Archive for October, 2012

College Certificate On Your iPad

Oct. 24th 2012

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Posted by Staff Writers | in Education | No Comments »

41 Tips to Make the Most from Online Openware Courses

Oct. 18th 2012


Once, students had to pay a pretty penny to get access to Ivy League courses and top-tier educational resources. Those days are long gone, as there are now thousands of free online learning opportunities available from some of the biggest names in education and business in the world. As these resources have grown in number and the list of institutions providing them has become ever more prestigious, free online courses are gaining legitimacy with employers as a method of learning valuable job skills. While there’s still a long way to go in terms of acceptance, more and more employers are recognizing the value of cheap, effective educational programs that can keep employees up-to-date and engaged in their field without spending a dime. Whether you’re looking to online education for personal reasons or to get ahead in your career, use these tips to help you get more out of open courses and use what you learn to market yourself, improve your performance, and stand out on the job.

  1. Treat them like real classes.

    If you really want to take away a lot from a free online course, then don’t treat it any differently than you would a course you’ve paid to take. Regarding a free course as a lesser educational experience is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so instead of pushing coursework aside or failing to concentrate on it, give it your full attention. You’ll get much better results and learn some valuable time management skills in the process.

  2. Choose courses that have real-world applications.

    While learning just about anything is a noble pursuit, there are certainly some online courses that have more direct applications to your career and everyday life than others. When choosing courses, carefully select those which will offer you the best chance of learning things you can really use on the job or in your personal life.

  3. Take advantage of badges and certifications.

    To date, the majority of free opencourseware learning opportunities won’t garner students any kind of certification or credit for completing them, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change. A number of free learning sites are beginning to create ways for students to prove that they’ve satisfactorily completed a course, which can be an asset in a job hunt or on a resume.

  4. Pinpoint your learning gaps.

    Before you choose an online course, it’s smart to assess what you don’t know and what you’d like to learn more about, especially with regard to the things you do day in and day out at your job. Once you know where your biggest learning gaps lie, you can make more informed decisions about which online courses would serve you the best.

  5. Ask questions online.

    Open courses offer a lot to students, but they lack the support of faculty and the opportunity to ask questions in real time. While there’s no substitute for one-on-one interactions with professors, there may be others out there who can answer your questions and help you understand key concepts. Seek them out on professional forums or social sites that cater to education to get the support you need to keep making progress in your free courses.

  6. Do the reading.

    Reading assignments for courses, online or off, are rarely ever just suggestions; they’re requirements for the course and can play a big role in how much a student learns and takes away from the experience. Reading assignments can count for even more when you’re taking a course through open courseware, so don’t ignore them. Instead, make them a big part of your study and preparation.

  7. Supplement or prepare for a for-credit course.

    While open courses can be great, sometimes you need a certificate or diploma in order to advance in your career. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on taking online courses, however. These courses can provide excellent support for traditional coursework, providing alternative perspectives, helping students brush up on concepts, and even offering additional reading material and media.

  8. Work with others.

    You may not get built-in classmates when you decide to take an open course, but that doesn’t mean you can find your own. Working through course materials with a learning buddy can help both of you get more out of the experience, stay motivated, and puzzles through the most difficult parts of the course.

  9. Bolster basic skills.

    While open courses can be useful for learning advanced skills, they’re also really great for helping improve basic skills that you use every day. Consider taking writing courses, basic math, communication, or even courses that teach fundamental computer skills. While they’re not as big-picture as other courses, you may find they get the most use on a daily basis out of these basic courses.

  10. Explore career alternatives.

    Been considering a career change? Open courses are a smart way to get a taste of what working in another field entails so you can decide if you really want to take the leap or if you’re better off staying where you are.

  11. Utilize open course career help.

    If you’re taking online courses as a way to get ahead in your career, then make sure that you take advantage of all of the opportunities afforded by the institutions offering the courses. For example, Udacity offers to hand out student resume to their partner companies at no cost. Depending on the type of work you’re interested in doing, that could be an asset in finding a job.

  12. Put your coursework on your resume.

    While it may not have garnered you a degree, there’s no reason not to include open courses on your resume in a section dedicated to training. It shows that you have a commitment to learning and are willing to put in extra work to get ahead.

  13. Collect examples of your work from the courses.

    Many online courses will help you to hone skills that you can use to produce work for a portfolio. Choose your best writing, apps, business plans, or computer programs to showcase in a portfolio you can show to prospective employers.

  14. Develop management and business skills.

    No matter what type of work you’re in, gaining skills and expertise in business and management are surefire ways to help yourself work up the ladder. It’s even better when you can work on these things for free with the help of open courses, so don’t miss out.

  15. Demonstrate what you’ve learned.

    One way to show your boss or a potential employer the value of open courses is to demonstrate what you’ve learned. Show off your new skills and don’t be afraid to share where you learned them.

  16. Be choosy.

    There are thousands of free courses out there to choose from, so you can afford to be choosy when selecting one (or more) to take. Evaluate the materials, the school that’s offering the course, and what it can teach you before diving in to ensure you get the best educational experience possible.

  17. Choose hot topics.

    Certain skills and knowledge sets are hot with employers right now, and luckily, there are more than a few open courses that tackle these subjects. Taking free courses in app programming, Spanish, social networking, green design, and educational technology can help give a wide range of careers a boost.

