Monday, December 29, 2008

Playing games

One thing that those of us who are self-employed need to be aware of is how much time we waste. Especially those of us who are freelance writers. And what we are actually doing when we are wasting time.

One of the ways that I waste time is playing computer games. My favorite game at the moment is Bubble Shooter. It is one of those connect three of the same color and make them disappear games. I prefer games like that when I am thinking about writing, but too tired to do so or not super-inclined to do so. (Much like most of my time rating on Helium.)

The ideal computer game for me is one that I can take my time and think, one where if I come up with a good idea I can slip away and write it, then come back.

My wife prefers arcade games. Or at least, I think that they are classified arcade games. She has been playing a lot of Collapse! Crunch lately; she is also a big fan of Cubis.

These games require too much attention and energy to be useful when I am thinking about ideas for articles. They demand full attention.

I have thought about trying out Warcraft, but it looks like it would be really time consuming.

If I am completely goofing off, and dont care that I am not working, then I will play Blackhawk Striker or Phoenix Assault. But if I am actually planning on writing, then it is best that I stick to Bubble Shooter.

(If you are curious, my best score is 209,580 at Bubble Shooter.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Second time this month

So today is the second time this month that my rating percentage had dropped suddenly on Helium and I have lost my rating star.

To be more accurate, I did some rating and regained my star, then had it climb to two stars before it dropped to one and then none.

And this just makes me more likely to focus on Associated Content, abandoning Helium to its own graces.

It did not take a cracked crystal ball to be able to predict that a pattern like this was going to happen on Helium. Tying the earnings into the rating star system means that to get paid, you have to have a rating star. And the month-end bonus, which is not a lot to me (just three dollars) is a lot to some, ensures a frenzy of ratings at the end of every month as those people who are close to the edge rate rapidly to trying to get it.

What this means to a regular writer is that if you have work up on Helium is that you have to check in everyday to check your rating star and periodically have to rate (instead of writing) to maintain your earnings there. All this has done (ignoring the fact that those who are earning are earning more pennies than before) is to make the other writing sites, such as Associated Content look better than before.

I guess my biggest problem is that rates that were worth a rating star earlier this week, then two stars, are worth nothing today. It is like playing the stock market in terms of frustration.

Before you ask: no, I did not drop in the number of rates that I have done. Quite literally, rates that I did that were good quality earlier this month are now considered bad quality rates.

Helium has always played it close to the vest when it comes to defining what is a quality rate. But I think that it is safe to say that a quality rate must somehow tie into what the average rate looks like. Either the average quality has gone up or the system is awash in poor ratings.

Those who know my opinionated personality will be able to guess what I think.

So given the fact that I keep losing rating stars, I have to decide whether I should stick around on Helium or focus my time and energy elsewhere.

I figure that I have to spend ten mintues a day rating articles to be safe. And that is everyday.

(For those of you who are curious, my wife [the elementary art school teacher] is on vacation this week and next week; she is also tying up the only computer with internet access to do reasearch on her family tree; my computer time is limited until school starts again. But then again, I am a college student, Helium should not even be able to make me think about the following.)

So we are looking at fifteen hours of rating over a ninety day period. This is fifteen hours of writing that I do not get to do.

For someone with a thousand articles on Helium, this might not be a bad deal. Or maybe it is a bad deal. Lets assume that the average article on Helium is worth fifty cents a year. Lets assume everyone needs to do the same amount of rating (ten minutes a day); converting this to an hourly wage: 2.78 an hour.

(In my case, I figure with the number of articles I have and my income that rating pays about a dollar an hour. It is just too bad that writing an article actually takes time and my potential income from writing is actually higher than that, even if I am just writing for the college newspaper.)

And this is why I and many other writers on Helium were against the idea of tying the daily revenue share (the pennies) into the maintaining a rating star in the first place. It redefined the term "active member" to mean something much different than what it originally was.

Today, the active member has to be working on the site at least ten minutes a day. Just to earn a few pennies.

I understand why Helium did it; but as a small time writer without a lot of articles on Helium, it is probably not in my best interest to remain active on Helium.

To say that I am frustrated would be an understatement.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Big Fish, Little Fish

Something that I have pondered a lot over the last couple of years is when it comes to making money is it better to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond.

At the moment, I am neither. I am a little fish in a little pond, and a plankton when it comes to the big ponds. So for me, the question becomes a matter of what do I want to become.

Left to my own devices, I am, at heart, a niche writer. I am drawn to niches that no one else is doing; you know the ones that the majority of writers avoid because they feel that the pie is not big enourgh to invest work in.

Other writers, and entrepreneurs, tell me that in order to make the big bucks that you need to write to the subjects where the payoff is BIG. Yet these areas, when I work them, end up requiring more effort, time and energy than my normal niche writing. There is a reason that I fell into my niche; I know it really well.

For me, attempting the big pond work requires more effort and produces less income. Why? It is not my homefield. Plus, everyone else is doing it, so the pie is actually getting sliced thinner than the slices in my normal niche where there are only a handful of us working.

But that does not answer the question, except in the short run. Given the long run, is it better to try to be a big fish in a small pond or a little fish in a big pond?

I guess that I am just going to have to continue thinking about it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Annoyed and frustrated, but still did some work

Well, as the readers of my last entry know, I was annoyed with Helium yesterday.

I still ended up doing some writing, a book review of The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! which I decided to put up on Associated Content. I originally wanted to put it up on Helium first, but I was also having trouble getting them to accept the title there. So it ended up on AC first.

Did about a half hour of rating yesterday on Helium, regained my rating star; we will see how long I hang onto it.

Plan on continuing to work on my Tarot article series today.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just lost my Helium Rating Star

Today, I was reminded why I was against the very idea of Helium tying the daily earnings into the rating star system.

Yes, today I lost my rating star.

Since November, my rating percentage has been dropping. And overnight I lost two percentage points which wiped out my rating star. And yes, I am going to be told that I should have stayed home last night and rated a bunch of articles, rather than going out and doing my job as a lodge officer.

Yes, I am upset.

The drawback of tying the earnings to the rating stars has never been pointed out by the Helium staff. I know enourgh math to guess at the horrible truth; over half the writers will not get paid on any given day.

At the moment, I am at 72% on rating and with 134 ratings done; in order to regain my star, I figure that I have to do over a hundred ratings. And lets presume that my rating percentage is going to continue to drop. At a certain point in time, it is better that I abandon Helium than continue to fight the battle.

Essentially, I have a choice now. I can either focus on my writing or my rating. I started off in Novermber with a 82%; in the space of a month and a half, I lost ten percentage points.

Either other people got really good at rating, or my fears are true and the system does consider the majority to be the norm and bases what it considers to be a quality rate on the masses.

For those who don't know, I am the same person that loathed peer review days in my college writing classes. My sentences were considered too long; no one was present from my regular audience; and my classe mates were writing stuff that could have been ripped from any television sit-com.

Bottom line, Helium may have just lost me as a writer.

This college break I am booked nine ways to Sunday for time, between the lodge (mainly rewriting the entire website) and house repairs. I am supposed to be focusing on my writing, not spending all my time rating which do not increase my potential earnings.

I think that Associated Content just became my primary focus when it comes to online writing. And Constant Content all of a sudden looks a lot better.

I understand why Helium has to force their members to rate, but I think it is going to cost them a lot of good writers in the end, especially if the system is going by the majority to determine how good a person's rating skill is.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slow social networking

Yesterday, I went to the vast number of social networking sites that I am a member of (Tribe, MySpace, Facebook, etc), and I remembered why I don't go visiting them more often. My computer and them just don't get along.

It is all the ads that slow my computer down. I need to buy some more RAM for the computer that I am using for the internet. As it stands right now, just logging into MySpace took four minutes.

Hopefully, after I get more RAM (I am shopping around right now for it), I will be able to use the social network sites more. At the very least, I would like to see what my friends are up to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Survived another semester

Well, it is safe to say that I survived another semester's worth of finals. I am not sure if I passed all of them (there is a big question mark over Ancient Greek History). But at least, I didn't croak during the middle of them.

So now, it is time to get back to writing for awhile. Or at least, as much as I can given the busy schedule over the next thirty-four days before the next semester starts; I have a carpet to rip out, a ceiling to fix, and several visits with friends, family and lodge members to deal with.

