Funny about Money

Simple Living = Frugality = Peace of Mind: Personal Finance and Stress Control

February 8, 2016
by funny
0 comments

Burning Down the House, or How to Cook Bacon

Our most delightful new neighbors, parents of four hopelessly adorable young children, are busy doing battle with insurance companies and contractors to get their home restored after a kitchen fire did some startling damage. Mercifully, only the dad was hurt, and he is recovering nicely.

Dad decided to cook up a skilletful of bacon for the kiddies. He put the pan on the glass-topped stove and wandered off to chase children. He didn’t wander far: only into the family room, which opens into the kitchen — really, the kitchen could be regarded as part of the family room/dining area. The floor plan is pretty open.

Wouldn’t you know it, with no visible flame under the pan, what’s happening with the bacon goes unnoticed until the grease in the pan bursts into flames.

Four kids and a woman in the house, Dad’s testosterone also bursts into flames. He grabs the blazing pan with his bare hands, hauls the thing outside, and heaves it into the pool.

In the process, he blisters his hands pretty mightily.

He’s OK, though, thank God. Today he seems to already be healing up, his fingers wrapped in antiseptic-infused bandages.

Meanwhile… The microwave over the stove MELTED! It literally dripped down like melted wax. The stove itself was trashed, as were the cabinets around it. The firemen punched holes in the drywall searching for fire that might have made its way into the walls. And the whole house is permeated with toxic-smelling smoke fumes.

Sooo… What can we learn from this?

First: In a fire, get everyone out of the house, including yourself. Better that the place should burn to the ground than that anyone be harmed. Don’tpick upa burning pan it’s extremely dangerous.

Second, obviously: GET INSURED AND STAY INSURED, even if you have no mortgage requiring it. Their insurance will cover repairs and replacement of the appliances, walls, cabinetry, countertops, and smoke-damaged goods. This, as you recognize if you’re a home-owner, represents a ton of money.

Third, less obviously: Buy your insurance through a broker, who will run interference for you with claims adjusters. At first, Dad and Mom were a little worried about how they were going to approach their insurer, since a) this is the first house they’ve ever owned and b) this is not their first homeowner’s claim. The previous owner had either let the insurance lapse or, more likely, pocketed the settlement for the roof damage from the late, great hailstorm. As a result, their present company has covered three large claims that resulted from the prior owner’s neglect, including one for reroofing the house. Needless to say, they called their insurer with trepidation.

I put them in touch with my broker, who was able to advise on what they would be entitled to, what they should say and ask for, and what the outcome is likely to be. He knows a lot about the insurance industry and gave them some useful guidance.

Fourth: Learn to cook bacon. More generally: never turn your stove to blow-torch setting under a pan that contains grease or oil in any form.

Aside: How to cook bacon.

Bacon does not need to be cooked over high or even medium heat. In fact, it should not be cooked that way.

Lay the bacon slices flat in a skillet. Place the pan on a burner and turn the burner to low heat. Allow the bacon to cook slowly and gently until it reaches the state of done-ness you prefer. Turn the bacon slices over several times during the process.

This takes a while, but if you put the bacon on before you start preparing the rest of the breakfast, it will be cooked by the time you’re ready to serve the food.

Never turn a burner to “high” under a pan of bacon. And do not leave the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove.

Alternatively, you can cook bacon in a microwave. Lay several layers of paper towels on a dinner plate. Arrange bacon slices, flat, on top of the paper towels. Cover with several more layers of paper towels. Cook on “high” for one minute per slice, more or less. Watch carefully. And experiment: the one-minute-per-slice thing is a rough rule of thumb. It works for two to four slices but is less perfect for larger amounts.

Fifth: Always have a container of baking soda within easy reach on the kitchen counter — preferably not too close to the stove. Baking soda is an effective fire extinguisher and can be used safely on grease fires. Just grab a fistful and toss it into the flames.

And item six, IMHO: if you can possibly manage it, get a gas stove. Electric stoves, especially the glass-top numbers, have as their sterling disadvantage that the user can’t see at a glance how hot the burner is — or in some cases, even whether it’s on. You can’t miss a gas burner when it’s on…and you can easily gauge the heat simply by looking at it.

