Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Green New Year's resolutions

With 2009 about to be here, I'm looking for some new goals as I continue my life makeover that is meant to detoxicify my existence and develop sustainable living habits. 2008 was a fairly ambitious year for me as I tried to reduce my polluting impact on my biosphere.

Because global warming concerns me greatly, I applied myself over the past year to reducing what is commonly called my carbon footprint.

To review 2008's achievements toward this goal:

1. I sold my second car and bought a bicycle, and I used the bicycle. I live close to most of the stores I frequent, and a bicycle is entirely practical for running my errands. I enjoy the bicycle as well, except for risking my life in traffic.

2. I reduced my use of paper products, particularly paper towel and paper napkins.

3. I started harvesting rainwater. I use the rainwater to supplement my water needs. It is better for the plants and soil because it is not chlorinated. Collecting rainwater also reduces energy consumption because power is used to pump and process water supplies. Although it's hard for me to estimate how much water I collected and used, I can safely guess that I harvested and used about 400 gallons in the past year.

4. I bought half a cow's worth of grassfed beef from a local farm. For meat eaters, this is a way to reduce the carbon footprint of meat because local grassfed/grass-finished beef involves low transport inputs, no corn (a very fossil fuel intensive crop), plus it did not involve any of those disgusting feedlots. I visited the farm where I bought the beef and saw the cattle grazing in old orchards. The meat is the absolute BOMB by the way. So good.

5. I kept using my sun oven. I actually got this in 2007, but it's definitely one of my favorite new green lifestyle habits. It works best in spring and summer. I love baking with it because I don't have to get the house hot in the hot weather and I produce absolute zero pollution and the power cost is zero.

So, what will be my new green habits for 2009? I'm thinking that I need to do a better job with the plastic shopping bags. I have one Chico Bag, but I need to get more and get better about using them. My brain is still stuck in the take whatever bag you're given mode, which results in a surprising amount of petroleum based plastic bags in my pantry. I can do better.

Another lifestyle change I recently started and will continue for 2009 is vampire hunting. This means I hunt down and control all those power sucking vampire appliances around the house that draw power for no good reason. Common offenders are everything with a remote control. Even when the TV is off, it is still drawing power so that it can respond to the remote when it signals the TV. The solution is to put such items on power strips and turn off the power to the strip when the appliances are not in use. Of course, this means I have to remember to turn the power on before I flop on the couch to watch TV, but I'm picking up the habit quicker than I thought I would. I just started this, and I'm hoping to see an improvement on my power bill.

What would be some other good sustainable lifestyle choices to practice in 2009? I'm always looking out for good ideas. Cheers to reducing pollution and unnecessary waste. Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Here's a tip for partying at casinos on New Year's Eve

A long time ago in a desolate land beyond the mountains (Nevada) I worked as a craps dealer at casinos in Las Vegas. Such work varies between incredibly fun and infuriating, with New Year's Eve being one of the most difficult nights to work. It is a crazy busy night because people want to go out and have fun. They are more interested in drinking than gambling, which would be OK, except people usually end up drunk at a gambling table.

Many of my experiences from my days as a casino dealer are recounted in a book I wrote called Get Dicey: Play Craps and Have Fun. The book explains in detail everything about craps, which is a fascinating and fun game.

As many people are getting ready to hit the casinos to celebrate New Year's Eve, I am providing this excerpt from the chapter in Get Dicey that concerns etiquette.

------------------

Working for a Living

The last item of etiquette to consider concerns your dealers. Although working the games can be a glamorous exciting job, the dealers, and many other members of the casino staff, rely on the gratuity of players. Dealers are paid very low wages, usually close or at minimum wage. The generosity of other people allows dealers to have a reasonable existence within society.

In other words, dealers make a living from tips.

How much should you tip a dealer? No set method for calculating a tip exists because the circumstances of players’ experiences can vary widely. As a rule though, tip if you win. A winner who gives the staff nothing is a bitter disappointment to the workers.

The best way to tip is to do it while you are playing. That way, win or lose, you have compensated your dealers for their efforts. The most common method for tipping the dealers is to place a bet for them. Table limits do not have to be observed for a dealer bet. On a $5 game a $2 bet for the dealer is fine. Of course, dealers like big bets too.

When deciding what kind of bet to make for your dealers, remember that dealers love pass line bets like Scooby Doo loves Scooby Snacks. Many well-meaning players put dollars up for the dealers on prop bets, but because prop bets have such a low chance of winning, they usually lose. It is like being paid in lottery scratchers.
It is also acceptable just to give the dealers a tip. For example, if you won a big bet, you can just toss back $5 to $25 and say “for the dealers.”