As for what I am going to attempt to write this break, I am hoping to finish the series of Tarot articles that I started in June; so far, I have only completed four of them and started working on three others.

I still have a week or two before I find out if I actually passed all my classes (again, Ancient Greek History is the one that I am worried about).

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Is this the right path?

Tonight, I had one of those toxic writing friends moments. As I have probably mentioned elsewhere in this blog, there are some people that you do not talk about your writing or the things that you are doing to grow your writing business; simply because after talking to them, you end up feeling depressed or blocked. Toxic writing friends (not neccessarily a friend; it is just a generic label for the type of person I am talking about) are the wet blankets that drown out the muse and your will to get up and type in the morning.

In this case, it wasn't even my conversation. I was just an innocent bystander. My mother-in-law called about the monetary difficulties that my brother-in-law is having. I got involved because the wife kept asking me about my opinion about the situation. Honestly, I would rather soak my head in gasoline and set myself on fire; that is how toxic the conversation was in my opinion; plus I really didn't want to get involved. My brother-in-law is still going to school, but needs to take out a large private student loan to survive. He is unemployed at the moment, as so many other people are, and needs a co-signer. I would go into more detail, but the finer points are not important.

Now, I understand being unemployed (ignoring my freelance and internet writing) and going to college. I also understand needing a co-signer. In my case, I am unemployed because restaurants can hire someone else for less than they would have to pay me (ten years of restaurant management is not necessarily a plus in today's or yestersday's job market). Fortunately, I have my wife (an elementary art teacher) who is willing to co-sign for me. As she notes, we are in this together.

What got me thinking was that he is trying to borrow much more money than I am. We are both working on bachelor's degrees; he is aiming for something to do with computers (programming or something like that, I think) while I am aiming for literature. He is going to ITT or Devrey, or some school like that (can you tell I don't play much attention to his life?). I went to the Community College of Denver for my Associates (ok, I need to back-transfer a science class for the piece of paper) before moving on to the University of Colorado at Denver.

Now, I am not sure that his degree is actually going to be worth the price he is paying to get it. In theory, the type of job that it will allow him to get will pay far more than the job that I am going to qualify for ("Would you like fries with that?"), even with an advanced degree. But will his degree be worth the investment? Will he actually use it?

For that matter, will what I am doing (college and writing) be worth the investment that I am putting in? I am not sure. The happy little cynic in me says no, or is that the voice of my mother? Either way, I am not completely happy with the seed of doubt in my head. Ahh, the toxicity of it all.

Fortunately, it should be a short bout of writing block. After all, I have a completed article that I wrote in long-hand today that I need to type up tommorrow, then I got finals all next week. It should keep me from thinking about the possibility that I am just wasting my time and energy chasing a set of impossible worthless dreams. By the time the dust clears, I should have forgotten this toxic conversation which is the trick when dealing with toxic writing friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Parade of Lights

There are some things that I do not misss about my old job at Renzios. One of them is the Parade of Lights. For those of you who do not live in Denver, 9News helps sponsor an annual Christmas parade in downtown Denver every year.

When I was working for the downtown Renzios (which closed the year before I started going back to school), we stayed open late that night. For the first few years that I worked there, it was definitely worth staying open for the event. The overtime was nice, and the restaurant would turn a profit, a rather nice one, for the event.

This all changed when the Denver Pavilions shopping complex opened up just a couple blocks down the street. After that, staying open for the Parade of Lights was not worth it, but we were still required to by the conditions of the lease.

As I said, I don't miss the Parade of Lights. It is not that the Parade was boring (I always ended up seeing the tail end of it), or anything like that; it is that I just do not miss that late night, or the exhaustion that came with it (in the good times) or the boredom and robbing of my writing time (in the bad times). In the end, I am happier studying for my fall semester finals and attempting to be a sucessfully freelance writer.

Enjoy the Parade of Lights, either from home (it is broadcast on TV) or in person, but don't expect me to see it this year; I have an Economics final to study for.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Red Letter Day Fall Semester 2008

Today was that marvelous day of the semester when I learned whether my sacrifices for the semester were going to pay off or not. This year, not only have I neglected my business (something that you can do when you are self-employed), skipped an issue of writing for the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver (technically, I am independent contractor, so that is also self-employment), I also blew off National Novel Writing Month; I have also ignored friends and delayed meeting new applicants for the lodge. But today was the red letter day...the day when I learned that barring serious accident (like death or complete paralysis) I am going to pass all of my classes with a C or better.

In previous semesters, I learned my fate much earlier, but the standards of the University of Colorado at Denver are higher than the Community College of Denver's. It is always nice to have the burden of having to ace one's finals off one's mind. I just need to do a good job on them, don't have to get a perfect score (though a perfect score would really help in two of my classes).

So it is official: I am actually going to pass my first semester at the University of Colorado at Denver.

I guess it is time to think about getting back to attempting to write for money...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Helium rating frenzy

One does not need a cracked crystal ball to be able to predict certain things. Last month when Helium announced that they were not only tying in one's ability to earn the daily revenue share (the pennies) to the rating star, but that they were going to give a three dollar bonus to anyone who had five rating stars at the end of the month, I could see somgthing coming.

And that was there would be a frenzy of rating occuring on Helium at the end of this month. This is the first month that the bonus kicks in, so there are a lot of writers over there rating their hearts out in an attempt to get the bonus.

I know this is happening just based on a couple of things: my own rating percentage has been dropping (bare minimum ratings on my part; I decided homework was more important) and several writers that I watch have been increasing their rating stars.

Now earlier this month, in fact this time last week, I decided that it was not worth the effort to try for the bonus this month. Instead I devoted my time to writing a set of lectures on the Grades of Golden Dawn instead. It is for the GD lodge that I belong to, Bast Temple; plus I could recycle the set on Associated Content. I thought about recycling it also on Helium, but it is too long to do so. I will have to do an abbrievated version, a summary, for Helium.

The set of lectures had to be done. And there was only so much time to do things on this Thanksgiving break. And getting my fifth rating star can wait, three bucks is not worth the time that it would take to do four hundred plus ratings, especially this first month as a swarm of members try to get across that line. There will be plenty of opportunity for me to get the bonus in the future, and that is all that counts as far as I am concerned.

And yes, I do find it comfortable that I do not need a cracked crystal ball to predict human nature.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My idea of a vacation

Every once in awhile, I find myself wondering about my sanity. Today was one of those moments. I am currently on fall break; or at least, as much of a fall break as the University of Colorado at Denver gives its students (go ahead ask me what all I have to read and write before next Monday).

So I have been doing a little relaxing. How? By writing and reading.

Wait a minute---I am taking a break from writing and reading by writing and reading?!

I would say that I am nuts, but I am a writer. So it makes sense to me that my idea of a vacation is to do research and writing. I am not writing and reading what other people want me to read and write, instead I get to choose my subjects.

I am not sure if writing a set of articles on the Grade structure of Golden Dawn is supposed to be relaxing, but I find it to be. I better enjoy it when I can; soon enourgh I will have to hack out another college paper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

So ready for Thanksgiving break

I am so ready for Thanksgiving break, or Fall break as the University of Colorado at Denver calls it. Not that I can actually take a break during the break; I got a big paper to write (Literature of the City), four finals that I need to study for, and I have to complete the reading of the remainders of the textbooks for this term.

Plus there is the lodge lessons on the Tarot that I need to be working on. And whatever the wife wants me to do around the house.

And I am so far behind on NaNoWriMo thanks to having back to back to back papers (three in a row) that it is really doubtful that I am going to get anywhere near crossing that line.

I thought going to college was a good idea---why?!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Helium: Rating Star and Daily Earnings

The online writing site, Helium, is constantly tweaking their system in their efforts to keep good writers involved. Late last month, they announced a few changes to the way that they were paying writers starting November 1st.

Now, I am still a little confused; but I do believe that I understand what the changes actually were.

The biggest change, provided that I am understanding it correctly, is that in order to be able to collect your share of the pennies, you have to maintain at least one rating star. If you lose your rating star, for every day that you do not have one, no earnings for that day. (Helium calls it revenue share.)

