Fountain Pen Day – November 7th

Brad Merrill:

Thought I would share this with everyone.

Originally posted on The Pelikan's Perch:

Fountain Pen Day LogoWhile this site is dedicated to the Pelikan brand of fountain pens, I feel it reasonable to promote any cause that advances fountain pen awareness and the joys of handwriting.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Fountain Pen Day occurs on the first Friday of every November.  This year, the event will fall on Friday, November 7th and will mark the third year that this day is observed around the globe.  According to the official site, the goal of the day is to, “embrace, promote, and share the use of fountain pens in day-to-day life, as well to help revive handwriting as a whole.”  There are a reported 61 vendors signed up this year who have pledged to support the day, many of whom will provide special deals/discounts.  When that day rolls around just 10 days from now, take a moment to write a letter, handwrite your posts to…

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Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5k/Cookie Chaser 5k

Today’s post is a follow up to a post I made back on April 10th, when I blogged about Automattic‘s Worldwide WP 5k (or rather re-blogged a post originally posted by Sara Rosso of Automattic/Word Press. Basically that everyone was invited to run a 5k during the week of April 23-29 and then blog about it. (WWWP5k)

Well as my contribution I picked a local 5k – the Cookie Chaser 5k which is run in Riverton, Utah – a suburb of Salt Lake City.   http://www.cookiechaser.com/ This race is a fundraiser to benefit the Girl Scouts. They also hold a 2k run/walk race that starts about 30 minutes earlier. A friend of mine from my running club (Salt Lake City Track Club- http://www.slctrackclub.org/index.html ) ran the 2k as a warmup for the main event. Others did as well.  As I didn’t make a final decision on this race until last minute, I was stuck paying the extra $5 for day of race registration. ($25) I arrived early enough (~8:00 am) to get registered and to get a short warmup in on the course. (1.54 miles in 14:17 – 9:15 pace)  I hadn’t run this race before, but had talked to some people that had. The course is relatively flat outside of just before the turnaround where lies a “dip” if you believe the road signs. Smallish hill, but enough to slow you a little bit. (down then up then the turnaround and back) I started near the friend of mine who ran the 2k first.

My splits:

Mile 1: 7:53
Mile 2: 8:02
Mile 3: 8:16
Finish: 24:19/24:20 by my watch.

This was good enough for 2nd place in my age group, just under 3:00 behind the 1st place runner who is also in my running club and ran 21:20.  I don’t know what kind of mileage he runs, but I know he rarely races longer than 10k any more. I on the other hand normally run at least one marathon a year.  So we have different strengths.

My placings fell out like this: 2nd in my age group, 17th Male and 21st Overall.  There were around 200 or so in the overall.  I had to leave before the awards ceremony was held so any age group prize I won I don’t have yet. I have an email into the Race Director on that issue. Overall I feel pretty good about this race, even though I didn’t run as fast as I was hoping for. Gives me a very general idea of what I might be able to do in my next 5k on May 19th. (Law Day Run 5k – held on the University of Utah campus beginning at the SJ Quinney College of Law). There have been two or three courses for that race over the years, my best on the current course is a 25:22 at last years race.  I am hoping to be able to run at least close to what I ran today.

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Brad Merrill:

Everyone’s demographic is a bit different, but these ideas should work for most if not all. If you have a blog, what have you seen that seems to help?

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

This is a guest post by Kristina Chang, Evan Moore, Tony Xu, and Omer Rabin; students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“What makes a blog popular? What drives page views?” These are the questions that we’ve been trying to answer over the last few weeks. We were on a mission to dig into the data and analyze the strongest parameters that influence the flow of visitors to WordPress.com blogs.

Out of the 30+ million blogs on WordPress.com, we randomly selected a sample of almost 100,000 blogs to perform a regression analysis. Here are our findings, together with a few recommendations. We hope that this provides some new information, and kudos to you in case you’ve already incorporated these tips into your blog – the data suggests that you’re on the right track. Keep it up!

Make your blog easy to follow – It almost sounds obvious, but the…

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101 Ways to Celebrate the end of Tax Season……

According to Traci Wheeler at Red Moon Solutions.  Now the primary audience for these are tax practitioners rather than taxpayers, whether individual, small business or corporate. However, I think many apply to all of us. Here is a sampling:

Take a day off.

