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Child Reading Tips…for Adults

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An answer from the social question/answer site Quora was syndicated recently on the Huffington Post (welcome to the 21st Century!) about helping children develop strong reading habits. It turns out, there was a lot of great advice for adults, too!

Turnable pages when reading at night. Light from social devices, sometimes referred to as ‘blue light,’ activates our brains to the detriment of sleep. Paper books still have a use for us humans, for the time being anyway.

Read only so long as interest is maintained. This is great advice. So many people I know will finish reading a book even if they don’t enjoy it. It can feel strange to stop reading a book, even more strange to get rid of it, but why continue if you don’t like it. It’s actually a bad habit that will decrease your enjoyment of reading.

Ask questions. We’ve all been on a reading kick and found ourselves burning through books quickly. Did we really take things in? Did we retain information for longer than a week? Often, the answer is no. If we stop and ask ourselves what exactly is happening, engaging our brain with the material more, we’ll be able to get more enjoyment from reading.

Don’t switch to digital just because it’s cool and new. Don’t stick with paper books because technology annoys you. Give each medium a try and make a rational decision about how you better enjoy reading. Factor in the weight of the device, transport, price, storage, the ability to share, etc.

If you haven’t heard of Quora, it’s a social network where users can ask questions which will be answered by other users. There are a lot of similar sites and networks – what sets Quora apart are three main things. First, the site and app are both very well designed, which attracts more serious users who might not be interested if the design was poor. Second, the content is curated to some degree by a very active staff of administrators. They rephrase questions, adjust tagging, and who knows what else to make sure the site works as a cohesive voice. The experience is much better as a result. The third thing that sets Quora apart is the community, which is devoted, large, and intelligent. This is partly a result of the design and admin work, but there’s also an ethereal stickiness about the site that has generated that minimum amount of activity to keep things interesting. I highly recommend it!


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Alternative Investment Opportunities for Young People

Young people tend to have less spare money, which means their investments tend to be a little on the conservative side. A recent Guardian article discussed options for alternative investments that could be appropriate for people in their early 20′s who are willing to take on a little risk for some extra returns.

What’s really important to remember with investing is that there is no guarantee that there will be a return on the investment, and sometimes not even a recovery. It would be wise for any investor to be prepared for the worst.

Young people are familiar with crowd funding, and there are similar options in equity. This gathers up multiple smaller investments and turns it into a much larger one, opening up a variety of new options for people with less money to invest. Crowdcube, just one option, has only a $15 minimum. Because young investors will presumably have less money than the average person, it would be smart to make sure they only invest a small percentage of their liquid money into equity crowd funding. The Guardian offers a 5% maximum.

Another option are person-to-person lending, with companies like Lending Tree. Instead of putting money into a bank account, it goes into a protected account and lent to other people. There are risks of losing the money, but there are also significant gains to be made. Apparently no P2P platform have any worse than a 3% default rate, which is decent. Many companies have some kind of contingency money that can help recoup losses. These platforms offer much better returns than a standard savings account – up to 15%.

There has been a great deal of growth and increasing interest in groups like these, with lots of money being offered to startups. The space is still young and open to big players. There is a lot of potential. While a lot of the sites and platforms are very shiny and attractive, but young people still need to be informed and cautious about the industry.

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Reagan at Reykjavic – Obama in Syria

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Thomas Friedman blogged recently about the book ‘Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War.’ The book is by Ken Adelman, the man behind that administration’s arms control agency, an advisor at the 1986 Iceland summit with Gorbachev.

There’s a lot of new information about Reagan in the book. It contains newly declassified documents that shed light on the early stages of an agreement that would eventually lead to a major reduction in nuclear warheads. What Friedman found particularly interesting (and makes this book sound so great) is the way Reagan recognized how different Gorbachev was from other Soviet leaders. Reagan saw potential there when his intelligence team didn’t.

Friedman also takes the opportunity to contrast the world of Reagan with the world of President Obama. While Reagan was facing a ‘Communist superpower that had thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at us!’ Even still, he says, Obama’s world is a much more difficult one. The reason being that Reagan’s enemy was another source of world order. The cold war was fought on creating as much order as possible (communism vs capitalism) and reinforce weaker states around the world to win support.

Today, things are much more complex, less binary. There are many divisions, some of which are regions of disorder. There’s no leader with whom to bargain. In a world where groups of people consider people our enemies, complete with power vacuums, advanced weaponry, and technologically advanced communication, ‘just one needle in a haystack can hurt us.’

