Sunday, January 30, 2011

Credit Score

I came across an article recently from Yahoo Finance, Free Credit Scores Become More Available to Borrowers. Not everyone is entitled to see their credit score for free, like you are your credit report, but as of January 1, 2011, if you are offered a higher interest rate than other borrowers, you can ask for your credit score from the lender in order to see why you didn't get the lower rate. That way, you'll know what you might be able to do to raise your score for future loans or credit applications.

If you are just curious about your credit score or if you are thinking about applying for a loan or new credit card and want to see where you stand, you'll still have to pay to see your score. But with this new law, if you get turned down or don't get the best interest rate, now you can find out why.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best Books of 2010

The Reference and User Services Association, part of the American Library Association, has listed their top genre fiction titles and the best general fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles from 2010. The genre fiction list also gives suggestions for read-alikes and shows other candidates for the award. The general fiction, nonfiction, and  poetry lists have several titles apiece. That way, you have many books to choose from if you're looking for something to read.

Have you read any of the titles on these lists? Leave your reviews in the comments.

Thanks to soundfromwayout for the photo.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review - "Friday Mornings at Nine" by Marilyn Brant

Marilyn Brant attempts to address the age-old yet still difficult question of "how do you know you've married the right person?" in her new book Friday Mornings at Nine. Her three main characters--Jennifer, Bridget, and Tamara--each respond to the proposal that they try to figure out what their lives should have been like and then do what they have to in order to make their "correct" lives happen.

Jennifer has gotten an email from her college boyfriend David, which spurs her to wonder why he left her right before graduation. She's been married to another man for many years now, but she feels like only David really gets her. She determines to meet him and find out whether they really were meant to be together. Jennifer's "what if" question gets her two friends reflecting on their own marriages and on the possibilities that arise from their also meeting men who seem to "get" them more than their husbands do.

The ladies meet at a coffee shop every Friday morning to compare notes, though there are plenty of details they leave out. Their secrets and deceptions begin to come to a head at a neighborhood Halloween party, and they then must face not only their husbands and children, but themselves as well. What do they truly want from marriage and from life?

Jennifer, Bridget, and Tamara are three very different women. They have three different marriages, meet men under different circumstances and engage in different kinds of activities, and ultimately come to three different conclusions. None of the women is a caricature, yet I never quite totally identified with any of them. The events surrounding them, their choices, and the outcomes are not cookie-cutter, yet there is a certain lack of character development. It's almost, but not quite, like the author planned out the various ways in which affairs happen and in which marriages break up and then constructed a tale around those instead of first getting into her characters' heads and figuring out why they do what they do.

We do see each woman separately and then as a group. We do see what they choose to reveal to each other and some rationale for why they hide details or fudge the truth. But in the end I wasn't sure if Marilyn Brant meant to write chick lit or something more serious. I also wasn't crazy about some of the pop culture references because those quickly date a book, and the final fairy-tale chapters could have been written in the same style as the rest of the book. (Although fairy tales and fantasy do play a large part in the story, writing those chapters in that format made the book end up more cutesy and less weighty than it might have been.) Friday Mornings at Nine has its own identity issues.

That said, this book does still tackle the question of why women stray. These three characters may not be completely fleshed-out, but they are still compelling. Aspects of their stories will still resonate with readers. I'd recommend this book for clubs who want to talk about such personal questions without getting too literary or philosophical.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Teach Parents Tech

How many of you are the de facto tech support for your family members? Did you ever wish you could record yourself explaining the steps for whatever process your parents are struggling with...again? That way they could just watch the video over and over again until they got it? Well, rejoice, for help is here.

In December Google set up the website. See their blog post for a quick overview. A number of videos have been uploaded, and you just choose which one you want to send and fill out the form. The recipient--it doesn't have to be a parent--will get an email with a link to the video. Then voila, you've done your tech support, and from long distance even.

The videos range from changing text size to setting up auto-respond on your email to doing searches online. They do focus on Google, so you might want to preview the videos before sending in case you'd rather give instructions that are less product-specific.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Religion Websites

I recently came across an article in Booklist that had several recommendations for useful websites dealing with religion. Most of these are related to the Western hemisphere with a Christian or Judeo focus, although a few do have information on other world religions.
This is a good website for answering common questions and providing basic religion statistics. One can ask such questions as, "How many Lutherans live in Wisconsin?" or "What are the major religions of India?" This site is not affiliated with any particular religion. Instead, it summarizes religious data compiled from books, journals, or other websites. Entries include citations to the sources from which the data was compiled.

Biblical Art on the WWW
Did you ever need to find an illustration of Moses, but Google's image search or Flickr let you down? Biblical Art on the WWW indexes more than 37,000 biblical images. Browse by biblical subject, text, or artist, or do a keyword search. Entries include artist's name, year of artwork, and location of the physical illustration.

Encyclopedia of Religion and Society
The content of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, published by AltaMira in 1998, is posted on the website of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Entries are browsable by table of contents.

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online (GAMEO)
GAMEO provides reliable information on Anabaptist religions (Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Brethren in Christ). Entries are indexed alphabetically and include history, theology, biographies, and more. Entries also include formatted citations for MLA and APA styles.

Jewish Encyclopedia
Based on the printed 12-volume Jewish Encyclopedia, which was published between 1901 and 1906. This online source includes more than 15,000 articles and illustrations.

New Advent
Content is derived from the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. The site also includes the Bible, writings of the church fathers, and church documents.

This site's unique tool allows the user to select different religions and conduct a comparison on backgrounds and beliefs. Each religion entry provides current news and information and links to further reading. Another great tool is the multi-religion holiday calendar, which shows various religious holidays all in one click.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
This site provides an extensive report on American religious beliefs, statistics, and mapping information. Public survey information is drawn from more than 35,000 American adults. Statistics are provided in a very user-friendly environment with various charts. The report and statistics detail the religious makeup, beliefs, and practices of the American public.

Finding that patron saint is no longer a problem with this site. More than 4,000 saints are profiled. Keyword searching allows the user to find specific saints or saints that are related to a specific event or subject. Biographies with links to additional sources are included. The site also provides MLA citation for each page visited.

Source: Escobar, Hector. "Finding Religion. " Booklist. 107.6 (Nov 15, 2010): 56(1).

To read the entire article, check with your library and see if they have access to online databases from Gale. I used General Reference Center Gold, but any number of similar Gale products should have it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tax Changes for 2011

You may have heard by now that the IRS is not sending out paper booklets this year. The number of people filing online increases every year, so the IRS is saving money and paper by not automatically mailing out forms and instructions.

If you want paper IRS forms, how can you get them?
  • Print them from Click "Forms and Publications" on the left side of the screen, then choose either "Form and Instruction Number" or "Publication Number." If you do not know which form or publication you need, you can use the search box in the upper right of the screen.
  • Call 1-800-829-3676. The IRS may be willing to mail you copies if you ask. Availability may be limited.
  • Try your local library or post office. Many of them will have forms and instructions, and the library staff should be willing to help you make printouts from the IRS website.
For some basics on using the IRS website, check out this previous blog post.

Many states are also changing their mailing procedures, so check with your state's revenue department to see whether or not you'll be getting paper copies.

For assistance with your taxes, check at your local senior center or public library. The AARP has a resource locator; just be aware that it may not be active until February. Most places that give free assistance do so starting in February and going through April 15.