Friday, November 30, 2012

My twitter link

OK, if you really want my twitter link, it is:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Delicious Holiday Drink

What do you put in your seasonal eggnog? Today, my friends raved about the wonders of rum and cinnamon. Then we moved onto other tasty treats and what the crazy ingredients we've added.

I mentioned how I've put Bacardi 151 into tapioca. My friends wanted to about the taste. I assured them: the proof is in the pudding.

Monday, November 26, 2012

How To Protect Your Online Self.

Ain't our technology great? Don't you just love the way our gadgets work with the Internet to make our lives easier, quicker, cheaper, and paranoid?

You can't deal with the Internet without hearing tales of people having their bank accounts hacked, their identity stolen, and harassed by tons of spam.

So this holiday season, I invite you to protect your privacy while surfing the web. Sites like Facebook don't have your online safety as their main concern. So it's up you to protect yourself.

I found this excellent site, Adjust Your Privacy, as an easy way to go to all the major sites you use, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon, and immediately adjust your privacy standings. This should keep you from having to search for these vital - but often hidden - options.

Technology is great. It's the businesses and the thieves that make it more difficult than it should. If you want more of these tips, let me know.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Maybe some fears shouldn't be overcome.

To get rid of your fears, you have to confront them. You must deal with your terrors head-on. Of course, if you fear standing in front of speeding trucks, this advice isn't the best to act on.

At the moment, I dread colonoscopies. I'm afraid of how it's going to affect my budget, of what the doctor might find, of being in that intimate position without somebody buying me dinner first.

I'm also terrorized of skydiving naked. Actually, that's more of one of those embarrassing dreams: I jump out of a plane, see a crowd of people looking up at me, and realize I'm not wearing anything – including a parachute.

How can I confront these two irrational concerns? What if I had the colonoscopy and then skydived while clothed with only a parachute? Ah, well, this scenario gives birth to horror number 3.

The moment I launch myself out from the soaring plane, an involuntary scream will try to escape, forcing my mouth open. Instantly, my cleared digestive track will turn me into a very loud human whistle.

My flute-like noise will cause people to look up and point as I streak audibly towards them. They will say "I heard him the instant he stepped from the plane. Talk about your early detection. Good thing he had that colonoscopy."

Perhaps I have nothing to fear aside from little embarrassment. And that arrest record for public indecency.

Maybe if I get a few piercings, I can play a catchy tune during my dive. No fears there.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I had to make a tough decision today.

Would you spend six hours out of your busy day to earn $10? How about at least six hours to write and edit a 600 word article for $10?

So what's the dilemma? Today, I'm free from the rigors of my main job. I could catch up on chores. Perhaps, I could be lazy and relax for a change. Or, I could tackle a writing assignment that's less than rewarding.

Oh sure, I'll make a whopping $1.33 an hour. At the most. At a penny a word for my hard work, I should be able to retire in the next millennium. And I don't have to worry about getting recognition or feedback for how well anyone enjoyed my article. What would be a better use of my time?

Compelling arguments to ditch the content mill, yes? Any reasons to continue? Only the fear of dealing with the freelance market that pays a dollar a word and more. A silly fear at that.

In fact, how do we advance in our lives? I don't think it's from focusing on "what if I fail". I bet success follows those who concentrate on "what if I succeed". (A dash of luck at the right moment probably helps too.)

I think we can agree: Profitable success doesn't come from wasting your time on low paying tasks for ungrateful recipients.

What's at the end of a long freefall?.

Lately, my days have this sense of uneasiness - as though I'm free-falling into a dense fog. Behind me are misty objects of where I was. In front of me, a thick cloud obscures what is to come.

I don't know who pushed me into this speedy descent - one of those many things not under my control. So I do my best to control what I can now – my flailing arms and the occasional scream or two.

I work to make my unexpected tumbles into breath-taking feats of acrobatics. Once in a while, you might be impressed. More often, you might cringe as I bounce painfully off the side of life's cliff. Yeah, I ... meant to do that.

Years ago, I wasn't too concerned with hitting the ground. Now, the rapidly passing air roars in my ears; the musty smell of dirt grows stronger in my nostrils. Pressing on my skin is the inescapable approach of that impending moment: when my free-fall becomes a sudden stop. When I transitioned from life-filled movement into static nothingness.

