Advice for the New Year

"Make Yourself an Author," an item in your list of "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009," particularly hit home for me.

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"Make Yourself an Author," an item in your list of "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009," particularly hit home for me. Last year, at the urging of a friend, I penned a mystery novel about the greed and corruption surrounding a high school basketball prodigy. Much of the material came from my wintertime hobby of officiating high school basketball during the past 16 years. I did not want to wait several years to hire a book agent and try to break into a traditional publishing company. Instead, as you suggest, I self-published the book with a print-on-demand company that made my book available on It was an eye-opening experience for me, awakening some creativity, fun, research, and, yes, frustrations. As an unintended consequence, I have discovered (through Internet discussion groups) hundreds of self-published authors and their books, and I am reading more than ever. Of course, I heed your suggestion, and I'm writing my second novel in 2009.

Yale R. Jaffe, Darien, IL

"Get Paid for Good Health" mentions a cash incentive that is offered for health assessments. I was offered such an opportunity at my company and sought out information on how the data that was compiled would be used. I was unsatisfied with my findings, which seemed to indicate that any data provided could be shared with my health insurance provider. In an era where healthcare can be challenging to obtain when pre-existing conditions come into play, does it really make sense for people to voluntarily provide their unskilled assessment of their own health and physical conditions? At the risk of sounding overly cynical, I believe that these health assessments are opportunities for healthcare providers to compile extra data on patients that could later be used to deny them coverage. I encourage your magazine to investigate these incentive programs more and allow healthcare plan participants to make well-informed decisions.

Todd R. Master, Washington, DC

I wanted to thank U . S . News for "Ride Your Bike to Work." I've been a bike commuter in the D.C. metro area for over 12 years now, and this is the first mainstream media coverage I've seen that accurately (and positively) describes the benefits of biking to work. Biking to work is a simple and fun way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. As the article points out, you don't have to bike the whole distance—buses are now equipped with bike racks, and folding bikes are allowed on commuter trains and Metro [the subway] here in the D.C. area at all times. Yes, biking to work takes a bit more planning than hopping in your car. But those of us who have been doing it for years can attest that bike commuting is safe and will benefit your health in more ways than you can ever imagine.

Andrea Richardson, Washington, DC

Your article suggested "Switch to a Push Mower" because, according to the EPA, "a single gas mower creates as much hourly pollution as 11 cars." Now, I don't know about you, but it takes me about two hours to cut my grass with my riding mower, and it uses about half the 2-gallon tank to do it. That means I am using roughly a half gallon of gas per hour. By no stretch of my imagination can I equate the pollution my measly half gallon throws into the atmosphere with that generated by those 11 cars, even if they do have catalytic converters (which don't do anything about CO2, by the way)!

Susan Clifford, Easton, M D

As a philosophy professor, I am embarrassed to see an officer of my professional organization advertising philosophy as teaching skills that are "wonderfully transferable" to a range of careers without giving any hard evidence for his claim ["Brush Up Your Socrates"]. Must professional philosophers hawk their product like used-car salesmen nowadays. Whatever happened to studying philosophy for its own sake rather than as a smart career move?

Felicia Nimue Ackerman, Professor of Philosophy, Brown University, Providence, RI

I disagree with the suggestion to "Swap Paper for Screens." Computers and the Internet are valuable tools, yet tangible printed material has benefits as to both cognitive aspects and practical ones. Although energy might be spent in transport of paper, once in hand it requires no energy to use. Paper goods are far easier to recycle than the detritus of our electrical age, which include plastics and a variety of heavy metals.

William Tracy, Moon Township, P A

Of all the "50 Ways to Improve Your Life," I found the revelation that there actually is a Cork Quality Council that oversees wine bottle corks as the most insightful ["Unscrew That Riesling"]. Next time I break open a bottle of rotgut with a cork in it, I'll rest easy knowing that, according to the Cork Quality Council, "the rate of cork taint is likely below 1 percent." That's the kind of information that really makes my day.

Gary H. Boyd, Scottsdale, A Z

Surely sometime in the next few years, you can include in your "50 Ways to Improve Your Life" at least one item pertaining to the Judeo-Christian way of life that has endured for as long as man has inhabited the Earth. Christianity has done much for the world, particularly in America. Think of all the colleges and universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations that were begun and nurtured by individuals who believed in God and his righteousness. A way of life that is so valuable should not be ignored by individuals giving advice.

Con Marshall, Chadron, NE

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