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Mary Mastroeni

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Question of the Day

February 3, 2012 6:50 pm

Q: What questions should be asked of an architect?

A: Ask questions that will give you a sense of the architect’s style, approach to design, and methods of work. For example: What is your design philosophy? What important issues or challenges do you see in my project? How will you approach my project? What will you show me along the way (models, drawings, or sketches) to explain the project? How do you establish fees? What would be the expected fee for my project? What is your experience/track record with cost estimating? If the scope of the project changes later, will there be additional fees? How will these be justified? The Washington Chapter of the AIA offers an excellent consumer brochure that provides additional questions and useful information.

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Consumers Want Control over Appliances and Energy

February 3, 2012 6:50 pm

In our previous segment, I took a look at some of the connected or smart appliances hitting the market this year. But will having all that remote command of appliances take a toll on our environment, or spur greater energy consumption—along with higher costs?

Prior to the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Whirlpool—which is introducing a kitchen full of connected appliances—took a look at a survey the company conducted along with Harris Interactive.

According to company officials, while consumers want to be green, they still want to retain control. However, they will change their energy consumption choices if they are given real-time information about how much energy is being used. More importantly, consumers don't want to just monitor and manage energy—they want to control appliances and handle other home management functions including security systems, water and temperature management.

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Whirlpool Corporation found that:

• Seventy-eight percent are interested in monitoring their household's energy use.
• Most want to use their smartphone to make life easier. In fact, 90 percent of 18-34 year olds who have a smartphone would be happy to have their smartphone tell their appliances anything; 17 percent want to know when it's time to switch the laundry and 17 percent want to know when items are ready (food, etc.).
• When asked about smartphones communicating with appliances, respondents were split on what would be most useful. Their top concerns?
o Alert when the washer is done;
o Notify me when items are ready (i.e. cooked/clean);
o Preheat my oven or turn it off;
o Start appliances for self-clean;
o Tell me what I need to stock in the fridge;
o Start or refresh the laundry;
o Start the dishwasher.

Company officials noted that bringing all of this functionality together for the end user is the current focus for manufacturers, utilities and software companies. Ultimately, Whirlpool is designing to the concept that SmartGrid won't consist of just one app but multiple ways of accessing it through a bundle of applications.

This will also affect product design. For example, some controls on appliances may be eliminated. Instead, they will be controlled via mobile phone.

Additionally, appliances will be able to provide even more feedback to consumers whether it is the concept of preventative maintenance or use and care guides. For example, a clothes dryer needs to have the lint cleaned out of the venting pipe periodically and the appliance could automatically notify consumers when this should be done.

With many washers now offering bulk detergent dispensing, the washer could connect and alert the owner that the reservoir needs to be refilled.

We'll be looking into other connected / smart home and appliance innovations coming to the consumer market in future segments, so stay tuned!

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Emergency Disaster Restoration Tips for Fire and Water Damage

February 3, 2012 6:50 pm

Natural disasters can bring on sudden unexpected damage to our homes. As such, the need for planning and the necessity of a fast disaster restoration response are important to any business.
Damage from floods and fires can often be irreparable if it is not dealt with immediately. Emergency services, including preventative measures and disaster restoration, can help significantly reduce the severity of the losses that your business experiences, in addition to ensuring the safety of your employees. Here are a few emergency tips to keep in mind should any fire or water related damage occur in your office:

Water Damage Tips
Did you know that damage from water and bacteria growth (mold) can begin within hours? It is important to act quickly by calling a water damage cleanup professional shortly after the damage occurs. In the meantime, move as much furniture as possible to a dry location to prevent further damage. You should also remove all loose floor coverings and stop all long drapery from touching the floor by lifting it up.
To keep the environment safe, create as much air movement as possible until a disaster restoration professional can place drying equipment in your office. If you spot any visible mold, however, do not use fans yourself, as they may spread contaminants. Also remember to turn off the electricity in a room which contains standing water before entering it, and be sure to check all computers, printers and other electrical devices before using them.

Smoke/Fire Damage Tips
In as few as 48 hours, corrosive smoke residue can cause irreversible surface damage. So, be sure to quickly contact a fire damage restoration professional for help. Until they arrive, do not touch anything with your bare hands, as their natural oils can create soot. You should also wait for a professional before cleaning walls that have been contaminated with smoke.

