Neurotechnology and the Future of Hope – Robotics Tomorrow (press release)

If researchers can use implanted BCIs to allow people to bypass their muscles, indeed, if these scientists can find a cost-effective, reliable way to work around a damaged or compromised nervous system, people suffering paraplegia, amputation, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s, and a host of other diseases that rob them of their independence, may soon find that the frustrations of daily life are lessened.

Richard van Hooijdonk | Richard van Hooijdonk

Bill Kochevar wears a bright red shirt and what looks like a cast on his right arm. As he raises a fork to his mouth, his movements are awkward and slow, supported by a gravity defying brace mounted on the floor next to his wheelchair.

Hes got a fork full of mashed potatoes, and as he raises it to his mouth, the joy on his face is unmistakable.

It was amazing…I thought about moving my arm and it did!

That may seem unremarkable to you, but since a bicycle collision with a mail truck, Kochevar has been paralysed from the neck down.

Just imagine being paralysed.

Its the stuff of nightmares–wanting to flee and finding your legs rooted in place, unresponsive.

And weve all slept on an arm for long enough to render it dead. Think about that experience now. When you woke up, your limb was just meat, just dead weight that wouldnt move at your beck and call as it should.

Now imagine knowing that no amount of waiting will summon the pins and needles that mean your arm is coming back from the dead, that instead, itll hang lifeless at your side for the rest of your life, and that far from being indispensably useful, youll instead spend every waking moment trying to compensate for this new obstacle, adjusting everything you do from brushing your teeth to driving a car to typing at work–if, indeed, you can work.

Now extend that to multiple limbs or remove them altogether.

You can start to see what its like to live in a body that refuses to cooperate.

Paralysis affects far more people than you might realise. For instance, the Reeve Foundation recently found that 1 in 50 Americans struggle with paralysis caused by stroke, spinal injury, and muscular sclerosis. Nearly a majority are unable to work, a staggering 41.8%.

For them, independence is a dream, something they might remember but no longer experience. But now, advances in neurotech may help them live fuller, more self-sufficient lives.

Mind-controlled wheelchairs and the next step

To help those whove suffered a profound loss of motor control, researchers have been exploring mind-controlled wheelchairs. Rodrigo Quevedo, a Chilean engineer, has developed a design in his Idea factory. His motivating passion, he says, is to do something so [paraplegics] can move. Rodrigos current designs steer the chair by subtle head movements, but hes hoping to make the move to neural control soon.

Diwakar Vaish beat Rodrigo to the punch. This young Indian tech guru has developed the first commercially available wheelchair that features a brain computer interface (BCI). The user need only wear a headset that collects information from her brains electrical impulses, the neural storm that accompanies thought. The BCI translates these minute electrical signals into a language a computer can understand, something like a sophisticated google translate of thoughts. Now that the computer can grasp what a particular thought looks like, it can react and obey.

In Vaishs system, the non-invasive headset connects the users brain to the chair via Bluetooth, and augmented by proximity and terrain sensors, this has allowed even the most stricken patients a measure of autonomy. All thats demanded of the user is a healthy brain, so even those trapped by Locked-in Syndrome can use the new chair. As Vaish told The Sunday Guardian, We have tried it on patients who are in a vegetative state, but their brain is functional and it was successful.

The next steps are to move beyond motorised chairs and into the world of exoskeletons. Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist, has been working together with colleagues at Duke University as part of the Walk Again Project to design a wireless system that allows control of a wheelchair with thought alone. By implanting a tiny BCI in the brain of two rhesus monkeys, chosen for their similarity to human beings, they were able to demonstrate that it could control the movements of the chair. Hes pursuing this method because, as he explained to the Mirror, In some severely disabled people, even blinking is not possible. For them, using a wheelchair or device controlled by non invasive measures like an EEG, a device that monitors brain waves through electrodes on the scalp, may not be sufficient. To provide the control they need, invasive measures are necessary.

Nicolelis goal, then, isnt to duplicate Vaishs design. Instead, he wants eventually to develop robotic exoskeletons that are nothing less than an extension of their users mind, a dream he thinks is within reach given the data from these early experiments. For his test monkeys, the chair became something more than a means to get from one place to another; in fact, the wheelchair is being assimilated by the monkeys brain as an extension of its bodily representation of itself. If Nicolelis is right, he might be taking the first steps toward real mobility for paraplegics and others with profound motor impairment. We are not focused on the wheelchair, he promises.

