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Chart of the Day:

minwage

Source

Tech is bad for Kids

Also, good parents are good for kids.

New York (Reuters) – Recollections of strict, unaffectionate parents were more common among young adults with an unhealthy attachment to Internet use, compared to their peers, in a new Greek study.

Young adults who recall their parents being tough or demanding without showing affection tend to be sad or to have trouble making friends, and those personality traits raise their risk of Internet addiction, the researchers say.

“In short, good parenting, including parental warmth and affection, that is caring and protective parents, has been associated with lower risk for Internet addiction,” said lead author Argyroula E. Kalaitzaki of the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete in Heraklion, “whereas bad parenting, including parental control and intrusion, that is authoritarian and neglectful parents, has been associated with higher risk for addiction.”

Duh.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1m8inLg Addictive Behavior, online December 8, 2013.

Why Everyone Screws Up Their Retirement

Because it’s math.

It’s actually not really all that mathy. Whenever you get a paycheck, move the decimal one space over to the left, and throw that amount of money into a separate account that you don’t draw money from except for emergencies. If you want to really get complicated, put that money into an IRA and spend an afternoon looking up “index funds” on the internet. You’re done. As long as you work during your working years, it will be impossible not to have a retirement fund. Avoid debt like the plague, and you will live within your means and not be broke. For most people, this is enough, and yet most people can’t accomplish this simple setup (we’re going to exclude people suffering from some calamity, for simplicity).

I always wondered why, and I have talked to scores of people over the years about finance, and as far as I can tell there are two complaints. One, it’s boring. Two, it’s math. (In fact, #2 explains #1; people assume it’s boring because it’s math.) Students, if they learn nothing else from our public schools, learn math is boring. No amount of persuasion can change this attitude.

The consequences are awful.

Money is the foundation of modern life. We work. Why? Well, among other things, it gets us money. We want goods and services… what do we need? money. We have families, how shall we feed them? Whatever we do, we buy it with money. Everyone is obsessed with money. Our entire culture is centered around it. And yet, despite the fact we’re slaves to money, many of us don’t want to talk about it, read up on concepts relating to money, or find out ways to make ourselves less of a slave to money.

Money is literally numbers. Our currency is math. It’s not gold or silver or hours of labor. Our medium of exchange are numbers, just numbers, often printed on paper.

The only way to be successful with money, and therefore be successful in life, is to defeat the mathophobia. And that’s impossible.

The Lose-Lose of Pay it Forward Tuition

[Speaking specifically of Pay it Forward educational plans being proposed in 17 or so states, not the moral philosophy (which I have no objections to).]

Here’s the basics of this program: instead of paying tuition up front for educational opportunities, students would agree to pay a small percentage of their income for the decades following their graduation. College would be “free” to start; if the education didn’t deliver a good job, you wouldn’t pay much for it. similarly, if you got a great job, you would “fairly” pay more for your degree. I have a number of objections to the program, which I’ll list. Let’s start out with the big problem: it doesn’t properly price education. It hides the price of education somewhere off in the future. Think of it this way, if you go to college and make a lot of money, you win, except now you pay more than what college would have cost you if you had paid regular tuition.

And if you lose, while you pay less than what regular tuition would have cost, you still lose because your education didn’t result in a better lifestyle or higher earnings. You wasted four years of your life, your big chance at bettering yourself, and you still owe extra taxes if you ever drag yourself out of the funk. It’s a major opportunity cost.

To summarize,

If you lose, you lose (you’re poor and wasted four years of life)
If you win, you lose (a lot of money through bad ROI)

Mathematically, almost no one pays what the education would cost under normal tuition.

In theory, we can say people are paying what their education is actually worth. In this case, I suppose we’re saying there is a “real” or, how Adam Smith would put it, a “natural” value to education. Education value is highly variable depending on the situation. A medical doctor will normally make more than an American Studies major. Thus, a medical degree should cost more than the American Studies degree. The best way to differentiate will be to charge for the education based on future earnings.

