Monday, July 15, 2013

Are airlines liable for terrorism?

Larry Silverstein (World Trade Center Properties) is arguing in federal court that the airlines owe him billions of dollars in damage for their part in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The judge, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, heard opening arguments today (closing arguments are expected Wednesday).

Silverstein's lawsuit claims that Boeing owes him for designing the planes, that both Boston's Logon Airport and Portland Maine's Airport owes him for not catching the terrorists as they went though security, and that the airlines failed to protect both the passengers and property from the actions of the terrorists.

Or as I like to call this: An opportunity to collect large amounts from various companies for criminal actions done by other people.

Personally, isn't this what insurance is for? Silverstein has already collected more than four billion dollars from the insurance companies to rebuild the property. But he says that it has not been enough to cover the expenses of the rebuilding. The airlines are arguing that this whole mess smacks of him double-dipping; Silverstein disagrees.

(Oh, the judge has already ruled that the most Silverstein can get is 3.5 billion...I guess you can see why this is worth pursuing.)

But isn't this along the lines of suing a Quickie Mart for getting shot during a robbery there because they did not have armed security to stop a robber after collecting both insurance and government benefits?

The very nature of airplanes is that they are big flying bombs (and it was known in the 1980s [and perhaps before] that we were in danger if a terrorist decided to hijack one of them). The only way for Boeing and all other aircraft designers to make a perfectly safe plane that cannot be used as a weapon is for them not to make one in the first place (aka no air travel). The only way for there to be no possibility of hijackers getting onboard an airplane is to deny entry to everybody, including the crews (again no air travel). And the only way that the airlines have to completely protect passengers and property is to never actually have the planes take off from the ground (again no air travel).

Honestly, I do not want to see Silverstein win this lawsuit because legally the only way to prevent stuff like this is to return to the Dark Ages, and we all know how joyful the Dark Ages were. And if he wins, we can all expect to see more double-dipping lawsuits.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How a writer has to figure their hourly rate

One of the problems with being a writer (unless you work in a cubicle as a writer) is that you never really know how much you are going to make for each hour that you spend at the keyboard. And if you are supporting yourself as a writer, it is something that you desperately need to know.

(This also applies to all professionals who are self-employed, so bear with me if you are not a writer.)

Robert Heinlein, one of my writing heroes, used to have a policy that he never wrote anything that he wasn't going to get paid for. Now, he did do a certain amount of writing that he never unloaded (aka sold); but for the most part, he did a pretty good job of keeping to that policy. So much so that he managed to pay off several mortgages as a writer.

Now, before you view that as a sign that you too can make it as a writer, just remember that when you start looking at the amounts Heinlein got paid, he got paid in the 1950s what writers are still being paid...and the cost of everything is higher today than it was back then. Writers are still being paid by the standard rates set forth in the 1950s--I suspect that the reason why is that so many writers are willing to work for free just to see their bylaw in print. Furthermore, Robert Heinlein was a really good writer.

Estimating how much you are going to make is easier if you are fulfilling orders that you know that you are going to get paid for (especially if you know the rate of payment). Freelance writers like having clients who ask them to do regular batches of work for them. Unfortunately, one of the things that could happen is that you find yourself working long hours for too little money.

I recently got cut loose from a project that was chewing up way too much time for way too little money. I could have made more per hour if I went back to flipping burgers. The appointed tasks essentially got worse and worse as the project dragged on. Needless to say, it was one of the jobs that I am grateful that I got fired from. Besides I know that I can make more money doing other types of writing. (Why do I know that I can more doing another project instead? Because I know the spread on how much I am making on various types of projects).

What a writer needs to do--on all their projects--is to keep a time sheet, and track how many hours projects take them to complete. The amount of money that one makes from a project then needs to be divided by the number of hours one worked on a project.

(This applies to all professions--keep a time sheet--figure out what projects are giving you the most amount of money per hour--it will do your business a world of good if you do so.)