Until now, if you lost an arm–but still had enough of one to be fitted for a prosthesis–doctors could fit you with an artificial arm that you could learn to control by moving the muscles left in your stump. These cumbersome systems are hobbled on a lot of these ifs: if the patient has enough remaining tissue, if the tissue still allows muscle movement, if the prosthetic arm can work well enough outside the lab.

These ifs fall on patients live like a thick blanket of snow, quickly obscuring the way forward. Thats why as many as half of these patients find their new arms collecting dust.

But scientists are well aware of these technological limitations, and their working to overcome them. One example of promising research comes from Johns Hopkins. Working with an epilepsy patient who needed his brain mapped to help him combat his seizures, a process wherein doctors implant tiny electrodes to stimulate the brain at precise–and unique–points, a research team led by Nathan Crone was able to implant a tiny BCI as well. 128 sensors in an areas about the size of a credit card were attached to the part of the mans brain that controls the arm and hand. After mapping exactly how the patients brain worked with a special glove, this interface allowed the Hopkins team to bypass the patients body and use only his thoughts to control the individual fingers of a robotic hand.

Initial results were promising; after mapping his brain, the test patient was able to control the robotic hand with 76% accuracy. By refining the control of the prosthesis–pairing the ring and pinky fingers together, that number rose to 88%. Thats no small feat!

The advantage of a system like this is not only that it can allow functional independence to people who had given up on caring for themselves, but also that it isnt artificial. Patients need merely think about what they want to do–and the artificial limb, chair, or robotic appendage does what its supposed to do. Case Western Reserve University is experimenting with implanted BCIs that have returned a measure of control to Kochevar. Now able to feed himself, hold a cup, and manipulate a fork, he explains, I think about what I want to do and the system does it for me. Its not a lot of thinking about it. When I want to do something, my brain does what it does. The researchers working with him think this is only the beginning.

With further development, we believe the technology could give more accurate control, allowing a wider range of actions, which could begin to transform the lives of people living with paralysis, Bolu Ajiboye, the lead scientist for this study told The Guardian.

Ajiboyes optimism is bolstered by the success of patients like Kochevar, who can slowly raise a mug to his lips and drink from a straw. For someone with quadriplegia to gain even this limited mobility is life-changing, and this advance charts the course for future innovations and provides powerful new tools to help those in need.

If researchers can use implanted BCIs to allow people to bypass their muscles, indeed, if these scientists can find a cost-effective, reliable way to work around a damaged or compromised nervous system, people suffering paraplegia, amputation, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s, and a host of other diseases that rob them of their independence, may soon find that the frustrations of daily life are lessened. For futurists and trendwatchers, the promise is clear.

This new breed of BCI, powered by advances in neuroscience, isnt just technology.

Its hope.


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Neurotechnology and the Future of Hope – Robotics Tomorrow (press release)

September Will Be a Mess in Congress; Budget, Spending and Debt Fights Ahead – Indian Country Today Media Network

TRAHANT REPORTS September is going to be a mess. Congress must sort out some really complicated fiscal issues. There is the budget, an increase in the debt limit, how much to spend on federal programs and services, and, if theres time, tax reform.

This should be easy in a one-party government. Republicans come up with a budget plan. Then the House acts, the Senate does its thing, and President Donald J. Trump signs the idea into law. Easy. Except there is no Republican majority in Congress (other than the R listed by members names.)

The House is made up of at least three factions, or parties, and no majority. (The three groups are: Republicans, Democrats, and the more conservative House Freedom Caucus.) So in order to gather enough votes to pass a budget, or any other of the challenges, at least two of the three factions have to agree on a plan.

Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.

The Senate has its own divisions within the Republican Party. (The very reason why a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act has not yet become law.)

And the White House is not on the same page either. The president proposed a stingy budget thats been pretty much rejected by members of the House and the Senate (except the more conservative elements such as the House Freedom Caucus.)

Courtesy Trahant Reports

Mark Trahant, Trahant Reports

For example the Trump administration proposed budget calls for$4.7 billion for the Indian Health Service, a cut of some $300 million or 6 percent of the agencys budget. But a House spending plan calls for anincrease of $97 million over last years levels. Indeed,the Appropriations Committeethat funds IHS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to spend a total of $4.3 billion more than the president requested on programs under its jurisdiction. (In general: The presidents budget reflects significant budget cuts across Indian country,according to analysis by the National Congress of American Indians.)

The Senate will come up with its own spending plan. Then, in theory, the two houses will resolve their differences and agree on how much the federal government should spend next year (and the president can go along or veto the legislation and start all over).

