Thursday, May 10

Sorting Through Healthcare Options For the Elderly

Senior Americans are vulnerable, but they also have rights. And getting educated about these rights can protect them from being pawns in a health care system that can be ill informed, expensive, and at its worst flagrantly unethical.

The elderly, as a group big healthcare consumers, are running scared and looking to their lawyers to protect them. After two years as a tax attorney in a large Philadelphia firm, Cynthia Sharp wanted a more satisfying legal career, and founded her own firm (www.sharpbratton.com). Initially she specialized in estate planning — writing wills and setting up trusts — but she found that when she was done, she got the same query over and over: Will that protect me from the high cost of medical care? “I heard the question so much that I decided I had to learn about it,” she says.

That led Sharp into elder law and asset protection, which today constitutes one part of a practice that also includes estate planning and special needs law. She had a sister who was profoundly retarded and sees it as her mission “to help families protect assets and legal rights and formulate correct plans for people who are disabled.” She also serves the families of many Alzheimer’s patients and got involved in the Alzheimer’s Association because her grandmother suffered from the disease.

Sharp presents an overview of Medicare at a free public conference, “Strategies for Protecting Older Citizens,” on Thursday, May 10, at 9:30 a.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. The event is sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation in conjunction with the Elder and Disabilities Law Section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The other speakers include Robert Brogan, a Point Pleasant attorney who will explore ways to protect identity and finances against theft and exploitation, and Lawrence Friedman, a Bridgewater attorney whose presentation is titled “Getting Your Affairs in Order: Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Advance Health Care Directives and Long-Term Planning to Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Your Finances.” Question-and-answer periods will follow the presentations. To register, visit the Foundation online at www.njsbf.org or call 1-800-FREE LAW.

The world of Medicare is frought with misconceptions that can severely affect the finances of patients and their families. Sharp distinguishes between these misconceptions and the actual rights of ailing elders in several areas:

Longterm care facilities. “We are really one of the first generations to face this in a big way,” says Sharp. “People are living longer, better, and to an end time that requires more medical costs.”

Medicare only pays for about two percent of the long-term care. It is Medicaid that foots the bill for custodial care that helps with the activities of daily living. If patients do, however, have medical conditions that fulfill the Medicare criteria for a skilled nursing facility, they are entitled to 100 percent coverage for the first 20 days, but for days 21 to 100, a co-pay of $124 a day is required. If the patient has a Medigap policy, Medicare will pay for the copay.

But sometimes these skilled nursing facilities will incorrectly stop coverage too early. Sharp says that the facilities regularly make two incorrect assumptions that can result in a premature denial of benefits.

If a patient has stopped making progress toward recovery, they assume in error that the Medicare coverage should end. “What the standard really is,” says Sharp, “is that if a patient needs continued skilled care to maintain status or slow deterioration, then Medicare should cover the stay for 100 days.”

Many facilities believe wrongly that care requiring only supervision by a skilled nurse, rather than direct administration of care by a skilled nurse, is excluded from Medicare’s skilled nursing facility benefit. “Under Medicare rules,” explains Sharp, “treatments don’t have to be carried out by a skilled nurse. The fact that skilled supervision is necessary meets the test.”

As a result of these misconceptions, it is common for a patient to be terminated wrongfully at the end of day 20, and many more people get cut off before the 100th day.

Hospice benefits. “One of my pet projects is to educate the world about hospice care,” says Sharp, explaining that most people enter hospice only when they are very close to death, thereby forfeiting much of the benefit hospice can have for both patient and family. The average hospice stay, she says, is 16 days.

Sharp cites two reasons that people don’t take advantage of hospice care sooner. The first is a lack of education and the second is reluctance to admit that the end of life is near. “That’s the big issue — admitting it,” she says. “Until you admit it, you can’t get on with the process of dying.”

But two years ago when her mother had terminal liver cancer, they decided two-and-a-half months before she died to stop chemotherapy and do hospice at home. “She was still going out to lunch and still active,” Sharp says, and a nurse stopped by to check her vital signs twice a week.

Because Sharp had attended a seminar on hospice care, she knew it was better to bring in hospice sooner rather than later. “It really helped all of us through the whole process,” she says, and because she was far away from her mother, it eased her worry.

