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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 28, 2015 at 2:45 pm 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC, an Arlington firm that specializes in federal employment and labor law, security clearance proceedings, and military law.

Q. Is it harder for men to prove sex discrimination than women?

A. Generally, men should not face a heavier burden for proving sex discrimination than women. Discrimination complaints or lawsuits filed by a member of a majority class, such as male, are referred to as “reverse discrimination” cases, and they are not uncommon. In fact, one-third of sex discrimination complaints filed in the federal sector in FY 2012 were filed by men, according to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) statistics.

For standard discrimination cases in which a member of a minority class, such as female, black or disabled, courts require plaintiffs to initially show the following:

  1. they are members of a class protected under laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act;
  2. they were qualified for the position for which they applied; and
  3. the employer’s rejection of their application gave “rise to an inference of discrimination.”

These factors form the basis of what is known as the McDonnell Douglas framework, so-named after the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which these factors were outlined, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in McNaught v. Virginia Community College System (2013).

Over the years, as the 4th Circuit further noted in McNaught, appellate courts have reached differing opinions as to whether this standard framework — or a framework that placed a greater burden on majority class plaintiff — should be applied to reverse discrimination cases.

On one side there were five circuit courts, including the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, that held majority class plaintiffs to a higher standard, requiring them to show “background circumstances that demonstrate that a particular employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against [majority groups]…or evidence that there is something ‘fishy’ about the facts at hand.”

Meanwhile, three other circuit courts just required majority class plaintiffs to show they satisfied the standard McDonnell Douglas framework.

For years, the 4th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Virginia district courts, declined to pick a side in this standard-versus-enhanced framework debate. But that ended with the court’s decision in McNaught. The 4th Circuit decided to apply the standard framework, noting that the “application of the same test to both ‘ordinary’ discrimination plaintiffs and ‘reverse’ discrimination plaintiffs better reflects overarching principles expressed by the Supreme Court,” namely “that Title VII prohibited reverse discrimination ‘on the same terms’ as discrimination against minority groups.”

The bottom line is discrimination based on race, color, sex, gender, national origin, religion, disability, and age is unlawful. Employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination based on any of these factors should immediately consult with an experienced employment law attorney.

Mathew B. Tully is the founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. Located in Washington, D.C., Tully Rinckey PLLC’s attorneys practice federal employment law, military law, and security clearance representation. To speak with an attorney, call 703-525-4700 or to learn more visit fedattorney.com. 

 

by ARLnow.com — January 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm 1,244 0

This week’s Arlington Pet of the Week is Buddy, a dog who showed up at his owner’s door on Christmas and never left.

Here’s what owner Sarah had to say about her :

Hi, this is Buddy. We believe he is between 3-4 years old and a Beagle/Lab mix.

Last year on Christmas night we were visiting family in Pennsylvania when this little guy wandered up to the house searching for food. It was 11 degrees and his nose was frozen over. He was freezing and seemed like he hadn’t eaten anything except garbage for a few days. We brought him inside for the night and he slept by our sides without making a peep.

The next day we had found his owner and she claimed that he was out in the cold for four days. She also said she no longer wanted him and we could have him if we wanted. So, needless to say we brought Buddy back to Arlington with us.

Buddy enjoys walking/running, sniffing, cuddling, and watching the neighborhood through the front window. He loves playing with other dogs, especially his lady friend Callie and cousin Izzy. He is a huge Dallas Cowboys and Penn State fan and loves to watch the games with his parents.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email office@arlnow.com with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet.

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care, the winner of three Angie’s List Super Service Awards and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year, provides professional dog walking and pet sitting services in Arlington and Northern Virginia.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm 337 0

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Editor’s Note: The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Much like in humans, your dog will go through an adolescent phase and this period can be fraught with difficulty. Dogs will enter their adolescent period at around 6 months old, and exit between 18 months and 2 years of age. Smaller dogs tend to mature more quickly, larger dogs more slowly.

During this time you may feel like your dog has forgotten everything they learned in puppy class. You are not imagining it. There is physiological evidence that neural synapses are breaking and reforming at a very high rate. Previously attentive pups will start to ignore you and non-chewers will become destructive maniacs.

Fear not, this is normal. Most of what you will experience is a non-emergency and I find myself encouraging puppy owners to double down. Your progress may slow down and your dog’s attention span might shorten but they are still learning. As your dog becomes more independent they are going to push their boundaries and experiment with new things. Just like with human teenagers, it is really important that you remain present to guide your teenage pup into a well-behaved adulthood. Do not let them just figure it out on their own.

One behavior that is an adolescent emergency is if your previously friendly dog begins to show signs of aggression toward people or other dogs. While this is not uncommon, it is not a behavior your dog is just going to “grow out of.” Without intervention, this is likely to become worse and you can end up with a seriously aggressive dog. If your dog starts to growl, bark or lunge at people or other dogs contact your trainer as soon as possible.

Here are a couple of adolescence survival tips:

  1. Take another class: This will help you to continue to work with your dog through their “teenage years.” It keeps the two of you connected and might allow your trainer to identify any serious problems before they get worse. This could be a great time for a low key class like tricks, or a sport like agility or nosework.
  2. Hang onto that crate: Maintain your dog’s crate training well into adulthood. Continuing to crate your dog when you are not home or sleeping can help prevent problem behaviors like chewing or barking at the window from developing in the first place. It can also be a solution if these behaviors show up. If it’s been three months since your dog was crated, the solution may not be so easy.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by Ethan Rothstein — January 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm 1,040 0

Startup Monday header

Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The BTCS team in their Rosslyn officeBitcoin is hard to explain. It’s a “crypto-currency,” and it’s worth real money — just like Euros and pesos are worth real dollars — but it’s completely digital.

Blockchain Technology Consumer Solutions — or BTCS for short — was launched in 2013 as Bitcoin Shop, an ecommerce platform that allows users to buy goods with bitcoins and other digital currencies, like Dogecoin or Litecoin. Bitcoin Shop founders Michal Handerhan and Tim Sidie, now COO and lead developer respectively, had bought bitcoins but didn’t know how to spend them. So they created a way.

“They got some immediate traction from consumers and offers to help fund the company,” Chief Marketing Officer Charlie Kiser told ARLnow.com from BTCS’ Rosslyn office this month.

Kiser, who has worked in startups for years in the D.C. area, joined the team along with now-CEO and Chairman Charles Allen. In February 2014, Bitcoin Shop went public, raising $1.875 million in its initial public offering.

“Going public is not the most traditional route for startups,” Kiser admitted, “but it’s great in terms of speed and confidence in getting something closed. The idea was we could be one of the first publicly traded companies and we could accomplish some things in an industry with a lot of unknowns.”

In fact, most of the crypto-currency industry is unknown. While the currency exists, it’s not run by a bank or a government. It’s decentralized and far more unstable than currencies of developed countries. One bitcoin was worth more than $1,000 U.S. dollars near the end of 2013. Earlier this month, it was down below $200, and currently it’s hovering around $240.

BTCS logoThere is no mint for bitcoins, either. Instead of a government printing them, they are “mined.” BTCS has a partnership with a bitcoin mining company in Israel. How are they mined? Anyone who wants a bitcoin must provide technological maintenance to the bitcoin system. The more bitcoins are circulating in the world, the more work a “miner” must do to get a bitcoin.

Bitcoins are exchanged and circulated on the “blockchain,” a “de-centralized peer-to-peer network” that works “effectively as a ledger system, reporting transaction,” Kiser says. Bitcoin was simply the first use of the block chain — many more are anticipated down the road.

That’s what intrigued Allen, a former engineer who was working at an investment bank before joining the company.

“I said ‘this company’s going to be much bigger than e-commerce,’” Allen said. “Bitcoin is basically the Internet in 1995. Back then, no one thought it had any use, but the technology made sense. At the heart of bitcoin, the technology makes sense.”

A bitcoin ATM at the BTCS officeBTCS has invested in a company that produces bitcoin ATMs and is currently developing a bitcoin wallet, similar to Google Wallet, that will help its users keep their currency secure. BTCS hopes to be an access point for anyone to enter the crypto-currency space, in any form they choose.

“We’re hoping we can be a market leader into giving access to the digital ecosystem,” Kiser said. “We’re hoping BTCS is where you come for all that.”

Unlike other startups in emerging industries, BTCS has public investors to answer to. Investors can look to the four investments and one partnership BTCS has made as signs of progress toward market leader status. However, it’s simply too early to tell if these early gambles will pay off.