Now, for me, a lot of my writing is of the page view (you get paid based on the number of readers that your article gets) and royalty based (you get paid based on the number of copies sold). So not only do I have to keep track of my hours, I also have to keep track of all the monies collected over a long period of time. In other words, a lot of my stuff is paid for (not upfront) by the level of readership I end up with.

(This long-term collection of payment information applies to anyone who is selling the same piece of work over and over again.)

This is why one of my current jokes is that as a writer, I make somewhere between zero and thirty-five dollars an hour...some projects I have received so little money I have yet to earn my break-even point yet (my "burger flipping" wage), and on other projects I have earned hundreds and hundreds of dollars already.

I am getting better at just doing the type of work that have earned me the higher amounts based on previous outcomes. (Occasionally, I do miss because of changing markets and the continued need to expand my writing into unknown [never done before] areas.)

As I said, what I am having to do as a writer--tracking hours spent working, and overall income received--applies to other professions that do not have a clear cut hourly rate. It is worthwhile to know your estimated hourly rate on various types of work to be able to budget your earning time more efficiently.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why leaving blog comments helps your SEO

One of the mysteries that I don't think a lot of people understand is that search engines seem to love blog comments, so much so that leaving blog comments can actually help your SEO efforts.

The reason that search engines love blog comments is that well, as I once described them, search engines are spider demons who are pretending to be human beings, who are experts in whatever terms and subjects that you punched into the query form.

And the way that the search engines do this is by weighing factors, such as the number of links there are to your webpage, and where it is coming from.

Think of each comment you leave (where you are allowed to place your website into the information field or leave one of your profile addresses) as a thread in a spider web. And if lots of people like the site that you commented on, the thread is thicker and heavier. You also have a heavier thread if your site and the site you are commenting on are actually about the same subject matter.

Basically, the little spider demons that are search engines count the number of times that the search term is found on your page (decide if it is a balanced number), and then factor in the weight of all the threads to your page to determine exactly where they are going to place your page in the search results.

So how do you use this demonic thought process to your advantage?

Be selective about what blogs that you comment on (unless you are doing a networking exercise like the commenting part of the UBC). Make sure that your site is related in the type of subject matter.

Try to write meaningful comments. If you can engage a blogger in a conversation, the little spiders notice and add more weight to their opinion of your threads.

Don't be afraid of linking to posts done by your favorite bloggers. In fact, linking to a post that you have commented on creates a double thread for the spiders to weigh.

The mysteries of SEO is simple once you start treating search engines as the demonic comment loving spiders that they really are.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Approaching my thousandth blog post on another blog

I have been blogging several years. I started out over at LiveJournal, and did some when Geocities still existed. I started blogging on Blogger in June 2007. (I also have an account with WordPress that I never used...but it doesn't count because I have only done a couple redircts posts there.)

This blog, Madcap Economics, is my tenth blog that I have set up on Blogger.

The other day, I was writing a post on my other blogs when I realized that I am approaching my thousandth published post there. The current post count (just published blogs, not the half finished drafts that I have started and abandoned in various stages) is 996.

(For the curious, the blog is called Gleamings from the Golden Dawn, and it is about Golden Dawn [an esoteric mystery tradition], Wicca, and the sharing of lots of cat pictures.)

This is one of my cats--I share lots of pictures of him.
Gleamings actually got started because I did not want to muddle the focus of my writing blog, Musings from the Inkwell...which has 488 published posts at the moment. So in the space of six years, I have written and published more than 1500 blog posts (I am too lazy to figure the exact total).

So what have I learned over the years of blogging. I have learned how to rapidly set up a blog. I have learned that the quickest way to find one's muse is to get royally upset about something that you have read on the internet. I have learned that Google AdSense works--but you really need a popular blog to benefit from it on a regular basis.

And I have learned that I will always come with another idea to blog about next week, no matter how much I think that I have exhausted all possible blog topics.

And here some of my readers were worried about coming up with 31 topics to blog about for the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Such silly people, they could always default to sharing 31 cat pictures (and I have done that in the past).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A little about my father

One of the reasons that I think that I am ok with being self-employed is the fact that I got to watch my father be self-employed. My father ended up being my role-model when I was forced into self-employment. That is not actually surprising considering that his road to self-employment was also forced upon him.

