https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery

Click on the image for more information.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Curses to You, Google

Boy, I really didn't want to do this post, but I feel I have to do a Public Service Announcement about recent Google changes. Thursday is the day GFC goes away for non-Blogger blogs.

A lot of people were all "Agh! The apocalypse!". :o)

It's not that big a deal unless you read your blog friends on GFC. I don't. Subscribing by email or using Google Reader is far more efficient for me.

That little tally number is totally bogus anyway. Many times, it's artificially inflated by these blog hops that rally people to follow each other. Or else it's for a contest where you can't win unless you're a follower. 

The truth is, just because someone adds himself to your list doesn't mean he reads you.

I want to be read. Traffic, comments, and those very nice people who tweet and FB my blog posts are my real indicators. (Karma petals to you lovely folks.)

But if you add yourself to my GFC, I will indeed follow you back. I also add ALL my followers to my Reader.

By the way, a word to the wise, for some reason, a few people on GFC don't have active (clickable) blog links, so it's impossible to follow them back. The only SURE way for me to add you is if you leave a comment.

The REAL DEVIL: Anyway, while everyone was getting their panties twisted over GFC, they instead should be more concerned about Google tracking where they browse. If you're on Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, or any other Google service you probably got an email on it.

To stop Google from tracking your whereabouts, go to your Google settings page. It should be at the top right hand corner of Reader, YouTube, Gmail, etc. Or you can go here: https://www.google.com/history. (Make sure you're signed into Google before you begin.)

1. Go to accounts settings
2. Scroll down to "Services". It's near the bottom of the page.
3. Under "Services", go to "View, enable, disable web history."
4. Click "Go to Web History."
5. Click on "Remove all Web History".

After you've clicked on it, a message will appear telling you that "Web History is Paused." You can un-pause this at any time. But why would you?

And the Devil's Spawn: What did rile me big-time was when Blogger deleted the check box to subscribe to comments. This is ONLY if your comment box comes up as a pop-up. If the comment box is embedded in your post, the subscriber button is still there.

This chapped my britches because I prefer the pop-up. It lets me see the post and the comment box side by side rather than forcing me to scroll back and forth.

I almost always subscribe to comments unless I'm too zippy and forget to click the box. If you're on Blogger and want people to read follow-up comments, please EMBED your comment box. 

1. Go to "Settings"
2. Go to the tab that says, "Comments"
3. Go to "Comment Form Placement". 
4. Click "

Maybe next week if the world stops throwing curve balls we can talk about more interesting things. I did promise Jenny Schwartz that I would reveal where I get my blog topic ideas, so I imagine that'll show up soon.

***
I mowed grass the other day and planted some fruit trees. Please don't all be jealous at once. LOL. We have a lot of replanting to do after last year's drought.

***

What's gnu? What are you working on this week? 

PS  Several unnamed WordPress friends are trying to drive me to their side. The only thing holding me back is the monstrous job of migrating, then updating every site where I appear with the new url. Not to mention reprinting business cards. Is it worth it?


Monday, February 27, 2012

Avalanche

The Frugal Way, Smart Grocery Shopping book is done. But I think I'm going to hold it in reserve for a couple of weeks while I finish another book in the series, The Garage Sale Bible.

That one is almost finished. Only three more chapters to go and then a thorough edit. If I play my cards right, maybe I'll have both books ready before my birthday rolls around.

The Frugal Way books have been one of my favorite projects to date. I'm glad Greg talked me into doing them.

Marketing: I was cleaning out old posts on my Reader and caught someone's blog saying that what had worked for her only two years ago, hasn't been working for her now. 

Amen to that. I've been very aware of the trend for the past few months. Yet, I notice very few authors changing their tactics. Maybe they don't feel it's affecting them--or more likely, they don't know what else to do.

What attracts an audience has been altered and so has their attention span. When I read blogs and visit forums, I tune out posts the second I suspect it's a sales pitch. It's become an almost involuntary reaction.