  18. Take your time.

    While you don’t want to be lazy when taking an open course, there’s also no reason to rush. The learn-at-your-own-pace model gives you plenty of time to go back and review lectures if you’re feeling lost or need to review key concepts before moving forward.

  19. Create notes you can use on the job.

    If you’re taking courses that apply directly to your current career, then it’s a smart idea to create some notes and resource guides for yourself during your coursework that can be used at work as references as you’re applying new skills. If they work well for you, share them with coworkers to give everyone in the office a boost.

  20. Find a real-world mentor.

    Taking online courses, whether you pay for them or enjoy open courseware, can be a bit of a solitary endeavor. It can be a big help to find someone you can talk to in person who can act as a mentor, guiding you through your lessons, answering questions, and helping you see new ways to apply your skills. Look for mentors through your work, professional associations, or even your alumni network.

  21. Contact the professor who created the materials.

    While you can’t reach out to the professor who created the course materials every time you have a question or concern (online courses aren’t supported in that way), it wouldn’t be out of line to email a professor if you’d like some ideas on how to learn more or would like to share some feedback on the course. These kinds of interactions can be beneficial to you and the professor and can really enrich the open courseware experience.

  22. Understand the pros and cons of free courses.

    When taking advantage of open courseware, it’s important to be honest with yourself about the pros and cons they entail. On one hand, they’re a great way to learn new things without shelling out big bucks. On the other, they won’t give you a degree or certification that other programs will, and for those who need a lot of guidance, they may not be a good match. Once you acknowledge those things, you can adjust your expectations for the course and what you’ll get from it.

  23. Seek out other lectures and resources.

    You can supplement your open courses with other online materials, including talks and online textbooks. Don’t be afraid to seek out additional material if you find something interesting or just need a little extra help.

  24. Find a source of motivation.

    Since you’ll be working on your own without a professor checking in on you or a bad grade looming over you, it can be hard to get motivated to push yourself in open courses. You simply have to find a source of motivation for yourself, whether that’s as simple as learning a new skill or something much bigger like pushing forward your career.

  25. Research the skills you need to get ahead in your field.

    Not sure which open course is right for you? Do a bit of research about trends in your fields, skills that are in demand, and what it takes to get ahead. Once you know where you want to go, you can choose online courses that support that goal.

  26. Take advantage of computer courses.

    There are few fields out there today where knowing about computers, from how to make a spreadsheet to building a website, isn’t a huge asset. If you’re not sure what to take, start with online computer courses and work from there.

  27. Share your experience with others.

    Skills you learn in an online course can make you a resource to others who work in your field, especially those who may be interested in learning the same skills. You can share what you’ve learned, help them find courses to take, and even act as a mentor for coworkers who are taking their own open courseware journeys. If that doesn’t make you look good to your boss, nothing will.

  28. Cater to your learning needs.

    We all have different likes and dislikes when it comes to learning that make things more interesting, boring, easy, or hard for us. Use your own learning preferences to make smart choices about what open courses you take. For instance, if you dislike reading-focused courses, offerings that are centered around lectures, media, and hands on activities might be best.

  29. Survey a class before beginning.

    Online courses may be free, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require a fairly serious investment. Your time is a valuable thing so to ensure that you’re not wasting it, review course materials before starting a class to make sure that the course is the appropriate level and covers material you’ll actually find interesting and useful.

  30. Log your progress.

    It’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by course material that’s challenging. Logging your progress can help to motivate and keep you on track, so keep a journal of your experiences as you go.

  31. Go through all of the course content.

    Think you can just skim over course content and rush through an open course? Not if you want to actually learn something. Open courses won’t offer much of anything if you don’t put in the effort to do readings, listen to lectures, and go through all, yes ALL, of the course content.

  32. Do your research.

    Not all free online education programs are created equal. Some are of higher quality and offer better educational experiences and resources than others. Before choosing what to focus your energies on, do a bit of research on which online experiences would offer you the best results.

  33. Identify a skill that will help you to stand out.

    In a sea of applicants, what will make you stand out? Sometimes, something as simple as speaking another language or knowing how to design a website can make you stand out from other potential candidates. Even better, open courses can help you to develop these skills if you choose them wisely.

  34. Emphasize the potential benefit versus the investment.

    Trying to sell the value of your open courseware education to your boss, coworkers, potential employer, or even yourself? The math is pretty simple, actually. Provided you’re learning something useful from the courses, open courseware is an amazing opportunity to quite literally get something for nothing.

  35. Use learning to enrich your own ideas.

    Have an amazing idea for a business? Developing a product that could revolutionize green energy? Open courses can help you to fill in the gaps in your knowledge of just how to do these things, from helping you to understand chemistry to showing you how to build a better business plan.

  36. Embrace anonymity.

    It’s not always bad to be anonymous. Anonymity in an open course can give you the confidence to take risks, ask questions, and review material in ways that you might not do in a traditional course. Since there’s no way to fail, there’s no real wrong way to learn, grow, or explore within the course. That’s incredibly empowering and can help you get a lot out of open courses.