My father grew up in farmland USA (Nebraska), living in a small town. He ended up dropping out of junior high to work (I believe it was simple economics, but I am not sure). When he married my mom, they moved first to Omaha, then to Colorado (Commerce City--then Denver).

The first job that I remember him having were working for a newspaper and magazine distributor (Nelson News, I believe they were called)...this is remembered simply because I ended up with a copy of every children book that they stocked. The second job he had (that I remember) was him working for a snack distributor (one of the items stocked was Boston Potato Chips which had a cute bear on the bag)--to this day, I still think of beef jerky and potato chips as a proper meal (it isn't if my wife is to be believed).

After that, Dad worked as a delivery driver for a produce company. Later when he decided to move into sales, he taught himself the ins and outs of the stuff he was selling by reading lots and lots of catalogs and product brochures. This self-teaching style ended up being my style of learning also--I tend to immerse myself into research projects with tables buried under books.

Now, each one of these career moves were advances in the family fortunes. Alas, all good things come to an end. In this case, Dad decided to support the union that was trying to organize the employees of the produce market act that got him fired and black-balled from doing any more produce work.

At least, working for someone else that is.

As a result of not being able to find any work, he started his own produce company (out of our garage, later we had a warehouse inside a out-of-commission grain elevator). A lot of my business tactics come from him...but probably only the good ones.

It was the result of this that when I became more-or-less permanently unemployed, I decided to try my hand (once again) at self-employment.

Was it a wise choice...well we will see. As for the outcome of my father's self-employment, that is a story for another day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

My own brand of negative self-talk

Today, I was reading a blog post by Linda Ursin about negative self-talk. In it, she mentioned that negative self-talk tends to rear its ugly head when people are trying to lose weight. Now in my case, I have never needed to lose weight--I have been dangerously underweight for most of my life.

(This is one of the few times in my life that I have been at a healthy weight.)

First, I came from a really poor family, and learned to ignore hunger as a kid. Then I worked twenty years in food service where you would think that you would actually get to eat; but if you are a good employee, your breaks are few and far in between. Then I spent several years as a poor unemployed college student living off of student loans. Now, I am a self-employed writer...and so far, I have seen little evidence that there are tables laden with food any place in this particular profession.

And I am good at ignoring hunger. For instance, it wasn't until seven hours into my day today that I realized that I hadn't eaten anything yet. Unless, you count the one can of soda I had. And my wife tells me that the can of soda doesn't count.

But enough about that problem...this post is supposed to about my own personal brand of negative self-talk.

My own personal brand of negative self-talk comes in the form of "I am too stupid to figure that one out" (IQ is the upper five percent of the population); "No one would be interested in reading that" ("It is a box of clowns!!! Everyone run for your lives!!!"); "The only proper type of writing that one should practice is the literary kind" ("Gee, I have made over three hundred and fifty dollars on a three thousand word erotic short story that took me less than ten hours to finish and self-publish").

My negative self-talk kept me in burger flipping jobs that I loathed, made me positive that I was going to fail college (ended up with two bachelor degrees), and make me have anxiety attacks about the fact that my business is going to fail and that my cats will starve (please note that my cats have no food issues other than the one where they skraff down a dish of their favorite food real fast, and then proceed to barf everywhere because their tummy is upset).

So what is your negative self-talk? What has it prevented you from doing? And can you send me a doughnut?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Working on the Holidays

Patriotic Cat overdoes it--just like my neighbors.
As I write this, there are screams of "Chug! Chug! Chug!" moving from the house next door. It is safe to say that there is some drinking going on next door. And I also saw one of my neighbors light fireworks in the middle of the street--the fountain type--good for you keeping it away from your completely brown yard that is just one spark away from going up in smoke.

And my thoughts overhearing the loud partying in the neighborhood:

"God, was I ever so young?"
"Gee, my wife has to work tomorrow; I hope that they shut up soon."
"I wonder if it is wrong to base the next murder victim on my neighbor." (I am working on a science fiction story and someone is about to have "an accident" involving an airlock.
And "I am really glad that I am not working at some burger flipping job tonight--all these drunks would insist on coming though my drive-thur."

