Open thread

by Grace aka costofcollege

For the last regular Totebag post of 2016 we’ll have an open thread.  Here’s one topic to get the conversation going.

If you don’t make New Year’s resolutions, how about choosing a “theme” for 2017.

A Fun Way to Make a New Year’s Resolution: Choose a One-Word Theme for 2016.

… for the last several years, I’ve identified one idea, summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.

My sister Elizabeth often does this kind of resolution, too. Last year her theme is “Novel.” One year was the year of “Free Time,” another, “Style,” another “Hot Wheels” — that year, she got a car and started driving; she and I have both struggled with a fear of driving, which was much tougher for her, given that she lives in Los Angeles and I live in New York City.

Another friend of mine does the same thing. One year, I remember, was “Dark,” another was “Make.”

For 2015, I chose “Upgrade.” In this post from January 2, I wrote, “I want to take many areas of my life to the next level.

This may sound gimmicky, but if you were making a resolution what theme would you choose for 2017?  (You can cheat and use a two or three words!)  Also, what theme word(s) would you use to describe your 2016?

 

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Educational Spending and Inequality

by WCE

I enjoyed this map detailing the difference in educational spending between typical and high poverty rate schools by state. Missouri has the biggest gap in spending. What I found more interesting than the within-state gap, however, was the gap between states. Wyoming, Alaska and some New England states have per capita spending in the high teens. Most southeastern states, Oklahoma, Utah and Idaho have below average spending, around $7000. I would guess the national population-weighted average (not the average of 50 states) is $10,000/student, without knowing how technicalities like the need for new buildings being greater in some states is handled.

The site notes that some states have determined that unequal funding between districts within a state is unjust, but this gap is negligible compared to the gap between states. Do you think the inequality between states is unjust? What, if anything, do you think should be done about it? Other than New York, it appears that many states with the poorest students and the most ESL students have the lowest funding.

Map: 41 States are Shortchanging their Neediest Students

Interviews and Salary

by Honolulu Mother

I found the responses, and comments on the responses, interesting for this Quora topic:

How should I respond when an interviewer asks what your current base salary is?

The five-point response from the recruiter I found especially disingenuous, explaining why everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds and you should definitely give an interviewer your current salary when requested. Many commenters also took issue with his response.

Do you have a preferred way to approach this?

2016 books and more

by Grace aka costofcollege

Get ideas and give us your take on your 2016 reading.

Who Read What in 2016
Steph Curry, Dava Sobel, Mike Lee, Yaa Gyasi, Abby Wambach, Jeff Bewkes and 44 more of our friends name their favorite books of 2016.

Here’s another from Vox.

The best books we read in 2016

What did you read this year?  What were your favorites and your not-so-favorites?

Here are some listening ideas.

The 50 Best Podcasts of 2016
From politics shows to horror series, highlights from a year of listening

Do you read free books and magazines from Amazon?  (I missed this announcement when it came out in October.)

Introducing Prime Reading – The Newest Benefit for Prime Members
Prime members are now able to read as much as they like from a selection of over a thousand top Kindle books, magazines, short works, comic books, children’s books and more – all at no additional cost.

What about 2016 TV shows, movies, music, and other media?  Give us your reviews.  What are you looking forward to in 2017?

Worst Holiday Music

by Honolulu Mother

As we get to the point in the season where we’ve all had LOTS of opportunity to hear all the holiday music, perhaps it’s time to reflect on the holiday songs that least bear repeated hearings.

This LA Times article by Randy Lewis can get you started:

Ho, ho, no! 12 of the worst holiday albums of the last 20 years

My contribution to this topic is the album “All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.”  It’s hilarious at first, but a little of it goes a very long way.

How did it work out?

by Finn

One of the things I like about this group is the hijacks and side discussions that take place, often started by someone asking for advice.

Let’s share how things worked out. What car did you buy? What computer did your DH buy? How are those working out for you? Have the bullying problems been worked out?

More generally, what advice or suggestions have you received here that has been particularly useful?

Videogame / screen addiction

by Honolulu Mother

Caitlin Gibson of the Washington Post took a recent look at a case of videogame addiction:

The next level
Video games are more addictive than ever. This is what happens when kids can’t turn them off.