I wouldn’t own a house that doesn’t have gas service. 😉

February 7, 2016
by funny
8 Comments

Goodreads: The Last Social-Media Straw

Dear GOD how I hate these accursed faceless social media platforms, with their horrid “help” pages that run you around and around and around circles and don’t answer your question and seem to have been designed solely to frustrate users.

It’s been a while since I visited Goodreads. I need to get back into my author page, update my booklist, and start a blog. But GR has decided I’m “not a member,” even though it seems to recognize  me, sort of.

It wanted a password. I entered the pw I have in my records. It rejected that password. I clicked “forgot password.” It emailed a link to reset the password. I jumped through that hoop. When I tried to get in, it ran me RIGHT BACK TO THE SAME HOOP JUMP!

It asks me to enter a password, flicks me the electronic finger, and then tells me to enter my email and if it approves it will send me a link. I jump through that hoop again…with the same result.

GoodreadsAnnoyance

Your choice is to “confirm” with a password or, astonishingly, to “confirm with Facebook.”

FACEBOOK? Why on earth would I want Facebook to have my Goodreads credentials or to “confirm” that I’m me or even to know that I’m on Goodreads?

It apparently is a choice (of sorts): either enter a password or “confirm” (whatever that means) with Facebook.

Over the past months, I’ve put off going back to Goodreads, even though it’s supposedly a key marketing tool, because I got so mad the first time I signed in there that my password is a near-obscenity. Because three of my books — published through real publishers, not through Amazon — came out under variants of my full name, they won’t let me post the Racy Books at my Goodreads site, because they’re published under the “Roberta Stuart” pseudonym. None of my bylines are pseudonyms.

My parents gave me a clunky, old-fashioned, ugly first name that made me the target of bullying throughout grade school. When we came back to the states, I started using a nickname based on my middle name. As a journalist, this was my standard byline, and The Essential Feature, a journalism textbook, naturally was published under that byline. But I had used my full formal name for my first book: a historical biography that grew out of my Ph.D. dissertation.

The first business partner I had, back in the day, was a marketing & PR guy of some skill. He felt I should go by the full, more formal-sounding middle name, which is also stuffy and stilted but at least most people can pronounce and spell it. So my third book had that name, and I still use it for business.

Amazon and its purchased underling Goodreads have decreed that a legal name consisting of three fungible parts — a first name, a middle name, and a last name — is actually three pseudonyms! No argument to the contrary is brooked.

That means, of course, that I can’t use Goodreads to market the steady stream of books we planned to emit — and have emitted — through Camptown Races Press! Goodreads had already glommed what it announced were “pseudonyms” from the books Columbia, Folger, and William Morrow had posted on Amazon years ago and so would not allow me to add a real pseudonym.

When I protested this, a CSR came back with an elaborate workaround. It was so complicated and promised to be such a vast time-suck that I was put off and let the whole project drop. Then I ended up in the operating room.

The medical nightmare was such a distraction that it was all I could do to try to meet our original goal of publishing 80 to 100 books within the year. Anything that was aversive — or that had an aversive element — got tabled. And the most solidly tabled of those was Goodreads, primarily because the first experience with it started off in full aversive mode.

Much as I dislike toilet-paper-style social media platforms, I did take up Twitter to a lesser extent Facebook. Facebook is inhabited by my coreligionists, whom I would rather not proselytize with Racy Books. So Twitter was pretty much it.

And the result was not very successful, probably because I don’t understand the point of social media and so don’t understand how to address them.

Magazines, books: I know why people read them, and I know how to reach magazine and book readers. Blogs are to a  large degree similar: you can see a reason that a person might want to read a given blog. A blog is magazine-like in that it has an editorial voice, it usually has a specific topic or slant, and it has a relatively consistent publication schedule.

But an endless, gestalt flow of nonstop babble about…what? Trivia? Cat pictures? Kid photos? The latest house you sold? That plate of food you bought at Alice’s Restaurant? Why? What is the appeal?????