Now, a while back when the idea was first trotted out, it was met with some opposition. Some thought tying earnings into ratings was a bad idea. Myself, I saw the writing on the wall---Helium had finally figured out how to force its writers to actually rate other people's articles.

Fortunately, it is tied into the rating star and not the writing star.

I have no luck at maintaining a writing star; I am an opinionated writer and many of my opinions have tanked. While one is not supposed to allow one's opinion of another person's opinion affect their ratings of their articles, it does happen.

It is really easy to maintain a rating star on Helium. Or at least, I find it easy to do. You have to do forty quality rates every ninety days to maintain one star. If your percentage of quality rates is 75%, then that is only 54 ratings that you need to do every ninety days.

Myself, I am a binge rater. It is something that I do when I want to work, but am too tired to actually do so. The day right after I learned of the change in policy, I had my rating star (and I started out with no ratings done at all).

There is also a good chance that by the end of next month, I will have five rating stars (a three dollar bonus at the end of every month that you have five rating stars). Though it should be noted that it is not because I am after the three dollars, but rather I am going to be really tired at the end of this month between the term papers and the NaNoWriMo.

So is it a good thing? Depends upon who you ask. If you ask the writers who just wanted to toss some articles up on Helium without ever doing any rating, then you are going to get a no. If you ask Helium, then it is a yes. And if you ask me, it makes no difference---I was using rating to keep myself considered active there anyways. A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Spam and scams

As a writer, I find myself wondering about the writing skills of other people quite often---as in how does anyone make a buck writing that?

Today, it was while I was going though my email. I was amazed how many generals, bankers and lost relatives I had in Nigera. All wanting me to be their secret partner. And a couple of them using the exact same text, just different senders names and different email addresses---everything else was exactly the same.

Oh really?! Do any of the scam artists (ok, maybe artists, most artists I know are more intelligent than this---open to suggestions for another label) actually make money copying and pasting these messages?

I can't imagine that they do. But obvivously, I must be wrong considering that people keep sending them to me.

Oh really?! Do they think that I am suddenly going to suffer brain damage and believe them?

Here is a hint to all the spam and scam artists out there: show some creativity and write new copy. I am not going to fall for the new copy either, but it will help you develop a valuable skill---writing technical copy.

Oh really?! Yes, I do believe that writing is a more valuable skill than ripping people off.

Maybe I am gulliable, after all.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Remember to vote

I would like to remind everyone that is registered to remember to vote Tuesday. This election, no matter who you support, due to the issues is a very important one.

Day one results

At the end of yesterday (I ended up writing for another hour), I racked up 2304 words. Hopefully, I can rack up a decent amount before going to bed tonight (homework and errands have delayed me getting to the typewriter---though it is actually a simple word processor that I can transfer the files to the computer).

Saturday, November 1, 2008

First thousand plus words dwon, 49 thousand to go

Last night, I was so eager to get started on my new masterpiece of a novel (it is still early; it might be a masterpiece), I actually started to wrote at midnight.

(The late night Samhain [Halloween] ritual helped too. After all, I am one of those silly pagans/wiccans who view October 31st as the start of the new year.)

So at this point, having not written another word since I got up this morning, I am at 1163 words, just 48,837 words to go before my world famous novel is completed.

(As a sidenote, I havent been able to post my current count on the NaNoWriMo site. Typically first day rush, I imagine.)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Tommorrow starts NaNoWriMo

Tommorrow is the start of National Novel Writing Month. It is a bunch of writers attempting to hack out 50,000 words in the space of thirty days. I did it last year, and did not succeed in making the word count (I was short the amount of words that got chewed up by my term papers).

And after the end of the month, I never looked at the rough draft ever again. I cringe to think about it; it was not publishable even with the use of a flame-thrower.

Obvivously, I am a glutton for punishment for I am attempting to do it again this year, despite having even bigger research papers to accomplish. So tommorrow, if you hear a fury of typing, it is probably just one of the NaNoWriMo lunatics.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Funny quote: Palin--columnists

Here is a funny quote I read in connection with Sarah Palin be set up as the scapegoat if McCain loses:

And so he chose Palin. Is she really a diva and a whack job? Could be. There are quite a few in politics. (And a few in journalism, too, though in journalism they are called “columnists.”)

Gee, I have been called a diva and a whack job...can I get a column?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Learning by doing

The other night, I was over at a friend's site. She was messing around with her website, which is about the local Denver Capitol Hill Reiki Circle that she is organizing. And as I was watching her, I realized how much I learned about web sites and search engines over the past year.

If I was to make a guess about why I have learned so much, I would have to say that it has been because I have been doing work at it. For me, no amount of reading will do the trick unless I am actually engaged in using the material. Periodically, besides the online writing I am doing, I take a whack at improving the local Golden Dawn lodge's website.

And the site is starting to pick up traction in the search engine results, and the lodge is getting new applicants. The earlier pages, such as the home/index page, badly need to be redone. I know a lot more than I did a couple of years ago when I first started to put the site together.

I suspect that a lot of people learn the same way that I do; we must do before we are capable of improvement. It is true of my writing, my web design, and my Golden Dawn lodge work. It is just my style of learning.

Friday, October 24, 2008

MoraChat follow-up

To anyone curious about my results with MoraChat:

Quite honestly, I gave up on it really quickly. I liked MyLot better. And college homework and regular writing took priority. By now, I presume that they have wiped my account.

So I don't know how MoraChat is. Other than I did not like the setup of their pages: it was hard to find topics to post on, and looked amatuerish.

I probably am not going back to that website ever.

Oh really?! Death row ads

Looking at one of my old entries on another blog, I noticed that the entry had attracted ads about "Facing Death Row---Lawyer in XXX can help."

Now, being a writer, this made my mind start to turn over. (Occuptional hazard.)

How many death row inmates are cruising the internet? How many killers are browsing our web sites? Is there a market writing for these individuals? Is a lawyer that advertises though adsense worth it? And does anyone click on these ads?

Only the last question has an answer that I know: of course, people click on those ads; otherwise people would not be taking them out.

But what type of lawyer takes out an ad on adsense trying to attract killers and murderers (not necessarily the same)?

Makes me wonder what type of weird adsense ads other people get with their blogs.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Semester so far

I have not posted a lot this semester. For that matter, I have not done a lot of writing either. Except for Campus Connections, which is the student ran newspaper for the Community College of Denver.

The reason for the lack of writing this semester is simple: it has been a rough semester for me. There are moments that I wonder if I have not bit off more than I can chew by enrolling at the University of Colorado at Denver.

It is mainly the Ancient Greek history class that is kicking me in the behind. I am reading about two hundred pages a week, and looking for about three terms that might be on the next test (most of which show up in only a single paragraph in those two hundred pages). So far, I have not got better than a C on any assignment or test in that class.

I am doing ok in the Foundations of Physics class (formerly known as Conceptual Physics), and am in a good position in Literature of the City. Heck, I think I did ok on my Economics of Race and Gender midterm; if I am correct, then I am doing better in that class than my Greek history class.

I have never studied so hard for a class and gotten such bad results before.

Even writing for the student newspaper is a better use of my time, and I think that the writers' meetings are way too long and way too disorganized.

So if you were curious why I havent been posting that much, or writing that much, there is your answer: the Greeks are still kicking the rears of barbarians like me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is political correctness a danger?

One of my concerns as a writer is that our culture of political correctness is restricting what writers and artists are willing to say, that thinkers will hesitate to say certain things because of the possible backlash that they could be subject to. Powerful lobbying groups, churches, politicians, academics, the blogosphere, and your grandmother can ruin your career, or at least make your life miserable if they feel that you are insensitive and/or do not like what you are saying.

I became acutely aware of the effect of this threat recently. I was working on a possible Campus Comedian column for CCD Campus Connection, the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver. Several of my jokes made fun of several of my former professors. I also made jokes about the upcoming Democratic National Convention. And periodically, I found myself asking myself if I really wanted to be saying what I was saying.

It is not just my reputation on the line, but the reputations of the editors, and possibly the entire staff, that could be drag though the mud if some hothead decides that I have crossed the line. Last year, I watched with horror the fuss made over the “F*** Bush” headline and editorial that appeared in a college newspaper; and recently, the tar and feathering of the New Yorker for their Obama cover (with him in a turban, and Michelle carrying an assault rifle).