I'm not trying to be rude, but I have to be practical. As a reader, I feel authors have to give me something of value in order for them to earn what is most precious to me--my time.

So how should potential readers be rewarded? 

I've been watching myself in this case, mentally noting what triggers me to click on a post or delete it. Useful information tops my list, but also entertainment. 

I've also been analyzing the author's response (or lack of it) when I comment on his blog. Does he seem sincere or does he try to blow me off? Is there an effort to build a relationship or deepen an existing one?

The best analogy is the television commercial. Have you noticed how it's changed over the years? What makes us stay and watch? What makes us tune out? Most commercials have less than 20 seconds to make an impression. If they miss, the message (and money) is wasted.

I've held back on promo, trying to gauge audience reaction to the over-saturation of books and subsequent pimping. Historically, when the market is glutted, the product loses value. Has that already happened?

I think it has. The market needs time to level out, (and it will) but I'm not sure when that's going to happen.

Somebody has thrown a snowball down the mountain and it's picking up size and momentum. There's an avalanche coming and I suspect with it, the potential for casualties.

Agree or disagree? Is there any promo (in books or tv) that feels like nails on a blackboard?


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reviewer, Your Ignorance is Showing

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. Abraham Lincoln

Last week I read a review of a movie that hadn't yet been released. The reviewer hadn't seen it, but he had already made up his mind that it was going to be garbage because he had never heard of the book, the author, and thought the director and main actor were second rate.

What movie you ask? 

John Carter of Mars. (Recently retitled: John Carter)

If this guy had been in whack range I would've slapped him in the back of the head. Is it the new protocol to pan a movie on pure speculation? Whatever happened to making a value judgment on the actual material?

I regret not taking note of this reviewer's name or keeping the link. All I remember is that I read it on MSN.com.

For the record, I love Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love his stories. With all due respect to the authors of today, I miss stories like his. They were high adventure, sexy, and fun. Sure, the narrative is dated. It was written in a different era (even before my time), but the stories are passionate and thrilling.

I have no idea whether Disney will do his book justice, but they have the money to throw at it. (Note: Disney's marketing department dropped the ball on the trailer though. I've seen fan-based trailers of John Carter that were better made.)

But getting back to the reviewer--what really irritated me is when he said the movie was based on a book nobody ever heard of. How completely arrogant and ignorant can you be? 

Even if he hadn't heard of the book, if you're going to write a journalistic review (for money), at least do a little research. Edgar Rice Burroughs isn't just some schmuck.

I seriously doubt I'll watch Hunger Games (it's not the kind of story I like) but I will definitely see John Carter, if only to rekindle a little bit of my youthful fantasies.

It probably won't come close to how I imagined all the beloved characters I grew up reading, but I know I won't pass judgment on it without seeing it first.




Has anyone out there read Edgar Rice Burroughs? Do you plan to see the movie?

In other news:
Remember Dimensions, that indie film I told you about last week? I just heard from Ant Neely that it WON the Gort Award for Best Festival Film for 2012. I really hope it gets released nationally. Here's a picture of Mr. Neely's wife, Sloan U'Ren, the director of Dimensions with their award.

I am so happy for them. Congratulations to the Dimensions creators! 


Monday, February 20, 2012

The Awesome Secret About Captcha

By now, most of you have had your chance to grumble about Google's new double-word Captcha verification process. It looks like this.

But it turns out this major annoyance provides a valuable service. The video below is a little long but the speaker, Luis von Ahn, is entertaining and enlightening. He is the creator of Captcha.

Before you start throwing your popcorn at him, listen to how he developed Captcha so that everyone who has to verify their humanness is actually doing a noble and worthwhile thing.

It's true.

What the new Captcha does is take one word from an old book that's been scanned, but can't be deciphered by the computer due to yellowed or faded lettering. Apparently, humans have a better capacity for recognizing these words than computers.

