Saturday, February 22, 2014

Alison Sweeney’s tips to leading a more balanced life

  • SweeneyHealth copy.jpg
    (Brian Bowen Smith/Health magazine)
It's impossible not to like Ali Sweeney. When we meet for breakfast, the actress, 37, is dressed in total jean mode. We're just up the street from the Los Angeles studio where she has been playing Sami Brady on “Days of Our Lives” for 21 years. (Yep, 21.) And that's in addition to hosting “The Biggest Loser.”
But lest you think she's one for staying put and sitting still, Ali—who recently announced she's leaving “Days”—just wrote a novel (her second), Scared Scriptless, out in June. "Like everything else in my life, I had a way to squeeze it in!" she says of writing the book in 30-minute increments. "I'd put on headphones in a crowded room while my kids played." Those kids are Ben, 8, and Megan, 5, with husband Dave Sanov, a highway patrol officer. Seriously, how does she get it all done and still seem this serene? Here are Ali's best-life strategies.
Spring-clean your diet
"No matter how healthy you are, you let things slide. So it's a really good idea to clean your diet and start fresh. For one week, eliminate sugars and sweeteners. It's like anything else—you start to build a tolerance and then you need more to get the same effect. This isn't to say your food should be bland. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, and use herbs and spices you really like."
Make fitness your friend
"My top health regret is all the years I spent looking at fitness as the enemy. I thought of it as a punishment. It wasn't until “The Biggest Loser” that I started seeing it as a reward. Find that switch in your own mind. In a busy life, it's a luxury going to the gym. But it's so much cheaper to take care of your body now than to pay the health bills later."
Don't think of fitness as an all-or-nothing proposition
"So you have limited time to exercise. That doesn't mean you have to do nothing. I'm guilty of this, too. But even if it's 10 minutes, while you're watching TV that night, do squats, lunges and push-ups during commercials. In your office, sit on a medicine ball at your computer for an unintentional core workout."
Dream away (then get concrete)
"My dad was an inspiration to me. He's creative but not in the traditional sense—he's in finance. For any idea I've ever had, my dad has always said, 'Let's make a plan.' I think the hardest thing for people who do have a dream is What are the steps that get me there? That's how I was taught. So for me it was like OK, you want to write a novel. What are the steps? To sell it, you're going to need a story. OK, we'll come up with a story. So instead of it being this big, insurmountable vision, you break it down into the little pieces that get you there. It's like the Shel Silverstein poem: She ate a whale, one bite at a time."
Make mealtimes matter
"In our family, we all make dinner together: The kids help me cook or set the table, and Dave is on the grill. And when someone's favorite song comes on, we'll stop and do a 'Dance break!' You either shout it out or someone grabs you and starts dancing, and Dave will have the BBQ tongs in one hand. I have videos of us just rocking out to Michael Jackson in our backyard."
Get your hands good and dirty
"I find if I'm not outside enough, it can add to my stress level. I go on hikes, and I do a lot of my running on trails rather than on streets. My perfect, happy day would be a combination of a couple of hours on set, getting a good workout in and then spending the afternoon in the backyard with my kids and just practicing baseball. I think it's so important to take advantage of nature, to get your hands dirty, to garden, to play at the beach. Be a part of nature. It's not to be treated with kid gloves. We're supposed to have fun in it."
Celebrate every last squat
"If you're waiting to be happy for when you're actually at your goal weight, that's a bummer for you. Enjoy the small milestones along the way: Enjoy the workout that day. Enjoy each healthy dinner. Enjoy the process and you'll achieve your goal sooner and better than you ever thought you would. Don't wait for it and be miserable because it hasn't happened yet. Enjoy getting there as much as the end result."
Try what terrifies you
"When I started to visualize my career early on, I saw myself in a specific way: I'm a very girl-next-door-type character. Then I got cast on “Days of Our Lives” as the villain. My character quickly became, like, persona non grata in Salem. [Laughs] She had this crazy set of scenes that would involve me having to play—I'm afraid to even say the words!—a sex kitten. Then I quickly became a mother on the show. So at 18, I was playing three things I didn't see myself as at all: maternal, a sex kitten and a nasty villain. I had to really learn to set aside any fears or self-consciousness and bully my way through it. Like This is not my strong suit, but I'm going to do this strip tease and give it my best shot! That was a great lesson—learning how to fake it 'til you make it. There is a weird confidence that comes from hitting your most insecure parts and getting through moments like that."
Take the anxiety out of eating
"People always ask me, 'What's your cheat food?' But I don't have one, because I don't live my life depriving myself, so I'm not desperate for my cheat day! I don't judge myself for every single meal or for eating something that's not perfect. When I take the pressure off myself each step of the way, the stakes aren't so high. When you relax a little bit, then you're not constantly craving things."
Remember that success is 99% perspiration
"I learned a great lesson from my mom. When I was a little kid, my mom put me in different classes, from ice-skating to karate. And I remember her always saying to me, 'It's not about whether or not you're really good at it. It's about showing your teacher that you're trying as hard as you can.' It's such a great lesson. So on “The Biggest Loser,” the number one thing that I root for is hard work. I relate to people who really want it. I know that the numbers on the scale sometimes don't reflect the effort. I just love and admire the ones who try."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cloud Spending to Balloon to $235B by 2017

