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Mindconnection eNL, 2005-10-24

Past issues

In this issue:

  1. Product highlights
  2. Brainpower tip
  3. Time tip
  4. Finance tip
  1. Security tips
  2. Health tip/Fitness tip
  3. Miscellany
  4. Thought for the day

1. Product Highlights

Know Project Costs

We have been selling construction code books for about 5 years, now. Because this eNL reaches a wide audience and not a narrow niche, I haven't mentioned these before. But among our offerings are the RS Means cost and estimating books.

Whether you are hiring someone to do a home remodeling project or you are in the construction business, an RS Means book can keep you from making serious blunders that result in serious costs.

 

Update: 2014-01-21

Unfortunately, after 14 years working with an outstanding supplier, we were forced to end this product line in early 2014. Due to Obamageddon and other issues, this supplier finally gave up the struggle and closed its doors.

All these people losing their jobs, when clearly it's Obama who should lose his.

2. Brainpower tip

While the tips in this column have traditionally been about increasing brainpower, it seems to be all the rage these days to--intentionally or otherwise--work very hard at decreasing brainpower. The collective result is that thinking people are all floating along in a vast sea of stupidity. I've occasionally drilled holes in my boat and taken on water--odds are you have, also. So, I'll provide some points here to help you keep from sinking.

I recently finished reading Making a Good Brain Great, by Dr. Daniel G. Amen (see my review at http://www.mindconnection.com/books/makinggoodbraingreat.htm). The author has extensive experience analyzing brain function (he uses brain scans as his primary tool). So, he's been able to correlate brainpower loss with particular actions people take.

You may read theory and opinion on what kinds of things make people stupid, and some of that isn't true. On the other hand, some of those things "simply must be true" because we can observe outward behavior and draw reasonable conclusions.

As you read that last sentence, several examples probably came to mind for you. For example, the person who washes down diet pills with six cups of coffee every morning--no guessing there as to why that person is so jumpy.

Dr. Amen has been able to look into thousands of brains, and observe actual conditions in the brain. And so he has been able to go beyond observing outward behavior to observing inward behavior--how the brain responds to what is done to it. For example, he can identify the brain of that diet pill/coffee abuser very easily, because of the specific brain damage such actions cause.

Back to that sea of stupidity. What are some ways people drill holes in their boats? Let's draw from Dr. Amen's book and list some examples:

  • Doing cigarettes. Whether you have one in your mouth or someone else in your space does, you are still breathing in the same chemicals. The resulting vasoconstriction reduces blood flow through the carotid arteries, but also reduces blood flow through the brain's blood distribution system. Making a bad situation worse, this reduced blood is diminished because it's loaded with carbon monoxide rather than oxygen. While smokers may experience increased concentration while smoking, their overall brain functions are reduced dramatically. If you want to be stupid, smoke.
     
  • Eating highly-processed foods. These are "nutrient-challenged," to say the least. And they trigger whole set of hormonal and other effects that work against proper brain function. Shop in the produce section, and avoid foods that come in boxes. See the articles at http://www.supplecity.com.
     
  • Avoiding tough work. Brains, like muscles, follow the "use it or lose it" principle. If your job doesn't provide a good brain workout (and most jobs don't--they mostly challenge your ability to deal with bureaucracy and rudeness), find something that does. This can be a different job, or it can be an interest you engage in outside of work. I was once in an unchallenging, dead-end job for six years. It didn't even attempt to use my education, training, or experience. So I became heavily involved in several professional associations, taking key executive role. Talk about tough! I certainly used my education, training, and experience--while learning new things and gaining extremely valuable experience.
     
  • Doing the same things all the time. When you try something new, you stimulate your brain into forming new connections. This activity increases overall brainpower, even in the areas not stimulated to new growth. For example, Jennifer is an accountant. She deals with numbers all day--a left-brained activity. She is also into poetry--a right-brained activity. But she found herself getting stale. Simply engaging both halves of the brain isn't enough. Fortunately for Jennifer, she made the decision to do one new thing each quarter. These include: taking an introductory course on a new language, taking a welding course, and taking introductory guitar lessons. She also tries to visit two new cities each year, visit one new sight or attraction in her town each month, and read one book on a new topic or in a new genre each month. Her brain is stimulated with new inputs and new problems, all the time.
     