  37. Spend time studying.

    Yes, you actually have to study, even if you’re not getting a grade. If the goal of taking an open course is to learn something new, then you do have to review materials, do readings, and even work on problem sets to make that happen.

  38. Make online learning daily habit.

    One of the easiest ways to ensure that you get the most out of an online courseware experience is to simply make online learning a part of your daily routine. Eventually, taking time out to study, listen to lectures, and do homework will feel like second nature to you.

  39. Refresh your degree.

    Just because you have a degree in a field doesn’t make you an expert in it for life. You have to keep updating your knowledge and learning about new trends, ideas, and opportunities, no matter what your profession. Open courses are pretty much a perfect way to do this, giving you a refresher in what you know and helping you stay abreast of the newest ideas in your field at the same time.

  40. Use online resources.

    There are a lot of online resources out there that can help support you as you take your open courses. They can chart your progress, help you store resources for reading, and even give you answers to questions when you have them. Make use of these supporting tools and you’re likely to stick with your open ed experience and to get more out of it.

  41. Be confident.

    Ultimately, the success of your online openware experience will depend on how confident you are in the open courseware model. If you don’t think you’ll learn much, you probably won’t. If you push yourself, acknowledge the limitations of the method, and use resources at your disposal, there’s no reason you can’t learn as much as you would through any other method.

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How Today’s Tablets Stack Up For Students

Oct. 16th 2012

Tablet PCs are not for everyone. Most people are perfectly capable of making it through the day checking email, reading, and watching videos on their smartphone until they can make it home to their laptop. That being said, tablets were sent from on high for student life. They’re cheaper and easier to transport than laptops, yet they’re more substantial and full-featured than smartphones. Schools and colleges all over the country have taken note of tablets’ potential for enhancing the educational experience and many have begun to provide them for students. If your school has stiffed you but you still want a tablet, here’s a snapshot of what the market looks like right now for academic users.

Price

High school and younger students may have a bit more (of their parents’) money to work with when it comes to buying a tablet, but we’re assuming price is the top consideration for you cash-strapped college kids. Tablets have been known to sell for as little as $99, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If you’re serious about getting a tablet, shell out a little more and invest in something decent.

At $159, the original Kindle Fire would be the bottom-dollar tablet for the “decent” category, although there are other Fires at price points up to $499. The $199 Nexus 7 by Google is another solid, inexpensive option, even at $249 for 16GB. The iPad 3s are a hit with reviewers but at a starting price of $499 (and a max of $829, depending on the amount of storage and cellular capability), they represent the high end of the market that may be out of reach for many students.

Bottom line: $600, including tax and extras, should be more than enough to bring home a tablet fit for a student.

Construction

Even though you’ll promise your parents you’ll take good care of your nice new tablet, we know students are tough on their stuff. A case is an absolute must, but some tablets are tougher than others. The industry standard for tough, scratch-resistant screens is Gorilla Glass, which is found on Kindle Fires, Acer Iconias, Samsung Galaxy Tabs, Asus Eee Pad Transformers, and a few others. The Fire is widely recognized for durability, although like all Gorilla Glass products, glare in the outdoors is an issue, so college students who want to use their tablet in the fresh air should take that into account.

As for weight, most tablets come in around 1.5 pounds, meaning students won’t even remember they’ve got one in their backpack. The inexpensive Nexus 7 has scored high marks for its overall build. At just .41 inches thick, 4.7 inches wide, and 12 ounces it’s small enough to slip into the back of your Levi’s. Of course, a small body means a small screen. On the other end of the size spectrum would be a tablet like the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700, whose plush 10.1-inch screen adds to its 1.31 pound weight. Throw in the optional peripheral keyboard and the weight is still under 3 pounds.

Performance and Productivity

When it comes to operating systems, your main choices are Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Windows. The iPad is your only option for the iOS, which excels on the strength of its famous app market, over-the-air updates, and connections with other Apple products via features like Apple TV and AirPrint. The big negative: no Flash support (although many developers are adjusting). Google Play, the Android app market, comes installed on a host of Android tablets and though it may get less coverage than iTunes, it has half a million apps and a better feedback system for reading other users’ reviews easily. The strengths of its OS are multitasking, customizability, and no-fuss third-party app compatibility. The Windows app store is currently a clear third, but the Windows 8 store with “Metro-style” apps could level the tablet playing field. You know what you’re getting with a Windows device: it may be lacking cutting-edge creative tools but is definitely a workhorse when it comes to office/classroom tools.

Seeing as this is for school, you don’t need a tablet that enables Playstation emulation or perfect video playback. Probably 75% of your school activity on a tablet will be reading, whether its textbooks, magazines, or Web articles, so there’s no need to pay just for extraordinary video quality. The Nexus 7 is roundly cited as the best value if reading is your main concern. At the under-$400 price range, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Asus TF300 both have nice 10.1-inch displays and fast processors to pull up your files quickly.

Hardware

What you want under the hood will be dependent on how you’re going to use the tablet. If you’re a film student who is going to store film footage on it, you’ll need more storage, but some saved textbooks and projects don’t take up much hard drive space. Most tablets come in 16 or 32GB iterations, with the 32 costing $50 or $100 more. We touched on processor speeds, but anything that gets you 1Ghz to 1.6Ghz is fine. Do you really need your textbook to load that fast?