“We are long on bitcoin and blockchain,” Kiser said, “and we are getting ready to enter the valley of innovation. Whether it’s the currency or the blockchain, there’s been enough invested to know in five years whether there will be a consumer case for it.”

Through its investments and products, BTCS hopes to be the ones to usher the new technology into that era, but it’s waiting on the industry to help.

“There are all these problems that the technology solves,” Allen said. “They just haven’t been built yet.”

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm 889 0

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Certified Beer Server in the Cicerone Certification Program.

At the end of “The Matrix,” Keanu Reaves’ Neo suddenly sees the code in everything he looks at while in the matrix. It’s a transformative experience —-he is the master of his domain.

I felt like Neo when I began to understand the basics of Belgian beer styles. The Belgian section of a store or menu can seem daunting with all the numbers (Rochefort) and color-coded labels (Chimay) and styles (dubbel and tripel). And what’s a quadrupel anyway?

The truth is that many of the Belgian beers that we typically can get fit well into the established styles that I’ll cover. Today, I’m going to introduce, or reintroduce, you to the Belgian strong golden ale, the dubbel, the tripel and the Belgian strong dark ale (sometimes called a quad or quadrupel).

Before I look at the individual styles, I want to mention the common ingredient in most Belgian beers that gives them a character all their own — yeast. Belgian yeast is distinctive, imparting a uniquely fruity flavor that can sometimes seem spicy, like black pepper or clove. When non-Belgian breweries make Belgian-styled beers, they do so with this special yeast.

The large numbers on bottles or bottle caps and colored labels are a handy code devised by brewers as a short hand for their styles. I’ve read that the numbers refer essentially to the ABV of an original recipe, but that current recipes for these styles have different amounts of alcohol. I have also read that they do not refer to anything, but are merely representative for a particular brewery. For instance, Rochefort uses a “6″ to denote their dubbel, while Westvleteren uses an “8″. Though unscientific, color and numeric coding can help you choose the right beer when you know what else to look for.

Let’s look at the four categories and the beers that represent them.

Duvel (photo via Arash Tafakor)Belgian Strong Golden Ale
This beer is light in color, hence the name, with mild bitterness and high effervescence. Though relatively high in alcohol at around 9 percent ABV, these beers don’t taste like it. The original strong golden ale is our example, Duvel.

Duvel (ABV: 8.5 percent)
The aroma is mildly spicy with some citrus evident as you take the first sip. The taste that follows blends the spice with a citrusy bitterness from the small amount of hops that shine through. Overall, it’s no surprise that Duvel is a clean, pleasant beer. If you’re looking to have this with a meal, it pairs well with a wide variety of dishes.

Dubbel Ale
This beer pours a dark brown with fairly high effervescence. Generally, dubbels are malty with a slight sweetness, though not all will exhibit this sweetness. They tend to be slightly high in alcohol hovering around 8 percent ABV, which is not apparent in the flavor. (more…)

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 22, 2015 at 2:30 pm 618 0

Rental Report header

Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

A new job offer across the country just hit your inbox, and you start in two weeks — congrats! Now what?

Packing up your stuff, tying up loose ends your old job, and figuring out where you are going to live can feel a bit overwhelming. So you book your plane ticket, and you have two days to find a place. What do you need to do?

First, enlist some help from a real estate agent, especially if you can find one from a rental brokerage. Give them as much detail as possible. In order for someone to find you a great place that meets your needs in just a few days, they need to know a lot about you. Tell them all of the deal breakers — how much rent you can afford, the types of apartments you like, amenities you need, if you have pets, if you need parking, and what your commute will be.

But you also have to get a little more personal. Remember, an agent knows the area better than you, and can steer you in the direction of a neighborhood you may not have considered because of your hobbies and lifestyle.

An agent is also going to be able to get appointments booked for you with buildings that have what you want, when you want it. You don’t have to pound the pavement on your own, going into building after building, only to have them tell you, “No vacancy.”

