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Sunday, September 30, 2012

INFOGRAPHIC: THE SOCIAL MEDIA MONSTER AND HOW IT INTERRUPTS YOUR PRODUCTIVITY AT WORK


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An informative infographic on how the social media is distracting your work…

The social media monster is alive
By Amee Kent,
Red e App, 12 September 2012.

We teamed with Brian Wallace and Nowsourcing to develop an infographic that details the influence of interruptions on our productivity. Is it possible to be too connected in this digital age? Research data indicates, yes. We recognize its a personal choice in determining your level of manageable noise. A millennial most likely sleeps with their mobile phone, as do I.

Check out the data and let us know how often you unplug, if at all.

Social Media Monster [Infographic]Courtesy of Red e App


[Source: Red e App.]


10 ACCOUNTING TRICKS THE 1% USE TO DODGE THE TAXMAN


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This is how the 1% – that tiny minority of wealthy earners aka the filthy super-rich – keep their cash…

10 Accounting Tricks the 1% Use to Dodge the Taxman
By
Accounting Degree Review, 29 September 2012.

It’s not a good time to be rich. Currently, the world of finance is going through more scandals than British comedian Jimmy Carr has one-liners (but more on him later). And everywhere you look, there’s illegal shifting, trading and sharing of information between the wealthy.

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But what about the legal and quasi-legal tricks used by the rich to hang onto their money? It’s a sad fact that most of the methods used by the top 1% to evade the taxman are, if not moral, at least allowed within the letter of the law. Hold onto your purse strings as we list the 10 dirtiest accounting tricks the rich use to keep their cash.

10. Tax Havens

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Hanging onto money using the world’s many tax havens has a long and dishonourable history, with areas like the Channel Islands’ freedom from taxes dating back as far as the Norman conquests. This trick is based on the fairly simple idea that if taxes are high in one location, you can gain an advantage by registering your location as being somewhere else instead.

It’s been a significant asset to corporations, but a number of celebrities have also taken advantage of global travel and relocation to avoid paying income tax. U2, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones are just a few of the names that have dodged the taxman by spending time abroad. It isn’t even a big disadvantage; in practice, residents can usually return to their country at a later date, or on visits.

Tax evasion through offshore havens occurs on a huge scale. A recent study by the Tax Justice Network found that approximately $21 trillion is currently being hidden in offshore tax havens. One of the most prolific offenders is the Cayman Islands, which is home to more than 85,000 companies - making it one of the few territories with more registered organizations than people.

9. Shell Companies

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A shell company is a type of company that only exists on paper, allowing the person who uses it to funnel money through it and avoid paying taxes. Typically, this type of corporation has a legal existence but provides few or no actual products or services.

One classic way of using these companies is buying and selling through them, which means that the owner does not need to report international operations conducted through the shell company and will be able to avoid any taxes on the profits. Shell companies are also used to conduct various other pieces of shady business, including selling supermarket brand goods without impacting the value of the main brand.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently got into hot water over claims that he has been evading the government’s claims on his finance, with one of the accusations that he channelled his income into a shell company in the tax haven of Bermuda. You could say he shares his party’s belief that the government should stay out of private citizens’ affairs…

8. Equity Swaps

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An equity swap is another shady method of tax evasion. Basically, it’s an official agreement that allows two parties (say, two rich individuals or companies with in interest in reducing their taxes) to exchange the gain and loss of a set of assets without actually transferring ownership.

One of these swaps is generally pegged to a fixed rate, like LIBOR, which means that the participants can expect a fixed return, either in one payment or at several predetermined points.

This exchange of value allows the parties to avoid transaction costs and, in some cases, local taxes pegged to certain locations. This is obviously a sneaky bonus for people who want to avoid high taxes in a particular area while still getting the benefits of owning assets in another.

7. Avoiding Capital Gains Tax

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Capital gains tax automatically kicks in from the sale of certain valuable properties, such as shares, and acts as a deterrent on investors cashing them in. Obviously, though, a number of rich people are interested in avoiding this and have found legal loopholes to allow them to do so.

One cunning way of dodging capital gains tax is by borrowing from an investment bank with the shares as collateral after purchasing options, which set their price at a fixed rate.