Luis von Ahn goes on to explain the enormous task to digitize old books and how we, in 10 second intervals help to translate one word at a time. If you don't want to watch the whole video, go to time stamp 1:55 to hear his explanation. It's brilliant. Using this process they are able to digitize 2.5 million books a year.  (Be sure to watch at least to time stamp 7:27.)



So the next time you grumble at having to type out Captchas, remember you're doing it for a good cause.

That said, I have to admit, I have a very hard time reading them, and I'm sure I'm not alone. For the time being, I have suspended word verification on this blog.

Within two hours of doing so, the spam started. Some was caught by the spam filter, but others got through. (I curse all spammers and their descendents.)

If too much spam gets through, I'm going to have to moderate all comments before they appear. So don't fret if you don't see your comment right away.

I won't ask how you feel about Captcha. It's a pain. But what do you think about how they're using it? Do you use word verification?


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Calamity House

You’d think having professionals do all the work would relieve us of any stress or worry. I was wrong.

Monday was a day where anything that could go wrong did go wrong.

The granite installers came early. Then the carpeting people called. They were running late. But there was an even more insidious problem brewing.

Our propane, a big monster of a tank had run completely DRY. We’re on an auto-fill program, which means the propane company is supposed to keep tabs how much propane we have at all times. Someone missed us.

It had been chilly at night, but livable during the day—except when you want carpeting installed. The rooms I was having done were being glued down, which meant the floors had to be warm so the mastic would stick.

Oy.

I canceled the carpet people. And called up the propane people. They finally showed up long past when they had promised delivery.

Meanwhile, the granite people worked steadily. A full eight hours they worked. Measuring, cutting, and fitting the stone tablets so precisely, you’d think they were building an Egyptian pyramid. Finally they reached the last piece…only it didn’t fit. The backsplash was too short! I was fit to be tied—or mummified. Take your choice.

They’d have to go back and have another piece cut-to-fit at the factory. They were off by less than an eighth of an inch, but by Dog, if I’m going to pay that much for granite, I want it perfect. It wasn’t the workmen’s fault. Two weeks earlier, a man spent two hours measuring and making templates of my counters. He was the one who goofed.

Tuesday, we repeated our dance, only this time the carpeting people came first while we waited…and waited for the granite people. Finally, after we had lost all the daylight, (they do all their cutting outside) one guy shows up. He worked fast—too fast, and I thought for sure he’d make a mistake, but he was very good.

I would’ve shown you pictures, but my calamity wasn’t over yet. Greg had to leave before he could reinstall the plumbing or tie in the electrical. Until he returns I am without a fully functioning kitchen, but boy it sure looks nice. I feel like a diva in this joint. 

Greg will be back in a couple of weeks. Until then no sink, no dishwasher, no garbage disposal, and no electrical on one bank of outlets. I'm sure I'll survive. Oh, and we are without heat in one half of the house. Thank God, it's not that cold out. Another job for Greg when he gets back.

Yesterday, I vegged and critiqued a manuscript for a friend. Most crits take me several days to weeks, but since I had no intention of getting off the couch I managed to read and critique a 35k manuscript in a little over 12 hours—a record for me. I don’t read slowly, but I take my time analyzing every scene. It was a nice break from a very stressful few days.

Even Greg said it felt as if we had done the work ourselves because we were constantly up and down, making phone calls, checking on dogs, checking on workmen, and worrying if we’d have another power outage. (We had two on Monday.)

The counters really are beautiful though. When everything gets put back together, I’ll post some pictures. If I ever do this again, I will start drinking early. It’s the only way to keep from going mad.

Please tell me you’ve had similar experiences. Do you get stressed out when you have workmen doing jobs at your house? Any horror stories you can share?

PS  Tank did not care for the uninvited company. He made sure everyone knew there was a giant rottweiler behind Door Number Three.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Hey, Boston! DIMENSIONS is at SF Film Festival

If you could revisit your childhood...which moment would you choose? 


