You must create a password to register for this account. We recommend that you create a password that is strong, untraceable and sufficiently unique so that no one would ever dare hack it, nor would anyone, including you, be able to remember it.

Please note that your password has to include at least 11 letters, three numbers and four smiley faces. The smiley faces should not be the ones where one eye is winking.

The numbers preferably should be in German.

You also have to use symbols. When you use a symbol in your password, make sure it doesn’t have an umlaut because we are not sure we can do umlauts or even, really, what they are or how to find them on the keyboard. If you feel you absolutely have to use an umlaut, make sure it is encrypted.

If you don’t know how to encrypt an umlaut, welcome to the club.

Acceptable symbols include #, $, % or &, unless that is, in fact, your user name. (If it’s actually your real name, you have other problems.)

Your password cannot be the same as your user name. It also cannot be the same as the name of your spouse, your dog, either of your children or your favorite potato dish. Your password should not in any way be identifiable with you and, if it is, you should change your identity and move to Jersey City and become a clarinetist.

Your password is case-sensitive. That means you should either use capital letters or lower-case letters but shouldn’t tell anybody which ones are which. Don’t overthink this. If your cases are too sensitive, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the password business in the first place.

Your password also cannot be all capital letters because, in the world of the internet, that means you are SHOUTING, and that means you won’t be able to hear us when we tell you your password is no good and you need to start over again.

You should not use the same password that you used to order from Amazon or to pay for your car insurance or for your ophthalmologist’s health portal. If that means you have no more passwords left, you should have thought of that before you started.

If you’ve run out of password ideas, why not try using as your password your address, including street number, zip code and the Dewey decimal code for non-fiction, when you were 9? No one, except perhaps the old children’s librarian, will remember that.

How about the first letters of the words in the second verse of the Marseillaise? This would be extremely safe because no one knows there is a second verse of the Marseillaise. Not even the French.

Congratulations. The password you have created is acceptable, strong and unhackable. Unfortunately, it took you so long to come up with it, it is now time to change your password.

Your smartphone does so many things. It would be so nice if one of those was actually making phone calls.

That little device in your pocket — my friend Dick calls it a “thingamagig,” which is actually the name of the new Samsung model — can play games. It can play music. It can find the nearest sustainable-farm-to-table-gluten-free-nearly-vegan-sushi place in the neighborhood.

Or, if you’re interested, in a Portland, ME., neighborhood.

It also can tell you the weather in Portland, ME., and take photographs of the rain in Maine as it falls mainly on the plane, just as you are arriving there at the airport.

It can keep track of your bank accounts and remind you when you’re overdrawn (although it rarely reminds you when you’re under-drawn).

You can take notes on your smartphone and talk to it and read trashy novels on it, frequently all at the same time while you are driving on the interstate.

But phone calls seem to be an after-thought.

Of course, it’s true, no one actually needs to talk on the phone anymore. You can always “talk” in air quotes, raising two fingers on each of your hands and making little bending movements with your fingers, which people know are ironic quotation marks even if they don’t know what ironic means. That way you “talk” to people on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google Chat and, if you are really old-fashioned or just plain old, diesel-powered email.

But let’s say you want to talk and your fingers have lost their sense of irony. Well, your smartphone actually can help you do that, although it’s not particularly easy.

All you have to do is go to your smartphone’s telephone app. That’s the app with a picture of a phone on it that actually looks nothing like a smartphone but more like the handle on the princess phone your parents had in their bedroom in 1966.

Once you’ve found that, then you can “dial” except you don’t actually dial. In fact, no one under the age of 45 actually knows what a dial is. Instead, you click on the little icon for the keypad, which is just like dialing, except it isn’t.

This is assuming, of course, that you know the phone number of the person whom you want to call. If you do not know the number of the person whom you want to call, you can click on contacts, which will improve your eyesight so that you can see the list of everyone whom you might have called in the past.

You scroll down the list of people, including those whom you have never met, those whom you don’t remember and those who have called you to see if you were interested in buying a lifetime insurance annuity.

