In the privacy of your own home,

That smart TV, your connected thermostat, even your washing machine—they’re all tracking your daily habits. Why you need to know who’s watching.

Last spring, as 41,000 runners made their way through the streets of Dublin in the city’s Women’s Mini Marathon, an unassuming redheaded man by the name of Candid Wueest stood on the sidelines with a scanner. He had built it in a couple of hours with $75 worth of parts, and he was using it to surreptitiously pick up data from activity trackers worn on the runners’ wrists. During the race, Wueest managed to collect personal info from 563 racers, including their names, addresses, and passwords, as well as the unique IDs of the devices they were carrying.

Fortunately, Wueest is not a data criminal. He’s one of the good guys—a security researcher at Symantec, the company behind Norton antivirus software. His experiment was done to expose some of the risks associated with the growing constellation of “smart” devices known collectively as the Internet of Things.

Many of those devices are versions of familiar, even friendly, consumer products: thermostats, refrigerators, light switches, televisions, and door locks. But the new versions connect to the Internet and can be controlled through an app on a phone, tablet, or computer. The smart devices communicate with each other, too, and they offer an appealing level of convenience. Your car can tell your home’s thermostat to turn on the air conditioning as you’re driving home. Your security camera can record a video clip if the smoke alarm goes off. And you can use your activity tracker to control lights in your house.

But that convenience comes with a trade-off: The devices can also send a steady flood of personal data to corporate servers, where it’s saved and shared, and can be used in ways you can’t control. Websites and smartphone apps have been following our activities for a long time, tracking where we go; what we read, watch, and buy; what we write in our e-mails; and who we follow on Facebook and Twitter. But now connected devices gather data from some of the most private spaces of our lives—the bedside table, the kitchen counter, the baby’s nursery.

Without proper safeguards, all of the data that different devices and sites have collected about you can be combined, then exploited by marketers or stolen by hackers. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who released a report on automotive privacy this winter, says the Internet of Things deserves more scrutiny. (Connected cars can share a large amount of personal data.) “Whether it is our cars, our thermostats or our household appliances, if these personal devices are connected to the Internet, they are a potential privacy threat,” he says. “Consumers’ most sensitive information is collected and turned into dossiers that are pure gold in the hands of marketers and pitchmen. We need strong, legally enforceable rules … to ensure personal information is protected.”


Women Challenging Rules, Changing History

Afghan women at a public library before the Taliban seized power. [c. 1950s]

5 Things You Must Know About Sunscreen

In a perfect world, sun protection would be easy. Sunscreen would glide smoothly onto your skin, imperceptibly and safely providing all of the coverage you need until you wash it off. The reality, as we all know, is far different: Sunscreen often drips into eyes, feels greasy, irritates skin, and stains clothing. Worse, as our tests this year and in the past have shown, sunscreens don’t always shield your skin as well as their labels claim. People like to think they can trust particular brands or ingredients, but that’s not always the case.

We measured SPF (sun protection factor) in 34 sunscreens by applying different products to panelists’ backs and having them soak in a large tub of water for the amount of time the sunscreens were claimed to be water-resistant (either 40 or 80 minutes). When the panelists got out of the water, we exposed their sunscreen-coated skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. The result: Almost a third of the products tested fell short of the SPF claim on their labels. We also found reasons to be concerned about claims of broad-spectrum protection and of “natural” sunscreens.

But not all of the news is bad. This year, we found nonstinky products that also do a great job of protecting your skin, many of them at affordable prices. So when you’re struggling to choose from a huge selection (more than 1,000 lotions, sprays, foams, and gels are on the market), look for our recommended products and keep these five facts in mind:


Just People – Really, Really Fallible, But Still People!

Hilarious voicemail on YouTube … Back in 2008, this guy was leaving a voicemail for his boss when he witnessed a minor traffic accident …… hey, we are all fallible, enjoy lightly everybody!

Paying Off Your Mortgage?

Written by Benny L. Kass


Our condominium unit is now worth approximately $350,000, and we owe only $25,000 on our mortgage. We are from the old school, and want to own this property free and clear. We have the money, and are considering paying off the loan. Is this a good idea, and if so, how do we go about making sure that it is done correctly?


The old school is a reference to our parents (or grandparents) who lived through the recession in the 1930s. Because the stock market crashed, and lots of people were unemployed, those who owned their home free and clear of any debt at least had a roof over their head and did not have to sleep in the streets or under the bridges.

There are many people today with this same mind-set, and while I personally disagree with this concept, I certainly respect and understand their views.

