Last updateWed, 14 Apr 2021 11am

Ask the Experts



Spare Style

I’ve always liked design and decorating--just one look at my dorm room or my room back home would tell you that--but I have to confess that I don’t understand the appeal of the “industrial” look. You know: minimalist decor, exposed brick, exposed rafters and pipes…what’s with that? Where did it come from? I’m genuinely curious about why my generation seems to like apartments, bars, and gathering spaces that look like warehouses or factories. What’s beautiful about those spaces? What’s comfortable about them?

How you feel about industrial and minimalist spaces is, of course, entirely up to you. But you are quite right that they’re popular. The “warehouse aesthetic” that you’re confused by is often called “industrial style,” and it rose to prominence in the 2000s and 2010s. These days, the look is so popular among home buyers that one study showed it pushed the prices of homes in Australia up by 20 percent! That’s a lot to pay to live in a home that makes some people feel like they’re in a space under construction.

Of course, the people who snap up industrial-style spaces don’t feel this way. And, to be fair, experts say there are some benefits to the style. Space is a huge factor in the comfort of a home, Australia’s Kalka home design company says. The way a room is laid out and the space between furniture, appliances, and other key things in a home has everything to do with how we feel when we’re in a space like that. With custom-designed homes, gaining space is easy--but with older spaces, it can be tougher. Stripping away drywall may not make a huge difference, but there’s certainly no denying that it maximizes the space between the walls. And while exposing rafters, pipes, and HVAC systems overhead may not actually increase headroom by much, it creates an airier impression by highlighting the negative space between those rafters and installations. Instead of the ceiling hanging below those things and hiding them, the “real” ceiling feels like it’s above them, giving the impression of a larger and airier room.

And while this extra space may seem to come at an aesthetic cost to you, not everyone agrees. Utilitarian work can be beautiful, some experts say, depending on the quality. Welding equipment manufacturer Lincoln Electric points out that welding is something as common in wrought iron gates as it is in industrial manufacturing. Industrial details can be precise and beautiful, to some eyes.

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Helping Through Healthcare

My father was a doctor, and growing up he told me two things: first, that I should choose a career that helps people; and second, that I should not be a doctor, because his hours were terrible.

And they really were terrible--he was on call for the emergency room a lot when I was growing up, and I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked. So I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a doctor like him, but I do want to help people, and I am drawn to healthcare. What can the experts tell me about careers in healthcare that can help me make an impact like doctors can--without having to work their hours?

There are plenty of ways to help people, and just as many ways to turn a calling into a career. If you feel strongly about helping others heal and stay healthy through your work, you should have no trouble finding a job that fits the bill--even if you may have some trouble, as you point out, finding one that fits your schedule!

Doctors are, of course, one example--and you’re correct to note that their hours can be rough: only 50 percent of doctors report working less than 60 hours per week, and most of those work for more than 40. No wonder, then, that 65 percent of physicians say they are overworked! With that said, though, doctors don’t all work the same hours. Time commitments and call schedules can vary widely between specialties and employers. An emergency room surgeon will, of course, be on call a lot--a pediatrician, not so much.

The same is true of nurses, who can work in environments as different as trauma centers and physical therapy offices. A nurse with a RN (registered nurse) degree will get different opportunities than ones with a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) degree, and those choices aren’t mutually exclusive; some nurses choose to go to a RN to BSN program later in their careers. Some even choose to go to medical school and jump from nursing to a career as a doctor.

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The Meaning of Materials

My dad is a contractor back in our hometown, and he’s been having trouble lately with his expenses. One issue that my dad has is that he keeps using materials that, in my opinion, are just too pricey. The guys using the cheaper materials can undercut his prices, and customers don’t know the difference (until it’s too late). My dad is losing business to cheapskate contractors just because they have lower prices, a few billboards, and pop-up on Google.

Of course, my dad won’t budge on his materials, and he considers this a moral issue. How much difference do materials really make? What can my dad do if he refuses to cut costs?

