FAFSA 19 Review

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FAFSA 19 REVIEW
An incremental improvement over its predecessors  

 

OCTOBER 10, 2018
Reviewed on PC

By Brian Chandler: I have a long history with FAFSA, starting with the pen-and-paper versions of the 1990s. FAFSA ’93 was obtuse, challenging, and rewarding in a way that only government forms can capture. FAFSA 19 maintains the charm of bureaucracy while adding some quality-of-life enhancements.

FAFSA 19’s primary new feature is Story Mode, where a prospective university student navigates the world of federal aid funding. Your character grows from a young high school kid to college student, following a traditional path. You can choose a male or female hero, a home city, and up to 10 prospective schools. Customization options are inconsistent. You can add social security number and date of birth, but not hair color or tattoos. Maybe next year.

I reviewed on PC, but I’ve heard reports that FAFSA 19 will soon be made available on iOS and Android. No plans for Nintendo Switch, but the mobile versions will support cross-play and cross-progression with PC – a big step up for the franchise.

Gameplay is standard fare – tabbing through forms, typing information, some basic math-based puzzles. It’s what we’ve come to expect from FAFSA each year, and this edition doesn’t stray much from the formula. Its simplicity is its charm, though a couple areas required some head scratching. Coop mode lets the student bring in a “custodial parent” to provide additional financial information.

Save points are frequent and welcome, as I sometimes needed to refer to out-of-game resources for the trickiest puzzles.

The most useful features require additional sign-up through a separate service (similar to EA’s Origin or Ubisoft’s Uplay). Players can earn “Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID Status” to access additional game enhancements like direct import of tax returns and electronic signatures.

In the end, FAFSA 19 delivers a solid, if inconsistent, gameplay experience.

Recommended For: Fans of TurboTax, forms at the doctor’s office.
Not Recommended For: Those looking for superior graphics, sound, gameplay, or story.

SCORE: 7.5 

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Mad Nurse: We’re Still Chasing Fatalities

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In 1986, Firebird Software developed Mad Nurse, a video game for the Commodore 64. The premise of the game was simple: You are a nurse in a multilevel nursery, and your job is to keep the infants safe. Your charge – put the babies in the crib – is easy enough. But the perils are endless, including knives, poison, toilet bowls to climb into, and an elevator shaft. As the levels become more and more difficult, the end result of Mad Nurse is disastrous.

The historic spot location approach to address traffic fatalities has similarities to Mad Nurse. We identify locations of recent severe crashes, “fix them,” and then move on to the next location.

And the next.

The situation gets worse over time as road users make poor choices more often. The results can be a group of exhausted traffic safety engineers and little change to the overall number of roadway fatalities.

Systemic safety solutions flip the script, focusing on predictable crash types instead of random individual locations, which has proven time and time again to reduce the number and severity of crashes.

I’ve promoted systemic safety for more than a decade now, and since that time it has been picked up by  State and local agencies and the Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety, who has done a nice job promoting a risk-based systemic approach in recent years. For more information, check out FHWA’s Systemic Approach to Safety website.

You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.

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In my final official experiment of 2017, I went a little crazy. I pulled out all the stops! Threw caution to the wind!

I took an exam!

I decided early this year to attempt Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute, which requires a bunch of training hours and a 4-hour test. My studying was going slower-than-desired, so I folded it into an experiment to accelerate the process. For 2 weeks I immersed myself deep into project management and test prep.

Podcasts. I replaced my normal queue with as many PMP-related podcasts as I could find. I landed on these three, continuing to listen to them well after the experiment.

The Dip. After the initial excitement the first few days, I struggled to keep my energy up for continued studying. One day I completed four 1-hour study sessions. Brain fried and drooling a little, I fell into the waiting arms of Parks & Rec.

I was still behind the pace of the group, but gaining steadily. (And crying, again, over Li’l Sebastian.)

The Experiment Pays Off. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

Before this experiment I was well behind pace on these employer-provided study sessions. After diving in the first week, I was selected as a “Top 25 Performer” in our company’s PMP prep class. This afforded me an opportunity for additional training reserved for the “top students” (cough, cough).