Let me play devil’s advocate. You have $325,000 in dead equity. This is the difference between what your property is worth and what you currently owe.

Appreciation is not dependent on whether you have a mortgage or on how much you owe on your home. The house will increase (or decrease) in value regardless of whether you have a mortgage. Thus, in my opinion, the money you have in your property — which we call “equity” –is just sitting there; it is “dead equity”.

You now want to take $25,000 out of your savings and pay off the loan. Why? You are getting some small tax benefit from the interest deductions despite the fact that currently you are not getting a decent rate of return on your investments. Other than the satisfaction of owning your house free and clear, I do not see any benefits by paying off that mortgage.

In fact, I would recommend that you consider refinancing. Interest rates today are comfortably low, with the national average for a fixed 30 year loan hovering around 4 percent. You could, for example borrow $100,000, pay off your outstanding debt, and after paying closing and settlement costs walk away — tax free — with approximately $73,000. The monthly mortgage payment on this loan (at 4 percent for thirty years ) is 477.42 — which I suspect is probably close to what you are currently paying. And because this is a new mortgage, your interest deductions would be larger.

Many readers will challenge me. They will point out that it makes no sense to pay 4 percent on a mortgage and today only be able to get less than one percent interest by putting the refinanced money in a savings account.

I do not disagree with this. But over the years, I have had too many clients from the old school who are “house rich and cash poor”. They own their house free and clear but do not have sufficient money to pay the increasing real estate taxes or the insurance premiums. I firmly believe that everyone should have money in the bank — even if it does not pay a lot of interest — for that rainy day.

If you still want to pay off your mortgage, here’s what you should do:

First, make absolutely sure there is no prepayment penalty attached to your loan. Because your loan is so low — and you have had the mortgage for a number of years — I doubt that there is such a penalty, but you have to confirm this. When you first obtained that loan, you signed two important documents: a promissory note and the Deed of Trust (also known as a mortgage). The terms and conditions of your loan — including any prepayment penalty — will be spelled out in those documents. Read them carefully. If you have trouble understanding the legal language, discuss the situation with your lender or your lawyer.

You should send a formal written request to your lender asking for a payoff statement, and advise the lender of the exact date that you expect to send in your payment. The lender will advise you of the outstanding balance, and will also provide you with the “per diem” interest.

Mortgage interest is calculated in arrears. So when you make your February payment, for example, that will pay the principal and interest that accrued during the month of January. For most loans — other than currently loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration — you can pay off your loan at any time. Example: Assuming you made the February payment, the payoff statement will indicate the principal balance as of January 31, and it will also tell you what the daily interest will be. Since you plan to pay it off on February 23, multiply the per diem interest by 23, and add this amount to the outstanding balance. (NOTE: effective January 21, 2015, the FHA will end the practice of requiring payment to the end of the month; in my example,instead of paying only 23 additional days, you would have to pay the full 28 extra days — or 29 if a leap year.)

Keep in mind, however, that interest will continue to accrue to the time the lender actually receives your check. So I would add 10 additional days of interest, just to be on the safe side. All legitimate mortgage lenders will refund any excess payments to you.

What about any escrows that your lender is holding to pay real estate taxes and insurance? The payoff statement should advise you of the amount being held in escrow. Some lenders will deduct this amount from the outstanding balance; other lenders will send you a separate check for this amount after you make your final payment.

And don’t forget to advise both your real estate tax office and your insurance company that you will now be responsible for these payments. I recently represented a lawyer who paid off his loan, but forgot to advise the taxing authority. It was only when he learned that his house was about to go to tax sale that he was able to resolve the situation. And equally important, if you are making automatic mortgage payments, please remember to tell the bank to stop.

When you first got your loan, the Deed of Trust was recorded among the land records in the jurisdiction where your property is located. Now that you have paid off the loan, you want to make sure that it will be released from land records. Some jurisdictions require that a Certificate of Satisfaction be recorded, while others use a Deed of Trust Release.

Your lender will either arrange to record the release or will send it to you for recording. Either way, you want absolute confirmation that the release has been accomplished. This means that you want proof of recording, which you can get from your local recorder of deeds.

Finally, your lender should return the original Promissory Note, marked “paid and cancelled”. The note is known in law as a “bearer instrument”. This means that anyone who has that document could claim that you still owe the money. While this is not a major problem, since you will have proof that you paid off the note, why ask for trouble? Make sure that the lender returns the note to you.

courtesy of: