Received any strange packages in the mail recently? The other day U.S. 1 received something that piqued our interest: The March, 2005, edition of Verizon's Yellow Pages for the Princeton-Suburban Trenton Area. We, of course, already have several copies. The difference? Three pounds, 1.3 ounces. Verizon has begun shipping its phone book on CDs for your PC.
After 10 or 15 minutes of installation (goodbye 362 mb of hard drive space) and downloading the needed plug-ins (Flash 7.0) to upgrade our web browser, the Verizon/Super Pages phone book was up and running. It seemed pretty good. You can search the phone book by page number, listed TN (telephone number), Listed Name, and Heading. Enter something in one of those fields, and you will get a list of results, any of which you can click to see a PDF of the page where that listing occurs in the print phone book.
Great, so what can it do that a "real" phone book can't? The main benefit is that you can search it by phone number. So if you have caller ID and you miss or ignore a call, then you can enter the number and match it to a name. Its main detriments? It won't be good for any of the more traditional uses of the phone book, i.e. as a height enhancer, (sitting on it), or as a test of strength, (tearing it; Manhattan).
But then we started thinking: Aren't there already websites that do this sort of thing? There are. To start with, Google will do it. You can google a name, phone number, even a phone book style heading with a location. Google's reply will include name, phone number, address, and an interactive map with optional directions and satellite images.
And Verizon's own website seems to duplicate and even surpass its CD phone book. From www.verizon.com, you can use an online phone book that covers the whole United States, not just the Princeton-Trenton Suburban area. Link to its partner's home page, www.superpages.com, to reach the advanced search options that are at least as good online as they are on CD. The only thing you won't get is a PDF of the actual phone book page, replete with paid display advertisements.
If Verizon's online phone book is better than its CD phone book, why should the company bother to develop this CD version?
The CD phone book seems to be good for only two groups: companies that take out display advertisements in the paper phone book, but that are worried that the proliferation of on-line phone books are depreciating the worth of their advertisements; and people whose computers are not on-line, but who want to be able to search the phone book by phone number, not name.
A good guess is that Verizon's motivation for this new give-away is to appease advertisers, not to serve the general public, but hey, slide the paper cover out of its plastic, and you have a perfectly good empty DVD case. Just another case of universal service from the phone company.
Still a Career Option: Study for the Bar
There may or not be veritas in vino, but there could well be a new career. "Our school changes lives," says Ariel Geshury, director of the Mixology Wine Institute, a chain that is opening a school in the Mercer Mall on Tuesday, September 6. The owner of five other bartending schools, she says that many of her students are downsized corporate workers, and many others are folks "who hate their jobs and have the guts to get out."
The course takes three weeks, costs "several hundred dollars," and covers everything from how to mix a drink and interact with customers to how to recommend a wine and toss bottles around to entertain a bar stool audience. Upon graduation, says Geshury, students can earn $100 to $300 a night. Demand is high, and hours are flexible. "You can work four nights a week or two," she says. "You can work one place in the winter and another in the summer."
The school, which provides placement assistance, tries to match each student with his or her natural environment. Hip 20-somethings might do well in a beach bar, while their grandparents often prefer a country club. "Our oldest student was 75," says Geshury. "He was a retired Drexel professor. He had his own business, but wanted to be out with people." She adds there is tremendous demand for older mixologists.
A native of Israel and an archaeologist by training, Geshury turned to bartending for the same reason that most of her students do. "I needed to make money," she says. A graduate of the University of Tel Aviv (Class of 1985), she and her husband, Amotz, along with their three-year-old son, immigrated to Raleigh, North Carolina. Her husband was enrolled in a Ph.D. program there, studying polymers.
She enrolled in bartending classes offered by Professional Bartending Schools of America and found that she both liked the school and the work. Her first job was with an upscale French restaurant. "When I walked in, they thought I was there to show children through the restaurant," she says. When she asked for a job, the manager told her that he had only a three-week vacancy. She took the job, and stayed for 18 months before hiring on at a Marriott.
She made enough to support the family, send her son to a private school, and take one month a year off.
While she was working as a bartender, Geshury worked part-time at the school whenever she could, doing office work. When the family moved to Philadelphia in 1991 she opened her own school. That school, and five others she owns, including another Philadelphia location that is to open this fall, are under the umbrella of the Professional Bartending Schools of America, which is headquartered in Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, the headquarters of Geshury's schools, which she describes as a chain, is in Philadelphia, where the family, which now includes two sons, age 22 and 14, lives. Her husband has left Drexel, and now works with her schools, largely in an IT capacity.
Geshury's schools were originally labeled "bartending" schools, but she recently changed the name to reflect what she sees as a need for professionalism in the industry. "It's like a cook," she says. "They used to be trained on the job, and then there were culinary schools. It's the same with bartending. I'm trying to bring it up as a full-time profession."
She sees a growing sophistication that, in her opinion, demands more from a bartender. Even at a casual restaurant, she says, the bartender must be knowledgeable about wines. At the same time, alcohol of all kinds is being served in more and more venues. "Look around!" she says, "even Virgin Airlines has a mixologist in first class."
All of this is good news for people looking for a quick career change, a retirement job, or a part-time job with decent earnings potential. Few people yearn to be bartenders from an early age. Rather, says Geshury, "usually it's a vehicle to get wherever they need to go in life."
Mixology Wine Institute, 3371 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville 08648. Ariel Gesbury, executive director. 215-878-1300; fax, 215-878-7217. E-mail: email@example.com.
Tax Benefits for Higher Ed
As summer fades into memory and classrooms come alive with students, those who pay the costs of higher education may find some relief in the various tax benefits associated with education-related expenses.
"Taxpayers should consider higher education tax credits and deductions for which they might be eligible for 2005," IRS spokesperson Gregg Semanick says in a prepared statement. "Education tax credits and deductions can help offset those costs."
The following are among the many tax-free benefits, education credits, and tax deductions:
Tax-free benefits. Certain payments or special programs' distributions are free of tax when used for qualifying educational expenses. Such expenses cannot duplicate one another or be used to claim education credits or deductions. Scholarships and fellowships are generally tax-free when used to pay qualified expenses for degree candidates at eligible schools. Usually amounts for room and board do not qualify as tax exempt and are considered taxable income.
Employer-provided educational assistance. Employers can give up to $5,250 in tax-free benefits each year; courses do not have to be work-related.
Canceled student loan. Although a canceled debt is usually taxable, a student loan may not be if the cancellation depends on the taxpayer working for a certain time in a specified occupation for a section 501(c)(3) organization.
Lifetime learning credit. Applies to most higher education, including non-degree courses, with a maximum credit of $2,000 per tax return, regardless of the number of qualifying students. This credit equals 20 percent of the first $10,000 of post-secondary tuition and fees paid during the tax year for all eligible students. This credit is available for enrollment in one or more courses.
Deduction for work-related education. Claim costs of education required to keep your job or to maintain or improve skills needed in your present work, but not if the education is needed to meet the minimum requirements of your position or is part of a program to qualify you for a new trade or business.
For more information, see IRS Publication 970, "Tax Benefits for Higher Education," at www.irs.gov.