Second, be prepared before you go.  Make sure you have ready:

  • Your camera
  • A photo ID — you will need this for every building. This is for security of the agent and the onsite staff
  • Proof of income — this could be an offer letter from your new job, previous pay stubs (usually at least the last two,) or tax documents
  • Your credit score — make sure you know your credit and be up front if you think there could be an issue.
  • A list of questions for the buildings:
    • What are the fees? Fees are likely to include an application fee, a move in fee, an amenity fee, a security deposit, a pet fee and so on. Make sure you know exactly what you need when you go to apply for the apartment you choose.
    • Can you use a credit card for the fees? Do they need to be in certified funds? Or do you just need your checkbook?
    • Does the building have a floor plan with measurements? You need to make sure your furniture will fit.
    • What is the turn around time for an application? If you need to move in right away, how quickly can they give you a decision? Think about whether you will you have enough time to move on to a backup if your first choice falls through. And in the event that does happen, make sure your second choice will be able to work with you electronically since you may already be out of town.

Lastly, if you have a roommate or significant other, and they won’t be along for the search, remember they will have to be a part of the application process and be named on the lease as well. Make sure both your agent and the building of your choice are aware.

Searching for a new home in a time crunch doesn’t have to be stressful. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Trust the help of a professional agent. Be sure to give them as much information as you can so they can get you in a great new home in no time, and maybe you’ll still even have time to play around in your new neighborhood.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com — January 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm 1,224 0

This week’s Arlington Pet of the Week is a kitten who goes by Chandler Bing. Could he be any cuter?

Here’s what owner, Rachel, had to say about her friendly cat:

In the spirit of the season (and full disclosure), my name is Chandler Bing and I have three New Year’s Resolutions for 2015: to lose weight, finally catch my own tail, and become Instafamous (follow me at Chandler.Bing.The.Cat)

Let me tell you a bit about myself: I was born on June 27 and was rescued from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington on Sept. 20 by this beautiful young lady named Rachel Marrion. It truly was love at first sight.

More importantly, I enjoy going for long walks from the kitchen to the bedroom and back. I enjoy hanging out in the sink, getting my paws wet, and running around the house like Tom Cruise from Risky Business. But my favorite thing to do is to watch my namesake on TV; he’s almost as funny and cute as I am (perhaps my resolution should be to be more humble?)

Finally, I would like to take some time to thank those people most special to me. First and foremost, God, for keeping those shadows just the right distance away from me. To my Aunt Kate, for seeing my full potential and pushing me to go for this. And lastly, to my owner, Rachel. She is a teacher, and without the two-week break over the holidays, none of this would be possible. Thank you.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email office@arlnow.com with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet.

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care, the winner of three Angie’s List Super Service Awards and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year, provides professional dog walking and pet sitting services in Arlington and Northern Virginia.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,298 0

Ask Adam Real Living header

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos, Arlington-based real estate broker, voted one of Arlington Magazine’s Best Realtors of 2013 & 2014. Please submit your questions via email.

Q. Do you see an increase in the number and proportion of original homes (mostly ramblers) in North Arlington that go on the market and are bought by families to occupy with modest improvements rather than by developers to tear down and replace with new, much larger homes?

The reason I ask: New and recently new resales of McMansions appear to be selling ever more slowly, and the prices of new McMansions appear to be decreasing. In this context, the financial viability of developers buying and tearing down the original (mostly ramblers) homes for replacement with McMansions would seem to be getting weak.

This suggests to me the possibility of a meaningful decrease in developer demand for and in the developer driven prices for original homes for replacement, thereby creating an opening for families to buy the original homes, perhaps at somewhat lower prices, for them to occupy. And maybe some developers will give more emphasis to renovations and expansions of the original ramblers at modest cost for new family owners.

A. It’s hard to quantify the proportion of builders that are still buying lots because a number of the homes purchased for tear down are bought before they go in the MLS. I also don’t have a way of organizing the data to tell me whether the purchaser was a builder, renovator or primary resident. Using the information we do have available, I searched single family homes priced under $700,000 that have sold in Arlington within the last two years.  Knowing that many builders pay with cash, I divided the sales into two categories: 1) cash buyers 2) conventional, VA and FHA home loan buyers.  The numbers were almost identical in 2013 and 2014.  See below:

  • 2013 – 76 cash buyers and 352 home loan buyers
  • 2014 – 74 cash buyers and 311 home loan buyers

Arlington single family home sales over the last five years

Though there is not a significant change between 2013 and 2014, some of these cash buyers maybe be planning to renovate rather than tear down and rebuild. I wish I had a way to quantify their intentions for you.

According to the following chart that I pulled from Arlington County’s website, it looks like demolitions and construction starts slowed down in 2014, which seems support the idea that new builds are trending down a little bit.

We can keep an eye on whether that trend continues so feel free to check back with me later this year.