  • Being a sloth. The brain is a physical organ. Physical fitness is a "doorway" to mental fitness. If you think being out of shape is OK, that's your first clue that you aren't thinking clearly and need to improve your fitness to improve your brain! The key to fitness isn't running on a treadmill, though (a rather useless activity). It's mainly a matter of eating wisely, getting enough sleep, and getting rigorous exercise on a regular basis. Timely tip: If you have fall leaves, don't mow them up--rake them up.
     
  • Avoiding coordination-based activities. When you reinforce the brain-body connection by learning a new physical skill, you provide the brain with massive stimulus. Activities such as climbing (find an indoor climbing gym, and take lessons) top the list of brainbuilders. If you are already a regular participant in a particular sport, that's great. But, you've already built those brain pathways and much of the benefit is already "cashed in." Now find another sport to build more brain pathways. Look for a sport that requires a different set of motor skills. Example: If you play basketball, take a few months off and take up dancing, instead.

3. Time Tip

When I give my time management seminars (http://www.timespeaker.com), people always ask about e-mail. It seems most folks feel overwhelmed by their e-mail systems. They tend to blame spam, but that is not a core problem. In fact, the whole spam thing is is grossly exaggerated.

There are two core problems with e-mail:

  • Captivity.
  • Poor etiquette (we'll discuss this in future eNLs--it's a huge sinkhole for time).

What is e-mail captivity? It's analogous to phone captivity. Have you ever been in a conversation, when the other person suddenly whips out a cell phone and answers it? As though you aren't there? Sure, this is rude. But it's also inefficient.

During the day, how often are you answering e-mail? That is, how badly are you fragmenting your schedule, how poorly are you concentrating, how much are you diverting your attention away from priority items?

Back in the days when movies and books first started showing characters using e-mail, the writers of these stories adopted an odd model: AOL. Anyone who's not a newbie knows AOL provides an awful online experience and it's so expensive as to fall into the "rip off" category. AOL did bring a large number of people into the online community via aggressive promotion. But an AOL user who tries any alternative to AOL instantly wants to switch. So it was weird for most of us to see the AOL-based way characters were accessing e-mail. One of the "features" was a voice announcing, "You've got mail." That cute but annoying "feature" has inculcated people with the notion that they have to answer e-mail as soon as it arrives. That, like the phone call taking notion, is untrue.

Schedule times for handling e-mail, and/or answer it between other activities. Don't interrupt or delay other activities just so you avoid unanswered e-mail in your inbox. I get hundreds of e-mails a day, and do not feel overwhelmed by them. Nor do I feel any need to answer them right away. I pretty much empty my inbox every day, so I do handle incoming e-mail rather than let it pile up. I just don't feel compelled to answer it as soon as it comes in.

One way I keep my inbox uncluttered is I place low priority items into one of two folders: ToDo and DelayRead. I do this manually. I do not use (or trust) automated filing of incoming e-mail, except for the junkmail function.

Your incoming e-mail will require one of these actions:

  • Answer soon. Example: someone sends you a question that's fairly time sensitive.
  • Answer later. I file these in a folder where I tend to them as time permits.
  • Delete without reading. You can do this with most incoming e-mails, if you use the preview pane. I also find using Outlook's built-in junk mail filter to be quite helpful.
  • File. I have an extensive filing system, patterned after the paper filing model. It's easy for me to find anything quickly.

My e-mail doesn't pile up or overwhelm me, because I separate the important from the urgent from the unimportant. I feel no need to answer it instantly.

From the above, you already know my opinion of Instant Messaging. If you want to be inefficient and insane, then IM to your heart's content. If you want efficiency and sanity, don't do IM.

I have several other e-mail tips topics slated for this column.