I am not sure when this political correct culture started. Or when we lost the ability to talk about politicians and the fears that we feel as a people, but it does not bode well for your county. And it does not bode well for me as a writer either.

I wasn’t aware of the extent of political correctness was having on my writing until the Campus Comedian attempt. And a couple of weeks later, it was really driven home. I went down to the newspaper office to get my headshot done for an editorial that I wrote about students complaining that they do not need some of the classes that colleges are forcing them to take.

While I was at the office, I got to see the cover of the August 19th issue of the newspaper. My first thought was “That is brilliant; that is exactly how some people think about Barack Obama; they act as if it is the Second Coming, or that he is the Messiah.” My second thought was “Does the newspaper really want to use that picture for the cover?”

This thought was horrifying to me. Just a couple of years ago, I was appalled when the Artist Coop that I belonged to was more concerned that none of the artists displayed anything that would upset people than attracting attention and customers. I had even thought up a few art ideas that would possibly get me burned at the stake. And today, I am more worried about what people will think about something than if it is worth saying. Sad but true; fortunately, knowing that I am in danger of becoming a cog in the political correctness machine is half the battle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I would rather...

Yesterday, I was reading a post on Mylot, which led to a member's profile, which in turn led to an article on Associated Content about how to make residual income off the internet. And it caused me to realize that I have a disease that prevents me from making the big happy buck.

It is the disease that prevents me from using my social network to sell cell phones, long distance service, dietary supplements, jewelery, and Amway. It is the disease that makes me have friends, and not potential clients and customers.

It is the disease that makes me refuse to do things that all the internet and pyramid gurus say is the proper way to conduct business.

The disease is "rather-ism" coupled with a streak of honesty. And it is fatal to my money making potential.

I would rather have my Associated Content in-article links go to my other AC articles, the articles of my friends, and the occasional brilliant piece that one finds there, than to have the links go to my referral programs.

I would rather spend my time writing useful, and hopefully witty, articles than spend my time writing advertisements and self-promotional pieces. I would rather work for the college newspaper than write websites promoting e-books on marketing.

I would rather spend my time on MyLot gossiping and having fun, and leave the bait and switch tactics to others. I join sites to have fun, not to drive people into pyramid schemes.

I would rather have a simple profile, with only a couple of links leading off-site, than have a profile that makes Times Square and Grand Central Station look quiet and lazy. I understand the purpose of banner ads; I just don't want to wear one.

And I would rather have you laugh at this posting than be upset that I tricked you into a commercial.

Call me naive, unambitionous, lazy, unrealistic; but I would rather keep my honesty and my current reputation than become an internet millionaire.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Big Read Top One Hundred

"The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed."

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Post/pass othe list on your site.
(This can also remind you of some great books to read.)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen *
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien *
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte *
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (well, I read the first two books of the series)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee *
6 The Bible (some, huh?)
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte *
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell *
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens *
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott *
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller *
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare*
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier*
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien *
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger *
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger *
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot*
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell*
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald *
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens*
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy *
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh *
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky *
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck *
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll *
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame *
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy ***
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens ***
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis ***
34 Emma - Jane Austen ***
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen ***
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis ***
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres*
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden ***
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne ***
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell ***
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown ***
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ***
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery ***
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood ***
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding ***
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan ***
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel***
52 Dune - Frank Herbert*
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen ***
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens*
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck*
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt*
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold ***
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas*
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie*
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville*
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens ***
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker ***
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett ***
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce*
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath*
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray*
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens ***
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker ***
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro*
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert ***
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White ***
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ***
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery ***
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams ***
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas*
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare*
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl ***
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Saturday, July 26, 2008

College newspaper meeting

Tuesday, I attended my first staff meeting for the Community College of Denver newspaper. I may or may not be writing for them. I am not sure if my style of writing is geared to theirs. But it is worth a shot, if only to try to improve my resume that currently has large gaps of unemployment on it. Plus, it counts as a writing job.

It will be strange writing for the CCD newspaper while I am busy attending the University of Colorado at Denver. (There is also some doubt, purely on my end, that I can legally do so.) But I know the editor, and they are a little short-handed at the moment, so I am willing to roll up my sleeves and write a few pieces.

Provided that my style matches theirs. Looking around the room, I think that I was the oldest person in the room. Of course, that leads me into what I want to focus on---articles aimed at the non-traditional college student.

I didn't pitch any ideas, or voluteer for any assignments (I don't have a clue where to begin on some of the ideas that were tossed around), or even admited that I had any ideas. I do have some ideas, but it is easier for me to just write them and submit them as my writing sample.

The editor laughed that she didn't need a writing sample from me; after all, I got an A in the literature class that I took with her, and the teacher is a real stickler for grammar, proving your statements, and having a voice.

So that is the big news of the week; I might be freelancing for one of the college newspapers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I am a CU student

It is official that I am going to be attending the University of Colorado at Denver this fall semester. My aid information was finally posted yesterday, and I have enrolled in classes.

So I am going to taking Foundations of Physics, which I need to take (and back-transfer to the Community College of Denver) for my Associate degree (the very last class I need for that piece of paper). The rest of the classes I am taking are for my Bachelor degree.

Towards my core CU requirements, I am taking Economics of Race and Gender, to satisfy the cultural diversity requirement. Both the base literature and history classes I need to take were all filled up, so I will have to take them next semester (in fact, every class I looked at yesterday was either all filled up or on the verge of being so).

To fill out the rest of my schedule, I decided to take one literature class (Literature of the City) and one history class (Greece and the Hellenistic World). That way I am working both on my major (Literature) and my minor (History---though I might decide to go with a double major after talking to my advisors).

It feels strange to be getting ready to go to CU; after all, I am surprised that I even got in. There is a part of me that wonders if I have not bit off more than I can chew. I guess that only time will tell at this point.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cooking the books

Yesterday, I was talking to one of my artist friends who does pottery. And she started talking about how she needed to call up her tax advisor (tax preparer) and ask them some questions. It turns out that because of her new job, she is going to have less time to do pottery this year. So she is considering just cutting back and just making enough pottery to keep her two regular customers (both metaphysical [new age] shops) happy. No more craft shows, no looking for new customers, etc., basically going from a business to just a hobby.

Now, I understand doing that. It is a shame, but I do understand how one's day-job can overwhelm oneself, forcing one's own business to the backburner.

What I don't understand is something that she allowed her tax preparer to do. Turns out that she has been taking every deduction possible, and has not made a profit ever in the seven years that she been running the business, have never made enourgh to pay self-employment taxes, and the IRS might turn out declaring her business a hobby. And why has she allowed her tax preparer to claim every deduction? Because she is always hoping for a refund.

Can anyone say back taxes?

I foresee nothing but trouble here for her. The IRS is a wild beast when it smells the possibility of prying money out of someone's hands.

And this is why I have kept my writing as a hobby for so long. Over the last couple of years, I have claimed the income, but not the expenses; not that it made any difference, I haven't made enourgh to owe taxes even without taking any deductions.

Last year was the first year that I claimed my writing as a business. Why? Because of a couple of things. One, it looks like it is going to be my sole source of income for several more years. Two, the college wants to know why I have no income. And three, even at the end of December, I knew that I was going to have income this year, and there was a good chance that it was going to be more income than last year.

But unlike my pottery friend, I don't have enough income on the table to need a refund (paid no taxes), so I cooked the books. Slightly. I actually did not take all the deductions that I could have. Why? It allowed me to claim a profit which is the IRS line that determines if you are involved in a hobby or a business.

And it is not against the law not to use all your deductions. Otherwise, a whole bunch of writers would be in jail because it is something that most writers do at the beginning of their writing career. Make a hundred dollars and only claim ninety-nine dollars of your expenses out of the hundreds of dollars you spent on supplies and research; it looks like a profit and the IRS doesn't care.

And it is either show a profit occasionally or admit that it is actually a hobby.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Toxic writing friends

One of the hazards of being a writer, especially one that is trying to make a living at writing, is having toxic writing friends.

Toxic writing friends are those people, who after you deal with them, cause you to come down with a bout of writer's block. It can be as little as ten minutes in some cases; and whammo, you can't write for days or weeks. Their opinions poison the well of your creativity.

