January 16, 2021

Bucks: Playing the ‘Talk About Giving’ Game With Your Family

In this past weekend’s Your Money column, I mentioned the “Talk About Giving” game. It’s a $13 offering (including shipping and handling) from the Central Carolina Community Foundation, and you pick cards from a deck and use the questions as a way to begin a family discussion about values and philanthropy.

Some of my favorite questions are shown above and below. Here are a few more questions:

  • Should we volunteer even if we don’t want to?
  • If we give money, how will we know if our money was used well?
  • Suggest a new family tradition.
  • What do you appreciate most about our town?
  • What does it mean to be charitable?
  • Name a kind act that someone did for you in the past week.
  • How many pairs of shoes do you need?
  • Should children get paid for doing chores?
  • How much did tonight’s dinner cost?

If you like what you see here, get the whole set and test them on your brood.

And if you think of it, please come back and leave a comment letting us all know what you asked and how your family members answered.

Article source: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/10/playing-the-talk-about-giving-game-with-your-family/?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.S. to Close 800 Computer Data Centers

Computer centers typically do not employ many people to tend the machines, but analysts estimate that tens of thousands of jobs will most likely be eliminated.

The federal government is the largest buyer of information technology in the world, spending about $80 billion a year. The Obama administration, in plans detailed Wednesday, is taking aim at some of that by closing 800 of its sprawling collection of 2,000 data centers. The savings, analysts say, will translate into billions of dollars a year and acres of freed-up real estate.

The government is following the lead of private business. For years, companies have been using software that shares computing tasks across several machines in a data center. The task-juggling technology enables computers to run at far higher levels of efficiency and utilization than in the past, doing more computing chores with fewer computers and fewer data centers.

In an interview, Vivek Kundra, chief information officer for the federal government, explained that the data center consolidation was part of a broader strategy to embrace more efficient, Internet-era computing. In particular, the government is shifting to cloud computing, in which users use online applications like e-mail remotely, over the Internet. These cloud services can be provided by the government to many agencies or by outside technology companies.

Tapping cloud computing services, Mr. Kundra said, could save the government an additional $5 billion a year, reducing the need for individual government agencies to buy their own software and hardware.

Shawn McCarthy, an analyst at IDC, a research firm, said, “The data consolidation is really part of a much larger reworking of information technology by the government. You start with the technology plumbing, but the goal is more responsive and efficient government services.”

This week’s announcement, analysts say, is a significant step along that path, naming 178 data centers to be closed in 2012. It is the second step in the program. In April, 137 computer centers were singled out to be shut down by the end of this year.

But government officials say the federal agencies are moving faster than the initial plans, with a total of 195 closings now scheduled by the end of 2011. That would help lift the total to 373 data centers by the end of 2012.

The government, though late in starting, is on track for a particularly aggressive winnowing of its data centers, encouraged by the need for budgetary belt-tightening. “It is ambitious,” said Darrell M. West, an expert in government and technology policy at the Brookings Institution. “In an era of massive deficits, the federal government has to figure out ways to get more efficient. The data center consolidation is part of that process.”

The cost savings simply from running fewer data centers is estimated at more than $3 billion a year. There is an environmental impact too, since data centers are power-hungry. By one estimate, an average data center consumes the energy equivalent of 200 residential homes.

The data centers to be shut down are varied in size. One facility run by the Department of Homeland Security in Alabama covers 195,000 square feet, the size of more than three football fields. But some of the data centers to be eliminated are less than 1,000 square feet in size.

The total opportunity for savings is so large, Mr. Kundra explained, because for years each government agency tended to buy and build its own technology systems. Across the federal government, he noted, hundreds of different software programs are used for financial accounting and hundreds of different ones for human resources management. The population of federal data centers swelled from 432 in 1998 to more than 2,000 by last year.

“Redundant systems and applications sprouted like weeds,” Mr. Kundra said. “We need to shift resources away from duplicative systems and use them to improve the citizen experience.”

More and more services will go online, said Mr. Kundra, so the focus should be less on overall technology spending by government than on using technology more efficiently to deliver government services, especially collecting and presenting data in useful ways.

As one example, he pointed to the Web site Healthcare.gov. It enables people to compare health insurance coverage and pricing options offered by private companies and the government, and to compare quality scores for hospitals and nursing homes, based on government data.

