Are You Being Tracked by Google?

by Roberta Murphy

Tracked by Google

Tracked by Google

Lately, have been thinking about the fact that I am tracked by Google almost everywhere I go–as long as my cell phone or tablet is with me.

To the left, you can see results from an amazing program I discovered yesterday at Junkee, and mental wheels are turning. Panic hasn’t set in, but that’s probably because I’m a law-abiding citizen and really don’t have anything to hide. But still….

Like most of you, my cell phone is rarely far from me–unless I happen to drive off and accidentally leave it at home.  And that’s a panic-inducing event. But to have Google tracking steps and stops in my own home (just zoom in!) or where I wander on Sunday hikes? Something short of panic might be my feeling of unease–and uncertainty.

The intrusiveness of not only Google, but the NSA, IRS, the HCA and other three-lettered government agencies is beginning to chafe at our collective psyches. And with new apps and programs, we can see what may be going on behind the scenes–and sometimes dish it out ourselves (or so we think).

I use a little program called YesWare that tracks my outgoing email. It supposedly allows me to see when an email is opened by the recipient. That may be true, but what is more interesting is that a local Carlsbad, CA email might show it being opened in Manassas, VA,  Germany, Amsterdam, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the world. I have changed email passwords to no avail.

It it the NSA? Foreign hackers? A buggy program?

These things are a concern and raise alarm bells about fundamental rights to privacy. On the other hand, if I were kidnapped with my phone I would be tracked by Google and could be easily found.

Email is another story.

 

 

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The Luxury of Morphing into a Tree

A forest fed with cremated bodies.Instead of a cemetery with headstones, imagine a forest full of lush and beautiful trees with birds twittering above…and all fed by the ashes of our relatives. Imagine the power of just one tree.

I am personally not offended and have often suggested to sons and family that my eventual remains be fed to the tomato or kale plants in a garden somewhere.

This cremation idea from Urbanios has really caught my imagination, though–and just consider the possibilities of a lush green forest with monuments (perhaps) that tell a little about the tree and its benefactor:

“Here lies Roberta Murphy, who now feeds this perennial tree rather than the tomato plants she imagined. She loved her family, parrots, dogs, that alluring garden..and of course, her erratic writing habits.”

Apparently, one’s remains can be deposited into a biodegradable container which also contains a pine seed (or other tree seed). This container can then be planted, where the ashes will help nourish the seedling and eventual tree. Just imagine the possibilities and longevity if a redwood seed were included! That’s what I want.

I’m not totally sure why I am writing this, other than I intend to email this post to husband and sons so that they insure that my remains are nourishing something more substantial than a tomato plant. How about a redwood?

Care to join me in my forest?

by Roberta Murphy

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The Luxury of Breathing

Dust mites on mattressMy Dad Bob Michelson struggled with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder). He, more than almost anyone I know, understood the luxury of breathing.

But so do others. Especially those with allergies to dust mites.

Long ago, I was holding an open house for a lovely pool home in a gated San Marcos, CA neighborhood. Mid-afternoon, a tall German man walked in and placed a small hygrometer on the dining room table and proceeded to preview the home. Unable to restrain curiosity, I inquired about the purpose of the meter, which was measuring humidity levels.

The gentleman replied in a thick dialect that he had sold his home on the beach in Del Mar because he is allergic to dust mites, who require humidity levels above 70 percent in order to survive. He explained they absorb moisture through their exoskeletons and that is the reason these pests thrive in humid conditions. He went on to say that it is the feces from dust mites (which float around the air) that can be so toxic to those with allergies to dust mites as there is no convenient way to avoid breathing their crap.

And the lower humidity levels in San Marcos explained why this wealthy German was looking to relocate to this more arid and inland city in San Diego County.

After this encounter I immediately purchased my own hygrometer at the local Radio Shack and almost simultaneously called my parents in ever-humid Houston, Texas to share this dust mite revelation. There, humidity levels are regularly above 80 percent which just might have explained my dad’s deteriorating COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) condition.

My folks also ended up moving to San Marcos a few months later, where my father’s condition improved enough for him to live another 8-plus years. He thrived during our fire seasons, when humidity levels drop into the single digits and we ended up purchasing a $200 dehumidifier for the winter season when we occasionally receive rain and have some overcast conditions. This portable machine kept humidity levels low and additionally helped filter the air.

Earlier this week, I received a call from a dear friend who is also battling COPD and was complaining about the congestion that seemed to accompany the recent rains. I shared with her the story of our German client, the hygrometer–and the dehumidifier, which she purchased from Amazon while we were still on the phone.

