Sunday, March 30, 2014

Health Care Update - Deadline To Sign Up For Health Insurance

There has been a lot of discussion about the new health care program this year and with the deadline to sign up quickly approaching, there has been a bit of a rush to sign up.  I registered for the healthcare.gov website right when it launched but have waited until today to decide whether or not to sign up.  You can read about my experience using the website and reviewing the plans here.

After much contemplating I decided I better sign up for one of the health care plans.  As a self employed person, I do not have health insurance through an employer so this is the best option at the moment.  Now I still think the plans are not all that great.  There are some good plans available but they are very expensive.  However, with the cost of health care these days, it is a good idea to have some kind of protection even if it is unlikely you will actually need it.  Also the fact that you have to pay a fee if you don't sign up is a little extra incentive to pick a plan with the new system.

So after much review, I decided to go with one of the basic plans, a Bronze HMO plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield.  Normally I would prefer a PPO but in this case the comparable HMO had much better benefits for about the same cost where the PPO covers almost nothing until you pay all the deductible which is very high.  My current doctor is not in this plan so I will probably have to find a new doctor that is part of this group.

There is also an option to get dental insurance along with the health insurance.  I reviewed the plans and decided to skip the dental for now.  Adding up the monthly costs compared to the cost of just paying by cash for the same service, the self pay is a bit cheaper.  I take pretty good care of my teeth so I decided to hold off on the dental insurance.  It would be a good option if you do plan to have dental work done or if you have kids to cover for dental insurance.

So I officially applied for the new health care program.  So far I have not received a bill, but they say it needs to be paid by the start date which is May 1st this year.  This is all kind of an experiment and we will see how it turns out. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recycling Needs to be Easier

A while back one of my CFL light bulbs went out.  You know the squiggly kind that is more energy efficient and lasts longer than regular light bulbs.  I knew they contained mercury so I was hesitant to throw it in the garbage.  After doing a little research, it turns out these light bulbs should not be put in the garbage and should be recycled properly because of the substances inside.

So I did a little research to find where to recycle them.  I found a couple places including a local light bulb and batter chain that offered recycling services.  So I held on to the light bulb until I would finally be in that area to drop it off. 

A few weeks later I was going to be in that area so I brought the light bulb as well as a spent battery to recycle.  I go in and tell the person working there that I have the bulb and battery to recycle.  He tells me that it is going to cost 60 cents to recycle the light bulb. Excuse me?  You want me to pay 60 cents to recycle a light bulb?  I just held on to this thing for several weeks and made the trip over here just to try to do the right thing for the environment and they are going to charge 60 cents?  Who is going to pay that?

I sure was not, so I decided to hold on to the bulb.  I gave them the battery which they accepted for free.  As the title above says, recycling need to be easier.  It it also needs to be free in cases like this.  Most people would rather throw a light bulb in the garbage than have to drive somewhere and pay some one to recycle it. 

Recycling electronics is not always easy either.  You really have to do your research to find a place that will recycle certain electronics.  A lot of times communities will have recycle days for free, but they are often only a few times a year.  Some big stores will recycle electronics but they will often charge a fee.  People want to do the right thing that is best for the environment, but with examples like this, it is not very motivating to recycle.

If you have any thoughts on this issue or suggestions for places that recycle, feel free to share them in the comments below.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Juice and Frozen Fruit Beverage Idea

Juice is one of my favorite drinks in fact I have it along with most meals.  I always get 100% juice, usually a berry mix or an orange juice.  I also like frozen fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries.  One day I decided to combine the 2 into one cup.  Now there is nothing difficult about this and I'm sure many other people have made a drink like this before, but I sort of discovered it on my own so I thought I would share the idea here.

A couple recipe suggestions include a berry juice such as a cranberry pomegranate blend added to frozen blueberries and cranberries.  Another suggestion is orange juice added to frozen strawberries.  It is a very quick and easy combination and the results are delicious.  The frozen fruits act as a natural ice to chill the juice.  The juice also gets absorbed into the fruit to make them extra juicy and sweet!  Included here are a couple pictures of the drinks.  The pics do not do the drinks justice and they are much better than they look here. 

If you try these out and enjoy them or have any suggestions on similar drink recipes feel free to leave them in the comments section below. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Theory on Bad Words and Swearing

I was watching the show Hell's Kitchen the other day and I couldn't help but notice how much swearing they have on that show. Literally almost every line spoken on the show has something bleeped out. It's like they are editing the show to include as many lines with curse words as possible. I find the bleeping to be annoying in this case just because it is used so much on this show. It got me thinking about swear words in general.

Personally I do not use bad words, at least no out loud in public. They might run through my head from time to time, but I rarely say them out loud. Many people on the other hand use bad words on a regular basis. I have a theory on why some people swear while others do not.

Growing up my parents were fair and not overly strict. I remember one early on asking my mom if I could say bad words in the house. Surprisingly she said yes I could. I don't remember much else about it. I might have said a few words just for fun in the situation but after that I did not use bad words just because I knew it was something you were not suppose to do.

