I’m working on a Science Fiction category, starting with Star Trek: The Original Series

I’m watching all the episodes of the original series for the first time in a long time, taking note of my thoughts as I go along. I plan to do this with all my favorite TV shows that are up on Netflix, and create new categories for them too.

At this rate, this one will end up as a 7500 word whopper of a post, so I’m probably going to break it up into multiple posts with 3-5 episodes each.

Unless you don’t mind reading one giant post. Let me know in the comments

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Review of Bing Rewards: Worth trying, but maybe not for the long term

Bing has a reward program (yes, they reward me if you go and get enough points after signing up with my link) that gives you stuff for using it. I set the $5 Amazon gift card as my target. I’ll use it to buy some books. Probably the next book from the guy who wrote the Book of Deacon trilogy. It’s amazing, and the prequel really rounded it out nicely.

It must have taken a thousand searches to reach that point. Is Bing bad? I wouldn’t say that. It’s usually close enough. But I kept finding situations where it failed miserably, in places Google never fails. I had to switch back half the time. I switched back to Google for the foreseeable future the moment I cashed out.

The bribe to get me to use it for a thousand searches was a great idea! Don’t get me wrong. As someone with an interest in marketing, it impressed me. It smoothed over the rough edges long enough for me to give it a fair shot.

But here we are, with Google sitting in my quick search box. Bing has been weighed. It has been measured. And it has been found wanting. Do you know how many pages I had to dig through on Bing to find the movie to go with that quote? I gave up at three. Google nailed it on the first try. The IMDB entry was the fifth result. Not perfect, but more than good enough.

Here’s what I would tell Microsoft to do: give me a reason to keep using it. I don’t mind giving them data and feedback. I want Google to have competition just as much as anyone else. So cut the cost on the card for the next one. Make it take 260 points on the second, 130 on the third, 65 on the fourth, and 30 on the fifth. Then thank me for my time and tell me there are no more $5 gift cards for me. The data and feedback from so many searches is worth at least $25.

How to stop spending money when you need to save

Times are tough. Inflation is making prices scream past your income, and no one’s eager to give you a raise. Or hire you. And you’ve done everything you know to do, from fixing up your résumé to networking to working on refreshing your skills.

And you’re still struggling, just like everyone else. So what can you do to make the best of a bad situation? I’ve learned a lot since the world economy went pear-shaped in 2007, and I’m happy to share the bounty of my experience with you.

1. Know what you want. I want a Tesla III, a Canon SL1, and a 40mm STM prime lens. This is what I want for what I want to do: drive around the country taking pictures. Knowing what I want keeps me on track. I know how much money I need and I know the time frame I want it in. This lets me budget and think about what it’ll take, in terms of income, to achieve it.

2. Make sure what you want is what you want. I got a $129 point and shoot camera. If I’d given it any thought, I would have put the $129 toward the DSLR I really needed to do what I wanted. At the time, I didn’t know how bad point and shoot cameras are at focusing in complicated scenes.

With some research, and a better understanding of what I needed, I could have avoided the wasted money. That’s not to say the photos I’ve put up for sale are bad, but it took far too many shots to get them. I take great care to compose and light my photos, and I still discard 90% of them for poor detail and blur.

3. If you’re stuck deciding between two items, don’t get either of them. Odds are good you either don’t need it, or don’t have enough information to decide. Most pressure-based sales depend on this. Sometimes, at the grocery store, I’ll stand there and bounce between two different items. Then I realize I don’t really need candy, or chips, or cookies. I always feel better about it later when I realize how much money I would have wasted.

4. Sales are a lie. As a general rule, things that are on sale are things you don’t need. The steep markdowns are a big red flag: it means they were either overpriced to begin with, or never really cost what they’re supposedly marked down from.

5. Brands aren’t loyal to you. Those “store brand” products are mostly private label stuff produced by the same company. Often, those private label products even give more for your money. The Aldi brand of Ritz–Savoritz–has at least twice as much in the box as the “real” stuff, and tastes just as good. Don’t shame yourself into buying the national brand.

Even when a different company makes the private label product, they’re made by companies with similar standards for taste and quality. It can take time to adjust to the different taste in these cases, but you’ll wonder why you ever bought the more expensive stuff when you do.

6. Make an honest assessment of your technology needs. Do you really need the top-tier cable or cell phone package? See if a pay as you go service available from companies like Consumer Cellular or T-Mobile will suit your needs. See if you really care enough about all those shows on TV to pay tens of dollars (or more) for them. See if services like
Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime can replace it for you. Subscribing to all three is still cheaper than an above-minimum cable package. For the rest, there’s Redbox.

7. Get used to cooking. It’s hard at first, like anything. Going out to eat is easy, but it’s expensive. There’s nothing like a home-cooked hamburger made just the way you like it. And no restaurant can top home fries. Get a good toaster oven for reheating. Microwaves can save a lot of time in preparation, but they can’t reheat most things without turning them mushy.

8. Choose alternatives to fast food. The deli at your grocery store has lots of great food in various stages of preparation. Sandwiches, salads (pasta and otherwise), and soups are cheaper, healthier, and more filling than fast food.

9. Track your spending and income. I use Mint to watch where my money is going and where it’s coming from. The most important feature to me is Trends. Since I started using Mint almost exactly a year ago, I’ve been able to get an idea of what I spend on. And, not shockingly, it was 99% stuff I didn’t need to spend on! Junk food, mostly.

I also use it to track e-book royalties. I tagged all of them, then let the Trends thing crunch it. I found that I made more than double my usual amount last June. Payments come with a two month delay, so that payment was from April of 2013. I dug into my sales reports and found something remarkable. A ton of sales, and a bunch of borrows from free promotions through KDP Select. By tracking this and keeping records, I knew when things were better, and what I did to make it happen.

It told me what I needed to do: promote as heavily as I did in April of 2013. Which is what I’ve done for the last week. It’s why I wrote this post–it’s got good SEO mojo and I took great care to make it useful.

So that’s all I’ve got. What have you done to save money when times were hard? Share in the comments below.

How to start a blog the right way

1. Platform. I covered this briefly, but the gist is:

  • Get as many of the people who visit your blog as possible to sign up to a mailing list and follow you on social media. This way, you only need to find them once, and you always have a dependable source of traffic.
  • Get personal with your service providers and make sure they’re there when you need them. You don’t want to find out your mailing list provider–the backbone of any serious commercial internet enterprise–is asleep at the wheel when something goes wrong.
  • Make sure you know how you’re going to make money. If you’re a writer, then that’s probably with an ebook. You can link it in the sidebar, menu, or footer, but nothing gets clicks like a relevant link in a post.

2. Write great posts. I already covered this with a 2000 word ebook. If you’re serious about starting a blog and giving it a good shot at going the distance, you should read it.

3. Figure out who you’re writing for. I used to chase “niches.” Niches are, roughly speaking, extremely narrow segments of a market no one is competing for. I read a post recently that solidified and clarified where my thinking has moved over the last few years. If you’ll look over to the sidebar, you’ll see that my categories are in line with that.

My focus is on writers who are struggling to find the most basic spark of success. Helping these people is more than tips on writing, or guides to formatting books for Smashwords. It’s life stuff, and others things not directly tied to writing. I make a point of keeping it interesting both to writers who are at that stage and writers who have moved past it. Without that, I’d lose my audience as quickly as I gained it!

Closing thoughts

The biggest killer of new blogs is the tendency to fidget. People who kill their blogs this way will spend more time tinkering with widgets, buying themes, reading about their business instead of doing business, and other things. Rarely does it occur to them that a blog actually needs content.

You don’t have to sit there and flood your blog with 40 posts a day, but you do need something. In general, longer posts get more traffic. This is because there’s more for search engines to chew on, and so more searchers to send to you. In general, the more content you produce, the more traffic you’ll get. But you need to put your best work into each post. If you can only produce one good post a month, then that’s what you need to do.

If you don’t want to do search engine optimization, this is probably your best bet. However, search engine optimization–especially today–is not much different from market research. You’ll get better results if you know what your prospective readers are actually searching for.

Which is, not coincidentally, how this post got its title. :)

Three ways to face your past and move beyond it

We all have some thing in our past that keeps running circles in our heads. They weigh on our decisions, control the way we interact with others, and often have a negative impact on our thinking. I had so many that I couldn’t think straight, and this state went on for over a decade before I started unraveling it. Here are several things I learned in the process.

1. Forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t really about absolving someone else for what they’ve done. You’re not saying “you didn’t do anything wrong.” You’re saying “I waste too much time thinking about this, and I intend to move on.” You don’t have to tell the person you’re forgiving them, but it helps. I forgave everyone who wronged me in the past, and I felt better for it.

2. Mapping. My brain was a frazzled mess. I only had a few vague memories, and very little of it made sense. I took the few I could remember and started laying them out in a spreadsheet. My troubles were mostly in school, so I started off with columns for grades, the year I was in it, and how old I was. I don’t need this anymore since I’ve worked through enough to feel good about my past, but I keep it around for when I need to look back. The goal here is to give structure to your memories so more will emerge, allowing you to deal with them.

3. Facing. Facing is both physical and mental. If someone from your past did something wrong, tell them about it. There’s a very good chance they think about it too, and will be happy to have you bring it up so they can apologize. Otherwise, talk in your head. Don’t do this with the real person if you think they might become violent or vindictive.