pay money to go lay in a claustrophobic, coffin-like capsule that emits UV rays? Now I have even more evidence that supports my case against using tanning beds. Not only are they expensive, but now there is solid evidence that shows they cause cancer.

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) accounced yesterday that it has moved UV tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category--"carcinogenic to humans." This puts tanning beds in the same category as arsenic and mustard gas. Which means, tanning beds are now a definite cause of cancer. Not a possible cause, not a probable cause, but a definite cause.

In addition to this fact, a new analysis of about 20 studies states the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75% when people start using tanning beds before age 30. Doctors have seen a parallel rise in the number of young people with skin cancer, in 2008 about 62,000 new cases of melanoma (the deadliest type of skin cancer) were diagnosed in the U.S. and about 8,000 people died (according to the American Cancer Society). In Britain, melanoma is now the leading cancer diagnosed in women in their 20s.

Whether you are going to a tanning salon or laying out in your backyard, UV radiation is not healthy (even if you have a layer of fur to protect you). Granted, sunlight is a good source of vitamin D, but that does not rationalize turning yourself into a crisp to get it. Experts recommend no longer than 5-15 minutes of sun exposure three times a week without sunblock to get your Vitamin D fix. The rest of the time, slather on the sunscreen.

I know you (and the rest of society) want to get that perfect tan this summer, but please, be safe!

 

By Jens Odegaard on July 27th, 2009 • Debt, Life

Last week I wrote about the 2009 federal budget deficit cresting $1 trillion. Today I bring you this number: $11,605,521,079,842.13. That's the U.S. government's total debt to the penny, courtesy of the incredibly detailed treasurydirect.gov

In case you weren't able to decipher all the commas, the total debt is just north of $11.6 trillion--all of which has to be financed somehow. Luckily treasurydirect.gov breaks down how it's financed. Of that $11.6 trillion, $7.3 trillion is held (owned) by the public, and $4.3 trillion is held by intragovernmental agencies.

As defined on the website: the majority of the U.S. government's debt is held by foreign governments and everyday people like you and I (debt held by the public); the rest is held by other parts of the U.S. government (debt held intragovernmentally). Basically, most federal debt is held by foreign governments like China and Japan or governmental cooperatives like the Caribbean Banking Centers (Bahamas, Bermuda, etc.) and an association of Oil Exporters (Ecuador, Venezuela, etc.). Here's the full list of "Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities."

Basically, the U.S. is up to it's eyeballs in the sewer pond of debt. And that pond is about to get deeper.

But when life gives you lemons (or in this case, sewage) make lemonade. Treasury investments like savings bonds, bills and notes are endorsed by the federal government, making them virtually risk free. The interest rates aren't super high, but your investments aren't going to go belly-up unless the government does.

My great-grandmother purchased savings bonds for me when I was born and upon their maturity dates (when you can redeem the bonds) I received several thousand dollars to put toward my college tuition. Go here to find out if your Treasury investments are still earning interest, and their maturity dates. To get started investing in the government, go here

On a related note, you can actually donate money to pay off the debt (scroll to the bottom of this page to find out how). That's right, if for some reason you don't feel the government gets enough of your money in taxes, they're willing to let you give more out of the goodness of your heart. 

I don't know about you, but I'm about as likely to go take a refreshing dip in the local sewer pond as I am to give the government any money I'm not required to. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/allyrose18/ / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Lauren Sigel on July 22nd, 2009 • Health Care, Life

It's common knowledge that the U.S. is one of the fattest nations in the world, so it shouldn't be surprising that obesity and its associated health problems have a significant economic impact on the U.S. health care system. Obese adults were associated with over half of the growth in health care spending between 2001 and 2006 (from $166.7 billion to $303.1 billion--an 82% increase). In fact, according to recent study by the Conference Board, obese employees cost U.S. private employers an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenditures and work loss.

Take a look at state level obesity trends for 2008:

  • In 2008, Colorado was the only state to have an obesity rate of less than 20%.
  • 32 states had an obesity rate equal to or greater than 25%.
  • 6 states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had an obesity rate greater than or equal to 30%.

Based on data collected between 1970 - 2004, if Americans don't take control of this obesity epidemic, total healthcare costs attributable to being obese or overweight will double every decade to $860.7 – $956.9 billion by 2030, accounting for 16 – 18% of total U.S. healthcare costs.

