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USA TODAY and National Geographic Channel Partner to Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

USA TODAY and National Geographic Channel are kicking off an editorial partnership this month with a series of jointly produced reports to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. A cover story in today's USA TODAY looks at why we are still obsessed with Titanic, 100 years later.
A special USA TODAY/National Geographic Channel tabloid edition, Titanic – 100 Years Later, hit newsstands Monday. The special edition can also be ordered online at http://service.usatoday.com/specialeditions. The tabloid edition includes:
• Our Titanic obsession – Little stories from the sinking of the world's largest ship 100 years ago make up the grand legend that continues to hold interest for the public today.
• Remembering April 15, 1912 – From museum exhibits to re-creations of the last meal served onboard to commemorative teddy bears based on one that survived, the Titanic anniversary will be marked in many ways.
• Titanic timeline – A graphic look at Titanic's only voyage, its shortage of lifeboats, and treasures that were recovered from its final resting place.
• How Titanic became an epic – A look at the 1997 movie, being re-released in 3-D on April 4th, including stories on the stars of the movie and its signature song, My Heart Will Go On.
• Plotting the wreck's future – National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard, who found Titanic's resting place, is calling for efforts to preserve not only Titanic but other historic areas.
Additional USA TODAY coverage the week of April 2nd will include:
• A Life section cover story on Titanic in 3-D, featuring an interview with director James Cameron. A trailer of the movie will accompany the story on USATODAY.com.
• A cover story that looks at whether we should raise the Titanic, featuring an interview with Robert Ballard. A video interview will accompany the story on USATODAY.com.
• An interactive graphic on USATODAY.com that will poll readers on whether the Titanic and its contents should remain at the bottom of the ocean or be raised and salvaged for museum collections.
National Geographic Channel marks the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with a two-night world premiere event April 8-9. Details below:
• In Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron , premiering Sunday, April 8, at 8 p.m. ET/PT, the Oscar-winning filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence leads the ultimate cold-case investigation into the tragedy. In 1997, Cameron brought the iconic ship to life in his blockbuster feature film "Titanic," which fueled not only the world's fascination with the shipwreck, but also his own: "I wanted to dive the wreck more than I wanted to make the movie," he explains. "Diving the wreck was my way into the story."
• Then, the next night, on Monday, April 9, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, the man who discovered the ship's final resting place more than 25 years ago is on a new quest: protect Titanic's massive underwater graveyard. In Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard , National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Robert Ballard retraces Titanic's beginnings and examines the ship's original plans — never before filmed— to reveal untold stories of Titanic's heroes and the unwritten story of Titanic's future.
For more information, visit http://natgeotv.com/.
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U.S. Study of 7.6 Million Students Reveals Most Popular Books and Reading Trends

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

The newest edition of the largest study on students' book selections expands from a popular annual report on reading trends to a discussion on what kids should be reading. What Kids Are Reading 2012: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools, released this month by Renaissance Learning, presents detailed information about the top 40 books read by students in grades 1–12. The report also fans the flame of debate about what kids should be reading with commentaries by education experts as well as noted authors.

Based on the reading records of 7.6 million students who read more than 241 million books during the 2010-2011 school year, the report confirms that America's youngest readers continue to feast on Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, while students in grades 3-6 prefer to devour books from Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which dominate the Top 5 spots in those grades. Kinney wrote the introduction to this year's report.

"The fourth edition of What Kids Are Reading continues to serve as a key resource to assist educators and parents in book selection," said Glenn R. James, CEO of Renaissance Learning. "The new commentaries on what students should be reading add a fresh perspective to this year's edition, adding insight to the long-standing debate about popular books students choose to read versus classics and other books that may be assigned to them."

Commentaries are shared by Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform, University of Arkansas; David Coleman, Student Achievement Partners and contributing author of the Common Core State Standards; Terri Kirk, Librarian, Reidland High School, Paducah, Kentucky; Barry Gilmore, chair of humanities and English teacher, Hutchison School, Memphis, Tennessee; Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series; Dan Gutman, author of My Weird School series; and Ellen Hopkins, author of the Crank trilogy.

The newly released edition of the world's largest study on reading trends provides information about books kids are reading by grade, gender, and reading level. Findings are based on records from Accelerated Reader (AR), the most widely used K12 reading software and largest single database of book-reading behavior. Data are based on quizzes students have passed, providing documentation beyond best-seller lists and library circulation, which report on books that were purchased or checked out, not necessarily read cover to cover.