I can hope for better times on that flat plane of death. For now, each morning greets me with an ever-growing presence of a wall. Not an inconvenient obstacle to overcoming. Not a challenging monolith to puzzle over. But an inevitable barrier of finality - of that ultimate splat.

Aside from that, how's your day going?

Fixing a $50 mistake by spending $12 more.

Have you ever taken a class or signed up with a group to improve your life, to become better skilled, to gain more knowledgeable, and, hopefully, to add to your happiness? Yet, after spending your time and money, were you disappointed to learn that leader or the teacher wasn't quite up to the standard of excellence that you wanted – or that you needed?

Last month, I enrolled in a creative writing course at a local community college. In Tuesday's class, the instructor explained how to create a story. He drew a hilly curve on the chalkboard and spoke about having conflicts on the peaks and resolutions in the valleys. I asked the instructor where those conflicts should occur. His answer told me a lot about the $50 that I'd invested: He said, "Where ever it fits along the story line."

Over the past several weeks, I've read quite a few informative blogs on writing. (May I highly recommend Wordplay and Storyfix to you?) From this accomplished artists, I knew the art of storytelling required a little more precision than "where ever".

Yesterday, I got a hold of "Story Engineering" by Larry Brooks. For $12, I have learned more from the first three chapters than I have from the nine hours of class time. At this moment, my time and effort will be better spent devoted to mastering Mr. Brooks's material than with attending any more evening classes.

I don't mean to imply that I had a bad instructor. He filled his lessons with energy and humor. But he doesn't have the proficiency that I need and must develop in myself.

The $50 wasn't a complete loss. Part of the class required us to quickly construct answers to in-class assignments. After we read our hastily composed thoughts to the rest of the class, our peers would comment on our unedited pieces. I learned that I could get more than one laugh with my idiotic writings.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How many words could Chuck chuck?.

(30 Dec 2012: major revision)

His obsession had begun to destroy his life. But did Chuck care?

Twice, he almost got fired. Both times his boss had found him searching the Internet for books instead finishing a vital project. Lucky for Chuck and his phone's camera, he had earlier caught his boss at the Christmas party with someone who wasn't Mrs. Boss. Ho ho ho.

Last month's mortgage check bounced. But only because Chuck spent too much at Amazon's buy-one-get-one-free sale. He justified the overdraft charges and late fees by claiming he would have spent just as much had the sale not taken place.

Over a weekend, Chuck remembered to attend 3 days of book fairs. But he forgot the two events that truly blessed those same days: his 10th wedding anniversary and his son's 2nd birthday.

His innocent toddler forgave him. His wife ... not so much. Chuck just hugged his son, and dismissed his wife's anger as "one of those women things". She obliged by not showing him any of her woman things for several weeks.

He promised to do better. Yet, he soon found he couldn't stop himself. He was buying mysteries and science fiction and graphics novels and cookbooks and cookbooks about cookbooks. He was expanding his unread library with fat biographies, lengthy thrillers, weighty westerns, and numerous little-known depressing Russian stories.

With 61,978 books, Chuck wrestled with a slight problem: He had a compulsive monkey on his back. It didn't care if it could read. And neither did he. Until that one sunny Thursday.

Customers leaving a popular bookstore found Chuck sitting in the middle of a trash-strewn parking lot sobbing. He had run out of room for just one more book. Not a big deal for you or me. But a tearful Chuck found himself shaking and drenched in a cold sweat.

In that lonely moment, he realized that his agony wasn't about a lack of space. His anguish was about his literary monkey. It had crowded out his family. It had drained his money. It had almost cost him his job.

And so, during that moonless Thursday night, in the quiet of his backyard, Chuck blazed a new chapter of living with the stoke of a match.

As the ashy smell of burning wood filled his nostrils, as the crackle and the hiss of a wild fire roared in his ears, as the heat scorched his skin, Chuck faced his sanitizing pyre, contemplating his addiction.

In his mind raged that monkey on his back - that monster of accumulated words, paragraphs, and pages. It cursed, threatened, and pleaded for its destructive life. It promised to be content with sales flyers. It begged for a simple life of only news tickers. But Chuck knew what he must do.