But no. Thats not how Congress is actually legislating these days. More often Congress agrees to a temporary spending plan based on last years budget, the Continuing Resolution. Thats an easier sell to members because it represents a last minute, throw up your hands, and do something, approach. The other alternative is a government shutdown. President Trump tweeted in May that our country needs a good shutdown in September to fix mess!

Yes, the budget is a mess. Period. Even take the word, budget. Thats a proposal from the president. But in Congress a budget is a spending limit that Congress imposes on itself. It sets a ceiling that each of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees have to live with. And, more important right now, the budget sets the rules for debate so the Senate can pass some legislation (such as the health care bill) with only 50 votes. (Most bills need 60 votes to stop a filibuster from stopping the process.)

Back to the congressional budget. Last month the Budget Committee approved a plan that would cut domestic spending by $2.9 trillion over the next decade. The full House will vote on this plan when it returns. Its a bleak document that would end up slashing many of the programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. Remember the appropriations committees would still spend the money; but the budget would act as an overall cap.

This budget plan starts off withhistorically low federal spendingfollowed by even more severe budget cuts between now and 2027. To show how out of touch this budget is, it includes program cuts for Medicaid that were a part of the failed health care legislation. (Whats changed? Nothing.) This bill tips toward the conservatives who want more spending cuts to be sooner, as in right now.

That makes the problem political. There are probably not enough votes to make this budget so. A few Republicans dont see this harsh approach as good government. And even if the votes are found in the House, the Senate is another story. Think health care.

And if this budget cannot pass, its not likely there is another one that would.Democrats in the House say: Congress cannot continue to underfund these crucial investments (and) without relief from these spending caps, vital government programs are facing significant cuts for fiscal year 2018 that would have significant effects on American families all across the country.

And the budget is only one fiscal crisis. Another issue that is immediate and serious involves the debt limit. Thats the amount of money the federal government can borrow is currently set at $19.85 trillion (federal debt exceeds that level now, but the Secretary of Treasury can basically shuffle money from different accounts). Conservatives want spending cuts as part of any deal to increase the debt limit. As Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK, and a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, told MSNBC. A debt limit increase without spending cuts is like having a credit card and saying, Ive reached my limit, Im just going to change the limit higher without changing any of my spending habits.

But, like on the budget, the votes are not there. (Especially in the Senate where 60 votes will be needed.)

Download our free report, Intergenerational Trauma: Understanding Natives Inherited Pain, to understand this fascinating concept.

This is tricky because the Republican administration understands what failure could do to the country. Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is now supporting a debt limit increase. But when he served in Congress, Mulvaney said he was willing to risk a default to force a discussion on spending.

In both the House and the Senate votes from Democrats will be needed to pass the debt limit. But will there be enough Republicans.

If Congress does not pass the debt limit, the United States would be catastrophic. And, almost immediately, this failure would impact federal budgets because interest rates would spike upward. Interest rates are already the fastest growing part of the federal budget and a sharp increase in rates would add significantly to the total federal debt. In other words: By voting against a debt limit increase, Congress would make the debt problem worse. Far worse.

But Republicans have campaigned against a debt limit increase for a long time. Its going to be one tough vote.

In case youre keeping score:

So yes, September is going to be a mess. And after the budget, spending bills, and debt limit is complete, theres still tax reform on the agenda. Yet another mess.

Mark Trahant is theCharles R. Johnson Endowed Professorof Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member ofThe Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.OnTwitter @TrahantReports.

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September Will Be a Mess in Congress; Budget, Spending and Debt Fights Ahead – Indian Country Today Media Network

PLAN WELL & EXECUTE: Automation won’t stop, so humans must … – New Haven Register

Photo: Contributed Photo / Cornell Wright

Automated bartenders on the Las Vegas Strip mix up your favorite cocktails.

Automated bartenders on the Las Vegas Strip mix up your favorite cocktails.

PLAN WELL & EXECUTE: Automation wont stop, so humans must adapt and prepare

Automation is a competitor you do not wish to face in the world of economic competition, while at the same time expecting to win with a human solution.

I was reminded of this during a recent trip to Las Vegas. In one of the countless bars on the famous Las Vegas strip was an automated bartender. The automated bartender had a rack of bottles above the working surface and the technology, by robotic standards, was relatively straightforward. The drink, when completed, was delivered to the end of the preparation area by a short conveyor belt, where a human waitress delivered the drink to the customers table.

