Embrace

Lights Temperature and Security

Posted 3 September 2014 10:07 AM by Tim Coutis

Since 2007, when Apple introduced the first iPhone, more and more consumers have been looking to smartphones as their computer of choice. According to research conducted by Nielsen and published in the 2013 Digital Consumer Report, 65 percent of Americans were carrying a smartphone. This is up from 44 percent in 2011. As these devices become more powerful, and the apps (short for applications) created for them become more sophisticated, smartphones will be the way we manage, monitor and interact with our homes. They will be, what the PC once was - the hub of our digital lives. If that sounds like the future, the reality is already here. 

Home automation is the result of a convergence of technologies that have, and will continue, to mature over the next 10 years. The development of sophisticated sensors and the availability of cheaper and smaller computer chips enables the creation of complex networks. These “always on” networks will not only allow us to control when lights go on or off, they will anticipate our needs based on information they collect. For example, the Nest thermostat developed by a former Apple engineer now working for Google adjusts heating and cooling based on the homeowner’s habits. Smartphone apps are available to monitor your Nest while you’re away from home. In fact, if you search using the key words “home automation” on the Android app store Google Play, you’ll find more than 250 apps available. 

Mobile phone and cable companies are getting in on home automation as well. Major cable companies offer services and corresponding phone apps to program your DVR remotely as well as manage and monitor home surveillance systems. As appliance makers add sensors to their products, home automation apps will capture more information and add more features and functionality. These will be intelligent networks that provide useful information when needed but also act autonomously, as in the case of the Nest thermostat, based on the your preferences and habits. 

While we are only in the beta stage of this next technological revolution, the phase where various companies compete to set the standards - great progress is being made very quickly. There is a range of products already available on the market, from complete home automations systems such as SmartThings to individual apps with a single purpose like WEMO which enables you to control lighting while away from home using your phone. While the coming years will see the incorporation of sensors in more household products and existing networks will continue to expand, the central component of future home automation is already in your hands.

Embrace

5 of the Best Online Sites for Space Saving Tips and More

Posted 27 August 2014 10:01 AM by Tim Coutis

1. Apartment Therapy: Don’t be fooled by the name 
Whether you live in an apartment or home, Apartment Therapy is an invaluable source of clever space saving solutions. A quick look at their “All Categories” page and you’ll see this is a great site for simply trolling ideas or to help you with more detailed projects. Filled with inspiring photos and instructional video, you ‘ll find some truly brilliant space saving tips. Be sure to check out their special section devoted to “small spaces.” 

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/nikkis-vintage-styled-bungalow-house-tour-206516 

2. House Logic 
Brought to you by the National Association of Realtors, House logic is clear, concise and focused on time and money saving suggestions for your home projects. With focus on “supporting home ownership” and particular emphasis on sustainability the site, is clean and easy to navigate. If you’re looking for great “green living” ideas, this is the place to go. 

http://www.houselogic.com/blog/home-improvement/space-saving-ideas-small-home/ 

3. This Old House 
Those of you who own an older home know a lack of closet space can be a real problem. Since the late 1970’s the Public Broadcasting Systems’ “This Old House” has been a mainstay for anyone looking to renovate and restore an older home. Nicely built around every room in the house, the TOH website menu offers a range of “how to’s” for everything from installing new kitchen cabinets to making the most of those small spaces. If you own an older home and are looking for detailed videos to guide you through your next home project, this is a great place to start.

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20431881,00.html\ 

4. HGTV 
Of course the advent of cable brought us "the" 24-hour channel devoted to houses and home improvement projects. Originally called the Home, Lawn and Garden Channel and airing for the first time in 1994, HGTV offers in depth programming covering every aspect of the “home” experience, from house hunting to redecorating on a budget. On this site you’ll find links to all your favorite programs as well as lots of ideas to inspire. Be sure to check out the HGTV blog “Design Happens.” You’ll find everything from space saving ideas to some very tasty recipes. 

