Daniel McGinn

Stories by Daniel McGinn

  • Is That My Toothpaste?

    Luxury Dorms Aren't Everything. Cramped Living Quarters Can Make You Get Out And Make New Friends.
  • Fixer Upper

    In the last year, ambitious Americans have spent nearly $120 billion remodeling their homes, according to Harvard researchers. (And, yes, they study such things.) But when it comes to renovation inspiration, episodes of "This Old House" can only take you so far. That's where Taunton Press comes in. Last fall it launched a fascinating series of books called "Updating Classic America," and so far they've covered bungalows, capes and colonial houses. An edition on ranches is due out this fall.Written by architects and filled with lavish photography, the series gives readers a primer on the trademark design elements of each genre, before-and-after looks at dozens of renovation projects and handy definitions (to help you distinguish between, say, a "shed dormer" and a "Nantucket dormer"). The resources page even lists contact info for the architects whose work is featured in each volume. The books cost $29.95 apiece, but beware: just page through one, and within days there'll be a very...
  • Advice For Martha

    If Martha Stewart sees jail time (a trial date was set last week), she'll likely be sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., one of the minimum-security "prison camps," nicknamed "Club Fed." In 1988 former Wall Street Journal reporter R. Foster Winans spent seven months there for insider trading. Now a writer and lecturer, he shared his institutional knowledge with NEWSWEEK's Daniel McGinn:How many stars do you give it?It isn't a club. It's like a military barracks--bunk beds, 70 or 80 to a room. It's just unbelievably boring. Most people there have nothing to do with white-collar crime. There was one guy there for pissing in a mailbox, which is a federal crime.Is it worse than, say, a Motel 6?There's only one TV. Making a phone call is a hassle: you have to wait in line, you only get 15 minutes and every call is recorded. But if you have money, you can hire another inmate to make your bed or do your laundry. You pay them in quarters or cigarettes.Should...
  • Let's Make A (Tough) Deal

    If you're in the market for a cordless phone, it's hard to beat Northwestern Bell's 900MHz model--especially during a recent promotion at OfficeMax. Earlier this month the $29.99 phone was being sold with a $19.99 instant rebate and a $10 mail-in rebate, resulting in a net price of zero. On its Web site last week, OfficeMax touted Hi-Val modems and 50-packs of CD-ROM jewel cases, both "Free after Rebates!" At Best Buy, past the Hewlett-Packard and Compaq laptops (each featuring $200 mail-in rebates), TDK 50-pack CD-R discs are selling for $2.99 (after $17 in rebates).All this free and nearly free stuff is a silver lining to the cloudy economy. Rebates have been an effective sales tactic for decades, but executives at "fulfillment houses"--the firms that process rebate checks--say the practice is booming. Manufacturers and retailers love rebates because they drive store traffic--and because many customers don't bother to send away for the rebates, lowering the cost of the promotion....
  • A Big House For Martha?

    It played like a scene right out of NBC's cheesy recent movie, "Martha, Inc." But unfortunately for the domestic diva, this was real life. Martha Stewart, in a crisp gray pantsuit, with a cream raincoat and coordinated umbrella, stepped past cameramen into a courthouse in Manhattan last week to face arraignment on criminal charges, including securities fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The indictment was the culmination of the investigation into Stewart's sale of 3,928 shares of ImClone, a once hot biotech firm, the day before its price plummeted on news of a setback for a promising cancer drug. Standing before the judge, Stewart pleaded not guilty; her attorneys insist she'll be exonerated. If not, America's Tastemaker could face 10 years in a federal prison.No matter how the trial goes, Stewart has already paid a steep price. Shares in her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, have fallen 50 percent since her legal troubles began. While the stock trade that landed...
  • Testing, Testing