This sneaky option allows the borrower to avoid triggering the capital gains tax that would come with actually having the money at hand, while giving them the free cash - and allowing them to repay the loan - either from the profits of using the money or by handing over the shares themselves. Talk about making your money work for you.

6. Evading the Estate Tax

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Different places may call it the death duty, the estate tax, or the inheritance tax. But whatever the name, one thing’s for sure: most countries have ways of taking a percentage of a person’s possessions and capital once they have bequeathed it after passing away. While this may arguably be considered unfair, the methods some millionaires use to dodge this tax will make your hair curl.

The main problem with estate tax is that it only focuses on the actual property and capital owned by an individual, and there are a number of exceptions to the assets that it can target. One especially effective way of dodging it is to set up a GRAT (grantor retained annuity trust - basically a trust fund), which invests the money for you: any income earned over and above the interest is completely free of income and estate taxes.

Estate tax isn’t called the last “voluntary tax” for nothing: virtually anyone with the savvy to have earned any money in the first place can set up this loophole, and it’s completely legal as well.

5. Shell Trust Funds

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This scheme, which exists in forms such as the Jersey-based K2 fund run by Peak Performance Accountants, has allowed wealthy individuals to pay as little as 1% income tax per year. Subscribers to this kind of “tax plan” pay money into a trust fund, which accepts their money as “donations.” The fund then offers its members cheap loans, which the borrowers subsequently, shall we say, “forget” to pay back. Thus, by disguising their salaries as loans, the members can write off much of their income tax.

This scheme hit the headlines in the UK recently when it was revealed that comedian Jimmy Carr and thousands of other members were using it to eliminate most of their taxes - and this was after Carr had previously appeared in a sketch lampooning Barclays for only paying 1% tax.

This little legal loophole may have technically been within the law when it was devised, but it still looks like one of the shadiest tax dodges on the market to us.

4. Incorporating

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In legal terms, there are many advantages to being a company and few to being an earner in the top tax bracket. As a result, a large number of celebrities have incorporated themselves in order to avoid various forms of tax. For example, by channelling your wages into a nominal “corporation” you are able to pay yourself a small, interest-free wage, claim expenses, and reduce income tax.

Others have devised even more cunning loopholes: take, for example, Mitt Romney’s recent manoeuvre of claiming the management fee of his corporation as a capital gain rather than income, which reduced his actual rate of tax rather sharply.

3. Payments in Kind

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Payments-in-kind was a former tax loophole that has, fortunately, been rendered obsolete by tighter regulation. Previously, it was possible for executives to receive their payments “in kind” - so rather than receiving a regular wage, they would instead be paid in valuable, tradable commodities, such as gold, silk, or other consumer goods and benefits.

These could then either be sold or “traded on” for additional commodities, which could be used by the executive. Effectively, it reintroduced a mutated form of the old barter system as a tax loophole.

One more modern example is payment-in-kind securities, which give companies the option of paying investors in additional securities rather than cash.

Despite its advantages, the system had an obvious flaw in that being paid with a truckload of gold bars every month would overload even the most powerful executive’s car. There’s a reason we started using money in the first place, after all.

2. Life-Insurance Borrowing

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This is an especially clever use of borrowing against an asset - in this case, the asset being a life insurance policy. The way this loophole works is this:

An individual takes out a policy with a large cash dividend - for example, one million dollars. This gives the individual involved a lot of leverage when it comes to borrowing, since most banks will lend up to 90% of the surrender value of the policy. And because this sum isn’t income, it isn’t eligible for income tax or capital gains tax.

This has major advantages over actually earning the money, since earning $1 million would undoubtedly result in taxes of nearly 50%. If you want to be an instant millionaire (or just add to your considerable fortune), this may be the right kind of tax evasion scheme for you.

1. Real Estate Borrowing

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Another sneaky way to use assets to make tax-free income is to put mortgages on your current properties until the rental income equals your expenses. This has the advantage of allowing you to borrow money against the value of those properties free of tax: for example, if the property was valued at $2 million and you can borrow 75% of the equity, this would give you $1.5 million of tax-free borrowing.