I would like to see more renovations and fixer uppers available on the market. We certainly work with a good number of homebuyers who would love to stay in Arlington if they could find the right home within their budget. Even for the family who may want to build a new home for their primary residence, it has become very challenging to compete for prime lots.

Please send your questions to adam@rlathome.com.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 14, 2015 at 3:45 pm 541 0

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Mathew B. Tully of Tully Rinckey PLLC, an Arlington firm that specializes in federal employment and labor law, security clearance proceedings, and military law.

Q. My employer very liberally tracks the hours I work. How can I claim overtime when there are no records I worked at least 40 hours a week?

A. Conventional logic says that if there is no record of something then it did not happen. However, this rationale generally will not work with employers who try to dodge their duty to pay employees overtime wages by not properly maintaining time and attendance records.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay covered employees who worked more than 40 hours during a work week at a rate of at least time-and-a-half. Further, the FLSA’s implementing regulation requires employers to “maintain and preserve payroll or other records” for employees not exempted from the act.

Most employers, to varying degrees, preserve and maintain such records. But an employer’s failure to do so will not save it from an FLSA lawsuit for unpaid overtime wages. An “employee should not be penalized ‘on the ground that he is unable to prove the precise extent of uncompensated work,’” the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in Lee v. Vance Executive Production (2001). Employers tend to run into problems when an employee who they thought was exempted from the FLSA turns out having a non-exempt status, or when the employee works “off the clock.”

In either case, to overcome the legal challenges posed by “inadequate or inaccurate” records, the 4th Circuit said in Lee that the employee must show he or she “performed work for which he was improperly compensated” and “how the amount and extent of that work as a matter of just and reasonable inference.” The court stressed that an employee does not need to “prove each hour of overtime work with unerring accuracy or certainty.” Instead, “enough evidence must be offered so that the court as ‘a matter of just and reasonable inference’ may estimate the unrecorded.”

It will not be enough, however, for the employee to only show he or she worked so many hours over 40 hours during a given work week. The employee must also show the employer knowingly allowed this uncompensated work to be performed. To support his or her case, the employee could show the employer engaged in “a pattern or practice of employer acquiescence in such work,” the 4th Circuit noted in Pforr v. Food Lion (1988).

Employees who believe they have been improperly denied overtime wages for hours they worked should immediately contact an employment law attorney who could prepare for them an FLSA lawsuit. Employers should also consult with an employment law attorney to determine which employees are eligible for overtime wages.

Mathew B. Tully is the founding partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC. Located in Arlington, Va. and Washington, D.C., Tully Rinckey PLLC’s attorneys practice federal employment law, military law, and security clearance representation. To speak with an attorney, call 703-525-4700 or to learn more visit fedattorney.com. 

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com — January 14, 2015 at 10:00 am 1,089 0

This week’s Arlington Pet(s) of the Week are Charlie and Ginger. Charlie is a 3-year-old golden retriever, Ginger is a 1-year-old cocker spaniel-poodle mix, and the two prove friends come in all shapes and sizes.

Here’s what owner Kate had to say:

Charlie is a 3-year-old golden retriever. He loves to lounge and sleep in the most inconvenient places, like right in front of the basement door or by the kitchen cabinet you need to get into. He loves to sleep in the bed with his parents. He often tries to speak — most often when there is food involved at the dinner table. We’re not sure if he thinks he is human or he thinks we are dogs.

Ginger is a 1-year-old cockapoo. Ginger loves to jump up on the kitchen table to help herself to leftover cereal and milk. Ginger is pretty sure she is a big dog trapped in a small dog’s body. She can often be found biting at Charlie’s ankles and jumping up to take a bite out of his ear, but most often she is found standing on top of the couch barking at dogs passing by in the neighborhood. Ginger’s favorite trick is to bolt out of the front door and then run away from her family members as they try to call her to come back.

Charlie and Ginger love their Lee Heights neighborhood. When not exploring the Zachary Taylor nature preserve or fetching balls at Taylor Elementary or H-B Woodlawn (off hours only, of course) they can be found enjoying a puppucino at the Lee Heights Starbucks or waiting for a slice of salami outside Arrowine.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email office@arlnow.com with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet.