Hospice is not necessarily an immediate death sentence, and it is not a jail. Initially dying people get two 90-day certificate periods, but after that comes an unlimited number of 60-day periods. Six months is just a prediction — look at Art Buchwald who rejected dialysis and lived another year. In addition, since hospice won’t pay for treatment to cure a terminal illness, you can go off the hospice benefit to be treated and then come back on.

To be eligible for Medicare hospice coverage, there are two requirements. The first is that people must be eligible for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital care — basically that just means being be age 65 or over. Second, people must have certification from either a physician or a hospice medical director that they have fewer than six months to live. In addition, patients must sign a statement that they are choosing hospice care instead of treatment of a terminal illness.

Hospice care can take place either at home or in a special hospital wing. At home the patient gets some nursing attention (but not skilled nursing care for an extended period), doctor services, medical equipment and supplies, and drugs for symptom control and pain relief.

Hospice patients may use their own doctors. Another benefit of hospice, one that many people don’t use, is the bereavement program to help survivors.

When her mother died in the middle of the night, the person who had been her mother’s nurse came at 3 a.m. to pronounce her mother dead. Then she sat with Sharp for over an hour, until the funeral director came. “Because I had developed a relationship with her,” says Sharp, “we looked through picture albums together. It gave me a lot of comfort to be with someone who had seen the way my mom faced her death with courage and grace.”

Coverage for dialysis in hospice. A current controversy about Medicare is over dialysis for end-stage renal disease. Since patients have to sign a statement that they are not going to go for a cure, the question is whether dialysis is really curative.

“It’s clear if someone has cancer that you don’t continue with chemo,” says Sharp. But dialysis is murkier. The Kidney End-of-life Coalition is currently advocating for end-of-life care for kidney patients. It maintains that hospice care for end-stage renal disease is underutilized because of misconceptions and confusion regarding eligibility.

Prescription drugs. Medicare has privatized its prescription drug program, known as Medicare Part D, so the first question is: Which program should a person choose?

One issue to consider when choosing an insurer is the coverage gap, dubbed the “donut hole,” which varies. In determining which program to choose, says Sharp, people should look at monthly premiums, deductibles, the drugs covered, and whether the plan’s pharmacy network is conveniently located.

Probably the biggest problem with Medicare prescription coverage is that each insurance company can change formularies (lists of prescriptions approved for coverage by the plan) at any time. So if you choose a company based on its coverage of a particular drug, you will be in trouble if the company drops the coverage. Even if the drug is dropped, however, a participant currently taking a drug must be covered until the end of the year, with two exceptions: if the drug was proven unsafe or if a lower-cost generic has come on the market.

Appeal is also a possibility. “You have a right to request coverage,” says Sharp, “if a medically necessary drug is not on the formulary and the doctor prescribes that drug because he or she believes that the drug on the formulary won’t work for you.” Patients might be able to prove, for example, that they need a specific cholesterol drug, say Lipitor instead of Zocor.

Sharp has a special warning for retirees with coverage from a former employer. Sometimes companies will terminate other health insurance benefits if a person signs up for Medicare Part D, which provides only prescription coverage. So Sharp urges people to consult with their former employers before making changes.

“Seniors can be quite vulnerable and believe a bill of goods sold to them,” says Sharp, referring in particular to prescription coverage salespeople who might “steamroll you into enrolling.” She adds that the elderly need to be aware of scams, for example, criminals trying to sell fake Medicare prescription drug cards, and in the process asking for a Social Security number — the first step to identity theft.

Sharp went to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and received a bachelor of arts in philosophy in 1972. Then she took a full-time job with Senator Robert Dole on the Senate Finance Committee Staff. While in Washington, she decided to do a four-year evening program at the Georgetown University School of Law. She followed that up with an LL.M. in taxation from New York University.

The headquarters of Sharp’s firm is in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, outside of Cherry Hill, in an old house that she has owned for 20 years. “In the reception area people feel like they are sitting in their grandmother’s living room,” she says. For the last 12 years she has also had a branch in Lawrenceville. Sharp, her partner Chris Bratton, and her six support staff are happy with their small size and do not plan to grow.

Sharp is also the treasurer of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, New Jersey Chapter, immediate past president of the Estate and Financial Planning Council of Southern New Jersey, a past president of the Alzheimer’s Association South Jersey Chapter.

