Remember the good old days when people dressed in suits, wore fedoras, smoked, and drank at work? Ya, me neither. The closest I've come to a situation like that is watching parts of Mad Men episodes set in the 1960s. That depiction of work may look old-fashioned, but there's something us snippersnappers may still have in common with those times: a 40-hour, in-office work week.

According to this NPR story: "U.S. labor laws are perfectly suited to 1960, says University of Minnesota sociologist Phyllis Moen. The 40-hour workweek and 9-to-5 workday were all codified in an era when men went off to an assembly line and women stayed home."

But as Bob Dylan--another relic of the bygone era--once sang, "The Times They Are A Changin.'" About half of U.S. companies, according to this report, offer flextime (flexible work hours) and some form of telecommuting (working outside the office). The necessity to be in the office at all times, appears to be, as MXPX once said, "slowly going the way of the buffalo."

The shift is happening because more families have both parents working, meaning flexible hours are a necessity for families trying to juggle work and home life, and because our generation has grown up with technology (i.e. laptops and cell phones) that make flextime and telecommuting work.

I happen to fit both the family and younger-generation demographics. I'm working from home right now because my wife is due with our first child today. Pre-labor started this weekend and my manager told me to stay with my wife and get my work done when I have a chance. Once the baby is born, I will also have some flextime. 

Changing work patterns can be a good thing. Drinking coffee from my own mug has its perks (pun intended). However, there is also added responsibility. With telecommuting, the pressure to produce and get the work done, shifts from management squarely on to my shoulders. I don't have anyone checking in to see what I'm doing. If the work doesn't get done, it means that I slacked off.

Telecommuting is becoming more common and is a nice benefit of modern society, but the age-old proverb still applies: "Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth."

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jensodegaard/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

My focused goal lately has been to pay off my credit card, and I've been looking for ways to supplement my income to do just that. I thought I'd share a few of the websites I've come across where you can make a buck.

Let me know of other websites where you can make a buck.

Lots of people think the U.S. is the biggest and baddest country in the world. But it's also known that China is becoming a more important player in the world marketplace, and recent data supports just that.

China just released figures showing that its exports increased 46% from Feb. 2009 to Feb. 2010, and its imports rose 45% since last year. Oh, and on top of that, it was the third consecutive month that Chinese exports increased, and it did so faster than it had in three years. Compare that to the 23% drop in imports the U.S. experienced in 2009.

There are other, less formal ways of knowing that China is up and coming, if not already "here." They recently overtook the U.S. as the world's largest automobile market last year, as total car sales eclipsed 13 million, up 45% from 2008. This was pretty much unthinkable even a few years back, as they only had 6 million personal cars on the road in 2000. By 2008, they had 20 million. They're also poised to take over the U.S. in total miles of expressways by 2020, with 53 million miles.

Need more proof? In 2008, there were 600 million mobile phone subscribers in China. That's about twice the population of the entire United States (307 million).

Any way you slice it, China is coming, whether we're ready or not: and most signs point to "not." After all, China holds $755 billion worth of U.S. Treasury securities, about a third of the $2.37 trillion of Treasury debt held by foreign owners. That means they hold more of our debt than the entire GDP's of Puerto Rico ($67 billion), Ecuador ($107 billion), Sweden ($333 billion), and Israel ($205 billion) combined. Just be thankful that calling in all of that debt isn't in their economic interests.

 

 

I have a bad habit that I need to quit: collecting parking tickets. Since I started attending Oregon State University I have paid more in parking tickets than it would have cost to get a parking pass. A student parking pass per term is $59 and a year-long pro-rated pass is $118. My habit even gets worse. When I worked in Eugene (a nearby town) this past summer I used to have to move my car every two hours to avoid fines. Inevitably, I accumulated multiple parking tickets.

I don't know why I have such a bad habit, but I'm wasting a lot of money that could be used towards other expenses. $100 equals not only what I pay a month in my utilities, but I could also pay off some debt or buy a ticket to San Francisco! If you need to kick the parking ticket habit too, there are easy ways to do so.

  • Buy a parking permit. Many cities have parking permits in school, business and residential areas. Don't rack up dollar after dollar on tickets, just pay for the parking permit! Plus it saves you the hassle of having to go and pay each ticket. (If you are like me you forget to pay and then have extra fees added to the bill!)
  • Find different ways to commute to work. Bus systems are widespread and students often ride free. If bussing isn't your thing, ride a bike: you save money, get exercise and reduce your carbon footprint. This gets two thumbs up from me.
  • Recruit a buddy. Find co-workers or fellow students and start riding together--the more the merrier. Pitch in on one parking permit and cut your expenses.

There are many benefits to these parking alternatives and if you suffer from an addiction to parking tickets (like me), your wallet will be sure to thank you when the bad habit is kicked to the curb.