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care, the winner of three Angie’s List Super Service Awards and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year, provides professional dog walking and pet sitting services in Arlington and Northern Virginia.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm 955 0

Ask Adam Real Living header

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos, Arlington-based real estate broker, voted one of Arlington Magazine’s Best Realtors of 2013 & 2014. Please submit your questions via email.

Q. I would love to shorten the length of my 30-year mortgage. I’ve heard that bi-weekly payments can shorten the loan to almost 20 years. Is that true? If so, how does it work?

A. Whenever we get mortgage questions, I like to bring in a mortgage expert. I shared your question with Paul Nagel at First Home Mortgage to gain his insight and advice.

A decade or two ago, a way of making mortgage payments, called the “Bi-Weekly Payment Program” was introduced, and gained popularity. For an annual administrative charge, the program would automatically take half of your monthly mortgage payment from your bank account every two weeks. By doing so, you would pay off a 30 year mortgage in 23-24 years, notably reducing interest paid to the bank.

Before going any further, it’s important to know that this is not a bad program — it does as it advertises and saves money. That said, there’s a much easier way to reduce the term of your mortgage 6-7 years, save approximately the same interest, and skip the $100 – $300 yearly administration fee for the bi-weekly program.

By way of background, a Bi Weekly plan actually makes one extra payment every year due to some simple math:

  • A typical mortgage makes one payment per month, or 12 payments a year
  • The Bi Weekly Payment Plans make one half-payment every two weeks;
  • With 52 weeks in a year, that makes 26 half-payments during the year
  • 26 half-payments equals 13 full payments, or one extra payment every year than making one’s mortgage payment every month

The fact that one extra payment is made each year accounts for well over 90 percent of the benefit (i.e. shortening the life of the mortgage). Said differently, if one, on their own, makes one extra payment per year, they would obtain almost the identical benefits of the Bi Weekly Program, but save the $100-$300 administration fee.

All this feeds into a bigger question: specifically whether it’s good or not to make extra payments to your mortgage. The technical answer to this question is relative to what returns you money could earn invested elsewhere. For example, if your interest rate was currently 4 percent, and you could invest in your uncle’s oil well and earn 20 percent annually, it would not make much sense to save 4 percent in interest but skip the opportunity to earn 20 percent with your Uncle. Conversely, if you were earning 1 percent in a Certificate of Deposit, making extra payments to your mortgage could make sense.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by Ethan Rothstein — January 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm 606 0

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Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

The logo in ThreatConnect's office(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) One of the most promising companies in the cybersecurity space is based in a small office in Shirlington, where it helps Fortune 100 companies protect themselves from hackers.

ThreatConnect, which changed its name from Cyber Squared in November after it received $4 million in funding, formed four years ago, and launched its data security software platform in August 2013. In the year and change since, it has grown to serve 650 companies, 3,300 users and “40 of the Fortune 100 companies,” CEO Adam Vincent told ARLnow.com last week.

ThreatConnect is poised in the coming year to add more than 50 jobs and move to bigger office space. Vincent says he wants to stay in Arlington because, he says, “I live here. I like it here.”

The company started in 2011 when Vincent and three co-founders — Chief Intelligence Officer Richard Barger, CFO Leigh Reichel and Product Director Andrew Pendergrast — left their jobs in the cybersecurity industry to start their own company because, as Vincent said, they were “frustrated private companies couldn’t protect themselves against hackers.”

“These hacker groups are like if Navy SEALs showed up at your office building,” Vincent, a lover of metaphors to explain his complicated industry, explained. “There’s not too many buildings that can protect themselves.”

Cyber Squared launched consulting for private businesses on cyber security to pay the bills while they were bootstrapping themselves and building out their ThreatConnect platform. The platform allows companies to sign up for free and connect to other companies’ data, to give them more information when combatting cyber threats. The more companies that sign up, the more powerful the tool becomes.

From left, ThreatConnect cofounders Adam Pendergast, Richard Barger, Adam Vincent and Leigh ReichelSecurity is very “silo-ed,” Vincent said, and when the data each company acquires on threats can’t reach each other, each company’s defenses are weaker because of their lack of knowledge

“We built a brain in the network,” Vincent said. “They already had the arms and legs. We connect them.”

Vincent also compared each company to a section in the orchestra, and compared ThreatConnect’s software to the conductor. “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard an orchestra without a conductor, but it doesn’t sound very good.”