    Four guys sit in a library conference room, passing a bag of Krispy Kremes and taking turns at the chalkboard. "Name the three basic numbering systems used by modern computers," one man orders another. Another fellow fills the board with lines of programming. They look like computer-science majors cramming for an exam--except these men graduated from college decades ago. Instead, they're unemployed tech workers who meet weekly in suburban Boston to bone up for job interviews. "I used to know this," says Stephen Anthony, a lanky software engineer, scrunching his face as he tries to answer a question about "multitasking mechanisms." If he's going to flub a question, better to do it here than in front of a hiring manager.Remember the good old days of the long boom, when job applicants held the upper hand? Back then it seemed like any qualified applicant who gave semi-coherent answers to standard interview questions ("Where do you want to be in five years?") might have a job offer by...
  • Brits Do It Better

    When NBC unveils its new sitcom "Coupling" next fall, it'll look familiar to some viewers--the smart ones who watch BBC America. "Coupling" is just the most recent British hit to be adapted for U.S. airwaves (think "Trading Spaces," "What Not to Wear"). And BBC America brings the often-superior original versions to 35 million U.S. homes via satellite or digital cable. Watching the source material gives a glimpse at how producers cater to our culture (like reading Plutarch to understand Shakespeare). Never seen "Coupling"? It stars six attractive singles with intertwined romances, so the comparisons to "Friends" are inevitable. But it's actually a wickedly funny, sex-fueled romp. Let's just hope it doesn't get diluted during its trip across the pond.
  • The Ceo's Challenge

    Early one morning around Christmastime, Rick Wagoner was running on the treadmill in his suburban Detroit home, flipping TV channels. Way up the cable dial he came across an old movie he'd never seen: "Roger & Me." In the 1989 documentary, the angry populist filmmaker Michael Moore pursues General Motors' chairman, Roger Smith, attempting to lambaste him for laying off workers. Wagoner, GM's current CEO, was working overseas when the film came out; he'd never seen it. So he jogged along, watching as Moore torments one of his predecessors. Wagoner stopped running before the ending, but he'd seen enough to give his own blurb-worthy review: "Glad it wasn't me."Michael Moore's wrath is now focused on the Oval Office--which is a rare break these days--for a new generation of corporate chieftains. Like Wagoner, 50, they've ascended to top jobs during the worst economic environment in decades. These men and women--many still in their 40s--have spent their careers managing through...
  • No Pc Required

    Art Larson is no Luddite. He keeps an IBM laptop in his home office and a late-model Dell desktop in a nook upstairs. Larson, a tax preparer in Stow, Mass., e-mails his clients, surfs the Web and uses CD-ROMs to find answers to technical tax questions. But when it's time to prepare his clients' 1040s each spring, Larson turns to a different technology: a Pentel 0.5 Twist-Erase graphite pencil and an old-school Texas Instruments calculator. In the age of TurboTax, he powers through 200 or so tax returns each year by hand. Larson, 59, has looked at tax software, but he's not convinced they'd make him more efficient. By doing returns the old-fashioned way, he believes he's paying closer attention. "I feel I'm giving clients more of their money's worth," Larson says.Every small business has to decide how much to rely on technology to streamline operations. Many tax preparers began computerizing their number-crunching and form-printing operations two decades ago. But the holdouts'...
  • The Military: Now Families Face The Cost Of War

    After the shocking news, the tears and the funerals, the families of GIs killed in Iraq face a more prosaic concern: how will they pay the bills? In today's older, career-oriented military, a far greater percentage of fallen servicemen will leave behind a spouse and children than in previous wars. It's a small solace that those dependents have already begun receiving survivors' benefits that could be payable for decades. The benefits start flowing within hours of a serviceman's death, when his family receives a "death gratuity" of $6,000. Then comes a life-insurance payout: today most military personnel take out a policy worth $250,000, and some buy supplemental coverage. Under a Veterans Affairs program called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, the spouse of a fallen serviceman receives $948 per month (plus $237 per child) until death or remarriage; the payouts are adjusted for inflation each year. The families also get three years of free medical care and generous college...
  • The CEO’s Challenge

