Acorns: The only way I’ve been able to save money


Squirrel-Acorn-3

First off, no, this isn’t some “Sponsored Post”. But yes, I am passing off a link that could get me and you $5 for free. (So is this a sponsored blog post then? I don’t know.)

Anyway, this blog is mainly about big things, deep things, human things. Religion, Culture, Politics, Cities, Justice, Beauty, and others. But it’s also about me–a thing neither big nor deep, but still quite human.

And there are few things that expose our humanity more than money. How we relate to the resources under our care shows so much about who we are and the ways we’re wired. For me personally, I’ve had difficulty saving money. Not because I don’t make enough or because I spend too much–I’m just pretty undisciplined and disorganized.

If statistics are any indication (although research differs), for one reason or another, you might have a similar difficulty with saving money.
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NEW POSTS: Apps for Organizing Your Seminary Study


sermon-prep-seminary-books

I have a couple of new posts over at Going To Seminary on helpful apps for reading and studying while you’re going through school.

It won’t take you long upon your arrival at seminary how much things may have changed from previous generations of seminary educations. One of the biggest differences is just how digital everything is. Most seminaries have some sort of online class management system through which you will track grades, assignments, schedules, and get documents and readings necessary for your classwork. Lectures are on PowerPoints that are often shared online. Likely the very first official seminary swag you’ll get is an email address.

Things have changed, for sure. But luckily, we live in a time of unparalleled resources to help you engage all the more deeply in your seminary education; resources that help you focus on what you need to focus on while letting technology do much of the heavy lifting.

Read the rest:

Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.

Good News! I have a new & improved Twitter user name!


twitter-home-paulLast week, I put up a post asking for some help. For the past few years, I’ve had a terrible Twitter user name. I told the story of this previous name, and asked for some feedback on getting a new one. Well, that was a real help, because most people confirmed that using my full name (or some mixture thereof) was certainly the best, and I had totally forgotten than Twitter accepts underscores (“_”) (thanks, Jake Belder). So here is my new Twitter handle:

http://twitter.com/PaulBurkhart_

Profound, I know.

Anyway, for some reason, i end up posting more on Twitter than I do other places (and being a little bit more honest and blunt than in other venues). So let’s follow each other and become best friends, 160 characters at a time.

Oh, and if you notice any of my other sites that I haven’t updated to this new user name, please let me know. Thanks!

Trash Spotify, get Google Music (discount ends 6/30) [casual fri]


k-bigpic

A few years ago, I wrote about my own personal, internal struggle over online music services. Well now, I have a winner.

I’ve told several friends about Google Music. For the past couple of years it’s been my go-to mobile music manager. Long story short, this is how it has worked: Google uploads your entire library of music to their own servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”) and then you can listen to it on any device with a browser (including iOS devices). This is absolutely free.

And it’s been amazing. I can stream my own music over my phone, I can go to work and play my entire library in any web browser on my work computer, and it syncs up with my iTunes for continued integration with all my offline music listening. And again, all this is free.

And now it’s even better (even though the name is ridiculous). A month ago, Google announced an expansion of this service, and it’s called (take a deep breath): Google Play Music All Access. Basically, what it is is the above Google Music thing that I described (now called “Google Music Standard”), plus a Spotify-like element built-in.
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Weekend Photo Challenge: Home(screens) [a quick Android vs. Apple]


This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Home“. Tomorrow, I’ll have a serious post on this topic but, for the weekend, I wanted to put up this fun one. Beware: people are passionate about this topic.

For my new job, I’ve been given an iPhone. The generosity of my company is wonderful, but an added benefit is that I get to compare this iPhone with my much-beloved Android phone.

Even after a week of having to spend most of my day on the iPhone, I can safely say I strongly prefer the Android. (I put up a little Facebook status to this effect and it started an amusing comment war amongst a few fanboys that I thought was pretty funny.)

At the end of the day, I know this discussion is all about personal preference and is not an objective argument. But I just wanted to post these pictures up of my two phone homescreens and ask one question:
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for your soul, unplug. [casual fri]


This weekend, I’m going to go to New York. For the first time in a long time, I won’t be bringing my computer on a trip. I had no idea how tethered I was to this thing until I felt the thrill shudder through me at the thought of having a weekend with just a moleskine, my new (real) book, a Kindle, and a phone (hey, I can’t completely unplug in New York, right?).