The new edition includes the Top 40 Graphic Novels, examines Common Core State Standards exemplar texts, and presents the results of an annual Librarians' Picks Survey. The final section of the report is the Top 10 Challenged Books by Year, 2009–2011, from the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

To read the full report, visit www.renlearn.com/whatkidsarereading.
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Top 5 Questions to Ask the Interviewer

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

These days, when a job interview may be critical and hard to get, it’s a no-brainer to prepare yourself beforehand with as much information about the company you hope to join—and the responsibilities of the position you want—as possible before you arrive.

As important, maintains Jay Hofmeister, co-founder of The Resume Bay, is asking the right questions of the interviewer.

Hofmeister suggests asking these five questions can help pull you ahead of the pack:

1. In the next 30 to 90 days, what projects would you like to see completed? The answer will give you valuable insight into what the interviewer deems most important as well as an opportunity to point out how your background and skills would be helpful.
2. What one skill would add the most value to your company or department? The question suggests you are a person who is willing to go the extra mile in order to be a valuable employee.
3. What challenges and opportunities is the company or department now facing? This question shows you are interested in the company, up for any challenge, and ready to pitch in to make things happen.
4. What are the company’s (or department’s) goals for the coming year? Every company is goal-focused. Showing that you are goal-focused as well will help you stand out from the crowd.
5. What more can I tell you about myself to show you I am the right person for the job? This question can make or break your chances with the company. Why? Because it shows you have a sincere interest in and understanding of the company and that you really want the job.
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Guidelines for Purchasing a Home Warranty

April 3, 2012 6:54 pm

Since 1988, the Service Contract Industry Council (SCIC) has been the leading advocate on behalf of consumers and the home service contract industry, making sure that the legal environment for home service contracts (often referred to as home warranties) is consistent from state to state. "Consistency across all 50 states helps to regulate the industry and ensure customer satisfaction and protection," said Timothy J. Meenan, executive director for the SCIC.

The SCIC offers the following guidelines when purchasing a home service contract for your home this spring.

What is a home service contract?
The typical home service contract is a one-year contract that protects a homebuyer or current homeowner against the cost of unexpected repairs or replacement of major systems and appliances that breakdown due to normal usage or defects in materials or workmanship. A home service contract can:
• lessen the risk of costs and delays if a system, system component or appliance malfunctions during the selling process;
• help to resolve issues discovered during the home inspection stage;
• reduce any after-sale liability by a seller;
• add value and improve marketability of homes; and
• increase a buyer's confidence in their home investment.
Who sells home service contracts?
Real estate professionals, builders and independent providers sell home service contracts. A home service contract can be purchased at any time, including at the time of purchase, and is usually transferable to a new owner, although a small transfer fee may apply.

What is the difference between a home service contract and homeowner's insurance?
• Home service contracts typically cover the major systems in your home in the event of breakdown or malfunction including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and built-in appliances such as ranges, washers and whirlpool baths.
• Homeowner's insurance covers the structure of a home and personal belongings in case of a fire or natural disaster such as hurricanes and lightning, and provides liability coverage in case someone is injured on the property.
• Home service contracts are optional in real estate transactions.
• Homeowner's insurance is almost always required, especially if the buyer has a mortgage.
• A home service contract is not a substitute for a homeowner's insurance policy. A home service contract is a beneficial supplement to a homeowner's insurance policy as homeowner's policies generally do not cover items for breakdowns or malfunctions due to normal wear and tear or defects in materials or workmanship.
Do I need to be buying or selling a home to purchase a home service contract?
No. A home service contract provides valuable protection for current homeowners when a system or appliance fails.

Can I transfer my home service contract to the new buyer of my home?
Most home service contracts are transferable and may offer the option to allow the buyer to change or upgrade the service contract. A low-cost transfer fee may apply.

Can I customize the home service contract to meet the needs of my home?
Yes, but fees may apply. You may be able to purchase a home service contract that covers smaller appliances such as ceiling fans and built-in microwaves. Additional fees apply for coverage for private wells and septic systems.

How are contractors screened?
SCIC member companies typically put their contractors through a rigorous screening process that includes state license verification, detailed reference verification, and background checks.

How do I file a claim?
Homeowners are given a toll-free number to call. The home service contract company will verify your coverage and dispatch an independent contractor to assess the problem and replace or repair the item as necessary. A service fee, $50 on average, is charged per service visit.