As you know if you’ve ever bought a laptop, battery life can be one of the most maddening parts of computer owner’s experience. Your tablet should be able to give you over eight hours of life; the Galaxy Tab 7.7, the iPad 2, the Nexus 7, and the Kindle Fire are all tablets that can pull off at least 10 hours.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of typing, tablets with optional keyboard docks like the Galaxy Tab or the Asus Eee make things a lot easier. With their USB ports, Windows tablets enable connecting with virtually any portable keyboard or mouse, but iPads require proprietary Apple peripherals. Of course, a good voice dictation app is always an option, as well.

Additional Features and Add-ons

It’s safe to assume that on an average day, you won’t have any academic use for built-in cameras, GPS, or Bluetooth. However, some extras come in handy and can be nice to have. An HDMI port, for example, enables connecting your tablet to a second monitor or screen for giving a presentation or just easier viewing. The Acer Iconia A100 has been out over a year (gasp!) but at $189 is a steal of a HDMI-equipped tablet. We haven’t mentioned Windows tablets yet, but all of them have at least one USB port and the forthcoming Windows 8 tablets will offer perks like microSD slots, Ethernet ports, swappable batteries, and Office Home & Student 2013.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Technology | No Comments »

12 Scientific Facts to Improve Your Cup of Coffee

Oct. 12th 2012

Even those who aren’t particularly discerning about their morning cup of coffee can differentiate a good cup from a terrible one. Surprisingly, what separates that good cup from a bad one isn’t a subjective matter of preference; there’s actually some very precise science behind creating a cup of coffee that appeals to the majority of taste buds. From selecting a type of coffee to roasting and brewing, every step that goes into the construction of a cup of coffee plays an essential role in how that eventual cup will taste, feel, and caffeinate. Read on to learn more about the chemistry of coffee which may just provides a few insights that will help you improve the way you brew up one of the world’s most popular beverages.

  1. How coffee is extracted can dramatically change its flavor.

    Extraction is the process of dissolving coffee grounds in water, something most of us know as brewing, or in the case of espresso, pulling. How the extraction process happens can change the taste of coffee in dramatic ways, and not always for the better. Three factors influence the outcome of an extraction: the size of the grounds, the time that water spends in contact with the grounds, and the distribution of water among the grounds. Making things even more complicated, each method of extraction, from pulling espresso to brewing in a French press, requires different things to make palatable coffee and some methods simply produce better coffee than others. If any of these factors are off for a given method, it will yield coffee that’s bitter and in some cases virtually undrinkable. Why? As coffee is extracted, it first releases acids, then sugars, and then bitters. Brewing for too long, uneven exposure to water, or grinding coffee too fine can mean that too much bitter flavor gets extracted. On the flip side, if extraction is too short or done with coffee that’s too coarsely ground, you’ll get an acidic, watery cup of coffee.

  2. Coffee contains a lot of trapped carbon dioxide.

    You might not realize it by looking at them, but coffee grounds actually contain a fair amount of trapped carbon dioxide. Much of this CO2 is released within the first 24 hours after roasting occurs, which means that if you grind, brew, and drink incredibly fresh beans, the taste of the coffee is going to skew acidic and there may be an alarming amount of froth on the top as the CO2 rushes to escape the coffee. For most, this won’t be an issue, but if you’re getting beans fresh from a local shop or are roasting your own then it’s wise to let the beans de-gas and develop a day or two before diving into brewing. If you can’t wait, pre-wet the grounds to help them release some CO2 before starting your brew.

  3. Around 28% of the organic and inorganic material in a coffee bean is water-soluble.

    Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the material that makes up your coffee beans is water-soluble, though you don’t really want all of it to dissolve if you’re trying to get a cup of coffee that won’t make you cringe. According to most, the perfect extraction rate of coffee is about 19-22%, which achieves the ideal balance of the acidic, sweet, and bitter flavors in the beans.

  4. Flavor is different from strength.

    While we tend to equate the two when talking about our ideal cup of coffee, flavor and strength are actually two very distinct, though directly related, elements of how we experience coffee. Strength, with regard to coffee, is a measure of how many dissolved solids are in the water. For most, the ideal brew strength (or percentage of dissolved solids) is between 1.15% and 1.55%. Flavor is related to the level of dissolved solids as well, but is focused on which dissolved solids are in the brew, describing the balance of the flavor components that have been pulled out of the beans. Ideal extraction rates for flavor are between 19-22%. Confused? Say you have a cup of coffee that’s been overextracted. It will contain a large number of dissolved solids, which makes it strong. The flavor of the coffee will likely be bitter, as longer extraction process has allowed too many of the back-end bitter flavors of the beans to enter the brew.

  5. Roasting changes the amount of caffeine in coffee.

    Though the change is small, as beans are roasted the do lose some caffeine per volume because the beans expand as they are roasted. If you measure your coffee by volume (by the scoop), this can mean that a darker roast will have a little bit less caffeine than a lighter roast. Of course, things are never that simple with this complex drink. If you measure by weight, darker roasts will have more caffeine per cup than lighter ones. Either way, however, the average person is unlikely to notice the difference and similar changes in caffeine levels can be achieve between different varieties and brewing methods.