  • Cloud Computing Keyboard
Companies like IBM (IBM) and Microsoft (MSFT) have already spent billions transitioning their services to the cloud, and a new report shows they have no intention of stopping anytime soon.
In fact, enterprise spending on the cloud is expected to triple over the next three years to an estimated $235.1 billion by 2017, according to a new report from IHS (IHS).  This year, spending is forecast to jump 20% over 2013 levels to $174.2 billion.
In an increasingly mobile world, the cloud has become a critical strategy for businesses across all industries, enabling consumers to access vast amounts of data and media such as music from their smartphones and tablets.  
IHS believes the number of global consumer subscriptions to the cloud will jump to 730 million this year from 630 million in 2013.
Jagdish Rebello, IHS principal analyst for the cloud and big data, said it’s a sign of the market’s vigor as large and small businesses move more applications to the cloud and use Big Data to improve products and services for customers.
“With the cloud touching nearly every consumer and enterprise around the globe, spending for cloud-related storage, servers, applications and content will be dedicated toward building a framework that is rapidly scalable, highly dynamic, available on-demand and requiring minimal management,” he said.
Such developments will drive multi-billion-dollar investments in cloud-based architectures, Rebello said. 
Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL), (AMZN) and Microsoft are now offering premium public cloud storage services, while smaller competitors like Dropbox and Barracuda are offering a fixed amount of free storage to compete with tech giants.
While IHS says a “new cloud paradigm” will dictate new ways to manage and consume data, it warns that key issues still must be addressed, such as security, mobile data usage and privacy. 

Rebel Currency Taking Off Bit by Bit in the Northeast

Bitcoin is a digital currency traded from person to person. It is generated by a computer algorithm, but it is not regulated or affiliated with any country. In the northeast, this currency is taking off bit by bit, and you can buy anything from coffee to a car.
Bitcoin user Neal Conner is selling his car for bitcoin and has purchased other items using the digital currency. 
"I’ve purchased beer for bitcoin, books for bitcoin, I just purchased a Sonicare toothbrush and bath towels on for bitcoin now that they are accepting it,” Conner says.
In New Hampshire, more service providers than ever are accepting bitcoin, even lawyers. Seth Hipple of Martin & Hipple law firm says bitcoin is bringing him business. 
“I have people that have said they are going to keep me in mind because I do accept bitcoin. Obviously people that have bitcoin are vested in the idea of supporting businesses that accept it. Because the more businesses that accept it the more your bitcoin is worth,” he says.
Even political candidates are using the crypto-currency to accept campaign contributions. New Hampshire state representative Mark Warden says bitcoin is a way to connect with younger constituents. 
"I think we are going to see a tremendous amount of bitcoin this year in campaigns across the country," he says. "I think it's a great way for politicians to reach out to young people who are adopting this at a much higher rate than some of their parents and grandparents."
Behind bitcoin is a local movement; libertarians and “free staters” in New Hampshire are drawn to bitcoin for its unregulated nature and liquidity.
Although it's growing in popularity, local bitcoin user Mike Vine says there are some people who are still wary of the currency. 
"There's a lot of people even in our community that are skeptical of bitcoin and I say to them, if gold were four years old it would be volatile. It's something that's brand new, when the Internet was four years old, it was volatile."
Manchester-based Lamassu has developed the first bitcoin ATM that allows you to deposit dollars into your bitcoin digital wallet. Creator Zach Harvey says it’s the easiest way to exchange dollars for bitcoin. 
"We’ve sold 150 of these so far, most of them are going out of the US, I would say about 10-15% are being sold to the US, there are a lot going to Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe,” Harvey says.
Although bitcoin is legal in the U.S., some warn bitcoin’s volatility makes it an  unpredictable and unreliable investment. Barbara Anthony, undersecretary of Massachusetts' consumer affairs warns consumers about the unknown dangers of bitcoin. 
"You know, this could be the greatest thing since sliced bread," she says. "Right now we don't know and there are too many dangers for consumers, there’s a lot at risk here, it’s your hard earned money. There are other safer alternatives that we have been using right now that I think we should continue to use.” 