I have a few of these friends. One of my oldest friends falls in this category. My sister also falls in this catergory. And I am quite sure if my mother was still talking to me that she would be the worst of the lot.

It is not that they mean to be toxic. (Ok, I lied; I am positive that my mother means to derail others; she has self-esteem issues.) It is simply that they open their mouths; and for days afterwards, you wonder if you are not wasting your time at the keyboard. Their voice, and opinions, are louder than your muse's.

Like my friend, he does not mean to be a wet blanket. It is just that he is in a really bad spot economically, plus he has a toxic family, therefore he is busy looking for the big score; my stragety of playing the long game at Helium and Associated Content is a big waste of time as far as he is concerned.

I understand his viewpoint. If I was looking for the big score, they would look like losers too. But I am taking a rather long view of things. I guess that it is the result of running a restrauant for so long; the profit there came in a nickel at a time; a lot of gyros had to be sold just to break even; but if you sold enough, behold profit.

The reason that my toxic writing friends are on my mind is that I spent a couple of hours with one of my sisters the other day. For some reason, I find other writers (she is a technical writer at the moment) to be very toxic. Especially, when they tell you not to give up your day-job.

Hey people, I would love to have a day-job. Remember: I am unemployed. For me, being a writer is not an option that I embraced willingly. It was something that I was saving for my fantasy life. It was not something that I thought I would actually have to figure out a way to make it work.

But seriously, who in their right mind is going to hire me with my school schedule? As I said, I would love to have a day-job. I don't.

So given the fact that I need to keep writing, I decided not to bring up my writing efforts while she was visiting. It didn't work. College came up instead, and how what she studied in college is not what she is currently doing. Nor any of her friends for that matter. She also hinted that maybe transferring to the University of Colorado is perhaps not right for me. There was also the fact that her husband is still paying for his education.

All this brought up the question: Am I doing the right thing?

I wallowed in that for a few hours yesterday, then brushed myself off and went to work on the lodge's website for a few hours. I am not completely recovered, but I am getting better.

And that is the thing: If you have toxic writing friends, you have to come up with ways to cope with it. Like I made sure to have something written in long-hand before my sister visited, something that I have to type up. Typing up stuff helps me get back into writing. Anything that helps you overcome writer's block will probably help you recover from your toxic writing friends.

Now, you have to pardon me, I have to go write something in long-hand, I got to visit one of my oldest friends next week, and he is a toxic writing friend.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Helium Front Page Results

Last week, as my regular readers know, I made the front page on Helium. It is not the first time that I have made the front page; I have done it twice before. Once with my review of the TV show “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader,” and once with a humor piece about me ignoring my wife’s hints that the house needs to be cleaned.

I have always heard (read) on the community boards on Helium that making the front page is good for some extra earnings. Past experience on my end has resulted in just a couple of extra pennies, and a rush of competing articles that demoted my own article rank inside of its respective titles.

Until last week, that is. My article on “How the FICO 08 will affect your credit score” was the first time that I saw that making the front page does make a difference in one’s earnings. Before this point, making the front page was merely for my “ego department” as Eddie Izzard would describe it.

When I logged in that day, I was surprised by the spike in my earnings. I had looked at my Helium earnings late the night before because I was approaching one of those magical markers, and I was three cents short of it. So there was no doubt in my mind that I had an earning spike.

I didn’t immediately realize why. I had looked at the front page with a plate of eggs in one hand, and a cat crawling onto my lap trying to get them. It wasn’t until I checked my email that I learned that I had a front page article.

So what did I learn from this front page earning spike? That writing on Helium, like everywhere else, is all about Content, Content, Content.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Friends without faces

(Unknown Author)

We sit and we type, and we stare at our screens,
We all have to wonder, what this possibly means.
With our mouse we roam, through the rooms in a maze,
Looking for something or someone, as we sit in a daze.
We chat with each other, we type all our woes,
Small groups we do form, and gang up on our foes.
We wait for somebody, to type out our name,
We want recognition, but it is always the same.
We give kisses and hugs, and sometimes flirt,
In ICQ we chat deeply, and reveal why we hurt.
We do form friendships - but - why we don't know,
But some of these friendships, will flourish and grow.
Why is it on screen, we can be so bold,
Telling our secrets, that have never been told.
Why is it we share, the thoughts in our mind,
With those we can't see, as though we were blind.
The answer is simple, it is as clear as a bell.
We all have our problems, and need someone to tell.
We can't tell "real" people, but tell someone we must,
So we turn to the computer, and to those we can trust.
Even though it is crazy, the truth still remains,
They are Friends Without Faces, and odd little names.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Break in the gloom

Well, finally got myself pulled together and started writing again. Added the Hearthstone Community Church (Wiccan) Open Full Moon Dates and the Esoteric Titles of the Major Arcana to the Bast Temple website.

Also started working on a set of Tarot articles for Helium that I hope to start to post there next week. Hopefully, they do not mess up my titles for them.

It is good that I am starting to write again. I was beginning to get worried; it almost seemed like writer's block.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Helium upgrade blues

As regular Helium writers know, Helium started doing a round of upgrading Wednesday.

First, there was the time that the site was down for them to do the upgrade.

Then on day one, there were the many bugs that go along with an upgrade. The one that annoyed me the most was the ghosts. I was getting double printed and half seen sentences, buttons that was not where they appear to be, and ghost images as I attempted to look around the pages.

And I am prone to migraines, so ghosting is not good for my head.

Then yesterday, they had a big notice up saying that no one should submit anything, or leapfrog anything, because there was an error in the system that was removing all the paragraph spacing from submissions.

And today, half the pages can't be found.

Sigh. My earnings were already dropping on Helium, due to the economy (advertisers are not paying as much to Helium, and it flows downhill from there). I really don't need the site to be all buggy; it turns readers off.

Hopefully, they get all the bugs of this upgrade worked out soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pet Peeve: Percent

Today, I was reading a news article about a man who tried to get money from a police department for shooting him while he was holding a gun.

And I encountered one of my pet peeves.

His lawyer said that the court was "a thousand percent wrong in their decision."

Yes, a lawyer said that. Now, I would think that a lawyer would know better; and while a thousand percent sounds better than a hundred percent, it is still wrong. You can be completely right (zero percent wrong), or completely wrong (a hundred percent wrong), or any range in between. You can not be more wrong than completely wrong.

What would ten times completely wrong be like? Won't that void the universe?

Of course, the biggest violator of "percent" are college coaches: "We are going to give a hundred and ten percent!" No, you can't. You can give it your all, or slack off, but you can not give more than your whole capability.

Unless you use voodoo to steal the other team's mojo. Then maybe.

The only time that it is proper to use a figure higher than one hundred percent is when it is actually possible to do so, like taxes, book-keeping, fund raising, and mathematics. Example: "We are going to match the donations a thousand percent." Cool, my dollar will net the charity eleven dollars (my dollar and their ten). My favorite charity could only wish for such luck.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Money in science fiction

I started out wanting to be a science fiction writer. There are still days when I dabble in it, mainly those days when I am sitting in class trying to figure out how I am going to get hired by anyone with a degree in literature.

A few years ago, I read an article about what you named the currency in science fiction indicated a lot about the economics of your fictional world. (I would love to be able to cite the author and title of the article, but it has slipped my mind completely.) The example from it that sticks in my head was the "Golden" which indicated a world that went back to the gold standard.

Today while reading the financial articles on MSN, I came across a term that a columnist has been using to describe our own monetary system: Xera.

The exact quote is:

Xera: The dollar is in need of a name change. Xera is a combination of: (a) Xerox -- for the piece of Xerox paper that it is, (b) lira, which in the past was one of the world's chronically weak currencies, and (c) most importantly, the fact that it sounds like zero. Which is ultimately where the Xera is headed.

The scary part is that it is true.

But I digress; it got me thinking about naming money in science fiction. What you name your money in science fiction says a lot about your world.

For instance, in Star Trek we do not hear much about money, at least in classic Star Trek. We know that flame gems and tribbles can be traded, and once we hear Scotty making a joke about his pay, but it was not until the Ferengi come along that we learn of latinum (something that can not be generated by a replicator; ahhh, no printing money for the Federation). There is something to be said about a society (Starfleet Command) where its members care more about starships than they do their paychecks.