News headlines across the country are reporting of the advances being made with driverless cars. The reports often center on the features and benefits of driverless passenger cars. However, the big economic driver and job eliminator potentially will be the driverless trucks that currently deliver all of the goods we consume on a daily basis.

I say currently because some companies are attempting to leapfrog the vehicles and deliver small packages by drone.

It was not that long ago that the first automated teller machines (ATMs) appeared. During those early days of the ATM, very similar concerns were aired about safety of use and security of the transactions. Today most of us use ATMs without a second thought.

Remember when the Internet was scary because we did not want our credit card information moving electronically across the country and around the world? Additionally, I remember hearing concerns about buying clothes and food online because people believed that if they could not touch the items, they could not make the best selections.

If the various cyber-shopping days are any indication, we have moved past those concerns. Additionally, brick-and-mortar and salespeople are exposed to significant reductions in numbers. And as for food, we not only accept delivery from grocery stores, but there also is a growing business of pre-prepared food plans brought to us by meal plan companies.

The concern that I want to bring to your attention is not that automation is bad or that it can be stopped. The issue is, what do we do for human jobs when the robotics capabilities continue to improve with lower costs? What happens to people when the computers artificial intelligence capabilities increase to near-human levels?

To those who say that there will be new positions that will arise for those displaced workers, I say they are partially correct. There is a new team of developers who wrote the applications for the automated bartender. However, they were perhaps a team of 10 who by their labor could displace hundreds of bartenders. Also the application development team shrinks to four because it does not take as many people to maintain the application as it did to originally develop the code.

To my knowledge, there is increased automation in nearly every occupational field except politicians. We need our politicians to address real job issues because we know that retraining, if possible, takes time and money. Lets have a real debate with real numbers about jobs.

I, for one, liked the world of George Jetson; but I also remember the story of John Henry, the steel driving man. The drumbeat of automation continues. Lets be prepared.

Cornell Wright is the lead consultant and an Executive Coach at The Parker Wright Group Inc. in Stratford. The firm assists clients to increase their market share by improved customer service. He can be reached at 203-377-4226 or


PLAN WELL & EXECUTE: Automation won’t stop, so humans must … – New Haven Register

6 Ways To Travel The World For Free – The Alternative Daily (blog)

Traveling removes you from the daily grind and renews your spirit. Youll explore new destinations, meet new people, try new foods and even learn things about yourself you never knew. For many though, traveling the world is a pipedream. Thats because travel is so darn expensive or is it?

To travel for free requires an open mind and open spirit. Youll need to seize opportunities as they surface and then go with the flow. So, pack your bags and get ready. Its time to explore the world for free!

Most people have heard of Airbnb experiencing foreign cities like locals through local home rentals. Now imagine the same experience, except for free! Just like Airbnb, youll stay in a locals home. But instead of house-renting, youd be housesitting. Housesitting allows you the opportunity to live in some awesome residential properties that you might normally not be able to afford.

In exchange for free accommodation, homeowners hand over their keys to people willing to take care of their house and maybe pets while theyre away. So, what exactly will your job as housesitter entail? Youll be expected to keep the house safe from intruders, and keep it tidy and in a good condition until the owner returns. You may also be asked to look after pets and water plants when necessary. Some homeowners may request other tasks as well, such as gardening. But this should all be discussed in advance of your arrival.

There are various sites you can check out that match homeowners with housesitters like Word of advice: Its okay to ask for references from anyone else who has house-sat for the homeowner previously. In addition, make sure to always get the homeowners cell number and email address in case anything goes wrong or you need their home/pet-related advice.

Working as a travel agent has its perks. Most travel agents are offered discounts from hotels, vacation resorts, cruise lines and tour companies. Some travel agents are even offered all-expense paid trips to vacation destinations around the world. Also known as familiarization trips, these perks are offered to those in travel careers. Vacation companies want to build relationships with travel agents in hopes that the agents will then promote and recommend their services to clients. If you live and breathe travel, then you may just want to start a career in the travel industry.

You dont necessarily need to be a travel agent to vacation for free. Travel vloggers (those who video and blog about their travel adventures) are often wooed by airlines and hotels in hopes of having great written reviews. But it takes a lot of hard work to get to that level. You may want to set aside some decent savings, because youll most-likely be funding your own travels in the beginning. Or perhaps you could incorporate some of the other free suggestions to help build your vlog portfolio. Either way, with enough followers and your ability to sell yourself to large corporations you could just make a living at vlogging and vacation for free.

Frequent flyer points may not exactly be a new concept, but its surprising how many travel buffs dont take advantage of racking up travel points. Travel credit cards come in various forms. Some are generic, while others are branded with specific hotel chains or airlines and their affiliates. Regardless, the concept is the same. Each time you swipe your credit card, you rack up rewards points to use towards flights, hotel stays and car rentals.

In fact, if youre dedicated to vacationing for free, forego paying with cash wherever you can, and pay with plastic instead. Just make sure youre vigilant about paying your credit card bill on time. Some travel credit cards even have their own shopping portal that allow you to shop and rack up additional rewards.

If youre looking for a free road trip around North America, then becoming a car courier might be the gig for you. According to The Guardian, drive-a-way companies connect drivers with vehicles that need transporting around the country. Theyll offer a free set of wheels and sometimes a tank full of gas in exchange for delivery of a vehicle to a certain location. For the flexible traveler looking for a cheap ride, this may be a good way to explore America and Canada for next to nothing. But to become a car jockey youll need to be at least 23 years old and have a valid drivers license. Foreign travelers to the U.S. may also need a passport with a valid exit visa and a copy of your drivers record.

If you dont mind sleeping in sparse conditions, and of course, working for your keep, then perhaps working on a cruise ship might satisfy your urge to travel the world for free. But make no mistake about it, cruise ships are for paying guests, not the staff. The good news: the food onboard is included in your wage, which means youll spend little to nothing if you choose, while traveling from port to port. So, whatever you earn can be tucked away in savings ready for another adventure.

So, how exactly do you find work on a cruise ship? Just go to a cruise ship website (Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney) and look for the careers link. Then choose shipboard careers rather than corporate positions.

There you have it: six ways to travel for free. Stay safe and stay adventurous!

Katherine Marko

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6 Ways To Travel The World For Free – The Alternative Daily (blog)

$5000 Bitcoin? 3 Reasons to Buyand to Stay Away – Fortune

Bitcoin has gone on bull runs before but nothing like this: Prices this week shot through the $3,500 mark as the mainstream media hailed digital currency as a new asset class. Then it got another boost as the blue chip brokerage house, Fidelity, allowed its customers to create bitcoin accounts.

Now, some people are calling for it go even higher. As Quartz reports , a Standpoint Research analyst has called a target of $5000 for bitcoin by 2018. This raises the question of whether ordinary investors should put a smidgen of their savings, or even their retirement accounts, into buying bitcoin. (Keep in mind you don’t have to buy a whole bitcoin. Since it’s digital, you can buy a hundred millionth of onethis tiny unit is called a Satoshi after bitcoin’s creator.)

There are strong arguments to buyand also strong ones to stay the heck away. Here are three of each.

Major investors and the financial industry is taking it seriously

Since its creation in 2008, Bitcoin’s biggest boosters have been computer geeks and libertarians. But recently, they’ve been joined by a growing number of mainstream investors and entrepreneurs who see bitcoinand other digital currenciesas a legitimate asset class such as stocks, bonds, or commodities.

In 2017 alone, famous names like Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital have bet on hedge funds that are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into digital currency funds. Meanwhile, the financial infrastructure to support bitcoin and other digital currency is maturing rapidly: Coinbase’s GDAX exchange has supported margin trading since March, while the Commodity Future Trading Commission just gave the green light for firms to sell digital currency options and other derivatives.

There is only a limited amount of bitcoin

One reason to buy bitcoins are a valuable asset is that only 21 million of them will ever come into the worldand most of them are already here. As those familiar with bitcoin know, the number of coins created by the mining process drops by half every few years. Right now, around 80% of all bitcoins are already mined and no new ones will appear after the year 2040. This scarcity could continue to drive up demand, especially if (as has been rumored ), central banks decide to start buying them as foreign currency reserves.

Some see bitcoin as the new gold

So-called gold bugs like to own the precious metal because it is an asset whose value is not controlled by governments. Even if a country is ravaged by war or its profligate central bank prints too much money, the value of gold (unlike the national currency) will remain. Bitcoin has many of the same qualities. It exists on a decentralized computer network that transcends national borders, and there is no Federal Reserve-like authority that can devalue it.

This isn’t a definitive reason to buy bitcoin any more than it is to buy gold. But an analyst cited by Quartz predicts the gold bugs will become bitcoin bugs instead, which means a lot of money flowing into the digital currency.