If you happen to get lucky and win a couple thousand dollars, it would be appropriate to give the dealers $100 or $200, depending on the size of your heart. A player who tips generously, even lavishly, will be dubbed “George” by the dealers. It is the code name that dealers use to inform each other who is paying their bills. George gets better service, genuinely friendly smiles, and good karma.
The situation can occur in which you lose all your money very fast and you feel completely dissatisfied with the experience. Dealers will understand if you do not tip in such a situation.

Why should you tip your dealers? Essentially, because they need to eat (at least until they are replaced by robots), but it also should gain you better and friendlier service. A craps dealer who is being tipped should keep an eye on your interests. Did you forget to bet your odds on a come bet because you were talking to the cocktail server? The dealer will remind you. In general, tips make dealers happy, which should make your experience more entertaining. If a dealer remains cloddish and rude after you have displayed tipping behavior, you can save your money. A person who does not try to deserve a tip needs to get a clue.

Another point to mention is that dealers actually do work hard. Players see them go on break every hour and think dealers have it cushy, but believe me those breaks are necessary. A dealer, no matter what the game, has to be completely mentally tuned to his or her game when dealing. It is mentally taxing, and the attention span on the average human only holds for about fifty minutes.

Dealing is also very physically demanding. The people are on their feet and bending their backs. They earn the money they make.

I will acknowledge, however, that dice dealers are notoriously lazy as cats. This is just because they are conserving their energy for a hot game. They are like the floating crocodiles waiting for the wildebeest herds to enter the river. That is when the work needs to be done. When things get busy, a dice dealer can lose weight during a hectic shift.

Hopefully you have not found the rules, superstitions, and behavior suggestions too oppressive. Having a good time is completely the point of playing craps at a casino. Whoop it up and try not to hit anyone with your elbows. Minding your dice player manners will also let you experience the little subculture that can emerge at the craps tables. The experience really can be splendid. Casinos can be civilized places too, almost like Rick’s CafĂ© Americain from the classic film Casablanca where Nazis chat gently with their fugitives.

-------------

In these difficult times tipped employees are often suffering from significant drops in their income. So, if you can afford to go out and party on New Year's Eve remember to spread the happiness around.

And if you'd like to learn how to play craps or at least prevent your buddies from throwing away their cash on terrible bets, read Get Dicey. In addition to paperback, it is availabe in an instant download ebook.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Three new free tattoo designs at Destination Tattoo

Today I added some more images to my directory of free tattoo designs. I've spent the last year slowly building the website Destination Tattoo and have been pleased with the results. It gets consistent and growing traffic and makes a little money from advertising every day. Keywords associated with tattoos are fairly low rent, but they come through for me every day. Every once in a while I get a surprisingly high share from Google for an ad. I suspect those come from the article at the website about tattoo removal because that is very expensive.

Speaking of tattoo removal, the marijuana pot leaf tattoo design that I added today will likely result in regret down the road for some people. I could not resist adding it. I'm curious to see if it will be a good page for attracting search traffic.

The other two designs I added are of a more innocent variety:

Daisy flower tattoo
Hibiscus flower tattoo

So, this month's update was inspired by the plant kingdom.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to quit smoking cold turkey

This past week marked the 12th anniversary of my quitting smoking. I did it cold turkey, which has the main advantage of being free. With the New Year around the corner, it is the usual time when smokers try to get their "butts" in gear so they can stop slowly killing themselves. For encouragement, here's my experience with quitting smoking.

Why did I choose to quit smoking cold turkey?

I have to admit to being a bit of a tightwad, so logically I chose the cold turkey method because it required no investment in quit smoking drugs or therapies. But I honestly opted to use my will power alone against my physical cravings because it did not make sense to me to use a nicotine patch. I reasoned that in order to beat down my nicotine addiction, I needed to stop putting nicotine into my body. Trying to wean myself from nicotine with a patch or gum method did not strike me as a way to set myself up for success. It seemed like I would just be allowing myself to depend on something outside of my own will power, and transforming myself back into a non-smoker required a full and irreversible committment on my part.

I began smoking when I was a teenager. I had my first cigarette when I was 15, and my smoking gradually escalated into adulthood until I was smoking about three packs a week. At the age of 24, I decided that I had to give up the nasty smoking habit. I was still young and healthy, but I knew that my physical deterioriation due to smoking was just around the corner. Plus, as a woman I had to consider that I would want to have children, and smoking during pregnancy was just unthinkable to me. It's one thing to harm yourself with smoking, but it's a far worse thing to imperil the health and development of your own child.