And while the sound of cellos not playing from the same music as tubas doesn’t sound appealing, it doesn’t come close to describing the attack companies — and their customers — have come under since ThreatConnect launched.

More than 40 million Target customers had their data hacked on Black Friday in 2013. JPMorgan Chase was hacked in summer 2014, affecting 73 million families, according to the New York Times. And, most recently, Sony Pictures was hacked in a suspected cyber attack from North Korea, prompting it to not release its movie, The Interview, as planned.

Every time one of those major hacks has occurred, ThreatConnect’s phone lines have started ringing, Vincent said.

“All of our brands are constantly under attack,” he said. “We’re in a world today where people are going to take what they want via cyber and it’s happening around the world. This is a sophisticated operation. It’s important we figure out a way as a market to solve it.”

ThreatConnect's Shirlington officeIn addition to the free platform, where the large majority of ThreatConnect’s users come from, the company also offers two paid versions of ThreatConnect. One, recommended for companies Vincent described as “in between the Fortune 5,000 and the Fortune 500,” is called the private cloud, where ThreatConnect doesn’t share the companies data externally, it protects the company internally.

It’s third option “On-prem” targets the “biggest of the big” companies, offers them “analyst on-demand service” — which Vincent described as “tele-medicine” for cybersecurity.

There are less than 50 paying ThreatConnect clients at this point, but that’s where Vincent expects the boom to happen this year. To help grow that side of the business, ThreatConnect announced today the hiring of its first vice president of sales, Matt Brenner, formerly of SourceFire, acquired by Cisco Systems for $2.7 billion.

“The market is just now starting,” he said. “We believe we have a massive opportunity to sell to the masses.”

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 9, 2015 at 2:30 pm 1,080 0

Weekend Wine and Beer Guide logo

Editor’s Note: This biweekly column is sponsored by Dominion Wine and Beer (107 Rowell Court, Falls Church). It is written by Garrett Cruce, a Certified Beer Server in the Cicerone Certification Program.

Happy Friday, Arlington!

Let me introduce myself — I’m Garrett. I’m a beer lover, be it craft or import, and a Certified Beer Server in the Cicerone Certification Program. I’ll be writing the beer articles in ARLnow for the folks at Dominion Wine and Beer. I’m on Instagram as CraftHockey, check out my posts for a preview of what I’m going to write about, and more. I can’t wait to share some great beer with you all!

The beers I want to share with you today have two things in common: they are imperial stouts and they were aged in barrels. Either attribute makes them special, but together they transcend your average barrel-aged ale or imperial stout. Let’s step back for a second and learn about what these two things mean.

I used to wonder what it meant for a stout — or any style of beer — to be called “imperial.” Well, in 18th century Russia, the ruling class loved stouts. They were imported from England, but the long trip took a toll on regular stouts. Imperial stouts were developed for export using more hops and malt giving them much higher ABVs so they could stand up to the long journey.

One of the first breweries making this rich beer was Thrale’s Anchor Brewery in London. They were bought in 1781 by Barclay, Perkins & Co. who went on to establish the classic recipe for the imperial stout. Now, we call nearly any beer that has a very high ABV an “imperial.”

Barrel aging, like the “imperial” designation, is something that is saved for only the most special of beers. When the alchemy that is barrel aging works, the result is magical. Wood contains a chemical called lignin, among others, which is absorbed by the beer and converts to vanillin over time — it tastes like it sounds.

Of course, beer was stored and sold from wooden barrels for many years even into the 20th century, but great lengths were taken to ensure that the wood didn’t impart any of its own flavors. According to Randy Mosher, in 1992 Chicago’s Goose Island was one of the first American craft breweries to commercially age beer in bourbon barrels to take advantage of the flavors they can impart.

Let’s look at four barrel-aged imperial stouts that are available now.

IMG_3612Schlafly 2013 Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels (ABV: 10.2%)

Before you even drink this opaque black stout, it’s clear that this has been in aged in wooden barrels. The aroma has the caramelized sugar and woodiness to be expected with a beer in this category. The big pay-off is in the taste, though — its a mixture of molasses from the sip to the aftertaste with a sharp edge from the alcohol. As it warms in the glass, Schlafly Imperial Stout’s molasses grows more complex with the addition of stewed fruit. This stout is a warming treat to sip and savor.

