My First Buck…

…from writing that is.

This weekend marked the first time I’ve ever been paid for writing.  It was rather low key.  No fanfare, no swelling or pride or running around holding up a magazine.  Just checked a link, saw the article was published, and said to myself ‘Well, that’s fifteen bucks in my pocket’.

How?  You know all those websites that have ‘How To’ instructions or short ‘About’ articles?  People have to write those.  Many come from sites affectionately referred to as ‘Content Mills’.  These sites provide a title or subject and find writers to produce that material.  I’m one of those writers.  Last week, I picked out a few topics (all involving computers) and cranked out four articles.  Time spent – less than 2 hours.  As of today, I’ve earned $60 from those four articles.  Not a ton, but considering the time I spent, that’s not too bad.  One of the articles I wrote while brushing my teeth.  So what does that money buy?

Half of it immediately goes into savings.  Taxes for freelance writers are pretty close to 50% so bank it and forget about it.  The remaining $30 will be spent on tickets for Steph and I to go see a movie tonight – Monsters vs Aliens in 3D.

That leaves $12 which will probably be spent buying four jugs of milk from a local diary farmer to produce more cheese, like this round of Jalapeno Cheddar we made this weekend.  That right there weighs 2 pounds, roughly $14 worth of cheese if bought in a store and it was made out of just 2 jugs of milk.  So I’m actually coming out ahead.

I admit to not learning a lot.  The articles I’ve chosen fit into my natural ‘business’ style of writing so it all flows well.  Learning how to write against a time line and managing the various style guides is a bit interesting, but nothing terrible.

So it’s been interesting.  I wont’ write a ton of stuff for this site, but c’mon, it’s hard to pass up $15 while brushing your teeth now, isn’t it?

Face Plant

Today’s post is brought to you by Conversations at WorkWhen It’s Spring Break and Things Are A Wee Bit Too Slow!

Facebook.  Yup, it’s all over the news, has been for months, and I’m way behind on saying my piece on it.  Back in 2004, before the site was popular and had just begun sending out its first e-mails, I was interviewed by the college paper about it.  If I can ever get the PDF of the article, I’ll make sure to post it here.  The general gist of what I said went along the lines of “Be cautious what you put out on the web.  You don’t know who these people are and you don’t know what they plan on doing with your information.”  I figured it was a scam.  Guess not.

Not a week goes by though that I don’t see a story about someone getting in trouble for what they’ve put up on Facebook.  Job applicants, criminals, etc.  Makes me sigh oh-so-much.  Being that I work at a college, I often see what students put up there (Facebook is often their home page).  I do my best not to judge, but sometimes it’s quite hard.

Picard learns Riker has been posting to Facebook...again.
Picard learns Riker has been posting to Facebook...again.

Do I keep tabs on my students workers? Yes and No.  When I have someone that misses a shift or is absent without any notice, I’ll check their Facebook page.  They may not call me, but 9 times out of 10, they’ll update their page.  If I see “Bob hates being sick”, I’ll know why they’re gone.

Do I check when a student applies to work for me? No.  A lot of these kids are just that – kids.  Barely out of their teens.  Let them make their mistakes without someone wailing on them.

Do I check Facebook on a personal basis? Not a great deal.  Originally, I made an account for the sole purpose of keeping my students from making one for me.  Yeah, back then, I could see them doing that as a joke.  I might check it every few weeks.

As of late though, I’ve found myself on there every few days.  It seems like a lot of my High school friends are up there.  It’s been fun checking into their lives and seeing how they are doing.  I still hesitate to put up too much.  A few harmless pictures, a little background info.  I don’t communicate much because to be honest, after fifteen years, how easy is it to jump right back in?  I’ll ease into it over time.

Five years after that first interview, I’ll admit I was off base.  Facebook isn’t a scam, but I stand by most of those comments.  Use that head on your shoulders before you share too much with the world.  I’m a reasonable person.  That person that’s considering offering you a job?  Maybe not so much.


Of the following two choices, which would you rather have?

Choice #1 – High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, celulose gum, molasses, potassium sorbate, sodium hexametaphosphate, citric acid, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors

Choice #2 – Sap

The first option is the ingredient list of one of the most popular syrup’s found on grocery shelves.  The second is what we’ll have in our pantry later this evening.

Yesterday, Steph and I went out to visit Tom, one of her co-workers.  They were having a syrup boil.  This was seriously the old fashion way of making syrup. By the time we arrived, they already had upwards of 150 gallons of sap waiting to be boiled.  We needed more of course – it’s about a 35 to 1 ratio – so we headed out to the trees with Tom.  He had already tapped about two dozen maple trees.  Some of the five gallon buckets were overflowing.  We ended up with roughly another 85 gallons that we took back to the boilers.