Social media of the Facebook/Twaddle/Google+/Goodreads variety seem to me more like small talk than like journalism. And I’m really not good at small talk.  Because it bores me, I lack the patience to engage it for very long or to come back for repeat engagements. It’s part of the Aspergery character of my personality: I don’t connect with people in that way.

And…I don’t want to be “connected.” Not that I don’t like people. Most of them, I do. It’s just that I don’t want to be all over them, and I don’t want them all over me. 😉

So. I don’t know if I’ll ever get on Goodreads. And quite possibly don’t care.

***

Meanwhile, print copies of the cookbook have been flying out the door! It’s sold a few electronic copies on Amazon (why anyone would want an electronic device on a kitchen counter while water, olive oil, butter, and flour are floating around escapes me, what what the hey?). But I can barely keep up with the requests for hard copies.

Interesting.

So I’m thinking my real social medium may be Toastmasters. This would give me an opportunity to talk about writing and thence segue into mentioning my books. I’m pretty good at public speaking, after 20 years of teaching in a college classroom. But people I’ve met who’ve been to Toastmasters are really good at it. One woman who gave our writing group a presentation on public speaking was so skilled as to be downright gifted. She came across exactly like one of those people who give TED talks.

Maybe what I need is not to be parked in front of a computer poking useless messages into “social” media but out on the road, talking to live people face to face.

February 5, 2016
by funny
0 comments

Wacky Ways to Earn More Money

One of the most frustrating parts of adulthood is that there is never enough money. Not really, not after all of the bills are paid and you’ve tucked money away in the savings and retirement account funds. This is why many people decide to take on second jobs or start their own side business. But what if you aren’t able to do those things? How do you increase your earnings without giving up, say, sleeping? Or spending time with your kids?

Short Term Investing

You already know that you need to invest if you want to be financially secure. When you need money quickly or you’re trying to improve your “right now” income, you likely don’t want to dump hundreds into the stock market and hope that it appreciates enough over time to offer you supplemental income. Thankfully, there are ways to do “short-term investing” within the confines of the stock market.

This type of investing is also called binary trading. Binary trading, according to 24option.com, is a type of trading where you buy options based on how you think a stock will perform. If you are right, you earn back your initial investment and, often, some additional money as well. If you’re wrong, you lose your initial investment (and potentially more depending on the type of option you buy). If you’re market savvy, this can be a great way to bring in some short term income.

Work around Interest Rates

A few years ago, we learned that the Fed was working to keep interest rates low through at least 2014. This presented a problem to people whose primary investments were in money market and other types of savings accounts and products. Luckily there were other investments to which their money could be shifted to help increase growth.

In December 2015, we learned that, for the first time in a long time, interest rates might go up. This is great news for those savings and money market account investments but only if the interest you earn there, outgrows the inflated interest you’ll have to pay on the debts you’ve accrued. Pay attention to interest rates and invest in assets that aren’t dependent upon interest rate growth until after your debts are paid off. You don’t want the two to cancel each other out.

The All-Important Side Hustle

The most straightforward method for bringing in extra cash is, of course, the side hustle. The side hustle is different than a second job or side business. The side hustle is more flexible and is easier to fit into an already busy life. Here are some of the best and most reliable side hustles you can take on.

Driving

Most cities now have Uber and Lyft services available. These services hire independent drivers (that would be you) who drive their own cars and pick up passengers when it is convenient for them to do so (as opposed to working for a cab company that would charge you for cab leasing and require you to work certain shifts).

Even if you loathe the idea of driving other people around, you can also drive as a delivery person for services like Amazon Prime Now, Postmates, Instacart, GrubHub, Delivered Dish, etc. Like with Lyft and Uber, you work when you want to (for the most part) with these services and their users are really good tippers!

Writing

There are a lot of articles and products out there that promise you that “anybody can earn money writing.” While this technically might be true, if you want to earn real money with your writing you need to develop your skills. Once those skills are developed there are many ways to bring in extra money via writing. You can freelance for clients during down time. You can self-publish work via Kindle, Lulu, etc. You can set up a site and bring in extra $$ via advertising and sponsorships. Many successful authors wrote around other jobs and responsibilities for their first few (dozen) books before they were able to go full time. If this worked for them, it can work for you.

