Author Archives | Michael Drezner

About Michael Drezner

Michael holds a degree in Journalism, and is currently the Senior Editor for Augusta Focus. Besides writing, Michael is also an avid photographer and enjoys travelling. Connect with Michael on Google+

Has the Low-Fat Diet Myth been Busted?

October 27, 2013

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saturated fatsYou may be surprised to learn that the popular wisdom advocating the avoidance of fat in our diet has actually contributed to heart disease rather than reducing it.
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According to experts such as cardiologist, Aseem Malhotra and David Haslam, PhD and Chair of Britain’s National Obesity Forum, the standard advice of the past four decades to avoid all saturated fat has been the most tremendous medical error of recent times. In fact, experts say that this advice has actually caused many people to develop the risk of cardiovascular disease leading to incorrect prescription of statin drugs. […]

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Repaying Your Student Loan: 7 Essential Tips You Should Know

October 26, 2013

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If you borrowed money to finance your college education, you are in good company. According to data from FICO, the average student owes educational financiers $27,253; a figure which represents a 58% rise since 2005. The following tips will come in handy as you prepare to repay your student loan. […]

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European Scientists Insist GMO Debate not over Yet

October 25, 2013

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European unionThe European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility has come out to strongly criticize the assertion that genetically modified crops are now safe. This is after the biotech giants Syngenta and Monsanto were awarded the 2013 World Food Prize.

The coalition brings together over 90 academics, scientists and physicians. In a statement, the network seeks to address widespread claims in circulation purporting that the GMO debate is now over.

The statement quotes a number of recent studies which have suggested that genetically modified foods are either allergic or toxic. The scientists also assert that there has not been adequate testing of GMOs to warrant any definitive claims about their safety.

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Three Must-See Destinations in Augusta, Georgia

October 20, 2013

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Near the mouth of the Savannah River you will find Augusta, Georgia’s third-largest city. Bordering South Carolina and 136 feet above sea level, Augusta experiences hot, humid summers and mild winters with occasional freezes. Augusta was named in honor of Augusta Saxe Gotha. She was a princess of Wales born in the year 1736, the year in which Augusta was established. The city has since grown to a healthy population of over 500,000.

If you’re a golf fan, you know that Augusta hosts the famous Masters Tournament each year. But there’s more to this place than golf. History buffs flock to the Georgia area. In fact, the Historic District encompasses most of downtown, honoring Georgia’s pre-Civil War history and her role in the conflict. You will also find the boyhood home of Woodrow Wilson, a history museum, an art museum, and a cultural center.

Augusta Museum of History

augusta mesuem of historyAfter stopping by the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau to get your bearings, I recommend heading off to the Augusta Museum of History. The place is dedicated to preserving and interpreting Augusta’s past.

They strive to enrich present and current generations by keeping Augusta’s history alive.  Inside, you will find exhibits on golf, local legends like James Brown and Ty Cobb, and of course everything about Augusta from Indians to the war in Vietnam.

Morris Museum of Art

Now that you have a feel for what Augusta is all about, head over to downtown’s Riverwalk, where you will find the first ever art museum dedicated to artists from the American South. Opening in 1992, the Morris Museum of Art now has an extensive permanent collection that includes paper, photographs, sculptures, and nearly 5,000 paintings. The museum hosts about nine special exhibitions each year, so you never know just what you’ll find!

Presbyterian Manse

Presbyterian ManseAfter a rich experience in the art world, it’s back to history at the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson. The 28th President of the United States (1913-1921), Wilson is known for being a leader of the Progressive Movement. World War I began during his second term. Wilson is also remembered for his statement Fourteen Points, his role in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, and the organization of the League of Nations.

The charming, two-story house (Presbyterian Manse) serves to depict the life of Woodrow Wilson as a boy who grew up during the Civil War and following Reconstruction. The house is the oldest Presidential residence in Georgia and serves as both a historic attraction and an educational facility. Its white columns will invite you in and make you want to further explore Wilson’s boyhood history.

“Tommy” Wilson lived in the house from 1860-1870. While living there, he experienced the hardships of war, started his education, and became a devout Presbyterian. His experiences here would prepare him for his later responsibilities as President of the United States. Woodrow Wilson’s famous quote proves that he never forgot his roots: “The only place in the country, the only place in the world, where nothing has to be explained to me, is the South.”