About a year-and-a-half ago I read Tim Challie’s The Next Story about a Christian perspective on the digital explosion. He explored: How do we embrace technology rightly? How do we tend to do it wrongly? What are some temptations inherent in technology? How might we act to not let technology consume us? How do we maintain our humanity and community in the midst of it? What is a “theology” of technology?
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Untappd: Beer lovers unite! [casual fri]


Today, as people embark on the weekend, I want to plug an amazing app that has made beer a little more fun for me, and I’m confident it’d be even more fun if more of my friends were on it.

It’s called Untappd. [Website] [Android] [iTunes]

It’s fairly straightforward. When enjoying a beer, simply open the app (or the web app for you Blackberry or Palm users), search for your beer, and “check-in” to it. At the bare minimum, this is it. But there’s much more you can do, if you like.

  • Share your beer check-in on Facebook and Twitter as well, so your friends there can comment on your beer taste and such.
  • Check-in on Foursquare wherever you’re enjoying the beer, so others can keep track of what bars have what beer available.
  • Add tasting notes, reviews, and ratings along with your beer check-in so you can keep track of what you like and what you don’t. You the app will also keep a running list of your highest rated beers.
  • Get full profiles for each beer and see where else in the world people are drinking that beer.
  • The app will suggest other beers that taste similar.
  • You can “follow” breweries to see what other beers they make, what new beers are coming out, and where you can find their beers.
  • Add pictures to the check-in. This can sometimes lead to fun contests.
  • You can keep a running Wishlist of beers you want to try.
  • And.. you can get badges. If that’s your thing.

So go download the app, make an account, follow me, and start drinking!

Weekly Must-Reads {06.20.11} | a New York Times Op-Ed miscellany


This week, as I compiled my favorite reads for the week, I realized nearly all of them were from the New York Times. I found these on different days, at different times, and had no idea that I kept bookmarking the same site over and over again. But still, all of them are very different and I encourage you to peruse, read, ponder, and post your thoughts!

__________

Instead of Student Loans, Investing in Futures | NYTimes.com

Ever since the financial crisis hit, I’ve been so intrigued by other economic models for getting things done. This article follows one idea when it comes to funding higher education. And it really seems to work. I also love that this particular idea was not dreamt up by nor financed by the government.

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Music On-the-Go: Reviews & Requests (Rdio vs. Pandora)


[I know this article is obscenely long, considering the content, and incredibly random, considering this blog.  But I just needed a place to vent my thoughts.  And don’t worry, Part 3 of my little biographical sketch will be up in the next couple of days.  In the meantime, you can catch up: Part 1, Part 2]

I recently purchased the “GOgroove FlexSMART X2 ADVANCED Wireless In-Car Bluetooth FM Transmitter with Charging and Hands-Free Capability” (yes, that’s its full name) and it has changed how I listen to music.  It’s incredible and works just as advertised.  It is able to take audio transmitted via Bluetooth wireless technology and then broadcast it over the radio in your car.  So, long story short, it makes it possible to listen to music streaming onto your phone while driving.  The most immediate benefit I’ve found for this is that I can now listen to Pandora while driving.

Of course, Pandora is the much-loved music discovery service where you make “stations” based on artists or individual tracks you like and it delivers songs that it thinks you would also enjoy.  (You can view my Pandora profile here.)  It has a really high success rate for nailing the sound you’re looking for.  You’re then able to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to each song that plays, and it will use this to refine its offerings to you.
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“Is Twitter Really Killing Us?” – Patrol Mag


Do we form Social Networks or do Social Networks form us?

That’s the fundamental question raised by Peggy Ornstein’s recent article “I Tweet, Therefore I Am” in The New York Times recently.  It’s also the question I want to address in my recent article in Patrol Magazine.  So, whether you’re on Twitter, Facebook, or no Social Network at all, I promise the article has something for you, our culture, and the world in which we find ourselves.  Leave comments!  Here’s the link:

“Is Twitter Really Killing Us?” – Patrol Mag

You can read all my articles for Patrol Magazine here.