Here’s a problem with this line of reasoning, much of success is random or a product of family connections. I know plenty of people with law degree who live with their parents now. I also know college dropouts who are making six figures. There’s a lot of variance, but using broad figures, going to college seems to bestow some benefit to the enrollee. A benefit that is highly variable and a benefit that has been going down in value over the last decade. Taken altogether, we shouldn’t assume college is a primary driver of personal success. And if it’s not a primary driver of success, we should be ever more skeptical of this scheme. This setup will encourage more people to go to college, thus reducing the value of a college degree, and possibly costing them real opportunities in the private sector.

This scheme, by hiding the cost of college, will have the effect of not discouraging people from seeking worthless degree. If I’m paying, upfront, to go to college, I care about Return on Investment (ROI). If I’m not paying upfront, those concerns about ROI go away. More people will feel free to pursue the liberal arts without (apparent) consequence. Instead of pursuing a real opportunity, the individual will waste their time. Not a good thing.

Finally, we should think about the actual mechanism. Taxation is already ridiculous and will get more ridiculous as promised entitlements come due. Adding to your tax burden at a young age could have disproportionate outcomes later. But this is conjecture.

Higher education needs to reform. Colleges need to reduce costs, students need to pick better programs that teach real skills, and society needs to take coming student loan debt crisis seriously. Pay It Forward does nothing for the actual problems we have to solve, it only hides them, and that’s a bad thing.

From the Notebook

The store I work at is closing, and the amount of work involved in closing a store is surprisingly voluminous. So I’ve been incredibly busy as of late. There are only a few days left, then I still have to stay on for a couple of weeks to help with the clean out. I haven’t had a lot of time off since the announcement, so I haven’t had time for any projects. I did start a new novel just after Christmas, but I haven’t had time to really get it going yet.

Stuff:

- Listened to an old tape of Katie Goldberg’s writing seminar: Writing the Landscape of your Mind, held in the Twin Cities in the early 90′s. It was an interesting seminar, focused mostly on Zen-like stream-of-consciousness writing. Not really my thing, but I learn something from every writing how-to I ingest.

- Saw Captain America; The Winter Soldier. It was okay, I would have made a few changes because parts of the plot didn’t make a lot of sense. The ending was kinda stupid, and Hollywood clearly has no idea how to write for a character as ostensibly conservative as Captain Steve Rogers. But there’s some good stuff in there too. I’d recommend.

-In April of 2003, I decided to make a commitment to review every book I read and movie I paid money to see in the theatres, as a writing exercise and a way to keep track of whether I was maintaining my goal of reading a book per week and seeing at least two movies per month. Since then, for the last eleven years, I have done exactly that. I started out on Amazon.com, before moving everything over to blogger. I don’t think I will be doing that anymore. I want to devote more time to novels and other “big projects” and I’m also reading fewer books and watching fewer movies.

-Good friend John Stewart (of the “Night Writer” blog) was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He will be writing about the whole affair on this month’s Random Link:

http://nolongeriwholive.tumblr.com/

God’s Blessing to you, Mr. Stewart.

The Case for Marriage

This is more or less an abstract for a longer article I’d like to write on the topic of marriage.

The Millennials are delaying marriage, and many are skipping the Sacrament altogether. There are a number of reasons for this, the recessionary economy for one, the cultural shifts caused by feminism for another. Government programs that serve to encourage single motherhood, or at least make it economically viable, could be a reason as well. Most recently, the collective male backlash against these processes, and against a legal system that favors the woman over the man in domestic disputes, might cause marriage rates to fall even further.

Yet, despite all this, there is a still a strong case to get married, assuming you can find the right partner. Very briefly, in a marriage the couple can nearly double their household earning potential while cutting expenses in half, cutting the amount of housework each individual has to do in half, marriage requires half the stuff (you don’t need two blenders, two microwaves, etc) and you otherwise effectively double your overall economic state in one instant.

The downside of marriage is still the risk of divorce, being forced into a heavily prejudiced legal system and its brutal child custody culture, and the possibility of marrying a spendthrift. Cohabitation is an option, but common law marriages are still the legal norm, so you have to pick your partner carefully anyway. The same mathematical economic results can happen with just a group of buddies choosing to live together, but the lack of deep emotional connections makes this an unstable and impermanent option. The best bet is to use divorce probability calculators to evaluate the likelihood of a longterm relationship surviving, creating a resolution structure early on to work through problems, and to delay marriage until the 2-year mark of any relationship.