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Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1450 Greene Street, Suite 110

Augusta Museum of History: 560 Reynolds Street

The Morris Museum of Art: 1 10th Street

The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson: 419 7th Street

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Augusta’s Master Plan for Revitalization

October 14, 2013

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Lee Epstein, attorney and land use planner working for sustainability in the mid-Atlantic region, recently discussed Augusta’s master plan for revitalization, on the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) Staff Blog. Below is a summary and highlight of the key points covered. 

augusta streets

The city of Augusta has many faces: some see the sweet green golf courses with fiendish sand traps, while others see it as their home, a heart of the South and third-largest city in the state.

Distressingly, the city has begun to lose its luster, in tune with many other great cities in the United States. These cities are fading due to a combination of empty downtown areas and an increase in suburban sprawl.

The neighborhoods could definitely do with some renovation. Not all is lost, however; the Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program has come up with intensive plans to revitalize this old Southern belle of a city.

The Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program (ASDIP) has paired up with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to use one of their challenge grants to revitalize Augusta and its empty neighborhoods. The project’s main goal is to upgrade Augusta, injecting sustainable economic development, enhanced transportation, and improved neighborhoods to bring the city back to life. The program is focused on results, not just plans.

regency mallThey hope to work wonders on Downtown Augusta – ranging from the 4.5 mile long Dean’s Bridge Road, to the Regency Mall and through the neighborhoods near the rail yards. Like many malls in America, Regency Mall slowly faded and then died, becoming an abandoned relic. With the ASDIP program in place, it would become a village center, while the neighborhoods leading to the mall would offer the basic amenities needed to sustain a bustling community. These would include farmer’s markets, grocery stores, medical clinics, and small restaurants – all the ingredients needed to create a successful neighborhood. During the rebuilding process, they will also add some mixed-unit and higher density housing, though older neighborhoods will likely remain untouched.

Another large focus of the project would be transportation. Without accessibility, the revitalized sections would never flourish. Many elderly or mid-to-lower income residents don’t have cars or do not drive, so a renewed public transport system will be required to ferry them to the rejuvenated sections of Augusta. The program will also create better walking areas, with repaved sidewalks and more sitting areas in shady sections, as well as pedestrian walkways and crossing areas. Bike lanes will also be implemented and made safer.

The hub of the transport reform would be a new transit center to replace an old bus transfer station. At the same time, a nearby building will be rebuilt to become a pedestrian shopping and commercial village.

They hope to improve the number of parks and playgrounds, as well as renew previously existing ones. The program looks to acquire more land for public parks in strategic neighborhood locations, as well as improve storm water management and other green projects. The public areas would be enriched by public art and mixed-use centers for everyone, creating a welcoming, friendly neighborhood feeling.

Most impressively, this project has been meticulously planned for and articulated, with required costs enumerated and accounted for. Specific proposals have also been evaluated, together with potential funding sources – both public and private. The Augusta Sustainable Development Implementation Program members appear to have spared no effort to make this program successful, identifying all possible ways of fulfilling their plans for urban development as well as managing vacant housing. All in all, this project stands to be one of Augusta’s best chances for revitalization – restoring its former glory as well as propelling it towards the future.

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Five In-Demand Jobs that do not Require a College Degree

October 2, 2013

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In today’s society, you might think that a college degree is required in order to land a great job. But college just isn’t in the cards for some of us. We don’t have the time, the money, or the mindset. If you are one of these people, don’t lose hope! There are plenty of great jobs out there that do not require a college degree.

The majority of all working-class individuals in the United States (as of 2013) do not hold a college degree. Does this surprise you? These people aren’t just delivering pizza or driving garbage trucks. In fact, 30% of these people earn more money than college grads. With diligence and dedication, it is very possible to have a rewarding career without spending all that money on tuition. Based on projected job growth and salary, here are the top five jobs that do not require a college degree:

#5 – Dry Wall Taper

wall taperIf you like to be on your feet and use your hands, this might be a good job for you. A dry wall taper prepares walls for paint after they have been installed. This vocation doesn’t require a high school diploma, an apprenticeship, or a technical degree. You can simply learn the trade from experienced workers. The construction industry is expected to grow as the economy improves. The average salary for a dry wall taper is $45,490. Keep in mind that you will be working in a construction environment and will have to deal with the elements, dangerous materials, and loud noises.

 #4 – Electrician

An electrician is someone humanity will always need, especially considering how technology is advancing. The average salary for these guys is $48,250. Electricians work in all types of buildings from private apartments to offices to stadiums. The more gadgets we develop, the more we need people who know how to fix them. Although you won’t need a college degree to be an electrician, you will need to go through an apprenticeship – but you get paid while you learn! Because you are working with electricity, there is always the rare danger of electrocution.