Do materials really matter? Well, experts say, that depends on the material in question, what it’s being used for, and how well it’s being used.

That may not be a satisfying answer, but materials experts told us it’s the truth. Part of the challenge that contractors face is explaining choices to customers. Better material is always better, of course, but the lumber you use for your home matters more than the lumber you use for your shed, say home improvement professionals.

But materials can matter a lot in certain circumstances, of course. The wood used to make a deck had better be strong and properly treated to handle the outdoor weather, lumber experts told us. Cabinets and countertops in a kitchen renovation are going to be visible every day, so they had better be of top quality.

As your father is well aware, one of the major problems with materials comes when companies quote prices without properly accounting for materials. Experts say those low quotes that are taking your father’s business may not stay so low when customers demand the cabinets or countertops they really want. By then, of course, it’s too late.

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Making Metal

Does the United States make much metal? I mean the actual metal, and I guess also the products.

I know, I know, it’s a weird question for a college kid to be asking. But, I got dinner with my roommate and his dad the other day and his dad is very upset about the state of American industry. Specifically, he talks about old steel towns and manufacturing and how we don’t make anything anymore. I know we import a lot of stuff to this country, but, can we really be importing all of our steel? I mean, it’s really heavy, right? We must be making some of it here, right?

Steel is indeed heavy, but we could certainly ship in plenty of it if we wanted to. The cost of shipping things can seem surprisingly low to outsiders: thanks to revolutions like the shipping container, which standardized cargo shipping in a very cost-effective way, shipping is very cheap: you could ship a standard 40-foot container for $701 in 2016, and that was the 'spot rate' (that is, the price on the spot--without the sort of long-term contract that might make the deal even cheaper). Shipping companies are actually having a tough time at the moment, because there are so many of them and rates are so low.

So, we could ship in lots of steel if we wanted to, and we do import plenty: 35.3 million metric tons in 2015! But, part of the reason that we don’t import most of our steel is that we still make so much ourselves: 78.6 million metric tons, making us the 4th-biggest steel producing nation on Earth. And production is up 6.5 percent year-over-year!

That’s quite a bit--but your friend’s father would not be thrilled to know that it’s not that close to our all-time peak. Steel production in the United States peaked in 1973 at 137 million metric tons--a lot more than 78.6! We’re still using steel, the experts at Megawall say (and they’d know, since they make steel slat walls), but, we’re importing a larger chunk of it, thanks in part to low-cost foreign steel--something that upsets steelworkers and some politicians.

So, what happened? Did those jobs just all disappear? Well, some of them did, but it’s also true that American manufacturing has made a move toward more skilled labor and precision production, the experts at Perforated Tubes Incorporated say. That’s a reflection on the cost of labor in America, but also in the growing amount of skilled and educated laborers in America. So, while it is harder (relatively) to find high-paying unskilled work in America today, we’ve seen jobs that require training, education, or other forms of preparation grow faster.

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Property Prices

I’ve always dreamed of owning my own home. Where I’m from, just about everyone does! It’s hard for me to imagine having an apartment and paying rent rather than enjoying a whole house and paying a mortgage. I always understood owning a house to be the smarter financial decision of those two options, too.

I was pretty young back when the 2008 crash happened, but I know that a couple of my family members ended up in some rough spots with their mortgages. I think some of them just stopped paying and walked away, even though they could afford it, and I never understood that. Why not just pay off the house and sell it? Now that I’m in college, I’m trying to understand a bit more about how all of this works. I don’t want to ask the family members themselves, so I’m asking the experts instead!

On the surface, mortgages are pretty simple things. They’re loans that allow the borrower(s) to buy a house. The house is collateral for the loan, so if the borrowers don’t pay back the bank, the bank can foreclose on the house. That’s it--but an in-depth look reveals some more complications.

It is possible to end up in a situation like the one you describe, in which deciding to let the bank foreclose actually makes the most sense. To understand, we need to talk about a few more things related to mortgages and homes.

