February 14, 2016

Roads resembling moonscape? Here are some tips to avoid potholes

PotholeOur cars are taking a beating as this winter’s freeze-thaw cycle is leading to deep potholes on virtually all of Nebraska’s roads.

A spokeswoman for the state’s largest auto insurer says smacking a pothole just right may do a lot more than rattle your teeth, it can translate to an expensive repair bill.

Ann Avery, at State Farm in Lincoln, offers a few tips for avoiding the bumps in the road.

“Try to take roads you know well because your familiarity may help you avoid the potholes and see them coming,” Avery says. “When driving at night, travel on well-lit roads, if you have the option, as it helps you see the surface so you’ll be able to see the pothole before you get to it.”

It’s also an advantage to slow down and give yourself a chance to spot the pothole and avoid it before you’re in it.

“If you’re approaching a pothole and you can’t avoid it safely, do your braking before impact. There’s likely to be less damage when the tire is rolling rather than skidding over the hole,” Avery says. “If you do hit a pothole, take a good look at your tires and your wheels. If they have any damage, if the car is handling differently, if it’s ‘pulling’ one way or another, it might be time to get your car checked by a professional.”

A close encounter with a road crater can lead to wrecked tires, dented wheels and suspension trouble.

“If you do have damage from a pothole, that can cost anywhere from $300 to $700 on average,” she says.

Potholes can be a bigger hazard for motorcyclists. She recommends riders try to go around the chuckholes and to do so safely, you must be able to spot them from a distance. Slow down before reaching the obstacle and make sure you have enough room before changing direction.


Like watching the weather? Learn to be an official spotter

TornadoIf you’re fascinated by watching storms roll in, it may be time to take your interest to the next level. Dozens of severe weather “spotter” training courses will be held in Nebraska over the next several weeks.

Kelsey Angle, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service, says the courses are free and open to all Nebraskans.

Angle says, “Anybody that has an interest in the weather and an interest in reporting information to the National Weather Service is encouraged to attend a spotter training course.”

The instructors are all meteorologists at the weather service and registration is not required ahead of time in most locations.

“The courses last generally about 90 minutes,” Angle says. “With that, we will cover what to report, when to report, how to report, how to identify the characteristics of thunderstorms and what a good report is.”

While the National Weather Service has trained thousands of Nebraskans as spotters over the years, he says you can never really have “enough.”

“That is true,” Angle says. “It’s always good, the more eyes and ears that you have on approaching severe weather is always good and quality reports certainly do help in the warning process.”

The classes start later this month and run through mid-April. For a full list of all the upcoming spotter courses, click here.


Omaha girl is state finalist in “Doodle 4 Google” contest

Artwork by Abby Gilreath of Omaha

Artwork by Abby Gilreath of Omaha

A sixth-grader from Omaha is this year’s Nebraska finalist in the annual Google Doodle contest, where students create art using the six letters in the name of the search engine.

Abby Gilreath attends Russell Middle School. Google spokesman Patrick Lenihan says this is the 8th year for the competition.

“Every year it just gets better,” Lenihan says. “We get more and more submissions, we get more fascinating doodles from students all over the country. It’s a great opportunity for people to express themselves and a great opportunity for them to potentially get some money for a college scholarship.”

Out of more than 100,000 submissions, there are 53 state-level winners in five age categories and Google users are now voting online for their favorites.

“Every state winner gets a tablet PC and a sweatshirt, which is nice,” Lenihan says, “and we’re also giving in-kind donations to schools based on their doodles. In a lot of cases, we’re giving donations of art supplies or sports supplies, book donations for their libraries, every school gets a little something.”

The theme for this year’s contest is “What makes me…me.” The Nebraska girl’s doodle features things she loves, including: a baseball glove, a bicycle, ballet shoes and a paintbrush.

The national winner will get a $30,000 college scholarship and his or her school will receive a $50,000 Google for Education grant toward the establishment and improvement of a computer lab or technology program. That winner will also win a trip to California.

“They’ll work with the Google Doodle team here at Google in Mountain View to put their doodle up for the day on the Google homepage,” he says, “which is pretty cool.”

That doodle will have instant global fame. Google says the service is used for more 40-thousand searches per second, or around three-and-a-half billion searches per day.

Voting is open through February 22nd. The winner will be announced March 21st. To vote, just go to Google and type in “Doodle 4 Google”. To vote for Abby’s art, click HERE.



Checking work email while on vacation? You’re not really on vacation.

ComputerA technology expert recommends Nebraskans take some time away from electronic devices to make life a little easier.

Rey Junco uses technology every day for research but he decided about five years ago he needed to set it aside to refresh himself.

“Every year, twice a year, I take a break from all technology,” Junco says. “Some of my colleagues call it a tech sabbatical, but I like to think of it as a vacation from technology because it has that same kind of peaceful vibe as a typical vacation does.”

He admits it was tough to stay away from some technology.

“There was a pull while I was on vacation to actually go into my email and process emails, because then I wouldn’t to deal with so many when I came back,” Junco explains. “So this year, I decided not to do that and to delete all the emails that I received while I was gone.”

Junco set up an automatic reply email to let people know if they needed to reach him, they would need to resend their email when he returned. He says it was tough at first, but he got used to it and found he could really enjoy his vacation.

“If you are taking a vacation and you’re still on email, you are really not taking a vacation,” Junco say, “you are thinking about work, you are thinking about these things that are pulling at your subconscious this whole time. It’s not a good way to relax.”

Your boss might want to stay in touch with you and send you email while you are on vacation. Junco has this message for those managers:

“If you’re a boss and you have that expectation, then you are a boss who doesn’t really care about your employee’s well-being,” Junco says. “You also don’t really care about your employee’s productivity.”

He says a lot of bosses have the mistaken view that productivity comes only from producing.

Putting down the technology is a natural and important thing. “You need a break to refresh, you need a break to reboot. It’s why we sleep,” according to Junco. “You need to take a break from the mental, you need to take a break from the physical. There’s all this research to show that if you take a break you are going to be a lot more productive.”

Junco says he could understand how it could have been frustrating for some to not be able to immediately reach him during his breaks from technology, but he says he got a lot of people who understood his need to take a break.


Could you use another $2,300 in your tax refund check? Read on…

IRS LogoThe Internal Revenue Service is appealing to Nebraska taxpayers to sign up for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Ken Corbin, who directs the program for the IRS, says if you made money working in 2015, you may be eligible for the credit.

“Any person who has earned income from employment — whether you’re running a business, farming or self-employed — could potentially qualify for EITC,” Corbin says.

In Nebraska last year, he says 130,000 families got more than $310-million in Earned Income Tax Credit dollars. Each family averaged around $2,300.

Corbin says there are still one in five people who may be eligible, who don’t know about the credit, or who don’t file for it.

“Meaning that more than one-million of the taxpayers are not putting EITC dollars to work for them,” Corbin says. “Anyone with earnings of $54,000 dollars or less should see if they qualify at IRS.gov, search word: EITC.”

You may’ve checked in the past and found you weren’t eligible for the credit. Corbin says you should check again, especially if you’ve had some major changes in your life.

“Marital status changes, they might have children, employment changes, changes in their income,” Corbin says.

He says you should check each tax year to see if changes might make you eligible. Corbin says you can still file and claim the EITC tax credit even if you are not required to file a tax return.