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Bitcoin’s core users are still criminals and fringe figures

For years, stores like Overstock and Subway have accepted bitcoin as payment alongside cash and credit cards. But despite the promise of true believers that bitcoin could replace cash one day, there is no evidence this will happen. The reality is bitcoin is too slow compared to visa or debit cards, and transaction fees are rising. Right now, you can pay a fee and wait ten minutes for your bitcoin transaction to clearor swipe a credit card to pay instantly and get a cash reward.

Because of these limitations, bitcoin’s core use remains what’s it’s always been: paying for drugs or extortion fees on the Internet. For instance, the cyber-criminals who launched a recent wave of ” ransomware ” attacks known as WannaCry asked for payment in bitcoin .

Ordinary consumers, meanwhile, are not using it as a payment method. That doesn’t mean its not valuable as an investmentjust that, in the real world, it’s even less useful than gold.

Bitcoin is extremely volatile

Over its nearly decade-long history, bitcoin has been prone to spectacular crashes. In 2013, for instance, the currency went on a run to over $1,100 only to tank to $700 a few months later, and then bottom out near $200 in early 2015. There is no reason this couldn’t happen again.

While investors may drool at $5,000 bitcoin, they better be equally ready to kick themselves if it tumbles back to $2,000 or lower this year. This goes double for the many other so-called alt-currencies (other digital currencies some people buy as a proxy investment for bitcoin.)

Bitcoin only exists on computers

This may sound obvious but, as a form of money, bitcoin might be the most intangible stuff in history. Even paper money or securities can be presented to a central bank or company in the hopes someone will redeem them. No such possibility with bitcoin. Digital currency is just a piece of code out there on the Internet (or in special digital storage vaults to prevent hackers from stealing it), and there is no country or company you can ask to honor it.

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$5000 Bitcoin? 3 Reasons to Buyand to Stay Away – Fortune

The secrets of earning rewards travel – CBS News

Even in these budget-stretched times, some families have miles to go — and they’re traveling for FREE! Anna Werner has a story that’s “in the cards” (A version of this story originally aired on April 9, 2017):

When Werner caught up with Cincinnati residents Dan Miller and his wife, Carolyn, earlier this year, they were getting their six kids ready for a Spring Break trip to California. Sounds expensive, right? But Miller managed to fly his family of eight for $500.

In fact, the Miller family has been able to travel the world on a computer programmer’s salary, all by using airline miles or credit card points. [He and his wife have about 40 cards between them.]

Points With a Crew

He’s not your average card user, though. Miller got so good at this card game, he started writing a blog: Points with a Crew.

“You don’t have to be as crazy as I am,” Miller laughed. “I like to tell people if you do it right, really with one or two additional credit card sign-ups, you can take your family somewhere for free using those miles.”

And guess what? The savings really add up.

Miller has saved, he’s reckoned, “tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars over the course of the last couple of years.”

No surprise to Brian Kelly, who told Werner, “You are literally throwing money away if you’re not getting miles and points.”

Kelly is The Points Guy, who turned a lifelong passion for travel into a website that gets more than 3 million views a month, from fans eager to learn his secrets.

“The first thing to do, if you want to have a good miles and points strategy, is to get the right credit cards,” Kelly said. “These are not frequent flyer programs anymore; they’re frequent spender programs.”

The Points Guy

“So why is it worth it for the credit card companies to do that?” Werner asked.

“It’s a huge business. The credit card companies charge merchants for every time you swipe your credit card. The merchant is paying the credit card issuer for the ability to process your transaction. And then the credit card company kicks you back a portion of that in the form of rewards.”

The airlines make out, too, getting roughly half their profits by selling miles to credit card companies, who use them as incentives to get consumers to sign up for their cards, often with huge sign-up bonuses.

Generally speaking, the more you charge, the more points you get, and the more perks you accrue … perks which are becoming vital for anyone who wants to travel comfortably.

Kelly said, “I view it as a way for the common person who can’t afford that $10,000 first-class seat, but you can book it using miles and points. Everyday people can travel like millionaires.”

On the other hand, both men warn their readers not everyone should play this game: if you’re in debt, or don’t pay off your card balances in full every month, this game will not deal you a winning hand.

“You absolutely have to have financial discipline,” Miller said. “No amount of rewards that you’re getting are going to offset the 25% interest that you’re paying on your credit card balance.”

But for Miller, it’s been an inexpensive way to offer his kids a valuable lesson: “People are just people. Whether it’s in another state, another city, another country, people are pretty much the same no matter where you go. And to be able to see that, I think, makes a big difference.”

Good point!

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The secrets of earning rewards travel – CBS News