This is the premise of the independent film, Dimensions. It will be shown as the Closing Film for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival on Saturday February 18th. If you are anywhere near the Boston area, you couldn't do better than to spend the evening watching this intriguing film.

Dimensions is a 1920s/30s sci-fi drama and revolves around a scientist's obsession with going back in time, to revisit a moment from his childhood. It stars Camilla Rutherford (Gosford Park, Rome) and Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Harry Potter and the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Inbetweeners).




I normally don't plug unsolicited requests on this blog, but the producer, Ant Neely sent me such a nice press kit and asked so graciously, I couldn't resist. This came on the heels of another request from someone who wanted me to plug his book without so much as a please or thank you. The approach of these people were light years apart. I promptly deleted the book request on account of bad manners.

Mr. Neely not only sent me a personally addressed letter, but he recognized that I was in Texas, which meant he took the time to research my blog. He attached all the information I needed and more. His letter was personal, warm and heartfelt. He made me believe that anyone who could take this much care with a letter would be even more amazing with his film.

So I would like you to do me a favor. I don't know Mr. Neely from Adam, but I have faith in his project and a deep admiration for the dedication and sacrifice he and his wife (Sloane U'Ren) made to produce this film. As a favor to me, would you Tweet this post, or post the video (and the Boston film festival date) on Facebook sometime this week?

If you're an indie author, you already know how hard it is to catch a break. Let's give Dimensions that break and pass the word around. It's just good Karma.

Thanks guys. Let's help them out.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prudent Penny: Kitchen Compost

We haven't done a Prudent Penny post in a while. And this time I'm talkin' trash.

Before...
Have you ever tried composting? It is super easy to do and there is absolutely nothing better for your garden or potted plants than compost. Here's the link to when we built our mega-giant compost bins.

I looked for months for a small covered waste bin that I could tuck in a corner of my kitchen and toss my food scraps. I finally found one the perfect size, but not the perfect price. They wanted 30 bucks for that sucker.

I don't think so.

So I opted for a frugal and low-tech solution and used a large cottage cheese container. It's not pretty, but it works and I emptied it daily to my big compost bin outside.

...and After
But then my friend, Mel surprised me with a beautiful stainless steel bin for my birthday. 

I was so ecstatic I squeezed the breath out of her. :)  She could not have given me a better birthday present. I'm one of those people who loves practical gifts and this one sent me to the moon. (Mel knows me so well.) 

I don't know how she's going to top it this year. But Mel, if you're reading, I am really hankering for a few pounds of wiggly earthworms so I can start worm farming. 

Wormy x a hundred
I compost everything except oils and meats. Veggie peelings, eggshells, tea and coffee grounds all go into my little bin. The only thing I leave out is orange and lemon peels. The lemon peels I run through the garbage disposal to keep it smelling fresh, but orange peels are frozen for when I need zest for my cranberry cookies.

Does anyone out there compost? Am I the only one who thinks earthworms and scrap bins are excellent gifts? I won't think less of you if compost bins don't turn you on. :wink:


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Saved by Pie

I'm back...I think. My internet provider blamed the storm, but I was having trouble with service all last week so I'm not so sure it was entirely to blame. I've been offline since Friday.

At least I had plenty of virtual pies, cookies, and cake. Thanks to everyone who cheered me up during my isolation. It was nice to see all those comments when I got back online.

There were more than 1000 posts when Google Reader came back up--too many to answer. If I missed you, I apologize. I'll try to get back into a rhythm once I've answered all my mail.

Other than no internet, (and a dead car for two days) it hasn't been too terrible. Next week I have a lot of workmen coming in to put in the new countertop so I've been prepping the kitchen, emptying cabinets and clearing a nice big path when they bring in the granite slabs. 

I have to remember to tape a big sign on my office door. I'm keeping the dogs there and I don't want anyone to open that door accidentally. The workmen are supposed to be here at least eight hours and it would be easy to mistake it for the door going out to the garage. 