What Can Cause a Denial of Payment?
• Improper maintenance
• Code violations
• Unusual wear and tear
• Improper installation
What is generally NOT covered?
• Outdoor items such as sprinklers
• Faucet repairs are not covered under all plans
• Garage door openers
• Spas or pools, unless specific coverage is requested
• Permit fees
What are the consumer's responsibilities?
Home service contract coverage varies from state to state and from policy to policy so the consumer needs to:
• Request a copy of the contract before buying
• Read the provisions carefully and become thoroughly familiar with all coverage, limitations and exclusions
• Carefully fulfill all contract responsibilities, such as regular filter changes for your heating/air conditioning systems
• Keep the service contract paperwork, original receipt(s), and all maintenance records
• Research the service contract company
About the SCIC
The Service Contract Industry Council is a national trade association that has been instrumental in working with state legislators and regulators across the country to develop laws to protect consumers.

For more information, visit www.go-scic.com.
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Turning Clutter into Cash

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Springtime is a natural time to clear the clutter out of your home and garage. It may also be the best time to turn clutter into cash, according to entrepreneur and author Skip McGrath, who recently sold a non-working espresso machine for $50 on eBay.

“Garage sales are fine for picking up a little extra cash,” McGrath says. “But there are better ways to get the most from discarded treasures.”

McGrath, whose book, “Three Ways to eBay Profits,” demonstrates how to set up and use an eBay sales account, said browsing the site will give you a good idea of the prices many used goods sell for.

He suggests:
• Using the Internet to find buyers for particular kinds of used merchandise.
• Making the rounds of local garage sales to pick up goods cheap that can be resold at much higher prices.

He offers examples of “most wanted” goods that can be quickly turned into profit:
• Small kitchen appliances – Working or not, small appliances – especially bread, pasta and espresso machines – can sometimes be re-sold for up to 20 times their value. Check eBay for prices of similar items and be truthful about your item’s condition.
• Video games – These may be sold for up to $30 per game via gazelle.com, which buys directly from consumers. The company also pays up to $1 per used DVD and $5 for Blue-ray discs.
• 1950s furniture – Interestingly enough, ‘50s era vanities, dressers, desks and dining furniture are in high demand. Check with consignment and re-sale shops before letting them go cheap at a garage sale.
• Old holiday sweaters – Your old red sweater with the light-up Rudolph nose, or other colorful old holiday sweaters are also in high demand at consignment shops.
• Vintage electronics – Old stereo or high-fi equipment, especially LP turntables, reel-to-reel tape decks and speaker systems in working condition, are bringing good prices via eBay, Craigslist, and other Internet sites.
• Vintage lunchboxes, comics, and more – Check yardsellr.com for a good idea how much ‘50s-era lunchboxes may be worth. Most in good condition sell for $20-50. But a 1954 Superman lunchbox in mint condition recently sold at auction for over $11,000.
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Facing Foreclosure? Know Your Deductions and Credits

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

According to NPR, more than half the nation saw a spike in foreclosures last month. With more and more homeowners facing foreclosures, experts at The Tax Institute at H&R Block offer the following information on credits and deductions, which can provide assistance to individuals prior to and after this unfortunate circumstance.

• Mortgage Debt Forgiveness: homeowners who experienced foreclosure on their primary home may be able to exclude the amount of canceled debt from their taxable income if they meet specific criteria.
• Mortgage Interest Deduction: taxpayers are eligible to deduct qualified mortgage interest on their main home and a second home if they itemize deductions on Schedule A.
o They must be legally liable for repayment of the loan to deduct the loan interest.
o For 2011 filings, taxpayers who could not pay at least 20 percent of their down payment may have been required by their lender to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). If the taxpayer qualifies, the PMI may be deductible as mortgage interest.
• Real Estate Taxes: homeowners are able to deduct real estate taxes separately from mortgage interest on Schedule A and from property taxes.
• Non-Business Energy Property Credit: taxpayers may claim energy-efficiency credits for up to 10 percent of the cost of various home energy-efficiency improvements.
• Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit: a nonrefundable personal credit is available for property used to produce energy in a personal residence located in the US .
o The credit is also available for wind energy property and geothermal pumps.
o Real estate taxes must be based on the home’s value and assessed at least annually.
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Green Housecleaning Makes a Healthier Home

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Green cleaning is on the rise. Many homeowners and professional housecleaners are trading their bleach, pine-scented and other potentially toxic cleaning chemicals in for more environmentally friendly and all-natural cleaners.