For the record, I do not miss working at a restaurant and dealing with customers on a holiday, especially drunk customers. And I used to deal with more than my fair share every holiday that involved alcohol.

(I am hard pressed to think of a single holiday that does not involve drinking.)

And who gets to work on the drinking holidays? Yes, that is right--the poorest Americans. One way to guarantee that you are working tonight and dealing with the drunks is to make minimum wage.

I don't miss it at all.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Does anyone read blogs on the Fourth of July?

Happy Fourth of July says a cat draped in American flags.
One of the things that I always wonder about is how many people actually read blogs on the Fourth of July. Or any other holiday for that matter.

I know that I do, but that because reading blogs is a combination hobby/profession to me. After all, I am a writer that blogs--I have to keep up if something happens on the Fourth of July.

But I am not so sure that anyone else reads holiday blogs. Well, at least on the holiday itself. I know that I get a certain amount of traffic on my other blogs from the search engines (Google mainly) hitting on past holiday entries. For instance, I will get a spike around Halloween on my various Halloween entries from past years.

Of course, I have a secondary reason for writing this entry this time around. I am currently doing the Ultimate Blog Challenge. During the UBC, one writes thirty-one blog posts in thirty-one days. On one level, it reminds me of the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and its summer camp version, Camp NaNoWriMo. During the NaNoWriMo, you are trying to write a fifty thousand word rough draft of a novel in thirty days. Compared to NaNoWriMo, the Ultimate Blog Challenge is (so far) low key...I am not sure if that is going to let...I might start running out of things to blog about.

I guess now is as good as time to ask people to wish me luck in finishing the UBC.

And come back later to see my stats:

People who read this entry during the July 4th holiday (remember it is also the UBC): ###

People who read this entry during the first month it was up: ###

All time readers of this entry: ###

Things I wrote while I was not here:

I talked about how saying that you are not going to buy a certain book matters not one iota when the writer does not consider you an actual potential customer.

I reviewed (sort of) the delightfully funny book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), by Jenny Lawson.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yes I write erotica (Safe for Work)

While this post is about the business of erotica, or at least how I got involved in it, the post is perfectly safe for work. That fact might be confusing, but the truth of the matter is that you can talk about the economics and business of erotica without any actual erotica being involved. If that disappoints you, just leave a comment in the comment section...and I will pretend to be shocked that you were disappointed that the raciest word in this post is the word "erotica" itself.

As for the rest of us--prepare to be bored by how dull the writing of erotica is.

I started writing in junior high--this is when there was junior high schools (now they are middle schools, or at least they are in my neighborhood)--and I continued to do it in high school. And no, I wasn't writing erotica in high school--thanks for asking.

It was while in high school that one of my friends decided to declare that I was going to be a writer when I grew up. I think that she got tired of me shrugging my shoulders and saying," I dunno" whenever anyone asked me what I was going to do for a living after high school.

(Honestly, I thought that I was going to be in the military for several years...I was kinda overlooking the fact that I am not exactly the ideal material to be a soldier.)

The truth be told, I never realized that it was possible to be a writer and actually do it for a living. I thought writing was something you did for entertainment purposes, and that you felt lucky to get published. (Again, no, I wasn't writing erotica yet.) And no one around me informed me otherwise.

The fact that you could get paid to write is something that I stumbled upon all on my own. After all, given how poorly the profession pays (on average), you could hardly have a booth set up on career day advising students that they too could make more money flipping burgers than they could as a writer.

(Yes, your average writer would be better off flipping burgers for a living--appalling, isn't it?!)

It was actually at a truck stop in Kansas (or was it Nebraska?) that I realized that someone had to be getting a paycheck to write stuff. I was on my way home (riding the Greyhound Bus) from being asked politely to leave the might have been the fact that my father got killed in a truck accident a week before, or it may simply be that I am not good at marching and doing pushups (I be a white boy; I have no rhythm and no upper body strength). Anyway, I was looking over the magazines in the rack when I saw it.

