Sunday, January 29, 2012
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring”
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is at hand.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
5. When you can’t create you can work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it – but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The idea is that you take a standard test administered much like the SAT's. CLEP offers 33 exams in five subject areas, covering material taught in courses that you may generally take in your first two years of college. Most CLEP exams are designed to correspond to one-semester courses, although some correspond to full-year or two-year courses.
Their TV advertising program expressed the concept rather well. The ad showed Abraham Lincoln being interviewed for a job. The interviewer asked him about his education. Abe responded that he had done a lot of reading on his own and had apprenticed at a law firm. The interviewer shook his head and said that they required a diploma. The test is to recognize knowledge you might have gotten some other way. How about the excellent, and Free, online classes you can take, which poor Abe couldn't use, but you can?
Exams are approximately 90 minutes long, with the exception of College Composition, which is 120 minutes. Exams contain mainly multiple-choice questions. College Composition and a few other exams contain other types of questions and essays. They cost just under $100 per exam, so much lower than a college class.
Monday, January 23, 2012
They offer several different versions, depending on your business and which of the functions you want it to handle. QuickBooks Pro is their most popular, and the one I'm currently using. It does everything I need, and lets me ignore the functions I don't need. (For some reason, the same exact product but for Mac is just called QuickBooks).
Saturday, January 21, 2012
- Do you know shit from Shinola? Shinola is a brand of shoe polish that was popular during World War II. It is recognizable by the word “Shinola” on its container. Shit generally does not come in a can and does not say “Shinola” on it.
- How to pour piss out of a boot. Apparently in some parts of the country, it is customary to piss in one's boots. Therefore it is necessary to know how to remove the piss. Because of the assumed low IQ's of those who piss in their boots, instructions are put on the bottom of the boots, on the heel. The simple act of reading the instructions generally results in dumping the piss out of the boots. We give one point for answering yes and two points for not pissing in your boots in the first place.
- Which is further west: Reno, NV or Los Angeles, CA? Although California is on the west coast, it's southern part curves toward the east. As a result, Reno, NV, which is located in the western part of Nevada, is actually further west than Los Angeles. Because this is an important test, if you weren't sure, you should have looked it up. To not do so indicates that you are not too bright.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Whenever we are talking about sources of information, or pretty much anything we read, I almost always ask the question, what is the business of the source. Ah yes, I remember saying this a few hundred times. Example: Most news sources make their money (both income to cover expenses and profits for themselves and their investors) from advertising. The price you pay for your local news paper covers only a small portion of its expenses. The rest is made up by advertising. Without advertising, they would close their doors. They wouldn't have a choice. Circulation numbers are important, not so much for the income they produce, but because the higher the numbers the higher the advertising rates they can charge.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
I can't help you evaluate web development tools because I do most of my development by hand (other than this blog). I've been doing this since the internet was invented and the tools designed for the non-technical just slow me down. They also, often anyway, generate dreadful HTML code. For a personal website, this might not matter, but for business sites it can mean the difference between a site that brings in new business and one that nobody ever sees.
What I will comment on is cost, availability, and technical support. Cost is easy to measure: just look at their price for a package that meets you needs. Availability is how often their servers are up and available. Most have up time above 99%. Check out what the company says, and then check around for reviews to see what really goes on. (Take all reviews with a grain of salt, even mine, and check the date of the review. Things change.) There are lots of options for companies in the same price range and with similar availability records.
There are two kinds of ads or references to specific products and services at my sites. The ones outside the actual post content are automatically generated by folk like Google. I have little control over what they display and do not necessarily endorse the products or services displayed. Google et al do a pretty good job of screening advertisers and displaying ads that relate to the content of the website.
Then there are mentions, links, or ads within a post. All products or services recommended in my posts are things I have used or acquired for evaluation and personally recommend. Of course, if my post blasts a specific product or service, I do NOT recommend them.
I try to make sure to have written an article about a product or service before I include a link or ad for it. Occasionally I might put up the ad before I've gotten around to writing about it. If you can't find my evaluation for a product whose ad you see, you can safely assume I recommend the product and will eventually write about it. If you are really curious about such a product, comment on the post and I'll get back to you.