Passionate about her elder practice, Sharp observes: “It’s not a dry legal job. I can refer people to resources they would otherwise not know about and change their lives, and hopefully pass a little wisdom to them along the way.”

— Michele Alperin

Saturday, May 12

Open Public Records: Conduit to the Truth

While the federal government sometimes appears to be closely guarding all sort of information, New Jersey is letting the sun shine in. Passed in January, 2002, The New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), operates under the simple ideal that the public governs itself, and the more citizens know, the better decisions they will. Taking advantage of evolving electronic technology, OPRA expands on a series of bills that have been passed since l961. By law virtually every government document from every state agency is now open in full to every citizen with computer access.

As wonderfully democratic as this sounds, the process of making each of the millions of pieces of information available on demand has proved daunting. To explain the process and relate the law’s benefits, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists presents “The New Jersey Open Public Records Act: A User’s Manual” on Saturday, May 12, at 10 a.m. at the South Brunswick Library. Cost: $5. Visit www.njspj.org.

Speakers include Paul D’Ambrosio and James P. Roberts of the Asbury Park Press; Walt Kane of News 12 New Jersey; Geoff Mulvihill of the Associated Press, South Jersey Bureau; and Beth Mason, president, New Jersey Foundation for Open Government. The panel addresses OPRA’s effectiveness after five years and how both citizens and journalists can mine the state’s vast collection of data.

As investigations editor for the Asbury Park Press, D’Ambrosio has the job he has aimed for all his working life. A native of Philadelphia, he is the son of two government workers. After graduating from George Washington University in l981 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, D’Ambrosio headed straight for the Asbury Park Press.

“I started out with the title of reporter, but in fact I was little more than a glorified gofer,” he recalls. D’Ambrosio has since led reporting teams into everything from undercover investigations of police scams to the controversial practice of “jobs bundling” by public officials.

Billed as New Jersey’s Right to Know Act, OPRA has proved a godsend for investigating journalists like D’Ambrosio. Stories that used to take him six months, can now get out in six weeks.

“Elected officials have an enormous power to control things,” says D’Ambrosio. “They can run secret torture chambers offshore or manipulate the reading materials in our schools. But once their information is shared, it levels the playing field for the people, and they can make more robust choices.”

Employing OPRA. Copies of almost all state records are filed into the state’s database, and individuals may access any of them by filling out an online request form. Visit www.state.nj.us/opra/ to find the basic procedures and forms. The Government Records Council (www.nj.gov/grc) was established with OPRA to serve as search mentor for all kinds of questions. Its hotline, 866-850-0511, will not only guide requests, but will also handle complaints, and provide training and legal advice.

The primary aid in conducting a search is knowing what agency generated what information. OPRA is not a reference library where you can simply ask question: What town pays the most for sand? How many speeders do a particular town’s police snag? It’s not that simple.

Rather, using the OPRA website’s lists of state services or state agencies and departments, it is necessary to determine what papers you want. From there, check the Government Records Council’s advice sheet and fill out the request form. Most, though not all, agencies can take your request online. A copying fee of $.75 is charged for the first 10 pages. Bulk discounts are sometimes available. It’s a good idea to ask for help the first time you request a document. The Records Council’s hotline will walk you through the process.

Not on OPRA. Certain files are not available through OPRA. These include executive orders by the governor, rules of state agencies or federal agencies, and various personnel documents.

Information hunger. Citizen searchers have been snapping up information almost as fast as the state government can generate it. And they are manipulating it in totally novel ways. Like most states, New Jersey is meticulous about collecting lists and facts and statistics, but its agencies don’t always do much with the data until it is called for.

Now, with residents sitting at home mining governmental records, new facts are coming to light.

The Asbury Park Press has set up an easy, online state database — www.app.com/datauniverse — that uses many of the OPRA records. People can discover all sorts of things, including salaries of municipal employees, criminal records of neighbors, war casualties, and New Jersey property ownership records.

D’Ambrosio says that this site often gets 500,000 hits a night, making it one of the most popular in the state.

But what about privacy? It is one thing to know a judge’s salary. It is another to know his home address, handy for anyone who would like to talk over an unpopular ruling. It’s fine to know who heads the department of transportation, but do you need to know his Social Security number? D’Ambrosio notes that while neither financial records, addresses, nor personal data are listed, there are a host of companies selling such information on virtually everyone for $5 to $50.