  6. There are over 50 different species of coffee in the world.

    Coffee plants come in a wide variety, but surprisingly, we don’t regularly drink more than a couple varieties. Only two, arabica and robusta, commonly find their way into commercial coffee production. Arabica far outpaces the production of robusta, however, as nearly 70% of the coffee sold throughout the world is of this variety. Why? Arabica beans are widely regarded as being of a higher quality (though there are certainly exceptions) than their robusta counterparts and as a result robustas are often relegated to making low-quality blends or instant coffee grounds. Of course, not every arabica will be delicious. Factors like weather, climate, and roasting can and do impact the quality of beans, and many high-quality robustas easily outperform low-quality arabicas in taste.

  7. Coffee actually contains lipids, which can play a role in aroma and quality.

    We often don’t think about fat when it comes to the nutritional content of our coffee, but there are lipids in significant amounts in both of the common species of coffee. Arabica contains 15-17% lipids, and robusta much less at 10-11.15%. Why does this matter? Those lipids play a big role in how the coffee tastes and smells. Many important aromatic compounds are oil soluble, and more oil means a better and more appealing smell. Studies have actually shown that coffee that has higher lipid content is consistently judged as better of better quality than that with less. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. Concentration of these fatty acids increases over time, and eventually they can cause coffee to take on unpleasant flavors.

  8. Roasting coffee gives rise to over 800 compounds.

    Roasting coffee is essential to giving the beans the great complexity of flavor that we associate with a high-quality cup of coffee. Yet it’s not all about taste. A full third of the compounds that are created by roasting coffee are related to aroma. One of the most important reactions that occurs within a bean when it’s roasted is the Maillard Reaction. This reaction is the result of sugars reacting with amino acids, a process which produces not only the brown, roasty color of coffee, but many of the compounds that give it its flavor as well. Without the roasting process, coffee wouldn’t have its unique tastes, flavors, and colors, so its an essential component of producing high-quality beans.

  9. Little of coffee’s inherent bitterness comes from caffeine.

    Scientists have discovered that there’s little relationship between the caffeine in coffee and its bitterness. Chemical analyses and taste tests done in 2007 determined that caffeine isn’t the bitter component in coffee, contributing to only 15% of the bitterness you can detect in a cup of coffee. Instead, the culprits behind bitterness in coffee come from two kinds of antioxidants that vary depending on how the beans are roasted. Light and medium roasts are high in a type called chlorogenic acid lactones. If the beans are roasted further, producing a dark roast, these compounds break down into phenylindanes, which cause a lingering, much more harsh bitter taste than the lactones. Scientists also found that the longer you roast the coffee, the most intense these bitter elements get, further reinforcing the need to buy coffee that’s roasted properly.

  10. A great cup of coffee balances flavor and body.

    We’ve already discussed the meaning of flavor and what it does to create a great cup of coffee, but there’s another element at play, too: body. Body is the sensation of viscosity or heaviness in the liquid, which is part of a beverage’s mouthfeel. In coffee, oil is largely responsible for giving it its body. Roasting coffee for longer periods of time can give it more body, but there is a fine line to walk in terms of quality. Roast too long and the coffee will become too acidic, damaging the flavor. The best beans will balance out this relationship between body and acidity to yield a cup that both feels and tastes good in the mouth.

  11. Coffee beans determine flavor, but so does water.

    Coffee is almost entirely water (it makes up 98% of the average brew), so it makes sense that the quality of the water that’s used to make it plays a significant role in the eventual taste and quality of the coffee. For the best quality coffee, you need to use not only the best beans but also pure, filtered water. Studies have shown that the ideal cup of coffee is made with water that contains around 50-100 ppm of dissolved minerals. If you aren’t that picky, a palatable cup can be made with anything less than 300 ppm.

  12. Coffee is a perishable food.

    There’s a tendency to think that because coffee is dried through roasting that it will last for a long time. That’s not the case. Coffee’s flavor peaks a few days after roasting and declines any time the beans are exposed to light, air, or moisture. Because of that, coffee should be stored much like a spice. This means it should be kept in a airtight container in a cool, dark, and dry location. Also like spices, coffee stays fresh much longer when it is ground right before use, so never grind ahead or buy ground coffee if you can avoid it. Even under ideal conditions, coffee should be used or replaced every one to two weeks, or it will start to produce flavors that taste “off” and brew an inferior cup.

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The Health Hazards of Tablet Use

Oct. 10th 2012

 

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American Industries with Surprisingly Poor Outlooks

Oct. 9th 2012

We’ve all heard how badly newspapers and the Postal Service are hurting. Even if we didn’t hear about it in the news all the time, we would have to assume they can’t be doing too great. After all, when was the last time you licked an envelope or got black ink on your fingers? On the other hand, unless we intentionally seek out info on it, the suffering of some other industries may escape us. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has made its predictions of which industries will decline the most by 2020 in both output and employment. We broke down 10 of the ones that surprised us.

  1. Defense:

    One would think even hawks could agree that military spending that accounts for 58% of spending in the entire world is, dare we say, enough already. With the passage of 2011′s Budget Control Act, Congress finally acknowledged that the military could afford to make some sacrifices to help meet a $1.2 trillion goal of federal spending cuts over the next 10 years. The news is not welcome for the civilian defense industry (what the BLS calls “general federal defense government compensation”), which is predicted to lose $16.5 billion in output and just shy of 50,000 jobs by 2020.

