Monthly Archives: July 2007

Kids: 10 ways to entertain young children for $1 or less (without the TV)Lifehacker

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Sick of paying hundreds of dollars for toys your kids don’t play with? Tired of the latest toy catching your child’s attention and having it turn out to be something you consider offensive (Bratz) or impossible to acquire (break dancing Elmo)?

Never fear. These classic toys and activities can be created with stuff you probably already have lying around your house. Plus, they will entertain your kids for hours and when they are done, you can chuck ’em without feeling bad you spent your Christmas bonus to get them. Plus, studies show a child will remember a toy you both created far longer than a store bought toy.

Here are the top 10 ways to entertain your young child for $1 or less:

  1. Large cardboard boxes – Perfect for making houses and small castles. A large cardboard box can entertain an imaginative child for hours. Make sure you are nearby to take pictures and plenty of door knocking. Hint: look for an appliance store in your area. They often have many of the large boxes they are willing to give you as opposed to putting in the trash.
  2. Rubber band and pencil crazy bot – A simple toy you probably remember from elementary school. Take two unsharpened pencils and wrap a rubber band around the center. Twist the pencils lengthwise against each other (as you would wind a propeller on a toy plane). Set down flat on a table and let the jumping begin. Teach your child not to twist the rubber band too tightly or it will break. Make sure to have plenty of extra rubber bands handy just in case.
  3. Make a paper popper – What do kids like more than birthday cake? Noise of course. Here’s a little noisemaker you remember from grade school. To make:
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    1. Fold a sheet of copier paper lengthwise down the middle – open the sheet back up and lay flat
    2. Fold all four corners of the paper inward toward the center crease
    3. Fold the sheet of paper in half the other way keeping all four corners folded inward – you will end up what looks vaguely like a stealth aircraft
    4. With the point facing away from you, grab the right side and fold it upward so the bottom is parallel with the crease
    5. Do the same with the left side
    6. Unfold so you are back to the stealth fighter
    7. Using the crease as a reference, tuck the upper right hand corner into the popper.
    8. Repeat with the other side. It will look like a diamond.
    9. Lastly, Fold it one more time so it looks like a triangle.
    10. Hold from the bottom and as if you were pitching a baseball, flip the popper rapidly through the air. The inward folded corner will “POP” out making a fun and satisfying sound.
  4. Home Depot Kids Workshop – The huge hardware conglomerate is a great refuge for Dads everywhere, but now they offer kids workshops one Saturday per month (check your local Home Depot for time and location). At the workshop kids learn how to build birdhouses, bat houses, stock car racers, airplanes, wooden flowerpot holders and more. It’s a great Saturday morning activity where your kids can learn the skills necessary to fix your roof when you get too old to climb up there.
  5. Plant something – A simple way to teach young children how to take care of a living organism is to plant something. You can use containers made of old plastic cups with holes in the bottom or you can plant outdoors depending on the season. Digging in dirt is great fun for a child. They are also thrilled when the little baby plant awakens from the soil. Suddenly, they have something fragile to take care of. Hint: I find that planting green beans provides the quickest results. Bean plants begin to poke their heads through the soil in just a few short days.
  6. Water sprinkler – While watering the lawn, water your kids too. On a hot summer day, your grass needs 30 minutes of water. Send your kid out in a bathing suit and you’ll kill two birds with one stone.
  7. Bubbles bubbles everywhere – Kids and adults alike love to blow bubbles. Mix up your own batch by pouring a teaspoon or so of dish soap into a cup and adding approximately 3 teaspoons of water. Stir and then test. You can make a free bubble wand by unbending a large paperclip and folding it back into a triangle with a small handle. You may need to add a little more soap or water to get the perfect bubble. Hint: pour the bubble solution into a small plate so it’s easier to get the bubble film onto the bubble wand.
  8. Catch Fireflies – As a kid, I remember fond days of catching fireflies and putting them into a mayo jar with holes punched in the lid. Your kids will love it too. If you don’t have wooded areas in your yard, you can find a park. The fireflies should begin to light the sky around dusk. Teach your kids how to gently catch them by letting them land in their hand. You can collect them into a jar, but please be sure to let them go at the end of the evening so they don’t die. (This teaches responsibility and respecting nature.)
  9. Paper airplanes – Up in the air with the greatest of ease. Teaching your child how to make and fly a paper airplane is one of the childhood rights of passage. It can foster a love of origami as well as a Lifehacker mindset of building your own toys. Simple airplane instructions (see pictures):
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    1. Fold a piece of copier paper in half lengthwise