OPRA discoveries. Some New Jersey municipal judges make more than the United States president. Previously buried, state records showed that some judges were holding multiple — and often redundant — state jobs, which brought their salaries to a whopping $300,000 a year. When newspapers around the state began publishing this information, Governor Jon Corzine began pushing for an anti-job-bundling bill that would allow only one public job per individual.

The Asbury Park Press investigative team also used the OPRA sources to uncover several pension abuses. “Neither of these stories could ever have been made without access to public government documents,” says D’Ambrosio.

Mortgage holders who refinanced during the recent real estate boom are finding themselves hit with enormous prepayment penalties. Such penalties, everyone thought, were illegal in New Jersey. In response, an army of homeowners are crawling through legal records and asking some tough questions of lenders. Can they justify these penalties? Were most of these wildly adjustable loans made to minorities, women, or low income groups?

Power is being put into the people’s hands to search and organize existing state data. With a little education, and not much effort at all, many people are beginning use these documents to find some solutions to their problems. The trend should seem to be in synch with the principles of democracy. After all, what is the purpose of a government if not to make life a little better for the governed?

— Bart Jackson

Monday, May 14

Gadget Guru Tells All

Do you love gadgets? Do you always have to have the latest thing? From nifty wind-up flashlights to wireless mice, home blood pressure kits, and fun new toys, Gabe Goldberg knows all the latest gizmos, inventions, and contraptions.

Goldberg, a consultant, writer, and editor based in Falls Church, Virginia, speaks at the next meeting of the PC User Groups on Monday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mercer County Library in Lawrence.

Goldberg calls himself “an evangelist” for user groups. “They can be an antidote to feeling alone with technical activities, challenges, problems, and triumphs,” he says. “The Internet is the largest virtual user group and a way of increasing personal and organizational productivity.” With a user group, he says, “you always have someone to call who can help you find an answer.”

Goldberg has edited and written for an IBM technology magazine and contributes to a variety of online and print publications. He is a co-host of the Compu-KISS website (www.compukiss.com), a site devoted to “demystifying today’s diverse technologies so that seniors can learn, enjoy, and benefit from them.”

He is also on the board of directors of the Association of PC User Groups, a worldwide organization with several hundred separate chapters and about a hundred thousand members, says Goldberg. “The groups are for anyone interested in using technology better,” he says, and consist of people at all skill levels, from novice to expert. “A user group is a great place to learn about new technology and get comfortable with it.”

Goldberg’s diverse career began with a B.S. in mathematics from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. He has worked for a “a small software company,” most recently as vice president of technology and business development. His consulting clients have included the World Bank, the University of California, and the Association for Computing Machinery. Several of his books on computers have been published by McGraw-Hill.

So what great new gadgets does Goldberg recommend?

Laptop desk. Talk about an obvious, but overlooked, gadget. This device is simply two pieces of plastic and some metal rods that elevate a laptop off, well, off the lap. The laptop stays cooler, which is healthier for the laptop, and its owner can use the laptop in a more comfortable position, which is healthier for the back. It also does away with the possibility of burned legs for anyone who likes to surf the ‘Net in shorts.

“It’s about a complicated as a brick, and costs only about $20 to $25,” says Goldberg.

Fancy mice. “It’s not your parents’ mouse anymore,” says Goldberg. The old-fashioned two-button mouse, tied to your computer with a cord is out of style. There are all sorts of new mice out there, along with “some nifty new software” to make them even more versatile. They range in price from $40 on up.

One of Goldberg’s favorites has five buttons plus a wheel and “does tricks,” such as acting as a magnifying glass.

By clicking on a section of the screen the mouse will magnify the print in that area. The size and shape of the magnified area can be changed as can the degree of magnification. “It’s great for anyone with vision problems,” he says.

Wireless mice are another favorite of Goldberg’s. No longer is the mouse tied to the computer with a cord that constantly tangles or is too short. Now it can easily be placed wherever it is most comfortable to use.

Plug-ins. A number of adaptors are now available to make the computer user’s life easier. If you have an older computer, but new peripherals such as a printer or scanner, you know that the size and shape of your plugs don’t always match. Adaptors can help you connect the old to the new. Another plug-in is the USB Data Transfer Box. This two-inch square box holds two coiled USB cables that “pull out like a tape measure” and connect the USB drive to the PC.