Gorbachev was the enemy in the 80s, but he later won a Nobel Peace Prize for peaceably allowing eastern European states become independent. The Islamic State will never win a Nobel. Even the Soviet Union with all its communist differences, it was still a western power. When Reagan faced something similar to what Obama faces now across the middle east, in Lebanon, he saw that there was no fight to win there – only nation building. So we left.

The book sounds great, and Friedman’s comments, while not up everyone’s political alley, are very convincing.

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Global Trade Growth Slowing…

There has been some celebration in the news regarding the recovering US economy, with the GDP gaining some momentum again. A recent post on The Economist points out that any celebration ought to be tempered with a more macro view of things.

The blow to optimism comes on the heels of an updated forecast from the World Trade Organization, which reduced the prediction for international trade growth in 2014 from 4.6% to 3.1%. 2015 was also cut from 5.3% to 4%. It’s a significant reduction with large global implications, but the article points out that even the new forecast is optimistic. Trade from January to June of this year was 1.8% – which means in order to meet the prediction of 3.1%, we need a serious rebound before December.

The trouble is coming from South America. Sure, Asia’s exports are growing much faster than it’s imports, which isn’t helpful, but South American exports actually fell by nearly 1%. Imports were even worse, falling 3.4%.

Struggling and developing economies saw smaller growth rates than the larger powers, which means the pendulum of market share is still swinging out in terms of market share.

What’s strange is that we enjoyed a tremendous period of growth in 2010, which we haven’t matched yet. This is all a result of a slowing of growth in emerging markets. The lack of Chinese demand for imports isn’t helping, either. Then there are the geopolitical issues that have direct effects on the global economy, such as the tough winter in the US in the first quarter, the Russian sanctions, and the rise in Japanese sales tax.

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Art of Data Interpretation

Mark Tuminello CanadaWhat happens when a single government has two federal departments using the same economic numbers and come up with completely different analysis?

This is what happened in Canada this weekend. In October, specialists at Employment and Social Development Canada interpreted financial numbers and concluded that the middle class in Canada are in serious trouble. They even called the idea of the ‘Canadian Dream’ a myth.

It wasn’t good news for the country, who is dealing with similar economic woes as their friends to their south. Opposition parties looking to cash in on some new government seats jumped on the analysis, pointing out that some real change is needed if the middle class hopes to ever come out of the recession in one piece.

But along the way, many cabinet ministers dismissed the reports, calling them misleading.

Nearly a year later, Finance Canada has come up with their own analysis of the same numbers, which actually paints a very positive picture of the state of the middle class in Canada. They even go so far as to say that once they control for the changing composition of Canadian families, income has actually grown significantly since the seventies.

From the outside, it’s hard not to see this as anything more than political parties trying to score points before a federal election, which is coming up in a year in Canada.

But when it comes to finance and economics, there’s often more than one way to skin a cat. Getting raw data requires technical skill and precision. What is done with that data is another story. Interpreting data is an art, and a flawed one at that. How does one separate their strongly held political or social beliefs when interpreting the national economy.

In the world of finance, it’s considerably easier to avoid being 100% incorrect about assumptions or theories…but the art of the work is still fragile.

Consider the complexity of the findings of the Canadian data. One report notes that wages haven’t risen much in the past few decades, and that means families are struggling to keep up with inflation. The other report notes that the major influx of women in the labor force, continually rising since the seventies, more than made up for the stagnant wages, with more families earning more on the household level.

While there are often two ways to look at data, there is sometimes a an incentive to skew analysis toward your own benefit. That accusation is being thrown around in Canada at the moment. The incentives are there to cherry-pick data – the question is whether the reports were truly filed in good faith.

It seems the thing to do now would be to send the data to third-party organizations in the hopes of getting an unbiased perspective. Or maybe they’ll choose another federal department…

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Tech Education

mark tuminello tech classroomImprovements in technology and information systems are transforming classrooms on all collegiate levels. Unlimited online resources, software programs and social media websites are improving the way we do research and the efficiency in which we communicate with one another, from the classroom to the entire globe. The opportunities to gain and access rich content for research and assignments gives students quite a competitive advantage. In order to keep up with these changes, universities are developing strong technological foundations in which students can learn the necessary skills and gain an edge in today’s job market upon their graduation.

One huge trend that has been adopted by most educational institutions is the introduction of online classes or hybrid courses. These hybrid courses are hosted and taught online and streamed in classroom lectures. Computers and advancements in information systems allows students to access online courses whenever and wherever they are, without missing a beat. A recent study conducted by the Ambient Insight Premium Report, found that since August of 2012 more that 30 million college or graduate students have attended one or more than one class online. Courses online are not only beneficial to full time students, but also for professionals who like the flexibility of working and still continuing their education. As technology infrastructures continue to improve, universities are able to offer their students and professors a wide variety of applications that can increase the efficiency of online and virtual classrooms. However, the frequency in which technology rewed itself makes it difficult for most schools to keep up with these changes and in many cases fall short in delivering these resources.