Update: Between when I wrote this blog and it was published, I ran into even more trouble with the Transit and Parking Services at Oregon State. I returned to my car the other day after work to find a boot on one of my wheels. I really should have taken my own advice, or paid attention to the parking rules and regulations. After my meter time ran out my car was booted for having unpaid tickets. I had to sheepishly walk myself to parking services to pay up and get the boot removed. Total cost: $350. That's a whole month of rent! I need to buy a parking permit. 

--Makenzie

Goldman Sachs (GS) has been in the news a lot lately and is one of Wall Street's biggest players. For the past few months I've followed coverage of GS to learn how Wall Street works--I believe understanding Wall Street is an integral part of understanding our current economy and the state of the nation. 

In short, GS is the most profitable investment bank in the world. For years, former GS employees have held--and currently hold--positions of incredible power in the U.S. government. Whether that relationship affects both GS' balance sheet and how our government makes financial decisions is covered in articles by PBS, Rolling Stone and The Times articles (read them).

Detractors, like Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, paint GS as the world's most succesful con men and part of a group of "the nation's six largest banks—all committed to this balls-out, I drink your milkshake! strategy of flagrantly gorging themselves as America goes hungry." 

Supporters, as explained in this piece by The Times of London, portray GS as "the overachieving child of globalisation..."  with "...the big brains and brutal work ethic help[ing] to give Goldman the edge when it comes to snagging the best, and richest, clients." 

No matter which side you fall on, the fact remains that GS makes a ton of money and has a massive amount of influence in the world financial markets. Here are some key highlights:

  • GS posted a record profit of $13.4 billion in 2009, according to the PBS Newshour production Unraveling the Profit Puzzle at Goldman Sachs.
  • GS had 2009 net revenues of $45.1 billion with operating expenses of $25.3 billion, leaving a pre-tax earning of $19.8 billion. Of pre-tax earnings, $17.3 billion came from trading and principal investments, $1.2 billion from investment banking, and $1.3 billion from asset management and security services -- FORM 10K Annual Report for The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
  • GS' market cap is $85.66 billion (source).
  • 32,500 employees work at GS (source). The list of former employees who now work or have worked in the U.S. Government includes: "the treasury secretary under George [W.] Bush (Hank Paulson); the current president and former chairman of the New York Federal Reserve (William Dudley and Stephen Friedman); the chief of staff to the treasury secretary Timothy Geithner (Mark Patterson)... the past and current heads of the New York Stock Exchange (John Thain and Duncan Niederauer); the chief operating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division (Adam Storch)," according to The Times

Perhaps this quote from The Times sums up Goldman Sachs best: "For Blankfein [CEO of GS], in the end, it all comes down to one thing: finding the best, fastest, and safest way to make money with money, then make some more money, with money on top."

http://www.flickr.com/photos/22240293@N05/ / CC BY 2.0

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies are finally over, and Vancouver is left to pick up the mess from more than 2,600 competing Olympians and tens of thousands of visitors (some estimates are as high as a quarter million).

Here's the breakdown by the numbers:

  • 3.5 billion worldwide television viewers are estimated to have watched the games.
  • 50,000 people worked for the games, including contractors and volunteers.
  • 50,000 total hours of the games were broadcast  across all media platforms around the world.
  • 3.3 million pairs of red mittens were sold.
  • 10,800 media representatives flocked to the games.
  • 615 medals were awarded.
  • The games had an operating budget of C$1.75 billion ($1.43 billion USD). That doesn't include C$900 spent on security, which was funded mostly by the Canadian government.

If you missed it, you can find some excellent highlight videos and even some full replays at nbcolympics.com.

Say you got tickets to a show months in advance. It's your favorite band, and while they weren't that expensive or in danger of selling out, you just wanted to scoop them up. Then, two days before the show, something happens, and you can't go. Meanwhile, those $15 tickets are now selling for $50: your group has gotten hot lately. So what can you do?

For most people, the answer is to scalp them. While illegal in some states, it's okay to do in others so long as you follow certain restrictions, such as keeping a set distance away from the event whose tickets you're scalping.

But ticket reselling happens on much larger scales. Scalper Gene Hammet thought he was golden after paying for $3 million worth of tickets to the Vancouver Olympics. Unfortunately for him, he bought the tickets from scam artists, and Hammett tried to garner sympathy through the press. Which didn’t quite work the way he might have hoped. At all.

People like these can come together to rip people off on an even larger scale. Wiseguys Tickets created a program to buy tickets from TicketMaster's site in bulk. The program bypassed CAPTCHA (that weird box with squiggly letters and numbers used to verify that a human is performing an online transaction) and allowed scalpers to buy a ton of tickets (over a million starting as early as 2005) and resell them. The scalpers made over $25 million before Wiseguys was indicted.

But even TicketMaster isn't immune to scalping. In what The Boss plainly described as "scalping," TicketMaster redirected customer requests to purchase Bruce Springstein tickets from their regular site to their ticket-reselling site TicketsNow, where they were being sold above retail price. This happened while there were still tickets to be purchased at face value. At the same time, some of the people purchasing tickets from TicketsNow were being sold tickets that TicketMaster didn't even have. That's right: they were being sold "phantom tickets."

The best advice? Buy your tickets legally, and, if you don't need them, sell them the same way.

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

As I'm on a tight budget, cooking my own meals is a necessity. Over the years I've tried to collect a stable of recipes that are:

  • Cheap.
  • Fairly easy to make.
  • Produce enough leftovers for a  few lunches.

So, in our new blog series Brass’ Cheap Eats, we’ll share some of our favorite cheap meals.

Today’s epicurean extravaganza: Roast Whole Chicken

This was one of the first things I learned to make when I decided to graduate from ramen and mac and cheese. While it may sound complicated, it’s actually surprisingly easy to make. I mean, I can do it and I can barely summon the effort to dress myself most days. The great thing about this meal is you’ll most likely have leftovers to use for tacos or some other use. And you can use the leftover bones and skin to make chicken stock for soups. I easily get three meals out of a whole chicken, which only costs around $5.

Ingredients
- 3½ to 4 pound chicken
- ½ cup salt
- 2 quarts water
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper

Equipment
- Chicken-sized bowl, pot, or resealable plastic bag
- Roasting pan
- V-rack
- Meat thermometer
- Cutting Board solely used for cutting meat
- Carving knife

One step you don’t need to take, but will help keep the chicken moist, is brining. Add the water and salt to your chicken-sized container and stir until the salt dissolves. Remove chicken from its bag and take out the neck and giblets, storing them in the fridge for stock. Add the chicken to the chicken-sized container, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towels. Melt the butter and coat the outside of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Put the v-rack in the roasting pan and set the chicken on it, wing side up. Roast for 15 minutes in the lower-middle part of the oven. Flip the chicken so the other wing faces up. Roast 15 minutes.

Remove chicken and flip so the breast side is up. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees and roast for 30-35 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 165 degrees when inserted in the thickest part of the thigh.

Remove chicken, place on a platter or chicken-sized plate, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Carve your chicken and enjoy.

Check back for more cheap recipe ideas.

--Cody

 

Sometime today Apple's iTunes store will hit the 10 billion songs sold mark. This comes seven years after Apple began selling music, and coincidentally on Apple CEO Steve Jobs 55th birthday.

Since opening for business in 2003 the store has become America's No. 1 music vendor. About 100 songs per second are downloaded. In celebration of this milestone event, the company is offering whoever downloads the 10 billionth song a $10,000 iTunes gift card as an award.

Interestingly, iTunes one billionth song (Coldplay's Speed of Sound) was sold on this same date in 2006 to 16-year-old boy from Michigan. The purchase won him a 20-inch iMac, 10 iPods and a $10,000 iTunes gift card.

In celebration of the 10-billion-song milestone, Apple compiled a list of the most-downloaded iTunes songs of all time. Leading the pack is a hit from 2009, Black Eyed Peas I Gotta Feeling. Most of the other songs on the list are also from the past few years.

If you are a iTunes user, than today is the day to buy a song. If you aren't a fan of Apple's music store, then check out these other options we recommend for downloading or streaming music.

-Makenzie

Photo source: Apple Inc.

Poll results show that 56% of Americans oppose the federal stimulus bill from last year. This comes despite the fact that independent evaluations of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the official name for the federal stimulus bill) show that it has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs and the total impact will be +2.5 million jobs.

Majority opposition can be explained in large part by the reality that 14.8 million Americans are unemployed, and by the public perception that stimulus money is being wasted.  If you're curious where the money is going, recovery.gov allows anyone to track the spending of stimulus money and report fraud, waste and abuse.The site also has a stimulus-funded jobs search page.

While some stimulus money may have been wasted, the bottom line is that it has created jobs--a good thing. However, these jobs come at a cost. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit for 2010 will be $1.3 trillion, or 9.2% of GDP--the second highest total since WWII. For 2010, interest payments on the total deficit of more than $12 trillion will be $207 billion; by 2020 the interest payment will be $723 billion. 

The deficit has risen dramatically because federal spending has increased (the stimulus, unemployment benefits, etc.) and incoming revenues have decreased (lower income tax revenue because of the recession, tax breaks, etc.).

Though it's good to see that federal spending is providing jobs, the spending has to stop somewhere. By 2020, U.S. debt held by the public--public meaning anyone or anything that isn't the U.S. government itself--will equal $15 trillion, or 67% of GDP. It already equals 53% of GDP and it's hard to see how that will be sustainable.

Common financial advice says that an individual shouldn't have more than a 36% debt-to-income ratio and shouldn't spend more than they make. The federal government might want to take notice--here's the break down of the federal budget.

Let me know your thoughts on the stimulus, and how to reduce federal spending while keeping public services.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/64895104@N00/ / CC BY-SA 2.0