Frugal is smart; Cheap is stupid!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
There are two things wrong with this picture. This screen capture was taken from the ABC News Portal on January 10, 2012, the day of the Republican Primary in NH. The left side shows a fairly typical US news mix of national news with a couple of non-US items mixed in. The right shows the most viewed news items based on the number of times individual articles are read.
Are people reading useful information or are they reading worthless, and arguably not even entertaining news? Certainly they are doing the latter. One might question why most of those on the right are even there, unless you consider what business the ABC News portal is in. (It is in the advertising business and the content is just filler, so it doesn't matter if the content is useless as long as people read it).
If you surround yourself with useful information, you are more likely to learn something useful or to do something useful. The reverse causes the opposite. Although there isn't much negative on this particular day, I'd also like to point out that if you surround yourself with positive news you will feel positive and happy. If you surround yourself with negative news and thoughts, you will feel negative and unhappy. (Question: what happens when you watch an episode of Cops? What happens if you watch an episode of Cops every night?)
The other problem is that the Top Stories list is very limited, yet is typical of US news portals. Unless you also follow some non-US news portals you don't know that Iran is now enriching uranium underground and there has been a buildup of US military in the region, after a major reduction as troops in Iraq returned home. You wouldn't know about a couple more shots in the Syrian conflict were fired. There are at least a dozen more important stories that should be on the list on the left, and at least some of them on the right.
Try it for a week: Read only news items that at least have a chance of being important and useful. Skip over the worthless. At the end of a week consider whether you had a better week? I think you'll see the difference.
In general, I suggest you support your local businesses ... if they are worthy. If they offer quality products and services at a fair price, use them. But if they don't, look elsewhere, such as on the web.
Unfortunately, my favorite local music store closed down. I don't know the inside story, but they suddenly announced they were closing this and four other stores they owned in other cities. This is particularly disappointing because there aren't a lot of alternatives. There are only two other music stores in the area. One is very specialized and their specialty isn't what I need.
The other music store is run by evil crooks. A plain crook will just take your money and not give you something of equal value in return. I don't really mind crooks much: buyer beware. But these evil crooks also take advantage of young people who have no alternative other than them. Kids and teenagers can't travel far for their music supplies and music lessons. This particular store is the only place around for music lessons, and every Saturday the place is packed with high school and middle school kids taking their lessons. I don't know if their prices on their lessons are fair, and if the teachers are good. I hope so. But their prices on the products are consistently double what I used to get at the store that closed down. The other store was just a little over what you could find online, and that is fine. Charging kids double when they have no other choice is evil.
After a run-in with the evil crook's store over their return policy, I decided to blast them with a negative online review. When I got there, I found a dozen reviews blasting them for the same things already. I thought I might have been too harsh until I read the other reviews.
I have used two online music stores for years. They are very different from each other, so you should check out both and decide which is a better match for your needs.
Musician's Friend is a good all-round music store. If you are looking for fairly normal music stuff, they are a great choice. Good prices, good products, and good service. Particularly good for guitars, basses, amps, and drums. A little light on band instruments, but a great supply of band instrument accessories.
Elderly Instruments is where I go if I want something out of the ordinary, although their normal music stuff is good too. Their used and collectible instrument selection is excellent. If you play bluegrass, old folk, Celtic music etc. their "Folk/Other Instruments" section is the place to go. They also have a wide range of parts, such as guitar bridges, tailpieces, and tuning pegs.
Good, Fast, Cheap. Choose any two.
Frugal: Practicing economy; living without waste; thrifty.
Cheap: Low priced, regardless of quality. Often shoddy.
Particularly in tough times, you feel forced to take the low price product or service even though you know that you usually get what you pay for. This is not frugal and is often not the most thrifty in the long run. People make the wrong decision and choose cheap for a lot of reasons, but the one I will be dealing with in this series is lack of information on the frugal alternative. I will help you see how to make better choices.
A common advertising technique is to stress the convenience of their product to convince you that buying it will save you time and time is money. They say it enough that eventually it is accepted as fact. You don't even think about it any more. A product that comes to my mind as the poster child for this technique is Hamburger Helper®, which was introduced in 1971. It was advertised as a major time-saving product. Just brown your hamburger, dump in some water and their “flavor packet” and you soon have a meal for you and your family. As long as you don't think about the cost of their product compared to the cost of the ingredients and you also don't think about the tiny savings in time to prepare the meal from scratch (with a little preparation, which I'll talk about in another post) you happily go along feeding General Mills's corporate coffers and loading your family up with sodium (salt) and other stuff.