    2. With the crease closest to you, fold the top right corner down so that it lines up with the bottom crease.
    3. Do the same thing on the other side.
    4. Grab the top corner on one side and bend it downward so the crease on top of the paper is lined up with the crease at the bottom.
    5. Turn the plane over and fold the other side the same way.
    6. Fold it in the same manner one more time, by taking the top crease and lining it up with the bottom crease and folding.
    7. Lather rinse, repeat on the other side.
    8. Then fold the last two creases outward perpendicular to the bottom of the plane.
    9. Fly away!
  10. Tin can and string telephone – You don’t necessarily need tin cans for this project. Two plastic or styrofoam cups and some twine will do.
    Telephone.gif

    1. Using a tack or the end of a pin, punch a hole into the center of the bottom of each cup.

    2. Cut a piece of light string 25 feet or longer.
    3. Feed one end of the string through the hole of one of the cups
    4. Tie a large knot on the string so it doesn’t fall back through the hole.
    5. Feed the other end of the string through the other cup and tie a knot like you did for the first cup.
    6. Now give the cup to your child and walk away from each other until the string is tight.
    7. Now you can whisper back and forth into your child’s new telephone.

    This project gets your child’s physics education off to a great start by teaching vibration and harmonics. Hint: Try the phone under doors and around corners of your house. If you keep the string taut it will still work.

How do you keep the kids happy and occupied this summer? Let us know in the comments.

Brad Isaac is a lead software programmer and blogger. You can read his motivational strategies every day on his goal setting blog, Achieve-IT!

How Much Should Contractors Charge?

 

How Much Should Contractors Charge?It’s the would-be contractor’s $64,000 question: How much do I have to charge per hour to make a go of it as an independent professional? The pundits are ready with a pat answer: Divide your employment salary by 1,000, and that’s your hourly rate. So if you make $50,000 as a wage slave, you need to bill at $50 an hour to make it independently.

Is it really that simple? Hardly. You have dozens of factors to consider, and you’ll need at least a bit of professional help to come up with your final answer. We’ll break the problem down for you and help you set fees that make sense for your situation.

You Will Pay More Taxes

When you work for yourself, you double the fun of paying the FICA tax. “You’re paying the employer’s share of Social Security — that’s the big difference,” says Dorothy Rosen, a CPA who offers advice on BankRate.com as the Dollar Diva.

As an independent professional, you may have to pay other taxes and fees. For many contractors, these additional burdens are minimal, but be sure to ask your state and local authorities or your accountant about these levies:

  • State and local taxes on business income.
  • Business property and inventory taxes.
  • Fees for business licenses.

“Bear in mind that half of your income is going to go away” to taxes, advises Rosen.

You Will Need to Buy Benefits

If you’re like most employees, your company has provided you with a number of valuable benefits, especially insurance. As a contractor, if you can’t hitch a ride on your employed spouse’s plan, it’s crucial that you figure in the cost of buying these services. Your fiscal and physical health depend on them. And being in business for yourself, you may need professional insurance. Add these items to your master checklist:

  • Health insurance.
  • Dental insurance.
  • Life insurance.
  • Disability insurance.
  • Professional/business liability insurance.
  • Retirement savings.

And don’t forget about time off. Many a contractor concedes every weekend to the business and doesn’t even entertain the idea of a vacation. But if you take this road, you will burn out faster than a middle manager in an 8-by-8-foot cubicle. Face the music: You will need to take time off, and this will reduce your billable hours. To save your sanity as well as your bottom line, budget for all of these time-off types:

  • Vacations.
  • Holidays.
  • Sick days.
  • Personal days.
  • Medical/parental leave.

You Will Incur Business Expenses

Most business expenses are deductible, but they do cut into your bottom line. Before you make the leap to becoming a contractor, do your best to estimate expenses that will ultimately come out of your hourly rate. The variety of business expenses is limitless; we cover the basics here.

First, consider business startup expenses:

  • Computer hardware and software.
  • Office equipment and furniture.
  • Business stationery and marketing materials.
  • Web site programming and design.
  • Initial inventory, if applicable.

Second, try to gauge your ongoing expenses, such as:

  • Marketing and advertising.
  • Car and other business travel.
  • Business entertainment.
  • Telecommunications services.
  • Accounting, legal and other professional services.
  • Professional books, subscriptions, memberships.
  • Payments on business debt.

What Do You Do Now? Go Figure

Once you’ve done your homework and made your best estimates of all the applicable items above, get some professional help to put it all in perspective. See an accountant or financial planner specializing in helping small businesses. Let your advisor crunch the numbers and come up with an hourly rate that you should charge based on your estimate of billable hours per year.

Then compare this hypothetical rate to the open market’s going rates. “You need to charge what the market will bear,” says Rosen. “If you’re going to make a mistake, err on the side of charging too much.”

Wiser words were never spoken.

By John Rossheim
Monster Senior Contributing Writer

© 2007 Monster Ref: source

Windows Tip: Add Copy/Move To Windows Explorer right-click menuLifehacker

rightclickmenucopyto%5B5%5D.pngWindows users: If you copy and move files around in Explorer a lot, a registry edit can add handy “Copy To…” and “Move To…” options to the right-click context menu. When you choose either option, an Explorer dialog pops, asking you for the destination directory. As always, back up your registry before you start making changes. The How-To Geek details the tweak. Thanks, Casey!

How To: Remove a wine cork trapped in the bottleLifehacker

Your cork fell into the bottle and now you want it out? No need to break the bottle – you can pull it out with a plastic bag and a little ingenuity. Hit the video to see how. Thanks, Antony!

How to Actually Execute Your To-Do List: or, Why Writing It Down Doesn’t Actually Get It Donezen habits

Every Monday is Productivity & Organization Day at Zen Habits.

Have you gotten good at organizing your tasks in a to-do list, but have trouble actually executing them? You’re not alone.

Getting things on your to-do list actually done is difficult because it’s really a collection of habits that most people don’t think about. Today, we’ll look at addressing those issues that stop you from doing things, and the habits needed to overcome those issues.

This post was prompted when reader BJ Thunderstone recently asked a great question:

A lot of productivity systems such as Getting Things Done by David Allen or Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster concern themselves with writing lists of things to do. This skill is easy to learn.But what if the problem isn’t making lists, but executing your plan? What if you write “Get X, Y and Z done” and then you can’t make yourself do any of these things?

I think that many people have a problem not with making to-do lists – but with executing what is written on these lists.

B.J. went on to list some of the reasons he and others have a problem getting things done. Let’s address them one by one.

“I feel resistance when starting work on something.”
First of all, it’s good to analyze your resistance, which is something we don’t do often. Why don’t you want to start on something? Identifying the problem can help lead to the solution.

Having said that, there are a couple of suggestions that could help:

  • Tiny chunk. Tell yourself you only have to do 5 minutes of work on it. That small amount of work is less intimidating.
  • Just start. Once you get going, it’s much easier to keep going. So tell yourself that all you have to do is start. I like to compare this to my philosophy of running: instead of worrying about having to do the whole run, I tell myself that I just have to lace up my shoes and get out the door. After that, it’s really easy. Do the same thing with any task — just fire up your program, and do the first few actions (i.e. start typing). It gets easier after that point.
  • Reward yourself. Don’t let yourself check email (or whatever reward works for you — something that you need to do every day) until you do at least 10 minutes (or 15 or 20, it doesn’t matter) on the task. Set a timer. Once your 10 minutes is up, set another timer for 5 minutes and do email. Then repeat.
  • Get excited about it. This is actually a tip that helps with any of these points. If you are excited about doing something, you will not hesitate to do it. For example, I loved this topic suggestion, and I was excited about writing it. As soon as I had the chance, I sat down to write it and only took one break. But how do you get excited about a task? Try to find something exciting about it. Will it bring you revenue? What can you do with that revenue? Will it bring you new clients, new opportunities, new recognition? If you can’t find anything exciting about a task, consider whether it’s really important or not — and if not, find a way to not do it. Sometimes eliminating (or delegating or delaying) the task is the best option.