Once I reached the decision to quit smoking (which was a very unpopular decision with some parts of my brain) I had to plan when I would finally fling myself off the smoking bridge into the cold rough waters of withdrawal. The holiday season was looming and at first I thought that I would make quit smoking my New Year's resolution. But after more reflection, I decided that such a difficult resolution would require a headstart. Therefore, on December 10th, 1996 I was ready to quit smoking. (Yes, I remember the date precisely.) I smoked my last cigarette that day. I even tried to savor my last cigarette, but as I smoked it down I became increasingly revolted by the filth with which I was polluting my lungs. I did not smoke it down to the filter as I had planned. I stubbed it out about two-thirds smoked and called it quits.

I can tell you that quitting smoking cold turkey hurts. I could physically feel the inside of my blood vessels cringing and crawling with cravings. And my ability to become irritated was vastly enhanced. The first month when you quit smoking is truly the hardest. My brain and body pined for nicotine, banging its empty cup against the cage of my will.

I did not enter into this misery without a plan. I used some visualization techniques. I pictured myself shutting off a light switch that represented my desire to smoke. I also made specific vows to myself regarding my actions. I did not simply quit smoking. I told myself that I could no longer pick up a cigarette or light a cigarette or put a cigarette into my mouth. I found these specific vows very helpful because even when I felt weak and wanted to smoke, I could fall back on rules such as not being able to touch a cigarette or light it.

Another way that I encouraged myself was to remind myself that if I failed and went back to smoking, then all of my suffering would be for nothing. Nothing!

As someone who has experienced prolonged nicotine withdrawal, I can say that the craving is not constant. Sometimes I felt OK. The cravings came in peaks and valleys and as the days and weeks went on, the cravings came with dwindling frequency.

One technique I used to cope with cravings was to find myself new things to do besides smoke cigarettes. Since I was reviving my body from the slow waste of smoking, I decided to start exercising. I bought a work out video and struggled through it regularly. Also I would simply pick up the hand weights when I felt a craving so as to push back the physical discomforts with my new fitness activities.

Within days of quitting smoking I was surprised to find that I was doing a lot more with my life. I was getting more done and pursuing hobbies with greater enthusiasm. It was as if I had been wasting my life smoking instead of doing the things I liked. This aspect of quitting smoking is very rewarding.

My final piece of advice for smokers about how to quit is that you should not advertise the fact. I say this because it will be very annoying when your friends, relatives, and co-workers ask you how you are doing. The question will instantly make you think about smoking and trigger withdrawal symptoms. It's far better for people to gradually notice that you are not smoking anymore and then applaud your achievement. Trust me, during your first days and weeks as a reformed smoker, you should talk about it as little as possible.

As a publisher, I have put together a website about how to quit smoking called Clear the Air. It has information and advice from various perspectives. Go read some of the articles so as to bolster your courage and begin the long trek back to health and freedom. http://quitsmoking.falbepublishing.com

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Check out the best genre picks of 2008 at the SF Signal

This week I had the honor of being a contributor to the best sci fi, fantasy, and horror genre entertainment picks of 2008 for a big article at SF Signal. The SF Signal is a science fiction focused site that tosses in some fantasy and horror too as it reviews books, movies, and television shows. There's always plenty of news and interviews too, so it makes for a great fanboy pitstop on the internet for those who like science fiction, fantasy, or horror.

My response to the site's editorial question "What were your top choices of 2008 in books, movies, and/or television in sci fi, fantasy, and horror?" had an emphasis on Doctor Who and Iron Man.

To see my full response along with many other great recommendations from the other contributors, please go to MIND MELD: The Best Genre-Related Books/Films/Shows Consumed in 2008 (Part 2).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thinking of getting a dog? Read my experience with the German Shepherd dog

The decision to adopt any dog must be considered seriously, especially if you are thinking about a large breed dog such as the German Shepherd. As the third most popular dog breed in the United States for the last 10 years according to the American Kennel Club, the German Shepherd dog attracts attention with its good looks, intelligence, and strong personality. However, this classic and lovable dog breed is not an easy or low maintenance pet. Many pros and cons come with owning German Shepherd dogs.

For happy owners of these powerful dogs, the cons become just part of an interesting routine, but for other potential pet owners the challenges of a large breed can be prohibitive. As a German Shepherd dog owner for the last twelve years, I can credibly share my experience with this remarkable breed.

Pro: As a large breed dog, a German Shepherd presents a robust animal full of energy that allows its owner to make a bold statement with his or her pet and enjoy companionship with a dog that adds security to the home.