Or, on the other hand, you might be better off to just see if they’re on Facebook.

Like many of you, I have outsourced my income tax preparation to someone who actually understands how to add lines 23 through 35 and then find the smaller of lines 44 through 68 while entering the amount from 46 divided by the credit from line 73.

Unlike me, my tax preparer knows all about capital gains (or loss), S corporations, ordinary dividends, not-so-ordinary dividends, the domestic production activities deduction (Yes! It’s right there on Line 35, but only if you’ve attached Form 8917), and even whether Line 79 is more than Line 68, but only in months that have an R.

But, unfortunately, my tax preparer is not in charge of gathering all the information for my tax return. That’s my job.

He doesn’t know where I probably or possibly or might have or could have carefully stored all my tax stuff that I have to give him before he can figure out if I qualify for the advance premium tax payment credit or the 50-percent off an item of equal or lesser value if I choose the nontaxable combat pay election.

If I want to get the Depreciation and Amortization deduction (Form 4562), I would have to show him all the bills I have for when we depreciated and amortizated the house last fall. If I want to deduct Expenses for Business Use of Your Home (Form 8829), I would have to provide all the bills I paid for the work done on your house, too.

To qualify for the Profit or Loss From Business deduction (Schedule C), I have to prove that I already filed Schedule A and Schedule B, even though I’m pretty sure I didn’t have either of them on my schedule.

Meanwhile, the tax deadline is quickly approaching, and my tax preparer is already explaining to me why if Line 8 is more than zero I’ll still owe a significant amount of money even if I prefer Line 7. So, for the last several weeks, I have been searching in the obvious places — the desk, the filing cabinet, the bread bin, next to the carburetor — for a number of extremely important tax documents that he says he needs, including:

  • The W-2 forms, which I believe I had filed with the WD-40 forms that came with the lawn mower. It’s also possible I may have thrown them out when they arrived in the mail, thinking they were solicitations for satellite TV packages (“4,726 Channels — Only 43 cents for the first 12 months — then we garnish your children!”).
  • All the 1099 forms, which had been reduced from 12.99 and would have come with free shipping, too. (As long as I spent more than $65 and attached Form 1116.)
  • My carefully annotated list of medical expenses, which included doctor bills, dental bills, pharmacy bills and insurance premium bills, minus my deductible but divided by my co-pay multiplied by my medical mileage co-efficient. Unless that number is less than zero or higher than my tax preparer’s fee.
  • And last year’s tax forms. I’m sure I can find them, unless they were amortizated last fall.


We would like to apologize for a series of errors that have appeared in previous posts.

A report on the brunch I prepared last weekend that featured French toast, granola cups and curry-flavored hash browns mistakenly noted that president Kim Jong-un of North Korea was among the guests at the brunch.

A paragraph devoted to my inability to effectively load the dishwasher described incorrectly the machine as previously belonging to Chance the Rapper.

A recent aside about my running prowess referred imprecisely to how long it took me to complete a recent 5K race. The reference should have noted that it was a 1K and it was actually not a K but an R.

A sentence alluding to my plans for retirement misstated the relationship between two of the characters in Handel’s Third Oratorio. The two are not sisters but are, in fact, financial advisors together at Goldman Sachs. Also, it was not Handel’s Third Oratorio but a hip hop revival of My Fair Lady.

Because of an editing error, a recent question mark should have been a semicolon.

A listing of promises I’ve made to myself that I haven’t yet fulfilled erroneously attributed all the fault to myself. Some of the fault should have been shared with others who have egged me on, including but not limited to Kim Jong-un.

A catalog of the items I have recently lost misidentified the contents of my wallet. Instead of a driver’s license, three credit cards, four health insurance cards, 17 dollar bills and a small sheet of paper with a phone number written on it that I could no longer attribute to anyone I knew, the contents actually included only 11 dollar bills, my car insurance card and an old newspaper clipping of a recipe for eggplant parmesan.

A recent notation concerning eggplant parmesan should instead have cited risotto a la Milanese.