In the TV series show The Prisoner, they had work units. The most important inhabitants of the Village, including Number Six, did not seem to work---exactly what that means is unknown to me.

Of course, we must not forget the most commonly used fuctional currency: the credit. Fictional is the sense that it really does not exist, despite the fact that we use it all the time at the shopping mall. Nevertheless, when it comes time to write my next science fiction story, I think that I am going to use the Xera. I hope that Bill Fleckenstein doesn't mind.

Earning slowdown on Helium

One of the disappointments of being an online writer is that occasionally earning are not as good as projected. At the moment, one of the sites that is disappointing me is Helium. Earnings are down for everyone, outside of those who do well in the marketplace and contests, about 90% based on comments on the community forum, which are matching my own earning drop.

(Ok, maybe, it is not everyone, but there is enourgh to be concerned about.)

Helium has been doing their best to soothe concerns about the drop. They point out that Helium is "revenue-sharing" which means that if advertising income is down, writers earnings also will be down when viewed as a whole.

One of the ways that they are trying to help out the writers is to award a bonus to those writers who maintain both a writing and a rating star. Unfortunately, this leaves three quarters of the writers still in the cold; a writing star is earned by having your articles on average rank in the upper quarter of their titles; considering that not everyone can be in the upper quarter, someone will be a loser with that bonus program.

So is this going to cause me to abandon Helium? Probably not. My view of Helium is a long view, and I am treating it as a long term investment. And the articles that are in my speciality, Wicca, pagan and Golden Dawn, are still pulling in money, though at a slower pace than I would like. Those articles, which I would write anyway, are still viable for me to write.

It is only those articles with a short and limited economic life that are no longer worth writing for Helium; fortunately, I have an outlet for them: Associated Content.

To illustrate how low earnings have dropped on Helium, the articles that I have on both Helium and AC are earning more from page views on AC than they are from revenue share on Helium.
So I will probably be focused on writing for Associated Content for general articles, with Helium only getting articles in my speciality until the ecomony improves. It is the only way that I can justify my opportuntiy costs at the moment.

Join Associated Content

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Silly Definitions

Lately, I have been doing a lot of silly definitions. It is a writer's game: Take a word and define it in a humorous and witty manner. I was first introduced to this game when I was a kid. One of my favorite books were filled with puns and silly definitions.

Antifreeze: What your aunt does when you steal her blankets.

I thought it was terribly witty when I was a kid, and I still get a smile on my face whenever I think back on it. As an adult, I stumbled across a collection of definitions made up by Ambrose Bierce for his newspaper columns; the collection is referred to by the name The Devil's Dictionary.

CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

And I LOVE his definition of the Freemasons.

FREEMASONS, n. An order with secret rites, grotesque ceremonies and fantastic costumes, which, originating in the reign of Charles II, among working artisans of London, has been joined sucessively by the dead of past centuries in unbroken retrogression until now it embraces all the generations of man in the hither side of Adam and is drumming up distinguished recruits among the pre-Creational inhabitants of Chaos and Formless Void. The order was founded at different times by Charlemagne, Julius Caesar, Cyrus, Solomon, Zoroaster, Confucious, Thothmes, and Buddha. Its emblems and symbols have been found in the Catacombs of Paris and Rome, on the stones of the Parthenon and the Chinese Great Wall, among the temples of Karnak and Palmyra and in the Egyptian Pyramids---always by a Freemason.

I will admit that it was the inspiration for my own humorous definition of Golden Dawn.

The reason that I started to write my own definitions down lately was that I recently read The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes in literature class. One of the characters in that novel is Ambrose Bierce, who disappeared at the time that the book is taking place. It reminded me of this game.

Most of my definitions are political in nature, and are ending up in my political blog that I recently started. I am not above commenting on things that I see happening. But that is just the side-purpose of creating them.

The primary purpose is to have fun and loosen up, so that writer's block does not set in. Odds are that I will be writing a lot more before summer is over because this summer I can't afford to have writing block set in. Writing is my profession, the way that I make a living, and it is not like I am going to win the lottery anytime in the near future.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Three thousand reads on Associated Content

Yesterday, I crossed the line of having three thousand reads on Associated Content. As always, I am interested in what articles are getting read and what are not. Especially considering that I have only been submitting stuff there for a year, which sounds bad until you realize that I only submitted my eleventh AC article today (actually twelve, but my most recent gambling article is still awaiting review).

My first article there, A Brief History of Golden Dawn, has been read 250 times. As I have mentioned before between Helium and AC, it has been one of my best earning articles.

My second article, submitted five months later, about a speech Hillary Clinton gave at the Auraria Campus has been read 850 times. I figure that article is near the end of its economic life; it is only a matter of time before she drops out of the Presidential race.

The real surprise is that one article, on how the FICO 08 affects your credit score, accounts for over nine hundred of my page views there and is earning more on AC than it is on Helium. It is not surprising that people are reading it; what is surprising is that I am earning more from it on AC than Helium.

(Of course, my Helium earnings are currently in a slump. That is one of the dangers of "revenue sharing." When ad revenue is down for the website, so are the writers earnings.)

Normally, I make about the same from articles that I am double-dipping with, but not in this case. It is something that I need to explore further this summer as I start to expand my article base on both sites.

One of the things I have to do is replace my two political articles that are near the end of their economic life. The Hillary article I already mentioned; the other about the 2008 State of the Union address seems to have already hit the end of its lifecycle. Or at least, it hasnt been read by anyone this month.

But I got plenty of time to do this considering that the most important thing I have to do this summer is transfer to a different college; the rest of my summer is going to be spent on the yard and house repairs in between writing material for the internet and the lodge.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Selected Definitions from the Zealot’s Dictionary

Television: A device for the education of the common masses though the use of commercials occasionally interrupted by a piece of false news or flawed entertainment.

American Idol: A popularity contest proving that everyone is a dawg, is cute and lovable, and can not carry a tune in a bucket.

Insurance: A wager paid for by the lucky to be awarded to the unlucky provided that a third party does not declare the misfortune an act of god.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Changed my Lulu Storefront again

It is a couple of days after the end of the spring semester, and I am busy trying to get back into the flow to tackle my business. My summer project, besides digging up the yard and trying to revive Bast Temple, is to work on my writing business.

So today, I decided to change my Lulu storefront's appearance yet again. I also chose to remove one of my products (the microeconomics term paper) because I decided to do something else with it. So the only book I currently have up there for sale is Golden Dawn Rituals Volume One: Neophyte Ritual Three Officer Version.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Writing contests

Well, I haven't done a lot of writing lately. In fact, outside of some private forum stuff, I have only done one piece of non-college writing over the last month or so. And it is merely a piece on writing contests. It was one of those pieces that I thought was good until I saw the standard everyone else was writing on. *sigh* The top pieces all are reviews of sites that sponsor writing contests.

Personally, I have never done real well with writing contests. Therefore, I really do not pay much attention to them. I have kicked around why this is on occasion. My current conclusion is that I am probably just a hack writer. Or at least, it would be if it wasn't for Helium.

Helium periodically does writing contests, and I viewed the recent Reward-a-thon there as if it was a contest. I noticed that in most of the contests there that it is the people who write the most who end up winning.

Hence, my problem with writing contests. I really don't have all that much time to write. Blame it on college. So I really don't attempt writing contests there (Helium) or anywhere else.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Such a fun week

So it has been a terribly fun week. It started off last week with a call about my financial aid, a call that went very badly. For awhile there, I thought that I was going to drop out of college due to the lack of funds. So I spent the entire seven days between the initial phone call and follow-up stressed out of my mind.

For some reason, it is a little hard to write while one is stressed out of their mind. Not only did I get no writing done, outside of a partial online lecture (lodge related), I really did not feel like going to classes. But I did anyways, I figured if it was my last semester, by god I was going to attend every minute that I was entitled to.

So Tuesday morning, the follow-up call happened and a solution was found. But here is the joke, that afternoon I talked to Zoe Levitt, an advisor for the Community College of Denver, and she advised me to transfer to either Metro or CUD and do my fall semester 2008 at one of them, instead of CCD. It is a matter of not losing any more credits when I transfer, and the fact that I can back-transfer the one science class I have left to take (something that I didn't know that I could do).