Of course, mattresses, pillows and mattress pads can also hold human humidity and it is wise to have covers that repel dust mites.

For anyone who struggles with COPD or other breathing issues, I continue to champion dry air, dehumidifiers, protective coverings and the use of a hygrometer to measure indoor (and even outdoor) humidity levels.

Let those mites die of dehydration!

 

 

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Obamacare and Mortgages

Obamacare and Mortgages

Obamacare and Mortgages

by Roberta Murphy

This blog is supposed to be about luxury, but lately I’ve been wondering about other things: Like, will health insurance costs become a consideration in qualifying for a mortgage or refinance?

Currently, health care costs are not a real consideration when lenders are considering one’s ability to pay for a mortgage.

Was this another unintended consequence of Obamacare and the Affordable Healthcare Act? We have several clients whose health care costs have gone from $300-$400 per month to well over $1000–and even far more.

Health insurance costs are not a qualifying factor when qualifying a buyer for a mortgage–even when health care coverage may exceed current rent and mortgage levels. Credit card bills, however, can make or break a mortgage deal–even if payments are half or less of one’s rent or current mortgage payment.

Just a consideration, but if a mortgage or refinance is in the works this year, you might consider pulling the trigger and get a mortgage with a rate we might not see again in this lifetime.  And this might especially be true if you have experienced a sharp spike in your health insurance costs. We are advising clients to buy or refinance before mortgage companies realize that these premiums are likely to be fixed costs, just as pressing as any credit card payments.

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The Luxury of Forgiving

I’m not sure why the luxury of forgiving pulls so strongly at me this morning, but perhaps it has to do with a beautiful story shared by Gena Riede that got me thinking.

ForgivingIt’s an account of a woman distracted by three dogs who becomes confused about her place in line at a Starbucks drive-through.  She apparently cut off another woman, who proceeded to scream obscenities at her in obvious anger and frustration.  The woman with dogs backed up and let her in–and what follows is a true revelation and reminder that forgiving and empathy can make our road in life a little less bumpy for all.

Forgiving.

It’s all about letting go. The act of forgiving can be one of the most liberating things we do–and very often, the best place to start is with ourselves. Consider the magic of truly feeling these words:

I am forgiven.

By forgiving ourselves, which may the hardest thing we ever do, we are then freed to forgive others and perhaps understand our purpose in life a little better. I regret I did not spending more time with my parents while they were alive. I regret so many omissions (far more in number than my comissions) and wish there could be re-dos for so many lost opportunities.  But it feel so good to take a deep, meditative breath and say, “I am forgiven…I am.”

The forgiving of self and others allows me to see life through a clearer lens and peer more deeply and with more understanding into the pain and joys of others–and my own.  And if you read the beautiful story above, you’ll understand why I am going to look for the opportunity some day soon to pay someone’s way–or just do something that makes a difference in another’s outlook.

 

 

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The Luxury of Wine on Tap

Wine on TapHaven’t heard of wine on tap? If so, you’re not alone. The concept is still foreign to the average beverage connoisseur.

In fact, if most people were to walk into their favorite bar or restaurant and notice their wine was being served through a tube, they would do a double-take. However, an increasing number of luxury restaurants and bars across the U.S. are jumping on the trend, and for good reason: Wine on tap is eco-friendly, cost-effective, and maintains the flavor and integrity of the wine to a pitch-perfect degree.

Four Essential Elements of Serving Excellent Wine on Tap

If you’re considering this trend, keep the following elements in mind:

1. Storage Temperature

The storage temperature of your kegged wine should be about 55 degrees fahrenheit, with a minimum temperature of 40 degrees F and a maximum up 75 degrees F. Since the keg is less susceptible to variations in temperature and the high volume of the liquid can withstand temperature fluctuations, the range here is a bit larger than the range for traditionally stored wine. The same storage temperature applies for both red and white wines.

2. Serving Temperature

There’s a pretty major difference between the serving temperature of white wine on tap versus red. Reds can be served at temperatures ranging from 55 to 65 degrees fahrenheit. For wine wines, aim for a chilly 40 to 45 degrees fahrenheit.

3. Gas Type

Although you can use either nitrogen or argon for wine on tap, most people recommend nitrogen. The ideal blend is about 75% nitrogen and 25% carbon dioxide, and it also happens to be readily available. Guinness, a staple in many restaurants and bars, uses this blend too.