#3 – Commercial Pilot

If you’re not afraid of heights and have good eyesight, consider becoming a pilot. Although airlines have suffered recently, they are projected to add 6,900 jobs by 2020. The average salary for a commercial pilot is $67,500 (that’s $26,000 more than the average full-time employee). The only requirement for this profession is a commercial pilot’s license and some time at a local flight school. Although many airlines prefer pilots with two- or four-year degrees, it is very possible to become a respected commercial pilot with experience and a pilot’s license. The downside is that you will be away from home a lot as you bounce from city to city.

#2 – Brickmason/Blockmason

brick-masonThe average brickmason earns $46,930 each year. By 2020, the workforce is projected to grow by over 36,000 individuals. With our rapidly increasing population, there is always a need for new hospitals, schools, and homes. Brickmasons are craftsmen who work for construction contractors. Growing urban areas are where they see the most business. Brickmasons are expected to complete a paid apprenticeship lasting three or four years. They will also pick up skills on the job from more experienced workers. Just like any construction job, masons are exposed to the weather along with dangerous materials and loud noises. Make sure to wear your helmet!

#1 – Pile-Driver Operator

Are you a high school grad good with machines? Pile-driver operators make 19% more money than the US average. With on-the-job training, you can become a pile-driver operator in no time. The average salary for this profession is $47,860. In this job, you might work on oil rigs, cranes, barges, or skids. Using large machines, you will drive construction supports deep into the ground. If you’re interested in this job, look towards Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. Demand for pile-driver operators is expected to grow nearly three times the rate of all other US jobs in upcoming years. This job may be a little more dangerous than the average job, but if you like to use big machines and work outside, it might just be the perfect job for you.

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Exploring the Islands Surrounding Singapore

September 25, 2013

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Singapore is a metropolitan city and a melting pot of people, languages and culture. There is no lack of activity or novelty in this urban island, but city life can sometimes take its toll on the mind and body. Whether you are a tourist or a local, the islands surrounding Singapore offer both a welcome refuge from the concrete jungle and a peek into Singapore’s pre-urban past. Let’s check out some of these destinations within a two-hour boat ride from Singapore.

Pulau Ubin

pulau ubinPulau Ubin is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas within Singapore. Located 15 minutes away from Changi pier, Ubin is an enchanting destination that has an element of timelessness and is a must-see for any would be visitor. It stands in sharp contrast to the skyscraper filled mainland, with one of its major attractions being the 19th century wooden houses that are home to cheery, easy-going villagers.

Some of its rural charm includes unfettered forests, age old dust paths and a laid back pace of life that makes one feel liberated from the modern pressures of life. Visitors have the option of cycling off to a wetland reserve – Chek Jawa – or simply whiling away at the local eatery enjoying the tranquility of the rural landscape.

You can reach the island by catching a bumboat from the Changi ferry terminal.

St John’s Island

st john

St John’s Island is another popular destination within Singapore. It offers an idyllic retreat for visitors who can choose among picnicking at its remarkable beach, getting a tan or even just strolling around the island to experience nature at her best.

St John’s Island also has an exquisite coral reef home to a school of dolphins that on a good day can be seen playing in the water. For individuals who seek tranquility, taking part in a nature walk conducted by the local marine institute would be a good idea.

The island can be accessed via the daily ferries leaving from Marina South Pier.

Batam

batam resortAlthough Batam (part of Indonesia) is known for its luxurious resorts and sprawling golf courses, it is not the reserve of well-heeled travelers. There are actually numerous locations on this island that offers budget-friendly refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life. Located 20 kilometers from Singapore’s south coast, Batam is also a gateway to Indonesia and its famous Riau Archipelago.

Visitors have the option of hiring a vehicle and setting out on an enchanting drive through the island. Some of the most notable landmarks that can be viewed during these drives include the Barelang bridge – a signature landmark in Batam and camp Sinam: now a ghost town that once hosted thousands of refugees during the Indochina war.

For those more interested in having a good time, the Melur beach renowned for its pristine conditions is the destination of choice. You can then spend the rest of the day at the Sekupang district best known for its luxurious spa and massage treatments.

The island can be accessed via BatamFast Ferry which runs a frequent 45 minute ferry service departing from Singapore’s Harbourfront Terminal.

Bintan (Tanjung Pinang)

bintan--indonesia

This Indonesian island lies right next to Batam and can be best described as sleepy village with one of the finest beaches in Asia.

When visiting this island, it would be a good idea to first power-up with traditional buffet – Nasi Campur – before heading out to the coastline.