“I am terrified of certain tasks, or of working on certain projects.”
There are usually a few reasons those tasks or projects terrify you:

  1. They are too intimidating in size or scope. To combat this, break it down into tinier chunks — actually, just the first tiny chunk (as David Allen tells us to do in GTD). It’s intimidating to do a task like “Create report on X” or “Make a yearly plan for Z”. But if you just need to do the first physical action, which might be, “Call Frank for figures on X” or “Make a list of 10 things we should accomplish this year”, it’s much easier to tackle and less intimidating.
  2. You don’t really know how to do it. If you haven’t done something a million times before, it is unfamiliar and unknown to you. And we are all terrified of that. The solution? First, get more information — learn as much as you can about it. That might require some research on the Internet, or talking to someone who’s done it before, or reading a book, or taking a class. Whatever you need to do, make the unknown become the known. Second, practice it as much as possible. Once you’ve learned how to do something, you need to practice it to become good at it. Don’t practice the whole thing — practice individual skills required to do a task or project, one at a time, until you’re good at those skills. Once you’ve mastered them, it will no longer be terrifying.
  3. You are focusing on negative aspects. You might be focusing on how hard something is, or on all the obstacles. Try looking at the positive aspects instead. Focus on what a great opportunity this project represents … an opportunity to learn, to get better at something, to make more money, to work on a relationship, to gain some long-term recognition, to improve your advancement opportunities. This is similar to the “get excited about it” item in the previous section. If you look at the opportunities, not the problems, you will be less terrified and more likely to want to do it.

“I start, but I get distracted and never finish.”
If you start, you’ve already made a big step towards finishing. Now you just need to work on the distractions. My suggestions won’t be popular, but they work:

  • Small tasks. I mentioned this above, but it’s really important to repeat here. If you are getting distracted, it may be because you are working too long on a single task or project. To remain focused, do only a small task — you are more likely to stay on task. If the task takes a long time, focus on only doing 15-20 minutes of it.
  • Single-task. Don’t allow yourself to do multiple tasks at the same time. Just do the one task before you. If you tend to do email, IM, surf the web, read your RSS feeds, talk on the phone and all of that while doing a task, you will inevitably be distracted from a task. Do one task at a time. If you feel yourself being pulled from the task, stop yourself. And bring yourself back.
  • Unplug. The biggest distractions come from connectivity. Email, feeds, IM, Twitter, phones. Unplug from these connections while you’re working on your single task. This is always an unpopular suggestion, but before you reject it, give it a try. Turn everything off, and try to focus on one task. You’ll get a lot more done, I guarantee you. Right now, I’m writing this post while disconnected from the Internet. It’s much easier to concentrate.
  • Clear your desk. Distractions can come from visual clutter. It can be worth it to clear everything off your desk (see 3 Steps to a Permanently Clear Desk). Also clear your walls and your computer desktop, and only work on one program at a time if possible.
  • Focus. Once your desk is clear and you unplug, and you’re working on that single task, really put all of your concentration on it. Pour your energies into that task, and see if you can get it done quickly. You might even get lost in it, and achieve that highly touted (deservedly so) state of mind known as “flow”.
  • Take breaks. It can help you to focus for a short amount of time on a single task, and use a time to help you focus, and then to take a break. This allows you to reboot your brain. Then, get back to work and focus on the next task.

“I often don’t feel like doing any work at all. The idea of work seems horrible and I never start doing anything.”
I know this feeling well. It plagues us all, and there’s no one good answer. However, here are some suggestions:

  • Groom yourself. If you work from home, take a shower. Often the act of grooming ourselves can make us feel much better.
  • Take a walk. I find that a little walk can get my blood pumping, refresh my mind, and allow me to think about what I really want to do today. It might not be what you need, but it’s worth a shot.
  • Exercise. Similarly, exercise can make you feel great. A jog in the park, a short strength workout, some pilates, or meditation … these things get your mood up and get you feeling productive and happy. Try it out — you might feel more like doing stuff when you’re done.
  • Again, think of opportunities. Think about tomorrow — not tomorrow as in the distant future, but tomorrow as in the day after today. Imagine yourself looking back on today from tomorrow. Will you be glad you laid around? Or would you be happier if you did something, and took advantage of the opportunities in front of you today? It’s useful to think in terms of your future self — because what we do today will open up opportunities and new roads for tomorrow’s us.
  • Baby steps. Don’t think in terms of having to tackle an entire work day, or an entire list of stuff to do. That’s overwhelming. Just think of doing one thing. That’s all you have to do — just that one thing. Make it something small and easy, and ideally something fun and rewarding. Focus on that easy task. Once you get started, you might be more willing to do another thing. Then another.
  • Find fun stuff to do. If you just have boring or unpleasant things to do, you won’t feel like doing them. Instead, change your path for today — see if you can find something that’s fun or exciting, but still moves you forward on a project or goal. That might be what you need to get you jump-started to do other stuff — or you might instead only spend the day doing only fun stuff (as long as it moves you forward — don’t just play solitaire or WoW).
  • Commit thyself. If motivation is your problem, commit yourself to making some progress with a goal or project today, or every day this week — tell all your family and friends, write it in your blog, or join the Zen Habits forum — it’s a great motivator. Then hold yourself accountable by reporting to others what you did today.
  • Rewards. Tell yourself that if you just do that first task, you’ll get a nice ice cream sundae. Or that you can buy a book, or DVD. Whatever your reward, use it to motivate yourself to just get started. Then let the rest flow from there.

“I make a list of things to do the next day.. and on that day, I wake up looking forward to a bad day, full of unpleasant tasks, I don’t feel like doing anything from the list.”
Two things to say here:

  1. Overload. The most probable reason is that you’re overloading yourself. People tend to pile too much on themselves for a single day, overestimating how much they can actually do. Get into the habit of choosing only three Most Important Tasks to do for the day, and do them early in the day (at least two of them before email). If you only have three things to do, it’s not overwhelming. You’ll probably have some smaller things to do later, but write those down under a “batch process” heading, and do those small things all at once near the end of the day.
  2. Fun. The second thing is that you’re loading yourself up with unpleasant tasks. Who wants to face a day of that? Instead, put down tasks that you’ll look forward to doing. Create an exciting to-do list for tomorrow. If you really have nothing important to do that’s enjoyable, it’s possible you’re in the wrong job. Look instead for a job that you’ll actually enjoy. Yes, every job has unpleasant and difficult tasks, but they lead to something rewarding. They support something you get excited about. If you don’t have anything like that in your job, you need to take a closer look at your job — revamp it somehow, or look for another.

Have your own methods of getting your to-do list done? Have other problems? Discuss it in the Zen Habits forums.

See also:

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Travel: How to plan a survivable road tripLifehacker

road_trip.pngDoes the phrase “road trip” make you shudder? It doesn’t have to if you take some strategic planning suggestions from financial blog Wise Bread. For instance:

Do not be radio nazi. I can guarantee you that not everybody in the car shares your love of polka music. Decide ahead of time who will control the radio. Will the driver have control of the radio? Will you split radio time 50/50?

I solved this one via Mr. iPod – you just can’t go wrong with 1000+ songs to choose from (eventually, “Best of White Snake” really does stop playing). How do you make your road trips adventures to remember ..ather than nightmarish memories? Give your best suggestions in the comments.

Decision-making: Make a decision in sixty seconds or lessLifehacker

choices.pngIf you’ve ever found it difficult to make a decision – and really, who hasn’t – then self-help blogger Steve Pavlina has come up with an intriguing way to solve your decision making dilemmas. Simply ask yourself this question: “is this me?”

When making decisions via the “Is this me?” method, you’re using an idealized version of yourself for the comparison. This is your best self. It’s who you are in your dreams and goals, who you want to be.

His premise is that you can use this method for any decision, whether you’re picking out a tie or deciding on your career. Basically, you’ve got to plug in to what makes you tick and run with it. What’s your decision making process? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

Yadogg » Dont Mess with this Dog!del.icio.us/ramitsethi

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Distractions, Dreaded Projects, Signal-to-Noise, Water … Oh My!zen habits

This is just a big roundup of some of the posts I’ve written elsewhere in the last week that I thought you might be interested in reading:

Also, a few links to posts by friends of mine who are excellent bloggers:

/dev/hello_world: A Simple Introduction to Device Drivers under LinuxLinux DevCenter

tile imageFor many seasoned Linux developers, device drivers still remain a bit of a mysterious black art practiced by a select few. While no single article could possibly attempt to covered everything there is to know about writing drivers, Valerie Henson gives us a brief taste of what’s involved, by implementing a device to return “Hello World” using all the major driver frameworks.

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