I really think this may be the biggest challenge for our kids’ generation. Maybe the boys lean a little more toward videogame addiction and the girls lean a little more toward social media addiction, but they’re all faced with the challenge of pulling themselves away from a virtual world that’s been deliberately designed to be immersive and addictive (because that’s what makes for a successful game / app / platform), and is always available at any time of the day or night. Even though most of us had video arcades and MTV and maybe an Atari or early Nintendo available in our teens and college years, the technology and availability weren’t comparable: we just didn’t have the same level of temptation to face down.

We don’t have problems at the level portrayed in this article, but I certainly wouldn’t say my kids are immune to this and they’re still trying to find ways to be able to have a little screen time after school and still be able to pry themselves loose back out before too long to get back to homework or other projects. We don’t have particularly strict screen time restrictions, as my theory is that this is something they really have to learn to self-monitor to be successful in college and adulthood.

How do your kids deal with the call of the screen? Are they independently able to exercise moderation, do they exercise moderation primarily through parental strictures, or is this a problem area for your family?

More holiday season conversation

by Finn

With T-day in our rear-view mirror, we’re well into the holiday season.

Are you sending out cards? What kind do you send? Do you attach a newsletter to your cards? How do you feel about receiving newsletters with cards?

If you do send out cards, here’s some grammar help:

Are Your Holiday Cards Grammatically Correct?

Do you have travel plans for the holiday? Kids coming home from college? Do you have any travel planning tips to share? Ever tried Google flights?

Making travel planning less stressful this holiday season

Do you have any gift ideas to share? What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts?

Holiday Letter

by Louise

Very few people send out holiday letters anymore but two of my relatives do and I must say I have enjoyed reading them.  Their letters are balanced, not over the top cheery nor down in the dumps.

It has been a tumultuous year. Capture that spirit in your own holiday letter spoof. You can pretend to be someone else. Make us laugh, spread the cheer!

Terrible Twelves

by Honolulu Mother

My youngest, a seventh grader, has been a challenge to live with (and to teach) lately, in similar ways to his older brother at the same age. (My daughter went through the phase less severely and about a year earlier.) It led me to google “terrible twelves,” which turned up this NY Magazine article

Age 12 Is Like a Second Toddlerhood

Do you agree?

(And, remind me again that this stage will pass . . .)

Pizza

by Fred MacMurray

What’s your favorite when it comes to pizza?

There are, of course, the big national chains Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Little Caesar’s.

For a more sit-down approach, and a much wider menu than just pizza there are California Pizza Kitchen and Uno Chicago Grill. And of course there are regional favorites like Giordano’s (Chicago) and brands that cover a lot of area, just not nationally, like Shakey’s and Round Table.

So, where should totebaggers get pizza when they are in your area? Are there toppings that make the experience unique? And what else should they order from the pizza place for that local experience?

2015 Pizza Today Top 100 Pizza Companies List

Tips for Holiday Entertaining

by Honolulu Mother

Do you entertain during the holidays? An open house kind of thing for friends and family, a work-related thing, a cookie-decorating party, the big family dinner, a cocktail party? Let’s share our holiday entertaining tips!

My household relies heavily on Costco when doing a big party. We get the shrimp tray, the crudite tray, the cookie tray, some of the booze, the frozen spanakopita. Sam’s Club we use to supplement (sometimes they have better selection of frozen puff pastry hors d’ouevres), along with a couple of trays of finger food items from a nearby restaurant. I avoid having much cooking to do during the party as I find that even having to remember to take a pan out of the oven is more than enough to remember once the party is rolling.

Our biggest challenge is probably finding a date, as it seems like most people we know have packed weekends in December full of kid activities and family obligations. We just aim for earlier in the month and cross our fingers.

Do you have holiday entertaining tips to share, or stories to tell?

2016 Politics open thread, December 11-17

Scott Adam’s blog post about two separate reality paths made me think of our blog, which reflects what I observe among many other people I know in real life.

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States has effectively forked reality into two versions that are running in parallel. Clinton’s supporters believe they are living in a world that is a repeat of 1930s Germany, with Trump playing the part of Adolf Hitler. See this reaction for a typical example.