The shift to modernized computer services has already started. For example, nearly 140,000 employees at the General Services Administration and Department of Agriculture have moved to cloud-based e-mail, Mr. Kundra said, saving about $42 million a year. Google provides the cloud e-mail for the G.S.A, while a Microsoft cloud service is used by the Agriculture Department.

Mr. Kundra declined to estimate the job impact of eliminating hundreds of data centers. The closings are determined by technology managers in the federal agencies. Data centers are not huge employers, as military bases are, for example. Yet even in the first wave of closings, Mr. Kundra said, “We have had some pushback from members of Congress, but tough decisions have to be made.”

None so far, he said, have been reversed.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e1f824d1dab7a3265dcaa23fe8ea56d9

Shortcuts: Pink Underwear and Other Lessons for the College-Bound

NEXT month, many parents will drop off their children at college, laden with newly bought sheets, lamps and hampers.

They’re as ready as they’ll ever be to start their new lives. That is, until the next phone call or text asking why the clothes came out of the dryer an odd shade of pink. Or why is the microwave buzzing in that weird way? Or, even more scary: what exactly does the car insurance cover?

I’m a few years away from seeing my firstborn off, but in the downtime between worrying about SATs and G.P.A.’s I may as well arm my son with the skills he needs to venture out on his own.

First, I had to figure out what those skills should be. Some are no different from what I needed to learn before my freshman year, oh so long ago. But many things have changed. Microwaves were rarer then, for instance, so my generation probably had a better idea of how to cook.

We were also expected to do chores. Sadly, many teenagers don’t even make their beds anymore.

Nor did we have to deal with online banking and debit cards or the ability to just click a mouse and buy something — and the ensuing problems these conveniences can bring.

And there was little expectation that our parents would be there to clean up every mess or solve every problem.

So what does the recent high school graduate need to know? I asked some experts I’ve interviewed in the past as well as some newly wised-up parents to draw up a (highly subjective) list.

Laundry, certainly not newfangled, was surprisingly high on many lists. Know how to do the basics like separating colors, darks and whites and what water temperatures to use, as well as what shouldn’t go in the dryer. My friend Miriam, whose was attending a college orientation for her son when I posed this question, suggested loading up on Shout Color Catchers. I’d never heard of these, but apparently they absorb loose dyes in the wash water to prevent discoloring, in case your daughter throws that bright red top in with the whites.

Also, as a previous article of mine noted, there is no need to fill up the soap container in the washing machine. Less is better in this case — clothes come out cleaner, the machine lasts longer and everyone saves money.

Speaking of money: if your teenager is opening her first checking account, make sure she knows how to make out a check properly.

Most teenagers won’t go to college with their own credit cards, but they may have a parent’s debit card or a bank account they can access with an A.T.M. card. Of course, they’ll need to keep track of their spending. But Lewis Mandell, an emeritus professor of finance and dean emeritus at the University at Buffalo, said he didn’t think balancing a checkbook was such a necessity anymore.

“They need to have some sort of budget and a general concept of how much they need to get through each period, and what large payments need to come out,” he said. “But they don’t have to balance to the penny.”

Greg Daugherty, the executive editor of Consumer Reports, said that students still needed to monitor their accounts to see if there were any A.T.M. or debit transactions that didn’t ring true. “Pay attention,” he suggested, “and if there’s a problem, get in touch with the bank right away.”

Professor Mandell, who has taught financial literacy for years, said it was crucial to emphasize to your child that credit records get established very early, in ways they may not realize.

“If they’re late on payment for a cellphone or a cable bill, they begin to injure their credit rating, and it can be on their record for seven to 10 years,” he said. And that can really hurt down the line.

He also urged parents to teach their children to have “a healthy dose of skepticism” when buying anything, whether it be a shirt online or a service from their own university.

“Check out all hidden fees,” Mr. Daugherty said. “Know return policies, and find out if the company charges a restocking fee for returns,” which is becoming more common both online and in stores.

And if they’re unfamiliar with a company, go online and search for the company’s name along with “scam” or “rip-off” to see the company’s reputation on the Web.

E-mail: shortcuts@nytimes.com

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=bc82bba841597af202369d68d83f511a