Social media web sites, like Facebook and Twitter, are also being used more frequently by professors and students in order to communicate more efficiently with one another outside of the classroom setting. Given that students are always “plugged in”, professors will post assignments, share lecture materials and ultimately reach their students faster and more efficiently though social media. Universities themselves are using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to students on a larger scale, gain feedback on programs and establish a market base for their products and upcoming events. Establishing strong relationships between professors and students is extremely important for universities in reaching the highest levels of success for their heir graduating classes. Employers seek recent graduates that are well educated and up to date on current technology, which is why it’s extremely beneficial for universities to invest in information systems and update their technological infrastructure as much as their funds will allow.

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mark tuminello blinkistThomas Piketty’s book on income inequality was a huge seller, and thanks in part to limited supply, very difficult to get ahold of. Non-fiction books like this are becoming increasingly popular not just with economics professionals like me, but also with millenials. But how do you keep up with the books of Krugman, Friedman, the Freakonomics guys, and all the rest of them – especially when they all blog regularly too? Keeping up with my favorite writers involves so much reading, I often find myself struggling to find time to read new authors.

Blinkist has answers to all of these issues facing non-fiction readers.

Blinkist is a subscription service of non-fiction books…except the books aren’t there in their entirety. Blinkist only provides summaries. They’re detailed, but brief, meant to be read in just 15 minutes (though slow readers will find it takes more like 25 minutes to get through an entire edition.

Summaries are broken down by the actual chapters of the book, and typically include around 500 words per chapter, for the average book.

I tried a free trial, and browsed a few books I knew I’d probably never read in their entirety. It really did feel like I was getting some good information from the author, albeit with no sense of flair or real-life stories to back up the concepts. I also tried reading the summary of a book I’d read. It was a fantastic way to revisit the writing, browsing through major ideas. The app also allows you to highlight certain passages of summary, which is a nice touch.

After the free trial, the app costs $5/month – and I’m not sure it’s something I’d want to stick with. Even with all the time constraints of reading, part of the pleasure of reading is…well…reading. On the other hand, when I want to simply revisit some old favorites quickly, or simply learn at a surface level without having to invest too much time – Blinkist seems like a total gem.

I absolutely recommend downloading the app, which is now available for both iOS and Android, and using the free trial. At the very least, you’ll find a book you’re interested in and get a chance to breeze through it.


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Higher Education Act Moving Forward

Wednesday, the U.S. House unanimously passed legislation to overhaul the manner in which the Education Department discloses college data. The new legislation will boost competency-based education.

This is the first time that Congress has influenced the Higher Education Act. The act, which expires at the end of the year, governs federal student aid.

Reauthorization, however, is still a long ways away. The differing opinions within Congress over key parts of the law reveal that it is unlikely the act will be renewed at the end of the year. Currently, House Republicans are planning on rewriting the law into smaller sections – something that they hope will attract support from both parties.

The Democrats were concerned with many aspects of the bill, such as the steadily-rising student loan debt as well as the rate at which college education prices are increasing. John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat, proposed a bill to provide students who have taken a loan within the last year to restructure the loan, giving them a rebate and offering a lower interest rate. The House rejected the proposal.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is also trying to find a better solution for the Higher Education Act. Harkin recently put together a 700-page rewrite of the law and is seeking comments from both Democrats and Republicans.

Congress is looking to implement revisions to the Higher Education Act that will lower the cost of a college education.

Congress is looking to implement revisions to the Higher Education Act that will lower the cost of a college education.

Although we are making little progress on a rewritten law, the vote on Wednesday provided a huge win for competency-based education. Thirty academic programs are now allowed to experiment with competency-based education; this could affect thousands of students across the country.

Lawmakers – both Democratic and Republican – have praised competency-based education due to its ability to lower the cost of a college education as well as providing non-traditional students with an avenue of study.

The new legislation also provides an overhaul in the information provided for students. This includes things such as the number of courses taught by part-time and full-time instructors. It would also go into greater detail about the part-time instructors’ background in the field – such as the mean and median years of employment.

The new legislation also appointed a federal panel to spearhead efforts at deregulating higher education. It is aiming to reduce amount of federal regulation that is placed on colleges; this leads to cheaper education for students.