  

4. Finance tip

The single largest expense an American has is taxes. Citizens of other countries have a similar problem. Unfortunately, few of us understand just how expensive these taxes are. Here, I'm going to address:
  • Purposes of taxation
  • Why tax structures are so complex
  • Cost of taxation
  • What not to do
  • What you can do

Purposes of taxation. In their order of where the money goes (sources: OMB and NTU):

  • Direct transfer to individuals (over half of taxes go to this!)
  • Pay for useless programs and agencies
  • Pay for "re-elect me" or "fund my campaign" pork barrel projects
  • Pay for waste (e.g., $780 toilet seats and $900 hammers)
  • Fund fraudulent schemes of govt employees (see the Hoyt Fiasco and the GAO reports)
  • Fund actual services to taxpayers (almost an afterthought)

Why tax structures are so complex. Why are taxation structures so mind-blowingly complex? Very simple reason: People who know they are doing something wrong usually don't want to advertise what they are doing.

This is why you don't hear your "representatives" say things like, "I voted to take an extra $725 from you every year from this point forward and flush it down the tax toilet--in addition to the $32,000 we are already swiping from you and flushing down the toilet for no good reason. Do you want to re-elect me, now?"

On the federal level, your "representatives" make more than four times the median income. The median income is about $40,000 and hasn't changed for the last five years. But Congress has had no problems voting themselves raises. The rationale they give for this is simply bizarre.

They spend their days figuring out how to reduce your standard of living, while failing to end federal funding of the world's largest and most vicious terrorist organization (a three letter abbreviation, the first letter being "I"). Personally, I don't think these folks have earned a single penny of the largesse they are paid each year. Not with that glaring failure on their record.

Cost of taxation. Taxes suck capital out of the economy, which is why a tax cut actually increases government revenues by spurring the economy and creating jobs. The more we are taxed, the more money we have going to the first five items bulleted above--none of which provides any value whatsoever to the taxpayer.

But, how much are you really taxed? Let's take a look:

  • Federal income tax. Greatly exaggerated. It's really not that much. For the average American, it's less than 12% (after deductions and adjustments). Yet, this is where people focus their attention.
     
  • Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). This is a deviant version of the federal income tax. Congress has needlessly complicated tax collection and needlessly done other damage with this system. This farce makes no sense and should be abolished. Everyone with even half a brain knows this, but Congress doesn't seem to get it. Which tells you something about about Congress....
     
  • Federal flat tax. The federal flat tax, also called the antiSocial inSecurity tax, costs a hefty 15% of your income. When an employer "pays" half of this, your income is offset accordingly. If we didn't have this Ponzi scheme, a person making $50k/yr would have $625 a month to invest. In a typical mutual fund earning 12% per year over 20 years, that would leave you with far more than the paltry payout we currently "give" to retirees. Transitioning to a sensible system, however, is a long-term and painful process. I notice that Congress, which has its own retirement system and doesn't pay this flat tax, is in no rush to protect the interests of seniors--today or in the future.
     
  • Federal excise taxes. An excise tax is a specific amount of tax on a specific product or service. You pay a sh--load of these. Phone tax, cellphone tax, and gasoline tax are among the most noticed. But there are so many of these excise taxes hidden in your regular purchases that they really add up. Again, Congress plays the shameful hiding game.
     
  • Federal sales taxes. These also exist, I think. I just don't know which of these differ from the excise taxes. If you want to research how deeply your pockets are being picked, you will find some interesting results. Again, Congress plays the shameful hiding game.
     
  • Federal lottery tax. This is an "off the books" unofficial taxing system. When the tax collection agency needs to meet their numbers, they let individual agents whip tax debts out of thin air (or possibly pull them out of their a--es). Then, a hapless citizen suddenly owes not 12% of a year's wages but several years wages. Due now.

    Collecting these made-up taxes involves activities banned by international law, but the American Taliban proceeds anyhow. A citizen has no recourse. Many people lose their homes, cars, retirement savings, college funding for their kids, and other assets. Some people never get out of debt, though they haven't bought anything to drive themselves into debt. Their only real debt is this false tax debt. Congress is keenly aware of this problem, yet does nothing.
     
