Month: September 2008

Driven to Succeed

There is a small group of people I work with that work on commission, though they rarely make any commission. They spend hours on end some days when business is slow just sitting around talking amongst themselves. Their hourly rate isn’t much better than they could get at McDonalds and so you’d wonder why they don’t put some effort into making more sales. I tried to address this with them the other day and one of them flat out told me that they didn’t care about making their commission. This in spite of the fact that their jobs could be paying quite well if they were actually generating sales.

I’ve marveled at this for some time that some people just don’t seem to have any drive to succeed and are perfectly happy with that. There are some people who need to be doing, be creating, be striving for something better in order to be happy. And there are those who are happy simply being alive. Neither is right or wrong and people are all wired differently. I believe that society needs a good mix of both in order to function well.

But those of us who are driven to do something more are not immune to life’s brainless pleasures either . The danger comes when these things takeover too much of our lives. The kid who neglects practicing his guitar to play Guitar Hero might become an expert at Guitar Hero. One thing is for certain though: He still has no idea how to play the guitar, he’s just really good at a digital version of whack-a-mole.

The challenge for those who are driven to succeed is to remember to slow down and enjoy life while not getting carried away into mental laziness. And the challenge for people who do not have this drive is to be willing to stretch for it once in a while and see what is beyond just being alive. I realize that I’m making very broad generalizations about the entire population.

Writing Fiction for Love and Money

I know that to some of my less regular readers, a topic like this one might seem a bit off topic for this blog, however writing is a means by which I would love to someday facilitate my exit from the rat race.

I’ve read a couple books on the subject of writing now and the best so far and by far is Holly Lisle’s Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love and Money. I have never read any of her other books but reading this one made me want to. She so eloquently describes the nature of being a writer through the sorrows and joys and the triumphs and failures. She is a woman who has had more than her fair share of troubles in her life and has really poured that into her writing and made something very positive out of it.

I mentioned many months ago in an article about another writing book I had read titled $30 Writing School by Michael Dean. While Dean’s book has some useful information in it and I did enjoy reading it, so much of the contents of the book are fluff. He comes across as being a bit stuck on himself and a little preoccupied with sex (more than a little, which is apparent to those unfortunate enough to go to his website). Dean also had his share of troubles in life but most of those were of his own doing.

My point here is to simply draw a contrast between two writers of writing books. Holly Lisle’s book has left me feeling inspired in my own writing and wanting to spend money on her other writing. Michael Dean’s book was informative but self-indulgent. I don’t even remember how many times he tells you to buy his other books and plays it off as seeing examples of how he did things.

Dean does give more specific details in regards to dealing with editors than Lisle does. The one very minor drawback of Writing Fiction for Love and Money is that when a subject is approached that the auther has no experience with, she simply states that she doesn’t have experience with it and moves on without any further help to the reader. Honesty is great but in Lisle’s case it doesn’t make a comprehensive book on writing. It would seem that thing to have done would have been for her to consult someone who was an expert in the areas she was inexperienced with. But these were only in very minor industry related items that for most people probably wouldn’t be applicable anyway.

So if you are looking for a book on the subject of writing that is written by a real writer that has fought and struggled and climbed her way to a respectable status in the writing world then Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love and Money is for you. If however you want a book that is more of a “punk rock” approach and has some useful information then you might want to check out Michael Dean’s $30 Writing School, but only if you pay much less than $30.

Godzilla, Don’t Eat Me

It’s been far too long since I have released any new music and I thought it was time to change that. So today I released a song titled “Godzilla, Don’t Eat Me” and you can download it for free at my MySpace page. It’s a quirky pop/rock song that sounds more like my old band than anything else I’ve released as a solo artist. I hope you enjoy it and grab the download while you can because it’s only going to be available for free download for a month or so.

I’ve been writing lots of new songs and I hope to be able to share some of that with you late this fall but we’ll see how things go as I am still working on finishing up my new studio.

The Grand Path of Your Life

There is a bit of a recurring theme in this blog’s short history of articles about productivity and following your dreams. The reason that these kind of articles show up from time to time is that I often find myself needing reminded of them.