So now I have more stress because I need to apply to both Metro and CUD as soon as possible. Plus the normal stress of finals. Such joy. I think the writing is going to suffer for another couple of weeks.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My best earning articles on Helium 2

One of the things I learned over the last couple of years is that when I am really stressed out that doing some of the day-to-day writing chores helps. So instead of screaming about the horrors of student aid in Colorado (exactly how is one supposed to survive on a mere sixteen thousand a year?), let me talk about the articles that are earning the most for me so far this year on Helium.

My top earner so far this year has been Credit scoring: How FICO 08 will change the rules. It is not surprising that it has been my best earner so far this year. After all, most of us have concerns about our credit score, and this change in the FICO scoring system affects this score.

Another article in my top ten earners is How to flip a house, which I find surprising is still so doing so well considering the bad housing market. Though it does make sense if one accounts for those people who are snapping up foreclosed homes.

I am not sure why The importance of teamwork in the company is among my top ten earners. It puzzles me that it earns so much even when earnings (at least for me) seem to be down on Helium---perhaps due to the Reward-a-thon that just ended, or maybe the reformating of the URLs on the Helium site, or perhaps changes in the Google index---it seems to keep on ticking despite all. It is an example of one of those articles that you end up writing that surprises you with its earnings (better this surprise than shock that an article that you thought was going to do well is stalled at the bottom of your earners--but that is a whole another column).

Another puzzler is Everything you need to know about doing paid surveys. It is one of those articles that earns in spasms; it is not a constant earner, or at least I don't think it is (I will have to check my monthly records to be sure). My current theory is that it is doing so well because of the hard economic times.

Rounding out my top ten are three Golden Dawn articles including What is Golden Dawn (though a better title is A Brief History of Golden Dawn) ,two wicca (witchcraft) articles and one lonely mythology article. I don't think that half of my top ten earners are occult articles is a really big surprise. After all, it is my speciality. And besides, it is what I wrote the most--in fact, I plan on writing a few more this summer, provided of course that I don't have to drop out of college due to this student aid problem and go back to flipping burgers (heaven forbid).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Summer plans

Well, it is almost summer. Which means it is about time that I decide what I plan on accomplishing this summer. Every year, I try to come up with a list of goals for summer. Mostly, long-term projects and goals that I would like to accomplish.

Unfortunately, for the last few years, I have been allowing myself to get side-tracked and derailed despite having perfectly good plans for my college breaks. And each time, it is money concerns that get me side-tracked.

The wife tends to set off these derailments. Money concerns--budget problems--general low income, which tends to set off panic attacks in me and make me go look for big scores, rather than focusing on the nickel and dime opportunities that I already know about. At the end of the break, typically, all I have accomplished is frustrating myself because large scores are hard to find.

And the sad part is that I could have made progress on building my writing income if I would have remained focused on my nickel and dime (sometimes pennies per day) outlets. Better to make progress and bring in a few more pennies than bring in no pennies at all.

This year, her concern over the budget is starting early. I understand why; it is getting tight for us. Already, I am having to raid my summer budget to pay for food today.

But we are in the same position as everyone else is. I read a report today that says that food prices have been climbing faster (inflation) than they have in the last seventeen years. I am not sure if it is correct, but I can believe it.

This summer, I am going to try to focus on the opportunities that I already know about. But I can already feel the panic rising already, so wish me luck---I am going to need it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Deadbeat Students

There must be something in the water. Several times in the last couple of weeks, I have attended a class where the professor is upset because many of the students are not doing the work. Plus after coming home, I get to hear about Toni’s bad students (she is substitute teaching in an art position at the moment).

Yesterday, the psychology class started off with the professor saying that it had came to his attention that one of the students might be cheating. He is right; I suspect one of the students of copying some of the take-home test answers from someone else.

This same student is one of my classmates in my literature class. I am not sure if my psychology teacher is upset with her, but I know that my literature teacher is. She chose not to read Voltaire because it was boring--I hope that she gets around to finishing it before the next in-class writing assignment (yes, it is that bad).

Now, I can sympathize with her. I have talked to her about her current job--management at a fast food restaurant. So she is on call 24/7, and has little time to actually work on college homework. She reminds me of why I decided that I could not do both college and management at the same time. Nevertheless, she is one of the students pulling down the quality of my classes this semester.

(Honestly, I like her as a person. If it wasn’t for the fact that the professors were so upset, I might consider being her friend.)

“Deadbeat students” is how my literature professor describes them. I am not sure that I would use such language; I understand the statement, but I am not sure if it is fair to call them that. Then again, I think of them as “dead-weight students,” so I am not much better in my thinking.

But I am not really sure that all of them are doing so badly on purpose. One of the hazards of being a modern college student is the sheer expense of attending college. And here in Colorado, financial aid has become almost nonexistent. Scholarships and decent amounts of Federal Student Loan money is also not in play. So those of us who can find jobs are working full time; college has become a part time thing for many students.

Then there are people like me, who are in college because of the bad economy. The reason I am considering the possibility of voting for Hillary Clinton is that she has mentioned that something has to be done to help college students pay for their educations.

So while I am annoyed that some of my class mates are dragging the whole class(es) down (pop quizzes are being used in the literature class now to make sure that everyone is doing the reading), I am not completely sure that it is something that they are doing because they do not care to do the homework.

And that is my complaint of the week.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I am on the front page today

Today, one of my articles is being featured on the front page of Helium. It is about Spring Cleaning for Writers: Organizing Your Office. I wrote it last year when I was getting ready to do the annual dusting of my office. I am not the best example of organization, or tidiness. I tend to let things slide for awhile until they are piled up to the ceiling, or it has to be absolutely done (dishes, laundry, trash). It is not good if you are trying to earn your living by being a writer--the idea is to be able to find your research when you need it.

The tendency to let things pile up to the ceiling has gotten worse since I started to go to college. My recent humor piece about house cleaning did not mention that a lot of the time lately, both my wife and I have no time to clean; it is either clean or do our homework--big choice, isn't it? Yet the attitude I portrayed myself having is my actual outlook; maybe if I ignore it long enourgh, someone else will clean it instead. Often it works, the wife has a lower tolerance for dust than I do--though dishes and litter boxes would never get done if I left them to her devices.

So I admit that I have a tendency to just let things slide and the clutter to build up. Except during the spring. For some reason, spring brings about the urge to clean and organize. It is not just in the house either; the majority of the garden work that gets done is accomplished during the spring.

I have never been able to put my finger on why I get the urge to clean, organize, and garden during the spring. It is not exactly like me. Outside of spring, cleaning, organization and garden work is typically a sign that I am avoiding something--normally a piece of writing that I am having difficulty with. Writing is not anymore difficult in the spring than in any other season, so I remain puzzled by the urge to do these things.

In fact, over the lot couple of days, I have done some gardening and organizing of the computer files, plus I started to sort the piles on the coffee table. Someone please send help, I feel another case of spring cleaning coming on.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spring Break 2008 Part Two

As my Spring Break moves toward its swift end, I am trying to ignore how much I wanted to get done this vacation. It is hard to do so. It is even harder to be happy with what I have actually accomplished.

So far, I have read one chapter of my Psychology text and another in my World History text. Only one page of my psychology term paper has been written. And Pride and Prejudice is a slow read so far.

On the business end, I have only written one piece (it is about How to Cite Sources on Helium). You would think that I would have written more; but no, I haven't.

I should be happy with what I have accomplished. But I am not. Why? Because I am a bloody perfectist who thinks that he is Superman. I admit to it---what else would you expect from a Virgo?

But there are more important things than working one's butt off during Spring Break. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours hanging out with a friend. And this morning, I went out to brunch with the wife. Tommorrow, I am goofing off with another friend.

There will be plenty of time to write stuff between classes next week, and I am still caught up with my schoolwork. So I can spare the time to maintain my relationships and relax a little, even if my ego says that I should be getting more work done.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Break 2008 Part One

So it is spring break, and I should be getting a lot of writing done. Right? Well, that is the theory. But in practice, the plan is not working.

The first few days of spring break I was so tired that resting was hard work. Then yesterday, a hunk of the day was spent dealing with a plumber (small water leak) and the furnace repairman (yearly inspection)--both very important things, but neither one conductive to writing.