http://www.hgtv.com/topics/home-improvement/index.html 

5. DIY: Why not? 
Do it yourself, once a phrase, now a movement, and finally a Network, brings its full roster of programs to the internet. Brought to you by the same folks who brought you HGTV, DIY (the spin-off network was intended to appeal more to men than its sister channel) offers a broad scope of projects including painting, plumbing, electrical and more. Check out their full library of instructional videos, search the site for advice from expert carpenters, painters, plumbers and interior designers. On DIY you can even watch vintage episodes of “This Old House.” 

http://www.diynetwork.com

Embrace

Shedding light on LEDs

Posted 20 August 2014 9:53 AM by Tim Coutis

Before LED’s 
We are all familiar with the first attempt at replacing the traditional light bulb known as the Compact Fluorescent Lamp or CFL. Those twisted crazy looking bulbs use up to one third less energy than an incandescent bulb and can save more than five times their purchase price in electricity costs over the life of a single bulb. Invented in 1976 and initially expensive, the cost of these bulbs has dropped significantly since they became commercially available in the 1990’s. Unfortunately the quality of the light from CFL’s, their failure to mimic the warm full range spectrum of incandescents, the fact that they take time to warm up and are not dimmable, has left many consumers unimpressed. Add to this recycling problem due to mercury present in the product, inconsistency of performance over time - bulbs have been known to grow dimmer with added use - and you have a light solution that is transitional at best. 

Innovate and Illuminate 
The real solution appears to be the LED. Light Emitting Diodes use semiconductor chips like those found in your computer. But, instead of turning electricity into information, LED’s turn energy into photons or light. The first visible LED’s developed by GE in the early 60’s emitted low intensity red light. Their initial application was in clock radios and as replacements for indicator bulbs on remote controls and other consumer electronic products. Just as Moore’s law predicted that the number of transistors on a single chip would double every 18 to 24 months resulting in more powerful computers with increased memory capacity at less cost, Dr. Roland Haitz, a scientist with Agilent Technologies, forecast an increase by a factor of 20 in the amount of light produced by LED’s, while the cost per lumen, or useful light, would fall by a factor of 10 every 36 months. In both these cases efficiencies were realized through iterative improvements in the manufacturing process and supporting technologies. As LED’s improved they have been employed in any number of products from airplane lighting to traffic lights, to computer and smartphone displays. But the true promise of Dr. Haitz prediction of LED efficiency and light output would start a race to create an affordable product that could match the light of the inefficient but very popular incandescent bulb. 

Companies who make conventional light bulbs, such as Sylvania, Phillips, General Electric, as well as start ups like Cree, SunSun Lighting and Switch, have spent millions on the research and development of LED’s that will avoid the disastrous fate of the CFL. Phillips and Cree, who appear to have the lead currently, had to overcome a number of complex technical hurtles. Of course the two big issues for consumers are cost and the quality of the light itself. What these companies found was that by combining diodes of different colors across the light spectrum, LED bulbs can produce light equal to or better than incandescent bulbs. These bulbs can also be programmed to alter the light in a room as the natural light changes. As for cost, the very first LED’s developed cost nearly $200. When these bulbs first became available in hardware stores in the early 2000’s they were priced in the $30 to $40 range and available in wattages equivalent to less than the popular 60, 75 and 100 watt bulbs. But, over the last two years things have changed and prices have dropped precipitously. In 2013 Cree introduced both a 40 and 60 watt equivalent LED bulb for under $10. While this is considered the sweet spot for luring potential customers, it is still more expensive than traditional bulbs. The price should continue to drop as more companies, including several in China, introduce their own products. Early adoption of the LED bulbs are expected in the US and Europe with the fareast and China to follow. 

Bottom line 
Thomas Edison’s light bulb is in decline. LED’s are more efficient, radiating very little heat, and will last anywhere from 35,000, to 50,000 hours compared with the 1,000 to 2,000 hours of light generated by an incandescent bulb. Standard bulbs as we have known them now for more than 100 years are being phased out. This despite a libertarian groundswell to keep the old product on store shelves, due to the greater up-front cost to consumers. However, It should be remembered that when Edison’s bulbs first appeared on the market a single bulb cost 44 cents. That’s more than $10 adjusted for inflation. Now that LED’s are under $10 consumers may finally be able to see the return on their investment, not just on the cost of the bulb, but on the benefits to the environment. After all, it is estimated that the amount of energy used worldwide for lighting would be cut in half using LED’s, eliminating more that 200 million tons of carbon emissions per year. Now, that’s innovation!

Very pleased to be "guest blogging for my friends and former colleagues at EHL.

Social Media and the Admissions Process

Written by: Tim Coutis, The Write Stuff
It’s no secret that technology is driving change (some call it disruption) in nearly every area of our lives. The current generation of college age students has been raised, almost exclusively, in an ever more connected world. They tend to favor texts over emails and they manage (some would say curate) their own life experiences on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. As colleges and universities look to market their school’s unique course offerings, campus experience and amenities, it only makes sense to join the conversation by creating a presence in Social Media.

The age of the stately “view book” or college catalogue with photos of students studying under trees on the sunny campus lawn are being replaced by a real time, multi-media, on-campus, in-classroom experience. An experience not just narrated by the marketing department, but by students themselves. Social media has quickly become a new channel for brand building. However, in order to be successful, a school’s social media presence needs to integrate with other channels used to reach students seeking admission – these include both “e” and snail mail as well as traditional media.

Social Media Adoption at Colleges and Universities

According to a National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Research to Practice Brief published in 2008, 85% of college admissions officers reported that they had a presence on at least one social media platform, up from 61% the previous year. At that time 55% of participants felt that social media (FB and blogs primarily) were key to their admissions strategy.

The latest 2012 – 2013 study looks at the social media adoption among four-year accredited institutions across the US.  The criteria used were as follows: “As in all previous studies, the colleges and universities were identified using a directory compiled by the University of Texas.  Under the direction of researchers Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava Lescault, interviews took place from February to May of 2013 with those who managed the social media efforts at these institutions.

A proportional sample of schools in all 50 states was utilized resulting in 26% public schools, 71% private and 2% describing themselves as “for profit institutions.”  They range in size from 40 to over 37,000 undergraduates. Tuition (without fees) ranged from $2,700 to over $55,000. Admissions officers at well-known schools like Loyola University, Rutgers University and Wake Forest University were interviewed as well as smaller lesser-known institutions in the US. The findings presented here are based on 474 interviews and are statistically valid within the range of +/- 4%.”

The findings are unequivocal in supporting what earlier trending had indicated: that nearly all four year colleges and universities are now using social media to both recruit and research prospective candidates for admission. 

The key findings of the survey point to active enthusiastic engagement with social media on the part of existing student populations, administrators and teaching faculty. Over 55% of College Presidents are now posting on Facebook, 55% are actively using Twitter and 35% maintain and ongoing blog presence. More than two thirds of the schools surveyed have “official school” blogs reporting on campus activity. These schools are reporting saving on newspaper ads, printing costs and other media. Administrators are also embracing new tools such as Instagram with 16% adoption, and Google + at 25% and perhaps the most unlikely at 31%, the pin board site Pinterest. Other applications that are being added to admission’s arsenal include social mapping app Foursquare, the popular business professional networking site LinkedIn and the video broadcast channel YouTube. The bottom line according to the survey is that 41% of school administrators now see a direct correlation between their social media activities and increases in their enrollment numbers.

Building the supporting infrastructure for this undertaking has been, and will continue to be, a challenge. Traditional marketing efforts that had been static, calendar oriented, and driven by printer deadlines and mailing schedules have shifted to a content creation and online publishing strategy that requires tighter integration with on-campus information technologies and systems. Publishing efforts need to be ongoing and enticing enough to create traction and attract the High School juniors and seniors beginning to troll the web for their future alma mater.

Putting the School’s blog at the Heart of Your Strategy

Traditionally, links to a blog are posted on your institution’s Facebook page, Twitter feed etc., leading prospective students back to your school’s website. But in order to be successful, you’ll need more than just that link back to your marketing – you need real interaction. Utilizing a blog as the central component of an ongoing social media marketing effort is a winning strategy. Blogs, at their best, open a dialogue and ultimately build a community.

For institutions that are used to having considerable control, this may feel like a risky venture, but the effort can be well worth it. The right tone of voice for the school must be created.  This voice along with the design represents your school’s brand and should be authentic. Prospective students will click away from content they perceive as marketing in disguise. The voice should incorporate many voices reflecting the diversity and unique qualities of the school. Teachers, students and staff should contribute to build a faithful picture of campus life.

Current Students are Your Best Source of Content

Who better to promote your institution than those students who’ve already been accepted? No one can paint a better picture of campus life than those who are living it. Having students blog about their orientation, dining hall or classroom experience means so much more than marketing materials to a high school student searching online for a school. These are their peers. They speak their language. Such authenticity can lead to a dialogue. Current students can share a 360 degree view of campus life, including art and sporting events. Current students can even shed light on the community at large, offering a real taste of what it would be like to attend your school.

Equipped with smart phones, students can capture real time activity in photos and video.

Managing multiple voices and creating fresh content on an ongoing basis is a challenge, but the rewards can be great. And remember, content is more than just words, its pictures, videos, even music. There’s nothing like a viral video on YouTube to get the word out about an exciting event that took place at your school.

The Internet Goes Both Ways

Colleges and Universities are also using social media to review or research students seeking admission at their schools. Though the number reported in the above referenced survey was only 13% in the 2013 as compared with 19%, the previous year, the implications for prospective students is very real. Hopefully, it is becoming more and more clear that their online behavior can have significant consequences for young people, and that these social media applications may be used by others, in this case college admissions, to make decisions about them. Using the social media activity and behavior of an individual in the hiring process has already come under attack in some states. Whether this will prove to be the case in the use of such reviews for the purpose of admissions in higher education is yet to be seen.

Still, knowing who is visiting your school’s site is important. Social media information can help admissions capture a more detailed picture of a prospective student’s needs when it comes to scholarships or other financial assistance. For Admissions Officers, this will mean striking the right balance between data gathered from social media interactions, with the traditional test scores, college applications, and interviews if they are to find the students who can best contribute, benefit and flourish on their campus.

In Conclusion

Managing social media is clearly a full time job. Just as marketers institute graphic standards to ensure that the look and use of their logo are consistent, guidelines for content creation and distribution are essential to maintaining your institution’s brand and reputation.  The NACAC 2013-13 survey found that half of the school’s surveyed did not have “guidelines for acceptable online behavior” in place. Equally surprising, while school blogs, Facebook posts and other social media activity shows a high rate of use, the amount of time schools are spending monitoring their reputation on the internet has actually decreased from 79% in 2009 to just 38% in the past year. So while the channels to reach out and engage prospective students continue to grow and improve, the added complexity to the admissions process creates new challenges for administrators, marketers and IT resources.

Lastly, I would like to share what I think is a great pictorial representation of social media activity within higher education, provided by The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research. 

Tuition Management Systems (TMS) is the sponsor of this post. The sources who contributed ideas to this post do not endorse or recommend any commercial products or services, including those of TMS.  All information and opinions of the contributors are provided for informational purposes only.  As with any other service you seek, the recipient of the information is responsible for conducting appropriate research and making relevant decisions.  TMS neither endorses, has any responsibility for, nor exercises control over the views of any contributor to this article or the accuracy of the information provided by any of them.”

http://tuitionmanagementsystems.com

  1.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/education/2500-excited-applicants-get-news-from-fordham-youre-not-accepted-after-all.html?_r=0
  2. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/12/mit-vassar-ucla-fordham-admissions-students/5419261/
  3. http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Vassar-College-False-Admissions-Website-Mistake-Early-Decision-Candidates-138294194.html
  4. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/04/ucla-sends-mistaken-congrats-to-894-applicants-and-then-apologizes.html
  5. http://abcnews.go.com/US/college-computer-glitch-leads-false-acceptances-university-delaware/story?id=13150352
  6. http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/socialmediaresearch/collegepresidentsoutblog/infographics

 

Still Paying Rent? Time to think again. 