Another important issue is the spread of smoke-contaminated air, which should be dealt with immediately. Use filters to cover all supply and return registers; this will help to minimize the transfer of smoke through the ducts in your office. As with any type of disaster damage, we advise you not to use your electrical devices until they have been checked by a disaster restoration expert.

When water or fire and smoke damage affect your business, your immediate response could mean the difference between a small cleanup and a more time-consuming disaster restoration project. It is important to take these tips into consideration, so that you can minimize the damage done to your office should a fire or flood ever occur.

Source: http://local.servicemasterclean.com

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Men vs. Women: End the Chore War

February 3, 2012 6:50 pm

When it comes to household chores, men and women don't always see eye to eye.

The second annual Scrubbing Bubbles Dirty Work Index survey found that 58 percent of women say it's their job to clean, and a quarter (25 percent) of all women feel as if they are the cleaning leader in their homes. How couples deal with household chores either strengthens the partnership or creates a divide.
In addition, more than half of women confided that they want more help around the house from their partner or spouse, but 38 percent don't trust them to meet their standards of cleanliness.

Today's families often have hectic schedules, making it even more important to approach household chores as a team. John Gray, best-selling author of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus," offers this advice for creating the best atmosphere at home:
• Define the roles. It's important to identify all the household chores and discuss who will have ownership of each.
• Discuss expectations. Since the survey showed that women don't trust men to meet their standards of clean, Gray recommends that women actually show men how they want the house cleaned and that couples discuss what clean means to each of them.
• Look for time-saving cleaning tools. Stock your home with cleaning products that are easy to use and efficient. For example, use Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner and Scrubbing Bubbles One Step Toilet Bowl Cleaner. These products make the tough tasks easier so anyone in the family can help clean.
• Remember to say thank you. Whether or not the bathroom shines the way you want, don't forget to say thank you for the effort.

One simple tool you can use to minimize friction over chores? A checklist. For each room of the house, write down what tasks need to be completed and review it with your clean team so everyone knows exactly what's expected. These sample checklists for bathroom chores can help you get started.

Source: Scrubbing Bubbles

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Word of the Day

February 3, 2012 6:50 pm

Variance. A permit granted as an exception to a zoning ordinance that allows a property owner to meet certain specified needs.

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Hot Home Trends: Connected Appliances

February 2, 2012 3:48 pm

In reviewing many of the innovative new consumer trends at the worldwide whopper of all consumer electronic extravaganzas—the International Consumer Electronics Show—in Vegas last month, I took note of the first generation of "connected appliances" hitting the market this year.

At last year's CES, we first heard about the Pacific Northwest "Grid Friendly" appliance demonstration, which outfitted 150 Sears Kenmore dryers produced by Whirlpool with a controller chip that senses instability in the grid and shuts down the heating element while the drum continued to tumble, conserving demand and protecting the grid at the same tie.

At this year's CES, Whirlpool demonstrated how it has taken connected appliances to the next level. Over the next 18 months, company officials announced that four "smart" appliances will be introduced including a refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer.

Company officials said in pre-conference releases that the concept of Smart Grid-enabled appliances has evolved to a broader conversation around the connected home and overall home management. And with these new smart appliances, consumers can easily shift their energy consumption to off-peak times—saving money and benefiting the environment.

A home energy management device will read usages from appliances and signals from power companies to optimize energy use. Even more appealing for consumers is the peace of mind driven by alerts and notifications and 'remote control' functionality.

LG was another big CES destination in 2012 as the company also unveiled its line of Wi-Fi enabled connected appliances, designed to sync to a homeowner's LG phone with updates and features via LG's "Smart ThinQ" technology.

The company's smart washing machines can be monitored remotely via Wi-Fi; the newest LG smart refrigerator can check for expiration dates and send reminders; and the ThinQ Health Manager can customize recipes and foods to household members' individual weight or health conditions.

Across the counter, the newest LG smart oven is also equipped to operate remotely to have dinner ready when you arrive home.

In our next segment we'll look at balancing the convenience of connected homes with thinking green!

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3 Home Decor Trends for 2012

February 2, 2012 3:48 pm

Home decor trends for 2012 are dramatic, colorful and certain to grab attention. The interior design staff at Lamps Plus came up with the following trend setting looks for 2012, along with suggestions for getting the look in your home.