During these last few weeks while I’ve been only marginally connected to the internet I haven’t been able to post new articles regularly up until this past week and that was beyond my control. But what was within my control was how I used my time while not posting new articles on here. Sure I wrote some new ones which haven’t been published yet but I certainly could have written more both for this website and in my creative writing. Those of us who live in the United States of America have been granted a pretty easy life by those who have gone before us. We can be as productive or lazy as we like and either way some portion of our society will accept us as we are. If you don’t want to work, that’s okay someone else will work and pay taxes so you don’t have to. If you don’t want to exercise, that’s okay when you are too overweight to function as a normal human being anymore, a disability check will be waiting for you. If you want to drop out of school, that’s okay there are plenty of jobs that don’t require an education. If you don’t want to fight in the military and protect our country, that’s okay too, someone else will be there on the front lines.

In America we have the freedom and liberty to be as selfless or as selfish as we choose. But if you are a person who dreams of doing something important with your life or of accomplishing something great then keep this in mind: Nothing great was ever accomplished while watching TV night after night. Nothing great was ever accomplished by sleeping in. Nothing great was ever accomplished by partying. Nothing great was ever accomplished while playing video games. Nothing great was ever accomplished by spending endless hours on website forums.

If you don’t already, then it is time to start thinking of the path your life is on. Look behind you and you can see the twisting, bumpy path of your life. Full of potholes and thickets. Look in front of you and there is no path. The path you are on only extends as far as you have traveled so far. You are where you are in your life because of the culmination of all of the decisions you have made up until this point. As I said, there is no path in front of you however. If you are unhappy about the path your life has taken up until this point then take heart, for the direction your life takes from here is still completely up to you. Your way is not set so you can start off in a new direction full of hope and promise. You alone are responsible for the direction your life takes.

Look behind you again. Are you happy with what you see? Could you have done more to be a better person or to pursue your dreams in a more effectual way? Perfection is not possible, none of us is capable of it. Self-loathing over failed attempts in your past will not help you. I don’t believe that we are ever supposed to be more than we can be but if we are honest with ourselves then we should strive to be more than we have been. If we can manage to do that then perhaps we can one day look back on the path of our lives and see those bends and bumps and thickets and know that the mistakes of our youth have given us wisdom for the future but have not cast us into a mold that we must stay in the rest of our lives.

How Will You Be Paying for That?

There I was in the express checkout at Wal-Mart. 10 Items or Less. In front of me in line was a middle-aged woman who waited until all her items were scanned and then pulled out her checkbook. Meticulously wrote the information down in the check register and then began filling out the check. Meanwhile the line in the express checkout was growing and tempers were rising. I’m sure this has happened to all of us. Grocery stores should not allow checks in the express checkout lanes if they should be allowed at all.

I’ve been wanting to write this article for awhile and finally fit it into the schedule. I wanted to create an article examining the three main forms of payment accepted at retailers and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each because it seems that many Americans are ignorant of what the differences between checks, cash, and credit/debit mean to them.

Credit/Debit Cards – Over the last couple years Visa has run a number of commercials that portray using cash as much slower than using credit and the undertone of the commercials is that the person using cash is somehow not cool and dumber than everyone using credit. So let’s dive into this a little bit. With credit cards you are spending money that you don’t have and if you don’t pay it off on time you will be paying terrible interest rates and the things you purchased will cost you more than the price you originally paid. Using debit cards means you are spending directly from your bank account and in some sense that is better than going into debt with a credit card. Thinking about security concerns though if your credit card gets stolen you are often not liable for fraudulent charges depending on your credit card company but with a debit card a person can pull your money from your bank account. That’s a bit more serious. As for Visa’s ads about credit cards being so much faster than cash. As someone who works in retail I can tell you that an overwhelming majority of the time credit/debit takes longer than cash. Additionally the recent advent of touchpay systems further strips away security features on credit cards because the cards themselves emit a radio frequency that can be captured by someone holding a device near your purse or wallet.

Checks – Other than for paying bills, most of which can be paid online, checks are an outdated method of payment that should be done away with in my opinion. No form of payment in stores takes longer to complete. With so much concern about identity theft it amazes me that people still write checks so much and women are the ones who still use checks at retail, almost universally. Think about the information on your check: Your bank account, bank routing number, name, address, and in some cases your phone number. Some people are even brainless enough to include their driver’s license number on there as well. Every time you write a check at a store you are placing an awful lot of trust in that cashier that is only making minimum wage.