The vital clue that someone was getting paid money to write something. Yes, it was an erotica magazine, one of those magazines filled with sexy stories...that are supposedly written by readers of the magazine. And I realized that the writing was too good to be written by amateurs--hey, I saw the writing skill of my class mates in high school, and mine wasn't much better--no, this stuff had to be written by people getting paid.

Why did I assume that money was involved? Well, you would never write this stuff and admit to it.

(Yes, I found one of the stranger types of a truck stop...and no, I am not telling you what type of erotica it was. Just say imagine the worst, say Ewww! and read on.)

Or at least, I wouldn't admit to it. And still don't. I do it under a pen-name...and my pen-name is a that my wife doesn't even know. (Yes, she knows what my bread and butter writing is...but I am too ashamed to let her read any of it.)

And the moral of this story is: If you don't want people writing trash, don't let them know that they can make money doing so. Or at least, I think that is the moral; I could be wrong--and if I am, feel free to say so in the comment section.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Creative time lost at Walmart

Yesterday, me and my wife went to Wal-Mart. For a fan. Which we decided not to get...but that is another post for another time.

There was four registers open, and they were at least four customers deep. We got into a line with four people before us. And we waited in line. And waited. And waited.

We were in line for over a half hour.

At certain point, the happy little cynic that is me, looked at my wife and asked, "How much money are we saving here? Because I think that I could have made more money in the amount of time that we have spent in line."

Now, in all fairness to Wal-Mart, that last part might not be true. I am a writer and an artist--self-employed. And there is no guarantee about how much money I would make in a half hour. My wife was also working on her business yesterday--the same problem applies.

But my time is worth anywhere from zero plus to thirty-three dollars plus an hour.

(Ok, real quickly I state my potential hourly rate in a range because a lot depends upon what I am working on. There are some articles that I have written on the page-view sites that have earned me only pennies. And there are the ebooks that have only earned me a couple of dollars. There is my mid-range earners...about ten dollars a hour. And then there are the stories that beat that marker, like the story that took me ten hours to cobble together that has earned me over three hundred and thirty dollars and counting. Yes, it is the joys of ebook royalties.)

If nothing else, I could have been home napping with the cat. Sure, it would have earned no income, but it still beats standing in line at Wal-Mart.

I suspect that I was in a "penny smart, pound stupid" situation; and as you will see tomorrow, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

A few warnings about this blog

Warning: I might try to explain economics using cats or witchcraft--it has happened before.
Welcome to Madcap Economics! This new blog is a place for me to rant and rave about economics. And sometimes try to explain in simple terms what the heck is going on.

Of course for me, things like cats and witchcraft and voudoun (voodoo for the rest of you) are simple. Therefore, I am quite sure that I will sound like a lunatic on a soapbox on most days--we will call that "normal."

Now, a little about myself. I graduated last year from the University of Colorado at Denver with two bachelor degrees (one in history, and one in literary studies). While at UCD, I worked at the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver (the previous year before starting at UCD, I went to CCD and that is where I met the first editor that I worked under at the newspaper). It was during my time at Campus Connection (CCD's student newspaper) that I started to write some articles on economics and the economy.

One of the things that I discovered in college is that I am fascinated about the train wreck that is the modern economy and the economic theories that people have about it. I had started to read economic news and books before college; and now that I am out of college, I am still reading them. And yes, I did take some economic classes in college, both to fulfill requirements and as electives. In fact, for awhile I consider switching to economics.

Besides a perhaps unhealthy interest in economics, I spent ten years running a restaurant before starting my own business as a writer and publisher of ebooks. I also backseat drive my wife's pottery business, as well as illustrate series of a children books. These occupations occasionally show up in my opinions about the economy and economic theories.

And finally, I like to think of myself as a funny man. Or as one of my biggest critics says, a McComedic Troll. Therefore, yes, I do plan on inflicting my sense of humor on you. That and lots of cat pictures...because one cannot have too many cat pictures when trying to figure out economic theory.