First, mortgages have an interest rate--the lender is being paid back more than the amount of the initial loan, of course, because that is how lenders make money. To get an idea of how this works, you can look at this interest rate calculator for home loans. There are also fees for missing payments and other built-in rules to a mortgage.

Second, the real estate market can go up--but it can also go down. In 2007 and 2008, it did the latter. Home values fell dramatically in those years, so much so that the housing and mortgage crash led to a worldwide recession and a 57.8% drop in the value of the S&P 500. In fact, median home prices didn’t reach pre-crisis levels again until 2016.

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Heavy Habits

Ever since I’ve been a college student, I’ve been gaining weight. It happens slowly sometimes and more quickly other times, but it seems like it’s always happening. I don’t know if it’s the beer or the food in the dining hall, but something about my college lifestyle is really messing with my health! I’m too busy during the week to work out or run, and on the weekends, to be honest, I’m usually at parties or watching Netflix. I know I need to change, but I don’t know where to start. Any tips?

You’re not the only college student to fall victim to the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen.’ A full 70% of college students gain weight during their university years. It starts during freshman year, when students gain an average of 5% of their body weight, which works out to an average gain of about 10 pounds. For some, the trend never reverses: 36.5% of American adults are obese.

What can you do to reverse this trend? Well, that’s a simple answer that relies on some more complex strategies. Your question shows that you already know the basics of dieting. While ‘calories in, calories out’ is not the end-all and be-all of fitness (to say nothing of health, which includes more than weight and is even more complicated), it’s a good place to start any dieting discussion: you need to consume fewer calories and burn more in exercise. You should eat better, too, not just less: more vegetables and ‘whole foods,’ and fewer processed foods.

Start with this foundation and you can add to your plan with other details. Doctors and pharmaceuticals can even play a role, as the experts at NetNutri are one main purveyor of Fastin Diet Pills which they say have helped many of their clients on their diets. The key to even the most complex approaches remains the simple formula of eating better and less while exercising more.

But, how can you do this? The key may be in your habits. Studies show that our habits are key factors in our health, and some of the ones you listed are bad news. Drinking, for instance, can really pack on the pounds: a sweet alcoholic drink will hit you with an average of 300 to 500 calories, and beer isn’t any better. Your Netflix nights may not be much better: experts have witnessed streaming services changing our viewing habits to form “binge watching” sessions, which mean prolonged periods of inactivity--and if you’re one of the many people who have a habit of pairing food with your entertainment, Stranger Things may not be the only thing you’re binging on.

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Earth and the Economy

I have some great friends here, at school. Some of them are very, very different from each other. For instance, I have some very liberal environmentalist friends, and some very conservative, business-minded friends. Everyone gets along pretty well--until we have a few drinks, anyway. Then I’m suddenly in the middle of the great moral debate of our time. My liberal friends think that unchecked business interests are destroying our Earth. My business-minded friends think that hippies are ruining business with unnecessary regulation.

I know you guys don’t get political, but I’d love some context on this. If I’m going to listen to this debate, I at least want to understand it. What’s the case for destroying the environment to create jobs? And what’s the case for destroying jobs to save the planet?

It sounds like you’re in a tricky debate. Part of the issue may be rooted in the way you’re phrasing the two sides of the debate (part of it may also be rooted in those drinks you’re having--maybe you should take it easy next weekend!). To you and your friends, it seems, the conflict between the environment and business is a zero-sum game. Is that so?

It’s certainly true that the business world has had its share of run-ins with the planet. Profit motives can be short-sighted, which is how we ended up with approximately 40% of U.S. lakes too polluted to use for recreation or fishing. But, regulations can cost a ton of money: one study found that regulations cost manufacturers $21 billion annually. And, when businesses are restricted from certain business areas and have to spend money on other things, they can’t hire and pay employees. Right?

Well, yes and no. There are certainly ways in which businesses and the environment are directly at odds. But in some other ways, the two may see their interests align. For instance, the farming leaders at seed vendor Siegers say, you could look at the way in which farmers have used crop rotation to work with the earth to avoid exhausting the soil. This practice goes back to ancient times, long before we worried much about the earth; but, it made economic sense too, giving the land a break actually allowed for better crops. Experts say the practice is good for the planet because it encourages biodiversity and prevents erosion that farming might otherwise cause, among other benefits.