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

All’s Well that Ends Well: Eventually I completed the application process, scheduled the 4-hour-running-clock exam, and passed it (all while peeing twice and eating a snack – take that, running clock). Now I can call myself a PMP into infinity (well, as long as I pay annual dues) and live happily ever after.

Photo Credit: www.iamclosetgeek.com 


During 2017 I conducted 10 different 2-week experiments and wrote about each one here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, but Better
  4. Eat Real Food
  5. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding
  6. Coffee Break
  7. Make Good Art
  8. Give Thanks. Complain. Repeat.
  9. Look! Free Money!
  10. You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.

Look! Free Money!

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For this experiment I spent 2 weeks learning how much money I wasted buying literally nothing.

Paperless Statements + Auto Pay. Years ago I embraced the “conveniences” of automatic bill payment and paperless statements for most bills. In other words, I stopped paying attention. It dawned on me that maybe that was a bad idea, so I started reading.

Here’s what I found.

Electricity: Warning – math and science below. 

From a recent (winter season) bill in Seattle:
Level 1: First 944 Kilowatt Hours (KWH) at 7 cents per KWH = $66
Level 2: (we used an additional 573 KWH) at 13 cents per KWH = $75

We paid more for the last 573 KWH than the first 944. So reducing just a little will go a long way.

Light Bulbs: “Kill the Kilowatts” started with replacing some incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and LEDs. And over the summer I realized we get about 22 hours of daylight, we opened the blinds. Free lights!

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Trash Collection: At our house garbage rates increase by bin size. We’d been paying $34/month for our half-filled 32-gallon trash can. By changing to an 18-gallon container for $26/month, we’ll save $96 in the next year by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT!

Water In, Water Out: Complaint of the day: I don’ t like paying for water twice – first out of the faucet, and then down the drain. What if we could reduce one or both? Could “pasta water” be dumped outside – or water the flowers? What if we composted more and used the garbage disposal less? How many weeks days can I wear jeans before washing? How important is flushing, really?

Dog Food: We’ve been proudly serving our dogs two different “5-star” foods. Then I learned a dirty little secret: Big dogs and little dogs can eat the same food because it’s literally the same food. Switching to one shared bag, and reducing from “5-star” to “4.5-star” food (don’t tell the neighbors), we’ll save $200 in the next year.

Car Fit Bit: I added a Bluetooth device to the car (State Farm Drive Safe & Save) that allows them to collect user data like miles driven, speed, deceleration, and my innermost thoughts. Since I rarely leave our neighborhood anymore, our annual cost savings is estimated at $200 for DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Too Much Data: I discovered we had been using 7 GB of a 15 GB cell phone shared data plan. I was flabbergasted that AT&T didn’t tell us we were buying data we don’t need! By reducing our plan from 15 GB to 10 GB, we will save $10/month by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Just a Little Patience: I found a door-mounted pull up bar on Amazon and put it in my shopping cart. While deciding whether to purchase, the same item popped up in our neighborhood giveaway group! It pays to procrastinate.

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Final Tally. By identifying a few hidden costs, we are set to save more than $600 in the next 12 months on those things that required little-to-no change. I spent roughly 2 hours of combined research, paperwork, etc., to make it happen.

What else is out there?  How might we recoup even more?

Image credits (top to bottom): 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/aYWk56. Keith Ellwood via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/dWRtep. Gary Larsen.

Give Thanks. Complain. Repeat.

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Experiment date: April 17-30, 2017. More experiments available here.

 

In this 2-week experiment I tracked two actions  – gratitude and complaining. I attempted to not complain for 14 days, failed miserably, and noted the details. Second, I tried to reflect on daily moments of thankfulness.

Day 1: Let’s Do This. The sun is out, spring is coming, and I walked the dogs without a jacket. In April. In Seattle.

In The No Complaint Experiment the author used a rubber band around his wrist as a reminder of his complaints. I adopted the practice, moving my own Bracelet of Remembrance each time I complained.

Day 2: Mmmm… Breakfast. I love the smells of breakfast – coffee (especially after this previous experiment), eggs, and sausage. Also coffee.

