Gunning Daily News

Word of the Day

September 14, 2012 6:36 pm

Tax basis. The price paid for a property plus certain costs and expenses, such as closing costs, legal counsel, and a commission paid to help find the property.

Q: What Should I Know About Mechanics’ Liens?

September 14, 2012 6:36 pm

A: A mechanic’s lien is a “hold” against your property that provides contractors and suppliers legal recourse to assure payment for services. The liens vary from state to state and allow for a cloud on the title of your property and foreclosure action. Also, if you paid the contractor, but he failed to pay the subcontractors and laborers – who do not have a contract with you – then the workers may file a mechanic's lien on your home. This could result in a double payment by you for the same job. You can protect yourself from unwarranted liens by selecting your contractor carefully and managing your construction project responsibly. Also, most construction lenders will specify a payment distribution process that involves the securing of lien waivers. The remodeling contract should address this as well, assuring that the general contractor is responsible for all payments as well as any costs required to remedy lien disputes that may arise.

Protect Yourself with The Latest Consumerfed Data (Part3)

September 14, 2012 5:06 pm

In our last segment we started drilling into the cache of data available in the latest federal Consumer Complaint Survey Report (consumerfed.org), compiled by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

Several of the top complaint categories involved homeowner, finance and mortgage issues, so we'll continue looking at some specific concerns to help protect you, your home and finances from unscrupulous schemes.

After one of the owners of a New Jersey furniture store embezzled money and assets from the business, forcing its abrupt closure, the Somerset County Division of Consumer Protection received 21 complaints from consumers who paid in full but never received their orders.

The cumulative loss was more than $60,000, while other customers were left with no recourse for damaged delivery, partial deliveries, and repairs that were promised but never made. And wouldn't you know it - the business filed for bankruptcy, offering little recompense to the consumers.

This story out of Jersey prompts the reminder: if you are paying in full for household goods or services that will be delivered at a future date, pay with a credit card, which gives you the right to dispute the charges if the merchandise never arrives or the services are never performed, or if what you get is not what you were promised.

Debit cards aren’t required to provide that protection, though some do voluntarily. Check with your card issuer before using it for that kind of purchase. And if you’re using a check or cash, pay only a small deposit, not the full amount - only pay the balance when the goods are delivered or work is completed.

If you do pay for purchases on installment against a debit card (versus a credit card) remember, businesses must have your express consent to take money from the account. Check your bank statements carefully and notify your bank immediately if you spot any unauthorized withdrawals.

Want to Make Movies? Tips for Ambitious Amateurs

September 14, 2012 5:06 pm

Because technology is moving so quickly, it’s easy to miss out on gadgets that may impact one’s life.

“Anyone with a cell phone knows how accessible taking pictures and shooting footage is nowadays, but with a minimum of investment, movie fans can tell their own stories with the same professional hardware that legends are using today,” says seasoned filmmaker Kerstin Karlhuber.

She completed her latest project, “Tides of the Heart” in collaboration with partner and renowned songwriter Daniel Jay Paul.

“It’s a feature-length music video – there’s no dialogue. The story is told completely through the music and Kerstin’s direction,” says Paul, whose latest album, “Clean Getaway,” not only makes up much of the score for the film, but also structures the plot.

“With the technology available today, you can really afford to experiment and innovate. That’s what keeps pushing the artistry to the next level,” he says.

Karlhuber and Paul offer suggestions for creative-minded individuals who have been kicking around ideas, but haven’t yet pulled the trigger on a project:

• The Canon EOS 5D Mark III: Canon v. Nikon … who cares? The point is that the big dogs in the film business, from James Cameron to Neill Blomkamp of indie-film success story “District 9,” are using digital gear that can be purchased by the average movie fan. The sharpest, crispest picture in the history of images can tell your story for a few thousand dollars.
• Adobe, CyberLink, Final Cut Pro, etc.: Film editing software, more than ever, is cheap, user-friendly and easy to acquire. There are several tutorial demonstrations available online, and if you need to come up with ideas for a project brainstorm with friends or family. That’s half the fun.
• Getting started: Sadly, most of the failure of creative projects – whether film, music, art or writing – involves work-ethic issues, or lack of confidence. Ask the following questions: How long have I been thinking about my idea? Is my vision doable? What’s keeping me from pursuing it? … And, perhaps the most insightful question – Why not?
• A little help from your friends: Chances are that if you’re a creative person, you have a few creative buddies who can help you troubleshoot concepts and technical issues. Lean on your artistic friends for moral support – they understand the struggle of the creative process. The same people may be a good source for constructive criticism, too, when the project is nearing completion.
• Consider trends: Karlhuber’s film has no dialogue and relies solely on Paul’s songs for sound. The most recent Oscar winner for best picture, “The Artist,” also features no dialogue, relying on old-school Hollywood visual drama. While this is a coincidence, Karlhuber says it has helped her film gain attention. “If your creative ideas happen to line up with a trending topic, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of the public’s zeitgeist,” she says.

Are Books Doomed to Extinction?

September 14, 2012 5:06 pm

Michael Levin, a New York Times best-selling author, as well as editor, publisher, co-writer and ghostwriter, says he can see the writing on the iPad.

“Unless something changes, books as we know them are doomed, and not simply because people prefer to read on their iPads or Kindles,” says Levin.

“You’ll see the major publishing houses starting to go away in three to five years,” Levin says. “Their business model is in free fall. Already, we’re seeing books becoming shorter, cheaper, and diminishing in quality. You’ll soon see fewer really good authors bothering to write books, because books are no longer a meaningful source of revenue.”

Levin points to several developments he says foreshadow a sad ending for books:
• Attention spans are diminishing. Three-fourths of teachers said their students’ attention spans are shorter than ever, according to a poll released in June. By 11 years old, nearly half of the kids had stopped reading for pleasure. The poll, by publisher Pearson UK, is just the most recent survey/study documenting shrinking attention spans and a corresponding drift from books. “Part of the problem is children don’t see their parents reading,” Levin says. “Obviously, the kids’ aren’t the only ones with diminishing attention spans.”
• Major publishers are producing lower-quality books. The big publishing houses today are more interested in a quality marketing plan than in the quality of the book, so we’re being deluged by low-quality books. One reason is that many large publishers have stopped taking on the expense of marketing books, but they know it’s necessary for sales. So they take on authors with a marketing plan and budget. They’re also less interested in “star” authors, who demand higher royalties. They also lost authors when they eliminated advances in response to the 2008 recession.
• Books are moving to devices, where content is free and time is thin-sliced. Online, you don’t expect to pay for content. People will expect books available online to be either free or very inexpensive, and if those books turn out to be one chapter of ideas and eleven chapters of Hamburger Helper, they will be less willing to pay for them. Also, people don’t spend much time going into depth online; books are supremely inappropriate for the surface-skimming nature of the Internet. Once people have bought a bunch of ebooks they’ve never started, they’ll stop buying them altogether.
• Authors have a more difficult time earning a livable wage. Fewer authors can earn enough to make writing a full-time job. The audience is shrinking and fewer people are willing to pay $15 for a paper book when cheap alternatives are available. “We’ve already seen more books written to promote a product, service or company, or to brand the writer so he or she can pursue a more lucrative field,” Levin says. “Most books of the future will be marketing tools, since that’s the only way they’ll be profitable.”

Levin does find reason for hope, but it will require publishers to change how they do business.

“They need to stop trying to go after the mass market, which doesn’t exist anymore, settle on a niche and develop a brand. Publishers that stand for something in the reader’s mind – like Harlequin stands for romance – are built for the long haul,” he says.

Instead of publishing 500 low-quality books every year, major publishers should bring out only 50 top-quality winners and actually market them, he says. And publish how-to and other guidance and instructional books in concentrated form: short, powerful and to the point.

The rest of us have a job to do, too, Levin adds.

“People need to read, and they need to read to their kids or buy them books. If people stop demanding good books, there eventually will be none available,” he says. “The winners, going forward, will be that minority who still read and think for themselves. It’s a lot easier for government, the military, and the corporate world to control the way people think if they aren’t reading for themselves. That ought to be reason enough to save the book.”