Go for a run or a ride on your bike.

Take a nap.

Take your department to lunch. (or alternatively go to lunch with a friend or co-worker)

Work in the garden/yard.

Go for a sunset stroll.

Go to a concert or play.

Go to a ball game. (the NBA is still in season, or if you are a baseball fan many minor league teams still have their home openers coming up.)

Go fishing.

Take a road trip.

Blow bubbles.

Play a round of golf.

For the complete list,  follow the link.

http://blog.redmoonsolutions.com/101-ways-to-celebrate-the-end-of-tax-season#comment-315

What do you want to do to Celebrate the end of tax season?

As for me, I will continue to run, got tickets to Man of LaMancha. Now what else can I do?

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Automattic’s Worldwide WP 5k

Brad Merrill:

I thought I would invite everyone to join in this “virtual” 5k that is being held by WordPress. Let’s all get out there and do something! Whether you like to run, walk, cycle or something else.

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

It wasn’t just a one-time event! The Automattic Worldwide WP 5k is back again in 2012! Set your timers for April 29th!

At Automattic we work from all over the world, and we use internal blogs for socializing and exchanging non-work ideas in addition to making WordPress.com and our other products more awesome. One of the things we’re really concerned about is staying healthy – we even have an entire internal blog dedicated to fitness.

We had a great idea: Get all Automatticians from 79 cities & 24 countries to run/walk a 5k on the same day! This way we can get some exercise together as a company even though we’re apart (though we won’t rule out a softball or Texas scramble at our next meetup).

A year later, and there are now 105 Automatticians we hope will take part in the 5k all around the world in 2012.

We want…

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How to turn your blog into a book

Brad Merrill:

While a little outside of the generally accepted scope of my blog. (Small business, accounting and tax) I thought this might be of some interest to my readers. A couple of books that I am aware of that either used a similar concept or are structured in such a way to be similar that I am aware of are Side Glances, by Peter Egan (a collection of his Road & Track magazine column of the the same name) and the other the way that Harvey Mackey has structured his book Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

 We know many of you love your blogs, and gleefully publish photos and posts without thoughts to reuse your work in other forms. But we know some wonder: could this be a book? Recently we wrote about how a WordPress.com blogger scored a book deal for You Are Not So Smart. But what if you want to do it all yourself?

As a blogger who has authored several successful books with publishers, and who works on WordPress.com, I recently self-published a book based entirely on posts from my blog. I wanted to see what I could learn, and I’m here to share it all with you.

The book I self-published is called Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds. It’s a collection of my best essays from my WordPress blog at scottberkun.com, where I write about ideas, creativity and leadership. The book has done well, and has often been…

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Golden Rules of Business Development

Golden Rules of Business Development

Today I am posting a guest post by Aaron McDaniel (aka “Mr. Business”) who is the author of the Young Professional’s Edge blog (YP Edge). He is a corporate director, entrepreneur, public speaker, community volunteer, author and avid world traveler. He has experience in sales, customer care, marketing, operations, strategy and business development and has managed over 110 different direct reports and organizations as large as 60 at a Fortune 50 company. You can read more from Aaron@ http://ypedge.com

 

Business Development is a simple and complex subject all at once. At a basic level business development is about creating new channels for your company’s business lines to grow. This can be in the form of entering new geographies or bringing in new partners to better serve your customer. This is where we see the flip side of the coin; business development can be a very deep and complicated art that requires certain key skills.

Luckily, these skills can be developed.  While every company is unique and certain market conditions and industry maturity require varying strategies, there are certain strategies that will make you success no matter what the variables are; these are the Golden Rules of Business Development:

  1. Know what size of fish you are: Your business development strategies depend greatly on your market position. I currently work at a HUGE company (household name). I am constantly contacted by companies who see the millions of customers my company has and dollar signs begin to appear. They are knocking down the door to work with us because of this fact. By understanding this, I can be more discerning about the companies I spend a lot of time with. I am playing more of a defensive role, fending off the opportunities without high potential. If you are working at a start-up or other smaller company, on the other hand, then you are more on the offensive, actively looking for new partners and channels to sell your product.  In this case you need to be more active (follow-up is KEY) and tenacious to get opportunities cooking
  2. Manage your funnel: There are many crossovers between sales and business development. In some ways business development is an easier type of sales, since the other side is generally going to benefit from the creation of a partnership or formalized relationship. Like in sales, if it great to have a long list of opportunities but it is important to continually push these opportunities to close. If an opportunity is not going to close then take it off the list instead of just cycling through a list of the same potential partners over and over.  Most importantly, you need to constantly be adding new business development opportunities to the list
  3. Organize, organize, organize: Keep good track of all the details for a potential opportunity. Record everything from who all the parties are involved with a potential customer to how you met them to where you are in the negotiation/discussion process. There are many tools out there to help with this.  While it is designed for sales, CRM tools like SalesForce can be used to keep track of opportunities and set alerts, reminding you to follow-up.
  4. Look to (creatively) expand the pie: A bad negotiator looks to get as much of the pie as possible, creating a win-lose distributive situation. A good negotiator finds out what a potential partner wants and looks for ways to give it to them.  Remember that you are creating a relationship with a potential partner and it will not be lasting if either party feels like they were the “loser” when a formalized relationship was initiated.
  5. Internal relationships are as important (if not more) than external ones: Most business development novices make the mistake of thinking that their main job is to look out in the market and find ways to grow the business.  What is absolutely central to your success in implementing your ideas is you ability to convince people you work with that your idea is a good one.  There have been many times where I came across and exciting and strategic partner, but I was unable to get the appropriate internal parties to see my vision and how this other company helped fulfill it. This ultimately is my fault because I did not communicate effectively or I did not take the time to align the idea I had with an internal goal. That said, it is very important to make sure to be aligned with the goals of the internal groups you are supporting so that you know what to look for externally (and so you know how to convince them that you have the best plan once you figure it out).

Your success ultimately lies in how well you can master the Golden Rules listed above.  Remember to understand you will be successful when you help the external partners you work with growth their businesses and when you help fulfill the goals of the internal groups you support.  Just remember the mantra of Tom Cruise’s famous character Jerry Maguire, “Help me help YOU.”

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Strange Visitor – A Christmas Story

Back in December 1979 I was a brand new missionary for the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sometimes called the Mormons) This was sent to me in a package I received from home.  I thought I would share it with all my friends in Cyberspace. I didn’t write this and I don’t know who did. Please enjoy it.

STRANGE VISITOR

            I had just finished the household chores for the night and was preparing to go to bed when I heard a noise in the front of the house. I opened the door of the front room, and to my surprise, Santa Claus himself stepped out from behind the Christmas tree.

He placed his fingers over his lips so I wouldn’t cry out. “What are you doing…? I started to ask, but the words choked up in my throat as I saw that he had tears in his eyes. His usual jolly manner was gone. Gone was the eager, boisterous soul we all know.

He then answered me with the simple statement of “Teach the Children.” I was puzzled. What did he mean? He anticipated my question and with one quick movement brought a miniature toy bag from behind the tree.

As I stood there in my night shirt bewildered, Santa again said, “Teach the Children.” My perplexed expression still showed in the near darkness.

“Teach them the old meaning of Christmas… the meaning that Christmas now-a-days has forgotten.”

I started to say, “How can I…?”  when Santa reached into the toy bag and pulled out a brilliant star.

“Teach the children, the star was the heavenly sign of promise long ages ago. God promised a Savior for the world and a sign of the fulfillment of that promise was the great star of the East. The star now reminds us of God’s love for mankind and of God now fulfilling His promise. The countless shining stars at night…one for each man…now show the burning hope of all mankind.”

Santa gently laid the star upon the fireplace mantle and drew forth from the bag a glittering red Christmas ornament.

“Teach the children, red is the first color of Christmas. It was first used by the faithful people to remind them of the blood which was shed for all people by the Savior.”

“Christ gave his life and shed his blood that every man might have God’s gift to all, eternal life. Red is deep, intense, vivid…it is the greatest color of all. It is the symbol of the gift of God.”

As Mr. Claus was twisting and pulling another object out of his bag, I heard the kitchen clock strike twelve. I wanted to say something but he went right on.

“Teach the children,” he said as the twisting and pulling suddenly dislodged a small Christmas tree from the depths of the toy bag.

Here was the second color of Christmas. “The pure color of the stately fir tree remains green all year round,” he said.

“This depicts the everlasting hope of mankind. Green is the youthful, hopeful, abundant color of nature. All the needles point heavenward…symbolic of man’s returning thoughts toward heaven. The great green tree has been man’s best friend. It has sheltered him, warmed him, made beauty for him, formed his furniture.”

Santa’s eyes were beginning to twinkle now as he stood there. Suddenly I heard a soft tinkling sound. As it grew louder and louder, it seemed like the sound of long ago.

“Teach the children, that as the lost sheep are found by the found by the sound of the bell, so should it ring for man to return to the fold…it means guidance and return, it further signifies that all are precious in the eyes of the Lord. Who is there among you if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?”

As the soft sharp sound of the bell faded into the night, Santa drew forth a candle. He placed it on the mantle and the soft glow from its tiny flame cast an eerie glow about the darkened room. Odd shapes in shadows slowly danced and weaved upon the walls.

“Teach the children,” whispered Santa, “That the candle shows man’s thanks for the star of long ago. Its small light is the mirror of starlight. At first candles were placed on the Christmas tree…they were like many glowing stars shining against the dark green. Safety now has removed the candles from the tree and the colored lights have taken over in that remembrance.”

Santa turned the small Christmas tree lights on and picked up a gift from under the tree. He pointed to the large bow ribbon and said, “A bow is placed on a present to remind us of the spirit of the brotherhood of man.”

“We should remember that the bow is tied as men should be tied…all of us together, with the bonds of goodwill toward each other. Goodwill forever is the message of the bow.”

Now my mind began to wonder what else old Santa might have in his bag. Instead of reaching in his bag, he slung it over his shoulder and began to reach upon the tree.

I thought he was hungry as he reached for a candy cane, purposely placed high on the tree. He unfastened it and reached out toward me with it.

“Teach the children that the candy cane represents the shepherd’s crook. The crook on the staff helps bring back the strayed sheep of the fold. The candy cane represents the helping hand we should show at Christmas time. The candy cane is the symbol that we are our brother’s keeper.

Santa then paused; he seemed to realized he should be on his way. Later would be his big day. As he looked about the room, a feeling of satisfaction shone on his face. He read wonderment in my eyes, and I am sure he sensed my admiration for this night. He was his old self as he approached the front door. The twinkle in his eyes gave Santa away; I knew that he wasn’t through yet. He reached into his bag and brought forth a large holly wreath. He placed it on the door and said, “Please teach the children, the wreath symbolizes the eternal nature of love; it never ceases, stops or ends. It is one continuous round of affection. The wreath does double duty. It is made of many things and in many colors. It should remind us of all the things of Christmas. Please teach the children.”

I pondered and wondered and thrilled with delight,

As I sat and viewed all those symbols at night.

I dozed as I sat in the soft candle light,

My thoughts were of Santa and all he made right.

To give and help, to love and to serve

Are the best things of life all men can deserve.

Old Santa Claus, that jolly old elf,

Is the very best symbol of Christmas itself.

He’s the sign of the gift of love and life,

The end of evil, the ceasing of strife.

His message to me on this pre-Christmas night,

Has opened a treasure of deepest insight.

The one thing on earth we all we all out to do,

Is the teaching of children the right and the true?

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Health Reimbursement Arrangement or Account (HRA)

It has been much to long since my last post. My life has been pretty hectic lately. This is a post that I have wanted to put up for some time.

The last few months I have been doing some work with a company who among other things works with Fortune 500 companies and their retirees. One thing that many of these companies do is provide funds for those retirees to help them pay for their Medicare Supplement plans and other medical expenses through a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). This begs the question: what is a HRA?

A HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement also sometimes called a Health Reimbursement Account) is a tax qualified, employer established benefit plan that can be used as part of a company’s total health benefit package. This can be for current and former employees (typically retirees in my experience) alike.

The employer has a great deal of flexibility in plan design and offering various combinations of benefits. The employee/retiree does not have to be covered by any other health care plan to participate. (Although the employer can structure it to require certain types of benefits in order to qualify)

According to IRS Publication 969:

A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) must be funded solely by an employer. The contribution cannot be paid through a voluntary salary reduction agreement on the part of an employee. Employees (or retirees) are reimbursed tax free for qualified medical expenses up to a maximum dollar amount for a coverage period. An HRA may be offered with other health plans, including FSA’s.