Split screen. Another new gadget allows computer users to connect two or more monitors together, increasing the size of the workspace and making it easier to either work with a larger format or to open several screens at once. Information can be dragged from one screen to another.

Batteries. Goldberg has good things to say about improvements in batteries, which have been the bane of computer users on the go. There are now solar-powered batteries with a long shelf life. There is the universal power supply (UPS), which will keep your computer or other electronic device from crashing in the event of a power failure. Rechargeable batteries are another option, and they come in many sizes for many purposes.

A great game. Just for fun, try out IQ, a new electronic game that plays 20 questions with the user. It costs about $10, fits in the palm of the hand, and surprises its human opponents with how accurately it can guess the correct answer. It’s a great travel game for all ages, says Goldberg.

Health matters. Computers, of course, are not just stand-alone devices, but are also the brains of a huge range of devices. Increasingly used in all kinds of healthcare settings, many can also be used at home. One that has caught Goldberg’s eye is the sphygnomamoter, a blood pressure reader with a reliable, easy-to-read digital read.

Wind it up. From flashlights and lanterns to radios and televisions and even cell phones, the latest technology is based on a power source — the human hand — that has been around forever.

Many modern gadgets work for only a few hours without recharging. But what if there is a power failure? Or what if you are camping in the wilderness? A wind-up flashlight does not need new batteries. And in case of a storm that knocks out power to a large area, a wind-up, rechargeable radio and cell phone recharger can keep you in touch with the world.

Home security in a box. Motorola has come up with a home security system “that is a thing of beauty,” says Goldberg. The starter kits costs about $200 and includes sensors, a base unit, and a camera. There are a number of other accessories that can be added, ranging from a siren alarm to a water detector.

Goldberg has a few dozen more gadgets and gismos he recommends, from the digital voice recorder to replace your old tape player to a portable label printer. No matter what you want to do, there is a gadget out there to make the task easier.

— Karen Hodges Miller

Tuesday, May 15

When This Bag Lady Talks, People Listen

Linda Hollander, who now describes herself a serial entrepreneur, was an artsy kid. She even majored in art at the University of California, Los Angeles. So how did she get from art to a business in bags — the kind you see at the mall or a trade show, with a design or name on the side?

Before she got into the business, she actually collected shopping bags with designs she liked. “I liked looking at bags,” she says, “and I even bought things in some stores just to get the bags.” But she did have the sense not to display the bags on the walls of her small, cramped Los Angeles apartment, and they ended up in a closet.

One day when her mother was coming to visit, she cleaned up a bit in preparation, putting all the accumulated mess in the closet. That tipped the balance, literally, and while her mother was there, she happened to open the closet door, and the bags fell out on her head. And so did the idea for her business.

Hollander speaks on “Seven Success Secrets for Women in Business,” on Tuesday, May 15, 1:15 p.m., at the NJAWBO annual conference, a two-day event, also on Wednesday, May 1, at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. For more information or to register, go to www.njawbo.org.

Hollander and her best friend, Sheryl Felice — they met at recess when they were 13 — decided to research the bag business together. They would go out shopping, ask stores to see their shopping bags, and then inspect how they were constructed. They also visited trade shows for the packaging industry, got a startup guide from Entrepreneur magazine on the shopping bag industry, called suppliers, and figured out how much it would cost to produce the bags and to whom they might contract the manufacturing.

They barely had time to decide whether their idea might develop into a viable business before they landed their first customer. While following a lead for bag handles, their potential source said, “I don’t have handles, but I do have someone who needs bags.” Although Hollander had never supplied bags, she quickly responded, “Sure, I do bags.”

The customer — an ad agency representing the City of San Antonio, Texas — told her what it wanted. “We quoted it out, not knowing what we were doing,” she says. The samples they sent were actually bags they had picked up in the shopping mall. But they got the job.

It was trial by fire, and they had to learn as they went along. “We didn’t price them correctly,” says Hollander, “and luckily we didn’t lose too much money.” After that, their firm, the Bag Ladies (www.bag-ladies.com), never lost money on a job.