Michael Levin, founder and CEO of BusinessGhost, Inc., has written more than 100 books, including eight national best-sellers; five that have been optioned for film or TV by Steven Soderbergh/Paramount, HBO, Disney, ABC, and others.

For more information, visit www.BusinessGhost.com.

Talent Tips for Tweens and Teens with Big Dreams

September 12, 2012 6:12 pm

If you have a vision and a talent, don’t ignore it. At least that’s what Sydney Rose, 20, has learned.
The singer/songwriter whose debut pop single, “Breaking Rules,” hit No. 23 on the national radio Top 40 chart in Sep, says she tried to put her dream on hold – and couldn’t.

“I’ve been in love with music all my life,” says Rose. “I’ve learned it’s an important part of who I am and you can’t ignore that, no matter what your age.”

Rose grew up honing her singing skills, then learning guitar (“My first chord was D”) and dancing. She overcame any lingering shyness about performing before audiences by joining two other girls in a pop/dance group called Rosemadayne.

But when it came time to attend college, she decided it was best to put her dream on a back burner.
“I was afraid,” she says. “I wanted to experience college without the pressure of a music career, but I actually felt more pressure without my dream and I knew I had to nurture that passion that is so a part of me.”

That’s when she wrote her newest album, “Rise,” an up-tempo celebration of life. It’s getting airplay on radio stations across the country, a development that never ceases to amaze and delight the rising star.
Rose offers tips for other young people who are determined to follow their dreams:

• Get your support team together: Whether it’s parents, other family members, friends or teachers, you’ll need people who encourage and help guide you. Coaches, mentors or instructors can help you improve – because no matter what your talent and how much of it you’ve got, you can always expand your abilities with help. Depending on your age, that may require financial and transportation support. “I started voice lessons when I was a tween, and to this day I get intensive voice training,” Rose says. “But the more skills you have, the better, so I also started working on dance when I was 13 years old. No matter what type of creative talent you have – singing, acting, writing or painting – if you want to become a professional, you need training.” Anyone who is supportive in your life, including friends, other family members and teachers, are reminders of why dreams matter to you.

• Set realistic goals: You may dream of being in the movies or on TV, but don’t expect to start there! “I happily performed at bar and bat mitzvahs (bonus! – I met my manager through those), book stores, Best Buy stores, and at my vocal school,” Sydney says. “These were great opportunities to get used to being in front of live audiences and learning how to interact with the audience.” The smaller goals are there for you to reach the bigger ones – Rome was not built overnight, she says. Those who are supportive will remind you of the big picture.

• Remember, it’s OK to be scared: Doing something for the first time can be really scary, and it’s perfectly normal to be nervous. But don’t let that stop you from getting out there and trying! “From experience, I know that almost anything that seems scary the first time gets much easier, and less scary, every time you do it,” Sydney says. “Don’t let fear keep you from ever taking the next step.”

• Have fun! “With ‘Rise,’ I wrote songs that are fun and upbeat. I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, I have to have an amazing time. Right?’ she says. Part of what has helped the album’s success is that she was genuinely happy and having a good time when she recorded it. No matter what you’re doing, your true emotions tend to color your work – they’re hard to hide, so work with them.

For more info on Rose visit www.sydneyrosemusic.com.

Keep Your Pets Safe from Lyme Disease

September 12, 2012 6:12 pm

While many think of the days of summer as the prime time for ticks, since you spend the most time outdoors, the fall is when adult ticks are most active. While you may be checking yourself diligently after every woodland adventure, you may not be so religious with Fido. And with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evidence that liquid tick repellent products can be harmful to dogs and cats, many pet owners are looking for natural, non-toxic ways to protect their pets from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Here are steps to take to make sure your pets live a healthy tick-free life:

Brush your pet before heading outside. Marcie Fallek, DVM, a Fairfield, CT holistic veterinarian, says that from March through October she shaves her two long-haired collie mixes. “It’s easier to find ticks that way,” she says. If you don’t want to shave your dog now that it’s September, brush your pet thoroughly before you go out to get rid of excess hair. You’ll find it’s easier to check for ticks when you return home.

Avoid “high-risk” zones. Dogs love to romp in high grass where the ever intrepid and terribly tiny ticks can be found. Scores of ticks that carry Lyme disease, bartonella and other infections can also live under layers of fallen leaves and in wood piles. Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed, remove piles of leaves and the remains of summer plants or other debris from flower beds, and try to stack wood in racks in a dry location rather than next to or against your house. Also try to keep your dog away from bushes that are not pruned.

Watch what you use. A number of spot-on products for dogs contain permethrin, a common insecticide. However small breed dogs that weigh between 10 and 20 pounds and cats are susceptible to the products. A recent EPA study found that many of the chemicals found in the treatments can seep into household dust creating an unhealthy environment for your pets. “Exposure to even small quantities of permethrin can cause severe and fatal poisoning in cats,” says Tina Wismer, DVM, veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.

Go herbal. There are a host of home remedies to repel ticks—from placing cedar chips around the perimeter of a lawn to applying tea tree oil around the yard. However the consensus on the most effective herbal tick repellent for use on dogs is one containing rose geranium essential oil, which can be applied on a dog’s collar every week. Do not apply the essential oil directly to a dog’s skin or get it near its eyes since it can cause irritation. And do not use this on cats. They can have a bad reaction to essential oils, notes Petmd.com.

Read labels. If you use a spot-on product, read the label carefully. Use products on the animal specified by the product label---for example, dog products for dogs only and cat products for cats only--and the least amount possible. That may sound obvious, but many spot-on products for dogs are used unknowingly by cat owners. Also, never use products designed for humans on your pets, particularly if the product contains DEET---it’s highly toxic to pets.

Put a halt to “tick taxis.” Dogs are often called “tick taxis” because a tick can ride into your home on your pet’s body and move on to another pet or to you. “Inspect your dog carefully when you return home,” says Dr. Fallek. Pay particular attention to your pet’s ears, around its eyes and eyelids, muzzle, and paws (including in between toes) where ticks “like to hitch a ride,” she says. Run your fingers through the dog’s fur. Work your fingers down to the skin so you don’t miss any small bumps that might be a tick trying to hide. While the ticks stay attached, they are continuing to feed on your pet’s blood.

Try not to stress. It’s not hard to remove a tick. However, according to PawNation.com it’s best to put on a pair of gloves so you’ll never have direct contact with bacteria the tick could harbor. To remove it, use a fine-tipped tweezer to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Slowly and gently, with continuous pressure, pull the tick straight up and out. Be careful not to squeeze the tick. Do not twist or jerk the tick because you may leave its head (or part of its head) under your pet’s skin. After removing the tick, kill it by dropping it into a jar of rubbing alcohol. Cleanse the site of your pet’s bite with a first aid antiseptic, then wash your hands thoroughly.

Keep your home tick-free. In the house, vacuum frequently (especially the places near dog resting spots and folds in furniture). It’s also a good idea to wash pet bedding once a week, with hot water and a mild, ideally eco-friendly, detergent. Remember that 10 minutes in the dryer using the hot setting will kill all ticks on clothing or bedding, even when you don’t have time to do a full wash. Bathing your dog also helps to remove ticks if they aren’t already feeding on your pet.

Source: www.lymeresearchalliance.org/

Shop Easier: A Guide to Kitchen Faucets

September 12, 2012 6:12 pm

Replacing a kitchen faucet is hands down the fastest, easiest, and least expensive way to dramatically improve the appearance and functionality of the kitchen. Maybe more importantly, replacing an older or corroded faucet goes a long way towards cleaning up and even updating the look and feel of the kitchen.
With such a wide selection of kitchen faucets, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Below are helpful hints so you can find a faucet to fit any budget.

Bare bones, pure functionality, no-frills kitchen faucets can cost less than hundred bucks, and if the existing faucet is in particularly bad shape, even a very plain-jane fixture can dramatically improve the appearance of the kitchen. For example, a simple, sleek Cascada kitchen faucet from Ruvati is a great choice, because it’s inexpensive (only $90!) and minimal, but also stylish. It’s no out of date, old fashioned faucet, it’s lovely and unobtrusive, perfectly suited for a modern kitchen.

High design. When kitchen faucets start getting expensive is when one either wants some more design to it, or more integrated functionality, though oddly enough it’s the former that will often cost you more. Herbeau kitchen faucets are famous for their authentic artisan designs, made from the same casts and using traditional methods and materials used for more than a hundred years in the Provence region of France. For a French country kitchen, one can’t get much more authentic than the Herbeau’s Valence faucet, but it’ll also put the project in a much bigger budget bracket.

Tech savvy. Where things start to get a little tricky is when looking for the most technologically up to date faucets out there. For example, the Touch2o faucets from Delta. They can be turned on and off with just a touch of any bit of bare skin, reducing the potential for cross contamination, no matter how dirty the hands happen to be. No other brand has anything like it yet, so if one wants the tech, there isn’t always a whole lot of room to shop around. Thankfully, though, at least the Touch2o faucets, are pretty reasonably priced, and also come with integrated pull-down spray nozzles for added functionality.

Extras. Most add-ons – like the aforementioned pull down sprayer, or a flexible Iron Chef style neck that can be easily grabbed or moved to rinse a sink or cool down a pressure cooker, are available from at least a few different manufacturers in a variety of styles (and for different prices). Vigo alone carries several variations on flexible-neck pull-down kitchen faucets like the Double Faucet version, ranging from the mid $100s to no more than about $300, all with a sleek chrome or stainless steel finish and a professional culinary style design.

High end. If looking for a faucet that’s unique, high end designer pieces like the industrial-inspired fully-articulated Karbon faucet from Kohler is something to look for. It doesn’t add any functionality that some of the simpler flexible neck or pull down faucets would, but it’ll certainly be a unique looking fixture.

Source: www.HomeThangs.com.

Q: Does a Contractor Have to Provide a Warranty for the Work?

September 12, 2012 6:12 pm

A: It depends on whether one is required by state law. If your contractor offers a warranty, which ensures quality workmanship and required repairs if faulty products or workmanship is discovered, ask to see a copy of the written provisions to make sure you have sufficient protection from defective work. You may want to become familiar with your state law, if applicable.

Protect Yourself with The Latest Consumer Fed Data (Part1)

September 11, 2012 5:58 pm

I took note that credit and home repair and construction concerns once again topped the list of complaints made to state and local consumer protection agencies. This is according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

Thirty-eight agencies from across the United States provided information about the most common, fastest-growing, and worst complaints they received in 2011. They were also asked about new types of consumer problems, and what new laws are needed to better protect consumers. (consumerfed.org)

The data helps consumer protection agencies follow trends in fraud, educate the public, and share information with each other, which will ultimately assist in investigations according to Tonya Hetzler, Interim President of NACPI.

Some key findings in the latest Consumer Complaint Survey Report include:

  • The top five fastest-growing complaints were about fraud, debt collection abuses, Do Not Call violations, mortgage-related problems, and home improvement.
  • The top five worst complaints involved mortgage-related problems, home improvement, timeshare sales and resales, Internet sales, and fraud.
  • New types of consumer problems that agencies dealt with last year covered a wide spectrum of subjects, from bedbugs in apartments to penny auctions on the Internet, from gold buying companies to telemarketing and mail solicitations for home repairs disguised as “free” energy audits. Some agencies also noted that scammers are exploiting a new form of payment, prepaid card products, to get cash from consumers.
  • Budget cuts and limited resources were most frequently cited as the biggest challenges that state and local consumer protection agencies faced last year. Another major challenge was the evolving nature of fraud and the fact that many scammers are located in other countries, complicating efforts to resolve complaints.

In the next couple of segments we'll drill in to some of these consumer issues that could affect home and property owners, or those looking to become one in the near future.

See the entire report now at consumerfed.org.