“Information Overload, Social Darwinism, Linguistics, & Nuclear Forensics”-Patrol


Look at that picture above.  Click on it to make it bigger.  That’s my iTunes.  As you can see, I listen to a LOT of podcasts.  And no, this isn’t just a  narcissistic  moment  to seem smart.  You see all those blue numbers above each podcast?  Well, those are just the episodes I haven’t listened to.  Also notice the 320 iTunesU lectures that have also been neglected.

And so begins my newest article in Patrol Magazine.  It’s about our culture’s (and my own) addiction to information consumption, how we should think about it, and where our hope is that something good may come of it.  I know, it’s some light reading, right?  Here’s the link:

“Information Overload, Social Darwinism, Linguistics, & Nuclear Forensics”

For all my previous articles at Patrol, click here.

USA over Algeria: New Internet Traffic Record


donovan-goalAccording to my favorite tech blog, Mashable, Landon Donovan’s game-winning goal which beat Algeria not even an hour ago may have become the second highest spike in internet traffic ever.  You can read more about the metrics and other ways that the World Cup has affected internet traffic by clicking on the link below.

“USA vs Algeria World Cup Match Could Set New Internet Traffic Record” –Mashable

Of Google, Books, & Alexandria


google_book[Sorry, previous version of this got cut off and I didn’t know it]

I know, I know.  I shouldn’t.  But I do.  I trust Google.  Really.  They are a great company that gives great products for free and really seems to care about their customers.  Yes, it is creepy they know so much about me, but their mission statement is akin to “we want to organize the world’s information.”  To do that wonderful, good, and noble task, one needs resources.  For Google, that’s advertising, and I feel that the information they know about me is a means to an end rather than some weird technoglomeration scheme to take over the world.

That’s why I didn’t have a problem with Google’s plan to scan the world’s books and post them online (and searchable).  God knows how many times I’ve been reading a book and have longed to press the non-existent “Ctrl + F” function to just look for a keyword.  Also, I’ve hated Amazon’s posturing of themselves as a future monopoly of the ever growing market of E-Book readers.  With proprietary formats, proprietary hardware, and a proprietary means of distribution, Amazon is fixing to rape the publishing industry of all that is left making it a worthy venture.

That’s why they’re scared and have joined other companies like Yahoo in a lawsuit against Google, to prevent them from creating a digital library of all the world’s books, most of which would be downloadable for free in formats that most other e-Book readers can in fact use (but the Kindle cannot).  So, in short, Google wants to exert huge resources to provide us with both incredible access to information and to save Capitalism as we know it in the literary world.

But, in the wrangling over this deal, a judge has indefinitely postponed the settlement of the issue.  I really want to see this deal go through.  It is just such an incredible opportunity for us on every level.  What has stoked my passion over this?

This wonderful article by Tim Wu of Slate magazine outlining the legal issues involved here. He writes:

…if the settlement dies, it will be researchers, not Google, who will be hurt. It’s unlikely that anyone else will take on a money-losing project to scan millions of low-value volumes. If the Justice Department pushes too hard now, one day we’ll be asking, “Who lost Book Search?”… A delivery system for books that few people want is not a business one builds for financial reasons. Over history, such projects are usually built not by the market but by mad emperors. No bean counter would have approved the Library of Alexandria or the Taj Mahal…[So] if you want to put Google in its place, the book project is the wrong way to do so…To punish Google by killing Book Search would be like punishing Andrew Carnegie by blowing up Carnegie Hall.

In short, we have an opportunity to build the new Library of Alexandria; except this time, it is a searchable, downloadable, bigger, and more comprehensive library that will be available to children, the poor, the third world, the rural, the scholar, researcher, and the like. As the article says, historically, projects like this are more the product of crazy geniuses than government intervention. It should be done. It should be supported. And it should be done now.

The bigger danger here (I think) is Amazon, not Google. Google is actually trying to open the market, while Amazon is trying to close it. Google is trying to accomplish a noble mission, Amazon is trying to make a profit. Google is trying to let little known books and authors get distribution, exposure, and money (if they want); Amazon is trying to market the corner so they can dictate prices to publishers in order steal money from authors, and fix their prices lower. Google is not the enemy here. They are willing to lose so much money and do pain-staking work to bring future inevitabilities to the present.