The boilers, wow, that was quite a setup.  Steph’s heading out later today to help with canning so I’ll see if she can get some pictures of them.  Basically, they are larger wood stoves with metal tub pans on top.  A smoke stack comes out of each one.  The stacks are important because inside each of them (well, one, the other wasn’t finished yet) there is 10 foot of coiled copper tubing.  The sap is poured into a large barrel that feeds into the copper tube.  This heats the sap up so that when it finally empties into the tub, it doesn’t reduce the heat too much.  (Last year, they did not have the copper and poured the barrels directly into the tub.  This stopped the boil each time.)

At that point, you sit around, chat, and watch the fire.  Add in more sap when the level gets low.  When you get hungry, someone will bring out venison sausage which tastes fantastic dipped in the boiling sap.  Have some maple tea (take one mug, dip into boiling sap, allow to cool, yum).

The entire process takes about 24 hours or so until its of good consistency.  And that’s it.

No hexametawhatamacallit.  No corn syrup.  Just fresh, natural syrup.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Off the Beaten Path with the 405

Aside from writing, running is one of the greatest joys of my life.  It can take you anywhere.  A marathon in Florida.  Another in Illinois.   God knows how many miles in Colorado.  A nice 4 mile, oops, 10 mile, run up a mountain in California including a brush with a Bobcat and Mountain Lion.  Tens of thousands of miles in Iowa.  My feet have pounded the pavement in more States than I can count.  I’ve run in Paris under the Eiffel Tower.  Trail runs and No-Bridge runs are my favorites. If there isn’t a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, running can take you there (and sometimes, even then, but that’s another story or two).

Running is freedom.

Of course, being away from home, sometimes its hard to know just how far you’ve gone (and if you’re in Colorado, how much elevation change your work out included).

Enter the Garmin Forerunner 405.

The Forerunner 405 is a GPS-enabled watch coupled with an optional Heart Rate Monitor (HRM).  I’m not unfamiliar with this technology.  About five years ago, I bought a Foreunner 301. It worked well, mapped out the routes, and for a short period, the HRM was nice up until Tucker ate it.  The downside to the 301 was its size.  To me it feels like strapping a deck of cards to your wrist.  It works great for bike rides.  Runs, not so much.

I’ve been itching to get my hands on a 405 since it came out last year.  I got mine through Road Runner Sports for around $250, opting not to buy the Heart Rate Monitor.  By chance, when I got the package, there was an HRM in it.  I called and Road Runner Sports sold it to me at a steep discount rather than deal with the hassle of shipping it back.

The first thing I noticed – the size.  It’s a large watch.  I don’t have big wrists and at first, I thought it might be too much, but after wearing it for an afternoon, it felt comfortable.  I’ve taken it out on a few runs and I don’t even notice it.

The 405 also picks up satellite signals in less than half the time the 301 did, so I no longer have to set the watch outside five minutes before I go for a run.  By the time I reach the end of the driveway, I’ve got enough signals for an accurate run.

The unit itself has only two buttons – Start/Stop and Laptop/Reset.  Everything else is controlled via a touch-bezel (think iPod).  Tapping the bezel with your finger allows you to select menus or scroll.  You can see a demo of that from Garmin here.

Once in the menus, there’s a whole host of options.  Customize screens, Virtual Training Partner (handy for tempo runs), programmable workouts (set your warm up pace, intervals, fartlek, etc).  Pressing with two fingers turns on the Indiglo light.  When not in use, the 405 drops into Power Saving mode and acts like a normal watch with Time & Date displayed.

The Foreunner 405 transmits all its data via a wireless connection.  It’s a simple USB stick that you plug into your computer and it synchronizes with your watch when it comes into range.  Considering the size of our house, this happens the instant I walk in the door from a run.  For lack of a better word – Cool.

I haven’t settled on the best program to use for recording my workouts.  Right now I’m using SportTracks but I could also use Garmin Connect.  Both have their pros and cons.  I’ll get that figured out in time.  Right now though, I’m looking forward to the next run.


Yes.  Steph beat me in Tae Kwon Do Horse.  Not once, but twice.  Did I mention that this was her first time ever playing the game?  And that I’ve played it, oh, upwards of twenty times? And I’ve won repeatedly?

I’m thinking about marriage counseling.

Suicide is Painless…No, Not That


I wonder how many people of my generation know that Suicide is Painless is the name of the M*A*S*H theme song?  Fantastic show.  Steph and I own the DVDs for all 11 seasons.

