Archive for January, 2009

Another way to save money at the store

January 26, 2009

I was reading in the Chicago Tribune how people are trying to spend less at the grocery store (no news there) by buying more ingredients instead of pre-made packages of over processed salt, called TV dinners.  Working in a grocery store I’ve seen, and used, a lot of the tricks for saving money.  One of the tricks people use, as do a lot of you, I suspect, is using the price tag in front of the item.
The only reason I mention this is; while there are a lot of people doing this, there are still a lot of people who don’t.  On the price tag, in most stores there are two prices.  One is the price of the item, which in large sizes can seem a little daunting, this is where the second price comes in.
The second price is the unit price.  This is usually what the item costs per pound, quart, or whatever.  The unit cost is usually lower which if you were to compare the different sizes, the unit cost on larger sizes goes down.  What this means is that you may pay more in the beginning, but the item will last longer; and in the end you’ll pay less.
This brings me to my next point.  My wife and I go back and forth about which brand to get.  She wants the brand names, especially when she sees a commercial.  My preference is generic.  She insists the name brands are just better, but I have to tell her the generic brands  are made by the brand name companies.  She still has a hard time believing it.  Of course, since I do all the shopping, I win.

Challenge: Next time you are in the grocery store, check out the unit cost and see where you might be able to save money.

Enjoy,
Allen

Assumed identity (the use of pen names)

January 24, 2009

Any writer who uses a pen name can tell you there are numerous reasons for using one, three of those reasons seeming to be key.  These three are, genre change, to hide your identity, and your name is so common that there are at least 10 other authors with the same name.
There are two classic examples of the genre change.  Of course Stephen King.  He had already established himself as a horror writer, but when he wrote more mainstream he used the name Richard Bachman.  Who could forget about Nora Roberts.  Her romance is written under Nora Roberts, which is actually short for Eleanor Robertson, but when she started writing future murder mysteries, she used her sons’ initials and shortened her last name, to end up with J.D. Robb.  The biggest reason seems to be that when they switch over they want their new direction to stand on it’s own with out relying on the success of another genre.
The main reason someone would use a pen name to hide their identity is for safety when what they write can seriously offend or expose a group that can do physical harm, and yes that problem does exist.  Look up the undesirable journalist.
Of course who can forget the problem of multiple authors with the same name.  Unless you are a bad writer you don’t want your writing to gain popularity on someone else’s established name and talent, so you use a pen name.
Whether you use a pen name or not is up to you, but you should have a reason for it.  No, because it’s cool,  is not a good reason, but proceed with caution when you pick one.  When you establish your writing, your pen name will go with it, and who wants to read a serious novel by a name like Henry Pinklestein.
Challenge:  If you decided to use a pen name, decide how you would choose one, and think of one you think people would go to in your genre.

Enjoy,
Allen

The writer’s group advantage

January 23, 2009

As a rule most writers are somewhat reclusive, spending most of their writing time alone, with their thoughts coming out on paper instead of in conversation.  It’s not that they’re anti-social.  Many writers have normal lives with jobs, friends, and family (where do you think their ideas came from) but when they sit down with pen and paper you’d be better off calling Attila the Hun a pansy than interrupting a working writer.
Just like other art forms, writing is the writer’s way of expressing themselves and their view of the world.
When it comes time to get outside feedback some writers turn to family and friends, but unless they’re writers themselves their opinions are hardly objective.  They will tell you how good it is, or how much talent you have, but they will rarely offer any constructive criticism.
Those writers who are looking for serious and constructive feedback, without bias, will look for other writers.  The best way to get that is to join a writer’s group.  There are writer’s groups in any city you live, but unless you know someone, those groups are no more easy to find than a live t-rex.
The best place that I’ve found for a writer’s group is online.  They are supportive, varied in experience, and if you need good advice they are quick to offer it.  Of course, there are personal issues, like with any group, but they never turn their backs on you.  Groups like this will give you honest, and constructive criticism on how to improve your writing, and best of all, there is no readers fee.
My challenge to you:  become an active member in a writer’s group, whether online or local if you can find one.  It could be the best thing to improve your writing.

Enjoy,
Allen

the importance of learning something new

January 22, 2009

I believe firmly in the philosophy of Socrates, the more you learn the less you know.  In other words you never run out of things to learn.
I have a saying.  The day I stop learning is the day I die, so it’s no wonder I try to find something new to learn everyday.  Sometimes it’s something big, and sometimes it’s something completely trivial.  Regardless of the importance my mind keeps growing and my understand keeps expanding.
I have had an e-mail account with Yahoo for a number of years, and today was the first time I had ever heard that you can use a signature file for all your e-mails so you don’t have to type them each time.  I know, with a new president, and the world in an economic mess it’s not the most important thing to know, however it is a way to get more out of the internet, which means a tiny bit more time for writing, and research.
The point of mentioning this example isn’t to say that learning tricks on the internet is earth shattering important, but that you should never pass up an opportunity to learn something new.  This is a lesson that many people should learn to help them understand the world around them.
If more people would learn what’s going on around them they wouldn’t be taken in by lies and scams so often, and politicians (I’m not necessarily talking about Obama) couldn’t get away with nearly as much as they do.
The people with the biggest influence in this world are always those who take the time to learn how things work so that they can make the most out of everything they have at their disposal.
My challenge to you: Don’t dismiss information so quickly as too trivial to remember, you never know when that information is exactly what you might need.