  2. Apparel knitting mills:

    This summer’s public furor over the discovery that Ralph Lauren had the Team USA Olympic uniforms made in China highlighted just how shocked people still get when they hear their goods were not American-made. Nearly every apparel manufacturing operation ditched the States decades ago. Nevertheless, the ones that are still here have been badly bruised by increased import competition and a lower American family clothing budget. By 2020, the industry is projected to lose more than 91,000 jobs, a whopping 58% drop. Output is also expected to plummet $7.1 billion over that time, making it the fastest-declining industry in America by output volume.

  3. Dry cleaning:

    You probably don’t realize it, but your local dry cleaner is probably struggling. All those laid-off people of recent years meant fewer people wearing work clothes, which meant decreased need for starched shirts and bleached blouses. Just one extra wear per garment per person translates into a dry cleaner’s losing substantial revenue. And even before the recession, the market was overcrowded with dry cleaners and laundromats. As one expert puts it, things haven’t been this bad since “the polyester surge of the early ’70s.” Throw on top of everything the fact that hanger prices (of all things) are on the climb, and it’s easy to see why the BLS has the industry slashing 36,400 jobs by the end of the decade at a rate of 1.3% per year.

  4. Tobacco manufacturing:

    The surprising thing about the tobacco industry may be that it’s not doing nearly as bad as you might think, what with smoking being lethal and all. Forty-five million Americans still smoke, and no less than 1 billion people around the world still enjoy a good cigarette. The recession actually helped cigarette sales at home and consumption of tobacco products in second- and third-world countries has increased. But with an ease in the recession, tax increases, a hike in the price of the tobacco leaf, tough competition abroad from foreign competitors, and potential exclusion from a multinational trade deal, the BLS sees American tobacco firms losing $2.2 billion in the next eight years.

  5. Crop production:

    Surely demand for food is in no danger of dropping, right? We won’t all be anorexic models in the future, will we? By one indicator, the crop production industry is increasing. Output is expected to shoot up $20.1 billion by 2020, a healthy 1.5% increase per year. Prices will rise due to an increase in demand from both an increased population and need for biofuel materials in the U.S., E.U., and Brazil. But wage and salary employment for agricultural workers will experience one of the biggest drops of any American industry. More than 40,000 workers will be out of a job within the next eight years, a decline of 6.4%.

  6. Fiber, yarn, and thread mills:

    Like its sister industry apparel knitting mills, fiber, yarn, and thread mills have had a tough time recently, and though the outlook is a little brighter today, the future is bleak. Although cotton prices might have reasonably risen as a result of severe droughts in the U.S., mills have benefited in recent months from a drop in prices due to falling demand from major buyer China. But demand has not been high enough for yarn producers to raise prices or boost production, and the BLS estimates output will be down across the industry by $4.2 billion by 2020, with nearly 32,000 more jobs lost.

  7. Electric power:

    Like the crop production industry, the output and employment of this utilities sector are moving in opposite directions. Although some had predicted new eco-friendly rules for power plants would create as many as 250,000 new jobs, many of them (like painters and plumbers) would only be short-term. Regardless, the technology has advanced so far that electric plants are more efficient and require fewer workers to operate them. The industry will be hit harder than any other utility segment in terms of employment, losing another 35,500 jobs by 2020 on top of the 37,500 lost between 2000 and 2010. But there’s no need to worry about rolling blackouts; real output is projected to rise 2.4% to almost $300 billion in 2020.

  8. Leather:

    Second only to apparel knitting mills in how fast both its output and employment are declining, the leather and hide tanning and finishing industry has a tough road to hoe this decade. The BLS blames the fall-off on competition from imports and the fact that production is very labor-intensive. It neglects to mention that real leather goods are universally seen as first-class and are priced accordingly, putting them out of reach for Americans who are watching their spending when it comes to leather domains like purses, jackets, and car seats. Until earnings come back up, cheaper alternatives like vinyl and plastic will continue to win out. The BLS believes a 7.6% job loss rate each year is not at all unrealistic, nor is a $1.3 billion drop in output by 2020.

  9. Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing:

    Judging only by output growth, the forecast for this industry is anything but poor. In fact, it is projected to be the number one fastest-growing industry in the entire economy, with output growing by leaps and bounds from $466 billion today to $896 billion in 2020 for an annual increase of 6.8%, an incredible rate. But employment numbers have been falling since the Oughts, with a 4.9% decrease in jobs over the decade, and that trend promises to continue in this decade due to ever-increasing efficiency and expertise in production. The BLS has the computer and computer peripheral industry saying goodbye to 44,100 jobs at a rate of -3.1% a year. Only the Postal Service and apparel knitting mills will have worse rates.