Do I think this little blog post will save Google Book search? No. But I’m just doing my part to hopefully change one or two people’s minds, maybe inspire someone else to right a blog post or talk to their friends, or perhaps just cause a conversation that might be the proverbial butterfly flutter helping to bring about a hurricane we all will ultimately benefit from.

Save Google Book Search.

Pogue vs. Cell Industry, pt. 2: “Take Back the Beep” Campaign (and some thoughts on Capitalism)


photo by user Kyle !!!11!!one!! on Flickr

photo by user Kyle !!!11!!one!! on Flickr

On Tuesday I wrote up an article on an exchange between New York Time’s Tech columnist David Pogue and Lowell McAdam, CEO of Verizon.  An article which Pogue himself commented on, by the way (I’m still waiting for McAdam to take notice of little ol’ me, even though I am a Verizon customer.  Hmm…)

Well, as is mentioned in Pogue’s comment on that article, he has started a new campaign on his blog to make our cell phone lives slightly easier (at least for three hours out of the year).

What is the object upon which he has called his followers to descend?  Those annoying 15-second long instructions at the beginning of either leaving or checking a voicemail on your phone.  Apparently, Pogue has been told point-blank by various phone company reps that these instructions really are to make us use our minutes.  And it works.  According to Pogue’s calculations, we spend three hours a year listening to those messages and the cell companies rake in about $670 million a year (and that’s just Verizon! By the way, those calculations are based on leaving and checking voicemails twice a day, every weekday, for a year).

To accomplish this, Pogue has contacted the cell companies and has received from them info on where we, their customers, can complain about this.  Pogue writes:

“Let’s push back, and hard. We want those time-wasting, money-leaking messages eliminated, or at least made optional. . . We’re going to descend, en masse, on our carriers. Send them a complaint, politely but firmly. Together, we’ll send them a LOT of complaints.  If enough of us make our unhappiness known, I’ll bet they’ll change.”

Of course, the companies just gave their general web complaint areas (though the AT&T guy gave his own email address.  Impressive.), and of course they’re probably a pain to navigate.  For example, I tried to do it on the Verizon site, but being on a family plan with my parents, I don’t have all the very specific information they demand of you from your monthly statement before you can even leave a comment.

I don’t know about the other sites, but I hope this actually works.  Honestly, not so much because this specific complaint ruins my life so much.  Rather (if I may wax philosophical for a moment), I think Western Capitalism is coming of an age where power players have emerged such that they have become disconnected from the consumers that strengthen them.  I have just recently become hyper-aware of the fact that we as Americans have lost control of the very institutions we are supposedly responsible for.  CEO’s are supposed to rely on the customers.  Food companies are supposed to be dependent upon their consumers.  Politicians are technically our employees and should be terrified of not producing the results we want.

But no, we sheep of the “American dream” have relinquished the control of these institutions preferring ignorance, entertainment, and comfort as our opiates.  I would love this campaign to work so I might still have hope that people, policies, and institutions can really change- that the status quo is not fixed.  I pray that the steep terrain of the proverbial slippery slope might tip.

So won’t you help us show CEO’s that they are finite- dependent upon us, the customers, for all that they enjoy in their posts of power and influence?  Might we find some bright light still left in a somewhat Capitalistic managed economy?

Or maybe we should all just become Distributists and all our problems will be solved.

Here’s the contact info provided by Pogue in his blog post today:

I’ve told each of the four major carriers that they’ll be hearing from us. They’ve told us where to send the messages:

* Verizon: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/FJncH.

* AT&T: Send e-mail to Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations: MS8460@att.com.

* Sprint: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/9CmrZ

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u

P.S. – as is mentioned in Pogue’s post, apparently Apple made AT&T take these messages off of the iPhone.  One more reason why Apple is what it is and has accomplished what it has.  I feel like they (and Starbucks.  Yeah, I said it.  What?) are the only large companies out there that get it.  They care and put people before profit.  And that’s profitable.  If only cell companies felt the same way.