Enjoy,
Allen

Racism and a new presidency

January 21, 2009

As of this afternoon it became official.  We now have a black president.  Does this mean that the time of racial tension is over?  We have come a long way from the time of Martin Luther King Jr., in fact, since the days of legalized slave trading it’s almost a different world.  Regardless how far we’ve come we still have a long way to go.
Electing a black president is a great step in the ending the racism in this country, but as the events of  election day showed, there are still groups dedicated to the continuing of racism.  Of course, they hide behind the guise of trying to end it but their methods only make it worse.
The incident I’m talking about is the one involving the Black Panthers trying to force people in certain polling places to vote for Obama.  Of course they are only one of the groups making the problem worse; there are several.  Another group is the KKK.  Neither group is worse than the other.  These groups have the same basic objective, to spread racism which is where they get their energy and support.  As long as they can keep racism going they will thrive and continue spreading their lies.
Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful dream, and if Obama’s speech is from his heart, he has the same dream.
If we are to end racism in this country it’s up to all of us to stop believing in lies and stereotypes, and take the power away from racist organizations, such as those I mentioned.

Enjoy,
Allen

The inauguration and the internet

January 20, 2009

Today is the inauguration day of Barak Obama, the first black president in U.S. history, and the fact that it comes one day after Martin Luther King Jr. day is purely coincidental.  Many people are saying that this is an historic day,  but my question is how historic is it really?
According to Ecclesiastes 1:9 “there is nothing new under the sun.”  While this verse was talking about the cycles of the Earth, and life, the phrase is appropriate in this case as well.
The cycle of politics, just like the cycle of life is dictated by certain patterns, and while exceptions do exist, the pattern is 95 percent accurate.  The fact that Obama is black is just as coincidental as the holiday it follows.  If the Democrats chose a Nazi transvestite from Iraq he would have been chosen just because a democrat was going to win, according to history.
The outcome of this Political race was just as predictable as a James Bond film,  which leaves me with one more question.  Is there anything uniquely historical about this particular election?  The answer to that is yes.  There has never been an election that has made more use of the internet as this one.  Yes, there was the usual campaign dinners, smear ads, and debates, but the internet was a primary part of both campaigns, and the extent to which the internet was used has never been such an influence before as it was this time.
Another effect the internet has had on this election is that it brought the rest of the world closer to this election than in the past.  People from around the world were watching this one closely, and even trying to get politically involved.  They wrote blogs about it, and even made videos about it, even if they couldn’t vote themselves.  All they could do in the past was read it in the news, or watch it on TV but they had no say in the outcome.
What do I see for the future?  I think the political structure will still follow the same patterns, but the internet will increase not only the world’s visibility, but their involvement in the politics of future elections.

Thank you,
Allen

The benefits of meditation

January 4, 2009

Meditation, in most cases, brings thoughts of Tibetan monks, or people sitting cross legged with palms up and two fingers touching.  While most people know the image, they don’t always get what it’s all about.  I used to be told that it was to empty the mind so you can start fresh, but most of us know that you can’t empty the mind, so I passed meditation off as something Buddhists do, and it wasn’t for me.  As I got older my views of the world  evolved to show me that how I saw the world was based on where someone else told me to look.  I now see meditation as mentally beneficial to me in several ways.
Of course, with ADD the benefits can be astounding, (ADD is not a problem if you control it, and meditation can give you that control.) as well as with me being a writer.  In reality, meditation calms the mind, it doesn’t empty it.  With my problem, it’s easy to become distracted, and I can’t focus on one subject for too long.  What psychologists usually do for ADD is treat it with pills.  Pills may quiet the mind a little, but they take away some of the benefits of ADD, like the creativity.  With meditation, you can do the same thing, but you keep the benefit of creativity.
Another great benefit of meditation is focus.  With the calming of the mind, you don’t let in as many distractions and you can focus your attention to where you need it. A good example is the writing of my blogs.  I have always written when I found the occasional few minutes, and as a result, my blogs were unfocused, and rushed.  With a little meditation before writing, my blogs are becoming more focused.  They may not be where I want them to be, but they’re a lot better than what they were.
The final benefit I will mention in this blog has to do with the learning ability.  The calming effect of meditation will open your mind to new ideas about what you’re learning.  It allows you to explore every aspect of a subject without being distracted to the point of giving up on learning more,  which leads to a better understanding of what you’re studying.
There are too many benefits of meditation to cover in one blog, but for someone like me, these three reasons are the most important.  If you are a writer, try meditating before writing and see where it takes you, you might be surprised.

Enjoy
Allen

The 12 goals of 2009

January 1, 2009

Since I don’t believe in resolutions I won’t keep, I will now post my 12 goals of 2009.  The way these goals work is that I have one goal per month.  The order that they are accomplished doesn’t matter.  It just matters that I complete one per month.

1)  Organize my time to include more writing.
2)  Get at least one article written and submitted.
3)  Take more photographs for my stock.
4)  Write blogs that send a good message, and get more views.
5)  Find more ways to help people on a daily basis.
6)  Learn how to make quality videos.
7)  Reconnect with myself.
8)  Start making 100 dollars per week with writing and photography.
9)  encourage my wife to find a dream and go for it.
10) Make it through another year at my job.
11) Pay most of my bills.
12) Become less of a recluse.

If you have any goals you would like to share, leave it in the comments.

Enjoy,
Allen