  10. Fishing, hunting, and trapping:

    Time will tell whether the BLS is right about this one. Certainly interest in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing has been sliding for 20 years, and very public campaigns against killing animals for fur have put demand for the material in the basement. But the recession seems to have renewed focus on outdoor activities for both recreation and sources of food — 11% more Americans fished in 2011 than 2006, and nearly as many more (9%) hunted. Nevertheless, this new-found appreciation for Mother Nature may wear off as the economy comes back, justifying the BLS’ forecast of $200 million in lost revenue and 84,100 jobs lost by self-employed and unpaid family workers in the industry.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Career | No Comments »

Social Media Guidelines for Students and Job Seekers

Oct. 4th 2012

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25 Essential Steps To Clean Up Your Facebook Profile Before Graduation

Oct. 3rd 2012

By now, we hope that it’s no longer a news flash that recruiters and employers are checking out your Facebook profile, and that often, hiring decisions are made based on what they find. It’s been proven that a whopping 91% of employers are screening job applicants on social networking sites, and 76% of them prefer to use Facebook. Obviously, that means you’ve got to make your Facebook profile employer-ready, but it’s a process that’s about so much more than simply removing embarrassing photos. Consider this your to-do list for cleaning up Facebook before you graduate and start your job search.

  1. Review privacy settings:

    Without the right privacy settings, anyone can see anything they want to on your Facebook profile. That includes your likes, friends list, photos, and information you’ve shared about yourself, like your education and employment. We recommend shutting everything out but your education and employment, keeping the rest of your life locked behind a “Friends Only” wall, and consider the level you want to choose for new posts on a per-post basis.

  2. Show off posts that are helpful to employers:

    You can choose to hide all of your posts, but there are some that might be useful for employers to see. Simply select these as being available to “Everyone.”

  3. Update your professional history:

    You may be more on top of updating your resume than your Facebook, but if employers see that they don’t match up, they might think you’re lying. Make sure that your degrees, jobs, and internships follow the same history on your resume and social media.

  4. Take a hard look at your info page:

    Be sure that your interests, quotes, and relationship status show off the best you. Drug references, bad language, and political quotes can be a major turnoff for employers.

  5. Go through your photos with a fine-toothed comb:

    Drunk college photos and pics from the beach are pretty obviously inappropriate, and should definitely be untagged and/or removed, but don’t stop there. Keep an eye out for seemingly innocent photos, like mixer parties that involve alcohol or images that might reveal your political persuasion.

  6. Set up profile review:

    Using this feature, you can make sure that everything going on your wall: posts, videos, and photos are personally approved by you. That means friends can’t take embarrassing photos of you at a party, tag you, and leave them to haunt you on your Facebook timeline.

  7. Hide protected information:

    Employers can’t discriminate based on your age, race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or pregnancy, to name a few. But for many Facebook users, this information is out in the open. You may be comfortable sharing it, but do keep in mind that employers can see this information to discriminate against you without ever even having you come in for an interview.

  8. Go through your wall:

    With the new Timeline feature, this can get pretty tedious. Even posts and photos from your early days on Facebook can come back to haunt you. But doing a review of everything that can be seen is essential. Simply go through your entire Timeline, removing or hiding any posts and photos that don’t reflect well on you professionally.

  9. Review your activity log:

    It’s pretty straightforward to go through posts and photos on your Facebook timeline, but what about comments, likes and posts that you’ve shared elsewhere? Check out your activity log to make sure all of your activities on Facebook are employer safe.

  10. Cut out emoticons:

    Employers aren’t impressed by emoticons as a method of expression: 12% of employers say they wouldn’t hire someone who uses them. Be sure to hide or remove any posts that include emoticons, and stop using them for future posts.

  11. Watch your language:

    Worse than emoticons are f-bombs, which employers generally frown upon. Delete status updates with foul language and remember to keep things professional.

  12. Don’t forget spellcheck:

    Along with cussing, poor spelling is also a terrible reflection on your language that can be a major turn-off for employers. Show off your professionalism with proper spelling and grammar.

  13. Stay positive:

    Although drinking, drugs, sexual content, and political discussions are the major red flags on any profile, general negativity can hurt you too. Employers look for job candidates with a positive attitude, so be careful about posting negative or snarky updates on a regular basis.

  14. Keep your rants offline:

    In a similar vein, ranting about nearly anything is a major turnoff for employers. We’re not saying you should keep every comment to yourself, but be sure to consider how your long, drawn-out comment might look to someone who is interesting in hiring you.

  15. Claim your vanity URL:

    Make sure that your name is popping up in searches by claiming the vanity URL for your name. To do so, you’ll just need to choose your “Facebook Username,” and we recommend that you use your real name if it’s available.

  16. Establish your brand with a profile photo:

    Show off a unified image of yourself on social media, using the same professional photo as your profile on Twitter, Facebook, and any other site.

  17. Create a professional cover photo, too:

    Show off your professionalism and personality with a cool cover photo for Facebook Timeline.

  18. Manage your social media reputation with a service:

    Websites like Reppler.com will monitor your social media image on Facebook and other sites to help identify any potentially embarrassing issues and risks that might compromise your image among employers.

  19. Keep quiet about your terrible job:

    It’s OK not to like your job (especially if you’re searching for a new one), but don’t whine about it on Facebook. You might scare off potential employers with your negative attitude. Hide or remove negative employment-related posts, and keep if to yourself moving forward.