Small Gigs

We’re not talking about the gigs you can pick up via apps like TaskRabbit (though those can be useful too). We’re talking about simpler methods of earning money using sites and apps like Swagbucks, MechanicalTurk, etc.

Obviously, the goal is to earn a passive income – money that you make while you’re sleeping. But if you need some cash now, one of the ideas above might just be right for you.

February 3, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

What Have I (not) Done?

I have not cared for my neighbors as I would have them care for me. Oh, Hell. I have not cared for myself as I should have cared for my neighbors.

I have not established a presence on Goodreads, for the 87 gerjillionth day since I said I would do so.
I have not prepared the February books to publish.
I have not written this blog post.
I have not shopped 30 Pounds/4 Months around locally.
I have not prepared Fire-Rider, volumes 2 and 3, for print publication.
I have not even checked the PoD site today to see if the other two books I set up there have shipped.
I have not changed out the ads at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books
I have not picked up the house so the Apple tech who’s slated to show up here tomorrow will be freed of seeing what a pigpen I live in.
I have not posted on hated Facebook.
I have not posted on even more hated Twitter.
I have had nothing whatsoever to say on pointless Google+.
I have not cleaned the leaves off the bottom of the pool, the ones that blew in there three days ago and have been pickling ever since.
I have not walked the dogs (again!).
I have not walked myself (again!!!).
I have not filled the gas tank so I can make it way to Hell and gone out to Avondale come Saturday.
I have not made Sheldon’s Scottsdale Business Association badge, and probably will not before I go to bed tonight.
I have not pestered Jim to get him to update the SBA website.
I have not paid my own Web guru.
I have not…

What have I done?

I have edited a lengthy new chapter from fave fiction author and returned it to him with various comments.
I have sent said author an interesting article from the New York Review of Books that I suspected he would enjoy reading.
I have corresponded with the same (author, that is; not the Review) about the ways in which the article seems to me to bear on the theme and technique of his current magnum opus.
I have sent out the weekly SBA notice and fielded a cute but time-wasting response from a member.
I have edited a number of pages of a chapter from a prospective client.
I have discussed conversion of said client’s complex document with Honored eBook Guru.
I have sent the sample edits to the proposed client with an elaborate proposal quoting rates for editing, e-book conversion, hard-copy preparation, cover design, and publication management.
I have once again attacked the problem of the diet/cookbook’s perennially cockamamie formatting problems in hated Kindle format.
I have uploaded dorked with downloaded  uploaded  downloaded dorked with uploaded downloaded dorked with uploaded the many-times-revised file more times than I can count.
I have called my own ePub formatter off so that she does not attempt to upload the thing into ePub, which will be just so much wasted effort.
I have re-evaluated, revised, expanded, and rewritten The Copyeditor’s Desk’s rate sheet.
I have somehow managed to curl my hair and feed the dogs.
I have belatedly gotten around to finding the W-9s I should have carried over to WonderAccountant.

Why can I never get anything done?

 

January 30, 2016
by funny
5 Comments

Books, Books, and MORE Books

Went over to the church yesterday to help set up this year’s fundraising book sale for the choir. It’s a fairly big deal. You’ve never seen so many books inside a single room, this side of a library. When you look at piles and piles of books, you have to wonder: who writes all these titles, why, and more to the point for a micropublisher, how can anybody possibly compete, given the sheer mass of product out there?

So what did I learn, if anything, from this?

Despite the prevailing wisdom about the profitability of flooding Amazon with electronic titles, one probably would be better off to publish fewer titles of high quality or broad pragmatic use. Instead of publishing a lot of titles, it may be better to invest one’s time and financial resources in marketing one or two titles.

Very, very few titles stand out. Too often — especially where genre novels are concerned — cover design conveys the message that you’re looking at more of the same. Even literary novels rarely grab one’s attention, unless the author is someone  you’ve read and liked. Or hated. Many cookbooks are similarly uninteresting; ditto travel books. Some children’s books stand out, partly because design is integral to the entire package, not just to the cover.

So here’s a question: Would it be possible to create a book for adults whose interior design is as important as the cover art? I mean, other than a coffee-table book. Could a novel or a history book or an inspirational book be designed in the same way as a child’s book, without bankrupting its maker? That really is a question, because as we know, children’s books are very expensive to produce.

Some types of amateurishly produced bookoids become collector’s items. This is especially true of cookbooks. There are folks out there who collect cookbooks produced by clubs, charitable groups, schools, and the like.  Some of the older examples we put out on tables look like they were run off on mimeograph machines; others appear to have been printed and coil-bound at Staples or OfficeMax. But most of those didn’t stay on the tables! Volunteers grabbed them up and paid for them as we worked.

Short form lessons for wanna-be book publishers:

Every title must stand out. If you’re going to hire a designer, it will pay to hire the best. A run-of-the-mill designer will create a run-of-the-mill cover, and your product won’t be noticed whether it’s on Amazon or a bookstore shelf.

Whether you’ve got a truly great book or just another piece of escapist genre fiction, marketing is key. In a vast tsunami of books, not even the best of books will be noticed unless it’s drawn forcefully to the public’s attention.

Nonfiction books should be tightly focused on a specific aspect of their subject matter. So many cookbooks, so many travel books, so many inspirational books, so many craft books, so many this, that, and the other books are out there that a publisher needs to draw the buyer’s attention to something different or highly specific in order to stand apart from the crowd. That, my friends, is easier said than done.

No doubt many more messages lurk in the second-hand book sale.

§

In closely related precincts, while I was at Whole Foods last week, I asked the manager if he’d be interested in selling the very whole-foodsy 30 Pounds/4 Months diet/cookbook. He was interested but said at the moment the post of “forager” (yes!) for the department that sells books and magazines was empty — they were looking for someone to fill the job. He suggested I check back now and again.

If you want to work for Whole Foods, you have some retail experience, and you live in Phoenix, you might want to keep an eye on their “help wanted” postings. 😉

So far, I have yet to figure out how to fix the formatting for the .mobi version of 30 Pounds. Nothing I’ve tried works. Short of retyping it from beginning to end in a fresh template, I cannot see how to fix it. I suppose I’ll have to track down an ebook formatter who can break into the code and clean up whatever weirdnesses Wyrd has inserted in there. My guy right now is pretty swamped — people are lined up at his door to get him to work on their bookoids. He’s usually slow, but I’ll bet he’s really slow right now.

The advertising campaign I launched on Smart Bitches/Trashy Books seems to at least be putting eyeballs on our book covers. The most recent report shows, in this week alone for the four books we’re advertising:

Bobbi and the Biker: 77,889 impressions, 48 clicks on the ad
Bobbi’s Secret Life: 77,641 impressions; 82 clicks
One Night at the Library: 77,658 impressions; 54 clicks
Science Teacher: 77,595 impressions; 77  clicks

How many of the folks who clicked on the ads bought a book? None. We’ve sold two Racy Books this month…but neither of them were those Racy Books.

We’ve also sold one, count it (1) copy of the first collection of Fire-Rider books. That is not anywhere near as well as we did last month, which wasn’t what one would call “very” well.

However, Fire-Rider is garnering some very nice reviews. Book I, for example, nailed FOUR five-star reviews! If  ego boosts bought groceries, this one would stock the pantry for a year:

Reminds me of Robert Adams’ _Horseclans_ series in the way you can dimly see the strands of our present world shimmering in the fabric of a far-future United States.

I had a bit of trouble at first keeping track of the characters, but that resolved as the story went on, and I found the developing interrelationship between the two characters, Kay and Tavio, intriguing. One thing I appreciated was that while there was a lot of information about this world descended from ours, it seeped in through the story and wasn’t dumped on me all at once.

My chief complaint was that the story ended just as the story was getting interesting – I know, the nature of episodic fiction! I’ve added the first boxed set to my wishlist.

No idea who’s writing these things, but whoever you are, ♥♥♥♥♥♥

5-star reviews LoRes

January 25, 2016
by funny
2 Comments

Let’s Test an Amazon Feature!

This morning comes in the email breathless news from Amazon about a feature that allows a blogger to post a free preview of a book, any book, into his or her site.