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Foreign Filings

Like a lot of college students, I’m going abroad. The difference is, though, that I’m not going during the school year or through a school program. It was important to me to maximize my time on campus, so I worked with my parents to come up with a plan for going abroad on my own. During the summer, I’m going to visit a few countries over the course of a few weeks, visiting historic sites and doing a little bit of an ‘independent study abroad’ program, so to speak.

But one tricky thing about doing this all on my own is that I don’t have the school to guide me about all of the paperwork I need. I’m getting ready to research all the stuff I need to do, but I don’t even really know where to start. For instance, I need a visa, right? How is that different from a passport? Help!

Never fear! It’s important to have your paperwork in order before you head abroad, but the good news is that the information you’ll need for foreign travel is relatively straightforward.

First of all, you will of course need a passport to leave the country. If you don’t already have one, now’s the time to get one, the process can take 2 to 3 months when you include the time it takes to get some of the required documents. You can apply for a passport in person and online. You can find the list of the documents you’ll need on government websites. You can get your passport photo taken at all sorts of places, including most pharmacies (like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid) and shipping stores (like FedEx and UPS stores).

If you do already have a passport, make sure that it hasn’t expired. You can learn more about passport renewals online and will be able to complete the process online with the government’s soon-to-launch PassportRenewal.com. Remarkably, only 36% of Americans have passports--when you see how easy it is to get one, though, you’ll wonder why!

Unlike a passport, a visa is not always required for international travel. Depending on the length of your stay, you may be able to visit with a passport alone. Visas are required for brief tourist visits in some countries, but in many countries they are used only for longer stays. Some countries will let you visit for 90 days with a passport; others will require you to apply for a visa for even shorter trips. You can find information on travel visas online, including on private sites and on sites run by the U.S. government and foreign governments. The U.S. Department of State has a good database sorted by country.

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Pacing Purchases

I’m graduating this year, and so is my longtime girlfriend. We have some big plans, but we don’t totally agree on how we want to spend our money. We both have jobs lined up and we both have some help from our parents so, we can afford to make some big purchases--but we can’t afford to get all of what we want, so it’s become kind of an issue.

We both agree that we want to buy a house rather than rent, although we’re not sure yet how we’re going to manage who owns what (we’re not married yet, but that’s coming soon, I think!). We want to live near the shore and I am very convinced that I want a boat--just a little one, obviously, not a yacht or anything. Meanwhile, she wants certain appliances and other really specific stuff for the house, and some of it is really expensive. She thinks I’m being frivolous, and I think she’s being a little intense--we don’t even know yet what sorts of appliances will be installed in the house we buy, and she already wants to replace them! Any advice on figuring out how to divvy up our budget?

It sounds as if you have some big plans for your post-graduate years! It’s good to have financial goals, and it’s hard to give specific advice about your finances without knowing more about your income and your existing savings. With that said, it sounds like your spending plan is very ambitious--something that you seem to recognize as you wrestle with the competing priorities that you and your partner have.

It’s not that the things you’re considering aren’t good uses of money. The luxury appliance experts at Dacor.com say that high-end ovens, dishwashers, and other kitchen appliances can improve the resale value of a home and reap energy savings while also delivering exceptional everyday performance. And the used boat dealers at Boat Crazy say that it’s possible to find a boat that fits your budget at almost any age. But, while both of these things and your home itself can and perhaps should be in your long-term financial plans, you may want to reconsider your purchasing schedule.

College graduates make good money these days--an average of $50,556 a year right out of college, according to recent figures. But with so many Americans struggling with budgeting and finances--31% of us are just barely getting by--it’s worth remembering that it’s possible to go into debt with any income. Your parents and older friends took years to establish the lifestyle they have now, so don’t feel like you need to match it right out of school! Consider spreading out your purchasing schedule and achieving some of your financial goals later in life. The average age of a boat buyer, for instance is 53 years old. Can you put off buying yours a bit longer and save instead, so that you don’t become one of the 34% of Americans who has saved no money for retirement?