  20. Highlight what’s important:

    On your Facebook timeline, you can identify some of the most important posts that you’d really like to show off. All you have to do is click the star in the top right corner and choose Highlight. Then, your post will enjoy full-width status on your page to gather more attention.

  21. Stay on top of deleting and untagging:

    Anything on your wall, whether you posted it or not, is a reflection on you. So the wild political rant that got shared on your wall or the embarrassing photo you were tagged in reflect on you whether they’re welcome or not. Be sure to check out what’s being posted to your wall, and hide, delete, or untag anything that’s questionable.

  22. Cull your friends list:

    Every friend you have on Facebook is a liability. They can post unsavory messages to your wall, check you in to places, and tag you in photos. And if employers want to find out about the company you keep, they may judge you by the friends you have on Facebook. Do you really know everyone on your list? Unfriend anyone that’s not really a friend, or whose profile has rude or embarrassing photos and posts.

  23. Watch out for apps that open your profile up:

    Apps from employers and job search sites often have terms and conditions that give the app access to features on Facebook, like your photos. So even if you’ve locked them behind a private wall, they can be accessed through apps.

  24. Check up on app permissions:

    Be sure to go through your privacy settings to make sure that you’re not allowing too much. You can find out what permissions each app has and decide if you want to keep it by going to your application settings.

  25. Delete your account:

    There’s always the nuclear option: opting out of Facebook altogether. It’s a surefire way to keep things private, but also keep in mind that without a profile, employers may be missing out on valuable information that can get you hired.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Career, Technology | No Comments »

The True Meaning of “Entry Level” in Today’s Economy

Oct. 1st 2012

By the end of 2010, job experts were wondering if internships were the new entry-level jobs. These often unpaid positions were becoming the place young people gained experience and professional behavior. Companies didn’t have the patience or the funds to wait the six-odd months for a new employee to become profitable. The requirements for first-time workers had changed dramatically, giving us a new meaning of “entry-level” that persists today.

First, what hasn’t changed.

Basically it’s the negative stuff that comes with being an entry-level employee that has remained the same. As the low man or woman on the totem pole, you can still expect to be given the dirty work, the tasks the more experienced members of your team don’t want to do. Depending on your line of work, it may be difficult for you to get much exposure at first, as the level of responsibility you are entrusted with will be minimal. Should layoffs become necessary, the “last in, first out” policy will put you squarely in the line of fire (unless they decide your salary is cheap enough that they can afford to keep you).

Here’s the difference.

  • Employers won’t train you.

    In 2011, consulting firm Accenture conducted a survey that found in the previous five years, only 21% of workers said their companies had given them formal training. However, 55% said they felt pressure to improve their skills base to keep their current jobs or to advance. And as fully two-thirds of the respondents said they felt it was their responsibility to attain their own training, it’s clear this way of thinking has become institutionalized and not likely to change any time soon.

  • Companies want you to already have experience.

    In a cruel and frustrating twist, recruiters for supposedly entry-level jobs want candidates to have one, two, and sometimes as much as five years’ previous work experience, thus voiding the definition of the term “entry-level.” Three-fourths of companies who responded to National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook Survey said they preferred candidates to have previous experience. A recent survey by Millennial Branding and Experience Inc. (which we’ll get into more momentarily) found nearly half (49%) of companies think college grads need two years of internships, barely nudging those who chose one year (42%). If you missed it, that’s 91% of companies that think experience is a must for entry-level jobs. The only problem? Exactly half these same companies haven’t hired a single intern since 2011. Such is the state of entry-level jobs today — employers want college grads with experience, they just don’t want to be the ones to give it to them.

  • The expectations for skills are much higher.

    Long gone are the days when employers took a “kids will be kids” approach to first-time full-time workers. Managers aren’t willing to put up with immature or irresponsible candidates, and they don’t have to; the job market is completely in their favor.

    • The Millennial Branding and Experience survey we mentioned asked 225 companies what skills they look for in entry-level hires. The top five answers were all “soft” skills that employers ranked even higher than education. Communication skills came in at No. 1, with 98% of companies saying it was a must-have. A positive attitude, ability to adapt to change, teamworking, and being goal-oriented rounded out the top five. One-third said they wanted applicants to have entrepreneurial skills, another qualification that so many employers wouldn’t have dreamed of looking for a generation ago.

    • We haven’t yet reached the point where “entry-level” hires have to also have all the necessary “hard” skills to do their job, and possibly we never will. Surely a certain amount of company-specific training will always be necessary. However, four in 10 employers in the Millennial survey said they have been alarmed by candidates’ lack of knowledge about their company’s workings and/or what the job might entail. In other words, a certain amount of industry knowledge is now considered a prerequisite for not blowing an entry-level interview.

    This demand for skills is why companies are placing so much emphasis on prior experience: they know college students need real-world work environments to develop them. This is a paradigm shift in the hiring of recent college grads, as never before have employers sought candidates with such complete skill sets for first-time jobs.

The evidence is clear that college graduates will have to shed any preconceived notions they may have held about entry-level jobs. The landscape has changed. Many are picking up their third or fourth internships after graduation or volunteering simply to gain experience. Until the job market picks up, staying aggressive and constantly updating skills seem to be the best ways of getting one’s foot in the door.

Posted by Staff Writers | in Career, Education | No Comments »