Cash – Cash is the oldest, usually the fastest and still the most secure form of payment. There are exceptions to it being the fastest of course. I remember another time I was in an express checkout lane at Wal-Mart and the cashier was an elderly lady in her seventies at least and the customer at the checkout was a lady about the same age. The customer paid for the entire purchase with loose change. Between the two of them it took about ten attempts to count it all out accurately. These situations are rare however. The only real drawback of cash is it can’t be used to pay for things online, that is until our computers start coming with cash slots built into them like vending machines.

The thing that I really love about cash though is the security of it. You can spend it wherever you like and none of it is personally identifiable to you. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like carrying cash in case they get robbed. Really? I would much rather lose $100 in cash than lose a debit card that is linked to however much is in my bank account. Even if I manage to cancel the card before any damage is done, the theoretical mugger still has my full name and that is something he wouldn’t get from cash.

So there you have it. Quit using checks and don’t buy into the lie that credit is better than cash.

Energy Independence for the Masses

Okay I need someone to explain something to me. Why are all the democrats insistent on keeping oil prices high through hindering more US drilling and instead Barack Obama and many of the others want to industrialize all of our open land with wind farms and vast solar arrays? And all the while trying to hinder oil and coal usage. And on the other side Republicans are trying to open up for more drilling to get oil prices down but they seem content to continue on this same cycle of supply and demand we’ve been on. This isn’t the first time there has been energy problems but Americans have short term memories and as long as times are good, we are content to forget about the hard times and what took place that led us into hard times or how we got out of them in the past.

If you watch the news on tv or listen to talk radio much you’ll hear energy issues discussed at length with each side trying to point out how wrong the other side is. What I don’t understand though is that I have never heard the issues of energy costs, alternative energy sources, or energy transmission discussed in the context of anything but a national level.

I don’t claim to have any answers for what happens to you at the gas pump but here’s what I know for sure: My heating bills for my house will be higher than ever this year and here in Pennsylvania when electric companies get deregulated my electric bill is set going to go up more than 50%. My question for all of the politicians and news commentators is this: Why not focus on energy for individual households? Thousands of people already have energy independent homes and the number is growing all of the time. There are many options available for people hoping to go independent including: wind power, micro-hydroelectric, and of course solar. Those are just the options available right now, if there was actually a public spotlight put on it in a big way, new better technologies would develop.

It seems to me that the logical choice for a country wishing to be energy independent would be to do so on a house by house basis. Think a minute about the benefits of this idea. There would be no centralized infrastructure that would vulnerable to natural disaster, war, or terrorist threat. There would be no power lines in danger of all of the above things as well as in constant need of maintenance. Much of America’s population lives in urban settings where much of the currently available options wouldn’t be viable. But geographically speaking, windpower, micro-hydroelectric, or solar would work perfectly well for the majority of the country.

For now though we will continue to have democrats ignorantly thinking we can stop using oil(anybody else fond of plastic? I’d sure miss it) and pushing alternative energies on a national scale which is not feasible. The republicans of course will continue to point out the unfeasability of the democrats approach and also not realize the value of moving away from a national concept of energy generation and consumption.

I’m Back! And On My Cable Connection

This has certainly been the biggest posting gap ever in the history of this blog and I sincerely apologize. My dialup internet connection was almost unusable for the last several weeks and I think somewhere in my sub-concious I just didn’t want to deal with trying to be productive on dialup anymore knowing that highspeed internet was coming.

And the cable internet has finally arrived! I know that many people have issues with Comcast and maybe someday I will have issues as well but for right now I couldn’t be happier with them. They put in a good deal of effort to make me a customer, not the least of which was running a line 1200 ft back our lane. I’ve already had a couple of annoying interactions with their customer service department but I have to say the guys in the construction department were great. They were all quite friendly and able to answer all of my questions, including giving me accurate timeframes for when all of this construction would take place.

I disagree with Comcast’s choosing to limit customer’s bandwidth to 250 gb a month, though I don’t know that it would ever affect me, but I have to keep one thing in mind even if it ever does affect me: Comcast went to a lot of trouble to make me a customer. Whereas Verizon has made absolutely no effort to provide service to any of the houses in our area. I had been on their “future notification” list for more than 4 years now and been told the lie so many times from their customer service people that “they are constantly expanding their network.” Yeah right.