Written by: Tim Coutis, The Write Stuff

Do the math and see why buying a home is still the best investment you can make 

Take the amount of rent you currently pay to your landlord for the apartment, condo or house  where you are living - let’s say $1550.00 per month. Then multiply that amount by 360 - this is the total number of months over thirty years. The total - $500.000 in our example, is what you would have spent for the privilege of renting your current space. Think about it. Half a million dollars and nothing to show for it.  No yearly tax deduction for the interest on the mortgage, no equity, no addition to your net worth. Not to mention, the pride and pleasure of owning your own home.

Built Equity Instead of Paying Rent

If you had put that same amount of money - that half a million dollars -  into a monthly mortgage payment over thirty years, you would own your own home outright. You would have been able to deduct the interest on that loan from your income tax each and every year. A home is your nest egg. It is your retirement and your children’s inheritance. Equity managed properly can be a safeguard against unexpected medical bills or assist in paying for a college education. When you buy or build a home you’re betting on the future. Renting is a risk you don’t have to take.

Smart Investors Make Their Money Work for Them

Your home is the foundation for a solid financial future. Your mortgage, combined with prudent investing in stocks and bonds, your 401K, and other valued purchases, can be the basis of a bright financial future. Smart investors take the long view. If the recent recession has  made you question the wisdom of purchasing a home, we understand.  But don’t be short sighted. Home values are rising again and interest rates will follow. Now is the best time to take that monthly rent payment and put it to good use.

If You’re Renting Your Paying Your Landlord’s Mortgage 

If calculating the cost of renting and future security aren’t good enough reasons to start house hunting now, think about it this way. The money you pay your landlord pays his mortgage, affords him attractive tax incentives and build his equity adding to his overall net worth. While you have no control over rent increases, changes to the lease, and are forever limited in making improvements to your living space. For renters there is no pride of ownership. Pride of ownership means when you make improvements to your home your adding value to your investment. And because it’s your equity It means you can tap into it to consolidate debt or access cash if necessary in the future. 

Lastly, consider what it means to own a home.  Home is where memories are made. It’s where children grow up. Home is the place you want to return to time and again. 

Putting that Rental Behind You, Where to Start?

That’s where we come in. We’ve made thousands of renters successful first time homebuyers and we can do it for you. When you work with American Financial Network, Inc. you have access to a wide variety of mortgage products. Your dedicated Loan Officer will help you find he loan program that’s right for you today and tomorrow. Worried that you’ll need a large down payment to qualify? AFN’s extensive portfolio of loan products means we have the flexibility of more choices with less money up front.

At AFN we know that In today’s mortgage market, first time home buyers want a mortgage provider who is reliable and resourceful, someone who has solutions, not excuses. We understand that your needs are unique. AFN’s solutions remove the stress of the mortgage process so that you are free to enjoy becoming a homeowner.

Building or buying, we have a loan program to fit your unique needs

Start with AFN’s fully underwritten pre-approval and lock in at today’s historically low rates while they last. Search for your new home with the confidence of a cash buyer. Knowing what you can afford, you are free to negotiate with Realtors and sellers who will take your offer seriously. Planning to build, ask about AFN extended rate locks. With our extended rate lock you don’t have to worry about interest rates going higher while your new house is going up.

About Us: American Financial Network, Inc

National Strength, Local Presence

At American Financial Network, Inc we work daily with our client’s to change their lives by “Financing the American Dream.” AFN constantly evolves and adapts to ensure we are equipped with the perfect blend of products and services to provide the best possible home loan experience.

In today’s mortgage banking environment it is important to have the strength of a national agency-direct lender combined with local presence and support. Why deal with an impersonal banking institution that takes you for granted or a local mom and pop shop that lacks financial strength? AFN has been providing the perfect balance of national strength and local presence since 2001. 

Our Commitment to Your 

  • Reliable communication
  • Honesty and integrity
  • A simpler proces
  • A great lending experience

http://www.afncorp.com