Con: This breed can easily prove to be too much dog for some people. They are strong, and often strong-willed, and any owner of a large breed bears the responsibility of controlling his or her dog. When visitors to your home are barked at incessantly by a Yorkshire Terrier, they would be annoyed, but visitors receiving an unrestrained barking session from a German Shepherd will suddenly feel like they are in the midst of a civil rights protest. Along with controlling the barking, you need to teach your dog not to jump on people. Getting hit in the chest by a 70 to 90 pound animal with big claws is painful.

Pro: A German Shepherd is an intelligent even mischievous animal that will respond well to training and be fun to play with. You will enjoy the interaction with your dog during formal training and be proud of the learning progress that your pet displays. German Shepherds require mental and physical stimulation, which makes them an excellent choice for a person or a family that wants to integrate a pet into an active and fun lifestyle. A German Shepherd is an excellent motivator for keeping you active and healthy yourself.

Con: A German Shepherd should not be left alone for long periods of time (more than a few hours). This applies to any dog, but as an original working breed, the German Shepherd dog is geared toward high levels of activity herding animals, aiding in search and rescue, and as law enforcement dogs. You must commit to exercising and stimulating your dog every day. In a German Shepherd reference by D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., the author reported that this breed was bred to move for hours across large territories. Daily walks and play sessions along with several hours of attention are essential. It is of paramount importance that you commit to training your dog during adolescence and maintain an exercise routine throughout its life. If this is too much for you or your family, then do not adopt this breed.

Pro: As a German Shepherd owner you will receive countless compliments about your pet's beauty during its lifetime. They are gorgeous animals, and you will be proud of your dog, especially if you train him or her properly. You will admire and love your pet for its many capabilities and charms.

Con: German Shepherds will be naughty, particularly during the first two years. My dog ate my birthday cake when she was two years old. Overall, be prepared to have things you love destroyed by chewing, digging, and rough play. Flower beds in a German Shepherd's mind look like a soft cool moist play station. Packages delivered to the front porch become chewy cardboard balls. All manner of possessions such as clothing, remote controls, books, walls, doors, and garden tools will be crunched between powerful jaws.

Pro: Being a very smart breed, the German Shepherd can be steered away from inappropriate behavior. Have lots of toys and chews available at all times. When your dog chews on the wrong things, give him or her a chew or toy and positively reinforce chewing on the correct objects. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these strong-willed dogs will never entirely give up digging. Their taste in landscaping will not win you any home and garden awards. I've had to content myself with a dog trained not to dig up the vegetable garden.

Con: German Shepherds in general are susceptible to genetic conditions that can be troublesome or even debilitating. Hip dysplasia, panosteitis, and degenerative myelopathy commonly develop in this breed, and you will need to learn about care and possible prevention. This breed can also suffer from various allergies. My dog has food and environmental allergies that took me months to sort of before she got relief. Good breeding can limit the frequency of these conditions but there are no guarantees.

Thinking through how you will respond to the challenges of dog ownership before you adopt will significantly help you enjoy your pet. Dogs, especially German Shepherds, need your attention, formal training, and consistent exercise. Ignoring these needs will lead to a negative experience and an unhappy dog that might end up at the shelter. The joys and challenges of owning a German Shepherd overlap with the needs of most large breeds, but it is essential to recognize that a German Shepherd is not a mellow breed. It is an active dog that will always be looking for fun. Depending on your situation and lifestyle, these traits could be ideal or burdensome.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Joy to the world my website is done

The revamping of my Brave Luck Books website is finished after about a week of intensive labor. I posted all the shiny new pages online today and am quite satisfied with the results. The old version of the website was nice, but it was cramming too much information into the space. The latest version I believe is much easier on the eye, allowing visitors to peruse what I've got to offer without having their attention jerked around.

When making a website it is always a challenge to deliver information in a comprehensible and logical manner that will encourage a visitor to stay and ultimately take an action, like download my ebook, bookmark my website, or buy something. A web designer always has so much to present and wants to get it out there all at once, but in reality one has to pick and choose and make priorities. For my latest website redesign I really tried to apply the approach of meeting the needs of the visitor, which I'm hoping is the desire to learn something about my fantasy series because he or she wants to read fantasy books or ebooks. If I can effectively communicate to such a person, then I just might meet those needs.

When designing communications it is always hard to act as the creator of the message while trying to imagine how the receiver of the message will perceive it or if he or she will even understand it. In the book "Made to Stick" the author described this as the curse of knowledge because it is hard to escape your intimate understanding of a subject and explain it to someone who knows nothing or little about it.