From the Notebook

I didn’t really get a chance to celebrate, so I’m going to do it again: Somehow I lasted ten years as a blogger. Over that time, I published over 5000 posts. This is an average of two posts per weekday, 50 weeks a year, for ten years. Also, between the three primary websites, I averaged just over two thousand hits per month over that ten years. I’m just a little bit proud of all that, even if it’s been an ugly and barely readable blog since 2009.

I have no plans for the future of blog. My goal is not to publish anymore junk. I want to produce longer and higher quality posts, stuff that I could publish later. Also, I want to get serious as a novelist, and this means most of my spare time will be spent on large products, not this blog. And I don’t think anyone cares enough about anymore to get all worked up over this.

Annual Traffic Report:

2014 stats

Nothing much to report, though it is interesting that there was a huge increase in December when I had a flood of posts as I tried to hit that 5000 post goal I set for myself.

Books Read:

Aaron Clarey’s Bachelor Pad Economics. It’s an essential purchase for young men. I’m hoping to give it a full review sometime later.

Proverbs (RSV)

Audio Books:

Pauline Epistles, Catholic Letters, Book of Revelations (KJV)

How I Write by Janet Evanovich. The story of her struggling for ten years to get an agent and a publisher should serve as an important lesson for any wannabe writer. As far as writing is concerned, her suggestions are similar to other articles and books I’ve read.

CEO of the Sofa by P.J. O’Rourke. I’ve read the book before, but the audiobook is fantastic. Very funny, if a bit dated.

Other self-education:

Kmart Forklift operation and safety training. So, it’s work-related. Sue me. Just be thankful I didn’t mention every one of the 104 other learning modules I passed.

Random Link:

http://playbooknovel.com/

The Golden Solution

Here is a long and sometimes interesting article about whether high schools should offer sports or not. The problem with the central thesis, implicit in the author’s narrative of Premont high school, was the idea there is “One Holy and Golden Solution” to the question of sports and academics. And the idea getting rid of sports is a panacea to fixing American academics is obviously false based on the following paragraph from the article:

Though the research on student athletes is mixed, it generally suggests that sports do more good than harm for the players themselves. One 2010 study by Betsey Stevenson, then at the University of Pennsylvania, found that, in a given state, increases in the number of girls playing high-school sports have historically generated higher college-attendance and employment rates among women. Another study, conducted by Columbia’s Margo Gardner, found that teenagers who participated in extracurriculars had higher college-graduation and voting rates, even after controlling for ethnicity, parental education, and other factors.

But only 40 percent of seniors participate in high-school athletics, and what’s harder to measure is how the overriding emphasis on sports affects everyone who doesn’t play. One study of 30,000 students at the University of Oregon found that the grades of men who did not play sports went down as the football team’s performance improved. Both men and women reported that the better their football team did, the less they studied and the more they partied.

People want “The Answer” but there normally isn’t one because people are different. In college, my grades improved when I joined an athletic club as an upperclassman. I needed sports. In fact, I might have dropped out of high school had it not been for sports. That’s just me.

My recommendation, after reading this article, would be to experiment in “sports required” schools. The US Air Force Academy requires every student to be in a sport. If sports are important to a student, they should consider such a school. Have another school in the district, probably smaller, not offer sports at all but focus instead on academics. The development of eLearning makes this school a little cheaper since you don’t need everyone student to be trucked in to the school every day. Some schools won’t change and can try to the mixed approach. School vouchers, while not a cure, makes experimentation and diversity in services easier, and it should be a universal option.

There is no Golden Solution. People have different needs and once we understand that, we can begin to look at our educational establishment with clearer vision.

Interesting Abstract

Throughout their lives, women provide for their own and their children’s and grandchildren’s needs and thus must minimize their risk of incurring physical harm. Alliances with individuals who will assist them in attaining these goals increase their probability of survival and reproductive success. High status in the community enhances access to physical resources and valuable allies. Kin, a mate, and affines share a mother’s genetic interests, whereas unrelated women constitute primary competitors. From early childhood onwards, girls compete using strategies that minimize the risk of retaliation and reduce the strength of other girls. Girls’ competitive strategies include avoiding direct interference with another girl’s goals, disguising competition, competing overtly only from a position of high status in the community, enforcing equality within the female community and socially excluding other girls.