It isn't just food, which you'll see in other posts in this series.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The secondary goals should also be considered. Unfortunately few news outlets or individual reporters are looking to earn a Pulitzer. If they were, we'd have much better reporting. You need to do real journalism to win a Pulitzer. Even with the different political and social leanings of the US news outlets, when your news comes from even a collection of them, you aren't getting a well-rounded perspective.
Because you have access to the internet, you have access to the whole world of news outlets. I started adding their feeds to my Yahoo portal page for investment purposes. I look beyond the US for investing and need to know more about what is going on in other countries and regions, beyond what I was finding in US sources.
Once I started following these, I started seeing important news events that were not being mentioned in the US news. Just like other news sources, you have to remember what they are in business for and what their biases are, but the more sources you have the more the biases get balanced.
All significant news sites have an RSS feed. If you haven't used these before, you might have to do a little reading, but if you already have a news portal like Yahoo or Google, they are pretty much automatic. Go to Google and look for xxx news, where xxx is a region, country, or even city. Check them out for a couple of days before adding them to your news portal. You have choices, so don't just grab the first you find. Once you have them, you don't need to spend much more time than you do with a US-only feed. You can scan the headlines just as you do today, and then read details selectively. You might consider:
Monday, January 2, 2012
You are not a Christmas tree. You do not need to be decorated.
Jewelry is almost never a good investment, so if you are buying jewelry for that reason you are stupid. Yes, there are ups and downs, and that gold chain you bought back in 1985 is likely worth more than you paid for it. Gold prices are up right now. The same goes for diamonds. But I'll bet the price you paid for that diamond ring wasn't based on the price of diamonds and gold. You likely paid more than twice that, in which case you are still in the hole.
"The media" (whoever that is) has conspired to convince you that you need and deserve expensive jewelry. I have a 1970's book by a famous "manners" person who states the then-current view on engagement rings. A reasonable amount to spend on an engagement ring was one month's salary of the groom. The advice adds, "if you can afford it". I searched around the web for the current advice. The consensus seems to be that two month's salary is a reasonable amount to spend. I wonder how the relative amount of a reasonable amount happened!
On the teaser for one of those @#$%ing reality shows last year, it showed a couple in a jewelry store shopping for an engagement ring. The bride-to-be immediately fell in love with a $35,000 ring. The groom-to-be thought she was kidding since this represented almost a year's salary. The prospective bride went into a rant about how if he loved her he would buy it and how she had no idea that he was so thoughtless.
Yes the bride-to-be is stupid, but not unusually stupid. I know several couples who are struggling to live but have a lot of expensive jewelry. They are convinced that they deserve it, that the suggestion that they don't need and shouldn't buy such things (instead of food and other necessities) is an elitist attitude. Why can Mr. Rich Guy have these things and we can't? The answer is obvious: he's rich and you aren't. Sorry about that, but it is a fact. Once you get rich, buy all you want.
A reasonable amount of moderately priced jewelry is OK, but unless you are well to do and have money to burn, buying expensive jewelry is stupid. If a couple is in conflict over the engagement ring (and it can be either partner who is pushing the upside) there will be problems down the road.
P.S. I must confess that I did break down and bought my wife a pair of expensive diamond ear rings one anniversary. But in my defense, this was the year I hit my highest annual income and had substantial savings, and was ahead of my target toward being financially independent. I also consulted with the diamond fanatics I worked with and contacted their dealer, so I got the ear rings at about half the price of the retail outlets. (I also got educated on diamond quality and pricing so I knew what I was dealing with). I may be off a bit, but I believe she has worn them at most once a year since then.
You are not a Christmas tree and don't need to be decorated. And, by the way, you don't need to add anything to look great.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never us a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
He then advises them to use logic, lamenting, "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"
-- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
I worked for many years for a large corporation with a very simple one-word slogan, “THINK”. (It was a good thing that we had THINK signs all over the place because even with them there were many who forgot to). Sometimes simple is good, but not in this case. Simply thinking isn't enough. Many people do a lot of thinking and never have a good idea or figure anything out. You have to think critically. You can find some really complex definitions out there that may be way more accurate than how I express it, but at least your brain doesn't explode trying to get your hands around how I'm about to define it.