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Bonding with the Bros

I’m a guy, but I’m not a “guy’s guy.” I’m more interested in novels than in action movies, I like the theater better than I like sports, and I drink more red wine than beer. That’s never really been a problem for me, because I just steer clear of the “bros” and make friends that share my interests. But I’ve started dating a girl pretty seriously, and that means I need to get along with her family--and her family is full of bros!

These are some serious bros, too. They love fantasy football, but don’t play other types of games--they have no interest in board games or card games, and they only play sports video games. One of her cousins told me he’s “not into art”--as if there weren’t a ton of different types of art to try. They love working on cars and driving cars and talking about cars. Short of becoming a huge fan of cars and sports, what can I do to make my relationship with these guys as good as possible?

Not everyone can share the same interests, but it’s important to try to get along with the family members of the ones we love. It’s good that you recognize this and are willing to make an effort. Of course, you like what you like, and it’s no fun to feel attacked for your unique interests.

With that said, nothing in your letter says you have been attacked for your interests. In fact, it seems as if you may be judging your girlfriend’s “bro” family more harshly than they’ve been judging you. You complain that they dismiss art out of hand, but you do the same with sports, cars, and other broad areas of interest. Just as art includes everything from graphic novels to abstract impressionism, so sports includes a huge range of wildly different interests, from floor routines in gymnastics to motor sports. Are you being as open-minded about the diversity of things to examine in sports as you wish they were about the diversity of possible interests within art or music?

It’s not just bros that like fantasy sports, by the way. The pros at Fantasy Champs, who deal in fantasy football trophies and other fantasy-related merchandise, say their customers come from all walks of life. From die-hard super-fans to casual members of office leagues, fantasy football fans come in all shapes and sizes. More than a third (34 percent) of them are women, despite your presumption of “bro”-ness. Perhaps you, too, would enjoy joining a casual league. It’s one thing if your girlfriend’s family members want only highly dedicated and knowledgeable fans in their fantasy league. But are you sure they wouldn’t have room for a casual player?

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Wary on the Web

I have a friend here at school who is scared of technology. I don’t mean that he’s bad with technology or that he won’t touch it--I mean that he’s literally afraid of it. He knows how to use a computer, but he avoids the internet when he can and refuses to join social networking sites or keep track of anything personal with a computer. He says it’s too easy for other people to get information about you online--when we were talking about this the other day, he pointed to a store we were walking by and said that we could easily find out all about the person who owned it with little more than a Google search. He’s also convinced that even the “private” stuffy is easily accessed by hackers--and easily misused by the company you trust with it. He’s convinced that cloud storage is insecure and that anything saved online is at risk. He’s got me feeling all paranoid! What are the real facts here?

Your friend isn’t alone in being wary of the way the web has affected our privacy and our security. When we use the internet, we leave behind evidence in all different forms, from public social network posts to web browsing data we may not even realize is being collected. And 44 percent of Americans consider the ways in which companies like Facebook store and catalog that data to be “an invasion of privacy.”

But the internet is not a place in which privacy and security are dead. Far from it, say the CASB security experts at Skyhigh. CASB refers to cloud access security brokers, and these specialists work on software that acts as a buffer between users and cloud services--those same cloud services that your friend is concerned about. Security is a priority for these services, because if users can’t trust that their data is safe, they’ll stop using the cloud services.

With that said, though, hacks like the infamous iCloud hack prove that cloud security is tough. As with web security in general, the problem is that security experts have to understand, find, and block every possible means of unauthorized access--while the bad guys need only stumble onto one exploit that works.

So it doesn’t hurt to follow web security best practices and keep potentially compromising materials away from cloud servers and email servers. But what about the things you aren’t really trying to keep secret? Are they easily accessed through search engines?

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