A column devoted to prunes misspelled the names of my children. They are Dick and Jane, not Othello and Desdemona.

When writing recently about the threat of nuclear annihilation, I mistakenly gave an outdated title to Captain Kangaroo. He is no longer a captain but is, instead, a chief petty officer (ret).

Because of a writing error, a column that should have been about the Top 10 Places to See in Kazakhstan was wrongly focused on questions about repairing my lawn mower instead.

A correction in a recent post incorrectly corrected a mistake that had tried to rectify an error that referenced a gaffe included in a lapse that was part of an inaccurate oversight.

We sincerely apologize.


Not as sharp as you used to be? Want to improve your mental abilities or ward off cognitive decline? Can’t remember what the word cognitive means?

Are you becoming worried that your intellectual prowess isn’t nearly as prow as you would like? Or are you just simply concerned that you’re losing your mind and can’t remember where you put it?

Don’t worry. Now, thanks to a new generation of interactive games, riddles and clever Internet-based whangdoodle programs designed to prey on anyone who has ever forgotten her keys or failed to nab a Nobel Prize, you can train your brain to do better.

These programs are like going to a gym for the brain, except that you don’t have to wear shorts that are too tight or strain your elbow doing bi-lateral curls.

No head bands! No need to waste time reading or studying or even actually looking for your keys! No figuring out calculus equations! No going to the lab and having to put on those icky white lab coats!

Yes, you can improve your working memory, your cognitive flexibility, your processing speed and your gas mileage — and you can do it without actually flossing your medulla oblongata.

No need to get on the treadmill to exercise your brain. All you have to do is just play some games and solve some riddles. Like these:

  • Two trains are heading to Chicago, one from New York and the other from New Orleans. The one from New York is traveling at 103 miles per hour. The one from New Orleans has a better snack bar. What time is it in Peoria?
  • Carol’s mother had three children. The first child was named April. The second child was named May. What was the third child’s name? (I should tell you that even Carol got this one wrong.)
  • If it’s 3:15 p.m. in Bogota, Colombia, why are you in Bogota? Weren’t you supposed to be in Piscataway, NJ?
  • How many three-letter words can you make out of Piscataway, NJ? How many three letter words can you make in Piscataway, assuming you were stuck there during a snowstorm and couldn’t get to the brain gym?
  • Repeat all these numbers without looking at your phone or asking Carol, April or May for help: 6
  • Without looking at your phone which is still, probably, in Bogota, Colombia, what letters on your phone keypad correspond to the number 6?
  • Find all the verbs in the above paragraphs and arrange them in a grid that will look like the Eiffel Tower. Do it again, this time while eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • In a labyrinth, start at the bottom and find your way to the top before the train gets to Peoria.
  • Which of the following doesn’t belong:




Warren G. Harding

Now explain why your answer was “giraffe.”

  • Connect the dots. Please don’t ask which dots.

When should I begin saving for retirement? How much money should I save? How much is enough, particularly if I’ve always been a profligate spendthrift and now have that officially embossed on my business card?

These are questions many people ask as they approach their golden years, particularly if they haven’t managed to buy any gold, which is at an all-time high, and instead spent all their savings on ice cream sandwiches, which are at an affordable low.

No matter what age you are, though, retirement planning is something you should do, mainly because everybody has been shouting at you for years saying that it is something you should do.

But where to start? As a Certified Financial Illiterate (CFI), I can offer you the answers to some of the most common questions about retirement planning.

When should I retire?

Are you tired? Do it again, see what happens.

When should I start saving for retirement?

Let’s face it, you should have started earlier. If you had started saving when you were 21, say, by now you’d have so much money you could be in Paris drinking a good Bordeaux instead of being here, drinking bad coffee and spending all your time reading retirement advice columns. But it’s never too late to start, unless it’s a weekend and everything is closed.

How much should I save?

Look at it this way: If you were to save $25 a month, for the next 62 years, including all Februarys, would you remember where you had put all the money? Would you be able to bend down and look under the bed? And then bend back up? Or could all that money be in your wallet, which would explain the hole in your back pocket?