  • State taxes. These are often outrageous. "Taxesota" once had a 16% income tax. I don't know what it is, today. But states are ratcheting up their taxes--mostly through hidden means that disguise the theft.
     
  • Property taxes. These have turned out to be a scam. Home "valuations" rise due to total BS, while politicians claim they aren't raising taxes simply because they haven't increased the rate. But the amount out of pocket for taxes now exceeds what many retired people used to pay as a mortgage payment. If you are a senior citizen, contact your county assessor and try to get a senior citizen assessment freeze. These are available in many states.

    Don't worry that a cut in your "contribution" will require increased taxes for the rest of us. Taxes aren't levied to pay bills for necessary services. They are levied to fund the six bullet points listed earlier in this article--five of which are unnecessary. Nor are taxes increased to pay for for increasing costs of services. They are increased because politicians are too lazy, spineless, and immoral to make the choices they were elected to make. They take the easy way out--through your pocket. So, taxes will rise whether seniors get a break or not.
     
  • City, county, and other taxes. Yep, these keep climbing.
     
  • Usage taxes. License fees, road tolls, parking fees, etc.
     
  • Sales taxes. There are 128 different taxes on a single loaf of bread. More on some other products.

Total cost of taxes: The estimates vary between 75% and 90% of income. Remember that the prices of everything you buy are severely inflated by taxes. So what you see on your paystub is only a fraction of your real tax bill. This is exactly what politicians want. Just like other parasites, they are hiding while the suck the life force out of their hosts. They continue to ignore the idea of actually representing the public, and they stay in office. This craziness needs to end, but it won't end until we all stop deluding ourselves about the enormous cost of "government."

What not to do

You have no doubt read the propaganda from tax protestors. Most of their speil focuses on the federal income tax, which, as we know, is not center stage in the typical American's overall tax picture. These people are advocating that you cheat on your federal income taxes (their "legal arguments" never hold up in court, right or wrong). So, here's the logic:

"Use Strategy X and cheat on your federal income taxes, thereby reducing your overall tax bite from 85% to 73%." OK, so there's a potential upside. But they don't finish the thought here. "...And risk everything you own, including future earnings for the next 25 years--knowing the failure rate of this course of action is roughly 99.999%."

Let's do the math, for a middle-aged person earning $40k (today's median wage). You save $4,800. Great. To do that, you put at risk your $60,000 of home equity, your $30,000 car, your $180,000 retirement accounts, and the $1.4 million you expect to earn between now and retirement. And that risk is, statistically speaking, a certainty. Oh, and by the way--you must stay current on your other tax obligations even when you have put yourself in this horrible position.

Clearly, it is not prudent to "boycott the federal income tax." In fact, it's the financial equivalent of bungee jumping 100 feet with a 150 foot rope. So while tax protesting can feel good on the way down, you inevitably have to hit the pavement of reality. A more intelligent approach is called for.

What you can do

To fix any problem, you must attack it at its source. Where do taxes come from? Elected officials! If you want to lower taxes from their present punitive rates, you go to the source.

What do you tell these people? If you do the math, you can see that--even if all taxes were cut in half--taxes would still be punitive. This should be plenty motivating. But it also means:

  1. There is plenty of room for tax reduction. Start small and keep working on it.
  2. Nothing, under any circumstances, justifies any tax increase, period. Officials must make hard choices, just as you must in your own household.

Officials will claim they have budget shortfalls, and thus taxes must rise. Counter this by identifying three or four budget spending items that can be reduced or eliminated.

Officials who can't manage money any better than a drug addict simply do not deserve to be re-elected.

But they know that enough brainwashed people will vote for them no matter how careless they are with your money. So, it's pointless to threaten not to vote for them or to expose their profligate ways--the election results show this doesn't matter.

