By Jens Odegaard on March 20th, 2009 • Giving, Life

I'm usually critical of Hollywood's capacity for social and fiscal responsibility: We've all seen the self-righteous actors who latch onto the latest, popular movement to garner attention, and, no matter how much I enjoy watching them, it's pretty hard to argue that using $100 million to make a summer blockbuster is really helping the world.

But, not even I can find anything to complain about with this: According to a report by CAFAmerica, The Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire has raised the level of awareness about Indian slums, and it's helping in a material way. Several charities that serve Indian street children have seen increases in membership and monetary donations since the film was released.  

It's nice to see--in a world that usually idolizes Hollywood excess--that a Hollywood production can be a catalyst for helping out those in desperate situations.

If you want to join in, check these charities out:

In this economic environment, it's easy to get caught up in being focused just on self. But it's always good to have our eyes opened to someone else's situation and to be spurred on to lend a helping hand. Like the quote goes, "It's better to give than to receive."

Photos taken from photostreams 1 and 2 and used with permission of two Creative Commons licenses (1 and 2).  

By Cody Wetmore on March 19th, 2009

While they are a popular distraction for many people (65% of American households, apparently), it's hard to argue that video games help society in any way. I've personally wasted over 80 hours on certain games, 80 hours I will never get back (I would have wasted them anyway.)

That being said, it's also hard to argue that video games are a hazard to public safety. But that's exactly what happened in 2006 when a video game tournament organized by high school student Zach Wigal was shut down due to a protest by a local police officer.

Rather than give in or complain about the cancellation, Wigal decided to show that interest in video games could be put to good use. He organized another tournament, this time making it a charity event, and raised $15,000 for the Austism Society of America.

This was the first event put on by the Gamers Outreach Foundation, an organization headed by Wigal that uses video games to help people. Currently, the organization is working on initiatives to make a video game center in a local children's hospital, provide video games for American troops overseas, and work with teachers who use video games to teach children. Other organizations like Child's Play do similar work.

So, the next time you fire up a console or computer, be reminded of what else you could be doing with your time.

--Cody

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

Most financial terms are as boring as the local evening news, but today's Financial Lexicon entry, zombies, is definitely not boring. I mean, they're the living dead, it's okay to bash their skulls in, and they even harrass people on Valentine's Day--what's not to love?

Investing in zombies--that's what's not to love. If you invest in a zombie company--defined by investopedia.com as, a company "that continue[s] to operate even though they are insolvent or near bankruptcy"--you're asking to be dragged down by a horde of cavorting corpses and devoured.

Zombie stocks are very volatile and risky, because most zombie companies go bankrupt due to high operational costs from research and development with no guarantee that the final product will be marketable or profitable. 

Investing in a zombie company is a classic example of "speculative investment." If you can afford to dabble in some high-risk investments, and you've done some thorough research, investing in a zombie company could pay off. Just don't blame me if the zombie apocalypse overtakes your hard-earned cash.

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

This guy clearly took the lesson "dress for the job you want" to heart.

Here at brass, we have a very casual dress policy. I normally wear a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, my skate shoes and a New Era ballcap. But for days when I want to step it up a notch (when we interview new interns) I've been known to throw on a brass-logo polo and some slacks. Even in a casual environment, dressing up a little more than you have to shows professionalism.

The basic rule of thumb for any work environment is to observe what others in the workplace wear and tailor your appearance to match--don't forget to set yourself apart with a little careful accessorizing. Another key is to match your level of dress to the level of those who have the job you want. For example, if you work as an intern but want to be the boss, start dressing like one. Showing you care could show up in your paycheck.

To start dressing like an adult without having to spend like one, check out secondhand stores in affluent neighborhoods. Here in Corvallis we have a fairly large Goodwill, but unfortunately most of the suits and business attire look like they stepped right out of the 1970s. In Portland (Oregon's largest city) however, there's a Goodwill in the Pearl District (very upscale) filled with trendy outfits for cheap prices. Also keep an eye out for sales at mainstream department stores--this winter I picked up a nice sport coat at Kohl's for half the price.  Also try Forever 21 for the ladies and Ross for everyone.

And for the sake of ending this blog with a cliche, "Dress for success."

Photo taken from  photostreams 1 and 2 and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Cody Wetmore on March 11th, 2009

I like getting a deal as much as the next guy, and even more than the next guy after that. In the past I have sacrificed quality for price when it comes to food, but sometimes the dollar menu doesn't make sense.

So, while searching for stats today, I was reminded of an article Zack (brass' video guy) sent me a few months ago claiming that cooking your own food not only costs $2 less than going out for this particular fast food meal, but it actually gives you more food.

The example used compares the cost of a fast food chicken meal to cooking one yourself (For those of you who (like me) were lost on how to actually cut the chicken into pieces, watch this video). While it doesn't account for the time used to make the meal--a big reason people choose to eat out--think of how long it takes to drive to a restaurant, wait in line and drive it home, only to have it get cold (I love fast food, but it does need to be eaten quickly).

This is just one example, but while dollar menus might be cheap for bachelors like me, for a family or house of young ne'er-do-wells, cooking can be cheaper. Try cooking a meal for someone as a favor. Unlike other favors you'll get some of the benefits too.