Most kids are told by adults that they are not allowed to use these words and they will get in trouble if they do. So then what do these kids do the first chance they get when the adults are not around? They say the bad words only because they have been told they are not allowed to. I think kids in this situation get into the habit of using these words that they are not supposed to and before you know it, they are using them on a regular basis which carries into their adult life.

Some may argue that they are just words and there should be nothing wrong with just saying a word. This is a good point but the fact is in our society it has been generally agreed upon that there are certain words that are just inappropriate or offensive and should not be used. Maybe not everyone agrees on this but most people do. There are also plenty of words in every language where there is no need to use words which are deemed bad or offensive.

A lot of it has to do with context and expression as well. Just merely stating a bad word out loud does not have the same effect as directing it to someone with the intention of being mean or offensive. Overall I think bad words should be avoided just because there are other words to use and because they are generally thought of as bad. I understand many people do not want to follow the rules as is evident by the childhood example of how swearing gets started. Thankfully most people use these words sparingly and not in the presence of children as it would be a bad example to follow. In the end of course everyone must make their own decision on whether or not to use bad words.

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Protect a Hat From Sweat, Oil, and Makeup

Hats are great but one of the biggest issues with them is keeping them clean. Most articles of clothing you wear against your skin are washed after one use, for example, socks, underwear or undershirts. Hats would fall into this category but a hat is not really something you want to wash after wearing it just one time. So how can you extend the life of the hat without having to wash it as much?

I figured a lining would be best, a material you can put on the inside to protect the hat from any sweat or oil from the scalp. They do make hat liners you can buy, but I thought I would try making my own. In this article I will explain how to make your own hat liner.

First, take an old t-shirt you don't need any more. Cut out a rectangular piece of cloth about 2 X 8 inches. Then take this strip of cloth and put it inside the front brim of the hat and fold it over the inside flap that is in most hats. Adjust or cut the strip of cloth to fit the hat you will be wearing. That's about it! You now have a lining to protect your hat from sweat, oil, or makeup.

I recommend using a cloth that matches the color of the hat to make it blend in as well as possible. The liner will protect the front part of the hat that is most likely to absorb oil and sweat from the forehead. Adding a strip like this does take up a little extra room so it is best for hats that are not too tight already.

For washing, you can easily take out the cloth strip and throw it in with the regular laundry. Over time you may want to wash your hat as it will get dirty from normal wear. For most modern hats of cotton or polyester material, they can be washed in a washing machine, but should be allowed to air dry and should not go in a dryer.

I hope this article and method for keeping your hat clean was helpful! Feel free to leave any comments or hat cleaning tips in the reply section below!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Morning Star Quinoa Burger Review

As someone who does not eat a lot of meat, I often look for convenient alternatives for protein sources.  One of my favorites are the burgers by Morning Star.  They come in several varieties in 4 to 8 packs and are available in most stores in the frozen foods section.  My favorites thus far are the Black Bean burger and the Chickpea Burger.  Both are very easy and quick to prepare and are a good source of protein. 

Recently Morning Star came out with a new burger called Roasted Garlic and Quinoa.  I was not too familiar with quinoa, but after doing some research, it looked to be pretty healthy.  Also the ingredients list which includes soy, lentils, rice, and vegetables looked good so I decided to try it out.

I cooked it like the other burgers in the microwave which takes about 1-2 minutes.  Right from the beginning it already smelled good without even tasting it.  I tried it out on some regular wheat bread without even adding anything to it to dress it up.  I was so surprised on how good it was.  It tasted like something out of a restaurant.  I would have to say it is even better than the black bean and chickpea burgers.  Morning Star has a hit with this new quinoa burger!

I will definitely be buying the quinoa burgers again.  It even inspired me to buy regular quinoa to cook at home in a pot.  I got a quinoa rice mix and made it the next week.  It was ok but not as good as the Morning Star burgers!  If you are a fan of the current Morning Star products, I highly recommend giving this new burger a try.  Even if you are a meat eater and are looking for an alternative protein source, this is a great option.  

Effects of Caffeine on Sleep

I'm not really a coffee drinker.  Generally I try to stay away from substances that have an impact on your body.  I like the taste of coffee ok especially when you add all the good stuff like cream and flavors to it, but in general I stay away from it and opt for something like water or juice.  I know caffeine has a tendnecy to make you more alert and make it harder to fall asleep.  A recent trip to Starbucks reminded me of this.

I had a $5 gift card that I had been holding on to for a long time.  I never go to Starbucks but I had the card so I decided I better use it.  So I went to the local establishment and got a 12 oz mocha beverage.  Overall it was pretty good but not something I would get on a regular basis, especially considering it costs about $4, and that is the small size.