The Bag Ladies was not Hollander’s first venture, and she has learned a lot along the way about what it means to be a woman entrepreneur. Her latest business, which she started in 1998 and runs concurrently with the bag business, is a firm called Wealthy Bag Lady Consulting. It works with women who want to start a business or take a business to the next level. To support her business, she has written a book, “Bags to Riches: 7 Success Secrets for Women in Business,” which went to number one on the Amazon entrepreneurship list.

Much of what Hollander shares with her consulting clients she has learned through her own entrepreneurial and life experiences:

Formal business training is not required. As a child who loved to draw and paint, Hollander was always told she should become a professional artist, and she certainly had no interest in business. “The only sales I ever did was Girl Scout cookies,” she says, “and I only sold those to my family.”

It was at her first job that she learned she had a talent for sales. She worked in an art gallery, but realized that what she enjoyed was the sales aspect, particularly the relationships she formed with her clients.

“No matter how much the piece was,” she recalls, “I would say something like, ‘It’s only $25,000, but it will appreciate, and you will have something beautiful hanging on your wall.” Her boss praised her skill with customers, and she felt very fulfilled.

On the side, during the weekends, Hollander started her first business when she was 22, selling gift items imported from Mexico on the Venice boardwalk. “I realized that in selling you can make as much money as ambition dictates, and you don’t have to be held down to a salary,” she says.

Market to a niche. On the boardwalk, Hollander learned to quickly ascertain who her target customer was — girlfriend, wife, or child. When she saw someone who fit, she would wave the colorful item, inviting the person over. Then she would explain the benefits — that the pieces would make great gifts or would be just the thing to hang over a baby’s crib.

“I realized the importance of niche-ing a product,” she says, “speaking just to that customer, and not targeting everybody.”

Sales and collections should be separate. At 26 Hollander decided to use her design and graphics skills to create and sell a line of greeting cards. She went door to door to local retailers and sent out a sample deck of cards to national accounts. Although the effort was only moderately successful, she learned two important lessons. The first was that not every customer pays on time. The second was that it is a good idea to hire someone to make collections calls rather than taking time from the business to work at pulling in the cash.

Ignore your relatives if you have to. When Hollander decided to start the bag business, her accountant father was appalled. She remembers him saying, “What are you doing? You have no business training and two failed businesses. This is nuts. You’re not qualified.”

They had a huge fight, but the blow-up proved to be a turning point. “I could have taken it to heart and not followed my dreams,” she says. Instead, she took the opposite tack: I’ll prove to him that I can do this. “If people are not as supportive as they could be, remember that they have their own agendas. If you feel you can do it, you have to go for it, because the people who love you will come around.”

Make the call, even if the customer is a big reach. In Los Angeles the Bag Ladies’ name had gotten around after they did work with the postproduction industry — the people who edit movies and create the finished products. So Hollander decided to call Disney, a company with thousands of employees and many different departments in need of print services.

Approaching the entertainment giant was a bit intimidating, but she was able to reel in the business, gaining contracts to provide bags for “The Lion King” and other Disney projects.

Choose a complementary partner. Hollander calls herself “the crazy, creative idea person,” with a personality for sales, while her partner excels more at the back-end stuff, number crunching, running the office, and managing the company’s four employees. Says Hollander: “If you’re not good at sales, find someone who is.”

Keep on learning. Your business is a lifetime self-improvement course. One tip from Hollander’s book is that entrepreneurs have to practice lifetime learning. She urges women business owners to attend conferences, go to seminars, and get a mentor or hire a coach for help in improving and widening skill sets and keeping current on all the trends in an industry.

“If you don’t grow,” she warns, “your competition will take you.” She believes that women should learn from men, who take these opportunities without apology. Women, she finds, often feel instead that “they should be giving to everyone else, not to themselves.”

In some ways Hollander and her partner have just been lucky. When they were starting out, in what she calls the “pre-Internet Dark Ages,” their first direct mailing had a 20 percent response rate — while 1 or 2 percent is more the norm.

They also came into the business on a trend. “Bags were not being used just as a utilitarian object to put literature or a product in, but as marketing pieces,” she says, “as a walking billboard for a business.” And, finally, the business was a woman-owned firm that attracted many women who worked in the advertising and promotion departments of the retail industry and others.