--Cody

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

I'll be the first to admit that the credit crisis is pretty confusing. Luckily the Internets are filled with eggheads that can explain, in just over 10 minutes, how we got into this mess. (Speaking of eggheads, our own Jens Odegaard drew comparisons between this and another financial crisis in February's Take Two.) Here are two videos that explain different parts of a very complex economic situation:

This one comes from a thesis project by Jonathan Jarvis for the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California:


For more information on Credit Default Swaps watch this Khan Academy video, along with other credit crisis videos at khanacademy.org:

When watching/reading pieces on this topic, keep in mind some of the most thought provoking words of our time, "Knowing is half the battle." Knowing how money moves through the financial system will help you decide how to invest your money.

--Cody

By Erin Flesch on March 6th, 2009

I'm gonna keep this short and sweet (because I'm usually long-winded and mean). My time at brass has come to an end, and I couldn't be happier. Not because I'm glad to be leaving, but because I've had the most incredible, rewarding experience working here and I couldn't have asked for anything better.

Dare I say, this was the best internship ever? Yes, I think I shall.

Working at brass, I had the opportunity to learn and accomplish so much. The world of finance, which was so murky and confusing to me upon arrival, has come more in to focus. A lot went down during my six-month tenure here--recessions, investment bank failures, a new president, stock market crashes--it seemed like the whole world changed. I'm happy I had brass here to keep me informed, and that I got to be a part of passing all that financial knowledge on to you.

hat.jpgI'm leaving here older, wiser, and armed with the skills I need to plan a successful financial future. Jens, Cody and Jennie remain to answer all the questions you haven't asked yet. I'll look forward to more blog posts here and great articles in the magazine. I hope you do too!

By Cody Wetmore on March 4th, 2009

When I arrived this morning, I found an email from our accounting department warning that my paycheck would be slightly larger. Reading further, I found that this was not due to me receiving a "Handsomeness Bonus" like I had originally assumed, but because of a new tax credit available to most workers called the "Making Work Pay" credit. As part of the recently passed stimulus bill, aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, eligible workers will receive a tax credit equaling 6.2% of their earned income. The maximum amount credited for the year will total no more than $400 for a single earner, or $800 for a married couple with a joint return. Instead of sending out separate checks like last year, the money will be spread across monthly paychecks from spring until the end of the year. This $400 or $800 tax credit will also be added to 2010 paychecks. 

For more information on the "Making Work Pay" credit, go to irs.gov.

--Cody

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

By Jens Odegaard on March 2nd, 2009

If Kevin Garnett and The Quest For G ads didn't tip you off to the fact that Gatorade is now known as G, perhaps Dwyane Wade and the rest of the athletes/cultural icons in the Lil Wayne narrated commercials for the G Manifesto enlightened you.

The re-branding of Gatorade is just a microcosm of a bigger image makeover for parent company PepsiCo, which also repackaged its Pepsi and Tropicana brands. The G image makeover has definitely created a lot of buzz. But as PepsiCo learned, brand redesign doesn't always work out. The packaging changes for Tropicana are being rescinded due to consumer dissatisfaction

Regardless, companies are constantly jockeying to keep their image foremost in consumers' minds--whether through repackaging, re-branding or highlighting specific aspects of their product.

Throughout my younger years, Chevy commercials trumpeted the fact that their trucks were Like a Rock in toughness. Recently, their commercials have taken to highlighting the fact that they get better gas mileage than their counterparts. Ford is doing the same thing

The new ads are obviously a direct response to the consumer perception that American car companies don't make fuel-efficient vehicles.

Repackaging and highlighting specific aspects of a product are ways to keep a brand image fresh. Keep this in mind when you go to work for a company or start your own. Just remember to listen to the customer and be willing to adapt--check out my blog Face To Facebook, for an example of responding to consumer input.

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

By Cody Wetmore on February 27th, 2009

Gardening may seem a daunting task only understood by hippies and retirees, but it's a lot easier than you'd think. Last year, with zero experience, I grew my first herb garden. Although I didn't get the best yields, I managed not to kill many of my plants. So, for those that aren't agriculturally inclined, here are a few tips on simple gardening.

Start now. It may seem early--this morning my car was covered in frost--but now is the perfect time to start your spring garden. While it may be cold outside, you can start germinating seeds inside.

Germination. Your first reaction to this word may have been similar to mine: "Growing germs on my seeds seems counterproductive." Try to think of it this way: Given the proper conditions (warm, moist soil), your germs (seeds) will grow quickly, strengthening themselves for the inevitable attack on your mouth. Put potting soil in a small pot or reused plastic container (yogurt and the like) with holes poked in the bottom to allow drainage. Add seeds and cover with a thin layer of soil. Then...

Follow directions. Seed packets have instructions printed on the back for a reason. They'll let you know when to transplant and when to harvest. If you'd like more detailed instructions, head to the library or sites like finegardening.com and gardenguides.com. When these sources tell you to regularly water your plants, they mean it. I deprived myself of half the delicious cilantro I was entitled to last year because of my extreme negligence.

Act smug. Bring up your new garden in conversation whenever possible. Wait by the herb section of your supermarket until someone buys a package of thyme for $3.50, then laugh in their face. You've earned it.

Learn from mistakes. Your first garden won't be perfect. Your 50th garden won't be perfect, but with experience each one should be better than the last. Keep a journal of your experiences so you can put them to use next year.

--Cody

This picture is taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.