NYT’s David Pogue Takes on Cell Industry


Pogue_hiUPDATE: more cell phone company d-baggage.  Apparently with the advent of the potentially-amazing-but-not-quite-yet Google Voice, most major cell providers have banned the various Google Voice apps that allow it to integrate into your phone’s operating system.  Ugh…

I really hope everyone out there knows who David Pogue is by now (his personal site can be found here). He is the main New York Times Tech Columnist, and he is great. His main job at the NYT is to make technology make sense to the everyday consumer, and he is really good at it. He’s so knowledgeable and yet is so funny and comes across as such an Everyman, you have a hard time believing he’s not your next door neighbor or at least your new best friend.

I follow him on Twitter and it is definitely one of my favorite feeds. He recently finished writing a book over Twitter where every night he would have some sort of game that his followers would play along with and the best responses ended up in the book. It was great. He has a very loyal Twitter fan base. He regularly crashes websites by posting links to interesting videos or articles, just to have most of his 700,000+ followers go to these sites all at once and crashing the servers.

Anyway, Pogue has recently drawn some attention for a recent article he wrote about his “Everyman” frustrations with the cell phone industry. After a brief defense of the industry over phone exclusivity contracts (ala AT&T and the iPhone) where he explains why this is an unreasonable frustration to have with them, he outlines six legitimate frustrations to have with the cell industry. The gripes are as follows (but I still really encourage you to actually read the article. He’s a great writer.):

  1. Unreasonable text-messaging fees
  2. Double-billing (where you get billed for sending and receiving a call)
  3. Unfair Phone Subsidies Practices (you spend the first half of your contract paying off your phone, but still keep paying the same price even after your phone’s paid off)
  4. Crazy International Phone Call Rates
  5. Way Too-Long Voicemail Instructions Just To Waste Your Minutes
  6. Miscellaneous (dead spots, data caps, customer service, etc.)

(You’ll see why I wrote that outline out here soon) That was last Wednesday, July 22nd. Apparently that article put into words the frustrations of many, many Americans, awakening a small public relations disaster for cell phone companies. I know I felt really good after reading it.

So how did the industry respond? Did they rush together to serve the interests of their customers? Did they begin more research to see if in fact a huge percentage of their clients felt similarly? No. Instead, two days later, on July 24th, Lowell C. McAdam, CEO of Verizon, sent an open letter to the publisher of the New York Times (I have no idea why he didn’t just send it to Pogue) accusing the New York Times of publishing “myths” and “highly misleading charges at wireless companies”. He then goes on to carefully rebut these “myths” and “charges” leveled against his industry by Pogue’s article. Now, I would love everyone to look back up and reacquaint yourselves with Pogue’s outline of complaints.

Done? Good. Now here are McAdam’s counterpoints to Pogue, presented in Myth/Fact fashion:

  • Myth 1: American’s pay less than Europeans; Truth: they pay an average of ten cents per minute less (as long as you don’t factor in international calls, text messages, data rates, and overage charges).
  • Myth 2: The cell phone industry isn’t competitive; Fact: Al Gore at some point said they were very competitive (seriously, that’s what the letter says)
  • Myth 3: Bad customer service; Fact: 84% of customers are satisfied (really? I’m “satisfied” with a lot of things, but I’d much rather be “pleased”. We kind of have to be satisfied with what we got anyway)
  • Myth 4: Wireless companies don’t look out for the rural guy; Fact: Verizon looks out for them.

Wow. Eat it, Pogue. McAdam really took you to task. How did Pogue respond to such an “onslaught” (are you catching the sarcasm yet)? With this tweet and this brief article. Personally, I think it’s pretty bad when someone attacks you, you attack back, and that person proceeds to promote your attack as amusement for his supporters. Shortly afterward, Pogue continued to tweeting about other things, but several hours later decided he was going to start a campaign to get rid of the long voicemail instructions, so he asked his followers for potential “war-cry” slogans.

I really hope this causes some real discourse and perhaps even change in how cell companies treat their customers, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, though, I’ll enjoy playing along with Pogue as he milks this exchange for all of the entertainment it’s worth. Good for him.

So, read his stuff, buy his book, follow his Twitter, watch his song and lecture below from December on 2009 cell phone trends, and enjoy the ride.