What you need to do is explain to individual officials how cutting program X and recovering most of that money for more important programs (while creating a small net dent in spending) helps them stay in office because it creates a more focused benefit in the electorate. For you to do this, you'll need to do some research and some thinking. But surely, you're capable. Considering how much you "spend" on "government," taking action here is one of the best things you can do for your finances.

A huge upside to working on this problem is it gives you enormous benefits in brain exercise--see our brain tips in this issue.



5. Security tip

More about alarm systems, and thanks for your positive comments about our locksmith tips in recent issues. Before buying an alarm system:
  • Ask your insurer (home or rental) about alarm system discounts. Depending on the answer, you may need to select a different alarm system or a different insurer.
     
  • Ask your insurer (home or rental) about other security-related discounts (for example, deadbolts and neighborhood crime watches). Depending on the answer, you may need to select a different alarm system or a different insurer.
     
  • Check out the alarm system contracts. The real cost is in the monitoring service. Get something firm before choosing that company.
     
  • Evaluate your carrier. In my neighborhood, SBC has very few customers because their lines are rotting, their system is unreliable, their service stinks, and they refuse to fix infrastructure problems. Thus, nearly everyone is on cable modems or on cell phones. If your phone is on cable, note that this is very hard to make secure--someone can knock out the cable very easily, shutting down your alarm. The same is, incidentally, true of POTS (Plain Old Telephone System), but generally to a far lesser degree.
     
  • Evaluate your outside connections. If you have any exposed wiring or cabling, cutting this takes only a second. So you spend $300 on an alarm system, pay a few false alarm fines, and pay $35 a month for monitoring. So far, so good. Then Joe Burglar shows up with a pair of wire snippers and silently cleans you out. Have these connections run in metallic raceway. Contact an electrical contractor about this, if need be. Keep in mind that even if you pay $300 for this work (and it's not going to be anywhere near that high), it beats the cost of paying for an alarm that does nothing to prevent the loss of all of your valuables.
     
  • Ask about silent alarm notification to a personal device. An alarm doesn't make you safe. It merely limits the amount of time available for a crime to be committed. This means a pro will still commit and get away with the crime, but will just do the job faster. Key downside: If your alarm sounds locally, you lose the element of surprise. But if it flashes a light or operates a vibrating alarm in your bedroom, you have time to retrieve your home defense weapon(s) and protective gear--and stop the Manson Gang or whoever is has decided to break in.

Remember that alarms, like everything else, can fail. And alarms, like other security measures, are just part of total security strategy. Ask your police department to give you a free home security assessment. Following their recommendations will go a long way toward keeping you from being an attractive break-in target. Don't "discuss" their recommendations, debate, or argue. Listen, take notes, and thank them. Cops see the aftermath of crimes, and they aren't just "offering another opinion."



6. Health tip/Fitness tips

What do more Americans die from than anything? Well, OK. Forget about the IRS for now. Let's talk about tragedies you can prevent.

This killer is heart disease. And Americans actually purchase it.

So the key to preventing it is to stop buying it. Don't put heart disease in your shopping cart at the grocery store. Don't order heart disease from the restaurant menu. Stop buying heart disease via your cable TV subscription. And by all means, don't buy heart disease in those little pocket-sized disease dispensers that come with the Surgeon General's warning on the label.

Your heart is only as healthy as what you eat. If a "food" is processed, then you are probably buying heart disease when you buy that "food." Rather than memorize a bunch of rules or try to figure out which foods are "bad," adopt the principle of "less processing is better."

For example, eat strawberries rather than strawberry cheesecake. Eat plain oats, rather than instant oats. Eat free-range eggs, rather than those "cheaply priced, but oh do you pay dearly" factory-farmed eggs.

Tip: Rather than read labels, choose foods that don't even have labels. You will find them in the produce department. Make a habit of this, and your risk of heart disease plummets to near zero (assuming you don't have environmental risk factors or a genetic defect in your heart).