The Bag Ladies has remained a small business because they “want to keep control over quality.” They have a building with a showroom, office space, and printing facilities on site, and all of their employees are women.

Hollander attributes her artistic, creative, and nurturing side to her mother, who does stained glass, quilts, and draws and paints, and used to host “art parties” for all the kids in the neighborhood.

She emphasizes that she did not inherit her father’s “accounting gene,” but quickly adds, “I did get my father’s drive — he owns his own business and has a positive attitude.” She has also admired and tried to emulate his integrity and honesty.

In the end, business has become Hollander’s art: “I really love business,” she says. “It is everything that art was to me — both stimulating and creative — and I believe that the more creative you are in business, the more successful you become.”

— Michele Alperin

Thursday, May 17

Vista? Not Quite Yet; Office 2007? Yes

Vista and Office 2007 are the latest thing in computer operating systems and software. But what do they really do? Does your company actually need them right now, or can you wait? How will they help you? And what about all those infamous Microsoft bugs? Do Vista and Office 2007 work well, or should you hold out for the 2.0 edition?

Software expert Ed Wiegner, of NT Digital, will answer these questions when he speaks on “Microsoft Vista: Why and When to Invest?” on Thursday, May 17, at 9 a.m., and again at noon, at the Conference Center at Mercer County Community College. Cost for each session: $25. Visit www.NTDigital.com or call 609-585-2011.

NT Digital, which has offices in Hamilton and Neptune, sells hardware, software, networking devices. It also does website design and printing.

Who needs Vista? “Microsoft has put a lot of marketing and a lot of resources into Vista,” says Wiegner, and while has many new features, he is not yet ready to recommend making the switch on current computers.

Vista comes standard on most new machines, but Wiegner suggests taking it out. “Vista needs a lot of horsepower. “It uses about 30 percent more memory. Since the new computers are being sold with more memory to compensate, he recommends taking Vista off a new computer and running Windows XP. “That gets a 30 percent better computer,” he says.

A reason to embrace Vista. Graphic artists and other “high-end power users” will be the first to make the switch, he predicts, because programs such as Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator will run better under Vista than they currently do on Windows XP. “However, the current versions of Photoshop and Illustrator were created for XP and the programs will work,” he says. “Right now there are no software applications out there that you must have Vista to run.”

Who Needs Office 2007? Everyone, says Wiegner. While he is hesitant about Vista, he sings the praises of Office 2007. “Gutenberg was named the most influential person of the millennium, he says of the inventor of the printing press. This is a revolutionary a communications tool as that was.”

Wiegner sees the new software as “the best version of Office, with dramatic changes and more tools to create powerful and compelling documents.” However, the structure of the new software is different and “will require more planning to implement. You can’t just load it and expect to send out a mailing in an hour.”

Time to train. There is “a learning curve” with Office 2007. “It does not work exactly like the old Word or Outlook. The menus are gone. It’s not intuitive,” says Wiegner. He suggests that in an office with several employees one person be designated to learn the program. “You can sit down and learn this by yourself, but it will take a few hours,” he says. Once that person has learned how it works, she can then help the others in the office.

Wiegner has been involved in the “business of communications” for about 25 years, but his first career was the Navy. He went straight into the Navy out high school and calls himself “a road scholar.” He circumnavigated the world in four back-to-back cruises on aircraft carriers, where he worked as a weapons systems specialist. His father, an aviator, sparked his interest in the Navy and airplanes, but he knew it would not be a long-term career. After five years he started on his second career as a professional photographer.

He moved into sales and “started out selling typewriters, then IBM word processors. He has kept up with technology through each advance. Today’s media rich world is changing they way we do business, he says. “I talked to a high school graphics design class the other day and I brought in the Yellow Pages,” he recounts. “Some of the kids didn’t even really know what it was. They’d never used it. They look things up on the Internet.

“I thought word processors were great,” he says. “Word processors let one person do what it had taken 30 people to do before. Then we got colors printer and Wow! They could really make you look great.”

Office 2007 is a similar leap in technology. “It gives the average businessperson the ability to make documents and presentation that are really professional,” he says. He uses an independent financial services advisor as an example. “Someone with Merrill Lynch has documents and charts and graphs that come down from corporate and look great. Office 2007 will let that independent person look as good as Merrill Lynch.”

— Karen Hodges Miller

Facebook Comments