IMG_3613Boulevard Brewing Co. Smokestack Series Imperial Stout aged in whiskey barrels (ABV: 11%)

This powerful imperial stout fools the nose at first, as it has the aroma of a dry stout. There’s little hint of the barrel-aged goodness in the glass. Once you taste it, though, the wood comes through along with sweet caramel and the tell-tale alcohol bite. I particularly enjoyed this when it warmed up in the glass. Interestingly, this stout poured and feels thinner than most stouts of it’s type, but that is not a negative. Boulevard’s Imperial Stout is a rich gem that is perfect as the days get colder again.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — January 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm 338 0

Rental Report header

Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

You’ve decided to rent out your home. You’ve created a business plan, opened a separate checking account, and called your insurance company.

Now what? You have to prepare your home to be shown and rented. Here are some tips to get your condo or house “ready to rent.”

Tidy Up

We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You may love knick-knacks on the coffee table and pictures on your refrigerator. In the rental world, however, these items may deter a potential renter from choosing your apartment. People want to picture themselves and their own items in their new home. Make this easy for them by removing things such as pictures, stacks of papers, personal items, laundry, litter boxes, and anything soiled or less than pristine. Clean and uncluttered surfaces, neatly arranged furniture, and organized closet spaces go a long way toward making your condo or apartment feel like “home” for someone else.

Inspect Your Home

The last thing you want is for your renters to move in the first day and your washing machine to flood the apartment. Check that all major appliances are running smoothly. Fix any leaks or cracks in the home — these problems will only get worse as time goes on. Make sure you have working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on each floor and the kitchen. Screens and doors should be inspected and properly adjusted before the showings. Plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets all need to be in working order.

Kennel Pets for Showings

Landlords should remember that not every tenant is a pet-lover. Tenants must be free to view your condo or apartment without running headlong into your Doberman. Even smaller pets, such as cats, could pose a problem for renters who may be allergic to, or fearful of, them. Your goal is to rent your place as quickly as possible. To that end, kennel your pets for all showings or have a friend on-call who can house your pet briefly for a last-minute showing. If there are stains on the carpet or wood floors with damage, think about removal or repair. Do the sniff test; ask a friend to make sure there are no odors reminiscent of your best friend Fido living there.

Remove Valuables

You hope that the renter will treat your home as if it was theirs, but it’s not worth taking the risk. If you have an heirloom, such as a grandfather clock or chandelier that you find irreplaceable, consider removing it first. And always put your personal items away when there is a showing as things can have a way of disappearing. You can put a lock on an “owner’s closet” to store items but make sure your renters know this upfront so there are no misunderstandings.

Now that your property is cleaned and fixed up, it is time to put it on the market. First, set a realistic timeline for finding renters and create a plan for marketing to them. Also, outline any non-negotiable items for your lease before showing your property to prospective renters. The more organized you are, the more the seamless process will be. If you don’t have the time or could use some help with the process, you can enlist the help of a rental brokerage to help find renters, show your property and facilitate the lease and application process.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to info@urbanigloo.com.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

by ARLnow.com — January 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm 674 0

This week’s Arlington Pet of the Week is Cassie, a rescue dog from Kentucky who is a “true Southern Belle.”

Here’s what owner Melissa had to say about her hospitable hound:

We adopted our little monster in January 2014 from a rescue organization out of Kentucky, and it was love at first sight. Lady Crème de Cassis, aka Cassie lives up to her name and is a true Southern Belle. She is just as comfortable at home sleeping on soft blankets and squishy beds as she is running around outside tracking bunnies. Cassie often works her southern charms at the dog park; getting all the other dogs to chase her around is her favorite game.

Cassie’s favorite pastime is eating (and she has perfected her begging face!), so she often gets a carrot or two in-between meals. She also has a bit of a sweet tooth, and routinely head butts us out the door in the morning so that we will leave her with a Kong filled with treats. Of course, she is always happy to see us return and greets us with the most enthusiastic tail wagging.

Cassie rarely raises her voice, but she has been known to occasionally howl at the TV, especially at the dragons on Game of Thrones, and, of course, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Snuggling up on the couch is her favorite way to end a day full of squirrel chasing and chewing rawhides, and every time Cassie cuddles up next to us we know we are so lucky to have this little lady as a part of our family.

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email office@arlnow.com with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet.

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care, the winner of three Angie’s List Super Service Awards and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year, provides professional dog walking and pet sitting services in Arlington and Northern Virginia.

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