Maybe I should put a picture of the dogs too. Just to make my point. Rottweilers don't growl a lot. They prefer to charge first and warn later.

***
As soon as my connection was restored the first order of business was to post a bunch of freebies and discounts on The Frugal Way Facebook page. If you haven't 'Liked' it or subscribed to the page, you might want to take a look to see what I've posted recently. 

I test all the links before I post to make sure they work. Sometimes I even sign up for the freebies myself. I got a great one just the other day--two spray bottles of a degreaser and cleaner. Most of the freebies are samples, but sometimes those samples are pretty generous.

I want you to know that I don't put just anything up on that page. I really give it some thought before I post. I want these offers to be useful and money-saving.

So what did I miss while I was in virtual Siberia? You know how people like to read my comment stream. Share your news--good or bad. Maybe I can send some new readers your way.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Foiled Again

Storm + middle-of-nowhere = no internet. 

Stuck in zombie land. 

Send pie.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

More Than You Want to Know

I've been doing research for my next book in the series The Frugal Way, Smart Grocery Shopping. 

Research, you say. On groceries?

Yup.

Food is a lot scarier than any horror story you'll read in fiction. Did you know that in any given grocery store, the majority of packaged foods are made up primarily of six foodstuffs, corn being the number one ingredient?

I thought this was crazy-talk at first. How do you get cheese out of corn?

Apparently, the boys and girls in the lab have been busy extracting key components, primarily from corn and soybeans, and introducing them into the food chain as...FOOD.

The vegetable itself isn't used for food, but rather the molecular chain they extract out of it, producing sugars, starches, and gums. Look at the ingredients list on any processed food. Those words you can't pronounce? Those are very likely corn or soybean extracts.

Good for replacing nutrients and adding filler to processed foods. Not so good for health.

And you can't get away from it--not from the grocery stores and certainly not when you eat out. These ingredients are in virtually everything. 

This leaves you with one of three choices. Grow your own food. Avoid all processed foods. Shop certified organic stores.

I'm no doctor, but I wonder if people would have less migraines, diabetes, and high blood pressure if they avoided these processed foods all together. 

I don't think the derivatives themselves are harmful (in small doses), it's the fact that processed foods are artificially 'stuffed' with these extracts rather than actual food. These derivatives are what add flavor, bulk and preservatives.

Why is it so hard to get away from processed foods? It comes down to two very insidious reasons. 

1. The extracts make the food taste good. The sweetness and fat are palatable to our taste buds.

2. It makes food incredibly cheap. In the US, we have become so efficient at producing corn that we can undercut anyone in the world. That's why you can buy a burger for a dollar. The corn grown to raise that beef and create the preservatives in that bread is so cheap, the fast food chains can make their burgers for pennies. 

If you were to raise your own cow, grow your own wheat, lettuce, cucumber, tomato and mustard seed, that hamburger would be outrageously expensive. The agri-giants have lulled us so deep into complacency that we don't even question how our food is made--until someone dies and it makes the evening news.

My book on Smart Grocery Shopping is about saving money at the grocery store, but I couldn't write it until I researched why you can get certain products so cheap.

It's a double-edged sword--one few of us can avoid.

If you'd like to learn more about where your food comes from, I suggest watching the documentary, Food, Inc. (on Netflix) or reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food.

Even though I'm not using much of this research in the actual writing of my Smart Grocery Shopping book, it gave me a base of knowledge so I could write the book more intelligently.

Have you ever wondered about our food supply? Or are you too afraid to ask? I wouldn't blame you. Very scary stuff.

Smart Grocery Shopping should be ready in March. If you haven't picked up Smart Budgets for Busy People, you might want to start with that first.

Oh, and don't forget there's a companion Facebook page for The Frugal Way series. I regularly post freebies, discounts and the occasional frugal tip.

Subscribe to The Frugal Way.