Of course, the wife being on break is not conductive to writing either. I love her, but there are those moments when she can not see that I am trying to work. Sigh.

And I doubt that I am going to get much writing done, even though I am being to feel human again. I have a couple of friends to visit (they do not remember the last time that they saw me), and a pile of homework to do (one take-home test, two psychology chapters, a history chapter, three plays, and two novels) before classes start back up.

Maybe I should have considered going to Florida instead...

MyLot Referral Earnings Bonus Program

[This post is about a bonus prgram that MyLot did in 2008.]

One of the ways that a lot of the people who make decent money on the internet is though referral programs. Many sites pay members to refer others to the site. Most often this payment is based on the activity of the downline (members that you have convinced to join the site also).

MyLot is one of the sites with a referral program. Normally the amount MyLot pays for a referral is 25% of their participation earnings. For instance, for every ten dollars they earn, you would get two dollars and fifty cents if you were the person that referred them to the site.

As I said, normally it is 25% there--at the moment MyLot is having a bonus program going on. Between now and May 31st [2008], the referral income is 50% instead of the normal 25%.

It is all an effort to encourage members like myself to use their new flyers. An example of what they are encouraging us to use is as follows:

Meet other writing fans on myLot.

So if you are good at getting referrals, or think that you might be good at it, now would be a good time to join MyLot.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dan Carlin--politics and history

Recently, I have been listening to a lot of podcasts. This is mainly due to Toni having to do Spanish homework, and needing me to be relatively quiet (I am never perfectly quiet or still--it might or might not be ADHD); and partially due to the fact that I have a new IPod.

I have been exploring a lot, searching the podcast library for things of interest. Looking for the usual stuff--French and Hebrew podcasts (my languages of choice)--and things to entertain me. So I started looking at the political and history podcasts; it has never been said that my idea of entertainment is normal.

One of the podcasts that I stumbled across was Hardcore History, a podcast put together by Dan Carlin. One problem with history is that it can be boring, especially when it is talked about by professors. Carlin is not a teacher of history; he is an euthastic student of history. Because of that, he talks about the parts of history that fascinates him, rather than dry dusty dates.

And at the end of one of the Hardcore History podcasts, there was a mention of the other podcast that he does--Common Sense, a political podcast. I think that Carlin's ideas about politics and what really is going on to be interesting.

I know that some people will point to Carlin as proof that allowing people to make podcasts is like giving every lunatic in a tin hat their very own radio show, much like allowing people to blog is like allowing every nutjob to run their own newspaper. But I like Carlin--maybe that is because of the type of person that I am.

Why do I like Carlin? In one of his latest podcasts, he talks about how the whole issue of Obama and his minister is a guilt by association tale cobbled together on a slow newsday; it also helps those who are trying to slow Obama down. Carlin believes that it is a tin hat story; nothing really to worry about.

And in another podcast, he talks about what the founding fathers really meant the right to bear arms to be all about; I understood it. The founding fathers never meant the right to bear arms to be a separate amendment; it serves a greater purpose.

I would go into greater detail, but that would rob you of the joy of listening to Dan Carlin yourself. So go hop over to the Itunes Store, or Dan Carlin's website, to download these great podcasts.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Plagiarism and authority

Thursday, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of my classmates in my Classics of Literature II class. The question of whether or not we had to do a bibliography for the paper that we were doing arose (probably not considering that we were all using the same prose translation of (the) Iliad by W. H. D. Rouse). But as always this brought up the whole issue of plagiarism which is a serious issue in today's college environment.

In passing, I mentioned that last semester, I ended up having to cite myself--an entry in this very blog, in fact. R. F., one of my fellow students, thought that it was unnecessary for me to do so; it is not like I was actually published, she said (I beg to differ; I have had stuff published both in the print and internet markets). Futhermore, it is not like I am actually an expert.

Ouch. I feel a small case of wounded ego coming on.

And the fact that it was a blog, no one would ever consider checking.

Now, the conversation got cut short by the professor walking in--probably a good thing considering that I can be a little bull-headed at times. And it would have been like talking to a brick wall; R. F. will someday prove to be a good writer. She is also stubborn, an excellent trait if you have to cope with rejection slips; but it makes one's opinions and worldview pretty limiting.

First off, in the world of academia (and publishing depending on the style), if it has been published, whether it is in print or internet, you cite. Professors have computer programs that can scan the internet for your source of plunder. And with many books being previewed on the internet, even parts of the print world is accessible to these programs. If you can find it though Google (or another search engine), they can find it also.

As for citing myself, I was just following the example of several of the experts that I have read. If a Ph. D. cites their own work, including work done before they became a Ph. D., I presume the custom is to cite it if it is in print--period--even if it is your own work.

Now taking out my wounded ego, oh how it hurts; you may not think that a college student can be an expert, but it can happen. In two term papers last semester, I ended being an expert and primary source.

In political science, while talking about the politics and organizational structure of the esoteric Orders, I was considered by the professor to be reliable source. Outside of college, this has also occurred. For some reason, writing a Golden Dawn blog, doing articles about Golden Dawn, and being a Temple Chief makes one an expert in the eyes of some people.

In microeconomics, the class that I wrote the term paper that I cited myself in, for some reason, Marty Sabo considered that having ten years of management experience and currently working as a freelance writer made me an expert on my own business. Gee, what type of sense does that make? It is my own business (sure, it is a struggling business, nevertheless...), and I would be an expert at what going on in it. It made sense to him, and who am I to argue with the man who controlled my grade.

But this whole conversation with R. F. made me realize the attitude that is making plagiarism such a major problem in colleges and in the internet markets. Basically, the attitude says that if few people know the person and they don't have a Ph. D., and their work is found on a blog or other tiny corner of the internet, that is ok to copy their thoughts and words and use it for your own. Now, R. F. will never do this; she has pride in her own work and the same professor in ENG 122 (research paper how-to class) that I had (which is where the emphasis that I am not an expert comes from). But someone with less talent and pride will have no problem with plundering the internet for ideas and sometimes outright exact words. It is a scary thought.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Page View Reciprocation

The way that many beginning (and quite a few experienced) writers earn money on the web with their writing is "by the page view." Basically, the more people who read your articles, the more you get paid. For instance, both Helium and Associated Content pay based on the number of page views that you have. With AC, you currently get paid $1.50 per thousand page views; with Helium, it is a little more complicated--it is actually revenue sharing, so various topics earn differently, but the principle is the same: More readers means more earned income.

Now due to this, page view writers are interested in ways to increase their page views. Some email everyone in their address book every time that they publish a new article (a bad notion, soon your emails start to get blocked). Other like myself, maintain a blog and put up links to our articles up on the web. There is also a vast money-making machine that promises more page views provided that you are willing to cough up the fees.

Don't fall for the systems that promise additional page views for a fee. Most of them are charging more than you will actually gain from your additional page views. And worse, many of them actually consist of bots; if your page views are detected as coming from bots, rather than real human beings, you will not get paid for them. In fact, using a bot hit service will get your writing account deleted and cost all the earnings that you might have earned in the future from that writing.

Not only can't you use bots, but you can not view your own material and get paid for it either. All page view sites have ways (cookies) to make sure that the author is not gaming the system with their own computer. But if you are willing to spend time trying to fool the system by reading your own material, there is actually something that you can do.

You can join a Page View Reciprocation Group. A PVRG is a group of writers who exchange page views with one another. I can not budge my own page view count by reading my own material, but I can increase someone else's numbers. And they can do the same for me. So if you are willing to spend the time, you can increase your page views---or rather someone else's, who in turn boosts your own numbers.

Plus because it is real human beings doing the reading, you can gain rating points and the occasional glowing comment besides an increased page view count. Best of all, user agreements tend to allow this behavior---because it is real human beings, advertising occasionally works on them.

PVRGs are also a nice way to network with other writers: talk about writing opportunities, complain about various publishers, and get feedback on your work.

There is a major drawback: you have to spend time reading other people's articles. A lot of people think that they can join such a group and not do the reading. Trust me, if a writer does not reciprocate, the other writers will figure it out. So don't join, or start such a group, if you have no intention of actually reading other people's work.