There is, fortunately, a mathematical formula to figure out how much you should save. It involves an algorithm. No one, unfortunately, really knows what that is.

What if I’m near retirement and running out of time to save?

You can always set your clock ahead 15 minutes and then be happily surprised that it’s not as late as you thought it was. Or wait for Daylight Savings Time.

What should I do with the money I save?

There are several possibilities. You could use the money to buy really good wines, fancy cars and trips to exotic locales. Or you could waste it. You also could invest it in the stock market, which could turn out to be pretty much the same thing.

Just remember that past performance is no guarantee of future performance unless the past performance is really bad.

What’s a Roth IRA?

Named after the novelist Philip Roth, this is a financial vehicle that lets you buy as many copies of “Portnoy’s Complaint” as you’d like.

Will Social Security be around for me when I retire?

It may be around, but you will have to look carefully for it. It could be lost in that closet in the kids’ old bedroom, right behind the recorder your daughter got in sixth grade and never played again.

Who should I trust for retirement advice?

Probably not me.

My mobile bill is mobile again. It’s moving. Up.

According to my most recent statement, this is what I’m now being charged for:

Basic phone line access, but only to another basic phone line, most likely the landline owned by my Aunt Sophie, who believes her toaster is high-tech: $12.79.

Basic phone line access to the rest of the world, including the ability to receive six reminder calls from the ophthalmologist about that upcoming appointment that’s not upcoming until the second week in May: $8.20.

Mobile to mobile calls, on Thursdays to Saturdays, during lunchtime: $7.23.

Mobile to mobile calls, Sundays to Wednesdays, before breakfast: $3.15.

Mobile to mobile calls, if no one answers, any time of the day, because they don’t recognize your number and think you are blind-calling and trying to sell them aluminum siding: $4.16.

Mobile to non-mobile calls, but with members of the immediate family who say they can’t talk right now because they’re binge-watching Game of Thrones, again: $3.40.

Mobile calls to Mobile, AL., shoulder season only: $2.99.

Non-mobile calls to royals but non-mobiles on Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday: £9.32.

Friends-and-family calls, second Sunday of the month, to family members who swore to you that they didn’t vote the way you think they might have voted: $5.87.

Night/Weekend calls, only from Cousin Hal, who doesn’t realize that there’s a three-hour time difference between California and the East Coast and who thus calls at three minutes before midnight here, ruining sleep for the next four days: $11.12.

Unlimited text message allowance limited to text messages where someone has actually written out “you” instead of “u”: $1.83.

Text messages that include emojis: $.84.

Text messages that include an emoji you can’t decipher and are not sure whether it’s a happy face or the original flag of Switzerland: $1.11.

Text messages that don’t include emojis because your sister-in-law can’t figure out how to find the emojis on the new smartphone she just bought: $2.66.

Emoji allowance, depending on how much allowance you want to give to your emojis: $.82.

Video embedded in texts of something you’re not interested in sent by someone you don’t know concerning a previous text you don’t remember: $4.08.

Data allowance, including three dates that are allowed during this particular pay period, as long as they are not a Tuesday: $3.71.

Five hundred megabytes of data, which is equivalent to two pints, three liters or one imperial gallon: $5.96.

Equipment charges, although you have no equipment other than the Swiss Army knife you haven’t been able to open since you were officially discharged from the Swiss Army: $6.74.

Charges, surcharges, supercharges, discharges, barges, garages and other charges for all the stuff for which you haven’t already been charged: $13.93.

Taxes and fees, designed to round up the bill to the nearest amount that is higher than the amount you were charged last month: $19.57.

The last time I had a really good night’s sleep was Nov. 4, 2009. It was terrific, although I may have been dreaming.

Since then, not so good. I sometimes go to bed too early, I sometimes get up too soon, I toss, I turn, I worry about the National Security Council while I should be snoring.

I blame it all on the mattress, mainly because my wife said I absolutely can’t blame it on her. And, in fact, it actually might be the mattress’ fault.