Day 3: Driving is Hard. I complained twice before 9am. Bad Driver #1 moved way too fast near the middle school.  Bad Driver #2 turned left at a roundabout. I scowled, gave him “the finger (not that finger) in a circle” motion – the international sign for “Hey moron, it’s a roundabout!” I’m sure he appreciated my traffic lesson. I got to practice moving a rubber band from wrist to wrist.

Day 4: I Love Technology. Today I accessed a book from the library without standing up. Or reading. The Overdrive app is a work of genius, bringing audio books to my ears for free, courtesy of Seattle Public Library. Gratitude all round – to the author for writing the words, the library for acquiring access, and tech nerds for building the phone and the app. Welcome to the future, people.

Day 5: I Hate Technology. The next morning the audio book skipped a chapter. I cursed at my stupid phone and the dumb, broken app… and then moved my little rubber band.

Day 6: Working from Home. For the past 8 years I’ve worked as a full-time telecommuter. It was sunny and 62 degrees, so I extended our afternoon dog walk to enjoy a Vitamin D boost and maybe encounter another human. Of course, I did all this in pajama pants and Crocs.

Day 7: Happy Birthday. I turned 41 today, so I started with gratitude for the 14,975 days on the Earth so far. I had shied away from social media earlier in the year, but Facebook is a must-visit on your birthday. I enjoyed dozens of well-wishes from friends and family, and I was grateful for relationships both online and off.

Day 8: Zelda. I’ve remained an avid apologist for play in general and video games in particular. The Legend of Zelda is my favorite video game series of all time, and it had been many years since the last proper Zelda title. I’m grateful for the latest installment, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a masterpiece in game design.

Day 9: Free Stuff. Our neighborhood has a Buy Nothing Project group created to share items and services. Users can offer a gift or ask for support as needed. The group also posts gratitude to each other, which is really cool.

Day 10: Mmmm… Donuts. I would not have guessed Safeway would’ve been part of this experiment, but here we are. Safeway Monopoly combined two amazing things: the retro fun of licking stamps and free donuts!  After indulging, I immediately revisited the 12 Minute Workout.

Day 11: Togetherness.  If you’re looking for community, I have a sure-fire solution:  Complain. We are all too busy, and burdened with bills and kids and dogs and clients and weather and wrong-way drivers!

Not complaining is hard! (moving rubber band)

Day 12: Connection. Today I e-mailed a mentor from high school to express my appreciation of his impact. We had barely interacted for 20 years, so frankly I was a little nervous to send the note. “Hey Coach – You were on my mind this week, and I’m trying to take some time to reach out to people when they’re on my mind…”

His response was more than I ever could’ve hoped for, starting with, “You don’t know how much it means to me to hear from you…”  Our e-mail conversation made my week.

Day 13: Saturday! Sleep! Soccer! It was another sunny day, we all slept in (even the dogs), and I had soccer tickets. As the Sounders allowed three goals in the first half, I literally complained enough to break my rubber band.  In the final 15 minutes they miraculously scored three goals of their own,  snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat!

(I know! A tie! How exciting!)

Day 14: Making Long Hair Short. Courtesy of the aforementioned Sounders’ miracle comeback and a coupon from Great Clips, I enjoyed a free haircut!  Look at that smile of gratitude!

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For more on gratitude, I recommend this article, The Gratitude Journal, and this book, The Complaint Free World.

Photo Credit (top): Brian Brown, https://flic.kr/p/guLg2x

Photo Credit (bottom):  Brian Chandler, selfie, iPhone 7. Edited with Irfanview, one of the oldest and best image viewers/editors of all time.

Eat Real Food

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The worst day to start a new diet?  January 1.

Immediately, New Year’s Eve’s leftovers beg to be consumed. Four weeks later, the Super Bowl party offers an array of meats and cheeses and dips and beers. Then come the sweets. The Girl Scouts start Sugar Season with their aggressive sales tactics and fructose-gluten bombs. Add Valentine’s chocolates to the mix, and by mid-February I’ve given up on healthy eating for the year.

The Experiment:  Indulge in all the goodness of early-year treats, and then start a new health style mid-year. I stuck to Michael Pollan’s basics: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” I  eliminated added sugars and “white carbs” (bread, rice, potatoes), drastically reduced dairy and any caloric drinks, and stuck mostly to fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beans.