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Personal Finance Books – Top Five

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Personal finance is something that concerns most of us. With growing technological ways to track your finances, it is getting easier and easier to see exactly where you are spending your hard-earned dollars. New applications, such as Mint Finance, offer us a look at where we are going wrong with our finances – but they are only scratching the surface. These apps are showing how you are spending your money, but they are not providing avenues to increase your income or to find alternatives to help save you money.

Here is a list of the top five personal finance books. They will help you think about finance in a whole new light, and will make your wallet a little more heavy.

The Total Money Makeover

Written by Dave Ramsey, this book gives you a very simple rule to follow: stay out of debt. Ramsey says that the best way to avoid overspending is by avoiding credit cards and loans to stay out of financial trouble. Interest payments stack up quickly. The only debt that Ramsey will allow: taking out a mortgage. However, pay with cash and you’ll do just fine.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

This book, written by Robert Kiyosaki, gives the breakdown of two fathers – one that is educated and one that dropped out of middle school. Astonishingly, they lived completely different financial paths – the drop-out eventually became a millionaire while the college-educated father never reached his financial potential.

The story has an underlying theme – it’s not just what you know, but how you apply that knowledge. I’d highly recommend picking up this book – it will surely change your perspective on how to apply yourself.

Get Rich Carefully

Don't let Cramer's big personality fool you - the guy knows finance.

Don’t let Cramer’s big personality fool you – the guy knows finance.

Jim Cramer, one of the most well-known in the financial industry, released this gem just recently. This book is fantastic because it offers financial knowledge that is very simple and has very little risk associated with it. Cramer explains that you can become financially savvy in a methodical manner without having to bet your house on it. This high-yield, low-risk investing is something that everyone can learn from.

The Compound Effect

Darren Hardy states that all of your decisions have a compound effect on each other. He shows that making sure you are checking your finances in the proper way will prevent you from going down the tubes in the long run. Hardy offers you a way to look at every dollar you spend; it’s amazing how quickly you’ll be saving money after reading this book.

The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs

Ric Edelman breaks down how to start planning for retirement in the simplest way possible. With all the different options out there, it’s hard to decide which one is right for you. Edelman offers great advice that will leave you with money long after you decide to retire.

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How To Land A Job At A Hedge Fund

When looking to land a job at a hedge fund, the first thing you need to ask yourself is am I ready for the intense environment that working at a hedge fund provides? If the answer is yes, then it’s time to get started. But beware: landing a job at a hedge fund can be just as intense as working there.

To land a job at a hedge fund, it starts where every career does: networking. Roy Cohen, a career coach that has written books such as The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says that you need to have a specific approach when it comes to networking for hedge funds. Cohen points out that most executives within the industry have short attention spans and feel rather uncomfortable when it comes to networking. There’s no beating around the bush – take a second to make them feel comfortable and then let them know your intentions.

Another interesting point about hedge funds is that they do not hold “job-seeker” conferences. The reason is simple: hedge funds are unregulated and keep their business under wraps. They don’t broadcast their business. As a result, it’s necessary to use every contact you have that is within the business.

Networking with hedge fund executives is different than most fields. Be prepared for the fast-pace environment.

Networking with hedge fund executives is different than most fields. Be prepared for the fast-pace environment.

After finding which head fund you want to target, make sure that you’re prepared for the meeting. Show them that you’ve done your research on the company as well as other companies. Hedge funds are investing in other companies – you need to have a suggestion as to why they should invest somewhere else. When Cohen was looking for a job as an analyst, he prepared an analysis of a company that he thought the hedge fund should consider. This is one way to prove that you’re prepared for the competitive environment as well as showcasing your stuff.

Throughout the meeting, make sure that you are focusing on clarity and confidence. Have very concise answers to why you want to work within the company and how they will benefit as a result of your work. Also, prepare yourself for off-beat questions; many executives within the industry want to see how quickly you can react and adapt to changing situations.

In terms of your resumé, you want to be as specific as possible and use metrics wherever available. Hedge funds base their investments off of hard facts. If you had a sales position in the past, note specific accomplishments such as your sales numbers.

Know how to best describe yourself to someone. Most interviewers will put the ball in your court, seeing how you can sell them. Your interest and your experience are most important when it comes to hedge funds; they show that you can keep up in the fast-paced environment. Also, be sure that you know the fund. What asset are they managing? What sector are they focusing in, and what strategies are they implementing? These are things that are hard to find out – be prepared to dig deep in research.

If you think that all these preparations are a bit over the top, then you probably aren’t ready to work at a hedge fund.

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