We’ve had this mattress since the early part of the century, and I’m not sure which century. It has a lot of miles on it, many lumps, several valleys, the occasional gorge and it argues with the pillows on a regular basis. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When you turn over on this mattress, it creaks. When you don’t turn over, it creaks. When you look at it or talk to it, it creaks. Sometimes it whines, occasionally it comments online on news articles, generally using a fake Facebook account.

So we’ve decided it’s time to get a new mattress. To that end, we have been doing our research.

What we want, of course, is something simple — white, rectangular, feels good, no lumps, no online comments. But mattresses, it turns out, come in an overwhelming number of varieties, including pistachio.

You can get memory foam or latex foam, adjustable air or inner spring, pillow top or super pillow top, low calorie or high fructose. There are posturepedic and tempur-pedic, naturepedic, orthopedic, encyclopedic.

Really, we just want a plain pedic, as long as it doesn’t have lumps.

So we went out to the mattress store to narrow the choice down to just a couple of hundred possibilities.

But here’s the real problem with trying to check out and ultimately buy a mattress: it’s not like going to the supermarket and checking out a honeydew melon. You can’t just squeeze it or smell it or roll it down the supermarket aisle toward the lettuces.

The only way to decide on whether to buy a mattress is to make believe you’re sleeping on it.

You have to do this with your shoes on, while wearing your winter coat, in the middle of a brightly lit showroom, with lots of people around, music playing, with a sales person asking if he could get you a cup of coffee and with other customers making fun of your Hello Kitty jammies.

Nevertheless, we did it. We lay down on mattress after mattress. I liked the extra firm ones. My wife liked the extra soft ones. I preferred the Euro-Flex-Supreme. Her favorite was the Plush-Hybrid-Cushion-Firm.

We decided to buy a honeydew melon instead.

A man walks into a bar. A coffee bar.

I’d like a coffee, please, he says to the barista, which is an Italian word meaning over-priced.

Would you like freshly brewed, cold-brewed, whole bean, medium bean, baked bean or been there? Or have you done that? the barista replies.

Just a regular coffee, really.

Would that be a cappuccino, an Americano, a macchiato, a frappucino, an affogato or an Italian-English dictionary?

Actually, any kind of coffee would be fine.

Fair trade, direct trade, organic, certified totally vegan, partially vegan, occasionally vegan, non-GMO, SPF 35 or better?

I’d like it to be hot.

Sun-dried, full-roasted, half-roasted, half-broiled, half-baked, single origin, cold-dripped, slow-dripped or spilled directly onto your shirt?

Plain would be fine.

Plain cold drip, plain dark roast, plain micro-lot or plane, train or automobile?

Just plain plain. And make it de-caf, please.

Organically decaffeinated, naturally decaffeinated but not certified organic, water-decaffeinated, chemically decaffeinated or caffeine carefully culled from each bean itself, individually, one by one, by highly trained workers who have brought the beans here themselves from Guatemala, Kenya, Jamaica and south Jersey. On a plane.

However it’s easiest. And I’ll take it with a little milk, the man says.

Whole milk? the barista replies. Or 2-percent milk, 0-percent milk, soy milk, almond milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk or seltzer, although we are out of almond seltzer today?

I’ll take it with regular milk.

Would you like that milk to be flat white, whipped-free, crema or cortado, and I don’t know what those terms mean either in case you were going to ask.

And do you want it with any flavorings — a little peppermint, a touch of praline, some butterscotch, cinnamon dolce, white chocolate or red Twizzler?

Just plain.

OK, then, how would you like it prepared? K-Cup? Chemex? Filtered? French press, dry cleaned or washed and folded?

In a cup would be good.

Venti, grande, trenta? Eensy, weensy, spider?

Oh, and I’ll have it to-go.

In that case, you’ll need our special recyclable, non-corrugated, Styrofoam-substitute to-go cup that will double the price and still scald your fingers.

Come to think of it, maybe, instead, I’ll just have a cup of tea. Got any Lipton’s?