One more rule.  I took a photograph of EVERYTHING I ate, from a full meal to a single “lick the spoon off” bit of peanut butter.  Every single thing.

Day 1. I’ve always snuck a few bites while fixing breakfast or packing lunches for the kids, and then licked the knife of cream cheese or peanut butter or jelly or all of the above.  My new photo requirement (inconvenience of getting my phone out, and the potential embarrassment of 14 cream cheese pics) changed how I ate.

At 10:30 my internal “cereal alarm” went off. Instead, I poured another cup of coffee, and noted that I might need a bigger breakfast the next day. I literally ate four times today, compared to my “snack and graze” norm. Thanks, observation bias!

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Day 2. This morning I was full before I finished my breakfast, so I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge.  Maybe, just maybe, I could ask myself questions in the midst of eating.

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Day 3. I visited the grocery store last night, which made today feel – dare I say – exciting. Apples and bananas, peanuts and almonds, broccoli and kale!  Yahoo!

Also, I scheduled a dinner with friends, so I know that’ll be a diversion from the ideal, but not necessarily a problem for the experiment.   Instead of grabbing bear claws two at a time, I’ll try just one.

Day 4. Oh boy – Our family had pizza tonight. I passed, instead warming up leftover chicken soup…again.

Day 5. It is well-known by family and friends that my two favorite food groups are raw dough and raw batter. Today was a triumph in will power:  I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. I repeat, I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. It was the worst day so far.

For primarily social purposes I indulged in pizza, beer, and ice cream tonight.  Weekends will be tough. I definitely could have passed on some of this, but it was fun and tasty to enjoy a meal with friends.

Day 6. In preparation for my son hosting a sleepover tonight, I purchased 27 food items that I will not eat.  I anticipate a rough Experiment Week 2 if there are leftover Doritos lying around the house.

Day 7. Another batter miracle. I made pancakes and once again I did not lick the bowl.   I don”t even know who I am anymore.  Lesson Learned:  Eating with healthy rigor on the weekends is not sustainable.

Day 8.  Huh, my belt has a third hole?  Who knew?

Day 9. Last night I dreamed I was at a celebration dinner. I enjoyed a feast of all my favorite foods, and then I was horrified to realize I had forgotten to take pictures!

Subsequently, back in real life I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast, and then a few hours later I forgot to take a photograph my lunch. Dreams are weird.

Day 10. I woke up bored for my upcoming breakfast and ready to stop this stupid game. I really wanted carbs. Bad. So I made a bowl of muesli. It was great.

I made chocolate chip cookies and did not lick the bo…

That’s not true. I totally licked the bowl and spatula and ate raw cookie dough with a spoon and it was amazing and I have zero regrets.

Day 11. Belt hole number two – good to see you again. It’s been too long.

Days 12-13-14. Weekends are hard, but I stuck pretty close to the plan. I ate a couple Oreos and loved every bite.  Another lesson: Purposeful treats in small quantities increased my enjoyment of them. I can remember every single “unhealthy food” I ate the last 2 weeks, and each was an event.

Epilogue. A couple months later I’m not photographing meals or strictly limiting carbs, but I do try to make eating fun food an experience.  I pour cheap beer into a chilled glass, professionally plate chips and salsa, and garnish apple pie with a careful dollop of trans-fat-full, not-even-real-food, worth-every-bite Cool Whip.

And then I lick the spoon.

Further Reading. I used a combination of strategies from Michael Pollan, Tim Ferriss, and Darya Pino Rose, each of whom address food from a different-but-complementary angle.  If you’re looking for a single book or approach, I recommend Foodist by Dr. Rose.

Also, I’ve conducted and written about a few other experiments here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, But Better
  4. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding

Experiment 3: Less, but Better

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This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. After the first 4 weeks, I learned that adding new activities to an already-busy life can make that life even busier. I’d like to carve out some space.

Enter Experiment 3.

I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to physical items, but not so much with tasks, activities, and inputs – especially related to news and social media. So, for this experiment, I attempted to slow down a bit, reduce noise, add silence and experience a little boredom. My hope is that “addition by subtraction” will bring time and energy to spend with the people I love and the activities I most enjoy.