Meanwhile, the other half of the country believes we elected a highly-capable populist who will “drain the swamp” and bring a business approach to government along with greater prosperity.

How can it simultaneously be true that Trump is OBVIOUSLY the next Hitler while it is also true that half the country didn’t notice? There are at least three ways to explain-away this dissonance. Maybe…

  • Half the country are sexist, racist monsters too, so they like Trump.
    or…
  • Half the country is stupid and can’t identify a Hitler that is right in front of them.
    or…
  • Clinton supporters have been duped into believing something ridiculous about Trump.

What do you think?

(Via Althouse)

Bargain travel

by Grace aka costofcollege

Despite her initial doubts, this NYT travel writer gave a positive review of a trip she took using a bargain package deal.

Looking for a Bargain Vacation? Don’t Rule Out Hawaii

For years I’d seen online ads for surprisingly affordable prefab vacations — airfare and hotel, with maybe a car and a tour thrown in — through unexpected vendors like Groupon and Costco. I remember thinking, “Do people actually buy vacations through Costco?” To me, packaged bulk trips were the five-pound tub of mozzarella balls of travel. Sure, it’s a bargain, but how bland? What quality could you possibly get for that impossibly low price? I was, in short, the worst kind of travel snob.

I regularly check deals that come my way, mainly Groupon Getaway and Travelzoo.  But I’ve never tried any.  Sometimes they seem too good to be true and sometimes they seem to scrimp more than I’d like.  (Are the hotels lacking?  Can I get an aisle seat on the plane?)  Sometimes they don’t seem like such a great value when I start to compare low airfares and housing options that I could assemble on my own.  But I keep telling myself that one day I need to throw caution to the wind and buy a five-night inclusive trip to the Caribbean for under $600.  How bad could it be?

Here are three travel deals I recently came across, all departing from New York:

  • 11-day Thailand & China Tour w/Air for $1499 that includes hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts, and several tours including one of the Great Wall of China
  • London & Rome 6-Night Trip for $799 that includes air, hotels, transfers, daily breakfasts
  • Punta Cana 5-nights all-inclusive beach side resort including air for $589

Do these sound enticing to you?  Have you ever bought one of these deals or have you considered it?  Do you know people who’ve had good or bad experiences?  Do you avoid these mainly because they’re too conventional and you prefer more personalized travel?  In other words, are you a “travel snob”?  Any advice for someone who’s considering buying one of these deals?

Also, do you have any travel plans coming up or any dreamy destinations that you’d like to visit soon?

Jobs, Industries, Workplaces

by Louise

It has been a while since we talked about or vented about our jobs. Let’s talk about that. Also, what about our respective professions, industries and workplaces. Any changes there ? Any impacts from the election, favorable or unfavorable ? Did anyone make changes that worked out or not career wise?

To Vaccinate or Not

by AustinMom

In my area, as noted in the article, we have a fairly large opposition to vaccinations for children. I think, as the article notes, that many parents of young children today never had the disease vaccinations target nor even have known anyone who had them which leads them to think the disease is eradicated vs. controlled. Our family knows families who by choice do not vaccinate at all by, vaccinate selectively, and/or vaccinate on a much longer schedule than recommended for healthy children. We also know a family who can only vaccinate on a limited basis due to health reasons. Lastly, I grew up with a friend who cannot build an immunity to chicken pox and would have it almost annually; even as a mature adult still gets it every few years.

My mom, who passed away in her early 90’s, was very pro-vaccination as she and most everyone she knew had these childhood diseases and she saw first hand the symptoms and the effects. I received all the vaccines that were available during my childhood. As there were no vaccines, I had chicken pox (mild case) and mumps (on one side and then on the other), but not measles. My children have had all their shots and some that at the time were recommended by our pediatrician before they became required by my state for attending school. While still not required, my children have had the HPV series.

I fully understand families with health issues that prevent them from vaccinating or that require vaccinating on a modified schedule. I understand how vaccinating their peers helps reduce the likelihood that those who cannot be vaccinated will become ill. My pediatrician, who is clearly pro-vaccination, hasn’t issued any requirements for being vaccinated to remain a patient.