This was about 1 or 2 in the afternoon when I drank it.  I figured it should not have too much effect on my sleep since it was a small, it was a mixed drink, and it was early in the afternoon.  I was wrong.  So I go to sleep at my usual time around 9:30pm or 10pm.  My mind was racing with thoughts about everything.  It was actually not bad and I had a lot of good thoughts and even came up with ideas for 3 new blog posts including this one.  Before I knew it, it was about 12am and I was still wide awake.

Eventually I got to sleep, but I was more tired in the morning.  It reminded me that I should stick with my ways of avoiding coffee and caffeine do to it's effects on keeping you up at night.  I still have about a $1 on the Starbucks card.  Maybe I will get a treat or a snack with it next time I am in the area. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

People Who Drive Aggressively on the Roads

Everyone once in a while you are driving along and you see someone driving very aggressively. You know, they zoom past you, accelerate hard, weave in and out of cars, just trying to get ahead. If it was a race and it was a straight line with no stop lights this might actually save time but because there are traffic lights on the road, it really does not help much.

There have been so many times where cars have tried to speed ahead only to jam on their breaks when the reach the next red light. Then everyone else casually pulls up behind them at their normal safe driving speed. They will continue to do this, trying to get around as many cars as they can.

Sometimes I will count the time they have saved by counting how many seconds they are ahead. After a mile or so of aggressive driving they will have saved about 5 or 10 seconds total. I want to ask them, "What are you going to do with that 10 seconds you saved?" Was it worth wasting gas accelerating hard and wearing down brake pads by jamming on the brakes? Was it worth making the roads more dangerous by weaving in and out of cars trying to get ahead? The answer is no. It is not worth all those things to save a few seconds.

I understand sometimes people are in a hurry. Maybe they are late for work. Maybe they are late for a meeting. In times like these it is understandable for people to want to drive faster. They have a good reason to do so, but that does not make it right and it still does not save much time in the big picture. The roads would be safer if everyone would understand that aggressive driving does not really save much time but it does compromise the safety and well being of the driver doing the speeding as well as the other drivers on the road.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Fox Cosmos Review

There sure was a lot of promotion leading up to the premier of the new show Cosmos on Fox. Space is an interesting subject so I figured I would check it out. I didn't know exactly what the show would be like but it turns out it is just like any other space documentary style program you have seen on PBS.

Now there is nothing wrong with this show and there is nothing wrong with Fox, but when you combine the two, it just doesn't work. This is a show that clearly belongs with other similar educational style shows on a network like PBS. It does not work on a major channel during primetime hours when viewers are expecting to see popular comedies and dramas.

Another reason it is out of place on Fox is because of the commercials. When you have commercials, you have to have a little teaser or preview in the show before each commercial break to keep the viewer interested. Cosmos had no such teasers. At every commercial break, I was like "What? This is where you put a commercial?" There was nothing to make you want to stay with the program through the commercial break. A show like this is much better on public broadcast stations like PBS because they do not have the commercial breaks.

Overall the program Cosmos itself was ok. As I mentioned earlier, space is an interesting subject and it boggles the mind to see how big the universe really is. Will I tune into this show week after week? Probably not. Primetime major network time slots are valuable and you really need to have a good show filling these slots. Cosmos is not a bad show, it just does not really fit in a time slot like this or a network like Fox.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why TV networks should not pay royalties to use music in their shows

A few times I have been watching Conan O'Brien's show and he has mentioned that there should be music at a certain section but there is not because they could not afford the royalties to use the song. I'm not sure how much of this is true and how much of it is a joke, but it got me thinking about how artists are paid money when their songs are used on tv shows.

I don't know all the specifics on percentages and the companies involved with collecting royalties, but I do have a strong opinion on this subject and that is that artists should not be paid money to have their music played on popular tv shows. Keep in mind, I have a background in making and selling music and I still hold this position. Allow me to explain.

There are 2 sides involved here, the tv network and their show and the artist and their song. A tv show can benefit by having music increase the mood and likeability of the show. An artist can benefit from having their song featured on a show by it getting lots of free exposure to people who have never heard it before. Weighing these 2 benefits, the artist has a lot more to gain than the tv show. They can potentially get a lot of new fans which can turn into sales in the long run. The tv show does not gain much other than maybe the show is a little better with the music in the background.

Another reason why artists should not be paid money for their songs to be in tv shows is because there are so many bands and artists that would love to have their music featured for free. Having your song used in a show that people like is one of the best forms of promotion. So many people will watch the show and think, "Hey, that is a good song." Then they will go find out who it is by and possibly buy the song or at least become a fan of this artist.

If an artist is asking for money to have their song used, the tv network should simply find another artist or band who would be happy to lend their music for free. Now, what if a network really wants to use a popular song and the artist will only allow it if they are compensated? In this case, the artist should be paid since the network really wants this specific song and the artist will not allow it without royalties.

Don't get me wrong, a tv network still needs to get permission to use an artist's song. As long as they get permission, they should be able to use the song free of charge unless the artist will not agree to these terms. If the artist does not allow the music to be used without a fee, the network should then seek out other music as there are tens of thousands of bands and artists out there who would love to have their music featured on tv for free.