More Damage Uncovered in Las Vegas Sands Hack

  • Computer Password Security Hacker
A cyber breach of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) that caused a six-day website outage appears to have done far more damage than the casino operator previously realized.
Hackers who took credit for the cyber attack posted images online that suggested the intrusion was carried out by politically-motivated hackers, or hacktivists, angered by Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson’s close ties to Israel. The images also showed the hack compromised some employee data, including Social Security numbers and email addresses.
However, an 11-minute video posted on YouTube also appears to show the attack uncovered the passwords for administrator and slot systems and information from players at the Sands casino in Bethlehem, Pa., according to published reports. The video has since been removed from Google’s (GOOG) YouTube.
“We have now determined that the hackers reached at least some of the company's internal drives in the U.S. containing some office productivity information made up largely of documents and spreadsheets,” a Las Vegas Sands spokesman said in an emailed statement. "We have seen the video and are continuing to investigate what, if any, customer or additional employee data may have been compromised as part of the hacking."
In response to the hack, Sands Bethlehem offered all employees free credit monitoring and identity theft protection services.
The intrusion was first revealed last week, preventing guests from using the websites of certain casinos, including the Venetian and Palazzo casinos in Las Vegas and the company’s casinos in Singapore and Macau. Online access was not restored until Monday and the company's e-mail system was restored last Friday.
Sands said it continues to believe that the company's "core operating systems have not been impacted." 
It’s not clear who carried out the cyber attack on Sands, but law enforcement agencies are investigating. The casino operator said it continues to work with state and federal officials as well as outside experts to "determine the identity of the hackers and the overall extent of the hacking."
Images posted online last week included comments critical of Adelson, the casino giant’s billionaire CEO.
“Encouraging the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, UNDER ANY CONDITION, is a Crime,” one message read, signed by the “Anti WMD Team.” The message also included a picture of Adelson hugging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The comments appeared to be in response to remarks made by Adelson last year suggesting a nuclear bomb should be dropped on the Iranian desert in order to facilitate negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.
Shares of Sands fell 0.36% to $80.45 Wednesday afternoon, trimming their 12-month gain to 57%.
The Sands breach follows a number of high-profile cyber infiltrations in recent months, including attacks on retailers Neiman Marcus and Target (TGT).
The Target breach compromised 40 million payment cards and has cost banks and credit unions more than $200 million, according to estimates from trade groups.

How Long Does It Take to Untangle Your Credit After a Divorce?

  • Annoyed or Divorced Couple FBN
The day you find out your divorce is final may either feel like one of the worst days of your life or a cause for celebration, depending on whether you wanted to stay or go. 
Either way, it may not be truly over. In fact, you may still have months -- even years -- of work ahead of you to clean up the financial detritus of your marriage. 
In a recent survey of divorced individuals by, 40% of respondents said it took them more than six months to separate finances, and for 11% of them, it took more than three years. If you are thinking of splitting up or have already done so, and you want to move on as quickly as possible (creditwise at least), here are some steps that can make the process a little easier and faster. 
Review Your Reports
 Get your free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Reviewing your credit reports isn’t just a suggestion; it’s essential. You need to understand exactly what’s on there and your legal responsibility for all accounts listed. Are those accounts individual or joint accounts, or are you just an authorized user? It is important to understand your legal responsibility for each one of them.
Account for Joint Accounts 
Closing out joint accounts at the first sign of trouble in your relationship can be a wise move. As long as joint accounts remain open, you are fully responsible for any and all charges made by you and your ex (or soon-to-be ex). 
If you’ve already parted ways, you need to have a plan for handling balances left on any joint debts. Do not assume that just because the divorce decree says he or she must pay some or all of those balances that you are off the hook. 
You are still bound by the agreement you both made when you opened the account. 
Monitor Your Credit Monthly 
Divorce doesn’t automatically hurt your credit. In the survey, not quite half -- 46% -- of respondents said their credit scores improved somewhat or significantly after their divorce. But a significant number did report their scores dropped. The survey asked: Which statement best describes how your credit scores have changed since your divorce?
  • Significantly worse - 19%
  • Somewhat worse - 12%
  • Somewhat better - 16%
  • Significantly better - 30%
  • Don’t know - 23%
While you probably feel like you already have enough on your plate as you transition into your new life post-marriage, try to make time to monitor your credit scores so you can spot issues as quickly as possible. 
You can use a tool like’s free Credit Report Card to get two free credit scores that are automatically updated each month. Separating from someone you once thought you wanted to spend the rest of your life with isn’t easy, but once that decision has been made, separating your finances shouldn’t take forever. 