The development of human female competition: allies and adversaries
Joyce F. Benenson

Quick and Dirty Self-Publishing Advice

I got asked recently for a little self-publishing how-to advice from a friend of a friend of a friend. After some email exchanges, I wrote the following which pretty much encapsulates all I know about self-publishing a book. Since there’s no point in writing the same thing more than once, I’m going to publish it here.

This is going to be a little rough and very much to-the-point…

Self-publishing books is the future. It is my opinion that technology and consumer habits has changed the landscape of publishing permanently, and in a way that doesn’t favor traditional publishers. Selling books is no longer about getting the good shelf space at the local bookstore, and that was basically the one thing publishers could really do.

When I first started out, self-publishing was looked down upon. Now no one cares. At least, most people don’t care.

So, here are my suggestions, or tips, to someone new to self-publishing.

Tip #1: Editing

This is the biggest problem I see in most self-published books. In theory, with all the twitterings and facebooks you’d think people have stopped caring about grammar and punctuation and correct spelling. And you’d be 100% wrong. Even among the most barely-literate book readers I know, the first thing they mention to me after reading or while reading one of my books is the one affect/effect mistake I made in chapter two or the dreaded there/their/they’re mistake I made when describing Wisconsin.

So, when the fun part of writing a book is over, it’s time to work. It’s time to edit. And you’re going to be doing a lot of it. I recommend at least three full read-throughs looking for errors. Both reading through it on the computer, and reading through it after printing it on paper. And yes, you have to print up the entire book on paper and read through it, slashing at it with a colored pen like you’re a three-year-old with access to a blank wall and a gallon of paint.

In the real publishing world, many people would be looking over your book, including several editors, including people who specialize in editing for style and grammar. You won’t have this advantage, and thus you have to do it yourself. I do recommend having between 4 and 7 people read the book to give you feedback and look for mistakes. More than seven and it becomes a nightmare of conflicting visions; less than four and you just don’t have enough eyes to catch all the mistakes, especially continuity errors… Those seem to sneak past almost everyone.

Just remember, you’re doing this for the reader. And the reader is why you wrote the damn thing to begin with, so invest the time. And it takes a lot of time. Regular publishing houses will take a year or more between accepting the book for publishing to the initial print run. You can probably do it faster, but accept that it takes time.

If you don’t want to be an embarrassment to self-publishers everywhere, and I sure don’t want you to be that, make sure you have a good product to sell. Edit your book.

Tip #2: Typesetting the interior

Okay, so you’re self-publishing and you’re avoiding all the crap that goes with begging someone with a Master’s in a language they grew up speaking to publish your book. That’s great. So, Times New Roman size 12 and leave the right side unjustified, right?

No.

Quite possibly the hardest thing I had to learn was how to make an alluring interior. I bought books on typesetting, I learned about white space and I learned to live with the fact that each and every line in the book needs to be individually formatted. For the reader, the bastard.

I found a good font, one that I always return to, and my latest book has what I like to think is a very nice interior. Uncluttered yet serious-looking. It’s something almost every self-published author has either overlooked or paid someone else to do. Think of self-publishing a book as a craft. Writing is just part of the craft, but you aren’t truly a craftsman until you’ve done the editing, typesetting, interior, cover and marketing.

Tip #3: Google “self-published books suck” or “why self-published books suck”

And read twenty or thirty articles about all the common mistakes self-publishers make. And make sure you don’t make those mistakes.

Tip #4: The Cover

Books are judged by their cover and title. A title creates an immediate impression, and generates curiosity while the cover is visually attractive enough to activate the lizard brain of your mark and get them to read the title (think of potential readers as crows picking up shiny objects for their nests). And hopefully all of that will convince them to read the back cover. And finally, if the back cover intrigues, you might make a sale.

Book covers are an art, not a science. If you’re going to do your own book cover using the generic options offered by your publishing service, I suggest using multiple attempts with different color schemes and wording. CreateSpace has some terrible covers, but the right pictures and color scheme can hide this fact. I prefer lulu.com and their cover options.

If you’re going to outsource the book cover to someone else, put out a craigslist ad and hire a young graphic design major who is still in college. This is cheap, and the quality, while lower, will still work for the self-publisher.

