Monday, July 24, 2017

I hate complaining

I hate complaining about as much as I hate hearing complaints. I am wading through a fair amount of negative stuff and just need a vehicle to cast off some ballast. July should be a time of relaxing, swimming, BBQs, sleeping in, vacations, and just taking time off.

This has been my usual practice anyway. School is out and the traffic a little lighter so driving up and down the freeway is less stressful.  This July has gone against the grain. One of the reasons I like July, in addition to it being right after Father's Day in June, is it is my birthday month.

As you have guessed by now, it has not gone according to previous years. 


It has been hot temperature wise in northern California this year, after a wet winter and my allergies have been debilitating.  I have had a couple of days I could not stop sneezing and blowing my nose. I took lots of decongestant with no relief.

My auto registration renews in August and this cycle, I had to get a smog inspection. This minor inconvenience turned into a major expense. I took my car to the station that inspected it a couple of years ago and was informed they could not do it because of equipment repair that would take 6 to 8 weeks to complete. That surprised me a bit but I just found another service establishment to do it.

Everything was going swimmingly. After a short 15 minutes, I received a new smog certificate and a bill for $54.00 with a comment that looked like someone had not tightened the coolant reservoir cap sufficiently. I did not think too much of the warning and drove my car on the 4-minute drive home.


After parking the car, I noticed the fan continued to run after shutting the car off. It was a hot day and I know they have to run the car while doing the inspection, so I did not think anything was amiss. I was wrong. I did not drive the car for a couple of days but the next time I did I went on a very short drive and the fan continued to run after shutting the car off. This is something that had never happened before getting the smog inspection. I began to think about the warning I received at the auto service center and wondered if I had been "had." It would not be the first time I experienced a failure after getting something minor fixed.

I called my Volvo dealer and explained my car was overheating and he told me to bring it in. After inspecting the car and burning his hand on the coolant reservoir cap when he tried to remove it; he sent me home with a loaner car and said he would call with his diagnosis. He called and said he had to replace the radiator, the coolant reservoir, and cap because I had a radiator leak. This was on a Monday and they were extremely busy. When he called to tell me how much it was going to cost, what I thought I heard him say was it would be $477.00. When he called after doing the work, he said the bill was $984.00. This was more than I was expecting.



I visited the emergency room at Kaiser on May 29th and had a few tests done because I was having lower abdominal pain after having a colonoscopy at the VA a week before. I figured I would get a bill for $400.00 or $500.00. When the bill finally arrived and it came in chunks, it was more than $8,000.00. So my budget is hemorrhaging.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Musings on our new president


Avoiding talk about politics or religion is great advice and I've followed it in writing my blog to this point. However, our record-breaking new president provides so much to write about, I just couldn't keep silent.


Donald Trump's antics remind me of two children's fables." The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Anderson, and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" by Aesop. If you're unfamiliar with these stories, the first is about two weavers who convince the emperor they have created an invisible suit for him that can't be seen by stupid, incompetent people and the second is about a Sheppard boy who cries out for the people of a village to help him protect his flock. The villagers tire of the boy's game and do not respond when a wolf actually arrives.

Making America Great Again


Our president finds himself in a precarious position after 110 days in office because he has a very casual relationship with the truth. In his world, it is totally acceptable to stretch the truth or even outright lie in his expression of how great he is and how well he has done. His focus on winning and being successful to the point of being unable to accept failure and loss is complete. His description of the crowd size at his inauguration is a fabulous example of seeing things that don't exist and he was livid when the Park service provided comparisons to previous inaugurations. His explanation for not winning the majority of votes is the number he lost to his opponent were cast by illegal voters.  Few people believe this, but he will not move on to other things. He maintains the reason some people see his foibles is the democrats are sore losers. It appears to me, he is a sore winner.

Conflicts of Interest


Maintaining an untrue position, over time, results in people losing faith and belief in their leaders. President Trump maintains the liberal media is fake and is out to get him. His memory is very short as the institutions he declared to be "the enemy," the intelligence community, the media, the democrats are no longer likely to be friendly, but that is his own fault. Trump ignores rules governing conflict of interest acting as though he is above the law.


Cover Up and Avoidance


His insistence in obscuring reasons for his strategy and beliefs is unfathomable. He denies his campaign or advisors have had any contact with the Russians, but we find out his closest advisors have. Instead of being an open book, he spins lies he has to amend, retell, and amend again. The boy telling the villagers story after story until they don't believe a word he says. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lessons in Social Media Belly Flops

Is it just me?

Are you having as much trouble as I am getting the wonderful world of Social Media to work for you? Doing my best to learn every new app for buying, selling, and socializing, I have encountered many obstacles that suggest these businesses are going to fail.

Reddit

The first problem I encountered was with Reddit, as long as you do not count all the times I've had to change passwords because I can't keep track of all of them. Forgetful me, if I don't use an app for several months, I find it difficult to remember what the username and password combination is and inevitably have to ask for a new password or register for a new account. I read an interesting article about using Reddit to post content that would be interesting to likeminded individuals so I posted a link to a marketing blog I wrote. Everything in my blog is original; I wrote it and did not plagiarize anything. Reddit decided I didn't have enough "credit" to post a website URL. You can post URLs, but only after enough peers think you are worthy of that privilege. I thought this had to be a mistake so I asked for a human to read the post and confirm that it didn't qualify under Reddit's rules. Sure enough, a real person got back to me and said it didn't so I deleted the post and have not been back to Reddit since. https://www.reddit.com

Fiverr

Fiverr is a great place for freelancers to get business and for buyers who want to pay a very low price. It gets its name from the fact that everybody offers a minimum service for $5.00. That was probably a great idea in the beginning and a way to attract customers who wanted to purchase a low-cost service. It flies in the face of a minimum wage, however. I suppose some folks offer services for $5.00 that take less than an hour but everyone offers a service for $5.00.

I found an editor for the books I have published and she (like many other editors, artists, programmers, etc.) offers to proofread 1500 words for $5.00. I tried this myself and offered to create a blog site for $5.00. The way you enter what service you will perform, also includes two more levels, a medium and premium level and I embellished how much website you would get for more money in each level. The premium offer included a domain name and web hosting. I submitted the form and waited for Fiverr to approve it. I received an email message from Fiverr letting me know that I had violated some rule  buried in the terms of service and after wasting 45 minutes filling out their form, just deleted my offer. I noticed that many other people were offering the same thing the same way but I didn't challenge them any further.  https://www.fiverr.com


Upwork

Upwork is another good online site for freelancers and gets a ton of business from people who want to pay slave wages. It is geared more toward freelancers who bid on jobs buyers post and I actually got a job to write a 1000 word article for $25.00. It took more than four hours to write and my hourly rate is $25.00 but overlooking that, I thought it could lead to follow-on business. I also produced the article five days sooner than the buyer needed it. The problem with Upwork is both buyer and seller rate the experience and while my buyer expressed that she was highly satisfied, she rated me at 95%, not 100% and on Upwork that is the end of the line. She probably waited to see how I rated her before she rated me. I rated her 95% because she was in Spain and I'm in California so time zones interfered with prompt communication. As I said, I completed the work the day after I got the job but she did not respond for 5 days and I remarked that communication was a slight problem.

I bid on several more jobs and noticed the buyers specified they would only work with people who were fluent in the English language and who had a rating of 100%. Upwork has a significant number of tests it offers freelancers to prove their worthiness which can improve one's rating. I took a couple of tests on the English language and WordPress but did not max the tests and found Upwork scored me low enough they didn't think I would want them to publish the results, and they were right. I have noticed since there are many videos on YouTube showing how to cheat and get all the answers correct. I have to say, the tests are skewed in a way that does not make them a good gauge for how well a freelancer will do the work. I found it interesting that most buyers on Upwork, which is a worldwide app, want to pay third world country prices but do not want third world country English language skills. https://www.upwork.com

Facebook

After several years monitoring my websites and reading many articles, I decided to give advertising a try on Facebook. I have to admit, Facebook makes it easy to boost a post or page for as little as $1.00. Once my books were published on Amazon, I tried promoting them on Facebook spending  $44.76 on 6 ads with a reach of 11,000 and zero sales. So I began digging in to find out how to make Facebook advertising more successful. One of the ads I tried was a lead generation ad that generated no leads so I built a Weight Loss web page, wrote an eBook on Weight Loss, and created a list on Mail Chimp to collect my leads. I also added Pixel code to my website that allows analytics to be sent to Facebook. I tried to advertise the Weight Loss ad three times but was disapproved by Facebook because they said I was violating their ad policy.

I read the ad policy three times and could not find a specific reason or rule I had violated so I submitted a request for help. I was contacted by email on a Friday afternoon and told my support person would find out why my ad was not approved. In the meantime, I received another message from Facebook that looked to me like everything was alright and encouraged me to complete my ad submission so I did. It was disapproved 15 minutes later. So while I stewed waiting to get to the bottom of the problem, I searched through YouTube for information on Facebook advertising and found a helpful lesson that suggested if you selected countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and India you could spend as little as $1.00 and get tons of responses. I followed the advice and promoted three aspects of my Facebook business page getting over 7,500 responses in just a few hours. Then the proverbial stuff hit the fan. I received an email from Facebook billing me for the portion of the $1.00 on all three ads that had abruptly been halted. The following day was Monday when I received an email that explained the reason my ad kept getting rejected.



On my Weight Loss web page the headline read "Want to Lose Fat and Keep it Off?" and the powers that be at Facebook deemed this to be offensive to people so I changed the headline to "Lose Weight and Keep it Off". Now I know why some people get upset about political correctness. Even so, I think this is taken to extreme in this case. I could easier understand if Facebook just didn't want any ads for weight loss but my ad does not say you are fat. It used to say Want to Lose Fat and Keep it Off. I am not making a statement about obesity, I just wanted to share what I have learned about losing weight and keeping it off, something I think a lot of people have trouble with. I was also trying to build an email list but Facebook did not say you can't do that. They said you can't say fat or weight loss plan. Specifically, the email said:
Your ad was rejected because it doesn't follow the language policy of our ad guidelines. Please make sure the language in your ad's image or video, body text and title are all compliant. For instance, don't:
- Use language that is insulting, harassing or threatening to people
- Use profane, vulgar, or threatening language
- Use any word that mentions or targets someone’s personal characteristics (ex: age, gender, race)
- Single out individuals or degrade the viewer of the ad (ex: “Are you fat?”, “Suffering from acne?” “Looking for a weight-loss solution?”)

Facebook locked me out of advertising. Their form for support on advertising requires I provide my account ID but the field is locked in the "No Advertising Account" state and can't be changed, by me. I thought I would give Fiverr a try and submitted a request to get my advertising account reinstated for $5.00, but that request was not approved by Fiverr.  https://facebook.com



Friday, September 30, 2016

If you are going to write a blog

There are many things to consider if you decide to write a blog. One of the things to think about is how people will see what you have written. Assuming you want people to notice yours, you have to decide if you want to shell out money to write a blog or if you're as frugal as I am and want to write yours for free.

There are many options for writing a free blog and I have tried several. I found the biggest limitation to the free option is, the availability of themes can restrict how your blog looks and therefore how appealing it is. If you want to make things easy, it is best to use a free blog. Choosing to buy a domain name and hosting service, which would run about $60.00 per year, is indeed affordable, but you will have to setup your blog, typically using WordPress or another platform, that includes the necessary features you will require. Some hosting providers charge less than $5.00 a month and have easy to use tools to create your blog but you will be paying some amount monthly, forever.

Free Blogs

I have used Hub Pages and Blogger and found Blogger to be the best bet for me. Hub Pages promoted itself as a way to earn extra income. In fact, I received a job solicitation from Hub Pages and signed up over two years ago. While I am certain you can actually earn money using Hub Pages, you will be among the few who do. I wrote a dozen articles for Hub Pages and swam through their many obstacles to get them published, only to find out few people read mine. I continued to write articles and their rules and requirements got stricter and harder to tolerate so I stopped using them.

Blogger

Blogger is part of Google and has fewer obstacles to publishing articles. You are reading this on Blogger and one of the reasons I like it is my articles appear in Google's search results. While it isn't simple, navigating Blogger is manageable and easy to learn to use.


WordPress

Unless you download it from https://wordpress.org, in which case you will have to know where it is going to be hosted, you can create a free blog using WordPress too but you will have to be creative to avoid paying WordPress to host your blog. I have written a how-to article on a Free WordPress Blog you will find here How to Create a Free WordPress Blog. There are several other options too.Wix and Weebly allow you to create a free website you can use for blogging and if you Google "free blogs" you will find several others. Here is a link to a web page to get your search started http://stylecaster.com/best-free-blog-sites/




Sunday, September 11, 2016

Three lesser-known recent films

Match - 2015

A drama about a Julliard ballet dance instructor played by Patrick Stewart and a husband and wife team who want to interview him. Under the auspices of writing a dissertation about the dance world of the sixties, the pair gains access to Tobi, and after meeting him in a dinner, are invited to his apartment in New York. Lisa's husband, Mike, is a cop with an ulterior motive and after several minutes of questions and answers, the plot unfolds and we realize Mike wants to know if Tobi is his biological father. Stewart's character denies he fathered a child but admits Mike's mother and Tobi were lovers.

The discourse gets heated and emotions fanned into semi-frenzy. When Mike leaves in anger, Tobi and Lisa develop a deeper personal understanding although some of the discussion is crude and unsettling. Lisa is motivated to resolve her husband's quest for finding out who he is and realizes she has her own personal problems to sort out. When he comes back to the apartment, Mike speaks privately with Tobi and the couple leaves but not before Tobi invites them back for brunch the following day.

I was surprised at my own reaction to the emotional roller coaster and sincerity conveyed in the dialogue between the three characters.


In the Heart of the Sea - 2015

Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick and this is a story about how he came to write it. Centered on a Nantucket whaling ship in 1820,  Ron Howard, who directed the film, paints a picture of the Essex and the crew in search of whales to convert to oil they bring back for the ship's owners. The crew is lead by a seasoned first officer, who in the beginning, thinks he will be the captain of the ship, only to find the owners have handpicked an inexperienced captain with a pedigree.

After several months at sea, with little to show for their effort and after too much friction between the captain and first officer, the Essex sails to the Pacific in search of sperm whales. That is where they encounter the great white whale, who shepherds a giant pack of whales. Intruding on the whale's domain, the giant whale retaliates, and after thrashing several of the whaler's rowboats attacks the Essex and sinks her. The remainder of the story is devoted to the efforts of the survivors to stay alive in the middle of an ocean with little possibility of rescue. After weeks of floating adrift and with little water or rations, they finally wash ashore on a remote island.

When they finally get back to Nantucket, they face a board of inquirers who insist they testify they ran aground instead of telling the truth to protect the reputation of their industry.


The Weight of Water - 2002

Not a new film, the weight of water is really two films in one. In the present, a photographer, her husband, her brother-in-law, and his girlfriend sail to the Isles of Sholes off the New Hampshire coast to investigate the murder of two immigrant women in 1873. Kathryn Bigelow directed the film starring Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley, and Catherine McCormick. In the present, the newspaper photographer, Jean Janes visits the scene of the crime with her husband, an award-winning poet played by Sean Penn. The brother-in-law's girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, flirts with Penn's character in front of her boyfriend and Jean played by Catherine McCormick. This contentious struggle counterbalances the story from the past. A young Norwegian woman, Maren Hontvedtm, played by Sarah Polley, wife of an older man, is chore-ridden and living a burdensome life on an island in Nova Scotia. Her husband adds to her burdens by inviting Louis Wagner, a lecherous crippled man to live with them. When her sister, brother, and sister-in-law come to visit Maren, the stage is set for the murders of the sister and sister-in-law.  

Maren is the star witness when Louis Wagner goes on trial. Found guilty, he hangs for the murders. At the same time of the execution, Maren confesses Wagner did not commit the murders. At times, the transitions between past and present do not work well and weakens the plot since there is little to hold the two stores together.

Bigelow also directed Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Movies worthy of note

I've seen a couple of movies recently I thought were good enough to write about. The first is The Martian with Matt Damon, the second is Whiplash with Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and not to be outdone, a third film worthy of seeing is The Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren.


The Martian

I can't think of a movie I've seen with Matt Damon I didn't like and he lives up to my admiration in the Martian. Caught in an epic dust storm that looks like four tornados converging, Matt's character is hit by a boulder and thought dead by the crew of a mission to mars. The crew hastily makes their escape off the planet leaving Mark Watley, Damon's character, behind.

When he awakes, he finds himself alone on a planet with only enough food for the crew to last 30 days. Watley has to work out a way to survive the 4 years it will take to rescue him. An interesting predicament to say the least. Even though it was a science fiction movie, I could relate to the feelings of desperation and loneliness.

My favorite director, Ridley Scott, presents the story in a captivating way, switching between Watley, the ground control personnel, and the members of the crew on their long journey back to earth. A subtle sense of humor by Damon, a positive attitude, and the ability to engineer his way out of disaster, makes the Martian a viewer's choice.


Whiplash

Whiplash is about a prestigious music school and the students in the class of one ruthless music director. This is not a film for children as the "F" word is used frequently, almost continuously. The main character is jazz drum student Andrew Neiman played by Miles Teller whose ambition drives him to become the best drummer since Buddy Rich. The band conductor Terence Fletcher is the protagonist he must go through to achieve his goal and Fletcher is not a helpful, cooperating fellow. J.K. Simmons. in addition to many film and TV roles he has been in, you may recognize from the Farmers insurance commercials.

Whiplash,  at the 87th Academy Awards, won Best Film EditingBest Sound Mixing, and Best Supporting Actor for Simmons, and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. The movie is well acted and is hard hitting, bringing out the worst in people.


The Woman in Gold

The Woman in Gold is a true story about a Jewish woman who escaped Nazi-occupied Austria during the Second World War. A famous painting was among the assets stolen from her family by the Nazis and she goes about getting possession of it again. It takes quite a long time, years in fact, but with the help of a young lawyer, she eventually wins what almost everyone said could not be won.


Helen Mirren is another actress I find talented enough to keep me entertained even in what might seem like a very boring story. Director Simon Curtis keeps the audiences' attention by mixing scenes from Austria during the war and the present day. He intertwines the relationships of Maria Altmann and her family during the war as well as Maria and her lawyer in the present. She endures many disappointments and setbacks but with the final push from her lawyer and after going all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States finally wins her family's possessions back in arbitration in Vienna.