French Market – Casual Elegance
Inspired by French and Continental European influences, this style places an emphasis on informal simplicity and casual elegance. Designers use authentic flea market or antique finds, from antique side tables to vintage post cards and fabrics. But you don’t have to go to a marche aux puces (fancy French for a flea market!) to achieve this look. Notes Lamps Plus Style Illuminated blog writer and designer Michael Murphy, “While you can always find time-worn antiques to use, these days you can also find plenty of new designs that feature the worn and weathered look that’s key for this style. From pillows to table accents and furniture, there is a wealth of vintage market available.”

Here are some designer insider-tricks to achieve the French Market look in your home.
• Choose furniture pieces that have classic lines.
• Select natural fiber fabrics.
• Incorporate organic wood elements.

Global Chic – the World Travelled

The Global Chic look mixes vibrant colors, textured fabrics and global accessories, like table lamps, pillows and fabrics, to create a world traveled exotic mood and collected look. Use exotic materials like faux snake skin along with leathers and ceramics to add texture to a room. Says Lamps Plus designer Marcia Prentice, “With global style resources at your finger tips, you can create a world traveled look without having to step outside your door. I like to use ethnic patterns and motifs on decorative pillows and throws to add that world collected look.”

Here are a few more key designer elements to add when creating the World Traveled look.
• Introduce exotic, colorful patterns on pillows and throws.
• Use wood accent tables.
• Feature unique ethnic sculptures made from reclaimed wood.

Clarity Contemporary - Less is More
As in past years, clean and contemporary is in. But, notes Michael, “What’s different this year is what we’re calling ‘Clarity Contemporary’, which is the use of contemporary accents and furniture that comes in clear glass or other translucent materials.” Just one piece of clear furniture or a lighting element will add a crisp, contemporary touch. “I love using translucent materials like acrylic, glass or crystal in a room. It creates an environment that looks always looks sleek and modern and up to date.” Look for coffee tables, end tables, table lamps or, for a bigger impact, a clear glass chandelier. Accent the clean simplicity of these items with textured accents like inlay ceramics or hand-carved wooden pieces.

To achieve the Clarity Contemporary look consider adding one of the following designer pieces.
• A dramatic, clear glass or acrylic ceiling fixture.
• Contemporary glass dining tables or side tables.
• Glass or crystal table lamps.

Source: LampsPlus.com

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Working in the Family Business: Things to Consider

February 2, 2012 3:48 pm

There is a lot at stake when the next generation of working shareholders joins the family business full-time, according to Stephanie Brun de Pontet and Carol Ryan, consultants from the Family Business Consulting Group, Inc.

Brun de Pontent and Ryan note that placing family leaders in a family-owned business is likely to strengthen the family’s commitment to the business, and deepen their connection. However, these family employees need to learn respect and abide by the rules just like any other employee. While it’s terrific to see a family member rise to a leadership position within a family business, they should be expected to earn this position just as any other employee would.

“In a family business, it is not unusual for non-family employees to feel next-generation family members who come to work for the company "have it easy" by virtue of their name. These co-workers will witness the family employee's easy access to top leadership, special opportunities and what appears to be an ‘automatic entry’ into the organization. What they may not see is that the position comes with a host of challenges as well,” wrote Brun de Pontent and Ryan in a recent article in the Family Business Advisor.

Often, family employees face challenges that other employees do not, including pressure from family members doubled as employers, the feeling that work doesn’t end when leaving the office—especially when they may live with employers, and additional awkward remarks and comments.
Below are some of the issues that Brun de Pontent and Ryan find worth discussing as part of "on-boarding" a next-generation employee in the family business, as taken from their article in The Family Business Advisor.

Living under the microscope – While it’s true that having the family name can give you a leg up in some circumstances, it also means you are immediately under a different kind of scrutiny. You cannot as easily "learn from your mistakes" like anyone else because you aren't anyone else. While many next-generation family members have grown up with warnings from their elders to "behave," because their behavior would affect the family's reputation, this pressure is different when it comes to your work reputation.