Do you think that families should be able to refuse to have their children vaccinated for any reason other than medical necessity? Would you change pediatricians/clinics if they required all patients to be fully vaccinated, unless prevented by health issues?

On vaccinations, a pointed shift for pediatricians

Corporate Malfeasance

by WCE

I recently read two articles that made me ponder the role of whistleblowers in revealing corporate malfeasance.

The WSJ article (first) discusses how the medical testing company Theranos used its attorneys to intimidate a young Stanford grad who went to work at Theranos and observed irregularities in its medical testing methodology. I identified with Tyler’s youthful idealism and interest in data. I also thought about our legal system, compared to other “loser pays” systems and thought about its disadvantages. I suspect that pressure to conform to the vision of a startup is not uncommon. The NY Times article (second) describes how Princess Cruise Lines is being fined $40 million for improper waste dumping around the world on many ships from ~2004-2013. The illegal dumping was observed and reported by a new engineer who observed the illegal dumping and promptly reported it to the British authorities and quit his job at the port of Southampton.

Do you think government regulatory bureaucracy can/should do a better job of protecting potential whistleblowers? Do you think boards of directors should do a better job of overseeing internal company practices? Have you pondered the complexities of international environmental regulatory compliance, from both a legal and an engineering point of view? How can governments do a better job of seeking out likely cases of illegal behavior, both to avoid the behavior and to protect ethical competitors? (Volkswagen emissions and Wells Fargo also come to mind.)

Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—and His Family

Princess Cruise Lines to Pay $40 Million Fine for Illegal Dumping

Your franchise dream

by Grace aka costofcollege

What it costs to open one of america’s ten most popular franchises

Inspired by this article, I let myself dream a little about having my own franchise business.  I don’t consider myself the traditional entrepreneurial type and I am not interested in any business that deals with food, but I have toyed with the idea of having a Kumon franchise.  The hours seem reasonable and I foresee an ongoing need for their services.

Here’s one list that has Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches (I’ve never heard of them) as number one.

The Top 10 Franchises of 2016

Some totebaggers run their own businesses, but most of us do not.  What’s your dream franchise or business of any kind?  And even if you don’t realistically see yourself as an entrepreneur, what business would you be interested in trying if the usual obstacles were magically removed?

 

Open Plan Offices – What do you think?

by Kerri

Open-Plan Offices Are the Worst

My office recently changed to an open plan (other than for senior management) and I am struggling with it.

It was pitched to us as a way to improve collaboration and foster creativity. When pressed, management acknowledged it also resulted in cost savings.

A few thoughts –

  • If we had been told this was, bottom line, a cost saving measure, instead of hearing spin about collaboration, creativity and innovation, would that have made the transition easier? Why the spin?
  • As an attorney, my job is to provide legal advice and to discuss sensitive issues. I have real concerns about confidentiality and my client’s willingness to share information with me in an open setting where others may overhear. I could book a conference room (although those are limited), however that extra step may inhibit candid discussions. Call it the PITA factor.
  • As an attorney, a good chunk of my job is reading really long documents, which requires a lot of focus. We have headsets but they are not noise canceling (again a cost saving measure). How am I going to function?
  • I feel a loss of status in losing my office. I see this in my colleagues as well, moral is not good. While I have an assigned desk, some of my (non-legal) colleagues are “hot desking” – taking what is available. We’ve also been discouraged from personalizing our work area.
  • I now have the option to work more from home. I don’t have a home office but have worked from home occasionally in the past. I usually get more done, including the laundry and the dishes =), but feel less connected. In the past I’ve been told face time is important for career advancement and to “lean-in”. (My company is big on buzzwords.) If more people are working from home, what does “leaning in” look like?
  • I am an introvert. I am really concerned that I will be less productive and more exhausted at the end of the day.
  • Are in person, telephone communications a thing of the past? How concerned are you about what’s in your e-mails?

How Wall Street titans Jamie Dimon, Warren Buffett, and Carl Icahn avoid using email

Have you transitioned to an open office? Any advice, tips? Any advice on working from home? Do you use e-mail extensively or limit its use?