"Spraying potentially toxic chemical-based cleaners into the air, pouring them down the sink or dumping them in landfills has a negative effect on both our health and our environment," says Angie's List founder Angie Hicks. "Your home no longer needs to smell like bleach or other chemicals to be considered clean. There are plenty of all-natural cleaning products that do an equally effective job, are easy on your pocketbook and are better for you and your family's health and for Mother Earth."

Many professional housecleaners are relying on biodegradable, non-toxic cleaners like baking soda, white distilled vinegar and some essential oils with disinfectant qualities (lemon, tea tree oil and eucalyptus, for example) to clean and disinfect. Distilled vinegar, for example, will kill nearly all bacteria with which it comes into contact, while baking soda is great for scrubbing out stains and even freshening up carpets and sink drains. 

Some cleaning companies make a concerted effort to find other ways to further reduce their environmental impact, like cleaning and reusing towels and rags instead of using and throwing away power towels or sponges.

"As awareness for eco-friendly cleaning increases, many cleaning companies are turning exclusively to non-toxic products or are willing to supply them at a customer's request," Hicks says. "Homeowners interested in hiring an eco-friendly housecleaner should still do their research before they hire and ask what products the housecleaner plans to use. Also check that the housecleaner is licensed, insured and bonded. That protects the company and the homeowner in the event an employee is injured on the job or damages property.

Consumers interested in purchasing eco-friendly cleaning products should always read the ingredient list to determine what the product is really made from. Many over-the-counter cleaning products are touted by the manufacturer as being green but still contain chemicals.

"It's never too late to go green when you clean," Hicks says. "Box up all those chemicals you no longer want and take them to a local hazardous waste center. Replace them with all-natural cleaning products or by using an eco-friendly cleaning service. Your home will still smell and look great."

Professional housecleaners are often a great value for busy homeowners, as they are often able to do the job in a fraction of the time it would take the average homeowner. Some professionals offer one-time cleans or can set you up on a less frequent rotation.
A typical cleaning includes dusting, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning of bathrooms and wiping down of all hard surfaces. There are projects many cleaners won't take on or will charge extra for, like doing dishes, laundry, washing windows; or deeper cleans, like refrigerators, cabinets and stoves.

Always spell out your expectations before you hire and make sure you are clear on how the company bills its customers.

To keep your home cleaner longer, professional housecleaners recommend minimizing clutter and sweeping and vacuuming between cleanings.

Source: www.angieslist.com
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April 1-7: National Window Safety Week

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

As part of National Window Safety Week, April 1-7, 2012, the experts at following tips can help parents of youngsters adopt an extremely cautious attitude with children and the windows in their home. 

“Children should be taught at a young age to stay away from windows for their own safety,” says Gary Pember, vice president of marketing for Simonton Windows. “Parents can help safeguard children in the home by keeping furniture (including cribs) and anything else a child can climb on, away from windows. And, if your home has Double Hung windows, open only the top part of the window that children cannot reach, to allow for ventilation.” 

Pember offers these tips for window safety in the home:
Tip 1 - Remember the primary purpose of a window screen is to keep insects outside. Never push on screens, as they will not support the weight of a child or family pet.
Tip 2 - Lock windows when not in use to protect against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to open windows.
Tip 3 - Do not paint or nail windows shut. Every window in the home that is designed to be opened should be operational in case of an emergency.
Tip 4 - Refrain from nailing or attaching decorative lights to the interior or exterior of window frames.
Tip 5 - Plant shrubs or grass, and place “soft landscaping” like bark or mulch, directly underneath windows to help lessen the impact should someone accidently fall out of a window. 

Families with small children should pay special attention to windows and patio doors. Start with practicing home emergency fire drills. Show them the fastest safety route to the outside and make certain children know under what circumstances to use a window to exit a home. Since small children tend to “hide” from fire, make sure they understand how important it is to safely and quickly exit the home should a fire occur. 

“If a door is hot to the touch or not safe to exit through during a fire, then both children and adults should exit through an open window,” says Pember. “Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not to break the window glass. Doing so could cause injury. During family safety drills, show children how to operate windows and how to use chain escape ladders that should be kept in all bedrooms located above ground level. Also establish a designated meeting place for the family outside the home.” 

Source: www.simonton.com.
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Word of the Day

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Consideration. Something of value, usually money, given to induce another to enter into a contract.
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Question of the Day

April 2, 2012 6:38 pm

Q: What is a second mortgage?

A: It is a loan against the equity in your home. Financial institutions will generally let you borrow up to 80 percent of the appraised value of your home, minus the balance on your original mortgage.

You may incur all the fees normally associated with a mortgage, including closing costs, title insurance and processing fees.
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