Day 1: Phone Cleanup
I removed all social media apps from my phone: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. I also reduced my podcast subscriptions from 20 to 10. If I did nothing else for 2 weeks, this made a huge difference in my daily experience.

Day 2: Disable Notifications
I unsubscribed from all the email newsletters and notifications I could find.  No more pocket-buzzing for LinkedIn requests or e-mails when people react to my witty tweets.

It was early 2017 as I began this experiment, so it was difficult to avoid the news of a controversial presidential administration. I did manage to stay away from the news until after work today, which elicited internal questions: Am I being irresponsible? Do I even care about the world, the vulnerable, the marginalized? What if the President tweets something ridiculous? What if Betty White dies?

Day 3: Quiet
More unsubscribes, both at work and home. I noticed a significant difference in my Inbox after two days. I also recycled 40 magazines I had “planned to read someday.”

I finished an audiobook and did not start another. I paused all podcasts, at least for a couple days (an experiment within the experiment), to find out what silence might sound like.

Answer – Silence is scary as hell.

Day 4: Irony
After 30 minutes of early morning “pacifier-sucking” via e-mail and social media online, I set three priority To Do tasks and knocked them out before noon. My wife and I shared a late lunch out, brought to us by essentialism.

I discovered an Evernote folder called Minimalism, chock full of notes, articles, and book recommendations. This seemed incongruent with the ideas of minimalism. I deleted the folder.

Day 5: More Quiet
I subscribed from seven more e-mail newsletters, including some I really like. I told myself I could add them back after the experiment (Two months later, I haven’t missed them). On a no-headphones walk with the dogs, I accidentally discovered an elegant, previously-elusive solution to a difficult problem at work.

I ran a quick errand tonight with no audio soundtrack. Driving alone in the old Camry, I was joined only by my thoughts, feelings, and the smell of takeout Thai.

Day 6: Unplugged Saturday
I attempted no internet today. It was weird. While waiting for my turn at the hair stylist I literally did nothing. No screens, no magazines. Nothing. I sat quietly, staring at discounted shampoo while others stared at phones. I was legitimately concerned that people might think I was crazy.

In the afternoon I read a story that was printed in a book. A book, made of paper, that had been crafted from a tree. A tree!

Day 7: I skipped the Super Bowl and lived to write about it
Full disclosure: I watched 15 minutes of the Super Bowl: the 10-minute halftime show and 5 minutes of overtime. Instead, my son and I fried homemade donuts.

Day 8: Snow Day!
Miracle of miracles – a Snow Day in Seattle! I reworked priorities to take advantage of extra time with my family. While fixing dinner, instead of listening to a podcast or book via headphones, I switched to music, filling the house with sound. It attracted attention. I enjoyed impromptu dancing with my wife and the requisite head shakes and eye rolls from the kids. It was awesome.

Day 9: Oops
Rookie mistake today – I answered the phone from a number I didn’t know. It was a sales call that wasted everyone’s time. Lesson re-learned.

Day 10, 11, 12 – Taking Essentialism on the Road
I usually cram a lot of inputs into business trips. I work on the plane until the laptop battery dies, listen to podcasts, and consume the latest business or self-help book. This time I changed the focus from input to output. bringing only a poetry book and journal.

In the mornings I kept the hotel room TV off, swapping local morning news for a 30-second scan of newspaper headlines. It turns out people love to share news when they find out you don’t know what happened, so I just listened.

On Friday I avoided work e-mail all day, downloaded it to my laptop at the airport, and processed it in an hour on the plane. I spent the next 5 hours with a Steve Jobs biography, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and my journal. I got bored on the plane for the first time I could remember. It was uncomfortable and annoying and generated tons of great ideas. Boredom played a vital role.

Day 13, 14: Less is More
Another No Internet Saturday, which freed up time to bag up giveaway items for the Goodwill, spend some quality time watching movies my family, and read my tree-paper-book.

I wrapped up the experiment by skipping the Grammy Awards. I figured if something amazing happened I could watch the performance later online.

I never did.

 

If you want to dig deeper on this topic, I recommend choosing any one of these, and applying what you learn while reading it: The Power of Less, Everything That Remains, The 4-Hour Workweek, Essentialism, or Deep Work

Photo Credit: Ingrained Builders