    Early one morning around Christmastime, Rick Wagoner was running on the treadmill in his suburban Detroit home, flipping TV channels. Way up the cable dial he came across an old movie he’d never seen: “Roger & Me.” In the 1989 documentary, the angry populist filmmaker Michael Moore pursues General Motors’ chairman, Roger Smith, attempting to lambaste him for laying off workers. Wagoner, GM’s current CEO, was working overseas when the film came out; he’d never seen it.SO HE JOGGED ALONG, watching as Moore torments one of his predecessors. Wagoner stopped running before the ending, but he’d seen enough to give his own blurb-worthy review: “Glad it wasn’t me.”Michael Moore’s wrath is now focused on the Oval Office—which is a rare break these days—for a new generation of corporate chieftains. Like Wagoner, 50, they’ve ascended to top jobs during the worst economic environment in decades. These men and women—many still in their 40s—have spent their careers managing through prosperous...
  • Clubs: First, The Safety Spiel

    Before a band takes the stage at Jaxx, a rock club in Springfield, Va., owner Jay Nedry takes the microphone for some announcements. And since last month's Rhode Island club fire, he's been starting off with a speech that sounds familiar to anyone who's been on an airplane. "Here are the exits, we have four," he says, pointing, flight-attendant style, to the front and back of the club. He tells the crowd about the backup generator that will keep lights burning in an emergency, and the glow-in-the-dark arrows on the floor. "You don't want to put a downer on things, but you also need to ratchet up the attention level here," says Nedry, whose club routinely hosted the band Great White. (In fact, the band had been scheduled to play at Jaxx the night after the Rhode Island fire.) As they do on airplanes, some people ignore the safety talk, but many pay attention. "A lot of people come up and say, 'This is really cool, we appreciate it'," says Nedry, who's considering holding fire drills...
  • 'I'm A Church Man'

    In the back of St. Ann's Catholic Church in West Bridgewater, Mass., there's a bulletin board covered with yellow Post-Its. It's the parish Prayer Wall. Most of the supplicants seek God's help for relatives who are sick. But scattered among the postings are prayers for their priest, who's been facing a unique peril. "For Father's return and the clearing of his name," says one. "For Father McDonagh to come back soon," reads another in a child's penmanship. The missives are for Father Edward C. McDonagh, 65, the parish priest until last May 24, when he was placed on leave by the Boston Archdiocese for allegedly raping a teenage boy 39 years ago. Last month the parish's prayers were answered. Father McDonagh is back, giving homilies about lepers and possessing a newfound perspective on what it's like to be shunned by society.It's been 14 months since the scandal over the Roman Catholic Church's handling of priest sexual abuse broke in Boston and rippled across the country. Nationwide,...
  • Everybody's Next-Door Neighbor

    Though word of his death had hit the morning news shows a few hours earlier, Fred Rogers looked as chipper as ever last Thursday as he strolled in the familiar front door. Judging from the grayness of his hair, this was one of PBS's late-vintage episodes, circa 1999. On this day he chose the purple cardigan and welcomed a marine biologist into his televisual neighborhood. The two of them stood by an aquarium talking in quiet tones while a piano periodically trilled. In a video clip within the video, Rogers dons a wet suit and snorkels among tropical fish. "It seems so peaceful down there," he says.Peacefulness isn't the first attribute you think of when you consider what makes great television. But it's the essence of the ritualized world of make-believe that Rogers crafted for children over the course of four decades in the studio. Word of his death last week, from stomach cancer, briefly crowded out news of terror alerts and impending war. He would have liked that. Mister Rogers...
  • Jobs: Going Out In Style

    When Sharron Kahn Luttrell learned she was getting laid off last month, her boss insisted on throwing her one of those awkward, cake-in-a-conference-room fetes. Luttrell had another idea: an unemployment shower, fashioned after bridal or baby showers. Some people brought Rolodex cards with contacts for her job hunt. Some brought samples of standout resumes. Says Luttrell, who wrote about it in The Boston Globe: "I wanted [an event] that was really practical that would send me off with something to help me build my future." With the economy still idling, experts say layoffs will likely continue, creating more guests of honor if the shower concept catches on. It wouldn't work everywhere, says outplacement consultant Bob Gardella, since many companies send layoff victims out the door immediately. But Diane Zielinski, an unemployed Rochester, N.Y., marketing executive, says the idea needn't be confined to offices. She envisions showers thrown by friends, with music ("Take This Job and...
  • Lawsuits: Food Fight

    New York lawyer Samuel Hirsch weighs 155 pounds, eats tuna for lunch nearly every day and, because he keeps kosher, has never eaten at McDonald's. But when he decided last summer to sue the restaurant chain on behalf of obese teenagers who blamed fast food, he was ridiculed on talk radio and by late-night comics, who said fat people should blame themselves. Last month a federal judge dismissed Hirsch's lawsuit in a sprawling decision (one that invoked both Subway dieter Jared Fogle and Don Gorske, a Wisconsin man who's eaten a Big Mac a day for 30 years). Despite the setback, Hirsch remains resolute. "I'm not going to walk away from this now," he says. "I've become a believer in the cause." And now, Hirsch tells NEWSWEEK, he's targeting companies selling weight-loss products such as herbal supplements. Within weeks, he says, his law firm will begin placing ads in magazines to invite clients who bought the products but failed to lose weight to join a class-action lawsuit. He also...
  • Do-It-Yourself Isn't Dead Yet

    There are no lava lamps in the office, no mullet haircuts or acid-washed jeans. But look closely into this second-floor suite in a brick building outside Boston and it feels as if you've stepped into a long-ago, far-away place. Lalith Gnanasiri stares at computer monitors, watching second-by-second movements in stock prices. Until last year Gnanasiri worked as a real-estate broker, but for the last few months he's been learning a new vocation, one that was the height of chic during the 1990s bull market. Gnanasiri clicks his mouse, buying 200 shares of a brokerage company at $70.77 apiece. He watches the price tiptoe higher. Three minutes later he clicks to sell. His profit: $20. If it weren't for CNBC showing the Dow at 8300, you'd wonder if somebody forgot to tell Gnanasiri and his colleagues the stock market has been a money pit for three years now. But bear market be damned, the folks in this room still believe in day trading--even if the very term makes them sound like an...
  • Tending Tots With Tivo

    When adults buy digital video recorders like TiVo or ReplayTV, they hope to avoid missing favorite shows like "The West Wing" or "The Sopranos." But some families are discovering that the devices have another great use: to manage and limit their kids' viewing. "That's a huge part of the appeal," says Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff. TiVo data show that 19.7 percent of its users have a Season Pass (which automatically records every episode) on at least one kids' show. "Blue's Clues" is being recorded nearly as much as "The Drew Carey Show"; the most TiVoed kids' show, "Justice League," trumps prime-time newcomers "Fastlane" and "Presidio Med." Bernoff says DVRs may prevent his kids' generation (they're 4 and 7) from turning into channel surfers. "My children think TV means you sit down and see a list of stuff that's been recorded for you," Bernoff says. "You're making a conscious choice on what to watch, and when you're done with what you've chosen, the default is not to sit...
  • Periscope

    STRIKESA Wakened GiantStagnant pay and unease at the prospect of labor-market reforms are pushing Europe's largest unions toward confrontation. This summer's walkout by a million Spaniards was the country's first general strike in eight years. Recent weeks have seen union-led strikes in Italy, Belgium and Portugal. The British Army was recently called in to cover for the nation's striking firefighters. And last week, in France, tens of thousands--from air-traffic controllers to train drivers--quit work to protest. Worse could be on the way: Germany's biggest union is squaring up for a tussle with the government. The unions have acted in a "very responsible" manner up until recent months, says Wim Bergans of the Brussels-based European Trades Union Confederation--which represents 44 million workers. But restraint is now out of fashion.The upsurge in action is a blow to any optimists lulled into believing that union militancy was on the wane. One reason for the calm was rising...
  • Fewer Friends In Need

    Betsy Isroelit has much to be thankful for. The 59-year-old resident of Hollywood, Calif., runs her own marketing company and has a loving husband and four children. But as she sits down to Thanksgiving dinner this year, Isroelit has one big regret: she's less able to share her good fortune with charities as generously as she has in years past. Usually she writes checks to a host of local and national disease-fighting organizations and do-gooders. But this year, with the stagnant economy and the flaccid stock market, she's cut back, axing groups like the Sierra Club, a local AIDS organization and former president Bill Clinton's library from her list of recipients. "I absolutely hate the fact that I did this," says Isroelit. Even the checks she's still sending out--to groups like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the local Boys Club--are for smaller amounts; overall, her donations have dropped by 25 percent. "I'll never stop giving," she says. "But I wish I didn't have to narrow that...
  • Playground Of The Rich

    For months New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has been investigating how brokerage houses hoodwinked investors during the great bull market. Last week Spitzer turned his spotlight onto an even more cutthroat arena: the internecine world of Upper East Side nursery schools. In e-mails leaked to newspapers, Salomon Smith Barney's former star telecom analyst Jack Grubman implored his boss, Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill, to help get the Grubmans' twins into the ultracompetitive 92nd Street Y preschool. Weill used his pull, and the tykes won coveted seats in Manhattan's prestige Play-Doh pen.Ordinarily there's no scandal in such influence wielding. But in an e-mail to a friend, Grubman bragged that in order to win Weill's help, he'd temporarily upgraded his rating of AT&T stock to help Weill influence AT&T CEO C. Michael Armstrong--a client and Citigroup director. Last week Grubman disavowed the message and Weill called it "pure nonsense."The scandal's latest turn is more a...
  • College: Nothing To Fear But The Toilet Itself

    As Harvard freshmen, Stephen Stromberg, Mike Donahue and Matt Ferrante lived in a typical cinder-block dorm. Now sophomores, they're bunking in a room with a notable history, its status denoted by a wall plaque: Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived in this room, 1900-1904. The Adams House suite, traditionally a professor's office, is housing students for the first time in decades. Above the original fireplace is a framed, handwritten letter from FDR to his parents; in the bathroom the sophomores use the original claw-foot tub and antique pull-chain toilet, which flushes with Niagara-like fury. "It's sort of a bizarre feeling to bathe where FDR bathed," says Stephen, a political junkie. Regarding the toilet, Matt says, "Knowing that we sit where he sat is, uh, interesting." They're growing accustomed to the apparently ghost-free room, for which they pay Harvard's standard rooming fee. They're also evaluating the efficacy of "Would you like to see FDR's room?" as a pickup line. The history...
  • Credit Cards: Dented A Rental?

    For years I've used my American Express Corporate Card whenever I've rented a car. After hearing all those AmEx ads ("Membership has its privileges"), I assumed it'd give me the best insurance coverage if I ever banged up a rental. I found out this summer when I dented a rented minivan.Oops. Turns out that while personal American Express cards offer rental-car coverage, my Corporate Card doesn't. (NEWSWEEK would have reimbursed me if I'd been on business.) No matter what card I'd used, my personal automobile insurance would have covered any damage over my $1,000 deductible. What I needed was "secondary" rental coverage to cover the deductible, which most cards offer for gold, platinum or titanium card-holders. The rental manager offered a tip. Though I'd put the deposit on my AmEx, I could still use any card in my wallet to settle the bill. So I called around and found that one of my cards had coverage, flipped the bill to that card and then submitted the insurance claim. A month...
  • Guilt Free TV

    In The Beginning, There Was Big Bird. Now, Thanks To Intense Competition From Disney And Nick, There Are More Quality Shows For Preschoolers Than Ever.
  • Backwardly Mobile M.B.A.

    Imagine a high-tech device that allows you to observe people's daydreams. Now fancy wheeling that instrument into a classroom at the Harvard Business School. Adjust the dials and see where these high achievers hope to wind up. Some undoubtedly dream about being CEOs, putting their business acumen to the ultimate challenge. Others may long to start companies and cash in on IPOs. And a few may envision life as business celebrities, with appearances on CNBC and in NEWSWEEK. But then there's Todd Krizelman, a second-year student in Harvard's M.B.A. program, for whom that vision sounds so 1999. During the dot-com boom, he achieved the kind of success many M.B.A.s would envy--albeit briefly. Now, in a twist, he's one of a handful of former Net luminaries who've headed back to campus to find their next challenge.Top B-schools routinely attract people with diverse backgrounds: Harvard's current crop of M.B.A.s includes a Roman Catholic priest and several M.D.s. But even in this pool of...
  • Reality Bites

    Talk-radio hosts often chat with callers about sports or politics. Now there's a place for fans of bicuspids. Florida dentist Dr. Mitchell Josephs hosts a call-in radio show, "This Old Mouth" (www.thisoldmouth.net), now airing in 35 cities. Tip Sheet's Daniel McGinn gave him some questions to chew on:Some dentists urge middle-aged folks to replace old silver fillings. Is that necessary?It's a myth that the mercury inside silver fillings is dangerous. The only reasons to replace a filling are because of leakage or fracture, if it's so worn down that it's no longer making good contact on the biting surface with the opposite tooth or recurrent decay under the old filling. Some patients get tired of having people see dark-colored fillings when they smile.What do you think of tongue brushes?They're a good way to scrape plaque off the back of the tongue, which is a cause of bad breath. I use one.What's the best way to whiten teeth?We use a process that just came out called Zoom whitening....
  • In The Boonies, An Oasis Of Success

    At the height of the inter-net boom, Tom Mancuso kept hearing from investors who wanted to pick his brain. If Mancuso were a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, that might've been unremarkable. But Mancuso manages a huge industrial complex outside Buffalo, N.Y., with hardly an Internet e-commerce business in sight. The Netheads kept seeking him out because Mancuso's low-tech facility years ago pioneered a concept that became a hot start-up tool in the '90s: business incubation. Developed by Mancuso's family in the '60s, the process had long been a favored tool of economic developers to lure new jobs to old cities. Then, VCs latched onto the concept as a way to hatch e-commerce start-ups like eToys and Priceline.com. Mancuso did his best to help, but he was usually shaking his head by the time he hung up the phone. "I remember thinking, 'There's nothing I can do to help these guys'," says Mancuso, who favors a slow-but-steady method of company-building. "We're not even on the same...
  • Brave New Job Hunt

    There was a time when Andy Sipowicz, hero of "NYPD Blue," made the perfect cop. He's tough, street-smart and knows how to squeeze a perp till he squeals. But old-school Andy lacks a skill that may soon be a prerequisite for 21st-century detective work: knowing how to glean secrets from a suspect's hard drive. In an age when computers hold the key to everything from terrorist plots to accounting scandals, nearly every crime can potentially leave "digital evidence," says Burlington, Vt., Police Lt. Michael Schirling. And that's why 26 students at Champlain College have signed up for Computer Forensics, a new course taught by Schirling and Champlain professor Gary Kessler. They'll learn which kinds of search warrants gumshoes need to look inside a PC as well as how to find out what a suspect typed in a chat room or tried to delete. "Law-enforcement agencies are backed up months, if not years, in forensic examinations of computers," Schirling says. That means good job prospects for...
  • Fields Of Dreams

    Geoffrey Hunt does a lousy impression of Mr. McGuire, the character in "The Graduate" who doles out cinema's most famous piece of career counsel ("Just one word... 'Plastics' "). But after 22 years at Osram Sylvania, the lighting company where Hunt is human-resources vice president, he's seen enough career faddism to know that good advice can't be reduced to a single buzzword. He remembers the oil crisis of the late '70s, when petroleum engineering took a turn as the hot specialty. And he recalls the '80s and '90s, when companies lusted after an ever-changing lineup of high-tech specialties from Java to SAP. He's glad to see that notions of a ballyhooed "free agent'' work force that hopped between jobs like itinerant tradesmen have faded as quickly as the Pets.com sock puppet. Hunt is hoping his future hires stick around. "We're looking for people who want to make a career with us for 20 or 25 years, who are prepared to reinvent themselves many times over that career,'' he says...
  • Periscope

    Asleep With the Enemy ...