The money cannot be taxed because, technically, it isn’t income: as with the previous loophole, it’s officially classed as a loan. Unfortunately for the little people, this just proves the truisms of the world of finance: the more money you have, the easier it is to get more.

[Source: Accounting Degree Review. Edited. Top image added.]


SPECTACULAR TOWERING ROCKS OF CHAD'S ENNEDI DESERT


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Towering Rocks of Ennedi Desert in Chad, Africa
By Kaushik,
Amusing Planet, 29 September 2012.

The Ennedi plateau or the Ennedi desert as it is sometimes called is located in the north-eastern area of Chad in one of the most inaccessible region in the middle of the Sahara. Travel to this area is difficult and dangerous due to the country's poverty, lack of tourist facilities, political unrest, and highway banditry. At one time only the nomadic caravans could manage to cross it but now it is accessible by 4x4 vehicles though there are no regular roads in the area.

The region is full of interesting sandstone formations - graceful fingers of rock and many hundreds of natural arches, including the great Aloba arch, which has a height of nearly 120 meters and is one of the most spectacular arches in the world. Apart from the geological attractions, examples of petroglyphs or rock paintings are abundant in the area. Many of the rock art represent all kinds of animals that the first inhabitants of the desert had.

In the southern area of the Ennedi are present some gueltas (desert ponds) of which the Guelta d’Archei, near the town of Fada, is a popular one. The lake is a major source of water in the desert often visited by many people and endless camel trails. The lake also has the endemic Sahara desert crocodiles that feed on fish and poo left by the visiting camels!

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In 2010, a team of climbers lead by veteran Mark Synnott and young climbing stars Alex Honnold Briton James Pearson, Tim Kepler, and Renan Ozturk, became the first mountaineers to scale Ennedi’s biggest arches.

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Sources:
1. Ennedi


[Source: Amusing Planet. Edited. Top image added.]


THE BRILLIANCE OF PASSIVE SOLAR HOMES


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The Brilliance of Passive Solar Homes
By Ruth Malik,
Environmental Graffiti, 29 September 2012.

Solar Umbrella
Photo/more info: CalderOliver

Homes designed using the principles of passive solar design can be found everywhere; from architectural masterpieces in grand and isolated locations, to brilliantly quirky designs in typical suburbs. But how do you go about living in one? In fact, what is it that makes a passive solar home what it is?

Although the engineering behind it is quite complex, building a passive solar house can be surprisingly simple and practical. What's more, living in a well-designed solar house can be super-comfortable, and it's a lot more economical than a regular house as consumption of electricity is greatly reduced. And of course this makes it environmentally sustainable as well.

Front Deck

There are various levels of passive solar energy use for homes. Here are the different measures you can take:

Step One: The essential element. Buy, build or rent a house or apartment with the orientation or window mass on the south side in the northern hemisphere and on the north side in the southern hemisphere. Catch the rays when you need them; it’s that simple!

Passive solar design has been utilized for centuries out of practical necessity, since long before the invention of machines to heat and cool a space. Solar house design originated through common sense when people were more tuned in with their environments. The ancient Greek philosopher Aeschylus wrote: “Only primitives and barbarians lack knowledge of houses turned to face the winter sun.” And who are we to argue?

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Solar houses have long been popular in China, and they were favoured by architects in certain regions of Germany following WWI. However, it is only recently that some governments have been encouraging the design with tax incentives.

Step Two: Thermal mass. Solid mass is used in the floor and walls - for example, concrete - and this mass soaks up and stores the sun’s heat. Many houses can achieve reductions in heating expense by using the sun and by adding thermal mass such as insulation to the walls, roof and floor, with occasional use of heating.

Earth House
Photo: Fred Bauder

Step Three: Ventilation by controlling airflow through the house. Hot air can be removed in the summer by opening vents or trapped inside in the winter by sealing the spaces within the house. Simples.

Passive Solar illustration

Step Four: Overhanging eaves provide the simplest form of shading in the summer, and with some calculations as to latitude and altitude, the angle and width of eaves can block the summer sun. A relatively eaves-y one!

The best of passive solar engineering uses no outside power source, relying solely on solar and perhaps other renewable energy sources.