It's obvious that America needs to lose some weight, but It's extremely important to note that losing weight through fad diets is not a long-term solution to weight problems. If you don't lose the weight in a healthy way then it's just going to come back to haunt you in the long run.

I hate to repeat what doctors across the nation have been saying for years, but the only healthy way to lose weight is through diet and exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reccommends at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week for adults to stay healthy. If you are not used to regular exercise, start small. Take a walk around the block and work your way up from there. The important thing is that you stay active and healthy in order to avoid expensive obesity-related medical bills later in life.

By Cody Wetmore on July 20th, 2009 • Life

I love finding deals on the Internet. But for every legit deal out there, there are just as many shady businesses try to make a buck selling substandard goods and passing them off as high quality merchandise. Or worse, they could be scam companies that take your money, then leave you with nothing.

So how do you determine which deals are actually worth your money? Next time you're thinking of dealing with a company, make sure to check out sites that list scams and shady businesses:

  • Consumerist is a blog devoted to listing scams, as well as providing information on tips for keeping your money secure.
  • The Better Business Bureau is a great resource for checking up on businesses. Also, you can file complaints if you are treated unfairly when dealing with a company.
  • The Federal Trade Commission can help you learn your consumer rights, and let you know what to look for when making a purchase with an unfamiliar company.

It’s always a good idea to protect yourself, lest you become one of the unfortunate people that get ripped off every year. Let us know if there are any sites you go to when looking out for scams or shady businesses.

--Cody

  Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

Coffee is a staple. If it were purely luxury, why would we put so much time and energy into finding a better way to sip coffee in space, or creating a zero-gravity coffee maker.

For a staple, it certainly is expensive (that is, unless you make your own at home). For the millions who want to grab a cup on the go, the price for a single cup 'o joe can reach $5 or more. If gas cost as much, it would be $32 per gallon. Still, it's one of those luxuries some spend hundreds of dollars on unknowingly.

Here's the thing: how many of you actually know what you're ordering? Macchiato, americano, breve, cappuccino, mocha… there are so many. Or do you just give up an order a vanilla latte (the most boring drink ever conceived).

Want to find out? Check out this image; it breaks down the most common coffee constructions. I knew what some of them were, but I now understand why I don't prefer americanos, and why mochas are so sinfully delicious.

The point is, know what you're buying! Do you feel like a dork for dropping $4.25 on a marshmallow-flavored latte when you can get the same basic effect with a shot of espresso (or house brew, which is usually even cheaper), half-and-half, and a couple of dissolved marshmallows? I certainly do.

Whatever you decide on--and there are a lot of coffee brewing options--do it on purpose, instead of naively buying the equivalent of a gilded pencil.

 

 Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

On Monday, the annual U.S. budget deficit topped (shouldn't we say bottomed?) "$1 trillion for the first time ever." But don't worry, by October (the end of the budget year) the deficit will be an even more astounding $1.84 trillion. According to cbo.gov, the reasons for this record deficit include: declining income and payroll taxes and increasing government payouts related to the economic crisis and unemployment benefits. Funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also play a major role.

Over the 233-year history of the U.S., total debt has risen to $11.5 trillion. Which means that in just one year, debt will increase by about 1/6th of the total of the previous 233 years. That's a lot of cash. If you're wondering what the government's plan is, here's the full 142-page report. Let me know when you're done reading it. 

Basically, the deficit isn't going to get smaller anytime soon. Next year's is projected to be $1.26 trillion and from 2010 - 2019 another $7.1 trillion in deficit will be added. 

These numbers are so brobdingnagian that it's hard to put them into perspective. But here's a try. Right now, the federal minimum wage is $6.55 per hour.  To equal the projected deficit of $1.84 trillion for this year, you would have to work 280,916,003,100 hours. Wait that doesn't help at all. Here's another shot: it would take 1.84 billion millipedes to make 1.84 trillion millipede legs. Still too esoteric? $1.84 trillion is an absolute crap-ton of money. So just imagine an enormous, steaming pile of poo and you'll have the right idea.

If you're wondering how the heck we ended up in such a fecal financial mess, read this from news.yahoo.com. To solve the problem, I think we should just borrow some $100 trillion dollar bills from Zimbabwe. Too bad they're not worth anything.

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.


 

It seems our future has just gotten a little farther away.