The view from the coastline is quite remarkable making a stroll on the peaceful stretches of sand one of the major highlights when visiting. The day can then be completed by a visit to the Penyangat island ruins (ancient capital of the Malay Kingdom) and a seafood meal at the Melayu square.

The island can be accessed via a 90 minute ferry ride from the Tanah Merah terminal.

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Health Insurance Tips for the Self-Employed

September 8, 2013

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self-employedBeing self-employed has lots of perks. You get to choose your own hours, hire whomever you want, and be your own boss. The downside is that your job doesn’t provide health insurance.  And if you own a small business, you’re probably too busy to even think about health insurance!

Most self-employed individuals just don’t have health insurance. The last thing you want is for a medical emergency to impede your flourishing new business. You need to have a backup plan in case of an emergency that involves you, your family, or injuries that may put your business at risk.

If you are currently uninsured and looking for health insurance, make sure to shop around first and consider all your options. Ask other business owners for advice. You can use the Internet to compare rates and find trusted licensed agents (like eHealthInsurance.com).

Assistance for workers who are retrenched or in career transition

If your self-employment stemmed from being laid off, there is another option available to you. COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is a federal program that allows individuals to temporarily extend the insurance they had through previous employment (at their own cost). The federal government offers a 65% subsidy for COBRA premiums, making this a great option for many. COBRA is most attractive to those with pre-existing medical conditions that make it hard for them to qualify for coverage in other programs.

Look out for rate guarantees and tax deductions

When you decide to buy private health insurance, remember that the insurance company may increase your monthly premiums once in awhile. To protect yourself from this trick, look for a “rate guarantee.” Licensed health insurance agents can give you advice on which company to use and help you understand all the little details. Some companies offer to lock in your rate for a certain period of time if you pay a “small fee” each month. Do the math before you sign to ensure that you are actually saving money.

Some states allow qualified self-employed individuals to deduct health insurance premiums on their federal tax returns. There are rules to follow – make sure to ask a tax professional if you have any questions. Remember that you can’t deduct any money during any period of time in which you were eligible to participate in a health insurance plan sponsored by another employer.  A tax professional can also teach you about all the different types of self-employment statuses in your state and the associated tax implications.

Health Savings Account

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a good idea for many self-employed individuals. This account is set up with an HSA-eligible health insurance program. Compared to other plans, HSAs usually have high deductibles and low monthly premiums. With an HSA, you can deposit some of your pre-tax income into a savings account so that it can earn tax-free interest. You can use then that money to pay for medical expenses like copayments and deductibles. The money you don’t use builds up tax-free year by year.

No matter what type of health insurance you end up purchasing, make sure to speak with a health insurance agent and a tax professional so that you save as much money as possible. With a good health insurance program and peace of mind, you will have more time to focus on what’s really important: your business.

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Trends in Green Home Design

September 18, 2013

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When you opt for an eco-design home, you will not only be living up to your environmental ideals but saving yourself money too. Green homes incorporate renewable resources and concepts which reduce the amount of water and electricity you consume. With their environmentally friendly design, you are assured of reducing your family’s carbon footprint and ultimately, you will have more money in your wallet and in the bank.

RecyclingSelect eco-friendly door and window designs

Maybe there is an argument for a front door fitted with a glass window as it helps light up the entryway. However, this design also allows warmth from the interior to escape. Contrast this with a door made of environmentally friendly and recyclable wood (without a window) which keeps your house energy efficient at all times.

Homes without eco-friendly window designs lose, on average, about 30% of air conditioning and heating energy a month. As different climatic zones have different energy efficiency requirements, look for window designs with an Energy Star rating for your region.

 

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Quick & Easy Tips for the First-Time CouchSurfer

September 3, 2013

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couchsurfingWith the holidays coming chances are good you will be doing a good bit of travel. Travel means expensive hotels and food cost. At least it did before CouchSurfing was established in 1999. It is a simple concept: you put up at a stranger’s place while traveling (instead of staying at a hostel or hotel). There is even a social network of the same name devoted to other “CouchSurfers”, like you. There are over two million users spread across 237 countries using this social networking site that focuses on this type of hospitality exchange.

This is how it works. Before you travel, rather than booking a hotel you visit this social networking website. If you find an available host at your destination, they can offer their place for you to stay during your trip there. In return, if they are ever traveling your direction, you open up your couch to them.

As simple as it sounds, for a newbie there can still be confusion as to standard practices and things to watch out for. If you are considering CouchSurfing for the first time, here are a few helpful tips to help you get started and make a good impression on your host.

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