An active solar house goes a step further, incorporating pumps or fans and using motorized timers and sensors to raise or lower vents and window shades. But even if you simply go with a passive solar design, it's still a smooth move in the right direction!


[Source: Environmental Graffiti. Edited. Top image added.]


7 INNOVATIVE BUILDINGS DESIGNED TO FIT TIGHT URBAN SPACES


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7 Innovative Buildings Designed to Fit Tight Urban Spaces
By Matthew Bower,
Flavor Wire, 27 September 2012.

Cramped, labyrinthine city space can be as alluring as it is claustrophobic. While some people yearn for vast uninterrupted landscapes and stretching horizons, others are drawn to squeeze themselves into an efficiency apartment that’s smaller than the average half-bathroom. With skyrocketing real estate prices and little room left to build in cities like New York or Tokyo, architects have begun to rethink the use of modern urban space.

As most architects, designers, and artists know, limitations can sometimes be much more creatively fruitful than facing endless possibilities. Rather than resort to rebuilding city space, the following seven examples of confined architecture take head on the challenge of limitation. Each of these designs is inspired by efficiency, envisioning novel ways of building around the issue of congestion.

1. 23 East 22nd Street - New York, USA

Photo credit/more info: Smithsonian

Described as a “luxury residential tower in a culture of congestion,” Rem Koolhaas’s unbuilt design for 23 East 22nd Street in New York is a playful take on the traditional high rise. Koolhaas’ well known treatise Delirious New York helped to establish him as an architectural gadfly of overcrowded spaces. The building design uses cantilevers, which allow it to rise up from the confined city block and contort to one side like a passenger on a crowded commuter train.

2. Parasite Office - Moscow, Russia

Photo credits/more info: Architonic

Rather than compete for space, the Parasite Office is designed to leach off of existing alleys and gaps between buildings. Russian practice Za Bor Architects [Parasite Office page] conceived of the idea of a hanging, multifunctional, and organic-looking structure that makes use of Moscow’s tight spaces without interrupting the flow of street movement.

3. Lucky Drops - Tokyo, Japan

Photo credits/more info: Architizer

Japan is known for its jam-packed subway cars, its tight living spaces, and its dense architecture. Tokyo-based Yasuhiro Yamashita is the master architect of ultra-tiny living. However, his famous Lucky Drops demonstrates that even at just ten feet wide, a home can convey an expansive feel, using very thin, translucent walls to evoke the airy quality of a traditional Japanese lantern.

4. Keret House - Warsaw, Poland

Photo credits/more info: Inhabitat

If you’re not feeling claustrophobic enough yet, take a look at Centrala’s super-slender masterpiece, the Keret House. This excruciatingly minimalist design looks to sandwich a narrowly habitable space between two existing buildings in Warsaw. Just don’t expect to host too many dinner parties.

5. Open Architecture - Osaka, Japan

Photo credits/more info: Designboom

In the midst of Japan’s famously hyper-congested urban centres, Yoshiaki Oyabu shows that what would otherwise be neglected space can be repurposed in novel ways. Open Architecture uses very basic design to create a multi-purpose, vertical public space in a narrow alleyway amid Osaka’s dense residential sprawl, serving as a playground, a venue, and a place to nurture community interaction.

6. “The Futuristic Urbanism Modular Living” - Bangkok, Thailand

Photo credits/more info: eVolo

This “green innovative house” puts a futuristic spin on space-saving modular housing in the density of urban Bangkok. Achawin Laohavichairat, Montakan Manosong, and Peerapon Karunwiwat designed this very alien-looking concept eco-house to attach to existing structures without sacrificing liveability, infrastructure, or green space.

7. The Citadel - Naaldwijk, Netherlands

Photo credits: Archdaily

The Dutch architecture and urban planning firm Waterstudio [The Citadel page] makes use of Low Country resourcefulness as a response to the threats of overpopulation and rising ocean levels driven by global climate change. The Citadel is a floating apartment complex that embraces water rather than struggles against it, using efficient water cooling design to reduce energy consumption up to 25% and extending urban space to waterways and coastline. [More information]

Top image: Parasite Office (left) and Keret House (right)

[Source: Flavor Wire. Edited. Top image and some links added.]