He thrust his trembling hands into a large old leather-covered suitcase. With a mighty heave and a forceful flick of his wrist, Chuck felt himself become a freer man as he fed the hungry flames: his Kindle. The 64 gigabyte version. Within seconds, his hideous hoard of books melted away - gone forever since he never backed up his electronic enabler.

Chuck lived happily ever after ... until a 2 terabyte reader with a 3D display, a lifetime subscription to Sports Illustrated, and a kitchen sink hit the market. Another tale for another time.

Still, this leads us to ask an important question: How many words could Chuck chuck if Chuck could chuck words? Answer: All of them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What Voting Really Comes Down To.

We constantly hear that it's our civic duty to vote. But isn't your actual civic duty to do no harm? What if this noble duty is violated by your election choices?

Today, you can vote to have your money taken - and that of your friends and family. Or you can vote to be told how you can spend what's left.

In choosing the lesser of two evils, it still becomes a vote for evil. If you vote, you can pick those who take - not earn or ask - the hard earned money of your fellow citizens because you feel entitled to it. Or you can pick those who believe they have a right to control what your fellow citizens can do with their bodies and with what's left with their money. Either way, you vote and give up your right to complain about the results. You asked for it. You got it.

In pick of the lesser of two evils, it doesn't matter who wins. We all lose. How is that in keeping with our civic duty? How is that keeping with the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Today I met a TV celebrity.

With all the free food samples being handed out, my shopping adventures at Sam's Club are more of a satisfying dining experience than of a dreaded chore. Today was even better.

In the middle of the Super Store stood a make-shift kitchen. When I saw someone dressed in professional cooking attire instead of the usual free-sample uniform, I nearly drowned from salivating at the thought of tasty goodies prepared by a master.

Imagine my astonishment as the chef turned out to be one of the top 5 finalists on season 7 of "Hell's Kitchen": Jason Ellis.

Yes, I realize we are not talking about the worldwide fame of, say, Denzel Washington. But if you're a fan of Hell's kitchen, you'll know that Jason was a serious contender to win the season - regardless of Fox's edited-for-dramatics showed on TV.

As I walked up to his display, Mr. Ellis had just begun setting up for his upcoming demonstration and was in the midst of audio feedback problems from his microphone. As an electrical engineer, I tried to make a few technical suggestions. And I might have been of some service had I not found myself caught up in the awe of facing a celebrity. Yes, I was more of an embarrassment than of help. Maybe that's why Mr. Ellis put his wireless mic down and said with a playful smile, "You know, I know how to cook. I'm not an audio guy. I can do this without a mike."

Have you ever meet someone who not only emanated a cool confidence, but exhibited a humble proficiency of their being? Suddenly, I felt myself at ease in the presence of an honorable man of class and style.

We briefly talked about his adventures on Hell's Kitchen. I asked if the experience changed his life even though he didn't win. Amazingly, Mr. Ellis said he was glad he didn't win. It turns out that the winner might get about 50% of all revenues generated by the show - for the first year. This percentage decreases over the course of five years to the point of zero.

Since Jason didn't win, Fox had no claim on his subsequent efforts. All the revenues generated from his tours, his speaking engagements, his endorsements, his books belong rightfully and solely to Jason. I suggested that he write a book on "how to win on Hell's Kitchen without winning". Mr. Ellis paused for a couple of minutes, then said, "I hadn't thought that. What a great idea." See?! Sometimes I can be helpful.

We talked a bit more. Yet, even though Mr. Ellis was extremely friendly and generous with his time, I knew he had to ready for the upcoming show. And my groceries were warming to the point of needed a frying pan, or a trash can. We fist-bumped in parting, with me wishing I could learn more from this amazing individual.

As I drove home, I wondered what it would be like to write a behind-the-scenes book about Jason's experience with Hell's kitchen: his challenges with winning a place on the popular reality show, the ordeals endured while on the show and while helping one of the contestants during the final cook-off, and the success that Jason achieved afterward. As he said, "being on the show opened a lot of amazing doors for me." So I'm pretty sure Mr. Ellis has a story of hope, of extraordinary effort, of arduous struggle, and of unexpected wins in the face of challenging odds.