Now, here's a tip for the time-rushed who don't want to purchase heart disease. Prepare your own meals, rather than buy frozen dinners and the like. "But wait," you say. "I can pop a frozen dinner in the microwave and have it in just a few minutes. That's a lot quicker than making my own meal." Point taken. But it's a point that looks at the wrong data. It's also true that if you don't tie your shoes before running a marathon you will save some time. But the performance drag you stick yourself with actually costs you time.

When you eat nutritious, non-toxic meals, you simply work faster and better. The time you invest in a proper meal pays back in multiples throughout the day in efficiency alone--but you also eliminate a major cause of heart disease and other illnesses.

If you're concerned about the time invested in decent meals, then count the total costs. How? Talk to your doctor. Say you are trying to decide whether to purchase heart disease in a box (frozen dinners, fast food, etc.) to "save time," or invest time to prevent heart disease and other illnesses. Ask your doctor to give you an estimate of how many hours it would take to treat heart disease in the first year of treatment, and how many hours it would take to treat colon cancer in the first year of treatment for that disease. Ask if it's more efficient to get both diseases at the same time, or if you should focus your junk food intake on getting first one and then the other.

Does this sound like a ridiculous conversation? It's certainly less ridiculous than zeroing in on one benefit (a few minutes saved now) while ignoring the huge costs.

Let me be clear. Eating junk food does not simply add some risk for disease. It guarantees illness in the near future, hugely raises the risk of catastrophic illness (from near zero to near certain) later in life, and absolutely causes an immediate performance penalty.

But if your excuse for eating junk food, fast food, and the other "time-saving" garbage peddled as food fit for humans is that you "don't have time to eat right," then count the real time loss that such an approach incurs. You are not saving time. You are losing huge amounts of it.

So take a look at the real numbers. Find out how many hours you will spend in diagnosis, surgery, recovery, therapy, and outpatient treatment. Add to that the long waits in waiting rooms, transportation time, and so on. Assuming heart disease doesn't kill you prematurely (this is a poor assumption--it would be more accurate to assume a time loss of 20 years), you'll have a fair handle on the actual time you lose by "saving time" via costly junk food.

I have never bothered to count these time costs, so I can't tell you what they are. My motivation for eating a non-disease diet is I don't want the misery, pain, and loss of functionality. I want to enjoy life. Don't you?

Call me crazy, but I don't think heart attacks and colon cancer are enjoyable. Just my opinion, based on reports from those who've been there, done that. You may prefer lying in a hospital bed with your guts cut up to walking in the park or making love to your spouse. If you've already been through this kind of misery, then you know what I'm talking about (and you probably wish you'd have known about the consequences of choices made years ago).

I also have this oddball preference of spending 20 years engaging in life with other people, rather than getting a 20 year head start on occupying a coffin. I know some folks who've skated to the edge of the abyss and changed their food choices. So, I'm really going by their experience and advice. Maybe that's not so odd, after all.

Don't give in when someone entreats you to join in stupidity. When someone wants you to eat junk and says, "Oh, come on, enjoy life a little," a good reply is, "No thank you. I'd rather enjoy life a more than just a little."



7. Miscellany

  1. Please forward this eNL to others.
     

  2. This issue's factoid: Here's a quote whose source I could not find. But it certainly rings true. "God made men equal. Sam Colt keeps them that way."
     

  3. See: Special Offers (expired link now removed).

8. Thought for the Day

Everything is a decision--even indecision is a decision.

 

Wishing you the best,

Mark Lamendola
Mindconnection

Authorship

The views expressed in this e-newsletter are generally not shared by criminals, zombies, or brainwashed individuals.

Except where noted, this e-newsletter is entirely the work of Mark Lamendola. Anything presented as fact can be independently verified. Often, sources are given; but where not given, they are readily available to anyone who makes the effort.

Mark provides information from either research or his own areas of established expertise. Sometimes, what appears to be a personal opinion is the only possibility when applying sound logic--reason it out before judging! (That said, some personal opinions do appear on occasion).

The purpose of this publication is to inform and empower its readers (and save you money!).

Personal note from Mark: I value each and every one of you, and I hope that shows in the diligent effort I put into writing this e-newsletter. Thank you for being a faithful reader.

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