When I talk about critical thinking I am concerned with drawing conclusions (and presumably taking appropriate action) based on un-biased, clear, reasonably complete checking of the facts. How much checking is needed to be “reasonably complete” depends on the subject. How important is it? What are the consequences to being wrong? Are your decisions or actions irrevocable? Generally if you are going to take any action, now or in the future, or you find the subject worthy enough to comment about verbally or in writing, it is worthy of at least some research and thought. To not think critically is stupid.
I have a habit of reading my Facebook page or reading comments to online news items while eating lunch. I can't remember the last time I did this without reading at least one item that demonstrated that the writer applied absolutely no thought before responding.
Why does this matter? Propaganda depends on your not thinking critically. Propaganda's close cousin, advertising, also depends on your not thinking critically. You are constantly bombarded with both and neither are there for your benefit. Yes, there are some good causes and good products, but if they are truly good they will still appear good after you think about it. Worst of all, lack of critical thinking is habit forming and contagious. Great civilizations have been lost because its citizens forgot how to think critically, or just got too lazy to think.
I'll give more examples in future posts, along with suggestions about how to improve your critical thinking, but I'd like to pass on an example I encountered today. A "friend" on my Facebook page, a raving left-wing activist (but I like him anyway) posted a reference to a poster about inequality in our justice system. The heading says, "Our two-tiered justice system". Below that are two pictures. One is a good looking white guy in a suit labeled, "This man could face up to 6 months in prison or home detention for stealing $2.5 million dollars." The other picture is a black guy in what appears to be prison garb with the caption, "This man spent 33 years in prison for stealing a $140 black and white TV." The bottom of the poster says, "Crime Does Pay for the 1%."
The Facebook post is followed by many responses, most saying how terrible the system is, and how the rich always get away with their crimes and the poor fellow doesn't etc. Some argue that white-collar crimes should result in lower sentences than "real" crimes and that while both are bad, if you have crowded prisons you should use the space for dangerous criminals. Regardless of the comments, I didn't read one response that indicated that the author had done even basic research on the subject. All responded with strong opinions reacting only to the information presented, which was incomplete and unsubstantiated. (I forgot to mention that the names of the two criminals are given on the poster). All of the comments, until I posted my response, were biased, based upon muddled reasoning, and showed no evidence of checking the facts. Although not the topic of this post, this is also a good example of not asking what the purpose of the original poster was created.
With about a minute of research on each person on the poster, I found:
- The white-collar guy was found guilty of insider trading because he used information given him by his father about a business transaction in the works which he used to buy stock in a company and flip it for a $2.5 million dollar gain. The father was also convicted and tossed off the board of directors of the company. They guy was given a suspended sentence, prohibited from working in the finance industry ever again, required to return all of the money, and has to pay a fine (amount not specified). Definitely a bad fellow.
- The other fellow, the thief who stole a TV set, definitely got an unreasonable sentence, although he wasn't initially sentenced to the 33 years stated on the poster, nor was it a simple theft. Although not tried for assault, the record shows that he walked into the home of an 87-year old woman, "roughed her up", and took off with the TV set. He was caught before he could sell it. At the time he had a long rap sheet for thefts and some violent crimes. While I couldn't find the exact initial sentence in the press clippings, everybody, including the prosecution say the sentence was unreasonable. However, his prison stay was extended because of numerous prison rule violations including weapons charges and violence. He was denied parole 25 times. While there is no question that he got a bad deal, he is hardly the poster child for injustice.
So what's the point? Whether "they" are trying to sell you a product or a politician, or they are trying to get you to take action on their cause, they are counting on your not checking the facts. They are counting on you to react without thinking. They don't really think they are going to get away with fooling all of the people, but it is a numbers game. x% (whatever they think they can get away with) times a really big number is a big enough number.
When you see or hear something, check out the facts before buying, voting, or commenting. Not doing so is stupid.
I haven't seen or heard from Nancy since I moved away from where I took my flying lessons. Still, I carry with me many things she taught me even though I haven't flown for many years. She believed that flying was much more than just how to work the controls, how to work the radios and navigation, and how to work with the wind patterns. Flying is about working with nature, people, and machines all in harmony.