A recent New York Times article describes how Japanese robots are weathering the current economic downturn, and the news isn’t good. Yaskawa, Japan’s largest manufacturer of robots, reported a two-thirds drop in profit for the year ending March 20; and according to the Japan Robot Association, shipments of industrial robots fell by 59% in the first quarter of ’09.

This is a big deal for a nation where 32 out of every 1,000 manufacturing employees are robots.

So what does this mean for the likes of Tmsuk's Roborior? A home guarding robot meant to be more of an alert mechanism than a deterrent, its $2,600 price tag has meant the end of its production in a sour economy.  See a video of it in action here.

And what about the HRP-4C, a humanoid robot built by the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology? A five-foot “female” capable of awkward movement and unconvincing facial expressions (see it here), its $200,000 price tag may overshadow its open-sourced code that allows people to program fun moves for the robot to perform.

So we may have to wait a while longer before we’re living in a post-post-modern floating Jetsons house. But fear not! You can still have your ramen prepared for you by a robot chef. So much for finding hair in your food.

 

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go to the local Farmers Market, which is held in Corvallis every Wednesday and Saturday. Not only are most markets full of quirky and unique vendors, but they are also chock full of fresh veggies and locally produced products. And I must confess, I love to take advantage of the tasty free samples that are offered to passers-by.

Last weekend I bought some heavenly blackberry honey, which was harvested the day before I bought it.

What's even more awesome about Farmers Markets, however, is that they take food stamps! So for thrifty college students such as myself, this makes going to the market even more exciting. Food stamps can even be used to buy food bearing plants (such as tomoto plants, eggplant plants, hot pepper plants, you name it), which is great news because now I can start my own garden! Too tight on cash to afford gardening supplies? I recycled $10 worth of cans and bottles and bought a trowel shovel and some other basic tools.

To find out where and when your town's Farmers Market is open, check out localharvest.org. So if you are bored and not working this weekend, get your gluteus maximus off of the couch, turn off Man vs Wild (don't worry, Bear Grylls will still be eating something disgusting when you get back) and bike/walk/carpool to your local market. Not only will you be doing something outside, but you'll also  support your local economy (which we all know could use as much help as it can get).

 

 Photos taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

Part of growing up is learning to confront the ugly, ugly truths in life. While you may subscribe to some form of the “money is no object” policy today, eventually you’ll have to confront your looming pile of soul-crushing debt.

Don’t worry, this can be fun!

The Federal Reserve has a fancy Credit Card Repayment Calculator that can show you how long it will take to pay down your credit card if you only make the minimum payment each month. All you need is your balance and the interest rate.

Seeing how long it takes to pay off these sums, as well as how much interest you’ll have to pay over that time, is a great motivator for paying off as much debt as you can afford, as soon as you can.

Even if you have a balance as low as $1,000 with 20% APR, and you only make the estimated initial minimum payment of $20 per month, it will take 9 years to pay off. On top of this, you’ll be charged $1,169 in interest over this period.

The site isn’t all doom and gloom. It offers suggestions on how you can pay the balance off sooner. Input either a specific number of years in which you want to pay off the balance or an amount you can pay every month.

Either way, the sooner you start to get out of debt, the better.

--Cody

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.
 

Books took thousands of years to develop, but e-books seem to be hitting the mainstream after only a few decades.

E-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle ($299), the Sony Reader ($279.99) or the  COOL-ER ($249), after struggling to gain an audience in the 1990s, are finally going mainstream. Total e-book sales crested $25 million in the first quarter of 2009, up more than 50% from the quarter before.

Companies tout their devices as being more versatile and less expensive per copy than printed products. But is an e-book reader a smart investment?

The cost of purchasing an e-book-–depending on whose device you use-–generally ranges between $5 and $15 for new releases. Considering most printed hardbacks retail for around $20 to $30, you would have to buy about 20 e-books to make up for the average purchase price of the reader device.

But there are other factors to consider. An e-book reader can carry a ridiculous number of e-books, but it can’t be used to straighten a table’s wobbly leg.

So do your homework--here you can find reviews for the Kindle, Reader and COOL-ER--then determine whether or not an e-book reader may be right for you.  Just don’t be disappointed if you can’t read your favorite novel because the batteries ran out, or if you find yourself out $300 because your nephew used your gadget as a frisbee. On the bright side, it’s now okay to ask authors to autograph your e-book reader for you. Crazy.

 

Photo taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.