Coping with the legend –
It is important for each individual to find their own place in the business, with their own individual role based on their personal strengths. A lot of young family members struggle with their own ideas of "living up" to expectations and the traditions of accomplishment of their family. Many young people put a lot of pressure on themselves to live up to what prior family members have accomplished. While it is wonderful to have family members to whom you look up to and admire for their accomplishments, this admiration should never lead you to seek to emulate your parent or other family member.

Managing employee relationships - Any new employee anywhere wants to make a good impression on his or her supervisors and colleagues. When you are a working shareholder in your family's business, you may find managing employee relationships trickier than you expected. First, while you should be yourself and seek to have appropriate social interactions with employees, there are boundaries for family members that are different for other employees. You are "different" by virtue of being in the family and some in the business may treat you differently or make assumptions about you that you will have to work to overcome.

Relating to family - In addition to navigating complex interactions with non-family employees, there are a few changes to family relationships that you may encounter when you begin to work in the business. The most obvious is how to relate to your family members who also work in the business. From thinking about how to address your parent at the office to thinking about the appropriate mentoring or work relationships you can have with other family members, you now have to establish professional relationships with people with whom you have a lifetime of personal history.

Brun de Pontent and Ryan note that these are important things to think about when joining a family business. While becoming a part of the family business can be a wonderful, empowering opportunity, it’s important to be aware that all business rules still apply to you, and that often you may have to be even more aware of your own actions and behavior than you would in another business.

Source: The Family Business Advisor, February 2012 Issue, www.efamilybusiness.com

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Identity Theft Crackdown Sweeps across the Nation

February 2, 2012 3:48 pm

The Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department recently announced the results of a massive national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.

Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states. The coast-to-coast effort took place over the last week and included indictments, arrests and the execution of search warrants involving the potential theft of thousands of identities and taxpayer refunds. In all, 939 criminal charges are included in the 69 indictments and information related to identity theft.

In addition, IRS auditors and investigators conducted extensive compliance visits to money service businesses in nine locations across the country in the past week. The approximately 150 visits occurred to help ensure these check-cashing facilities aren’t facilitating refund fraud and identity theft.

“This unprecedented effort against identity theft sends a strong, unmistakable message to anyone considering participating in a refund fraud scheme this tax season,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are aggressively pursuing cases across the nation with the Justice Department, and people will be going to jail. This is part of a much wider effort underway at the IRS to help protect taxpayers.”

“The Justice Department is working closely with the IRS to investigate, prosecute, and punish tax refund crimes committed through the theft of identities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General John A. DiCicco of the Tax Division. “Now, more than ever, we must remain vigilant against the unauthorized use of identification information to defraud the U.S. government.”

The national effort is part of a comprehensive identity theft strategy the IRS has embarked on that is focused on preventing, detecting and resolving identity theft cases as soon as possible. In addition to the law-enforcement crackdown, the IRS has stepped up its internal reviews to spot false tax returns before tax refunds are issued as well as working to help victims of the identity theft refund schemes.

The law-enforcement sweep started last week across the country, reflecting investigative efforts stretching back months and even years.

The nationwide effort by the Justice Department and the IRS led to actions taking place in 23 locations across the country with 105 individuals. The actions included 80 complaints/indictment, 58 arrests, 19 search warrants, 10 guilty pleas and four sentencings. A map of the locations and additional details on the actions are available on IRS.gov, the IRS Civil and Criminal Actions page and the Department of Justice Tax Division page.

To help taxpayers, the IRS earlier this month created a new, special section on IRS.gov dedicated to identity theft matters, including YouTube videos, tips for taxpayers and a special guide to assistance. The information includes how to contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit and tips to protect against “phishing” schemes that can lead to identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personal information without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes using the victim’s name, Social Security number or other identifying information. When it comes to federal taxes, taxpayers may not be aware they have become victims of identity theft until they receive a letter from the IRS stating more than one tax return was filed with their information or that IRS records show wages from an employer the taxpayer has not worked for in the past.

If a taxpayer receives a notice from the IRS indicating identity theft, they should follow the instructions in that notice. A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS immediately so the agency can take action to secure their tax account. The taxpayer should contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490. The taxpayer will be asked to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039, and follow the instructions on the back of the form based on their situation.

For more information, visit www.irs.gov.

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Word of the Day

February 2, 2012 3:48 pm

Valuation. Estimated or determined value; synonymous with appraising.

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