  • Unlike HSAs or Archer MSAs which must be reported on Form 1040 or Form 1040NR, there are no reporting requirements for HRAs on your income tax form.

What are some of the benefits of an HRA?

  • Contributions made by the employer can be excluded from gross income.
  • Reimbursements may be tax free if you pay qualified medical expenses.

Generally, qualified medical expenses are those that are eligible for the medical & dental expense deduction on Form 1040 Schedule A. They also include health insurance premiums, long term care coverage and amounts not covered under another health plan.

  • Any unused amounts in the HRA can be carried forward for reimbursements in later years.
  • CAUTION: You cannot claim a reimbursement from an HRA and deduct those same expenses on Schedule A.

 Contribution Limits:

There is no limit on the amount of money the employer can contribute to the accounts. Additionally, the maximum reimbursement amount credited under the HRA in the future may be increased or decreased by amounts not previously used.

Balances remaining in the HRA at the end of the year can generally be carried over to the next year. The employer is not permitted to refund any part of the balance to you. These amounts can never be used for anything but reimbursements for qualified medical expenses.

Distributions from an HRA:

Generally, distributions from an HRA must be paid to reimburse you for qualified medical expenses. The date the expense was incurred must be on or after the date of enrollment into the HRA. Plans can be structured in such a way as to be paid to a designated beneficiary. Some of those individuals include:

Current and former employees, spouses (including surviving spouses), dependents of those employees among others.

In order for a HRA to maintain tax-qualified status, employers must comply with certain requirements that apply to certain accident and health plans.  (See Publication 15-B)

 

 

 

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Hope Rising 9/11 Bronze Monument Unveiling

Yesterday I had the opportunity/privilege to go to the unveiling of a sculpture called Hope Rising – To Lift a Nation which is modeled after the famous  photo in this post. The location of this heroic – sized (9 ft.) bronze monument? Sandy, Utah.  The sculptor is world-renowned Stan Watts who was granted permission to do so – even to the point of the permission of the firefighters in the photo.

This monument stands at the head of the original Healing Field near Sandy City Hall. http://www.healingfield.org/

The Healing Field contains an American flag for each of the victims of 9/11.  A section for each of the following:  Flight 93, Flight 77, Pentagon, Flight 175 and Flight 11 as well as all those in the World Trade Center. Each flag has a card with a card on it with the name of the victim and some personal information about each one.

Of course there were speeches by local politicians, US Air Force, fire officials – including one who spent time at Ground Zero assisting with the clean up and other notables. Frank Layden, former Utah Jazz coach, general manager and president who was raised in Brooklyn. Former NBA player Thurl “Big T” Bailey among others. Just prior to the unveiling 3000 white balloons were released into a beautiful blue September sky. Overhead an eagle circled. A Life Flight helicopter, swooped over the crowd, paused over the field of flags and dipped its nose in salute.

There was a “Fire Ride” for local Harley riders – there were over 1000 bikers from Sandy to Ogden for the unveiling of another monument that will one day become the centerpiece of a larger America’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial that will include the names of firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty. From stock Honda Gold Wings to custom choppers and everything in between. I spoke to a guy – a retired Provo Fire Department Captain, who had a gorgeous Harley Davidson Firefighter edition that he had added some custom touches to. Flames (“real fire flames”), a mural on the back of the saddlebags that depicted a firefighter holding a hose on the left bag and on the right in full fire gear walking away with “Jolley” and PFD on his fire coat on the right bag. The saddlebags also had faint American flags on the sides of the saddlebags.  He had also added a plate on the tank that had all 343 firefighters names that perished that day. I am sure I am missing some things, but that isn’t the point.

The point is, the diversity that was present there. The stage was provided by Lehi City, fire trucks from North Tooele County, Salt Lake City, Sandy, Murray, West Valley City, among others.  People from all walks of life.  One thing I noticed is that many of these bikers were combat veterans. One had a patch identifying him as a member of the 82nd Airborne.

It was an honor to be able to participate in this event.  If you live in the area, I encourage you to pay a visit to the monument.  And if you aren’t and have an opportunity to visit the Salt Lake City area, take time to visit the monument. It is a short drive south of downtown.

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