Just be wary, I have spent hundreds of dollars on covers from professional graphic design guys, and the result was a beautiful cover. Too bad almost no one was interested in the book.

***

Marketing

There are plenty of books on marketing, and reading a few of them (or skimming their google-books preview) isn’t a terrible idea. Marketing is its own field of study, and some familiarity above looking up the definition of marketing in a dictionary is necessary.

For self-publishers, marketing is a long-haul ordeal. This is both good and bad. If you had looked into traditional publishing, you would have been given approximately 90 days of active marketing before the publisher would have pulled the plug, taken their losses, and gone looking for the next gamble.

For you and I, marketing ends when we wish it to end. And I never stop marketing my books. If I have done, as I suggested earlier, a lot of work to make a great product that everyone should read because it’s so good and enjoyable and right and fun, why would I stop marketing it?

Make your product worth marketing; edit your book and get all the stuff I said above right before continuing on.

Marketing Suggestions:

- Have a platform. The easiest way to sell a book is to have a set audience already in place. Have a website, incorporate a blog, be on reddit, be on Twitter, facebook, think about doing video podcasts on youtube. It’s a pain to manage, it’s a pain to build, and it’s time you’d rather spend writing books (I know). But among the self-published authors I know, the guys who sell the most books have an established platform. If you’re not interested in that kind of work, there is a simple workaround: find someone who has a successful platform (a well-read blog or youtube channel) and offer to produce content for them.

- Emails. This might sound like spam, but welcome to marketing. Over the course of our lives, we email a lot of people. Family, friends, coworkers. So, use that existing relationship. Send everyone (at least everyone you’re still on speaking terms with) a personal email saying you’ve written a book and you think they’d enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a surprise when someone from high school decides to link to your book on her facebook page and all 5000 of her friends. That’s the magic of word of mouth marketing. It’s also another reason to always produce a quality product that you’re not embarrassed to market to anyone.

- Earned Media. There’s always the local newspaper. Contact one of the reporters or one of the editors, write out a press release, and you should be able to get an article or two about your book into the local newspaper. It’s free coverage. And free is always good.

- Paid advertising. Generally, I recommend staying away from this form of marketing. There’s a lot of promise, and very little delivery. However, there is a small segment of paid advertising that I do like: Podcasters and youtubers. There are lots of semi-large podcasts out there who get tens of thousands of downloads every day from dedicated listeners, and their advertising fees are very affordable. A friend of mine regularly advertises on Tom Leykis’ podcast, and does very well. Don’t shoot for the moon here, find the middle guys. Do test runs, and if the advertising results in positive returns, keep doing it.

- Cold contacts. Create epub and pdf versions of your book, or at least an abridged edition, and start contacting active bloggers to see if they’d be willing to give your book a once-over. Start emailing them. Be nice. I get asked two or three times a year to read a book and give it a review. I never say no, but I do tell them I might not get to it. I always share their books on my platform, but I don’t always read them.

- Writing contests. So these things are mostly scams, but I’ve done a few Writer’s Digest contests, and I think they’ve helped me as a writer. And I know people who have won a WD contest, and it does a lot of good in the marketing/getting-noticed department. It’s worth the entry fees because of this.

- Ebay. Sometimes, the way I find books to read is to go on ebay, go to the category of books I like (normally political or sci-fi) and look at the cheapest books available as BuyItNow. So, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to go on ebay, list your book at the lowest price possible, and see what happens. I can buy my books for about $3.50 apiece, and I’m more than happy to break even on it on ebay because I consider it a form of marketing.

- Retail space. So book stores are dying, but you can still find private bookstores and used bookstores and antique stores and, in my case, even a barber shop to sell copies of your books. All you have to do is ask. The worst they can do to you is shoot you in the face with a gun. And that’s better than not marketing your book.

This is going to be a slow process. And in a lot of ways your fortunes will be the product of chance rather than simply being the best author out there. It’s a long haul, there’s no way around it. success is hard to come by and you’ll want to quit. And you’ll be a fool to keep trying.

I recommend getting a subscription to Writers Digest, including their online newsletter. Read as much as you can about the business of writing, and read how other authors got their big break. If nothing else, it provides some hope to keep going.

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