So, by golly, let’s try this. Plain & Simple Press just emitted the third and final collection of the Fire-Rider series, ever-so-aptly titled Homeward Bound. What happens when you embed the proposed code for the thing? Observe…

Et voila!

Well now. Isn’t that interesting?

Wonder if you can resize the thing so it will fit in a widget? And WTF do you suppose happened to the Roman numerals in the title data? I’m pretty sure I don’t habitually type XIII as XiiI. Dammit.

Oh well. This thing gives away an entire chapter for free, plus most of the front matter.

I’ll leave this for you to enjoy while I try to build a widget with the embed code. Meanwhile, notice that once you open this, there’s a link in the lower right that lets you toggle to full page. Nice!

Postscript

Oookay… The code doesn’t seem to  lend itself to widgetizing for those who are code-unsavvy.

I’ll post previews of all three collections — gathering 18 books (each of which has anything from three to eight or ten chapters) in three electronic volumes — at Plain & Simple Press (probably on the “Books” page) and at the Fire-Rider site. Watch those spaces… This will take a few minutes, because like all things techish, it’s a pain in the butt.

It can be done, though…

😀

Post-Postscript

Enraged publisher to Amazon CSR (believe it or not, you actually can find a “contact” link, buried on the bottom of the Author’s Bookshelf page in the finest of fine print, that lets you send a message to a someone in the vastness that is the Amazon behemoth):

I received an email plumping your new Amazon “preview” tool. Naturally, I posted links to a bunch of my Plain & Simple Press books at my websites, hoping to send readers your way. I posted a link to my Preview page (http://www.plainandsimplepress.com/previews/) on Twitter.

Double-checking a link, I clicked on the “Preview” link to my latest magnum opus, 30 Pounds / 4 Months. When I published this thing, I checked it carefully in the Kindle Previewer downloaded from your site. It looked perfect. This afternoon, using the same downloaded and installed Kindle Previewer, I just opened the .mobi file I posted and also downloaded to my hard drive at the time I published it it. In the Kindle Previewer tool that appears at your Bookshelf site, the layout looks PERFECT.

But when the Preview is viewed by clicking on the linked image generated by your “Preview” code, what you see is a FREAKING MESS!!!!!!!!! The subhead fonts are all screwed up: subheads are larger than level-A heads. Flush-left first grafs are indented further than regular indented paragraphs.

No wonder I’m selling a ton of them in hard copy but can’t get move the thing at all electronically! Your customers must think I’m a lunatic.

I had to take the first version of this book down and completely revamp it when a reader slammed the bejayzus out of it and me because it went online in a font jumble. It was, admittedly, my first effort at publishing through Amazon, and I mistakenly thought that what one saw in your simple online previewer was what one got. My error!

After spending many hours completely reformatting the thing from beginning to end using the appropriate styles, I re-uploaded it and checked it obsessively in your Kindle previewer. Not the one in the cloud, but the one you download and install on your computer, which supposedly comes closer to displaying the reader experience.

WTF? Can you explain this latest fiasco? I have put a lot of work into this book, and I am NOT HAPPY to see it screwed up again!!!!!  Especially after the viewer you folks promulgate in your “Bookshelf” function showed it to be as close to perfect as a human editor can make it.

Is the book as the reader purchases it a freaking mess? If it is, WHY is it a freaking mess?

If the formatting looks to the reader as it does in your downloadable Kindle previewer, why is it a freaking mess in your “Preview” come-on tool?

To coin a phrase: God damn it! I had no idea the format on the 30 Pounds / 4 Months book was all f*cked up. Again. It looked absolutely primo in the (huge!) Kindle Previewer that you download and install in your computer — the one that takes half your lifetime to load. It still looks primo.

But when you look at it through the new Kindle previewer sales tool, what you see is sh!t.

Now I suppose I’m going to have to take this version down, too. I actually have sold more of them in hard copy than in Kindle (the final print version should be here this week or early next week, for those of you who have ordered them).

Grrrr! You can be damn sure if that thing is a mess again…still…whatEVER…it’s not going back up on Amazon. We’ll convert the thing to ePub and post it at Nook and iBooks.

I. want. to. bite. someone. Jeff, my man? Are you there?