The Right Way to Motivate Employees

It’s one thing for a CEO to be passionate and enthusiastic, but there’s a line of professionalism that must always be maintained.
According to a report form technology website Venture Beat, PayPal CEO David Marcus wrote a scathing letter to his employees reprimanding them for not using PayPal products and encouraging them to leave if they didn’t have the passion to use the products they work for.
According to the website, part of the leaked memo reads:
“It’s been brought to my attention that when testing paying with mobile at Cafe 17 last week, some of you refused to install the PayPal app (!!?!?!!), and others didn’t even remember their PayPal password. That’s unacceptable to me, and the rest of my team, everyone at PayPal should use our products where available. That’s the only way we can make them better, and better”.
As an executive, you certainly want your employees using and promoting your products. However, when faced with a situation where workers aren’t embracing what they sell, you need to investigate the root of the problem—not intimidate.
To make things worse he reportedly ended the note with the following:
“In closing, if you are one of the folks who refused to install the PayPal app or if you can’t remember your PayPal password, do yourself a favor, go find something that will connect with your heart and mind elsewhere,”
This situation hints PayPal might have a morale and culture problem, and it’s up to Marcus as a leader to take responsibility-- not dole out blame.   
When faced with internal problems, good executives start by asking why. They reach out to their executive team first and then to the entire staff to find the root of a problem and how to fix it. Sending out a one-sided note about the problem through a company-wide memo is not leading, it’s retreating.
Leadership starts by listening. Good executives need to get out among the workers and ask questions and listen without judgment or reaction. Often referred to by politicians as a listening tour, the idea of getting out of your inner circle is critical to understanding the realities of what others are dealing with. All too often executives become isolated within their circle of advisors and become detached from the realities of what’s going on.
Marcus should have focused on three questions:
  • Why are you not using the app?
  • What is it that we can do to ensure you use our app?
  • What do you need from me? 
The fact that company employees are not embracing and using its products is a failure of leadership that Marcus needs to address by first looking in the mirror. At the end of the day, if his employees have to be forced to use the app, how can he expect consumers to want to willingly pay to use it? 

5 US Cities with the Highest Tax Rates

  • Reuters
    1Bridgeport, Conn
  • Reuters
  • Reuters
  • Reuters
    4Baltimore, Md.
  • Reuters
    5Columbus, Ohio
Income bracket aside, where you live has a lot to do with how much you pay to Uncle Sam come April 15.
With tax season upon us, the Office of Revenue Analysis reviewed the estimated property, sales, auto, and income taxes for families based on the largest cities in each state, to find out which residents face the highest tax bills.
The analysis, reported by 24/7 Wall Street, is based on “hypothetical families” earning below $25,000 a year and above $150,000 per year. The report find that seven of the cities with the highest tax burdens nationally also had among the 10 highest property tax rates.
The report also took into consideration the unemployment rate and population rates in each of the cities.
Here’s a look at the five cities with the highest tax rates nationwide:
  • 1Bridgeport, Conn

    Unemployment rate: 7.8%
    Like Philadelphia, Bridgeport residents of both high and low incomes face high tax bills. Families earning $150,000 a year had the highest tax rates nationwide, with $33,208 in taxes due in 2012. And lower earners at $25,000 paid $4,001 in taxes, the fourth highest tab in the cities reviewed nationwide.
    In Bridgeport, more than 20% of the households surveyed made more than $200,000 a year, more than any other metro city reviewed, according to the report.
  • 2Philadelphia

    Unemployment rate: 8.6%
    The City of Brotherly Love shows no love for earners of all levels. Families making $150,000 a year face the third highest rates in the nation, paying $25,317 in taxes. And poorer families making $25,000 a year pay $3,794 annually in taxes, a higher burden than other low-level earners face nationwide.
  • 3Milwaukee

    Unemployment rate: 7.4%
    Milwaukee had the second highest tax rate for high-income earning families at $150,000 a year paying $26,296 in taxes due to high property tax burdens. 24/7 Wall Street reports the effective property tax rate is 3% and that the city works on a graduated income tax system, meaning families that earn more face higher tax rates.
  • 4Baltimore, Md.

    Unemployment rate: 7.2%
    24/Wall Street reports taxes for high-end families with more than $150,000 in annual income living in Charm City face the fourth highest tax rate in the nation at $24,747 per year. Baltimore’s property tax burden is also high, the report states, with families in this bracket paying an average of $13,772 in property taxes in 2012.
    Low-income families with less than $25,000 a year in earnings in the city have no income tax burden, with taxes on average around $2,950, the 16th lowest rate in the nation, according to the report.
  • 5Columbus, Ohio

    Unemployment rate: 6.1%
    Tax burdens for families earning $150,000 a year owe approximately $22,333 annually in taxes, giving the city the title of having the sixth highest tax rate in the nation. The city’s high real estate taxes, at 3.57%, is the highest effective property rate of any city in the country.
    But for lower-income families earning $25,000 a year in Columbus, the tax burdens dropped to 11.8%, or $2,953 a year, the report states.

Gun Makers Find Greener Pastures Down South