I'll never forget the first time I met Nancy. After talking with a co-worker's husband who had his own plane, I drove to the small local airport (FAA identifier 20N) just outside Kingston, NY. It has a 3100-foot paved runway, not too short, but not long enough to do stop-and-go landings. There were two buildings on the property, a hanger where they did maintenance, and a two-room building where they had their office and held ground school classes.
When I walked in, Nancy was sitting at a table talking with the airport owner and one of the other flight instructors. She was wearing a floor-length skirt (a.k.a. a "granny skirt" and plaid shirt. Sitting beside her was Sauron, her Afghan dog, who looked remarkably like Farah Fawcett. (Nancy and her dog were on David Letterman on time for the "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment). My first thought was, "That's Granny Clampett but that sure isn't ol' Duke!"
The two flight instructors tossed a coin and Nancy won me. I'll skip over all the stuff about the introductory flight and the training and get right to Nancy, but will mention one point about that first flight. When we had landed and were walking back to the office building, she said, "If you are going to fly, you need a lucky clover for your log book." She then looked at the ground for about a minute, bent over and picked a clover. After picking out the supplies I needed for my training, she took the clover she had picked and taped it to the inside cover of the log book. It had four leaves! I had never seen one before, and don't recall seeing one in the wild since. Nancy later explained that some clover are more prone to produce four leaves and they encouraged it along that part of the airport grounds for just such a purpose.
There was a lot to remember in the training, but as we were starting on emergency procedures, Nancy said something that remains firmly in my mind and comes to mind in many situations other than flying airplanes, "First, fly the plane". In an flying context, this means no matter what else is going on, your first priority is to keep the plane flying. If you are lost, first fly the plane. If you just ran out of fuel, first fly the plane. If you wandered into a MOA (military operations area), first fly the plane. When you are in a crisis, you often focus on the biggest, or loudest, or most scary part, but if you don't keep flying, you won't get a chance to fix the other problems.
In flying, it is more obvious when you forget this rule. Among other things, you start heading toward the ground much faster than you want. Or you get into an unusual attitude, like in a sharp turn or even upside down. Whatever else is going on, first you have to get control of the plane and keep it flying.
How does this relate to "Getting By"? As I was planning out the articles for this topic (yes, I actually do think about these before blabbering away), I kept wanting to add, "... but first make sure you ...". After a while, there were more "but first's" than there were real points.
When you are trying to Get By, or Get your Shit Together, or Stop Being Stupid, you must occasionally remind yourself to take care of the basics. You don't need to be reminded if you don't have air and water. You can go a while before you need to remind yourself that you need food. One good cold rainy day will remind you that you need shelter. Do you need to be reminded that you must somehow make enough money to take care of those last two, or have some other way to take care of them? (Yes, there are other ways, even if you don't want to depend on them for too long).
When I took a look at the selection of self-help books at the local book store, I found lots of good advice, some bad advice, and a fair number of pages with nothing other than ink on them. The common assumption in all of them is that you are already "flying the plane" and can continue to do so while implementing whatever advice they are giving you. For many people, they are so busy flying the plane that they give up on all else. For other people, they are so busy trying to do other things, they forget they have to fly the plane. Some don't even notice that they are crashing, or have already crashed!
I'll expand on this topic later, but let's end this post with an example. My daughter has been on her own since she graduated from high school. Her plans weren't always the best but she always worked and always managed to pay the rent and buy groceries. Eventually she came up with a good plan to improve her current and future prospects, but it required further education. She worked out a schedule and budget that could have worked, but depended on working a full-time job (which in itself is not easy to come by when you need to schedule around classes) while carrying a full course load at the local community college. The risk of one or both of these being neglected was significant. Fortunately, she stepped back and thought about "flying the plane", keeping up with rent, food, and other necessities. When literally flying a plane, there aren't too many choices about how you do it. In life, there are many more options, and trade-offs.
In my daughter's case, she agreed to move back in with the folks for six months to let her save up some money and to devote more attention to her studies, and workng part time. (It isn't easy to go back to school after being out for a while). There is nothing wrong with taking a few detours along the way, as long as you recognize that it is a detour and that you'll have to make a few turns later to get back to your path. Moving back with the folks can be the smartest choice; sometimes it is the worst possible choice. The point is, you need to think about flying the plane first, and then focus on the myriad of other things that need your attention.