When I hear this song, I don’t immediately think of the show.  Images of Hawkeye, Radar, and Potter do pop up, but they come well after the vivid image of dinner with my family.  Back in the late 70s, early 80s, we always had dinner together as a family.  In the corner of the dining room was an old wobbly blue TV tray with our television on top of it.  And predictably, at 6:30, Mom would tune it to M*A*S*H.  Always watched it.  These days, if I see an episode, it takes me about five seconds to realize the entire plot.

So why do I bring this up?  Well, sound and memories have been on my mind a lot lately.

Spring has a lot to do with it.  Every morning, when I walk to work, I hear  the call of a certain bird.  I don’t know what this bird is.  It might be the mockingbird, I don’t know.  I’ve never bothered to look it up and I never will.  That might rob some of the magic of its call.

It might seem a bit weird that I get sentimental over this bird, but really, its not.  It means an awful lot to me.  I’ve heard this bird’s song nearly every Spring and Summer morning for the past six years since we moved to Decorah.  Before then, it had been a very long time since I heard it.

How long?  Try back when I was a kid, delivering papers each morning at 5:30am.  Right back when we’d watch M*A*S*H at the dinner table.

Make sense now?

Cuz even  in the midst of the Bum Frickin’ cold and wind gusts of 50 mph, I heard the bird this morning.  It reminded me of the good memories that lay behind and the warmer days that lay just ahead.  And sometimes that makes it worth getting out of bed.

Time Saving Tip

It happens every year.  Thousands of people from Dubuque to New York to Austin show up for work an hour late.  Or an hour early.  Or half the people show up early, the other half show up late.  Yes, it’s Daylight Savings Time.

If you suffer from this affliction, despair no more!  A cure has been found!

Spend from 11:00 pm Saturday night until 8:00 am Sunday on the phone with Microsoft Technical Support!* 

No more will you ask the question: “Is it 7 or 8?  Do I get an extra hour of sleep?  Will the dog not realize the time has changed and scratch earlier…or later?”  It simply doesn’t matter! You’ll be so incoherent, you won’t give a hoot! It all blends together into one beautiful hallucinogenic blur! The dog will be confused and just look at you as if to say, “Dude, let me out when you want. I’m gonna go lie on the couch.”

Don’t suffer a second longer! Call now!**

* Offer not valid without a certifiable clusterf&#! of a corrupted SQL Server 2000 database and possible hard drive issue.

** Potential side effects may include not getting any sleep, driving to work at 2am, wondering if the fuzz on your face is actually an alien entity bound and determined to overwhelm your immune system, or addiction to Freecell.

Listen to the Frog

The cover story for the latest National Geographic was Saving Energy. It touches on how much energy is wasted at the home – up to 8 percent – which not only emits wasteful pollution but can really impact the bottom line. It’s no secret that Steph and I are ‘Green’ people. We walk everywhere we can, buy local, and generally are good stewards to the Earth. The article spurred me to do a test though.

I visited Luther’s Sustainability Coordinator and borrowed a Kill A Watt meter. Yesterday, we hooked it up to our entertainment set before leaving for work. Our collection isn’t much different than other people’s – a 29″ television, a Dish Network DVR, DVD Player, CD Player, Nintendo Wii, and a 600 watt Stereo amplifier.

Ten hours later, I checked the results. The Kill A Watt’s best measurement is through Kilowatt Hour Usage. That’s what the energy company uses when they send their bills out. On our meter, it read 8.46 KWh. That’s roughly 0.846 KW per hour. Remember – nothing was turned on (except the DVR which gets a satellite signal).

Steph suggested repeating the experiment but with the TV unplugged. We’d both heard those are notorious Energy Vampires, devices that suck energy even when they’ve been turned off.  They continue to draw power so that they can be turned on instantly, which is a convenience for the user, but not very wise for the pocket book.  A lot of devices fall into this category – phone chargers, cameras, electronic toothbrushes.

We started after dinner last night and checked this morning. For 11 hours, the power usage was 0.48 KWh or 0.041 per hour. Just a hint of what we had before. I plugged the TV back in and checked thirty minutes later. It was up to 0.50 KWh. Big jump, little time.  Proof positive that we had a vampire in our house.

With information in hand, I visited Alliant Energy’s website. The cost of Kilowatt Per Hour varies based on how much you use and the time of year. Summer costs are roughly double than winter, the more you use, the less you pay, etc. On average, we come out to 6 cents an hour.

The Results

TV Plugged In : $0.05 per hour x 24 hours =$1.20
TV Unplugged : $0.002 per hour x 24 hours = $0.06

In perspective, that’s the change you lose in the sofa vs a brand new Garmin Forerunner 405.  Each year.

And all we had to do was unplug the TV.  The dog doesn’t watch it while we’re at work and it takes less than five seconds to plug it back in.  This is easy stuff.  Even a frog says so.