Ultimately, even if I get the message right, no website is ever perfect. I don't know if anyone can design something that will be clear to every user and present the information in the best order. At this time, I will just have to be satisfied. My old website was good and the new one is better. It is most certainly done, and I can move on to other projects, like getting back to work on my novel.

To get to know about novels I've already written please visit Brave Luck Books. It's New and Improved! Now 48 percent more comprehensible.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Brave Luck Books website is going under the knife

The time has finally come for me to overhaul my fantasy book and ebook website that serves as the online home of The Rys Chronicles, my epic fantasy series. It has been two years since the website had a major reworking. As always, I'm seeking to make the website easier for people to read and use. I strive for a simple presentation, but I've always struggled with this goal when I get to the merchandising areas of the website because I have six ebook formats plus the trade paperbacks to present to people. On top of that, I offer the additional option of buying all four novels as a set, which most of my ebook readers choose to do. Then, to make things even harder on myself, I include international options for readers outside the United States. About a year ago I noticed that I was getting international sales, which prompted me to give the website a worldwide orientation instead of just a U.S. focus. So, the trick is to show these options in a clear manner that does not leave visitors scratching their heads.

The old version of www.braveluck.com is still live online, but I have made substantial progress on the new version, which is much sharper looking and does a better job of communicating to visitors what I have to offer.

It's times like these that I wish I was big time and could hire professional help to redo the website, but since that's not feasible, it will be a do-it-yourself project. Fortunately, I love making websites. I'm not some programming guru, but I can handle web editing software and put out a decent website. For my purposes I only need to market my products and incorporate some basic ecommerce, so it's more about communicating effectively than ringing a bunch of internet bells and whistles.

Part of my new strategy for increasing the marketing effectiveness of the website is to add some interactivity and social networking tie-ins. Realizing that the majority of visitors aren't going to make a purchase on their first visit (It's an imperfect world.), I will be adding features that will improve the chances of my novels sticking in visitors' minds. For example, I'm adding links for each novel to its corresponding page at Goodreads.com so people can add my books to their reading list at Goodreads if they happen to use that service. Also, I'm including a way for Facebook users to become a fan of the Brave Luck Books page on Facebook. Every little thing adds up.

I expect to get the website update done in a few days. Until then, if you like fantasy books, please go to www.braveluck.com where you can download Union of Renegades for free or pick up the trade paperback for $1. Although this version of the site is officially condemned, it really isn't that bad to look upon. I even liked it two years ago, but I'm always working to improve my business. It's not easy being a one-woman publishing business, but I love it, and I hope my affection comes through in what I do.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I was a good global warming gal today

Having posted yesterday about the benefits of LED Christmas lights, I actually went out and bought some. I had already bought a string of orange LED lights for Halloween, so I was aware of their quality and attractiveness, but the Christmas ones were beautiful, particularly the blue and clear snowflake lights. They are so bright, it is hard to believe how little energy they use. The box of Sylvania LED lights claims that the bulbs will last for 50,000 hours.

LED lights are good because the lower energy use translates into using less power that is generally the result of burning coal - one of the major nasty fossil fuels that spew carbon dioxide and cause global warming.

I was especially echo-friendly today because I rode my bike to the store to buy the LED lights. I was filled with a vast sense of superiority.

Of course, my little trip to the store is insignificant compared to the vast pollution problem that is causing global warming, but as an individual I can hope that my little things will add up. To update your daily life with energy reduction lifestyle choices, please visit my global warming website.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas LED lighting great way to reduce your holiday carbon footprint

I just found an illuminating online calculator that you can use to compare old fashioned Christmas lights' energy usage to LED Christmas lights. I posted a link to it on the home page of Global Warming Facts and What to Do. It is amazing how much less energy is consumed by LED lights. Because most of our electricity is generated from polluting fuels like coal that spew carbon dioxide into the air and cause global warming, it is imperative that people find ways to reduce their energy usage. Using less energy means creating less pollution, and it saves you money too. Christmas LED lights serve as a wonderful example of how improved technology can significantly reduce pollution. Now if only all those LED lights were solar and wind powered. We'll get there soon!

Every month, I add what I call a Raindrop of Knowledge to my global warming site. Anyone with an environmentally important piece of news related to global warming or advice on how to reduce pollution is invited to submit a message for possible placement on my global warming site. If chosen, your news or advice will be published on the website's home page for one month and then added to the archive after that. You can include a link to your relevant website or blog as well, so it's a good way to earn a link from a website with related content. Full details about submitting your raindrop is at this page: http://globalwarming.falbepublishing.com/raindrop.html

Followers