Mar 252014
 

SaveUp is an interesting site. You associate a few of your bank accounts (credit, debit, school loans) to SaveUp and they then give you “credits” based on the amount you pay down. These “credits” can then be utilized to enter raffles or play various lottery-esque games. It takes maybe ten minutes to setup the first time and then perhaps two minutes a day to enter the various contests. I haven’t won anything yet – but I am competing for one of the biggest prizes ($50k).

Five Dollar Bill.

Five Dollar Bill.

This site could be useful for anyone, but I’d considered it especially useful for anyone who has a lottery card buying habit – here you can essentially do a lottery without spending any money…save a few bucks – still have the opportunity to win a few more.

Mar 142014
 

Growing up I went to a tiny local library. Its hours were sporadic and it sprawled over the first floor of an 1800′s residential home that had been retrofitted for that use. It was a very, very small library – but I loved it.

We’d make forays into Greenville to visit what became their much bigger library after they added a beautiful new addition and which also offered computers – which we could use to play games, etc. (I’m not sure the internet was an option for the first few years). Once in a while we’d even travel all the way down to Bethlehem to the monster library (which actually is decent sized, but not all that large).

Libraries where a second home for me. My mom would drop me off at one and I would stay for hours and hours. The library was a source of almost infinite knowledge – especially in those pre-internet days…and I loved knowledge.

I don’t go to libraries nearly as much these days – mainly because most of the information is now at my fingertips (and I don’t read fiction much)…but libraries aren’t relegated to irrelevance. They still house numerous books that provide deeper insights into a topic, they can get their hands on almost any book you could want (but don’t want to buy), and they offer a number of programs for children and adults – usually with an educational twist.

My local library is now the Langhorne branch. They’ve really done a beautiful job refurbishing the library – giving it a more coffeehouse/relaxing aesthetic. They have 10-20 computers that are available for public use and meeting rooms for special activities. Its a nice library – and if you want to make a trip out of the house – the library is an enjoyable (and free) place to go.

Ohh, and don’t forget about wireless internet access. Most libraries now offer free wireless internet access…and as the “Resources” page on the Bucks County Libraries’ website informs me – you can get access 24/7 by being just outside the library. Haha, this was kind of surprising – it sounds like they are inviting folks to come sit in the parking lot at all hours of the night? My guess is that in practicality, you might have a police officer visiting you one or more times during the night to see what you were up to…

In any case, what I really want to talk about is the digital resources that libraries make available. I can’t tell you exactly what resources are available at your library – but I will share with you some of the resources available through my library and I’d suggest that many (most?) libraries have similar offerings available…and they can be accessed directly from the comfort of your home (usually).

Magazines

Via Zinio my library offers access to a vast array of magazines in digital format. Here is a list of a few representative titles (but there are many, many more): AppleMagazine, Astronomy, Backpacker, Country Home, Bicycling, Billboard Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Cosmopolitan, Discover, Elle, Esquire, Field & Stream, Forbes, Fortean Times, Harvard’s Business Review, Ladies Home Journal, Men’s Health, National Geographic, Newsweek, O, PC Gamer, PC Magazine, PCWorld, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Redbook, Rolling Stone, The Economist, Us Weekly…oh boy, excuse me while I go lose myself permanently in the vast amount of quality reading material available!

Auto Repair

The libraries offer a number of resources called the “POWER Library” – this is probably available at most Pennsylvania libraries. One of these resources is an “Auto Repair Reference Center.” This is a treasure trove of information. Look up your specific vehicle’s model and see detailed instructions with images of how to perform various repairs and maintenance on your vehicle – or watch videos that explain how different components of vehicles work! Need to get an idea of what a repair is going to cost you? This can help on that front as well.

eBooks and Audio Books

The selection is much more limited than is available in the physical library – but that doesn’t keep there from being some excellent options available – you can’t argue with the convenience of never having to leave your home, wait in a line, or worry about late fees.

You’ll find books by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), John Grisham (the all-star of legal thrillers), Lee Child, George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Mitch Albom (The Five People You Meet in Heaven), J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame), and Ted Dekker (Christian thriller author) amongst the many fiction titles available.

And what about for us non-fiction buffs? How about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain, Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson, Joel Fuhrman’s Eat to Live (I recommend), Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body,  and so on.

Tutoring

Need help with a school subject? There is plenty of free tutoring available – including through Brainfuse – for K through College covering Science, English, Math, Social Studies, and Writing. Instead of guessing at your homework – or your child’s homework – here is a chance to improve your understanding and grades.

So Much More…

And there are all sorts of other resources as well as you can see here. Legal, research, film, continuing education. So go check out your local library’s website and see what vast resources have been sitting untapped at your fingertips!

Mar 122014
 

I’m a geek – so of course I wanted to test out the healthcare.gov site immediately after it launched – and failed. First I wasn’t able to connect to the site and eventually when I did connect to the site it would let me go through the profile process but once it attempted to verify my identity it would drop me into purgatory and leave me there – forever and ever and ever (literally, I could leave the site and come back days later and I’d still be stuck there).

Screenshot of Healthcare.gov upper front page.

Screenshot of Healthcare.gov upper front page.

I tried a couple times creating, deleting, recreating, on various days and over various months – no luck. Finally I decided to call the phone number and admit that I, an IT guy, couldn’t get the site to work for me. The phone was picked up fairly rapidly and I was led somewhat painfully through providing all the information I had already provided numerous times via the site. At the end I was given an application ID number which the representative informed me I should “enter on the site” and it would show my enrollment – but that sometimes it took up to 24 hours for the change to happen on the site.

I grimaced at the 24 hour statement. While I was on the phone I attempted to pull up the application and of course it didn’t work. I had a pretty good feeling that if it didn’t work then it wasn’t going to work in 24 hours – and I was correct. The next day it still couldn’t find my application ID and weeks and even a month or two later it still could not find the application ID.

People have been noting how few younger people have been signing up through healthcare.gov and I wonder – does the system, for whatever reason, have problems with younger individuals? I don’t mean that it is intentionally discriminatory, but that the data about older individuals is more readily available, organized differently, etc. For example, it may be that older individuals already are “known entities” to the system b/c they have utilized services like Medicare. Just a thought.

Today I tried again…I successfully walked through the process from start to finish. I still don’t like the site design (it is using funky and complex functionality to display the forms, which I found to be jerky in transitioning…) and the site still managed to leave me with a few “what do I do now?” moments…

But it is all done, I’ve signed up for the Keystone Health Plan East HMO Silver Proactive. Cost is less than $230/mo. (unless the premium changes, which I have heard happens…). This may be a decent jump for young folks in good health compared to pre-Obamacare, but for me it is a huge drop. Since I have pre-existing conditions Keystone would have charged me around $600-$700/mo. for health insurance…which was just impossible for me (and thus I have been without health insurance for over a year now).

Ohh, but the real reason I wanted to tell you about this is b/c something bad happens if you don’t have health insurance by the end of March…which I think most people know (I know a fine…and I think “open enrollment” closes which means you can’t get healthcare until the next “open enrollment” occurs – which might not be for a few months), but perhaps more important – if you want to have coverage as of April 1st you need to be enrolled in a plan by March 15th. If you are registered after March 15th, your insurance policy won’t “start” until May 1st!