4. Equipment

A high-grade stainless steel dispenser (304 or better) is imperative, since a lower grade will taint the flavor of the wine. Fortunately, since stainless steel is an increasingly popular choice from fermentation to storage, finding the right dispenser for your wine on tap is easier than ever. For your tubing, consider Barriermaster Flavourlock, which prevents oxygen permeation and therefore changes in flavor.

Meg Northrup is a writer and wine connoisseur who works for Micromatic.com, a leader in the wine on tap trend

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Jumbo Loans Boosting 2013 Luxury Home Sales

Jumbo Mortgages

Luxury Home

Jumbo Loans are Back with a Bang to Fuel the Luxury Real Estate Market

by Selena Cowell
Is the luxury real estate market on the mend? Home sales and prices are gradually rising in those places where the wealthy would like to plant their mailboxes–such as Chicago’s North Shore, the San Francisco Bay area, the haute Hamptons and the Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla areas near San Diego.

According to recent reports,  national sales of properties in the  $75,000 and $1 million range are up by 38.7%  compared to a year ago. Meanwhile,  properties priced over $million are up by 25.7%, according to the National Association of Realtors. The good news is that the luxury real estate market is being driven by another resurgence–the jumbo mortgage loan.

These loans are typically over $417,000, the usual limit for qualifying by agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Jumbo mortgage loans are gradually coming back to the market after they all but disappeared in the wake of the credit crisis of 2008. Although most lenders had stopped making new jumbo loans, they’re back in the market again.

Presently, the credit markets are comparatively stable and the lenders who lend such big loans to the most efficient homebuyers now see that jumbos are one of the most profitable ways of making money with the low cost deposits. The secondary market investors are starting to regain their taste for the high-yielding loans. The jumbo mortgage loans are being offered at interest rates that are barely higher than those offered by the conventional mortgage loans.

If you’re about to take out a jumbo mortgage loan, you should first calculate ‘mortgage how much can I borrow‘ before striking the final deal. The jumbo mortgage market might fare better than the overall mortgage market throughout 2013.

If income and/or assets are no barrier, you should have no diffiulty in finding mortgage loans up to $10 million-or more.

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The Luxury of Losses

Am still digesting this–and wondering what I am missing? Dare we venture a guess?

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Another Warning Against Travel to Mexico?

Corruption in Mexico

Mexican Federal Police

by Roberta Murphy

At the risk of infuriating some and appearing xenophobic, I am warning against travel to Mexico. Chances of ending up in a Mexican jail are probably pretty remote–unless of course you happen to be in the vicinity of illegal substances.

That’s what happened to Yanira Maldonado, an Arizona mother of seven who is sitting in a Mexican jail. She had gone down to Mexico to attend a family funeral and was riding back home on a bus.

Apparently, someone was trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana across the border and packed it under one of the seats. And it just happened to be the seat Yanira Maldonado sat upon for her fateful trip home.

And in Mexico, one can be arrested and thrown in jail just for being in the proximity of drugs.

According to local reports, the family was told that they would need to pay $5000 to get Yanira, a Mormon, released from jail, whether she was innocent or not. After scraping the money together, family members were told it was too late. She now must go through the Mexican court system.

Meanwhile there are other Americans rotting in Mexican jails for being inadvertant mules and pawns for the Mexican drug cartels.  We don’t know how many Americans are imprisoned in Mexican jails because our State Department no longer reports the numbers. But in 1998, CNN reported that there were 400 U.S. citizens sitting in Mexican jails and prisons.

Until Mexico gets its corrupt criminal justice system in order and presumes innocence instead of guilt, reduces its murder rate which is 600% higher than in the United States, and its high incidence of kidnappings–perhaps we should just stay away.

Mexico is expecting 20 million tourists in 2013. I am encouraging a boycott.

 

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A Just Solution for Jodi Arias

by Roberta Murphy

Jodi Arias

Jodi Arias

Let me start of by saying I am no Jodi Arias fan and I would be happy to never hear her name again as long as I live. Or see her face.

So here’s my two cent solution for the judge in this case:

Give Jodi the “lesser” punishment. Jodi Arias should be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole (perhaps under supervision of Sheriff Arpaio) and with NO visitors for 7 years and no media contact–starting immediately. And should a reporter approach her for a story, he or she might be held in contempt of court.

To give Jodi the death penalty would only guarantee that we will be forced to look at her face and hear her name for years to come as she appeals her way through the system–at taxpayer expense.

And that is just what she wants.

 

 

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